Gentrification And The Rest of Us

Such a loaded word, isn’t it?
Depending on what circles you run in, gentrification can either elicit thoughts of boutique clothiers and unintelligibly-named restaurants or Manifest Destiny and displaced natives.

In my neighborhood, the debate is hot.
Is gentrification the savior of urban neighborhoods or the worst white-on-black crime since Jim Crow?

Concerning the issue in general, I’m pretty sure I’ve come to a few conclusions about it. Among them:

– I believe that, as a whole, economic diversity in a neighborhood is a positive thing that benefits all residents. Development should be encouraged because development diversifies the economic base of a neighborhood and increases economic mobility in residents. (For an interesting study on the difference between economic mobility in a low-income neighborhood compared to an economically diverse neighborhood, read this: City Observatory- A New Look at A Neighborhood Change.)

– I believe that in the City of Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine is an extremely important neighborhood for the vitality and viability of the urban core and the city as a whole. So even though I generally prefer grassroots development, I am willing to entertain the idea that, for such a strategic and iconic neighborhood, it may have been appropriate to “force the hand” of development via City investments and incentives. (To what extent is another question entirely. I addressed it, briefly, in a letter to City Council two years ago.)

– My memories may only be 12 or so years old, but the difference on a mass scale between the OTR neighborhood pre-2004 (when the City and 3CDC started major investments) and today is stark. It is, in many pockets of the neighborhood (though not all), like night and day. Many long-term OTR residents talk about the “good old days” of the neighborhood as if they were completely blind to its blight and decay. I have no doubt in my mind that many of the residents of OTR pre-2004 loved their neighborhood, supported each other, and felt “at home” here. I know some of these long-term residents. I am glad they are here and I hope they stay forever. They are good neighbors but that doesn’t mean it was “a good neighborhood.” There are lovable parts and people in any community, even in places with high vacancy, high crime, and poverty-level income. I believe their strong community bond and sense of co-ownership of OTR existed because of and in response to the immense need for stabilization in a volatile environment, not because they lived together in a model Sesame Street community. Basically, they needed each other.

No one owns a neighborhood and every neighborhood changes over time. This is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s simply the way things are. Unless you’ve got the resources to buy up the whole neighborhood, you are always just a small part of a much bigger picture and will always be vulnerable to having your neighborhood change before your very eyes. White yuppies weren’t the first people in OTR and neither were low-income and working-class African Americans. It is unfortunate and sometimes painful to be the one whose neighborhood no longer resembles the neighborhood you loved, but you are not the first and you won’t be the last.

 

But what does this all mean?
I am confident with my ideological positions about gentrification, but they don’t tell the whole story because the story of a neighborhood is as much (or more) about the people as it is about the quality of the public parks or the crime rate or the bar : resident ratio.

Honest conversations about gentrification flip past ideology pretty quick because the primary opposition to gentrification is rarely ideological–it’s personal. It’s experiential. It’s the feeling a resident gets when he surveys his neighbors or walks to the store in the morning. It’s the contrast between the memories of “home” ten years ago and the reality of home today.

And this is where the gentrification debate gets difficult because, even with a strong ideological commitment to the kind of development it brings, it’s hard to deny the experience of living in a gentrifying neighborhood is… troublesome.

At least it is if you have your ear to the ground.

There are a lot of legitimate frustrations with the way my neighborhood’s major developments have transpired over the past 10 years. Or, I should say, how the residents without power or control in the neighborhood have experienced these changes.

For example:

– Developments have been almost completely driven by outside investment and influence with a lot of placating and patronizing neighborhood input sessions that don’t seem to make a difference.

– The cultural representation of these new developments is distinctly Anglo-centric and high-cost. For such an ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood, this is a problem.

– The vast majority of new developments have been entertainment-focused rather than community need-driven. (Boldly illustrated by a new boutique hamburger joint whose slogan is “What the neighborhood needed.” Fantastic burgers; terribly insulting slogan.)

– There is an awfully small group of people holding ownership of a significant portion of the collateral in the neighborhood. These few gatekeepers are, literally, standing between individual residents and smaller, privately-owned development companies designing their own neighborhood. Those who have secured affordable development property (or business leases) have likely brokered a relationship with these gatekeepers. If you’re not in the in-group, you’re out of luck. (As evidenced by the number of business owners opening multiple businesses within blocks of each other while other potentially viable entrepreneurs stand by.)

