This was a big weekend for my family. My fourth and youngest child graduated from high school. That is a huge milestone in the life of a family system. I’m sure I’ll reflect on the dynamics of having four adult children at some point. Today, I want to reflect on a jarring contrast that confronted me this morning in my reading.
I took this past weekend off from work (meaning I did not attend my own church), and spent the weekend engaged with my previous congregation by attending a graduation recognition brunch, a blessing ceremony in the worship service, a graduation ceremony at the Mariucci Stadium, two grad parties, and two family dinners at restaurants, one with each set of grandparents. My previous congregation is a one-hour drive away from my current house, so the weekend involved lots of driving back and forth. Additionally, since we just moved into a new house, the non-graduation-related moments of the weekend were packed full of yard work, home improvement projects, and trying to figure out how to get the swimming pool algae-free.
It was a packed weekend spent roaming around suburban neighborhoods full of large homes and sprawling green lawns. One friend’s grad party was in their new house, so we got a tour (that’s what suburbanites do, we tour each other’s new houses and ooh and ah over light fixtures and shower stalls). I commented that the master bathroom was larger than most houses I saw in Haiti.
That’s when the contrast started to hit me.
Then I spent my whole day off, yesterday, focused on getting my own suburban home up and running. We learned how much work it takes to keep 30,000 gallons of water clear enough to want to swim in it. We had a guy come and put a finish on our kitchen countertops because we didn’t like the old ones. We piled trash and green waste receptacles with piles of things to be taken away to various dumps. On Saturday a friend came by and loaded a bunch of stuff to be taken to a school garage sale, simply because we didn’t want it any more.
There is so much stuff, and stuff demands time and money.
I spent two hours last night installing a tip out tray in our bathroom so we would have a convenient place to put our toothbrushes!
Then, this morning I read Richard Rohr’s meditation (read it here). He is focusing on Franciscan Spirituality during these weeks. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I’ll highlight these two paragraphs,
When Francis read the Beatitudes, Jesus’ inaugural discourse, he saw that the call to be poor stood right at the beginning: “How blessed are the poor in spirit!” Henceforward, Francis’ reading of the Gospel considered poverty to be “the foundation of all other virtues and their guardian.”  The other virtues receive the kingdom only in promise; poverty, however, is invested with heaven now, without delay. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Present tense!
As a result, Franciscan spirituality has never been an abstraction. It is grounded in Jesus’ specific instructions to his disciples, not ideology or denominational certitudes. Francis’ living of the Gospel was just that: simple lifestyle. It was the Incarnation continuing in space and time. It was the presence of the Spirit taken as if it were true. It was being Jesus more than just worshiping Jesus. At its best, Franciscan life is not words or even ethics. It is flesh—naked flesh—unable to deny its limitations, unable to cover its wounds. Francis called this inner nakedness “poverty.”
I’m not saying that it is a sin to own a home and live in the suburbs. Of course it isn’t. In fact, as I was working in my yard all day Saturday, I was reminded that the first vocation of humanity was to tend the garden. I can reflect God’s image in how I tend my home and treat the neighbors on my block. The suburbs are a valid place to be, just like anywhere else.
Yet, I must be constantly reminded of how alluring and seductive wealth and possessions are in life. The more things we own, the more those things demand our time and energy and, possibly, distract us from what really matters.
So, I confess to you, as a suburban pastor, that I am in the thick of this middle-class, suburban struggle. How can I be poor in spirit in the midst of relative affluence? This is our journey.