The Company House & the Room Above the Garage

The Company House & the Room Above the Garage
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ Luke 12: 20-21 NRSV

Looking around the living room I said, “We don’t own much in this room.”

I’m not attached to the overstuffed couch from another era, though it naps well. The glass-topped coffee table, functionally repaired many times is sturdy and large enough to hold dinner plates for two. We do own the Ikea bookcases and their contents but not the industrial strength desk.

“We don’t own much in the bedroom, either,” she said.

“No, the bed is theirs and so is that ugly nightstand. That funky plant stand your boss was getting rid of is ours, though.”

We live in the partially furnished parsonage owned by the church I serve in a tiny, isolated eastern Oregon town. We live in the company house with canyons of empty cabinets and closet space.


Room Above the Garage. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Room Above the Garage. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

“We own everything in this room,” she said in a follow up conversation a few days later.

Ninety miles away in the tourist town where my wife serves as a hospital chaplain, we rent a room above a garage. It is a place for my wife to sleep when she’s on call. In it we have an Ikea sleeping mat on the floor, a dresser, a tiny couch, and a twenty dollar coffee table.


“Let’s do it,” she finally agreed. I had been pushing us to divest of our possessions for a long time. We’d been dabbling in getting rid of things for a couple of decades but somehow we never took a serious plunge.

On that August night, sitting on the bed we owned in a house we owned, we decided to respond to God’s claim on our lives by getting rid of all but what would fit in the two cars we planned to move with us across the country. We later amended those parameters to allow us to ship twenty-five boxes of professional books in addition.

That process of responding to God’s call to move 2600 miles on the basis of “a Holy Spirit moment” coupled with giving up most of what we own was filled with learnings and emotions. I blogged about my experiences of what we dubbed Emptying Barns, the Year of Letting Go of Stuff.


“I haven’t looked at a lot of these books since we moved to Oregon,” I said.

“Me, either,” she replied. We looked at each other with gazes that meant action. Fresh off of reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Art of Tidying,” we were both inspired to renew our divestment of possessions. Within the week I delivered five boxes of early childhood books, which I previously couldn’t give up, to our local child care center. (My former career was in early childhood education.)

This simple act of letting go of possessions that serve no purpose in my current life, has resulted in the start of a relationship with the local child care center and its director. We are already talking and thinking about how my congregation can support her important work. It’s a no-brainer to me that books on a shelf are of less value than a relationship that will be mutually beneficial.


At not-quite five years since we began Emptying Barns, I feel an urge to let go of more. I feel God pushing me to relinquish my attachment to things once again. There are those blank mailing labels from my failed business and that box of old phone cords and computer peripherals that “I might need some day.” There are too many post-its for someone who doesn’t use post-its and there’s that red sweater I picked up for two dollars at the thrift store but no longer wear.

There are even mementos that fail to inspire any longer. If they don’t inspire or help me to build relationships, are they of any worth?


Despite my commitment to further emptying the barn, despite the overall positives of the process, I would be lying if I didn’t own up to a few feelings. Lately, I’ve let the gods of stuff ooze into my psyche. The culture built upon acquisition and monetized self-value tells me I need more. It tells me there is not enough and I must scramble for my share. Our culture usurps the reality that there is enough for all of us.

I worry about where I will live when I can no longer work. I worry about whether student loans will be paid off before I am forced by age or health to retire. I worry that without property, I am of no-worth. I perceive judgement, classism, from some in the upscale neighborhood with the room above the garage. I feel vulnerable because the parsonage — my home — is only mine as long as I provide service as pastor.

Indeed, our culture has a way of luring us away from the divine.

But I’m stronger than I was five years ago when we consciously chose to empty the barn. Things do not own me like they once did.

Though I live in a world that contradicts the teachings of the rabbi Jesus whom I follow, the feelings seep into my consciousness at times. The difference is that I have less stuff to control me.

I know that God is not in the accumulation of things but in my relationships with people, with the earth, and directly with God. I know that I am called to continue to let go of more so I can see the divinity all around me.

Yeah, from the perspective of the culture my lifestyle is one of vulnerability. Living within the culture I will sometimes feel vulnerable in the company house and above the garage but I can choose to follow the counter cultural prophet of the first century.

In that choice I find abundance. In the choice to let go, I find more room for loving.

license cc



Emptying Barns



Acquisition-Based Identity

Acquisition-Based Identity
Somewhere in Kansas. Photo by Tim Graves (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Shortly after our cross-country move it became financially necessary to sell my car. My wife was underemployed; I was unemployed. Following the sale, I experienced a sense of loss and grief.

