Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Model Homes, Difficult People, and Staying Put

I like to tour model homes. I have been recently reflecting on why this is so.

Last week, while in Phoenix, I needed to look at some model homes, as a part of my real estate consulting
work. I spent the better part of two hours touring model tract homes, in part to understand things like product placement, new home absorption, and market behavior. This is some of the stuff I do at work.

As I went through my day, I found myself thinking that I really like to do this model home touring thing. Maybe I am partly voyeuristic, in an odd way. Partly I am amused by how perfect everything is presented to be. In model homes there are never any scuff marks on the baseboards or walls, no magazine fashion pictures taped to bedroom doors, like at my house of teenage girls. All the appliances are shiny and clean. No stains in the kitchen sink, or crumpled tortilla chips on the floor, fresh from the last kid attack of the snack cabinet. The perfect collection of farm tshatshke or modern Spanish decor to match the tiles and flooring. Nothing is out of place.

And then there are the upstairs. The bedrooms and bathrooms. The ideal collection of seaside trinkets happily arranged around the bathrooms. Kids toothbrushes all neatly aligned. A whimsical nautical theme. In the master bedroom, lovely photos on the bedside tables of the well tanned bleach blonde Handsome Family, taken last summer at "the shore" somewhere. Another mystical carefree vacation; not the kind we real world people have, where the teenage kids yell at each other and sulk for hours on end. These Model Home people are so handsome, so happy, so, well, serene and well adjusted.

Its all really made up though, isn't it? None of these homes are inhabited by real people. Well, if they are real people they suffer from a pretty mean case of obsessive compulsive clean-up disorder. Way too neat for reality.

After touring these homes I found myself thinking about the make-believe people whose pictures are scattered about the models. They appear, or look like, or represent the way our funny American evangelical church culture sometimes makes us think we are supposed to be.

There are the Buffingtons, for example, who live in the model aptly named "Nantucket Harbor". Three kids, all skilled at snow skiing; one in college, and the two younger siblings in honors classes at Marlborough Academy for the Privileged. Phil Buffington is an investment banker, and his wife Jill is a neurosurgeon. And then, next door, residing in the model "Seaside Slumber" are the Farnsworthys - Jack, Susan, and the kids, Audrey and Trey. This family loves to vacation in Newport Cove, where they spend their summer hours sailing on the grandparents sailboat. No one in their family ever got cancer or had a divorce. The kids are in nothing but honors classes.

Oh, and if we listen to some parts of our church culture, we would believe that the model home people are also Perfect Christians, too. They never fight in their model homes. The parents have read all the Victorious Parenting books, and their children are so well behaved. Lovely, isn't it? Why can't we be like them?

And then, there are the rest of us. Ordinary people. Messy lives, unfulfilled dreams, unfinished business. Unkempt hair, cavities. Oh, and our churches look like that too! Messy, unkempt, unlovely.

As I drove back to the Phoenix airport, I reflected on my non-model home life. I thought about the disordered, confusing, sometimes unpleasant ways things happen in my world. I thought about church committees I have been on, sometimes with people that make me nutty, talking for hours about things that don't really seem to be that important. I remembered the difficult people.

And then, as I swerved to avoid a speeding tow truck on the freeway, took a deep breath, and gave silent thanks to God for my life, I thought again. I like my life, and I am thankful for my sometimes disheveled, bewildering, non-model home faith. And church.

I am not moving to the model homes. I am staying put.
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