Monday, May 31, 2010


I own real property and I am a tenant, too. I sometimes get the two confused in my head, partly because of my underdeveloped understanding of Florida “homestead” laws, but that is another subject.

Owners, in the eyes of the law (and probably in the eyes of God, I think) can control, shape, develop or neglect their property. It is theirs to do with as they wish—unless and until it impinges on others’ property or their tenants’ rights under their lease and/or under the law. In those cases, the governmental authority steps in and restrains the owner from doing harm to others. As long as that is not happening owners are, for all intents and purposes, lord of the manor, caller of all shots, the desk where the buck stops on the disposition of their property.

Tenants or renters (depending on whether or not you want to use the legal term or less formal term) are not in ultimate control of the property, and usually don’t have the owner’s same sense of responsibility for it. That is why when you drive through a neighborhood you can usually spot which homes have tenants and which ones are owner-occupied (usually, but not always). No one cares for a castle like its owner, and tenants will flee at the least little thing.

They remind me of the skittish and fickle peasants in history. We have a water colour of Conisborough Castle hanging on our wall, dear to us because of all the memories of that place we lived 10 minutes from for 3 years in the mid-90’s. It is famous because Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe was set nearby (which I must admit I still haven’t read, like so many books). I could tell so many interesting stories and details about that place, some hilarious, some tedious I’m sure. But here is the one of interest for this brief entry: the keep at Conisborough (the keep is the tower in the middle of all the other formidable defenses) is the best preserved keep in England for one reason only. It had been abandoned at the time of the Parliamentary Wars in which so many castles were dismantled by armed bands spreading the “democratic spirit” of Cromwell and friends (ironic, but true).

Sorry, I started getting off track, but back to the point. Castles with mote and perimeter and barbican and defenders and hot oil and archers and catapults and their own supply of water were formidable indeed in older days. But there was one weakness and it ALWAYS appeared when the lord of the manor was absent. The Achilles’ Heel of the castle defense was the willingness of the servants to defend the castle in absence of the owner. I can almost envision the conversation in a Monty Python-like dialogue, as they opened the gate to save their own lives, and lowered the bridge for the invaders to come in: “Take what you need—we didn’t vote for ‘im.”

The same can be said for business owners versus employees or non-stake holders in a corporation. That is probably why small businesses (read sole proprietorships—owner-run operations) account for such a disproportionately large percentage of our economy. Jesus made this same point long ago, referring to the unreliability of paid pastors: He said (as John reports): “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John’s Gospel, 13:12-14). For all its bluster, it is ironic to me that the church-as-we-know-it in our country is mostly committed to this socialistic funding of the Christian religious enterprise (misusing the word “socialism” as is so avant-garde these days), and turning up its nose at the more tea-party-friendly and entrepreneurial understanding of Christian mission so clearly modeled by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9, a missionary strategy so unequivocal and clearly reiterated to the wise-ones late in Paul's life: “I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:33-35—stunning statement, if you read the warnings that come just before it).

I used to think it was cruel and heartless when church organizations, having fallen on hard financial times, told their pastor to go get a job. Now, I think, they were halfway back to where they needed to be in order to start: they could get there if they went all the way and sold their buildings and assets (if, indeed, they really want to help someone in need as they claim). Don’t laugh. Many churches around the country have done it lately. I don’t know that I’d call it a trend, but it sure would be interesting if it were.

All of that are a part of my reflections this morning on ownership. For the encyclopedic readers of my blog the answer is yes, this is another entry in the lexicon of acceptable words: “Lord” is out since those who say “Lord, Lord” won’t get in at the end of days. In our vernacular, Jesus is Owner and Physician, Commanding Officer and Skilled Therapist, holistic in all things social, spiritual, physical and emotional. In the words of the great hymn I heard someone singing on the street in Annapolis last weekend: “This is my Father’s world….”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Brian for the reminder of who owns what. Sure is good to know that Jesus is the owner of our lives. As we say in PNG, "Papa Got, yu yet stiam laip bilong mi." Em Tasol!