Space: More Or Less? (Reflections on Community)

From The Suburban Christian

American houses are larger by far than those in other societies – the average size of an American single-family home has increased from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,329 square feet today. The typical American has 718 square feet of living space per person, compared to 442 square feet in Canada and just 170 square feet in Japan.

I currently live in a house (2 units in a triplex, think of it as a big house with an outdoor hallway) with 9 other people. Our home is about 2100 sq. ft. total space, averaging 233 sq. ft./ per person. Two of the 9 are small children, you decided if that’s more or less impeding on others space.

It’s interesting because a lot of people who come to visit and see our place often comment that we have a lot of space, and there is some truth to that. 2100 sq. ft. is much bigger then any apartment we’ve lived in. Even just the common areas are much bigger then our old apartments, however, on a square feet per person basis, we have much less then most people. Do we have more space or less?

I wonder if people often respond with the comment that we have a lot of space because their idea of community is being trapped in a small place with no room for privacy. That seems to be one of the common response people give to us when we talk about community. “I could never do that, I need my privacy.” “We need our family time.” “My alone time is important.” The responses and excuses go on and on.
It’s funny because you often want to reply, “I value privacy, alone time, and family time too!” Community isn’t as evasive as it’s made out to be.

I’ve said before that it’s all a matter of boundaries. We are taught by our culture that appropriate boundaries for a married couple is their own front door, bathroom and kitchen. Families might even need their own fence, with a yard and play things. Yet, the majority of the worlds couples and families are lucky if they even have a separate room! It’s time we consider changing our expectations of appropriate boundaries. I feel blessed we can have our own private bedroom, but I’m totally open and fine with sharing a bathroom, living room, kitchen and front door with others.

What are your boundaries? How much space do you really need?

Finance Brain Storm: Pay Each Others Mortgage

The Conversation about housing got my wheels turning and I started thinking about different ways we might live creatively outside the box of what we are currently used to in our culture. I’m gonna write a few things this week about just ideas I’ve had of ways to live out our convictions creatively. This is the first.

Instead of taking out huge Mortgages and taking years to pay them off and effectively paying three times the cost of our houses, we should pay each others mortgages. I’m not quite sure how this would work as traditionally we all want a house and we want it now, not later. But really think about it.
If you could pay cash for your house today, then over the course of the next 30 years you could take what you would have spent in interest to the bank and give it to some wonderful cause you believe in. As one person or family this doesn’t quite seem possible, but collectively it’s not as difficult.
What if five or ten families got together and decided that each year they would take all the money they could muster and pay off one persons mortgage (assuming they already have one). Over that time the pay-off would speed up exponentially as a persons house is paid off and they no longer have a monthly payment themselves. By the end of the time (maybe ten years max) everyone has a house completely paid off and they are able to do a world of good with the rest of the money.

Or, what if folks lived communally in a house, that was fully paid off. And then they pooled their resources and were able to buy one house a year, which a family would move into and start a communal living opportunity for others to follow a similar pattern.

There are some assumptions I’m making here. You can’t be living paycheck to paycheck, nor can you be living just below your income, you need to make some radical life changes. Of course, those are things you should have done even before you bought a house to begin with.

Here’s a brief (I didn’t have much time) example…

So you’ve got five families, with differing incomes. The goal is for each to buy a $100,000 house. If they all contribute 25% of their income to a pot it would take 11 to accumulate $500,000 (enough for each family to have a house). If they lived on just $16,000 a year they’d have enough in 5 years.
The “5 Year House” column is just showing what cost of a house they could pay off in five years if they were putting 25% of their income to the house.
And the “Years to 100K” column shows how many years it would take each family to actually accumulate $100k if they were doing it themselves (by which time their house cost would be double if they were doing their own mortgage).

Of course these are simple numbers not taking into account other housing costs, inflation, etc, but hopefully you get the idea (or maybe your totally lost).

Any math geeks out there want to help me make more sense of something like this?

Corporate Responsibility Monday: Good Technology

Corporate Monday

I’ve begun a collaboration with Josh Brown to raise some awareness on Corporate Responsibility. Josh started out last Monday by highlighting the perils of L.L. Bean and giving some reasons why you don’t want to make that your favorite clothing store. One critique from commenter’s was that Josh hadn’t provided an alternative of a “good” company. Enter Good Cop. Each Monday, Josh and I will post about companies in related fields, he’ll post the bad company, I’ll post the good one.

