In my last email I described how challenging it is to find real friends in Silicon Valley, illustrating the point through the true story of my co-worker calling an Uber instead of a friend when their car broke down.
Do you know what happened to Nidhi and me this week?
Our car battery died.
I immediately resisted calling a friend and I didn’t even realize the irony until Nidhi reminded me I sent out an email with this exact point and that I should try practicing what I preach and referenced how I claim that “the concept of social debt is the primary blocker to true community” so at that point I really didn’t have any other choice so we called a friend and he saved the day (thanks, Seth).
In other words, I don’t send these emails from an ivory tower.
While I am #blessed to have a Seth in my life, cultivating community here remains objectively difficult. As I’ve already described, the focus on career advancement is one reason for this. But I believe there are two other primary factors that prevent relationship-building in the Bay Area: wealth and transience.
Tech salaries start at six figures (this sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it’s also ridiculous that we pay $2,500 per month for our 500 sq ft apartment that doesn’t have in-unit laundry). Having money removes a lot of stress – we’re fortunate enough that life’s unexpected costs (like replacing our car battery) isn’t a point of concern.
But wealth also removes dependency. Why ask friends to help you move when you can hire movers? Why call a friend to pick you up from the airport when you can call a Lyft? When you don’t have money, you’re forced to rely on those around you to help. But when everyone has money, no one needs anyone else.
People don’t tend to stick around in the Bay for very long – the cost of living makes it difficult to settle with a family (there are more pets than children in San Francisco) and tech’s mono culture can wear thin over time. It’s also hard to put roots down when it feels like the clock is ticking on everyone else’s inevitable return home (where they can actually afford a nice house after making a few years worth of Silicon Valley money).
These two factors – wealth and transience – create a spirit of independence and self-reliance. In general, that’s a strong vibe.
But when placed in the context of church – which is built around the concept of intentional community – it creates the type of spiritual atmosphere that I’d describe as dry and stagnant.
The implicit question facing Christians in this area is: if I can satisfy my own needs, what role does God play in my life?
Unfortunately I’ve sensed this spiritual lethargy in almost every single church I’ve visited in the Bay Area. I’ve yet to walk into a church and feel an urgent hunger for spiritual truth (but I’m not saying that all churches here are bad or ineffective).
I remember feeling dejected after several months of searching for a church home after I moved to California in 2014. I’d show up to a church, listen to a sermon that felt empty, and leave without talking to anyone (I was also struggling with depression at the time but that’s a different story).
As I drug myself to church one of those Sundays I thought to myself, “what’s the difference between what I’m about to do and just watching a recorded sermon at home?”
As it turns out, the church’s pastor was gone that Sunday. Instead of having someone speak they showed a pre-recorded message from the pastor on a large video screen. God answered my question that day 😂
It’s been 4.5 years since I’ve consistently gone to a traditional Sunday church. That’s not a bragging point or confession, just a fact. Instead, I’ve been gathering twice a week with a group of people who I know are also earnestly seeking truth in an area where it would be so much easier not to.
We keep things simple – we eat together, we read a passage of the Bible, and then we talk about what does and doesn’t make sense to us from the text and what about our lives would change if what we just read were true. Some of us work in tech, some of us don’t. Some of us have kids, some of us don’t. Some of us grew up going to church, some of us didn’t. But we all, in a dry and stagnant spiritual atmosphere, are hungry for something more.
Together we’re living out the questions: what does it look like to be in community? What is the role of God in my life? What is church?
And more specifically, what is the role of the church in Silicon Valley?
I’ll end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If you feel like it resonates, please reply to this email with your reflections! Over the course of the newsletter I’ll share some of the responses (anonymously) at the bottom of the next email. I hope we can share this journey together.
What is a long held belief about your life that you’ve recently called into question?
Last email’s question:
When have you experienced real, no-strings-attached, messy, friendship?
“Last fall our car actually broke down in the middle of the highway! My wife was alone but called up our friends (who were moving out of their house the next week). They had an AAA membership, and they called the tow truck, drove out to find my wife, and then let her stay two nights while the car was in the garage. Making that phone call is scary, but sometimes it is the act of being vulnerable that opens to door to deeper friendships.”