A Parabled Rethinking of Rural Housing

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An excellent piece from The Center for Rural Affairs on the need for a new approach to rural housing made me think of an abstract I submitted on rural housing and homelessness to a conference (but was rejected). My focus was on rethinking rural housing in terms of the parables of Jesus and the potential for new ways of understanding communal life in general. This post looks to hash this out a little bit.

I particularly engage the “Parable of the Friend at Night”:

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. -Luke 11:5-8

William R. Herzog II’s interpretation is particularly moving. He points to the needs of rural peasants in the first century to resist and create their own social code to move beyond the external rules of society being afflicted on them in a dehumanizing way. In many ways rural communities face a dehumanizing system of valuation from global capitalism and society. Current society teaches the “one best way” of acquiring a middle class (sub)urban life with all its attachments. This includes home ownership, a manicured lawn, the nice schools, the membership in the right clubs, and a salary which keeps adding zeroes.

Rural populations, both then and now, face the dehumanizing forces telling them they are failures for not wanting or attaining the lifestyle of consumption or honor (interchangeable really). Instead, according to Herzog, Jesus is pointing to a subverting of expectations and an action of justice in the providing of bread for a person in need. This sort of justice is outside the bounds of consumption and honor. A community member in need, late a night, risking security and food, offering bread for a visitor. There is no return paid. (One note: Herzog and many others believe the following versus which spiritualize this into a parable about prayer where added later, and that this is a much more physical needs based parable.)

Michael Corbett writes of rural virtues or values, one of which is “making do as one sees fit on known land and sea.” A value of rural people is “making do” as you can. However, deeper into this text one might read a sense of justice and transformation. If “making do” is not simply a getting by but a creative rethinking of a situation, then it provides glimpses into the same Kingdom of God Jesus continue to talk about. Rural communities have the values latent in their work to begin rethinking housing in their communities. It will not look like $200K+ homes on estates, but it will look like shared housing, new forms of living, creative reclaiming of buildings, and rethinking of homelessness and housing in general. If we work hard, and we see a neighbor in need, we look past ourselves and creatively engage the needs of this neighbor. Churches in rural communities often have a great deal of empty space which could be used for housing temporary or communal. The idea of the boarding house might also be useful.

There are many possibilities, but the key is, the answer must come from within rural communities. A rural reality must be embedded in a creative community not in external expectations. Housing solutions must come from within the rethinking of spaces  in the community and providing for the needs of the people in a way which continues to reveal the Kingdom of God. The article I link at the beginning begins to do this and offers good ideas and starters, but each community, with knowledge of its place, its sense of stewardship, and its understanding of “making-do” can look at a means of creating new housing opportunities. This is not simply solving a problem, it is resisting and restoring justice.

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