An Easter Conundrum: Christianity, volunteerism, moral decay and rising real estate prices

Jesus of Peeps
Jesus of Peeps by Janet Galore of   t e l e m e t r y

With Easter fast approaching, Matt Zemek faced some questions that pitted his religious faith against the strong forces that exist outside of church, parish and sanctuary.

In his op-ed piece A Christian’s identity crisis he ponders the modern dilemma of rising real estate prices from a rarely-viewed angle of Christian morality.

Living a self-chosen life of service, Zemek has been living a frugal lifestyle dedicated to helping others. While he was busy working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, he was apparently oblivious to the plights of the average working family and was amazed that two working adults could be hard-pressed to afford a home in the Seattle area. Of course, this is a microcosm of the U.S. and the same story can be and is being played out around the nation.

His op-ed was inspired by another guest writers story “Seattle too pricey for normal people“, a short folksy whine about how much more expensive Seattle is than Boise. In that piece, writer Christy Thomas laments that she’s too busy being able to earn a living to volunteer her time to help others.

That admission caused Matt Zemick to have an epiphany of sorts, a “A-HA” moment that brought him to his knees. Suddenly able to put 2+2 together, he realized that this was perhaps why there are so few fellow citizens ready, willing or able to make the same sacrifices he’s willing to make.

Could it be that, because of the high price of real estate and just making ends meet that people were unable and unwilling to help others?

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, his theory contends that as humans meet ‘basic needs’, they seek to satisfy successively ‘higher needs’ that occupy a set hierarchy. The basic concept is that the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus once all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are mainly or entirely satisfied. Once an individual has moved past a level, those needs will no longer be prioritized. However, if a lower set of needs is continually unmet for an extended period of time, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs – dropping down to that level until those lower needs are reasonably satisfied again. Innate growth forces constantly create upward movement in the hierarchy unless basic needs remain unmet indefinitely.

Hierarchy of Needs

In this case, the basic need of housing and shelter, if not met, can stunt human potential and cause them to revert to a cruder and baser instinctual level. Therefore, unable to properly care for themselves, the homeless person (or maybe just a renter?) is rendered unable to help others, until they have reached a certain level of comfort.

Is this really where the crisis of unaffordable housing is taking us?

At the bottom of Maslow’s triangle are the very important and basic physiological and safety needs. Only after these are met are people able to move up the triangle to self-actualization and finally self-transcendence. At the top of the triangle, self-transcendence is also sometimes referred to as spiritual needs.

Maslow believes that we should study and cultivate peak experiences as a way of providing a route to achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment. Peak experiences are unifying, and ego-transcending, bringing a sense of purpose to the individual and a sense of integration.

If men and woman are too busy trying to make ends meet and provide food and shelter for their offspring, then perhaps indeed, this inability to meet basic needs is causing a sort of moral and spiritual bankruptcy, not just in Seattle, but everywhere.

Or are we putting the cart before the horse? It could be argued that “basic housing” IS affordable. It’s the soul-sucking middle and upper-middle class suburban subdivisions and McMansions and those who strive to live there that is causing the moral bankruptcy and decay….

My Sweet Lord

Marla Jennings

Marla Jennings Christian Realty — Sister Taffy’s Friends of Baby Jesus

“Oh, God hasn’t forsaken you. He’s just lost in this 27 room Georgian mansion and can’t find you!”

Jesus Toast

His Move — Christian Real Estate

My Sweet Lord

An Easter Miracle

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  1. Athol Kay

    I think it’s a good insight that the increasing cost of housing is sapping the ability to help others. It’s just the numbers at work.

    I do know that I just not seeing starter homes getting built anywhere. No three bedroom, 1 bath, 1200 sqft anythings getting built.

    We all seem to want more features in our homes. A master bedroom is just a basic requirement now. Plus a walk in closet. We’re all so much better educated about what can be in a home now. Whether thats greed, or simply better taste…

    Or are we simply trying to self-actualize through our homes?

  2. Jillayne Schlicke

    Yes, the house is symbolic of the self, to some degree, and in some cultures.

    Maslow was referring to basic shelter in the “Safety” part of the pyramid. This would mean a homeless person and not a renter.

    Nowhere in my understanding of Maslow’s work, do objects or money come into play.

    Humans achieve a sense of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization in ways altogether unrelated to money and real estate.

    When people project onto objects what they are lacking in themselves, they end up with the object but with a feeling of emptiness, which they TRY to fill by acquiring more objects.

    We move through Maslow’s pyramid in our work with other people, not alone. The soup kitchen worker does not need a Queen Anne bungalow to reach self actualization. Indeed, none of us do.

    In terms of a busy working family not having enough time to work at the soup kitchen, it’s not an either/or. The busy working family can move through Maslow’s pyramid in a million different ways.

    Volunteerism is just one way.

  3. David Losh

    OK Marlow,
    The price of Real Estate has nothing to do with why I don’t volunteer. If there is in fact a person out there who has been working in a soup kitchen who just noticed the price of things they are nuts(?).
    How about a gallon of milk, which is going up again soon? Gasoline should be a leading economic indicator. There again the person is in a soup kitchen; how about the price of bread? Surely they serve bread with the soup.
    No sorry the price of things isn’t why I don’t volunteer. I find it kind of shallow that some one would make that correlation. I don’t volunteer because there are bigger fish to fry (get it, the soup kitchen thing, frying fish?).
    The world is at war. Wake up soup kitchen person, Iraq, Iran, China, Castro, Chavez, anything ringing a bell. How about Afganistan, Guantanamo Bay, Twin Towers, North Korea, or Bosnia, Darfur, Phillipines, any bell ringing?
    I don’t volunteer because my causes are immigration rights, and the United States policies in South America. I got the idea from a Palestinian who questioned me about those policies. I didn’t know anything about it at the time.
    The people in America can take care of themselves. If you want to do something they need water treatment plants in Africa.