Living in a city with excellent mass transit, getting around was not the source of my sadness. Just as previous times in my life, I felt a sense of liberation using public options for getting around. My embarrassment (is that the right word?) came when I drove my wife’s Corolla. The embarrassment was quickly followed by guilt for my first-world angst.

Americans of my generation, particularly men, were subject to the enculturation that what we drive reflects not only who we are but our value. Undoubtedly, I absorbed an unhealthy dose of that marketed self-identity.


Identity is a funny thing. Identity is complex; self-identity is never created in a bubble. Our families of origin, our culture, our inborn characteristics, recent events, and the choices we make all conspire as we live our lives of becoming.

About how we think of ourselves, identity also includes how we choose to present ourselves to the world. At two, my son already had a sense of public identity as he exclaimed, “I’m a big ol’ talking boy.” His self image was the result of adult comments about his behavior coupled with his own self-assessment. In his statement, his comfort with his own nature was revealed.

Because our family culture valued vigorous communication, my son’s pronouncement carried limited risk. Had we devalued child talk, his public self-identification as a talker might never have occurred. While he might have still assessed himself as a talker privately, it would have carried with it the seeds of self-loathing.

Hence, my grief over my car was about what I perceived it said about me. I chose to think the ubiquitous Corolla did not fit my self-image as a creative, open-minded, unique thinker. This was exacerbated by then-recent experiences in an educational institution that sought — intentionally or not — to quash my creative soul.

My identity was sensitive. My heart desperately yearned for healing.


But the human psyche is a remarkably flexible thing. The divine one who felt my feelings with me, nudged my mind and heart open so that I might learn about myself. At war within myself, I felt guilt at idolizing a car while intentionally divesting myself of possessions. But the loving spirit, the healing one I call God, gently led me to self-love.

In my becoming self-image (for our identity is never complete), I accepted my choice of thing-induced identity. I looked at it. I examined its edges, its surface, and, yes, even its core. In time, I released the guilt.

I confess that I struggle everyday with acquisition-based identity. As I grow into the image of God in which I am created, I continue to work at letting go of harmful identity markers. Instead, I choose and recommit to building self-image based on relationship with all of humanity, creation, and divinity.

It’s not easy, I often backslide, but I continue on my lifelong journey of becoming true to the divine identity — the Imago Dei — that we all share. 

license cc

Mobility, Simplicity, & Divine Memory

When we sold our house last year we were doing more than preparing for our move west. We were also committing to a simpler lifestyle by choosing to become renters and giving up most of our possessions.  I recall saying, “By renting our ministry can be more responsive to the Spirit’s call on our life.” Little did I know that God was listening and would hold me to my words.

Portland passion. Photo by Tim Graves

Settling into our efficiency in Portland, we were finding joy in our quirky, big city life. I was delighting in the city that I fell in love with as an adult and recalled fondly from my childhood. My wife was doing important ministry with veterans and I was working on “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19).

But after five months, God lured us out of the city and into the Hood River area, a place famous for its windsurfing, breathtaking scenery, and outdoor recreation. I was, ahem, a tad stubborn. I didn’t want to leave “my city” but the Spirit reminded me of my commitment to faithful mobility.

The palpable presence of the Spirit in Maggie’s ministry as a clinical chaplain at Providence Hospital in the Gorge daily reassures me that this is our path. Opening myself to the pleasures of the Gorge I began hiking. On the trails of the Gorge and adjacent Mt. Hood National Forest I find God. I write about and photograph my spiritual adventures with gusto. (See some of my posts about Hiking with God here.)

It could not have happened without my brief stint in Portland nor without the sparkling allure of the Holy Spirit that enthralls my attention. I am now working on a project tentatively titled “Hiking with God.” I perceive the Spirit’s presence as I begin to outline and write a spiritual hiking guide to specific trails in the magical land called the Columbia River Gorge.

The “new thing,” the path upon which God lured me during a Holy Spirit moment in San Diego three years ago, has evolved.  God has me on a need-to-know basis. The single word “Portland” that I perceived during communion in San Diego was not a destination but a direction. I’ve learned that the divine deal works like this: I choose to be open to the Spirit and to continue removing clutter from my life. I also strive to respond to God not with “that can’t work” but with “how can we make this work?” and God nudges me toward responses that are loving to others and to myself.

