People > Portfolios (Part 4.)
This is the fourth and final blog in a series addressing the housing crisis that countless
families are experiencing in Greenville. I want to point out that this blog series has been
written from a distinctly Christian perspective. I am not here to make policy suggestions,
or offer commentary on the economics behind the problem. (Both are important, but I
would be way out of my depth). I’m not a politician or an economist. I’m a Bible guy. I
navigate the world of practical theology - specifically as it relates to community
development. That is the lens through which I interpret these problems, and the vehicle
through which I address them. Housing insecurity is a deeply complex problem and we
have to take a multifaceted approach if we ever want to solve it. Policies need to be
made, and downstream housing consequences need to be considered as we continue
to grow as a city. I am deeply grateful for all the qualified folks working in those spaces -
I’m just not one of them. I want to address the everyday decisions being made by
ordinary people like you and me...because I think those seemingly small choices matter
more than we think. You see, the structural factors surrounding this issue matter, but
any theory that puts the sole burden of the problem on the policies or economic forces
at play is (in my opinion) too convenient. Any solution that abdicates responsibility to
someone else, is the wrong one. Any diagnosis that fully absolves me from the issue, is
the wrong one. True equity will only be achieved when each of us believes we have a
responsibility to usher in its arrival. If you are waiting for a policy to fix what God has
called you to address, the chances are your own personal behavior will undercut the
policy you vote for anyway. If our lives aren’t aligned with our policy choices, we’ll join
Sisyphos in rolling a boulder up a hill that never quite makes it to the top.
Here’s the good news. When Christians live like Christians, the world changes. (And you
don’t have to start a non-profit or take a vow of poverty to do that!) Following the way of
Jesus means signing up to become a gentle revolutionary whose everyday choices are
quiet acts of rebellion against the kingdom of darkness...each act a signpost, pointing to
a promised world teeming with justice and righteousness. If the greatest threat to
affordable housing is the normalization of harmful behavior (and I believe it is) then our
greatest hope must go beyond policies aimed to curb such behavior. A truer, and more
lasting hope is the normalization of just behavior. (Behavior that I will henceforth refer to
as rebellious acts of hope). I refer to this behavior as rebellion because it goes against
the powerful current in our cultural moment. Each act of rebellion will feel like
resistance...and no one will feel that resistance more than you. But I truly believe that’s
the only way forward. If we’re going to see the world healed, our actions need to stand in
stark contrast to the ones which inflicted these wounds to begin with. We didn’t get here
overnight. We justified greed, racism, and classism. We normalized it. We legislated it.
We shattered what God intended for our country. Let’s expect the journey of putting our
world back together to be lengthy and costly. Let’s expect our actions to feel strange
and foreign. Let’s expect to appear like rebels - constantly going against the flow,
captured by a vision of what could be...
Can I make it plain? Below are five rebellious ways of being in the world that can
revolutionize how people experience shelter in America. Fair warning: these are only
normal in the light of God’s Kingdom. They will seem strange and difficult in our world.
That’s not because they are unnatural - it’s because our world is unnatural. Our world is
sick...and when sickness becomes normal, sometimes healthy looks strange and scary...
These acts of rebellion will seem foolish, and weak...but isn’t that God’s thing? Hasn’t
God chosen what is foolish in the world to confound the wise, and what is weak in the
world to shame the strong? That’s how you defy the status quo. An upside down
Kingdom will never be ushered in through ordinary means. So embrace the punk-rock
energy of your new life in Christ.
Five Rebellious acts of hope.
Redefine wisdom: “It was a wise financial decision!” These are some of the most
common words you’ll hear associated with real-estate investment. And for good reason.
Home ownership is wonderful. If anything, this series is dedicated to making that a
possibility for more and more people. The problem is... not every high-yield real-estate
investment is a wise investment. Exploiting the affordable housing market in a
low-income community is not a wise investment no matter how great the profit margins
might be. Just because you can buy low and sell high doesn’t mean it’s wise. How we
define wisdom matters. If you define wisdom incorrectly, you may hit the bullseye - but
it’ll be on the wrong target. If you define wisdom strictly in economic terms, you’re
aiming at the wrong target. And that is a symptom of our world's illness. A high-yield
financial decision might be wise, but it is not necessarily wise. Godly wisdom is always
anchored to God’s plan for the world. That’s why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of
wisdom. Any decision that isn’t aligned with God’s plan for the world is foolish, no
matter how great the profit margins might be. An investment that doesn’t yield the kind
of fruit that belongs in the new Heavens and new Earth is the wrong kind of investment.
