Lent 2013, Entry 21

I’m a product of suburban America. I grew up in a place called Bluff Park and currently live in a place called Flower Mound. My stripes in this arena have been earned.

That’s not to say that I haven’t lived in tension with that reality. Now, this may have something to do with a small dissonance between my paternal and maternal sides of my family. My mom’s family seemed more white-collar by the time I came along, though they had come from much more humble beginnings. They had a membership in a fancy social club. My dad’s family seemed more blue-collar, though they had their share of college degrees, too. They had a cabin on river where we water-skied on the weekends. My dad was a steel-worker on shift work at first and like most folks at the mill, worked his way into management not long after his wife stepped away from her teaching gig to become a homemaker. This was followed by a move to Bluff Park like all his friends who did the exact same thing around the exact same life-station. The bottom line is that I seemed to be drawn to the best things of both sides of my extended family.

My life has been a blend of both…like the blue-collar work-ethic I had while working at the country club in my neighborhood, feeling all superior to my friends because I was digging ditches for sprinkler systems while they lounged at the pool. Or spending hours at the batting cage because I felt like I had to outwork other players while living a life where I could spend hours at a batting cage. I liked the underdog status of my community only in comparison to the wealthier status of the two communities that surrounded us while this same community was one people moved to in order to get out of other neighboring communities’ school districts.

We went to schools where we took a quality education for granted. We played in sports leagues. We got cars when we were 16. We went to colleges, mostly on our parents’ nickels. Our nickels covered the movies and gas (maybe insurance) and concerts and proms. It’s safe to say that I’ve never really done without much in my life.

Sure, there were the early-married youth ministry years that we certainly did without and juggled bills and came close to having the water turned off by the city and put Enfamil on credit cards and scraped change to pay the $10 co-pay for our HMO…but we still had purchased a small home and had a dog.

And I thought about that as I was browsing today’s New York Times which had an article about living with less written by Graham Hill. The writer, an entrepreneur who made a bunch of money & changed his lifestyle with houses on both coasts and all the bells/whistles, discusses his happiness now that he’s downsized.

I have to admit that the blue-collar romantic in me loves the idea of downsizing. I live in a world where I have two different sizes of crock-pots and a TV/DVD player that we used on long vacation trips in the minivan and humidifiers and an extra refrigerator in the garage…and the normal reality of living in one home for almost two decades now that has a garage and extra rooms and an attic for plenty of storage.

But I also have to admit the white-collar reality in me likes my stuff. Like the author of the article, I’ve realized that home ownership requires time and money. The lawn ain’t gonna mow itself and the water heater will break every 10 years and the carpet is going to get replaced with either new carpet or maybe upgraded to hardwood. The cars require maintenance, gasoline, insurance and some other infrequent government stuff. Dogs need food, grooming and shots and to go on walks and you gotta pick up their poop. The computer needs new software, the TV needs cable, my coffee maker needs new K-cups, and my smart phone isn’t doing all the cool things others do. So, while I know that all this stuff and all these things offer some degree of trade-off…my time, energy or money for some sort of benefit.

That’s the tension, right?

The article points out a few things I found interesting. Among them:
A UCLA study found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings.
Seventy-five percent of the families involved in the study couldn’t park their cars in their garages because they were too jammed with things.
The average size of a new American home in 1950 was 983 square feet; by 2011, the average new home was 2,480 square feet.
The American personal storage industry circulates $22 billion annually.

To no one’s surprise, the article confirms that we’re still not happier with all our stuff and things.

And spiritually speaking, there’s tension, right?

The article didn’t go that route, but we see in parts of scripture the importance of frugality and in other parts we’re told to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We see the importance of ministering to the poor and oppressed and then told that there are times when extravagance and celebration are the highest order. We see the rich, young ruler in love with his stuff but we see the prodigal’s dad kill the fatted calf. Even Paul tells us that he knows what it’s like to have riches and what it’s like to do without and he’s learned to be content in either state. We’re told how hard it is for the rich to get into the Kingdom while watching some wealthier folks support Jesus and the apostles.

So I admit that there’s a romance to downsizing…and how nice it would be to get into a smaller place and de-clutter and get to a life-station where I didn’t do yardwork. But I also have to admit that I’d like wireless internet and room for folks to sit and visit and my dogs and in my town I gotta have a car. It’s like when I tell my kids that the romance of camping is better than actually camping.

Like the time a guy poked fun at me at a gas station as I was listening to the Ramones & wearing a concert t-shirt from a punk band while I was pumping gas into the wife’s minivan. He kind of laughed and mentioned it was a little ironic from where he stood. This is a tension I think I’ll always wrestle with…

…and I’m not sure exactly what it says about me, either.