-Developments have happened so quickly that the infrastructure of the neighborhood simply cannot meet the demands of the influx of visitors to the neighborhood. Case in point: parking. It’s just a joke at this point

-Property values rise. Quickly. Which is great if you have the resources to buy and sell at a whim or if you were just biding your time until you could sell your house at a gain and leave the neighborhood. But for many of us, it means being priced out of our own neighborhood and knowing that, even if we decided to sell for the gain, we’d never be able to come back. The neighborhood has outgrown us. All real estate is now either inflated market value homes or subsidized low-income housing and there is no room for those of us in the middle. (See this and this for more of my very unprofessional opinion.)

 

Basically, when the majority of neighborhood development is done by outsiders (or those who feel like or seem like outsiders) and is done so quickly that there is little room for diversity, community input, and organic growth, the experience of gentrification becomes troublesome. Residents feel like visitors in their own neighborhood.

It doesn’t matter if you are black or white or if you’ve been here ten years or thirty. It’s hard to live in a neighborhood that no longer resembles the one you fell in love with. Or the one that raised you. Losing control sucks, no matter who you are.

My goal is not to minimize the experience of people who may have actually been victimized in some way by gentrification, because I know they exist, but to say that “I get it” and “I hear you.”

And to say that it should be okay to talk about gentrification ideologically, in a way that legitimizes the value of development and economic diversity, but to still honor the personal nature of neighborhood living and the experience of the people living there.

I don’t want to fight gentrification because, in a neighborhood like ours, it was probably necessary. But I want to to fight for a more equitable, viable neighborhood that resembles more the people who live and breathe it each day and less the ones who come for the impossible-to-pronounce charcuterie and aolis.

What would OTR look like if it had been allowed a slower, more organic growth?
Would you still visit?

 

(Just for kicks some day, do a slow walk up and down Vine St., between 12th St. and 14th., then compare it to Main St., between 12th St. and Liberty St., and see the many differences between a quick-growth and slow-growth business district. Which do you prefer? Where would you rather live? Why?)

 

Hiking With Kids: Our Trail Map


Hiking with Kids Pro Tip: Keep a List; Make a Map

Because we’ve been hiking together as a family for so long, and because we go so frequently, it was getting really hard for me to keep track of our hiking spots and to remember the names of the places we’ve heard of but never been. So, I created a Google map of all of the hiking spots I’m aware of in the region (roughly within I-275 but with a handful beyond) and notated at which spots we’ve been hiking and those we have yet to visit.

This map has been really helpful for me at times when we’re ready to go on a hike but I can’t wrap my head around “the perfect spot” for that day or for that group of friends who are coming along. So much of it depends on how far we’re willing to travel and what we’re hoping for (sun, shade, water, etc.).

Hiking Cincinnati- The McEwans

Eventually, I’ll be adding information about the locations–favorite trails, things to see, amenities, etc., as well as hiking places elsewhere in the country. For now, it’s just plots on a map and links to online information. I can access it on the go and can forward it to friends when we’re trying to decide what to hit up next.

 

I won’t share the actual interactive map with you (unless you ask nicely), but I do want to share the list of spots so my friends and readers can help me add to it!

Our List:

There are 38 spots we’ve been to; 24 we haven’t. We’ve hit almost everything within Cincinnati and Hamilton County, though some of them (Caesar Creek State park, for example) were a long time ago and we’re due for another visit.

I only included parks and greenspace areas I know of that have some sort of “trails,” though some of the spots (Sawyer Point, for example) have only paved sidewalks. I didn’t include general scenic areas and playgrounds with no marked trails (Washington Park, for example), though those may be added later.

(Before you say it: I know, I know, how have we never been to the Cincinnati Nature Center? Well, first of all, I have been there, but not with my kids. Second of all, it’s really far from our home and we usually do half-day trips on weekday mornings rather than taking an entire day. Also, I’m not-so-secretly harboring resentment that it’s called the “Cincinnati” Nature Center but it’s so far outside of the city. Call it city love. Call it suburban hate. Whatever. I make no apologies. We’ll get there eventually and I’m sure we’ll love it.)

