For a long time, Christians in America haven't been all that concerned about what goes on around them. We've been guilty of dualism--separating matter and spirit into "bad" and "good" categories. In a way, we want to make sure people have the right software (My mind goes to the cheesy Intel knock-off t-shirt: "Jesus inside!"), but don't care all that much about their hardware (their bodies and environments). We don't think that's our "job" as followers of Jesus. (one of my first posts was about this dualism).
As a result, we've lost out on the most shaping conversations in our towns and cities. As Christians, we wouldn't dare miss out on the very important national issues (which tend to be "software" kinds of issues--abortion, definition of marriage, etc.), that affect the moral fiber of our nation (and they do), but we tend to leave local issues (which are usually "hardware" kinds of issues--zoning, etc.) well enough alone. We think they don't matter, that is, unless the zoning laws affect our desire to build a new building!
We think Yoda is right when he pokes Luke Skywalker and calls Luke's body "crude matter" in The Empire Strikes Back (I know, a geek reference, but I use the example because I've watched it about 30 times in the last month after introducing my son to it a couple months ago). The thing is, Yoda is espousing a Greek and Eastern Mystical idea, not a biblical one! A very cursory reading of Genesis 1-3 shows that God cares about the physical creation and calls it "good", not "crude matter."
Our dualism is probably most on display in the suburbs. Much of the suburbs is sprawl--without much thought about how space is defined and used and with little thought to zoning. It's purely functional "drive-in" space. As a result, no one wants to hang out there. I mean, who lingers in the parking lot of Wal-Mart?
Is it any surprise then that in the suburbs the Mall is the place people go to hang out? And then should we be surprised that we are nation of consumers with personal debt kicking the snot out of people's futures? Having a nation of people whose souls have been shaped to simply want more stuff, who's vision of 'the good' is a house, nice car and great clothes creates a certain moral climate too, does it not? We've found out too late that hardware really does affect software.
Can we do something about this? We know that people flourish in and want to be around beauty; and aren't we interested in people flourishing? We know that for people to really flourish we have to give careful attention to software and hardware; and isn't this what shalom means? So listening to Jeremiah 29:1-14 means being very interested in how our towns are created, maintained and changed (hardware) and helping them live with well-ordered hearts (software).
If suburban churches led the way, would their buildings and grounds have great public green space and architecture that drew people in to their environs? Would half their facilities (or more) be community centers used by the surrounding neighborhood? Would they encourage and lobby for mixed use development around them that included neighborhoods with trails, parks with trails and grocery stores within walking distance? As a result, wouldn't their parking lots be full every day??
This talk from the TED conference hammers the "hardware" point home. His language is rough in places, so be forewarned. He holds nothing back.