I took a real estate sponsored tour of foreclosed homes in my area recently. These were homes that had gone through the foreclosure auction process. They didn’t get any bids there so their ownership reverted back to the banks.
The For Sale sign is familiar, perhaps too familiar, but it is no preparation to what lies behind the door.
These houses had been empty for at least six months. Some longer. Most of them much longer.
We might be accustomed to foreclosure news stories and statistics, but one step inside one of these abandoned homes rips the curtain from the illusion that foreclosure is merely an abstraction.
Foreclosure is no abstraction.
In some houses, you must step over or through unfinished projects; once loved gardens filled with weeds and various other emblems of the ache of a once loved but now abandoned home.
For the most part, these houses are cleaned out, but there are remnants that speak volumes.
Emptiness is never total.
The child’s shoe, left in the back of a closet, the bag of cat food left on the refrigerator or the yearly growth marks on a door frame speak of the life that had filled these now barren houses.
Foreclosure is no abstraction. Every foreclosed home represents a family in crisis – a family in debt, usually homeless and with ruined credit. And many neighborhoods have more than their share of these standing vacant stares on their streets. These forlorn neighborhoods are magnets for vandalism and the perfect medium for both social and structural disintegration.
In a fire or other emergency, people grab their most valuable possessions. In a foreclosure, we see the opposite end of that equation – the least valuable objects are left behind.
Even under normal circumstances, every object in a home tells a story. As we all, in almost every neighborhood, try to make sense of what is happening around us, we look at the For Sale signs, talk to our neighbors and watch or read the news. We hear opinions, some insightful, some helpful or even hopeful, but many are snide and condescending.
A good listener can almost hear the glacial slide of shifting political assumptions as the economic crevasse edges closer.
Every crisis, and this is a crisis by any definition, brings out the best – or the worst – in those who try to isolate causes or future preventative measures. The crassest, and most callow, are those who, at least initially, placed the blame on those who “bought more home than they could afford”. Besides the mathematical absurdity (does anyone really think a few thousand defaulted home loans could bring down a world economy?) there is the pragmatic reality that virtually all of us, with pay cuts or job losses find ourselves in “more home than we could afford”.
This simplistic – and vindictive – analysis, mostly from talk radio hosts with multi-million dollar salaries, does little to help us make sense – or deal with – an immensely difficult and complicated situation – one that reverberates from the headlines to the house next door.
There’s a old saying among those who work with the homeless that we are all, no matter how middle class, merely three paychecks from being homeless. And that was true several years ago. We have all, no matter how prudent we might have been, moved several steps closer to that brink in the past few years.
There’s an old saying that if my neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession, but if I lose MY job, it’s depression.
It’s the same event, but one is from a distance while the other literally hits home.
One of the many ironies in our current economic mess is the silence of people of faith – these are the people who make a public profession of compassion and restoration. But where are they? Where are the voices of hope? Where are the groups who were so eager to “protect the American family” a few years ago now that families from virtually every neighborhood have been evicted and scattered across couches and tent cities across our country?
The Bible is not silent when it comes to these armchair pontificators. Consider this verse – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” Matthew 23:14 (New King James)
Every empty home, every tangled and overgrown lawn, holds a story. In fact, every empty home holds a series of stories; one about those who used to live there and one about those of us who look on from our own emptiness.
We are awash in explanations and blame. There is a cloud of grief and rage that hangs over our neighborhoods.
But as we might step, or even just peer, into an empty, cold and damp house, what says more than the broken toy left in an upstairs closet? Or a bag of cat food left on the fridge?
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.