Places We’ve Been:

Alms Park
Ault Park
Bicentennial Park
Big Bone Lick State Park
Brookville Lake Dam
Burnet Woods
Buttercup Valley Preserve/Parker Woods
Caesar Creek State Park
Caldwell Preserve
California Woods Nature Center
Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati
Devou Park
East Fork State Park
Eden Park
Embshoff Woods
Fernbank Park
Florence Nature Park
French Park
Glenwood Gardens
Gunpowder Creek Nature Park
Imago Nature Center
Laboiteaux Woods
Lindner Park (McCullough Nature Preserve)
Miami Whitewater Forest  
Mt. Airy Forest
Mt. Echo Park
Mount Storm Park
Sawyer Point Park
Sharon Woods
Shawnee Lookout
Smale Riverfront Park
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
Rapid Run Park
Red River Gorge  
Stanbury Park
Theodore M Berry International Friendship Park  
Tower Park
Winton Woods

Places We’d Like to Go:

Boone County Cliffs
Boone County Arboretum
Cincinnati Nature Center
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve
Clifty Falls State Park
Dinsmore Homestead
Doe Run Lake Park
Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve
Giles Conrad Park
Highland Hills Park
Hueston Woods State Park
Kroger Hills State Reserve
Lincoln Ridge Park
Magrish Recreation Center
Middle Creek Park 
Middleton-Mills Park
Mitchell Memorial Forest
Newberry Wildlife Sanctuary
Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum
Shawnee State Forest
Waller Stephenson Mill Park
Withrow Nature Preserve
Woodland Mound 

Now tell me, my hiking friends, what have I missed!?
What’s on your list?

The Time Between: Living Life on the Second Day

Have you ever read something for the umpteenth time and noticed something you’ve never noticed before? It happened to me tonight a Good Friday church service while reading along with one of the Gospel passages.

The passage covers the brief time after Jesus’ death when he is being prepared for burial:

Luke 23: 50-56

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Did you see it?

“On the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.”

I swear that in all the 33+ years I’ve heard the Bible read and have read the Bible, I’ve never really noticed that little bit. Or at least I never thought it was anything other than an inconsequential blip. So here I am, decades into knowing the story of Easter, realizing that I’ve never thought too much about what happened in the time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Turns out, the Sabbath happened.

I did a little quick research tonight and it appears there is some disagreement about how the Sabbath fits into the schedule of Jesus death and resurrection, especially since in that particular year and at that time, the Jews observed both a normal weekly Sabbath and a yearly Sabbath. That was about as much information as I needed to know to know that I could at least count on the observance of the Sabbath happening somewhere in there. And I certainly don’t think it was a coincidence.

Have you ever experienced a huge, monumental event? Maybe something exciting; maybe something traumatic. Think of something significant, something by which you can mark the timeline of your life as “before” and “after.” Think of something after which you laid in bed, mind racing, replaying the event in your mind until you finally fell asleep. Maybe it was the death of a parent, witnessing a crime, meeting a personal hero, or being offered the dream job.

Now think about what it was like the next day. Remember the excitement or the pain or the confusion or the regret. Remember how it felt the first time you saw the people who had experienced that event with you, how you didn’t know if it was better to talk about it or not talk about it. How it had been such a huge deal that part of you wondered if it had certainly been a dream. How maybe you wished it had been. Remember how you wanted to hear everyone else’s version of the story so you could be sure you hadn’t imagined it all.

Now think back to the night of Jesus’ death. Imagine the disciples who had just allowed a mob to arrest and torture their beloved teacher and mentor. Imagine Jesus’ mother who had just hours before stood at the foot of a cross while her son was crucified. Imagine the women who prepared his body for burial, who didn’t understand how the man they believed had come as the promised Messiah was now dead in a borrowed tomb.

Imagine how they all wandered back to their homes, crawled into bed, and laid awake that night wondering how any of the things they’d just witnessed could possibly be true. Imagine how certain they must have been that, from that night forward, everything would be marked as either “before” or “after.”

Now this is where that little bit I mentioned before gets really important because, the next morning, they didn’t really wake up to life “after” the death of Jesus. They woke up to the second day, the time between what Jesus did and what he’d said he would do. And, for that time between, on that second day, God gave them a Sabbath.

This second day might not seem significant to anyone else, but it seems awfully significant to me and I’m thankful tonight that the fathers of our faith were wise enough to put some space between our observance of Christ’s death and our observance of the resurrection.

I’m thankful because I feel like the second day is where I’m living these days.

I feel like the majority of my past 10 years or so has been one big, fat “time between.” It’s been the time between what God has done and what God has promised to do. And, just like the morning after witnessing a horrific car wreck or the morning after meeting the man of my dreams, I wake up every morning wishing I could skip through this time between and go straight to Resurrection Day.

The time between sucks.
And part of what sucks about it is that, like the disciples, there’s not a whole lot I can do to make the story move faster. Like the disciples, God is at work in the background bringing the story to completion while I’m left in the dark. Like the disciples, I’d probably rather find something to keep myself busy and distracted while I wait but, instead, God requests obedience to the Sabbath.

