To lust or not to lust

This past week I read two things that struck me concerning how we view the homes and space where we live. The first was a review of House Lust, a book earning a fair amount of press for its examination of our nation’s obsession with the size and status of our homes:

Add to this a newly overwhelming lust for space. In 1950, the average American home measured just 938 square feet. By 2005, the average had grown to 2,434 square feet. The size of the putative American dream house expanded even more.

At a convention of the nation’s home builders in 1984, an ideal “New American Home” on display encompassed 1,500 square feet and cost less than $100,000. In 2006, the ideal house was 10,023 square feet, and was priced at more than $10 million. In the interim, Bill Gates of Microsoft built a 66,000-square-foot home near Seattle at an estimated cost of $100 million.

I am quick to say that one of the hard things for me about our life here is the impossibility of purchasing a home here in L.A. And while I sit at a distance through the many conversations my peers have about this and that remodel, this period restoration goal, this great refinancing opportunity, etc., I secretly wish I was in their club (though I certainly don’t envy the many headaches, the total displacement of families during remodel projects, lead and asbestos abatement, etc). I have a friend who has a very crass way of describing the way my generation has sold our soul to Home Depot, and while her words make me laugh I see how much acquiring and restoring homes can consume my peers.

The second piece that caught my eye was written for an internal newsletter for Servant Partners, and it dealt with the ways that crowding is a great stressor for those who live in urban centers, and in particular the slum communities where our staff members make their homes. The author quotes Danielle Speakman (Nothing But a Thief) who writes:

“Imagine your immediate family, who they are, what they are like, how many of you there are. Take all of you, add in your grandparents, and perhaps an aunt and her children. Now move into your bedroom. You all live there. All your possessions are there, you cook there, you sit there, you sleep there. Together…”

It is amazing, the juxtaposition from one world to another; worlds within one world; worlds that offend each other to the core.

The House Lust reviewer continues, quoting the book’s author:

“Unlike the robber baron-era mansions, modern-day megahomes don’t feature dozens of bedrooms or entirely new kinds of rooms — they mostly just take the rooms you’d find in a normal house and make them really, really big.” The challenge of filling up those rooms, he adds, is being met by outsize furnishings like the “extreme ultra king bed” that is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.

Today was my first day back at work post-maternity leave, and I count it a grace to be in partnership with folks all over the world who have chosen those one room homes over giant rooms and oversized beds. They tell me a truth about life with Christ that is unpopular here in the land of house lust. They remind me of my own material abundance and they challenge me to consider ways to let go of some of that comfort and risk living with less.

11 thoughts on “To lust or not to lust”

  1. It may seem impossible (I’m aware of the LA market) but it’s worth pursuing home ownership anyway. In most places home ownership needs to be a ministry priority — both for staff and for the people with whom we work. When we own property it says to the community that we’re invested. And when my neighbors own they’re invested, too. And that changes the feel of the neighborhood. They become cleaner and safer. We need ministry models that emphasize helping people become homeowners. We probably don’t want to buy into the we-need-a-mansion model that drives House Lust. But we don’t want to ignore the importance of investing in place either — not if we’re in it for the long haul.

  2. Two experiences from my life brought this into focus for me: A seminary friend from Korea, upon seeing a picture of my two story home (for only 2 of us) looked directly at me and said incredulously: “This is YOUR house?!?”

    A colleague who happened to be Native American really got me thinking when she told me she never in her life intended to own property – as a statement about her family’s generational story, and she just couldn’t see the need of it and didn’t believe it necessary or correct for a follower of Jesus. She was a Methodist minister and had taken an oath to go wherever she was sent by her bishop, which may have also influenced her decision. I’ve thought about her many times when longing for home ownership.

    All I know is that I miss owning a home – for now I live in someone else’s home, and it’s lovely, but there is something to having a little bit of land and a house to call home, and having it large enough to be able to welcome family.

  3. My wife, my two middle school aged daughters and I are living in an 800 square foot apartment in Daejeon, South Korea. As one who has owned and lived in an “average” house in a very spacious Northwestern State in the USA, I must say that for now not living in a house has been a blessing.

