OTR Housing: Families Need Not Apply

The issue of family-friendly housing and urban development is nothing new. It’s been an ongoing conversation in urban planning circles ever since the middle- and upper-classes decided they wanted to move back into the city and city planners decided it might be a good idea to entice them to do so.

Cities used to be full of housing stock that appealed to families of every demographic and income level. But the latter half of the 20th Century decimated our cities’ diversified housing by paving over workforce housing, tenement buildings, and large historic multi-family buildings with surface parking lots and corporate headquarters for commuter business owners and their commuter employees. The working class and middle class were now happy in their comfortable and spacious suburbs, the poor were shuffled into isolated and subsidized ghettos, and the wealthy urban dwellers ruled the urban core.

Times have changed and, responding to the desires of both a new generation of city-lovers and aging Boomers who no longer need the school systems the suburban tax-base supports, city planners and property developers have started taking a more diverse group of housing-seekers into consideration.

Supposedly, the people holding and renovating what remains of the available housing stock in my neighborhood, for example, are interested in leaving space for more than young urban professionals and wealthy empty-nesters.

Or so they say.

Take, as a case study of sorts, the recent experience of a friend of mine from the neighborhood.

A few years ago, this family purchased and began renovations on a small-ish multi-use property just a block off of the booming Vine St. business corridor. The building was completed a year or so later and the commercial space became a low-risk pop-up-shop venue. The two studio apartments on the second floor became rental units (and eventually Airbnb units). The family of six moved into the third floor.

The family’s living quarters is small.
One bedroom, two baths, a comfortable kitchen, small bits of living space, and a semi-finished attic flex space for storage and whatever else they need it for.

Time passed and, about 18 months after the family moved in, they decided it was time to sell the property. This was partially because they were facing a job change and wanted to relinquish some financial responsibility. Partially because they were tired and overwhelmed by managing both the commercial space and the rental units. And partially because they wanted a little more space for their family.

The property was listed for sale and my friend started hunting for rental housing in the neighborhood to line up for the family if the building sells.

Which brings me to the issue at-hand.

Long story short, my friend has been met with not one, not two, but three separate property management companies in Over-the-Rhine who will not rent an apartment to them because their rental policies will not allow more than four people in a two bedroom apartment (regardless of the square footage) and (surprise!) not a single 3-bedroom apartments exists in their portfolio.

Okay, so first of all:
This doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for my friend. She has a few options, including finding an independent landlord who has a single-family home or larger apartment to rent and doesn’t mind housing a larger family. But the chances are slim and the situation feels hopeless. For example: there is one 3-bedroom apartment (*ahem–a 2-bedroom with a study) currently available in the neighborhood, but it’s going rate is $3,000 a month.

But, even if she secures an apartment for her family, her situation illustrates a few important things that I’ve always said about the future of cities and of Over-the-Rhine, specifically.

– If urban planners and developers really want a vibrant, thriving urban core, they absolutely must make it more welcoming to families. I had some ideas a few years ago about how to attract and retain urban families and, were I to rewrite that post, I could probably add a few more.

There is a huge disparity between available housing for the highest and lowest income level residents when compared to what is available for middle-income families. My recent housing search in the 45202 zip code (excluding Mt Adams and East End) yielded zero rental units larger than 2 bedrooms. And there is not currently one condo or single-family home with more than 2 bedrooms selling for less than $240,000. (Most are listed between $500,000-$700,000.)

What does this mean?
This means that, apart from any low-income subsidized housing (which, I believe, is not publicly listed), assuming most prescribe to this “two to a bedroom” policy, there may be almost zero landlords in OTR willing to rent to a family with more than two children. And, if a family wants to purchase a 3-bedroom home instead of renting, they will need to be in the top 20% income bracket in our city. (Or, they can try their hand at purchasing vacant land to build on, but I could tell you another story or two about the nightmare that is for the average, middle-income, not in the OTR “in-group” resident.)

I’ve written more about this “missing middle” problem here and here because I saw it coming from a mile away. In fact, it’s perfectly illustrated by the fact that one of the largest in-the-works housing developments in our neighborhood, in an area of OTR that has historically been home to lower-income residents, does not seem to include a single 3-bedroom housing unit.

The people developing property in our neighborhood need a bigger, better vision for what a vibrant, diverse neighborhood actually looks like. It’s getting harder and harder to believe that any of these developers are motivated by anything other than the bottom line and what type/size housing unit can make them the most money. It’s all lip service. And it’s disappointing.

I read this article back in January about how cities could possibly design themselves out of the affordable housing crisis by bringing back the “missing middle” of housing. The idea struck me as so obvious and economical, but so “radical” that it seems impossible. Because, honestly, why would you build a reasonably-outfitted townhouse that sells for $220,000 when you can add a few faux-custom finishes and list it for $600,000? It would take a truly visionary homebuilder and developer to be so brave.