Rest. Worship. Pray. and Wait.

The second day.
It’s the time between the diagnosis and the cure.
It’s the time between the first try and the “+” sign.
It’s the time between the pink slip and the “you’re hired.”
It’s the time between her death and your falling in love again.
(Or, for some, it’s the time between wanting that cure or wanting that baby or that job or that new love and the day your heart finally lets go of the longing.)

Rest. Worship. Pray. and Wait.

A watched pot never seems to boil.
Until it does.

Sometimes God never seems to show up.
Until he does.

And when the disciples woke up on that second day, I’m sure some were confused and some were angry and some were so sad that they couldn’t even get out of bed. But they observed the Sabbath anyway. They rested. They worshiped and prayed. And, if they were brave and bold enough, they probably talked together about what they’d just witnessed the night before and hoped together beyond all hope that God was going to come through like he said he would.

And he did.
On the third day.

As for me, I keep waking up hoping it’s finally the third day. That my heart is finally whole again. That my faith has been restored. That my mind is not anxious. And that God has done the things I’ve been told he promised to do so that I can live more like the resurrection and less like the time between.

Sometimes God never seems to show up.
Until he does.

So let’s make the time more easy passing by telling ourselves and each other the stories about the times he has shown up, the things he has done, and the ways the resurrection has brought fulfillment to our longings, hope for our despair, and peace for the chaos of a world caught in the time between.

 

Donald Trump and the Prophetic Voice of America

Has there ever been a more polarizing election year in the history of our nation? If so, then certainly not one so televised and “shared” via social media, which makes the polarization even more evident.

Who the hell are these people?
No, not only the candidates themselves, but also their die-hard fans. Their loyal donors. Their faithful followers.

Who is okay with this!?

Most of the people I know are watching in utter confusion as some of the most spiteful, hateful, and radical candidates in history take the stage to the whoops and hollers of screaming, supportive fans.

Donald Trump is running for President.
Let that sink in for a moment.
And then let it sink in that he will likely be the GOP candidate for the general election. Which means that he has the potential to actually become the POTUS, with the support of a political party whose social agenda used to be one closely associated with conservative values, the American dream, and grandma’s Sunday afternoon apple pie.

Wow.
Look how far we’ve come.

Now before you assume that this post is meant to be an indictment against Donald Trump, let me make one thing clear: We are all to blame for this. And this isn’t really about Donald Trump. Whether you share Donald Trump’s specific rally cry or not, you probably have more in common with him than you think.

(I’m gonna get a little preachy here, so I’m sorry ahead of time for people who were just hoping I’d rail against Donald Trump.)

Donald Trump is the prophetic voice of the American people. He is speaking a damning word over us all and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

“Who? Me? Never! I am voting for Bernie Sanders!”

Yes, you. And me. And that guy right there. Because Donald Trump isn’t the only one speaking for us and over us these days. The prophetic voices in our culture are loud and strong and broadcasted over every loud speaker and television screen and facebook feed on the planet.

The message?

“I’m okay. You’re not. You created this problem. I will solve it. And then you will pay.”

The enemy is always different, so, take your pick.
Who caused all of your problems?

Was it the lazy black man?
The entitled white man?
The backroom-dealing CEO?
The lesbian feminist?
The illegal immigrant?
The backwards redneck?
The fundamentalist Christian?

Do you see what I’m getting at here?
Sure, Donald Trump may take the prize for Worst Rhetoric Of Any Presidential Candidate Ever, but the underlying message of his campaign should come as no surprise because it’s the same self-righteous garbage that lies at the heart of our culture at large. It’s the same self-righteous garbage that blames feminism for “destroying the family,” blames Capitalism for poverty, and only blames other countries for our insecurity. It’s the same self-righteous garbage that allows us to justify crooked cops and misbehaving black men by just blaming them one on the other.

“I’m okay. You’re not. You created this problem. I will solve it. And then you will pay.”

This is the message our modern day prophets are speaking and we should see it as an indictment on all of us. Especially people of faith. Because the message of the Gospel is entirely different:

“I am not okay and neither are you. We are all a part of a problem that we cannot solve on our own and all owe a debt that we cannot pay on our own. Jesus is both the solution to the problem and the satisfaction of the debt.”

