On Being Counter-Cultural

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I’m frustrated these days. Okay, okay. I’m usually frustrated. But lately, I’m especially frustrated.

There’s this preacher-guy named Michael Frost, whom I respect quite a lot. A couple of years ago, he lectured a room full of professional Christians about how we should be leading “questionable lives.” That is, if we’re truly following Jesus, our lives will look so completely bonkers to people around us that they’ll be asking us why we’re behaving so strangely. I’m talking about unreasonable generosity. Irrational compassion. That sort of thing.

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A Complaint

Dear Washington, DC:

I’m blaming you for my current dissatisfaction with my living conditions.

I have two too many toilets, a giant tub that’s used maybe three times a year, and two unoccupied bedrooms. My family’s cars are too numerous to easily fit in our garage and driveway. We own three pianos and an embarrassing number of books. Last week, one of our dogs was nearly buried alive by the mountain of towels, blankets, and unused pillowcases that erupted from our hall linen closet. We don’t have a surplus of televisions, but our computer to human ratio is approaching 2:1. There’s a space heater next to our fireplace and a neglected shuffleboard table in the basement. We have a garage and kitchen full of just-in-case items, and while only three people currently live here, we have 32 places to sit—not including the floor.

What’s my complaint, you ask? It sounds like I’m living the American dream, you say? You’re surprised I haven’t mentioned a white, picket fence and a pony in the backyard?

Yeah, I thought I was living the American dream. I thought I was supposed to purchase and consume and hoard and build our little empire right here in the suburbs. But then YOU, Washington, YOU didn’t post a warning sign on that horrifying exhibit at the National Building Museum in which you featured some lunatic woman living in a 200-square-foot “home” in someone’s backyard. And suddenly, I found myself malcontent with the size of my house (too big) and the amount of stuff I own (too much) and it’s all your fault because until I visited your stupid museum, it didn’t occur to me that this consumed-by-consumption lifestyle isn’t actually necessary.

In very few places in the world would this be someone’s complaint: “I have too many things.”

Since I visited your museum, I’ve been intermittently obsessed with the concept of minimalism, and yet I’ve been unable to make much headway toward getting rid of things because there are so many of them. I began cleaning out our storage closet (which is not much smaller than that woman’s whole house), got quickly overwhelmed, and our basement is now a rising surge of memorabilia, wall hangings, books, photographs, and toys I’ve saved for my someday grandchildren.

I’d love to sell this house and build a little one, but I definitely can’t have potential buyers tripping over the Little Tikes grocery cart and piles of board games we’ve played twice. Which means I have to shove all that stuff back in the damn closet. I asked Jack if we could put a dumpster in the driveway and use a backhoe to clear the place out; that’d be much faster and easier than a thoughtful distribution to places or people who could put it all to good use. But then I started worrying about the landfill and greenhouse gases.

Which is also your fault.