The houses we (used to) live in

London bridge is falling down

OK, maybe not London bridge, but about 28 houses in my area are coming down. The national guard came to Youngstown over the past couple weeks and began tearing down abandoned houses on the South side. They had just arrived right before I left for a week and when I got home I could hear the dull rumbling of heavy equipment tearing through houses.

After that came the inevitable response: sadness.

The sadness is easy to explain. My church building (finished in 1936) predates much of neighborhood. After the church was finished much of the congregation either built or bought the new homes that erupted along a then growing edge of Youngstown. My members, both former and current who used to live in the neighborhood remember these houses, lived in these houses, loved these houses.

I get why people are sad, but the real question is what are people mourning? Home? Well that’s quite it because the sadness comes from people who often don’t live in the neighborhood anymore. Loss of money or property value? That can’t be it either because these homes that are being torn down are not very valuable at this point. What exactly are we mourning?

The heart of the issue is value. What do we actually value in this world? People mourn the tearing down of homes because it reflects a tearing down of something that has value to us. This tearing down of house suddenly becomes a lot more because the houses that come crumbling down remind us of all the other things of value that are coming down in our lives.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? I bet you do if we just think about it for a moment. Heck, this whole election season that supposedly ended  is exactly about that: the fact that the houses we value seem to be coming down. The slogan “make America great again” is really about how some feel that the country they used to value is being torn down. If you’re tired of politics, then we can step away from there and just look at the big picture. A gallop poll in 2015 found that 72% of Americans think that the nation is in moral decline. Another poll in 2013 found that 50% of Americans think that our best years are behind us. Overall we find ourselves in a world where we believe that the houses that we used to live in (both literal and metaphorical) are coming down.

And what is left? Well with torn down houses we are left with empty lots. When I first got to Martin Luther there was this beautiful old brick apartment building across the street from the church. I’d even been inside it and the apartments, in their day, would have been lovely. A rain storm came two years ago and washed away the foundation of the building. It had to be torn down and all that left was an empty lot. My church did an interesting thing with that lot. For two years we’ve throwing “seed balls,” wildflower seeds wrapped in fertilizer, into an empty lot across the street from the church. It took two years, but this year the lot has erupted in full bloom.

God says to Jeremiah in chapter 1 “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Our problem is not the things that we value are being torn down, but that we don’t truly believe that anything else of value can stand in it’s place. That God can truly tear down and destroy is something we have no trouble believing. That God can cause something else of real value to be built up in the places we used to live is an idea we can hardly believe. Yet, it is part of the story because Jesus went from rejected stone to cornerstone. So flowers grow in places where there were apartment buildings; and churches that seem to be crumbling can suddenly sprout new life; and denominations that seem to be crumbling under the weight of budget constraints can find freedom again.

Do we really believe that after the 1950’s world, missed by so many, comes crumbling down then God will plant something new and life giving?

Do we really believe that our congregations, seemingly torn down from the weight of the cultural changes around us, can be built up again?

Do we really believe that our denominations, some of which feel like they are being washed away, can be brought back to life?

I have no easy answers for those questions. All I can tell you is that yes, there are a lot of empty fields where houses used to be.

And in place of the houses we used to life in gardens and wildflowers have begun to grow.


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