    The living space in our apartment is much tighter than our home in the States but it has resulted in us “living” together rather than just spreading out and doing our own thing. We actually talk more, laugh more and see each other more.

    Renting and living in an apartment has been a great boost to available time. No lawn to mow, no leaves to rake, no yard to water, no fix-its every other week, no trips to Home Depot (I haven’t seen one here in South Korea), etc.

    It has been amazing to see how much time it took to maintain a home. Now we spend that time together as a family, with friends and engaging with others in our community. In suburbia I was too busy trying to keep my place from being a sore spot in the neighborhood that I didn’t have or rather take the time to get to know my neighbors.

    So it goes, “A house doesn’t make a home,” and we have found this to be true–we are treasuring our family time and relationships living here together in a rented apartment in South Korea.

  4. Brad,

    Thanks for adding your thoughts on home ownership. I totally agree with that value, and if there were any way to do it, we would. Many of our peers got in a few years ago, but now there is nothing below 700K. On a Fuller Seminary salary and part time mission work pay, there really just is no way. It seems like the trend here in the L.A. area (and maybe more of CA too) is for churches to do equity-sharing arrangements to help their pastors move into homes. We don’t exactly have folks of that caliber of resource in our church family…

    In our case, I think the home ownership piece contributes a lot to people’s sense of investment in this community and commitment for the long haul. My friends who own their homes are not likely to up and move any time soon. For those who rent, there is simply less that ties you to a place, and for our parish mission, place matters immensely.

  5. Ryan,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective! I think there are ways where our experience as a family echoes yours…

    I would add, though, that my peers here who are making the sacrifice of investing dollars and time in homes use those homes extensively in ministries of hospitality for our immediate church family as well as for others. We don’t own a church building, so people’s homes tend to play a pretty big part in the life of our church. I also think of all the times someone has needed housing and one of our homeowners has been able to step in and offer space. I grew up in a home like that and now I see my sister following my parents’ example.

  6. It’s funny, when I read your quote: ” that crowding is a great stressor for those who live in urban centers” I immediately thought about my brother-in-law who said that very same thing about being the 13th child in a family. There just isn’t enough space and/or attention given to some when there is too much crowding.

    On the other end of the spectrum, from our life in ministry, sometimes homeownership is too much. We have so much going on with building into people’s lives and church, etc., we really would rather the details of the domicile be taken care of by someone else.
    My 2 cents

  7. I wonder if your real desire is not so much for a house and the extra space, but for a yard for the kids to go out and play in. I smile whenever I think of them getting up in the morning and putting their boots and coats on over their pj’s so they could get right outside to play. The weather didn’t matter to them…and they would stay out until someone dragged them in!! (And needless to say Doug would love the space to garden!!)

  8. Okay, first off, Erika Carney- I have missed you! Second, Fuller?!! That is so amazing! Daron and I loved our time when he was studying there. I taught in La Canada. Third, we were just remembering our time there a few days ago and we couldn’t remember spending time in our house(or barn-a “guest house”) that was probably as big as a bedroom. We were out and about spending time in community with others and not having to worry about keeping up the house. It was wonderful! We loved our time there, but knew that we would never be able to afford a home in that area. Now we are outside of Seattle and have a place of our own- very expensive to keep it up, as you said. I think of how much more space we have now and try and use it to benefit our ministry here. I always said that if I had a home with space we would invite others to stay with us or have weekly gatherings at our house. The best compliment I got last week was when a first timer to our house church came and told me how comfortable he was finding his way in our kitchen. Loved that. Anyway….it is hard not to have house lust(and house remorse, for that matter), but we need to continue to remind ourselves to open up whatever space we have to God’s plan at the time for us, and use it!

    Miss you!
    Kristin (Halverson) Jag

  9. Kristin!!!

    So great to hear from you :) It would seem that we have some things in common in terms of kiddos and ministry. Praise God for your church plant–we’ll have to come and see you when we are in town next time!

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