*As a sidenote, I am fascinated by the Betts-Longworth and City West districts of the West End for this very reason. They have the potential to be a model for a truly diverse, affordable neighborhood with all the amenities of urban living. I’d love to hear some thoughts about why City West seems to have flopped. I have some thoughts myself, but I don’t really know enough of the back story. It’s important to note, though, that real estate in these two districts has been moving faster in the past 2 years, housing values are rising, and they really could end up a (slow-moving) success story. It seems to be the commercial, not the residential, element that is holding it back.

 

And, on a larger scale, this “we can’t rent you an apartment because your family is too big” situation really begs some unfortunate questions about our American society, in general.

Among them:

Why do we think 1500-2,000 square feet is too small for a family of 6? My guess is that a lot of the single-family housing that has been lost in OTR over the last century was about that size and, at the time of use, was housing far more than 4 people. (Seriously, check this out.)

American families keep getting smaller and our houses keep getting larger. Look at the numbers. It’s absurd how much space we think we need these days. This is why developers don’t want to build 3-bedroom units; they would need to be huge to satisfy the desires of the average 21st Century American family.

And, trust me, the average wealthy family of four doesn’t want to live in a 2-bedroom home anyway. So trying to market a $300,000 2-BR, single-family home in OTR “for a family” is a lost cause. This is what leads me to believe that developers never wanted families in the first place. They are smarter than that.

Which begs the question:

Where on earth did Americans get the idea that children can not/should not share bedrooms? American families have absurd standards of privacy and personal space found in few places on the planet. If I want to let my four kids sleep in the same room, why is that a big deal? Sure, I know I’ll feel differently when my kids are teenagers and smell bad and want more privacy. But, families adapt as their needs change and good parents get creative with limited space (and resources). Shouldn’t it be up to the parents to decide what is best for their family? I mean, geez, some of my neighbors are living in one bedroom apartments with dogs the size of middleschoolers. But it’s not okay to throw an extra kid or two in a room with their sisters?

– And, then, anecdotally-speaking: Why is it now more socially acceptable to take your dog into the local coffeeshop or to the neighborhood bar than it is to live in a walk-up apartment with more than two children?

Welcome to OTR, circa 2016.
Families need not apply.

 

 

 

Saying Yes, Saying No, and Dealing With What Comes Next

What if I told you that one of the most difficult parts of adulthood is not the big life decisions you make but the daily decision to stick it out and deal faithfully with what comes on the other side?

 

My generation is plagued by two major lifestyle errors:

The fear of commitment.
Serial monogamy.

One is floundering in impermanence, afraid to make a promise or commitment. They live with the presumption that only the most perfect decision is one worth making and are constantly in fear of missing the big opportunity just around the corner. They are tentative. They are dispassionate. They are impotent and indifferent.

The other is always in love. They believe perfection has already arrived and jump in 110% before testing the water. But, then, when a glimmer of “better” or “brighter” appears around the bend, they move on as quickly as they moved in. They are passionate. They are present. But then they are gone in an instant.

No, this isn’t just about sex and relationships.
This is about all of life–love, friendship, careers, community life.

I see it and I understand it because I’ve felt it every time I’ve been faced with a big life decision: where to attend college, what degree to pursue, what job to take, what guy to date, where to live, who to marry, etc.

But let me share some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned here on the flip side of those big, scary life decisions:

Even good decisions carry difficult consequences.
All great pursuits in life require sacrifice.
Every “yes” requires a “no.”
Something better and brighter is always around the bend.
You can never go back, but you can always move forward.

 

 

About 6 months ago, my husband and I finally had the conversation I’d been not-so-secretly avoiding:

“Are we ready for another baby?”

In short, the decision was “No, absolutely not. But we want this more than we don’t want this. And we believe this is a ‘good’ thing and that we will never regret it. And we aren’t getting any younger.”

The longer version of the story would look something like a storm–equal parts hurricane and tornado–swirling through my head, weighing pros and cons and calculating dates and family budgets, alternately avoiding and then pursing my husband, anxieties and fears and subtle jolts of excitement. (Notice: I obviously tend toward “fear of commitment.”)

Even good decisions carry difficult consequences.

Deciding to have a fourth child felt like staring ahead into my future, weighing the value of the path I was on, and turning right around and taking two big year-long steps back. It meant another round of pregnancy, another round of sleepless nights with an infant, another two years of lending my body to a nursing baby, another couple years of putting myself and my dreams and my work and my friendships on standby for the sake of a child, and it meant another couple years of distance between me and my husband.

Is it worth the sacrifice?
All great pursuits in life require sacrifice.

Ask anyone who has ever trained for a marathon or aced an important exam whether the sacrifice was worth the early mornings or the late nights or the aches and pains and headaches.

Yes, it was worth it.

And since I believe that children are worth far more than finished races and completed degrees, my late nights and aches and pains and headaches are going to be spent on them for now. For this season. For as long as it takes. Until it’s time to move on.

Because every “yes” requires a “no.”

