Monday, November 13, 2006

House & Home

Ah, home. I love home. I love being home. I love taking care of our home...if not always the actual process of doing so, at least the satisfaction of it. Lately I have read a lot of blogs that talk about home, living well, simple pleasures, etc. I like all of these ideas, but there is something missing, and it has taken me a while to figure out what it is. The concepts are good. Enjoy life's simple pleasures...slow down...don't get caught up in the rat race...make your home a haven. Several blogs and sites talk about the idea of "hygge", a Danish word to which there is no direct English equivalent, referring to a sense of quality and comfort and warmth in domestic life. Again...a good idea, but not a complete one.

Some of the things I have recently read have talked about the idea of "personalizing" your home as opposed to "decorating" it. This is an idea that I like, and that I have subscribed to for some time. I do not wish for my home to be "decorated", as if it belonged in a showroom (those of you who know me and have been to my house know that the idea of my home being a showroom model is laughable). I want my home to be comfortable, to be welcoming, I want to not be concerned if something is spilled on the carpet or a watermark is left on the coffee table or mud is tracked in from outside. I mean, I want to take care of things, of course - it would be wasteful and irresponsible not to - but I want people to feel at ease in my home. Nearly all of the objects that are out as "decorations" are there because they have special meaning to us. They are gifts from loved ones, or photographs, or mementos from special occasions. So for the most part, I have enjoyed the writings about this kind of homemaking, where the objective is "hominess", not decoration. But still, something was not quite right.

I had to really think about what it was in these articles and blogs that left me feeling uneasy. They all professed to appreciate handmade items, well made and classic furniture and clothing, and a careful, studied approach to consumerism. The authors all dislike big chain stores and cheap, mass-produced goods that serve no lasting purpose. Most of them try to focus their time and energy on family and friends, and they work hard to give their homes as hospitable an air as possible. What is wrong with these things? Why do I still get the feeling that their efforts are empty?

God. They are missing God. Whether the people are or not is not for me to judge, but their writings are. The focus of all of these ideas is still on "me". What will make me happy? How can I be most comfortable? I think that so often in this country, we think of materialism only as stereotypical American consumerism, which many of us profess to disdain and avoid (although, truth be told, very few actually succeed in avoiding it). We think of materialism as always wanting the newest cars, electronics, gadgets, the most fashionable clothing. I think that a lot of us think that if we prefer secondhand stores to department stores, then we are not materialistic. If we like the appearance of a rough, handmade table more than that of a sleek Ethan Allen table, then we are not materialistic. If we would prefer to renovate an old, abandoned farmhouse in the country rather than build a cookie cutter, manicured house in a suburban development, then we are not materialistic. Once again, we have fallen into the trap of believing that we can apply our own definitions to sin. Countercultural does not always mean morally better.

[Please understand, when I use the word "materialistic", I am referring to a love of material things, an obsession with possessions, a lifestyle of greed and discontent. I do not mean the philosophy of materialism, in which all things that cannot be explained by physical matter are irrelevant.]

Earlier this year, I read a book called The Most Important Place On Earth by Robert Wolgemuth. It talked about the essence of a Christian home. He discusses things like respect for the power of words; plenty of laughter (but no sarcasm); celebration. Basically the book is about allowing your home to be used as a shining light of God's love in your neighborhood. I have read other books by Christian authors that proclaim to be about the same thing, but they take a very different approach. I read a book that actually suggested that one way to show hospitality to your neighbors is to install a winding brick path from the driveway to your front door. That's a fine idea, but there is nothing fundamentally hospitable about it. Letting your neighbors walk up a brick path before they enter your home does not inherently mean that you will welcome them. Consistently reflecting God's love to them through respect, kindness, and compassion is much more likely to give them the assurance that they will always be welcome in your home. I truly believe that we should stop trying so hard to make people feel that they are important to us, and instead start actually making them important - actually making people a priority. If they really are important to us, it will show. Efforts to convince others that we value them when we really don't will fall flat.

Well, this is a rather jumbled collection of my thoughts on homemaking and hospitality. I guess that's why I'm a blogger and not a professional writer.

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