You may not buy the Jesus stuff and think Christianity is one of the enemies. Or you may have a much higher view of mankind and believe that everyone is, at the core of their best selves, really “okay.” You may think that it’s a good thing that the Christian faith is going out of fashion in our country. (In some ways, I kind of agree with you. Popular faith has a tendency to lose its potency.)

But, before you bid “good riddance” to the Christian worldview, it’s important to understand what we lose when we trade a shared complicity for personal self-righteousness. And how we got to the point where it’s no longer possible to even stand in a room together with someone who disagrees with us without calling names and throwing punches.

One of the beautiful things the Christian message does is it completely levels the playing field by saying that there is not one man or woman in the entire world who is “righteous.” Not one. So, instead of pitting black against white and rich against poor and legal against illegal or liberal against conservative to fight about who can solve the problems of our world, it turns us away from each other and lets us stand side by side to confront the Creator of the universe with our own failures and to plead for help.

This is how, in the Kingdom of God, there can be neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.”
We are all broken; we all need to be fixed.

But we–we, collectively–don’t believe that anymore. Even people who still call themselves “Christians.” Instead, we let fools like Donald Trump speak the message our hearts already believe, which is: I’m okay. You’re not. You created this problem. I will solve it. And then you will pay.

He speaks for us all, whether we want to admit it or not.

 

 

Bernie Sanders and The False Promise Of An Earthly King

Confession: I am a bleeding-heart conservative.

What do I mean by that?
I am a “conservative” in that I believe in democracy, free markets, low taxes, the importance of the U.S. Constitution, personal freedom (from the government), and Biblical ethics and morality.

And I am a “bleeding-heart” in that I believe in conservation and earth stewardship, generous immigration laws, caring for the poor, ill, and hurting, and protecting the personal freedoms of everyone–even people who don’t prescribe to Biblical ethics and morality.

A bleeding-heart conservative.
It’s easy to maintain this tension on a personal level; it’s not so easy during election season.

There is rarely a candidate who truly represents me and I think most of my friends would say that same thing. Especially those of us who grew up in the radically individualistic Bush/Clinton/Bush era and simply don’t tow any party lines. We scroll through the options of possible representatives–Congress, local government, POTUS–and we’re disappointed to find nothing that fits the bill.

One of the most fascinating developments of the current presidential election is the immense support for Bernie Sanders among my peers. We’re talking support of religious proportions.

Bernie Sanders will save the world.
(Or at least that’s what they think.)

Why do people love him so much? Many conservatives would have us believe that everyone who supports Bernie Sanders is accurately portrayed by the sidewalk interviews they saw on a YouTube video:

“Excuse me, sir, why do you love Bernie Sanders?”
“Because I like free stuff!!”
And then we all shake our heads and ring our hands and think the world is going to hell in a Feel The Bern organic reusable bag.

But, as a bleeding-heart myself, I understand this love for Bernie Sanders. And I know, for a fact, that many people who support Bernie Sanders support him for bleeding-heart reasons more than anything else. I know this because these are my friends and I know their hearts and I know that they bleed for many of the same things mine does.

But Bernie Sanders will not save the world.
And neither will Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio, for that matter.
(You can take that one to the bank.)

Now, if your measurements for defining ideals such as “good” people and a just or right society are mostly influenced by Environmentalism or Humanism or Atheism or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (yes, that’s a thing), then you probably believe I’m wrong about this.

Because, yes, a secular Jewish Marxist President could potentially save the world in the way that you define saving the world: He might work to slow climate change, he may feed all the hungry children in our country, he may ruin Wall Street, and he may make it legal for you to follow your bliss wherever it may lead you.

This, you may say, could create a good, just, right society.

But, if your measurement for what is “good” and “just” and “righteous” comes primarily from the Bible–even if you and I disagree about how literally we should take the Bible and by whose system we interpret the Bible–your hope in Bernie Sanders (or Trump or Clinton or Rubio, etc.) is a false hope.

A quick primer on the Kingdom of God:
By a Biblical definition, a good, just, and righteous people exist under the “reign” of a good, just, and righteous King. As far as I can tell, Christ himself is the only person granted that title. The reign of Christ is a spiritual reality that transcends but informs a group of people called the Church. The Church, by its loyalty to this King and the Kingdom, manifests this good, just, and righteous rule in the world.

It is present but incomplete.
It’s here already, but still coming.
Almost. Not yet. Already.

(Yes, it’s complicated.)

Thankfully, in the Kingdom of God, even those who don’t serve the King benefit from his justice. Where Christ reigns, by his commands to the Church, the earth is healthy and fruitful, children and widows are cherished and cared for, doors and borders are open, work is fulfilling, hard workers are paid their due wage, greed is condemned, and there is hope and joy (and “bliss”).

