Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dying Churches

I've heard that term a lot lately. It seems that we are seeing a trend in that our smaller churches are slowly fading away. It has made me wonder, is there a correlation between these churches fading away and the growing number of married couples not having children?

I think there is. Our society, on the whole, values money. You are defined by your career and how much money you make. Not so much in the more rural areas but certainly in the metropolitan areas where the majority of the population lives. We have seen a decline in the housewife and the number of children families are having. Those of us who have made it a priority to stay home and take care of our families are looked down upon as being "non-productive" members of society.

So how does that correlate with the dying churches? We have couples who don't see the promise and blessing of "be fruitful and multiply". I'm not going so far as to say it's some kind of command, but it is definitely a blessing. Since these couples have chosen to pursue something other than a family the numbers in the church don't increase. Every time one of our older members is called home the numbers of the church lessen. I know this is not the only reason these churches are dying but I think it is one of the major reasons. Just to clarify, I'm not talking about those couples who have tried and are unable to have children but those couples who make a conscience decision to not have kids.

It is so sad to walk into one of these churches and see how few of the families have children. We have attended a number of these types of churches. If you are there for any length of time, you start to miss seeing baptisms and watching the children grow. Those with kids have so few opportunities for their own children to make friends with those of the same faith. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it makes it difficult for the children growing up to meet and marry someone of the same faith. Instead of looking for a spouse who believes the same way you do you end up looking in other places. Okay, maybe I'm going a bit far but these are things that pop out of my head :)

Ultimately, I think it is so sad that we as a society have gotten so selfish that we don't want to share our lives with children. As a parent, I cannot imagine my life without our kids. It would seem so empty! What's worse is to see how society has influenced our churches. They truly are dying since there are so few being born to fill the pews.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Isolation or Privacy

On one of the email lists I belong to the subject of isolation came up. It was in the context that living a life in isolation is outside of our vocations as Christians. One of the members pointed out that living in the country and not wanting to live in the city is not necessarily a life of isolation but one of greater freedom and privacy.

I whole heartedly agree. I've been trying to explain this to friends of ours that see our desire to live in the country as being almost sinful. We enjoy the space and freedom that we can have in the country and cannot have in the city. Every week on our drive to church I look at all the houses, tightly packed next to each other, and wonder how you can have any privacy. You certainly don't have a whole lot of freedom, there are city codes, association rules, etc. They all tell you how you can live and what your house must look like. They are a way for the neighbors to dictate how you live your life so as not to offend them.

We came home from the hardware store yesterday to find a note on our gate from the animal control officer who lives on our street. She insists that our one dog, we have 4, needs a dog house because he was chained up in the backyard. We don't normally chain our dogs up but this one has made a habit of climbing the chainlink fence into the neighbor's yard. We installed a radiofence to shock him when he gets near the fence but he has become accustom to the shocks and charges through. We were at the hardware store looking for supplies to hopefully alleviate the problem. This is the problem with living in a neighborhood. I really don't think this woman has any right to tell us what we should or shouldn't do with our dogs. We don't mistreat them, they are fed, have clean water, and they have companionship most of the day, which I can't say for any of the other dogs in the area.

This particular dog wouldn't go in a doghouse unless he was forced. He is a wolf-husky mix and refuses to use any shelter provided except an occasional tree, so the doghouse would be a wasted effort. The dogs have access to a carport that they use for shade very occasionally and we will build them a large doghouse for the winter, once we have moved to the house we are buying. Now we have to deal with this county worker who has to justify her job by telling other how to live their lives.

This whole experience just reinforces my desire to live a more private life with the freedom to live the way I desire.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Being Content

I have often been told that I need to learn to be content with whatever our present situation is.

I thought I had learned that lesson when we lived in Indiana. It didn't start out easy and I complained a lot. Eventually I learned to really like where we lived and was thankful for the opportunities we had instead of being frustrated with the opportunities we didn't have.

It was different in Colorado. We had a huge problem adjusting, mostly because of our preconceived notions. We really expected the small town to be like the one we had just left. We expected to have that community feeling that was just wasn't there. We expected the business owners to be above-board because this was a small community and in small communities you usually need to protect your reputation in order to stay in business. None of that was the case but I was content with our living situation and tried to look at all the positives. I really liked living off the grid, I liked the freedom from being reliant on a faceless company for my power and water. And I liked the freedom from building codes. I never was content where the homeschooling laws were concerned but nobody's perfect!

