From Structure to Story: How a Building Becomes a Personal Landmark

 2013-07-27 12.27.36 A new bathroom

Our renovation project


On our first work day Meridith gave this reflection. We’ve come a long way since then but we’d like to share it, and thank the many workers who’ve been part of the sacred work of building a house that, we hope, will honor God.

I’d like to start this morning’s reflection with a passage that probably doesn’t make it onto the lectionary all that often. It’s a reading about the construction of the temple that comes from 1st Kings Chapter 6, starting with verse 11:

11 Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. 13 I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.” 14 So Solomon built the house, and finished it. 15 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar; from the floor of the house to the rafters of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood; and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the most holy place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house had carvings of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen. 19 The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD. 20 The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar.

My mother’s family is from a small town called McDonough, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, Georgia. In McDonough there’s a small church named Sharon Baptist. Almost every time I drive by that church with my grandmother she casually says, “You know, your great grandfather helped build that church.” And I say, “Yes ma’am, I’ve heard.” Whenever I drive by that same church with my aunt a similar story is told, as it is when I drive by the church with my mom. And you’d better believe, when I bring a friend down to visit that small town and we drive by that church, I inevitably say by way of introduction, “See that church with the big windows? My great grandfather helped build that church.”

No doubt for those who were involved with the building of the temple in Solomon’s time, or those whose fathers, or grandfathers, or even great grand- fathers were involved, the stories of planning and construction were told over and over. There is sense of accomplishment that comes along with helping build something that changes lives, a certain level of intertwinement that is both lasting and permanent.

Welcome to Lydia’s House first formal workday. You are helping to create the space which will house a ministry for some of the most vulnerable of God’s children. You are giving of your time in a way that will link you permanently to this house. It sounds a bit lofty, I know, but you will always be able to say to your future passengers, “You see that house with the white columns there? I helped renovate that house. I pulled down the old chimney, fought the base- ment funk, tore out the old so the new could be built.”

Thank you for being willing to put your bodies and time into this endeavor. I don’t think our work plan will go into any future editions of the Bible, but know that this time, this hot and dirty demolition, is holy time. We give thanks to God that you’re here to share in it.

Let us pray.


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A new bathroom (L) and kitchen tiles (R)

On Radical Hospitality and Making Room

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On a recent Sunday I lamented to our pastor Father Dan that this renovation was exhausting.  He’d asked me how Ben and I were doing, so I thought I’d be honest. He commiserated with me for a moment, having taken on projects like Lydia’s House himself and then said, “The renovation is a lot of work, and that’s the easy part.”
In the spring of 2014, (God willing) we’ll accept homeless guests at 2024 Mills Avenue and our lives and those of Annie and Sam will be very different.   Meridith, Ben and I will have entrenched ourselves in the maze of the very poor and we’ll grapple daily with words like empowerment, solidarity and self care. As we look ahead to the hard work of making space for homeless families, I’d like to say a bit about why we’ve decided to upend our normal routine by saying yes to Lydia’s House. I’d also like to say thank you to those that have come before us and around us, inspired us and made us think “we can do this, we should do this, and we’ll be better for it.”
While we weren’t ready to offer our own home to those without, we’d like to first express our deepest respect for people like Lou and Ang Puopolo, Steve and Becky Novotni, Ariel Miller and Peggy Becker Jackson—people we’ve long known or just met—who have done this work in different ways, for many years, no tax status or fundraising dinner required. They’ve known a friend of a friend whose son or daughter just needed a place to be for a while so they opened up their extra space and said “come on in.” They’ve reached out to pregnant teens, people from church, or recently released prisoners and made room. This is nuts, we’ve thought… what risk… but it’s true, they’ve brought needy strangers into their homes and many continue to do so.

We’d like to acknowledge, too, some ordinary radicals in our midst who’ve challenged us to try this. Ben’s parents, for two, who quietly give to those in need, invite the lonely into their home, host elaborate holiday meals and have a special heart for disabled adults. It’s Thanksgiving. Does anyone in the family know someone who needs a place to be? Bring them to the Eilermans, and they’ll be welcomed as honored guests! (Note: This is just an example. Wait to hear from them.) This principle extends to my own mother as well. During my childhood, I remember several times that we woke up to find her co-worker or someone from church sleeping in our basement.  I know now those women had been evicted or were being abused. I remember storing furniture for them, babysitting their children, or helping them look for apartments. They came back to our house over the years that followed, dropped in, or joined us for holidays. While she was alive, my mom had a heart for those in need and she made room for them.
Lydia’s House has its ideological roots in the Catholic Worker Movement, a loose conglomeration of houses of hospitality that give housing and food to the very poor and follow closely the scriptural mandates of Matthew 25. In this movement we find lovely souls who work for very little, live simply and give out of their own pockets to share with those in need.  Our mentors there include the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Grace Place Catholic Worker on the west side of Cincinnati, and Casa Guadalupana in St. Paul, MN.  They’ve made room for those that are on the margins of society, and made it again and again. May we and Lydia’s house one day be counted in their number.  But for today, we confess we’re scared of the unknown, fearful we may not do this right, and juggling a lot. We ask for your prayers, grace on the mistakes we will inevitably make, and especially for help holding this house and the sacred lives within.


Picture caption: The Mitchell-Eilerman family camping in their truste