But, here’s the thing:
The mark of a citizen of God’s Kingdom is more than a full belly; the mark of a citizen of God’s Kingdom is a changed heart. And, sadly, a full belly does not a changed heart make. It can help, yes. It can provide comfort, yes. And it is absolutely important. But the spiritual mission of the Church must exist alongside the physical.

 

Bernie Sanders will not save you. At least not in the way you need to be saved.
(And not in the way he or she or that baby down the street needs to be saved, either.)

Maybe you already agree with me. (Maybe you don’t; that’s okay.) And if you agree with me, you’re still wondering why you shouldn’t support Bernie Sanders. After all, you have good faith that the “Democratic Socialist” platform looks at least sort of like your picture of the Kingdom of God.

Because Jesus was a Socialist, right?
Right?
(I’m reading your mind. I can tell.)

But you’re wrong.

Look, it’s complicated. I am neither an economist nor an expert in Biblical or Constitutional law (or Bernie Sanders, for that matter). But I will challenge my friends (those who are both professed Christians and Bernie supporters) to take a really close look at Democratic Socialist countries and at the Socialist economics they practice and consider the underlying beliefs about religion and religious devotion therein. (If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take it from Lenin himself.)

Fact is: by definition, a Socialist society is a secular society. Meaning: personal faith is private and public faith is absolutely disdained. Religious people are tolerated to the extent with which they keep their faith as a personal matter only.

Now if the Christian faith were, by definition, meant to be a personal matter only, then this would not be a problem. But, Christianity being what it is, this is a problem.

But then what do we do?
What other options do people like me–bleeding-heart conservatives–and many of my peers–Jesus-loving liberals–have when it’s election season and we are supposed to rally our support around a candidate?

This is where I say “I don’t know.”
I haven’t figured it out yet.

When it comes time to cast your vote, you can go ahead and vote for Bernie Sanders. I understand why you’d want to. Because it’s easy to rationalize how a Socialist society might be enacting the Kingdom of God because Socialism does appear to offer some of the things you value like justice and equality. And, in a country with so much injustice and inequity, it might seem like the best option you’ve got.

But consider this:
The government isn’t the only institution with the power to enact justice and equality in the world. Last I checked, the government isn’t the primary means of grace and mercy in the world. And, as far as I know, the government isn’t meant to have the final word on generosity, charity, and kindness.

So, when you vote, consider the future implications of what you’re signing up for. Don’t sign us up for an economy in which the government foots the bill for the work of the Church and the Church is left penniless and voiceless on the sidelines.

Full bellies.
Changed hearts.
Church, that is your job.
For that you don’t need Bernie Sanders.
Your government cannot bail you out of this one.

 

 

 

 

I Met Him In A Bar

I met him in a bar
(but it wasn’t like that).

I was hired as a barista
because there was more coffee than booze
before 4pm.

It was a dirty old place with
graffiti on the walls
and shelves of books
you’d never actually want to read.

The place was dark
and brooding
with a band of regulars who
never asked my name
but let me have the crossword
in the daily newspaper
and would help kick out the
people who drank too much.

I was new in town
with a dayjob that paid
about $5 an hour
so I took the gig for extra cash
and free nachos and beer.

I worked the night shift.

I met him in a bar when I was 23
and nursing my broken heart
by pretending I had no heart at all.

He was cute
and I wasn’t afraid.
That was how it started.

In those days, he had a uniform
(like I’m told all brilliant people do)
of black on black with jeans
and he sat in the back of the bar
with a cup of soup
and a couple books,
talking to a regular customer
who thought he could teach the guy with the Bible
a thing or two about just about everything.

I asked him if he was a student,
which I assumed he was
since he was holding the same book I’d used
way back when.

No, he said.
I’m a pastor.

Which was not what I was expecting.

I met him in a bar
ten years ago
when the kind of man who
stays and helps put up the chairs
but never tries the beer
was not what I was looking for.

So our first conversation was shared
with deep skepticism
over the copper-top bar
while I smoked my cigarettes and
tossed in a few curse words
just to see if he would flinch.

And I know for certain that it was more
the peculiarity of
the girl behind the bar
who was better at discussing theology than
she was at pouring a drink
and not some cosmic connection to me
that kept the conversation going
because he was not looking for a girl
with dreadlocks
and an ideological predisposition against
lipstick and shaved legs.

You don’t meet nice girls at a bar.
(Trust me.)

