Posted in God

Chasing Symmetry

Here I am again, in this place again. The same old desperate prayers I’ve prayed for years. Do you ever tire of my pleas?

Sometimes I think life is like a merry-go-round. It’s the same place, the same people, just at different angles. I’m forever chasing symmetry. I am looking for balance, yearning for something. Something that will make it work and make sense. Something to make this all feel complete. Whole. Pleasing to the eye. Pleasing to soul.

We are symmetrical beings. It’s in our nature. The light and the dark. The male and female. Yen and yang. Birth and death. Every beginning must have an end; every action an opposite and equal reaction. We are created for balance. This is why we cannot truly understand the infinite nature of God. Infinity and eternity are not symmetrical.

In this search, I chase myself through an E.M Escher world. Back through open doors, round and round up stairways that connect back down and a door that leads back up to the place I last belonged.

And through it all, I’m hanging on to hope. Hanging on to an idea. Hanging on to every word you’ve said. And yet, here I go again. Fighting through the brush, under the sizzling summer sun. Then I watch leaves turn vibrant red, and then suddenly, the cheap foam sandals have given way to crisp, warm jackets and wintry drinks. And yet I fight on. Chasing symmetry.

Posted in Life

How to Live in A Multi-Generational Home

A number of years ago, I read an article saying that with the economic downturn, and the burst of the housing bubble, “American couples won’t be able to see home ownership as a right, and the number of multi-generational homes will increase.”

I read that and laughed. Multi-generational homes? In America? I remembered hearing about that being the norm in some cultures, in the context where the young wife was expected to take grief from her nitpicking mother-in-law and never say anything. This was because the mother-in-law herself had to take grief as a young woman.

I could never imagine this in American households. It seemed very weird and shameful to me. Since then, I have met a slowly increasing number of young adults living in multi-generational homes. I have even lived in a couple of them. Children live side by side with grandparents and perhaps live-at-home aunts and uncles. (Another chalk-up to the changing economy). And somehow, it seems to work…well, more or less.

It has been my observation that these things have their share of working out the kinks. But once these elements settle into a more or less comfortable rhythm, that multi-generational households can work. There seems to be a certain balance that must be struck. And out of necessity, traditional roles are modified, but not eliminated.

A grandmother, for instance, may become the head mother in the house, but does not lose her grandmother status and the privileges that come with it. As long as this is handled with some grace and proper understanding of boundaries, the mother and the grandmother, can function together, and not trip over one another’s roles. It is a fine balancing act that requires the grandmother to allow the mother to parent her own way, or even make mistakes, yet still be confident that the child, or children are receiving proper care.

The mother, likewise, learns to respect the grandmother’s opinion, and incorporate it as necessary, without insulting the grandmother’s sense of values. Sometimes such a fine balance cannot be struck in a household. The mother, or parents, may ask the grandparents to refrain from expressing their opinions at all. “I give 100% to my kids everyday,” one young mother said to her in-laws.“If you don’t like it, I can’t do any more, so I don’t want to hear it.” While this may seem harsh, it works in some families.

A live-at-home aunt or uncle becomes more interested in the child’s daily routine, but retains his or her own life and independence, and refrains from becoming another parent. Between the real parents and the grandparents, rarely is an additional authority figure necessary (or appreciated). The parents must learn, however, not to view aunts and uncles as on-call babysitters or expect them to be anything other than single young adults. However, such aunts and uncles, must remember to keep the home family-friendly, and refrain from inappropriate behavior with the children around. He or she would also be well-advised to, from time to time, take an interest in the children and invest in those relationships.

Typically, between the males in the household, there is a bit of confusion regarding the traditional role of male as the breadwinner. The grandfather may have a difficult time with the son, or worse, son-in-law, under his roof. Such males should learn to tread lightly around this, and financial integrity will go a long way toward bridging this gap. The young man should be employed at all times, and show good financial habits, such as paying bills on time, particularly with rent paid to the household. The grandfather should show grace, and focus instead on building a positive, uplifting and loving relationship with the young man.

