There are high rise condominiums growing up out of the concrete all around us here in Houston. Many are replacing older apartment buildings that took up more space. But there is also brand new construction all around easy access to transportation routes in the downtown, mid-town and westside neighborhoods like Memorial, the Heights and Upper Kirby.
These new trends in residential building are following demographic trends:
- The birthrate has been on the decline, women are waiting later to have children and are having fewer children – the time to move out to the suburbs and focus on the school district is coming later.
- People are waiting later to get married, more are living together first. Most couples who marry today, cohabit first. This means there is a longer transition period into the neighborhood housing experience.
- More people are living single for longer. This means that a smaller, more convenient living space makes better sense.
Our physical living arrangements in large cities like Houston are changing because of the new ways we are choosing to live our lives. Many of these choices are not necessarily deliberate.
There are three big social changes that have come to dominate our lives that I think the local church needs to spend its energy and focus:
- Working is coming to dominate our lives – we want to live closer to where we work. We now have technology that allows us (if we like it or not) to work all the time. The old fashioned 9-5 workday has disappeared – along with the typewriter. Younger people feel a tremendous amount of anxiety about their work future.
- Relationships are more transitory and fragile than ever before. Traditional families, composed of mother, father and their children are at the lowest numbers ever in our history.
- People are less and less knowledgeable about what and why they believe about their faith. This means that decision making based on personal and collective faith becomes less certain.
How is your church organizing itself to minister to the new world emerging all around it? Take a look at your church website, newsletter or even weekly bulletin. What clues can you learn about the way your church has organized itself for ministry? What is aimed inwardly, how much outwardly?
- Is your church using the internet effectively to communicate, teach, and involve members and seekers?
- Are you scheduling activities that are convenient for only a limited segment of your church?
- How are you taking your church into the neighborhoods? Do you have regular gatherings in people’s homes – including those condo’s and apartments?
- Are you finding ways to help people in your church and community find ways to solve larger problems related to raising children, adult relationships, taking care of parents, finding a new career?
The ways that your church has organized itself – committees, funding, programs, etc. will tell you how prepared it is for the changing world. Very rarely will your church be able to do things it is not organized to do.
Take a good hard look at the world around you – and then pretend you are an outsider and look hard at your church. How well do the these two worlds connect?
“He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
Did you see native Houstonian Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film Boyhood yet? If you haven’t, then go see it THEN come back to read this post…
Everyone is talking about Boyhood because the film is a “documentary” of the life of Mason Jr. as he develops from a 6 year old until he arrives at college. The film took twelve years to make because he documented the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) throughout his progression through his “boyhood.” This is what seems so remarkable to everyone. While watching the film one is dazzled at how seamless the transformations occur as Mason grows into adulthood. Of course we have all been raised on special effects and nothing should amaze us anymore. Perhaps what makes audiences so appreciative is the fact that they are witnessing a normal human process take place right before their eyes. A process that everyone witnesses all around them every single day, but probably takes for granted.
What was amazing to me about the film was something else. While Mason was growing up in a single-parent home (as more than 40% of American children today are) he experienced many of the problems associated with this kind of life. Ultimately, upon reaching adulthood and launching off to college, Mason seemed completely lost and lacking any sort of direction and connection to meaning. For me it was a tragic story because I read the reports and know that this movie was probably very similar to the real experience of many of today’s teens and young adults. The most bitter aspect of this tragedy is that our society seems oblivious to what’s happening to our children because of our fickle commitment to family.
- Mason was an unplanned birth by two young parents who divorced and did not maintain a healthy communication with one another.
- Mason’s father was eager to create a meaningful relationship with his children but his own lifestyle prevented much stability. He only made sporadic visits. His children were unable to watch him model as a parent.
- Mason’s mother, like most single moms, worked hard to make ends meet and ultimately decided to go back to school to increase her chances of a better paying job. This meant less time with her children as they were growing up. When she was with her children, time was not spent providing order and discipline but trying to create a close friendship.
- The family, like most single families had to move and the children had to leave friends and schools behind. This created a level of constant chaos and emotional anxiety in their lives.
- New stepfathers and step-families were created along the way as Mason’s mother tried to provide a better life for herself and her family. This often ended up exposing her children to unhealthy relationships, more abandonment and cynicism about adults.
- Both Mason and his sister were initiated into drug use, alcohol and sex at an early age. Their mother seemed to condone the behavior, maintaining a friendship being her ultimate goal.
- When Mason did have experiences with adults who tried to instill in him useful social values it was typically someone who he did not respect or who sounded like a step-father from his haunted past. Mason’s own father encouraged him as a free spirit while he himself was selling his hot rod and buying a mini-van.
- An ironic scene in the film, Mason’s mother is teaching a college course in psychology. The lecture she is giving in this scene is about British psychologist John Bowlby and his attachment theory. Infant’s healthy attachments to primary caregivers (mothers and fathers) are essential for their later emotional development.
- The actor who played Mason Jr., Ellar Coltrane, experienced the break up of his own family while he was making this film. He reports that one of the film crew ended up teaching him how to drive when it came time to get his license. That’s an important rite of passage for a son.
For me it was a very haunting experience as the film ended with Mason walking through the Big Bend scenery at sunset. He has traveled to the end of his childhood and was just as lost as a baby would have been. He was never given the healthy grounding in reality, the basic lessons about life, the foundational experiences of love and acceptance that all children ought to have in order to make a healthy and strong start to live.
I’m not naive, I realize that teens rebel and college kids can get really flaky. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Linklater wrote a script that seemed to present Mason as a harmless, sweet, genial yet completely lost young man once he journeyed off to college. He didn’t have anything to rebel against. In the film Mason’s mother and father never really spent the consistent and constant time instilling into him by their presence and practice what it means to love and be loved.
No one has a perfect family to grow up in. That’s not the point. My large point is that we are witnessing the disintegration of the core social institution in our civilization and no one seems very bothered. Less than 20% of American households are made up of a married couple with children. No one is raising any alarms. No one is calling it what it is – The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
When the film ended I was sitting in the the theater trying to catch my breath and process what I had just witnessed. I could hear people around me standing up and clapping.
“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.” – H.G. Wells