What is it like to live in the Washington, D.C. area? What are the pitfalls and the pluses? What is the cost of living like? What is the D.C. culture like? This is some musings on a guy who has lived here for 10 years. To be honest he would leave if he could but is anchored here. How would I describe Washington, D.C.? One word….lonely. This is also some thoughts on the church culture here in D.C.
“Washington, D.C. is to lying what Wisconsin is to cheese.”
“Outside of the killings, DC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Acts 17:22-28 NIV
The previous post abut Cru’s Christmas and Winter conferences was a lot of work. I had a lot of late nights going conference by conference and researching each individual speaker and church they were tied to. So I want to take a breather and write something that has been on my mind for a while. What is it like to live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area? There are many ways to describe it. However if I were to capture the area in one word that word would be the following…
Washington, D.C. is the loneliest place I have ever lived. I’ve lived in California, Montana, and Wisconsin and this is by far the hardest. The reason why is because the area is so transitory. People move in, move out and don’t stay for long. Some people come here for a short time and build walls and don’t want to get to know people too well so they can leave with ease. What that does is make it exceptionally hard if you are anchored here by your job. On Sunday night I had dinner with a guy I know at Tysons Corner Gordon Biersch. He’s one of the few people I have known who have lived here long term. He is anchored here by his job as well. But as I type I can reflect and think on person after person who moved away. In one year alone most of the friends I had moved away and that leaves me with the process of trying to rebuild and find new social communities. It’s a constant struggle and it means there is no stability if you live here. I find this in stark contrast with going to Milwaukee 10 years after I moved away and finding and knowing people still living and anchored in the southeast Wisconsin area.
What is the Culture Like?
Washington, D.C. is a type A personality’s paradise. I am not a type A. In reality I would be more at home in Wisconsin or Montana than a place like D.C. It’s an on the go, driven and a very image conscious city. It’s a city that works 24-7 especially since the hub of the federal government is here. Plus its an international city as well which will leave you with interesting neighbors and acquaintances. I have a neighbor who is a Sunni Muslim that wears his Islamic clothing. I’ve ran into a female wearing the full hijab while leaving my condo unit. You see that often as this is an international city. You can go into the nearby 7-11 and find a lot of immigrants trying to swing or pick up jobs. It’s a very diverse place ethnically. For me its much more diverse than Fresno or Milwaukee is as a city. The ethnic groups you will encounter here are Korean, Chinese, Afghan, Indian, South-Asian, South American with a lot of Peruvians. There also are a lot of Africans with a thriving Ethiopian population. This area has the most diverse restaurants I have encountered. You name it you can find it….Kenyan, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Irish, Pakistani, and so much more.
The culture is very fast paced. Drivers here are intense and horrible. They are aggressive, rude, and drive often above the speed limit. Want to test your patience? Drive on the 495, 395 or 66. The traffic is stop and go quite frequently. There are ways to read the traffic flow, with some people avoiding it by getting up at 4 or 5 A.M. to beat the traffic. I’ve encountered traffic at all hours of the day and night. Often when I am sitting in traffic I find myself going back to the lifestyle I knew in Montana or Wisconsin. Its one of the many reasons why I miss those places. I get a good laugh when my Mom calls me up and says, “The traffic in Fresno is so terrible!” Then she has come out here and its been an eye opener in seeing the traffic first hand. The culture out here is unique, fast paced, and unlike anything else I have encountered. One more point…the rage in D.C. is cupcakes. Unique eateries and places have sprung up here.