Another issue that frequently surfaces, regards marital problems. Boundaries should be set regarding relationship conflict in a multi-generational household. When it happens, it may seem natural for a couple to talk their family/roommates about it. However, this must be handled with care. It is crucial to household health, that parents, or sisters or brothers not interfere. When prompted, they may offer their opinions in confidence. But in the end, they must let the couple work things out.

The couple will likely makeup in the end, but the wounds created by nasty in-laws may never heal. Likewise, the marriage partners should avoid throwing their family into the conflict. Loaded statements such as, “I think you should do this, and so do my parents…” should be avoided.

Some seasoned communal living couples have adopted the policy of never saying a word about their relationship to an outsider. They may have a confidante that they can trust, but if someone else says anything about their spouse or relationship, true or untrue, they simply smile and walk away. “After all,” they reason, “In a communal living situation, your marriage is all you have that’s uniquely yours. If you let other people in, you have nothing for yourself.”

At the very least, the couple should be courteous when handling their conflict. Conflict should be dealt with quietly, behind closed doors, or away from the home. One couple would request a walk together when the tension between them got too hot. Another couple, nervous about the lack of privacy in the house, would have difficult financial discussions at Starbucks.

They may have key phrases such as “let’s go sit in the car,” that communicate to their partner private discussion should be had. Usually, the couple will seek out places in the home, such as an outdoor seating area, that becomes a private place to spend time together—both positive and negative. The family, likewise, should be considerate and use common sense to give them relationship privacy.

Household chores become another hot button issue. The young couple should be active in taking on household chores, particularly if they have young children contributing to the mess. Typically, bathrooms should be picked up daily, and scrubbed once a week. Living and dining areas should be picked up and vacuumed daily, or mopped weekly.

A couple or family’s bedroom is their “mini-home,” and should be regarded as sacred to all other household members. As long as the space is not a pest/vermin magnet, how it is kept should be up to the occupant. On the other hand, the couple should be mindful of the value of the home, and treat it with respect and care. The kitchen should be cleaned with each meal, and everyone who ate must clean until the job is finished.

Especially in a larger household, a laundry schedule is particularly helpful and prevents traffic jams on the laundry machines. Laundry should be done once a week, except in cases where a work uniform must be laundered more often. Towels and bedsheets should also be done weekly, particularly if they belong to the household and not the couple. In cases where there are infants, a laundry schedule of two or three days half-days a week can be set (I.e. Mon, Wed, Fri mornings). But the young mother should not monopolize the laundry machines outside of her set time. It is customary for the couple to provide their own laundry soap.

Food and cooking can be particularly problematic in multi-generational households. There are different arrangements here, but a free-flowing policy tends to work best. Rent money paid by the couple entitles them to virtually any food in the household, save for some specified items. Likewise, if the couple wants something particular, they may have a separate shelf or cabinet for their own items. It is advisable, for the couple to informally help with the groceries. (If the family runs out of butter or eggs, the young couple may offer to get them and foot the bill. Or they may buy something and share it with everyone). If the young couple is receiving assistance, such as food stamps, some couples surrender the food stamps to the household, in exchange for free reign rights to household groceries. However, a penny-pinching attitude toward groceries can be toxic and create relationship damage that can last for years.

In other families, a more formal grocery agreement is reached, where the couple pays a specified amount. A common complaint, however, is that the amount, in addition to rent monies, burdens the young couple. Parents must take care that the amount is reasonable and in proportion to the couple’s income, family size, and average food use. It is also customary for the young wife, or young couple, to periodically cook for the entire household. The frequency and type depends on how the family takes its meals and the cooking abilities of the young couple. But a weekly or monthly meal can endear the young couple to the family.

Again, many times these boundaries are achieved through argument and resentment. But, they don’t have to be. With grace and mutual respect, these multi-generational homes can grow naturally, and can actually be beneficial to all involved.