Full stop. What good is it to pass down an extravagant estate if the land under your
grandchildren’s feet remains desolate?
Live by a different law: “What I’m doing is perfectly legal.” So was slavery. Since when
did we decide to get our moral marching orders from America? If we’re going to have a prophetic influence in our world, we need to learn to live by a different legal standard.
We live according to the law of love, not merely the law of the land. The legal standards
of our country will always set the bar too low for what it means to love your neighbor as
you love yourself. If our allegiance is first and foremost to Christ, then our standard of
mercy should always exceed what the American legal system requires of us. Since our
country's inception, the law has protected deeply unjust behavior. And sadly, many
Christians have taken shelter there. But do we know who we are hiding from? The roof
of the American legal system is woefully thin to protect us from the justice of God.
Make the problem visible: “If I don’t buy that home, someone else will!” Do you ever feel
like this problem is too big and your influence is too small? Do you ever feel like a drop
in the ocean of economic forces controlling the housing market? I think there are a lot of
folks who feel that way. They think the problem is too big, and their influence is too
small. So they participate. (In a small way.) How bad could it be? (Bad.) Can I offer three
1. Doing bad stuff (even when it’s normal) is doing something to you. It’s
malforming your soul. Even if you are the last person on earth living justly, your
soul will thank you. Whether you think you can influence the world or not, follow
Jesus - He will influence who you become. More important than what you
accomplish, is who you become.
2. Remember, evil becomes invisible when we normalize it. When we give in to
patterns of greed, racism, and classism through our housing investments, we
help to normalize such behavior in real-estate. And when something becomes
normalized, it becomes pervasive.
3. However, we can expose evil behavior when we choose to live rightly. I think we
forget the incredible influence Christians have in our country (especially in a city
like Greenville). We are a critical mass. If Christians decided to live according to
Christ’s standard of mercy regarding real-estate investment, we would make the
problem visible again. The evil of displacing the vulnerable would stand out. The
cruelty of classism would be apparent. Our actions either help people hide, or
expose them in the light. Let’s make the problem visible.
Become lovingly intrusive: “I didn’t feel like it was my place to say something.” We have
a saying at my old Church (shout out to Summit Upstate): “true community is marked by
people who are lovingly intrusive.” (I butchered that a little, but you get the gist.) You
may not be in real-estate development, or in the market to buy a home, but you probably
know someone who is. Are you willing to be lovingly intrusive in your relationship with
them? The idea that you don’t have the right to speak into the life of a friend (or fellow
believer) is complete nonsense. It’s another symptom of an ill world. I don’t know about you, but I’m chock-full of blindspots and I need people in my life to point them out. When
someone you know and love (those are important factors) is making a real-estate
decision, ask them about it. Ask them why they are doing it? Ask them what they are
investing in? Ask them about the community. Ask them about the consequences of their
investment (good or bad). These lovingly intrusive questions may not be comfortable,
but they are good! This is a function of community as it was meant to be. Remember,
we are being formed by our choices. Do you want to become a more courageous and
kind person? Ask the questions. Do you want your friend to become a more merciful and
just person? Ask the questions. Do you want our world to become a more just place? Be
gentle...but ask the questions.
Never lose hope: “Things are just too far gone.” I know the feeling. But it’s just a feeling.
It’s not true. It is indeed possible for humanity to break the world beyond our ability to
repair. And we have. But it is impossible for us to break the world beyond God’s ability to
repair. This is perhaps the strangest conviction of all...the most rebellious action yet.
Never stop hoping in a God of miracles. God is making all things new. Period. That’s
what God is doing. What evidence do we have of that? Death itself was defeated. Our
mortal frames are being brought to life by the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus, and we await
the day when God consummates this work and sets all things right. Until then, we are
animated by God’s Spirit to join His renewal project. How? Punk-rock energy, in the
everydayness of life. Small acts of rebellion, motivated by an unshakeable hope that
things don’t have to remain this way.
“Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in
the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another
world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”
- Jürgen Moltmann