And, so, there are seasons of life in which we really can’t have it all. We must choose. And choosing something important often means saying “no” to something else. Marriage is the perfect example of this truth. We stand publicly, before God and witnesses, and promise our commitment, our future, to one person. “Forsaking all others,” we say. And if we don’t mean it, then we have no business participating in such a sacred act.

But there is a secret truth that you’d better understand before you make such an outrageous promise:

Something better and brighter is always around the bend.

Truth is: I am not the most beautiful or virtuous woman my husband has ever known. And he is not the most handsome or charming man I’ve ever known. And, truth is, there will always be someone “better,” someone brighter, or someone more exciting around the bend. (Just like there is always a better job, a better house, a better friend, and so on and so on.)

Making a solid commitment to something or someone means saying “I choose you now. And I choose you tomorrow. And I will choose you the next day…” and it requires a daily decision to be faithful to the promise made.

You can either pretend this isn’t true and that you’ve already found the “one perfect thing” you were searching for (like a serial monogamist) or this can scare the crap out of you and leave you immobile and afraid to ever choose anything (like a commitment-phobe).

Or you can just accept it as truth, lean on wisdom, and then walk confidently into big decisions with eyes open, willing to be faithful to your decision and deal with what comes next.

But what comes next? Because certainly not everyone who makes “a good decision” comes out feeling good about it on the other end. Some people struggle through parenthood. Some couples have miserable marriages. Some people despise their careers or regret the path they chose.

Thankfully, not all of our life decisions are permanent the way marriage and parenthood are. But even temporary decisions can weigh heavily on us and, when they don’t pay off the way we’d hoped, can make us question the sacrifices we’ve made along the way. This is why part of walking through disappointments in life means knowing when a step forward requires moving on.

You can never go back, but you can always move forward.

And part of dealing with what comes after big decisions in life is keeping your eyes focused in the right direction.

When I take stock of my life and the decisions I’ve made, the worst of my past fears come to life when my eyes are focused backwards (on the things I’ve given up) or sideways in comparison with my peers (on the things I could have instead). But when I am focused here–on my life, my family, my calling, my worthy pursuits–I see that each decision and each step is building a life in which the sum is much greater than the parts.

Basically, what I’m building here–with this man in this home with these kids–is bigger than the pieces that I had to give up along the way. And someday, when I am old enough and wise enough to look back on my life without being afraid of regret or comparison, I’ll see the fruit of the sacrifices we’ve made.

And, even now, when some days are harder than others and I feel like I’m surrounded by reminders of all I’m missing out on by choosing this and not that, God extends an extra measure of grace and gives me a taste of the fruit I’m cultivating with my life.

Maybe it’s a kind word from a friend or a smile from a stranger.
Or it could be a reassuring moment with my husband or a moment of breakthrough with my child.

Even if it’s just enough of a taste for one more day’s worth of faithfulness to my “yes” and “no,” then it’s enough.

To Frederick, On The Occasion Of Your 90th Birthday

Frederick-

I discovered you first in a literature class about thirteen years ago. The class was called Faith & Doubt and you and your Sacred Journey were hidden among other greats by Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton.

I was somewhere around twenty years old and, with thirteen years of faith under my belt, was now deep and dark into a season of doubt. I was confused and angry and, studying among people for whom faith was an unspoken expectation rather than a matter of patience and cultivation, I felt misunderstood and alone.

Have you ever met someone for the first time and, in a matter of only moments, found that there is some deep soul comradery between you that makes you feel instantly like kin rather than strangers? With whom the conversation comes with ease and familiarity? Have you ever had a friend for whom you didn’t need to explain yourself? With whom a mutual understanding made them a place of comfort and rest when the rest of the world felt tense and turbulent?

Your story is different than mine.
But beneath the story I read in that class and the many stories I’ve read of yours since, I found something I desperately needed. I found someone who understood the soul longing that I felt but couldn’t express because the only words I had to use were hopeless words and I still had hope.

You helped me find the place where faith and doubt are a dance, not a battle.

When I discovered you, I found the words to give life to my doubt in a way that let me move through it instead of wallowing in it, words that let me be honest and brave and audacious enough to believe that I could be my crooked, confused, heart-broken self and still be counted among the saints.

And you let me say it all out loud. You showed me it could be done. (Thank you.)

There were a few years during which your words were the only words I could use. You helped me learn to pray again. And I still appeal to you often when I don’t know what to say. When my prayers don’t come easy. Or when the world is scary and painful and I wish I knew how to comfort a hurting friend.

Or when I need to be reminded that I’m not the only one of the disciples still sleeping with one eye open and my hand on my wallet. I see you. I’m here, too. And there are many more here with us.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Buechner.
You’ve given more than you know.

 

 

 

*On the occasion of his 90th birthday (which falls on July 11th), Frederick Buechner has released Buechner 101, a curated collection of sermons and essays. Get yourself a copy for a window into his world.

For a quick (Liz McEwan-curated) Frederick Buechner primer, start with the sermon “The Magnificent Defeat” (which can be read in its entirety here) or, for a taste of fiction, try Godric.

Preachers start here.
Writers start here.
People with short attention spans can start here.

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.