This week we are talking Tech. There aren’t a lot of outstanding companies out there currently, so I’ll be highlighting a handful of areas and different companies. Head over to for the other company.

Dell's Score Card

This is not primarily to highlight Dell, but it’ll get some airtime at the end of the post. The truth is the technology industry has a lot of shadiness going on when it comes to ethical production. You thought sweatshops were just for clothing and coffee, sorry. Most of the big names have received some heat for some sort of ethical issue, but amidst all of it, there are a few small companies that are branching out in the niche of “eco-friendly.”

  • GreenISP is a UK based (and available, sorry USA) Internet Service Provider doing things differently:

    We travel to our solar powered offices on public transport and we plant trees to offset Co2 emissions

  • Community Mail is attempting to provide free email that supports the same values you do.
  • Another area a lot of companies have carved out an eco-friendly niche is in the area of web hosting. A number of companies are choosing to power their servers and power stations by wind and solar power. TreeHugger provides a nice list.
  • There is one company, NEC, who seems to be leading the way in making eco-friendly computers.
  • It’s not a product you can buy, but I’ve got to mention the One Laptop Per Child project since we are talking about technology.
  • And supposedly LG has a gas powered laptop of sorts.

But that’s enough about eco-friendly options in technology, and time to talk about what to do when it comes to buying computers and other gadgets. This is tough because a lot of companies have bad raps from HP, Toshiba, Sony and on. But from my research, the best way to go is Dell.
First, let me quickly explain how to choose companies in a bushel of bad apples. If you can, buy used. This goes from thrift stores to ebay, if it’s a corrupt industry, try and remain in the second tier. But, if you must buy new, then it’s best to buy from the company that you feel is ethically doing the best, even if it’s not great. Especially when your intentional about it (write a letter or tell a manager), you send the message that when you hear about bad business you won’t shop there, but you will support efforts to ethical business.

Dell is a good candidate to support for two reasons.

  1. Dell has been one of the leaders in the computer industry at addressing the e-waste problem. Dell adopted the Computer TakeBack Campaign in the summer of 2004. They haven’t done the best job of using more disposable material for their computers, but they are ahead of many of the competitors.
  2. Dell’s rap sheet is less long then it’s competitors. When compared to Sony, Toshiba, Apple, and Microsoft, Dell seems to be doing quite well.

Responsible Shopper gives this as their bottom line for Dell:

take action to support the work of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, the work of which contributed to Dell’s recycling commitments. Keep the pressure on Dell to fulfill its newly stated sustainability goals.

Sources: Responsible Shopper and

Don’t forget to stop by Josh Brown’s website for the other half of Corporate Responsibility Monday’s look at Tech.

Okay, But What If Debt Really Is Bad?

We’ve had a fabulous discussion over at the Home Sweet Mortgage post, and I’d love to continue it. The thing is, the direction I would really like to take it is into the area of creatively brain storming how a Christians might live and function if they decided Debt really was completely unacceptable.

I’m not saying it is (Mindy and I have chosen to take loans out for her to finish school), but I’m contemplating what things might look like if we firmly believed that it was. You see, I think too often we are quick to interpret and justify away some of scripture because we can’t figure out how it would “work” in our world today. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t believe in non-violence (a topic for another post). I think this is also why most people give the “buying is better then renting” statement and then give the short financial advice to back it up.

Again, I’m not saying buying is bad, I’m just saying maybe we can think of ways to think of all of it in a completely new way. Jac, mentioned people in the church giving others loans. That’s a neat idea that is outside the box of what we ever consider. I want to brainstorm ideas like that.

So, the floor is open. The one rule is that what ever idea you present, it has to be given with the assumption that Debt is unacceptable and not an option.

How do we live? were do we live? College? Cars? the floor is yours…

Talk to Someone about Domestic Violence

Note: I’ve been posting these posters on Friday’s sans commentary in hope’s that it would create a discussion. The only person that’s engaged me in discussion about it has been my mother.

She pointed out that all the women in the pictures look like actresses/models/famous people (which they are), and that it doesn’t seem as real as it does just dressing up. In other words she wondered if these pictures actually force people to think about the reality of domestic violence, or instead make it seem even more fictitious.

