Saturday, April 21, 2007


Well, it looks like JC and I are buying a house. It's farther from church, but much closer to work and all of our friends. Plus, it's in the woods, near some farms, and there's a river through a corner of the property. The inspection went very well this past week, and everything seems to be coming together.

I feel a little weird about the idea of ownership, though. What right have I to buy a beautiful house on a lovely piece of dirt, when millions of people don't have fresh drinking water or so much as a lean-to? Of course, I know that everyone has to live somewhere, that in the long-term this is cheaper than renting, that this is just how we do things in America. I still feel weird about it.

The house reminds me of the places I've been happiest in my life--most notably, my friend Andy's house and Hiram's Northwoods campus. The sound of the river is soothing, and whenever I'm out there, I feel so relaxed and happy. I know I'll love living there. We'll be able to plant a garden and live a little more lightly on the earth. We'll have a place to raise our children when we have them (interesting conversation with my mother: "What if you have a baby?" "Well, then we'll have somewhere to put the baby, which is not the case in our three-room apartment." I think she meant since our company offers only unpaid maternity leave...but maybe that will change by the time we decide to have kids). It's lovely. Good biking, close to the mountains, beautiful skies.

I guess I just feel guilty about the whole thing. The house, at 1500 square feet, is not extravagant by American standards--but American standards are extravagant. If we are supposed to live in imitation of Christ, how do we reconcile that with having a very definite place to lay our heads? How do I handle having more than I in fact need to survive when others don't have the very basics?

This problem runs through a lot of things in my life--I remember feeling this way when I bought my car (which is not extravagant--a 2000 Subaru Legacy Sedan, which had about 75K miles on it when I bought it). It was exactly the car I've wanted for years, and after driving a disgustingly problematic and wimpy little Kia Rio (which my Dad picked out), the Subaru felt like freedom. It was also the first truly major purchase I had ever made on my own, with neither input nor financial help from my parents. Yet I remember, driving it back from North Carolina, where I bought it, thinking, I don't really own this. I don't want to. With the car, I've had a long struggle to be detached. I love that car. It's wonderful. I want to drive it until there's nothing left of it. So I get a little uptight when my husband is hard on the clutch. I get totally annoyed when someone dents it (badly) in the parking lot and doesn't leave a note. I was aware that I would have these feelings of ownership and entitlement from the moment I started the engine for the first time. I'm vigilant about them. Once, I confessed to Teen Girl Squad that on the way to church, JC was speeding and I got so mad at him because if he got a ticket, our insurance rates would go up, and because, if he got in an accident, we couldn't afford to fix the car. I was placing my car above this person I pledged to love and honor---but knowing that let me readjust my priorities and have some real peace about the whole thing. The most recent parking lot damage (a 3-foot long, inch-deep gash that also flipped the mirror around--so the person was pulling in) irked me, but I had practically forgotten about it within ten minutes. It's just a car. It still runs.

I hope I can be this healthy about the house.

Now to talk about class last Sunday--which will seem like a departure, but keep this house issue in mind. We're coming back to it.

On Sunday, we talked about Ecclesiastes. Let me tell you, you have not lived until you've tried to teach Ecclesiastes to nine-year-olds. We started by asking them, "Is there anything you don't have that you think, if you did have it, it would make you happy?"
This stumped a few of them, until Joshua set the example: "How about a PS3 and all the games that you can get for it?"
Lachlan: "All the clothes I want."
Josh: "Clothes! Ew, I hate clothes!"
Me: "Right, but Lachlan thinks they would make her happy. She wouldn't want all those video games that you want."

David said he couldn't think of anything--except for all of his brothers to suffer some sort of injury ("Except Logan, because he already has a broken arm.").
"What about money?" we asked them.
"Oh, yeah," said David, "I'd be happy with a hundred million dollars."
Joshua chimed in: "How about infinity dollars?" (pause to explain "infinity" to the other kids)

So then we talked about Solomon. They remembered from last week that God had promised him a long life, during which he would be popular, wise, and wealthy. We had them read the passages describing Solomon's extravagant wealth and we did a little math to put the drachmas, minas, and talents into modern currency. They read about Solomon's big fancy throne ("It doesn't sound very comfortable," said Lachlan) and his 700 wives and 300 concubines (My Bible has a footnote speculating that the Song of Solomon, which refers to fewer wives, must have been written earlier than this account).