Posted in God

The Church at Auvers Sur Oise and the Death of the Emergent Church

After reading in Christianity Today about the resignation of Mars Hill’s Mark Driscoll, I have been contemplating the emergent movement. Ten years ago, the emergent movement seemed to be a breath of fresh air from a lifetime of southern fundamentalism.

I grew up in church, and by the time I reach adulthood, was quite bored with it. In high school, I wrote a dramatic monologue called, The Church Kid. In the opening lines, the character snarls, “Don’t preach at me. You’re not saying anything new anyway. Don’t quote Scripture at me. I can quote it back faster. Don’t debate me. I can counter every argument you’ve got. I am your next generation. I am…the church kid.”

The emergent movement, from whom Mark Driscoll rose as a central figure, represented a new way of thinking for me. From this philosophy, Christianity, and the big machine that it was, had become a dead entity. They wanted to redefine it, and not call themselves Christians, but “followers of Christ.” As such, they abandoned institutionalized Christianity, and returned to the original teachings of Christ to create a living, breathing, culturally relevant lifestyle.

Out of this, came writers like Donald Miller, who wrote books comprised of funny, yet profound essays that questioned everything I had been taught to believe. Yet, he always wound around to conclusions that still felt “Christian,” enough for me to accept. Relevant Magazine became like a church. In every issue, I read articles written for and by trendy and educated twenty-something Christians, who weren’t necessarily republican fundamentalists.

According to Relevant, Christians could drink, curse (on rare occasions even from the pulpit), vote democrat, believe in evolution, question and redefine (but not completely violate) the doctrine of abstinence, and find the gospel in everything from R rated movies to Napoleon Dynamite and The Simpsons. They used phrases like, “spiritual journey,” or “finding meaning,” and spotlighted churches that were doing non-traditional things like meeting in art galleries and theatres and using art musicians to write their worship music.

The new face of Christianity, according to Relevant, were trendy, upwardly mobile hipsters on the outside, but on the inside, Kerouac-inspired monks looking for truth. Relevant also had a book division, and I bought about half of their entire catalog and dreamed of the day my magnum opus would appear with the Relevant logo on the spine.

After about a year of attending the church of Relevant Magazine, I finally found a church that seemed to fit the emergent (or at least the Relevant) model. They had abstract art in the lobby, turned off all the lights in the sanctuary, and lit the room with colored stage lights and the pensive glow of artfully displayed prayer candles. The worship team was all under thirty, and while their music generally centered around a safe diet of pop worship favorites from Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Jesus Culture, each week they edged up an old hymn and occasionally used a rock cellist. They also had a recording studio, and from time to time, the worship team would play some of their originals.

They all dressed in Urban Outfitters, and did things like sport ironic facial hair or pair a knee-length taffeta dress with combat boots. The pastor was no different– although his Converse All Stars did belie the ever-increasing salt in his spiky blond hair. He was well-educated, and his verbose and slightly sarcastic style instantly appealed to the cynical writer in me. The first time I went, they were doing a series on Donald Miller’s most famous book, Blue Like Jazz. I had found my people.

As life would have it, I ended up moving away from this church. I somehow got caught up in an another movement. The Prayer Movement. The Prayer Movement was also made up of primarily trendy twenty-somethings, who ate organic and all looked like they got dressed every morning in a Forever 21. But these young people had an earnest desire to learn the art of prayer and understand how to use prayer and worship to change nations and impact history.

They had a national network of “houses of prayer,” which originally sounded like a euphemism for church. But as I found out, was totally different. They usually worked with a local church to create a “prayer room,” which had open mic prayer and live worship music going on a regular daytime schedule. Sometimes they would rent a communal house and host public prayer meetings in the basement. The staffers were primarily young adults.  Although some worked at Starbucks or sold things online, and the worship musicians all sold their CD’s for extra money, mainly they all lived on ministry donations (inspiring my post  on Money and Ministry).

