What Are We Building And For Whom ?

What are we building and for whom ? Is it for our own memorial, our own legacy or beyond ?

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We would be building temples still undone.

                              I have witnessed some interesting building projects  over my lifetime; some of which have actually been worthwhile.

                                  During the 1970’s, my hometown Portland, or went through a Renaissance transformation. The downtown area was transformed into a transit mall, which now features light rail. The water front area along the Willamette River was remade into Waterfront Park which is now a mix of green belt space, some boat marinas and hiking and biking trails. This project conceived by visionary Portland developer Bill Naito greatly enhanced the economy and quality of life in Portland.   

william-naito-1949 | In Memoriam | Reed Magazine – Reed College…/obituaries/_online…/william-naito-1949.htm

                                   Then again, I have seen some building proposals that would have been disastrous. Around 1974, there was talk about building the so-called Mount Hood Freeway that would have run east from Downtown Portland towards Mount Hood. 

Feb. 4, 1974: Portland kills the Mount Hood Freeway… – Willamette Week…/article-23466-feb-4-1974-portland-kills-the-mount-hood-…

                           The 500 million in federal funds were diverted from constructing a freeway that would have eliminated 1700 homes and instead routed the money to the transit mall and light rail.

                           Construction called for the direction of this freeway to go right through my neighborhood and in so doing our family home would be taken, per imminent domain. Keep in mind this was 1974 and the Arab Oil Embargo was happening, and gas prices were high.

                             I was a Junior in university and I testified before the Portland City Council against the proposed freeway. Fortunately, our then Mayor Neil Goldschmidt was against this measure and the proposal was defeated. Our family’s home and the homes of thousands of other residents of Southeast Portland were also saved.

                             What we build says a lot about what we value. You will see universities spend millions on constructing new stadiums with fancy sky boxes in order to generate lots of revenue for football programs. Yet, you sometimes don’t see an equal zealousness for building new academic classroom space nor addressing crushing student debt.


                                 Last year, I noticed that my old Kellogg grade school in Portland or has now been demolished and they are creating a new school. The old school building dated back to at least the 1930’s.

                                 Of course, we not only construct buildings, but we also construct human lives, don’t we ? Think about your own life. You might reflect that you have gone to school, attended university, graduate school, entered the military and established a career. You may have gotten married, divorced, remarried, had children, maybe now caring for elderly parents.

                                  As Luke’s Gospel tells us you might hear yourself saying:

                                 “ You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy. eat, drink and be merry. “ (Luke12:19 ).

                                    Well, as The Grateful Dead eloquently reminded us:

                                 “ Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door. “

                                   ( Uncle John’s Band )

                                  Sometimes, it pays to be cautious as the bumper sticker says:

                                  “ Only the paranoid survives. “

                                   New York Times columnist, Yale University faculty member and PBS Commentator David Brooks has noted in his book “ The Second Mountain “:

                                   “ If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second mountain is about shedding the ego and losing the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution. If the first mountain is elitist-moving up-0the second mountain is egalitarian-planting yourself amidst those who need  and walking arm in arm with them. ( P. XVI ).

                                   As I mentioned previously, a lot of us have been climbing the first mountain. We have been establishing our careers, our professional lives, having our families and now planning for our retirement.


                                    The text from Luke’s Gospel is hard for us to heart. It attacks our system of meritocracy.  Jesus tells this parable of this certain rich man who experiences an abundant harvest. His existing barns will not be able to store all that is gathered, so he says:

                                      “ I will tear down the old barns and build new ones.

                                        Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry. “

                                     The parable goes on to say that God says to the man:

                                     “ You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself. ? “

                                        Again, Lennon And McCartney note:

                                       “ Last night the wife said,

                                         Oh boy when you’re dead,

                                         You won’t take nothing with you

                                         But your soul.

                                          ( The Ballad of John and Yoko )

                                        It’s very hard when you have good friends that you have known a long time, reach retirement and then they get sick with a chronic, if not terminal illness.

                                        You can feel angry, helpless and sad at this turn of events for the people you love.

                                         Suddenly your degrees, your licenses, your resources can’t help you with regard to how you will; negotiate these certain vicissitudes of life.

                                         Suddenly, the promises of first mountain achievements can come to a grinding halt.

                                         In the words of singer Peggy Lee

                                        “ Is that all there is ?

                                          Finitude has a way of giving perspective to everything.


                                     Again, David Brooks notes that Acedia is the quieting of passion. It’s a lack of care. It is living a life that doesn’t arouse your strong passions and therefore  instills a sluggishness of the soul, like an oven set on warm. The person living in Acedia may have a job and a family, but they are not entirely grabbed by their own life. Their heart is over there, but their life is over here.  ( P. 24 )

                                     You can see this phenomenon with some service members who are returning from war. Nothing here on this side of the planet will come close to the adrenaline, the immediacy, and urgency of fighting in combat and trying to keep themselves and their fellow service members alive. Thus, these service members who are reintegrating to the civilian world can find themselves dispassionate and struggling for meaning and identity.

                                      The same this could be true for people who are transitioning in retirement. Again, who am I now and what do I want to become ?

                                      The Gospel writer is clearly arguing that people should not be rich unto themselves, but rather be rich towards God. This idea really opens up the whole reality regarding the journey of faith. What does it mean to experience peace, contentment, validation and joy in our journey with the Risen Christ and with one another ?

                                       The second mountain and its climb really demand charting a new course. The GPS Quadrants are now set not for the destination of possessions, but rather for the destination of service.

                                        The second mountain pilgrimage could include becoming as church-sponsored missionary, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, raising money for Heifer International. All of these activities and more proclaim the good news that the most important things in life point beyond us as individuals and direct us to that which is eternal.

                                      David Brooks reminds us:

                                      “ Religious communities naturally talk about the whole person, the heart and the soul as much as the body and mind. When religious communities minister to the poor, when religious colleges teach their students, they minister and teach them as whole people, who need not just money, but dignity, love and purpose. “    (P. 259 )


                                  What are we building and for whom ? Is it for our own memorial, our own legacy or do we work for the Kingdom of God which is here and yet continues to reveal its transforming power in our lives and ion the life of our world ?

                                  May we build, and may we cultivate that which will last to redeem and to transform and to make new this day and always we pray in Jesus’ name.

                                   May it be so.                                                    

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