"So, imagine you have all the friends you could possibly want, more wisdom and money and power than anybody, and lots of beautiful wives. Do you think that would make you happy?"
All of them chorused, "Yes!" Then Lachlan rescinded her statement. "It's the Bible. Bible people are never happy." Not only was that (in my opinion) a pretty funny thing to say, it was also accurate, in this case.

Toward the end of his life, we explained, Solomon turned away from God. He ended up being really sorry about that. All of his wealth and his friends were worth nothing without God. And that's what Ecclesiastes is about. Then we read the first chapter of Ecclesiastes together. And Joshua asked a very interesting question: Why?

Why was Solomon's wealth worth nothing without God? I mean, he had practically everything, right? How does God compare to all that stuff?

The funny thing is, I had just accepted the truth of that statement--that all your stuff is nothing without God. I hadn't thought about why. To buy myself a little time, I asked the other kids if they had some thoughts on the matter. None of them did. Who wouldn't be happy with a ton of cash and popularity?

I tried to lead them along Solomon's train of thought, and maybe it worked. "What's the only thing that has existed for ever?" I asked them.
"Okay. What happens to your money, your friends, your house, everything, when you die?"
That took them a minute.
"Who has Solomon's money now?"
They didn't know. Neither do I, but my guess is that it's been redistributed so thoroughly that no one person could claim to have the actual gold of Solomon.
"So, Solomon is asking, 'What do I get for all my hard work?' He realized that he couldn't take it with him when he died. So if your money and your friends don't last, what does?"
They shrugged.
"How about the work you do in God's kingdom?"
They looked at me blankly.
I tried again. "So, JC and I are a little older than you are."
"A lot older," David corrected.
"Ok, a lot older." Funny, I never thought of myself as being a lot older than they are--but I'm more than twice their age, so I guess I am. "Unless something truly horrible happens, we'll probably die before you do, right?" Nods. "When we die, very little that we worked for will matter. But you will remember some of the things we taught you, and we hope they will help you be better, happier people and real servants in God's kingdom. We also hope that someday you will teach other people. In that way, our work will endure. Do you get it?"
Weirdly, they did. I thought I might be going a bit deep for them, that I might be presuming too much in believing that they'll remember our lessons next week, let alone in ten years. They agreed, though. They understood that they were part of our work for God, and that we expect them to carry it on, even after we're gone.

Then we listened to the Byrd's "Turn Turn Turn," and they followed along in their Bibles. They were totally excited to see my iPod come out and they really got the point of the passage. We had a truly excellent class with these kids, and I think they'll remember it.

It was awesome.

Studying Ecclesiastes helped me with my house dilemma, too. As a young person, you spend so much of your life working for the next thing. "Learn to write in cursive," says the elementary school teacher, "because you'll need to for middle school." By middle school, in fact, no one really cares how you write. "Get good grades in middle school so you can take honors classes in high school." "Get good grades in high school so you can get into a good college." "Go to a good college so you can get a good job." "Go to grad school so that you can get a really good job." (I don't think Shakespeare school was what that advice-giver had in mind) "Get married because it'll make you happy." "Have children because they're cute and people will think you are a good person." "Buy a house because it's the American dream." "Save money for retirement."

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

I think that I can reconcile home-ownership with my particular take on Christianity only by trying to use my home as a tool to do God's work. We haven't been able to host devos because, as I said, we live in a very small apartment. We can do more of that in our house-to-be. I mean even bigger things, though. The Mennonites have a program where they help refugees from various hard-hit places move to the US. The refugees live with a family for a little while, learn some English, find a job, get an apartment, and begin the path toward citizenship. I'm thinking of opening our home to some of these refugees, of being a base-camp for these people who so desperately need help. We'll see about that--maybe it's Menno-only. :)

Anyway, beautiful day, daylight's a-wastin'.

More news from the Lord's vineyard another day.

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