A lifestyle of holiness was imperative, and fasting was an art form. At one’s own discretion and prompting, pop culture was avoided in favor of worship music, televisions were given away, and movies rarely consumed. Total abstinence was an absolute given, and compromise of that variety led to guilt-ridden resignations. After a few years of total immersion in the prayer movement, I kindly declined and bid it adieu. I then tried to return to my emergent beliefs. But I found it had changed.

My old church, while still dark and trendy, had gotten rid of the candles, and the abstract art was getting old. The revolving door of finding ever young musicians to fit “the image” seemed hollow and created a bit of a disconnect with the congregation. The pastor appeared to be taking things more seriously and did a series on fasting and another on holiness. It became clear, that once the hype wore off, the church was never “emergent,” if that had even been a denomination, but was just plain old Methodist with a fog machine.

Relevant had grown up too. The book division had died, as had the print magazine. The online magazine, while still maintaining a slightly snobby air, had lost a lot its edge and veered to the right more often than not. I haven’t seen anything from Donald Miller in several years. So, when I read about Mark Driscoll’s “mutually agreed upon,” resignation, it seemed fitting. The emergent movement, whatever it had been, had died.

While its core adherents seem to have drifted to more or less traditional Christianity, I wonder what has happened to the rest of its members. I read a statistic that 60% of America’s church kids have left the church by their twenties.

Van Gogh did a painting called The Church at Auvers Sur Oise. In it, he is a tiny figure, while a large church rises behind him. The church is all barred windows, and there is no door. A storm brews overhead, and Vincent shrinks into his coat. There is no shelter for him. The church, for Vincent Van Gogh, was closed.

While I think the American church is fairly welcoming to outsiders, I wonder if the death of the emergent church closes out an entire demographic. It functioned as a sort of collecting bin, a safe haven for those on their way in, or on their way out, of the church. Did its death make Christianity irrelevant for an entire generation—a generation it desperately needs? Locked in a culture war, the future of American Christianity is uncertain. Logistics surrounding the implementation of political measures such as the Affordable Care Act, and the defeat of DOMA, bring religious issues to battle with the “live and let live,” and “your rights end where mine began,” American credo.

As such, dissenting murmurs have begun to gather to argue against the freedom of religion of at all. Young adults are increasingly wary of religion, and if they ponder such as issues at all, they may consider themselves, “more spiritual than religious,” borrowing from many belief systems. What will happen to this demographic in a decade? Did the dissolution of emergent Christianity, purify Christianity, or make it obsolete? Have we, like Van Gogh’s church people, barred ourselves in from a culture who doesn’t even know they need us? And, most of all, have we completely lost our most valuable asset—our church kids?

Posted in Life

Alex Clare and Rethinking Business

This morning, I was walking through the mall, and I heard the song, “Too Close (to Love You),”by Alex Clare. As I contemplated the song, I remembered the story. As it goes, Mr. Clare was a broke musician, basically living out of his car. He was recording music on his computer and posting it his YouTube account.

The song, “Too Close,” amazingly caught the attention of some marketing executive at Microsoft, who used it in the promotional campaign for Windows 8. Which is where I heard it, and along with millions of other people, I promptly jumped online and downloaded it. Now Alex Clare is a millionaire, who, this year can, “make that money and watch it burn.”

I was struck by this story, and the way that the Internet has changed the business model for the music industry. The music industry, a field near and dear to my heart, has died and we all know that. I’m not sure who is to blame—the digital age, or just the general lack of musical creativity espoused by a generation who grew up in an age of educational budget cuts (think Mr. Holland’s Opus). I have even heard a theory that the powers that be in the music industry have learned how to suck the life out of music, reducing it to sound waves scientifically proven to activate the pleasure centers of the brain, and with repeated listening, causes people to like it and want to buy it. That’s far more nefarious and sad than I would like to think.

But, it just makes me think about the way we are taught to think about business. It makes me wonder if perhaps I’m overlooking opportunities that are not what I think, but far more advantageous than how I would have envisioned it.

Just food for thought today. Don’t overlook opportunities because you never know where they might lead you.