I love home renovation shows, I really do, but if you watch a bunch of them all together, you’ll notice a disturbing pattern.
Somehow, all of the clients’ personal style happens to be exactly whatever the trend is for the moment. How was it that in the mid-2010s, every single person on House Hunters happened to have a preference for an open-concept layout? I lived in Texas for years, where the influence of Chip and Joanna Gaines looms large, and you would not believe the number of people who developed a partiality for shiplap and sliding barn doors.
How is it that there was not a single person on a single show for ten years who preferred carpet to hardwoods? The answer is, of course, that our tastes are not as entirely our own as we might think, particularly when it comes to our homes.
In an article for the Journal of Consumer Research, Annetta Grant and Jay Handelman explore the phenomenon of “market-reflected gaze” and “dysplacement” inside the home and make this central argument: that because your home is both a reflection of your personal taste and is your most valuable financial asset, and because its value is directly related to how easy it would be to resell to hypothetical potential buyers, there is an impetus to decorate in a bland, palatable way, and then to convince yourself that that is a look that you like, not just a look that you think other people will like. Couple that dynamic with the class politics in home design, in which you might not necessarily have any use for a massive, professional-grade kitchen, but you have a desire for the status those kitchens convey, and you wind up living in a home that doesn’t necessarily fit your needs or preferences nearly as neatly as it fits a pre-prescribed ideal of a home in your neighborhood. And then feeling profoundly uneasy as you try to convince yourself it’s what you wanted.
What are the farmhouse sinks and subway tile backsplashes of our work? If you’re in congregational ministry, and you find yourself dragging your community through small group ministries they aren’t that engaged in or trying to make a contemporary service work that isn’t clicking, have you considered that a sense of missional dysplacement may be to blame?
Do we ever get seduced into believing our community is called to whatever happens to be hip to be called to at the moment?
What if your community is called to revive the spaghetti dinner? Or add a bingo game for seniors? What if Sunday School is your church’s future as well as its past? How can we separate our sense of call and our world’s version of the “market-reflected gaze?” In an article about our Hatch Decks, developed by MINC co-founder Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean as part of her work at Princeton Theological Seminary, I explored the reality that the brilliant ideas of others shouldn’t inspire us to mimic them but to come up with our own things. And embrace that those things might not be cool at all.
As you look at your organization’s initiatives, mission, and vision for the future, take an extra moment to consider where you’re in line with something trendy in non-profit or church work and try to consider where the idea came from, if its really the right fit for your organization, and if there’s a radically uncool idea that might be a better fit.
Trendy isn’t inherently bad, but I’ll be spending time this week thinking about how easily we can lose what we actually want in the service to what we’ve been convinced we want. I’ll be thinking about how I can better identify what actually works for me as a leader, pastor (and homeowner) versus what I’ve been sold should be what I want, especially when I have to stand on my tiptoes to reach the bottom of a farmhouse sink.