I'm having a hard time here in California. I never expected we would end up back here and I really truly feel it was a huge mistake to come back to a place we tried so hard to escape from. The homeschooling laws are better than CO but worse than IN, and I guess in that I am pretty much content. It's the rest of it that gets in the way. I don't like where we live. We live in a community, and I use that term very loosely, that is built solely on one of the things I hate the most, materialism. This place only exists because tourist and weekenders come from the LA area to play on the lake. The property values have skyrocketed in the last few years because people in the LA area can't believe how cheap the properties are, it must be perspective. The problem is that the people who live here year-round and provide the labor for all those needed services can no longer afford to live here. We will be giving 41% of our income to a mortgage company for a house that is really too small for our family, even taking into consideration my "less is more" mantra. In many ways I would love to continue renting but our rent payment isn't much less! I love our church and friends but the cost of driving there every week is too much and we need to cut back. I should be content that we can go at all but I'm having a hard time with that.

I'm sure it's a failing in me but I don't know that I can make myself be content any longer. I want to move someplace I want to live and stay there for the rest of my life. We have moved 8 times in the last 12 years and I'm tired. I want to find someplace where we can live simply on one income, I am beginning to doubt such a place exists. Maybe I just need more time to acclimate to this area but I don't think so. It's not like the other places we lived, we are originally from CA and know the drill. I don't have to learn about the culture because it's ingrained in me.

So, is being content truly something we can make ourselves become, regardless of the situation around us, or is there ever a time when it's too much to ask?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sometimes I wish I could be normal

I've spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about this.

Our life would be so much easier if we were more like other people. If we could just let go of some of our ideas like homesteading and living on one income we would be able to fit in so much easier.

It's kind of like the movie "The Matrix". Morpheus gives Neo the choice between the red pill and the blue pill and tells him if he chooses the red pill there is no going back. I feel like we have chosen the red pill and sometimes it would be nice to be able to go back.

I'm not saying I regret our choices but it is difficult sometimes when the people around us don't understand and are sometimes critical of our choices. It is difficult enough financially without having to deal with the stress of trying to explain these things to our friends and family.

I guess, ultimately, there is nothing I can do to change these things so I shouldn't stress about them.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Dual Lives

Do you ever feel like you have two lives and they don't fit together?

I often do. After moving around a bunch and struggling to live on one income we have come to appreciate some of the insights in modern homesteading magazines. Many of the writers in these magazines and books extol the virtues of living within your means. It may sound like common sense but so many people just don't do this. That is why credit card debt is so prevalent in this country.

We have chosen to adopt some of the things we have read about. Growing more of our own food, being more self-sufficient, and living within our financial means. It sounds so easy but when we talk about this with other people we get those looks. You know, those looks that say you are crazy. We get questions like, "Why do you want to grow your own food?" or "What are you hiding from?" or just "Why?".

First, we aren't hiding. I happen to like living in the country. I like the quiet and solitude. What's wrong with that?

Second, I like doing things for myself. Why pay someone to do something that I can do myself. I get a sense of accomplishment when cooking food I grew in my own garden.

Third, I'm just happier without all the stress of trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing or buying.

That is where my other life comes in. We are confessional Lutherans. We have very specific beliefs so it's not always easy to find a church near where we live. We happen to drive a REALLY long way to church. We have friends at this church and enjoy spending time with these people. These people are our family.

But this family is very different from us. They don't have kids or their kids are grown. They probably don't even realize it but when they have parties or get togethers it's hard for us. Sometimes the kids aren't welcome because the party is an adult theme. It's so hard, we want to spend time with them but we also have to think about our kids. We don't have a huge support network here so it's not easy to have them stay with a family member. The other big problem is the money. We don't have any discretionary income. We don't have the money to go out to lunch. We have 4 people to feed and that gets real expensive. At the same time I have a hard time explaining why we can't go out, it sounds so pathetic. Although our friends accept our other life they will never really understand it.

So there are our two lives. It probably doesn't sound like much of a problem but it is very stressful. We have tried just living one of these lives at a time and it doesn't work. We need to be "near" a solid church so that puts very large constraints on where we can live. Living within driving distance of one of these churches put financial constraints on how we can live, the area we are in now is expensive! Maybe some day we will figure out how to mesh these two existences into one life :)