It’s an Expensive Area
What stunned me and still stuns me is the cost of living. It’s expensive and when you hear the price of rent or houses and you’re living in a place like Des Moines, Milwaukee, or Topeka your jaw will drop. When I lived in Milwaukee I paid $530.00 for a thousand square feet. I remember when the landlord told me they are going to raise the rent to $530. My reaction was one of “extortion!” Here in D.C. I’d be thrilled to have a $5.00 increase. My rent went from $535.00 in Milwaukee to close to $1300.00 a month when I moved here. Many people who move here can’t afford it and they get roommates. That’s the only way some people can afford it. If you live here and you want to take the Metro into D.C. be prepared to pay more near the Metro area. The other thing that irritated me when I moved here was when I realized that Virginia had a car tax. I never knew such a thing existed. I don’t want to get into politics on this blog at all, but I’m just saying that living here is not a walk in the park.
Benefits of Living Here
Having mentioned the negatives there are some unique positives that I want to highlight. The D.C. area is one of the most unique areas of the world to live in. There are many perks to living in the nation’s capitol. One thing that is rich about D.C. is the culture. This is one of the cheapest areas of the country to engage in cultural activities. There are multitudes of museums and memorials to see. All the Smithsonians I have been to. I’ve drooled in the museum of American History, been captivated in the Air & Space, overwhelmed in the Natural History and the American Indian. Plus there is the Portrait Gallery. I’ve loved to go there and take it in. Where else in the country can you experience museums like that? I’m not trying to put down Chicago, Los Angeles or even New York…..but I think Washington, D.C. has some of the finest museums in the country.
While I gripe about the traffic I remind myself at times as to how lucky I am to live here as well. How many other people that I know in California or Wisconsin have the privilege of driving past the Pentagon? Or cruising up Pennsylvania avenue near The White House? Other benefits include being in a centrally located area. I’m 30 minutes away from Baltimore, a little over an hour from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and 2 hours from Richmond. And I’m about 5 hours away from My East Coast Mom which has been a blessing. The change of seasons here is nice (you may think me nuts for saying this….but I miss Wisconsin snow storms) and you can watch the colors change in a magnificent style. Another perk to living in the D.C. area is the sports teams. From The Nationals to the nearby Orioles, there is a lot to say. Redskins games can be a little bit pricy form what I hear…but they are much cheaper than trying to get a ticket to watch the Packers in Lambeau. There is also good quality symphony, opera and theater. I’ve been to the Kennedy Center several times. One final point that I will say is that since there are direct flights from D.C. airfare can be slightly cheaper than previous places I lived.
I almost want to turn this part of the post into a separate post, but this is how I size up the area theologically. This is a hard area to live due to the transitory nature and I can very much understand why cults, sects and questionable religious movements thrive in the D.C. area. Everything from Mormonism, to Scientology (they have an impressive building on DuPont Circle) to Sovereign Grace I can understand why they and other movements have thrived here. They feed off that turmoil and the transitory nature of the city. I wrote about some of that in this post here which I will give a plug. The other thing that disappoints me and is frustrating is the following. Many churches in the D.C. area have let the area get to their head. The power, the prestige, the politics, and the desire to “change the world by impacting secular Washington, D.C…..” many churches have lost it. They have failed to love, fail to care, and often act like moths in front of a summer light because they think of the Congress, Supreme Court, Pentagon, CIA, State Department, foreigners, etc… who live in the area. Instead of focusing on love many churches such as Fairfax Community and McLean Bible are obsessed with growth. So you have individuals who are craving to find community and many churches actively spurn them because they are only enamored with growth and carving out their kingdom. Some of the churches here in the D.C. area with the way they pursue growth and expansion, well if this was the 17th or 18th centuries they could give the British, Dutch of the French some stiff competition in empire building. Its s very frustrating area to try and do church in because of the challenges. It’s unique in that way as politics and the desire to “make an impact” have affected the area.
If you are considering a job here I would give it great caution. Weigh the situation and consider. The income may seem high if you’re living in Boise or Memphis but the cost of living eats it up quickly. That is how I view this situation….I honestly wish someone could have had that talk with me in Milwaukee in 2005 and expressed these concerns or issues. But I am not the only one who feels like that, it goes along with the territory.
That’s it…I got this off my chest. I love you guys!