I’m curious to know others thoughts. Do these images cause you to think about the reality of domestic violence? Are they just one of the posts you breeze past without much of a thought?

ACT is the new campaign brand of Women’s Aid:
admit domestic violence is a problem, call it by its name, talk to someone.

Walking your Worldview, insight from the Vogts

My friends, Chris and Rebecca, are on a long journey learning about themselves and serving in a community in Uganda. They have thoroughly been enjoying their journey and their experience has been wonderful to hear about and grow from. I wanted to continue a small series highlighting some of the great insight that they’ve been sharing with folks through their emails.

I think sometimes since we have so much knowledge and info at our fingertips we don’t see the greatness and glory of God, because we don’t need to. We have everything we need in our own home
to meet our own needs. We don’t need to worship a God who created everything, because we have everything we need and if we need something, we can usually find it.
It is a challenge we face more in the West simply because of our self sufficient mentalities. In essence we end up worshiping man instead of God. And if you say that you don’t worship man then look at society and who is given glory, man or God? We are products of our culture. To say that we are somehow removed from our culture and society would be a big mistake. Even as Christians we are
susceptible, our worldview affects all we do, and believe me I have a much different worldview than a Ugandan does. For example the question, how far is too far to walk? We were asked this during our
class, and the response of a Ugandan is far different then my response. Ugandans will walk many times 20 or 30 miles one way to then return 20 or 30 miles back all in one day! For me a westerner, I
will not walk to the grocery store if it is less than a mile or even across the street because I will opt for my car. If my way of thinking about the world regarding distance is affected so much just
by owning a car, how much different is it when you take into account computers, tv, media, money, how food is found, education, role of parents, physical vs. spirit world, climate, children etc.

Capitalism: Get Out While You’re Still Saved?

At it’s very foundation, Capitalism works because of people’s selfishness. Adam Smith the Father of the modern capitalist economy said,

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

I’ll begin, for the sake of Virgil, by saying that in practice in our society, I have not seen or know of a better system then capitalism. I’ve thought that there is a chance a different governmental or economic system would better serve society, but I’m not sure, nor do I know enough to argue, that it would. That being said, Capitalism still has it’s downsides.

We often make choices and contribute to systems that we believe in and agree with. There are personal and moral reasons people boycott stores, flee countries, choose not to vote, refuse to pay taxes, or live off the grid. It’s a much more daunting task, but I wonder if we should not at least consider the same possibility as it relates to our economy.

If our economy by it’s very structure encourages us to act in our own self interest, it goes quite counter to the life that Christ calls us to. And if our economy by in it’s flaws creates a structure of economy that oppresses people, then it goes against our calling to love our neighbors. Is there a way to remain a part of that system, to contribute to it, play a role in it, and benefit from it, yet in a way that still allows us to fully follow Christ?

We don’t know much about a large portion of Jesus’ life but it seems likely that he was a carpenter for most of his adult life. It’s possible he paid taxes and was involved as much as the next person in the economies of that day. Yet, during his ministry we see challenges to the structures in place. He makes satirical play of a question about taxes. Jesus when the tax is required conjures it up out of the mouth of a fish. He dines at people’s homes, relying on the hospitality of others rather then his own wages to provide food and shelter. When he dines at a Tax Collector’s home though, isn’t he benefiting from the corrupt system?

It just seems that economy is another area that Christians don’t think about at all. We just take for granted the system that is in place and don’t consider whether it’s appropriate to be involved or if there is another way. When Mindy and I went to Papa Festival they tried to use an alternative currency during the event. It was similar to the Ithaca Hours, which a whole city adopted. It seems like a creative way to step out of the current economic system (though it seems like it’s just replacing it with a similar one, although more local and maybe less corrupt).
Maybe we are supposed to be moving off the current economy and joining the Amish. Or maybe there is a way to involve our selves in the economy of the world in such a way that it is still honoring to God and not involving ourselves in a corrupt structure.

Vandy Can’t Seem to Make the Grade


Not my alma mater, but soon to be Mindy’s. I found the College Sustainability Report Cards when Adam linked to the terrible grade received by Princeton Theological Seminary.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute released its College Sustainability Report Card, which grades 100 leading colleges by looking at campus greening practices and endowment policies.

Hopefully this is something Vandy starts taking into consideration as it continues building and expanding. In fact, all colleges should be taking these sorts of critical analysis’ seriously.