I met him at a bar
and it has always seemed to me
the best place I could have ever met
my husband.

Because ten years ago,
I would have never trusted a man
with a Bible in his hand
who was anywhere other than
a dark table
with a coffee cup
at the bar on the wrong side of town.

 

 

The Two-Income Trap and Why It’s Killing Us All

I don’t have a ton of friends who come to me for advice about marriage and motherhood but, when they do, there is always at least one warning I make certain I communicate: when preparing for your future as a family, avoid the two-income trap at all costs.

Also known as: your career isn’t worth what you think it’s worth.

Also known as: quit your job while you still can.

Okay, let me back up.

A few years ago, I picked up a book by politician Elizabeth Warren called The Two-Income Trap and it blew my mind.

Elizabeth Warren (who is rumored to be Bernie Sanders’ choice for VP if he wins the Democratic nomination this election cycle) is a brilliant scholar with a real heart for protecting the viability of America’s middle-class. In this book (and elsewhere), she writes about the economic shifts in our country that are forcing millions of “traditional families” (my words, not hers) to become dual-income families out of necessity. Where once a family could have a humble but comfortable life with one income, more and more families are now sending a second parent into the workforce to help pay for basic needs. Where once a mother would take a small side job to pay for frivolities such as an extra family vacation, she now takes a job to help pay for weekly groceries.

This, according to Elizabeth Warren, is a big problem.
In short, I agree.

Now, Warren and I are not necessarily political allies. She and I disagree a little bit about why we got here and how we are going to get out of this mess, but I think she has articulated this issue better than most and has some great things to say about the nature of the problem. (If you’re interested in the issue, I’d recommend the book.)

If you’d like the Liz McEwan version of the story, I’ll offer it here.

The concept of “the two-income trap” is simple and I’ve watched it happen over and over again to friends and strangers alike. The basic gist goes something like this: two wonderful, competent adults get married and build fulfilling careers and then, when it comes time to welcome a baby into the picture, they need both incomes to sustain their lifestyle. So, they spend the emotional and physical energy equivalent to a marathon arranging their lives to maintain both careers while trying to arrange daycare and nannies and preschool and still have time to make dinner and eat dinner and maybe play together for ten minutes before bed and maybe fit in a trip to the zoo on the weekends. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing. And it’s not the way things are supposed to be.

Let’s pause for a moment
Maybe you see yourself in this situation and it strikes a chord and makes you depressed or offended or so mad you could spit. Money and parenting are touchy subjects, so I would like to clarify a few things.

First, my position on this comes as much from personal experience as it comes as an observer. I may not be a “career mom,” but when my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world, we were not ready to live on a single income. Because of that, the past 7 years have been hard. SUPER hard. My husband has taken many, many side jobs and I have continued working part-time so we can slowly work ourselves out of debt and eventually into the freedom of a single income.

So I know how impossible it seems to survive on a modest income.
And I know how much it sucks to drive an old car instead of a new one and to not buy myself clothes this season and to buy used furniture from friends and to not take a vacation when we could really, really use one.

And I also know how hard it is to give up a career.
And how hard it is to be “just a mom” in a world where being a mom is simply not enough to be validated. And I know what it’s like to know that I could be making a lot of money somewhere doing something super awesome and, instead, I am making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my pajamas.

Some of my friends love staying home with their kids; some of them don’t. Some of my friends absolutely love their careers; some dream of the day that can quit. My point is not to romanticize stay at home moms or judge women who choose a career instead. Every story is different and I don’t know yours, specifically.

My goal, instead, is to encourage younger (or childless) women to prepare now for what they want in the future and to count the cost of their career before it’s too late and they are trapped at work while they’re rather be at home.

Practically speaking, a few words of advice for those who want to work toward living on a single income:

Do the math.
Childcare is expensive. So are work clothes, that second car, and dinners out with colleagues. Before assuming that you absolutely must have two incomes, consider the money you’d save by staying home. Balance the cost of working against the value of staying home before you decide how much your career is really worth to you. Do the actual math. With numbers. You might be surprised.

Consider the benefits.
There is more than quantifiable monetary value to having a parent at home with the kids. A stay at home parent usually means more home-cooked meals together, healthier emotional/physical attachments with parents, more one-on-one time with the kids, and a more stable rhythm of the home life.

Consider the freedom.
The non-working parent in a single-income family is free to stay home with a sick child or to travel to care for ailing parents or help friends. They are also free to take on side-work or odd jobs for extra income when the need (or opportunity) arises. There is only one person’s work schedule to work around. There is always someone around to answer the door when the neighbor rings.

