My wife and I are, for the first time, looking seriously at buying a house. My first impression is that I did not expect it to be as ‘spiritual’ of a process as I am realizing. First there is the question of ownership. My recent theological trajectory arcs towards the need to identify where I try and control questions of God, truth, morality, etc. To what extent do I remain open even vulnerable to changes that I did foresee or create? How does this relate to home owning? My impression is that the saying a man’s home is his castle remains powerfully relevant (to what extent the gender ascription is relevant I don’t know). The modern house is designed to be a space of dominance; a space where control and predictability are attainable. We essentially colonize a small space for benevolent or destructive ends. Is there a way of approaching home ownership that does not fall prey to this tendency?
What I am beginning to see is that the process and act of home buying must be integrated into a person and family’s larger theological and spiritual orientation. For instance my wife is interested in a space that can be renovated so that it can be a type of canvas to explore new environments of living that can facilitate and nurture relationships. I am interested in examining my motivation for location so that our purchase does not entrench further social, racial, economic boundaries that are based on fear. From my brief conversations I find fear to be probably the most influential emotion in how people have gone about decision making. It is certainly not the only influence and it is not always the strongest but it is almost always present. I have had little fear in my life so I need to be careful in recognizing the roots and realities of other people’s fears. Theologically, however, these fears must be discerned and sorted so that they do not create decisions that only enforce a continually fearful world for other people.
And of course tied in with all this are questions like the proximity to work, family, friends, and schools as well as the issue of transportation (what is walking and biking distance). What this means is that there is no one right house or approach to home buying.
Then there is the whole question of trust. So we begin with a trusted friend who refers an agent. We meet the agent and the agent refers a mortgage broker., etc. And suddenly a web spins out that would have looked entirely different had we cast an alternative first strand. I cannot become an expert in all these fields while starting a new job, caring for a new child, all the while living under my in-laws roof! So we trust. Lord help us.
What I must shed regardless of our decision is the notion, the illusion, that a home can be a refuge or escape from the world. The world will always reside within our homes in one form or another. Our purchase then cannot be about possession and control because there remains too many variables (internal and external) that will continue to effect my family’s life no matter how well I reinforce the castle walls. Our actions, spaces, and objects emerge as spiritual realities (whether residual or ontological). They are not neutral. They are engaged with God’s work of creation and redemption. The image becomes almost levitical thinking of how priests concerned themselves with the mold on walls and binding of diverse threads. Spaces and objects can be holy or profane, clean or unclean and they are never in these states permanently because these states are bound up in our ongoing engagement with God. This gives me hope. Perhaps the holiness of God can even be encountered as far away as the suburbs . . . perhaps.