I admit it. I’m fascinated by architecture. The styles of buildings speaks volumes about our history, our values, our systems, our cultural direction and… our theology.
The average American home has undergone enormous transformations in the past fifty years. There are significant shifts that can be viewed in any average American neighborhood. Theses changes revolve around the front yard, the front porch, and the front door and most importantly, the dining room. I’ll tackle the dining room in the next blog.
I grew up in Wichita Kansas in the 1960’s playing with dozens and dozens of neighbors. I spent my childhood in the front yard. Neighborhood kickball games were a nightly feature. We rode our bikes (without helmets), walked to our school (without parents) and stayed out playing until after dark (without worry). In the summer, my mother could be found in the front yard every night watering the designated portion of the lawn. We hosted neighborhood basketball games in our driveway and neighborhood ice cream socials in our front yard.
I clearly remember in 1967 when my parents tackled the most radical architectural transformation ever seen in our neighborhood. They constructed a back deck. This was unusual because 1. No one I knew had a back deck and 2. there was little reason to begin spending more time in the back yard. For years, the front porch had been our evening refuge. The front porch gave us access to our community. Now, the back deck would be a place to escape from the world.
It wasn’t until the 80’s that I saw my first garage door opener. Growing up in a modest neighborhood, the concept of a garage door opener was as foreign as paying for water or spending the morning in a local coffee shop. In fact, we commonly left our garage door open all night. The garage door opener suddenly allowed families to enter their home through the garage rather than the front door. The garage door opener enabled the homeowner to raise the drawbridge, cross the moat and enter into their castle with zero contact with neighbors.
Sadly, where I live, there is little community. Neighborhood games in the front yard have been replaced by video games in the entertainment room. The watering of the yard is taken care of in the middle of the night by a sprinkler system. Now days, the back yard is the preferred play area. Why? It’s “safer”. We can keep an eye on the kids (from the back deck). Everyone has a garage door opener and to leave a garage open overnight would likely lead to a call to 911.
The shift from the front yard / porch to the back yard / deck was a shift from community to isolation. From friendship to loneliness. Homes have evolved from a place of shelter to a place of community to a place of personal retreat.
Biblical commands to practice hospitality (Hebrews 13:2; I Peter 4:9 and Matthew 25:34-46) are fulfilled via an annual Thanksgiving trip to drop off a turkey in a “bad neighborhood.”
Spend some time in your front yard. Greet neighbors who are walking their dogs (in Wichita in the 60’s, there was no such thing as a dog leash – dogs ran wild!). Make homemade ice cream and invite the neighbors. Throw a couple of additional burgers on the grill and invite the neighbor who does everything in their power to avoid contact with anyone. Serve your community!