Re-imagine home life.
Erase the picture you have in your mind of the Betty Crocker stay at home mom and build a home life that matches YOU. Dream about the ways you are uniquely gifted to create a home that is a place you actually want to be.

Re-define your “work.”
Especially for those of you with a college degree: Don’t judge the value of your education by its pay-off in salary; judge the value of your education by the fruitfulness of your life. Be productive. Get creative and be proactive in putting your gifts and skills to work to support your family. Use your education, even if the way you use it doesn’t pay the bills. Keep your mind awake and your skills sharp because they will come in handy now and in the future when your kids are grown and out of the house.

Build a community.
Without a workplace for easy socialization, many moms get bored and lonely at home. (Face it: kids don’t always make the best company.) Find other moms like you, moms who remind you that being a mom is good, hard work. Then make other friends, too–friends who don’t have kids yet or whose kids are grown. Don’t blame your loneliness on staying home. Community is cultivated. It requires work.

Lastly, I know it’s dangerous to say this, but I’ll say it anyway.

Reconsider your lifestyle.
In her book, Elizabeth Warren is correct to attribute much of the two-income trap to risings costs in housing, education, and healthcare over the past 50 or so years. I think she’s right. There is no doubt that it’s harder than ever for an average middle-class family to pay for an average middle-class lifestyle. But I think her solution (which involves a lot of government-funded education and healthcare) is insufficient to correct the problem.

I think, before we even consider outside solutions, we need to reconsider what we’re working ourselves to death and sacrificing valuable years with our children to pay for.

The truth is, you probably don’t need that bigger house with the extra bedroom.
Or the extra two days at the hotel.
Your son doesn’t need his own iPad.
Your daughter doesn’t need to take ballet and tennis lessons.
Your kids might do just as well at the neighborhood school as they’d do at the private school.

The truth is, for many of us, it’s not a life we’re paying for–it’s a lifestyle. And that new pair of shoes or the eighty dollar dinner or the last-minute trip to Portland this weekend might be worth it to you, but it’s not worth it to me. And, if you asked your kids, they’d probably say it’s not worth it to them, either.

And then a word of encouragement for those in situations where you simply cannot make it work on one income: Maybe you are underpaid. Maybe you are unemployable or injured. Maybe you owe a small fortune in debts. Maybe the economy where you live just sucks. If this is you, I encourage you to plod along as faithfully as you can until your situation changes.

And, when it does, get out as quickly as you can.
It’s a trap.

An Ode To The Imperfect Church

You messed up the words again
in the second song, third verse.
It was supposed to be
“You,” not “Thou.”
Maybe no one else noticed,
but I did
because I’m a Professional.
Professionals notice.

And it wasn’t your only mistake this week.

The coffee ran out.
There was a misprint.
I think you forgot to take out the garbage
in the first floor ladies’ room.
And I’m pretty sure
there were supposed to be three,
not two,
greeters at the rear door
by the parking lot.
(South side parking lot.)

You,
my friend,
have not achieved perfection today.

And I’m thankful for it.
Lord, I’m thankful for it.

It’s nice to know that mine isn’t the only home where
the toilet paper runs out
and there is never a pen when I want it
and the kids are
too     damn    loud.

And I’m thankful for it
because I may be a “professional”
by some imaginary definition
but sometimes my voice cracks, too,
like the lady behind me
who claps off-beat
but is always quick with a smile
when she shakes my son’s hand
while sharing the Peace of Christ.

And I’m thankful that we can
smile at each other
knowingly
when the microphone goes silent
because we both know that
it’s easy enough to forget to change the battery
and it’s easy enough to hate ourselves for forgetting
and it’s easy enough to believe that the
future of the Kingdom of God hinges on
whether or not we remembered to change the battery.

(Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

It’s hard to learn the art of
being a church that’s good enough
at making space for
the Word
the Table
the People of God
without taking ourselves so seriously
and doing everything so well
and so seamlessly that
we end up
only make a space for ourselves.

And it’s hard for me to avoid the
nagging voice of professionalism
and perfection
that makes me want to create a church that
is easy to invite my friends to because
it is never too hot
and never too cold
and it requires nothing
other than showing up
to watch the show.

So I’m thankful for you,
all you gloriously imperfect churches with your
broken lightbulbs,
shaky voices,
and never quite enough salt on the sidewalk.

You are as much home to me as my own home is to me.
And that really is the point,
isn’t it?