Our God is a remembering God. God noticed that I committed to flexibility and mobility as part of following the Divine claim on my life. After a joyous summer of hiking, junior camp with the Oregon Region of my denomination, not to mention my near gluttony on the Gorge’s fruit and vegetable harvest, the Spirit called again.

And, so, I find myself in the remarkable town of Ione, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, so, I find myself in the remarkable small town of Ione, Oregon as an Interim Pastor while the settled pastor is on sabbatical. I spend four days a week in a town of three-hundred fifty. I cheer at local sports, I leave my doors unlocked, and I smile with abandon. I am privileged to have this opportunity to fall in love with the people of Ione Community Church and the town. In the vernacular, “who’d’ve thunk?”

Though my time will end in January, my time in Ione has already opened me to other movements of the Spirit that — if they come to pass — will allow me to serve God inside the traditional church and among those who do not find God within an institution.

Remembering God,

Help me to trust you. Help me to perceive your loving presence and signposts. Help me to keep the clutter that obscures you out of my life that I may always throw off my cloak to follow love, to follow you.


Liberation & Loss: What It Means to Follow the Spirit

Following the Spirit requires loss. Loss of control. It also means giving up things that used to matter. It is also liberating.

Responding to a “Holy Spirit moment,” my wife and I embarked on a journey across the country. We sold our home and became renters. We said goodbye to a dog. We gave away all of our possessions but what fit in two cars, moved to Oregon, and sold one car upon arrival. Our response to the Spirit meant becoming more nomadic; we moved three times in ten months. I’ve simultaneously doubted myself and been confident that I’m on the path upon which God desires for me.

There are many things and attitudes that I’ve given up over the last year. I sobbe

d when my Matchbox car collection sold quickly on eBay. Not a day passes that I don’t reach out for my beloved friend Jade who had to be put-down. I yearn to sing silly songs to her, give her too many dog treats, and feel her head resting on my leg.

Selling my car, in my mind, was giving up not only mobility but a sign of my personality. Like a cheating husband who looks at other women, I still fantasize when I see Scion xB’s around town. Yet letting go of these and more were necessary to follow the direction the Divine has laid before me. We would have been in bankruptcy court before Christmas of last year had I not sold my car and emptied my pension to pay bills. 

It might seem that I would be in a deep depression but I am not. I did have several weeks of lethargy and blues in the midst of confusion when my literal interpretation of the precipitating “Holy Spirit moment” was shattered. I doubted my impressions, my intuition, my sense that the Spirit was leading this way because it didn’t fit my image of what was to happen. (See Leading the Malleable Life Amid Hurricane Force Winds). Though, I worried during that time that I had abandoned the path I put one foot in front of the other.

Following the Spirit is trusting that which you sense. Our culture’s idolization of rationality dismisses remaining faithful to that which we cannot quite see. In some ways it is anti-spiritual and severs an integral part of what it is to be part of humanity and creation. 

Hyper-rational thinking discounts intuition and trusting the Divine. In The Shack, Wm. Paul Young describes the Holy Spirit through the primary characters eyes:

“But he knew all this as more an impression of her than from actually seeing her, as she seemed to phase in and out of his vision.” (Wm. Paul Young, The Shack, p. 85)

Even during times of discouragement, doubt, and fear, I follow. I whine a lot, yell at God some, but trust that the One who has set me upon this trail will not leave me lost in the wilderness alone. At times my vision is clear; I know I’m following the Spirit. Much of the time, however, I simply risk believing my impressions as the Holy Spirit seems to phase in and out of my vision.

The result is a generalized sense of contentment. I feel liberated from the impossible task of being in control of tomorrow. Following the Spirit is about being in the present. It is about living, caring, loving, and accepting the One who is within, between, and around us. When the Spirit dances just outside my vision, I try to trust my intuition and sixth sense. 

When I fail to trust as fully as I wish I would, I accept that feeling, too. I pause. I refocus. I pray. I make only those decisions that must be made that day. I remember the One who forgives and loves me extravagantly.

Emptying Barns of Preconceptions

 “Selling our house and becoming renters will allow us to respond quickly to wherever the Spirit calls us.”  I said this while my wife and I were in the midst of actively giving away possessions. 

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life
 is being demanded of you.  And the things you have 
prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those
 who store up treasures for themselves but are not 
rich towards God.’ Luke 12: 20-21 NRSV

Seventeen months ago yesterday, my wife and I began our journey of Emptying Barns. Emptying Barns is the name we dubbed our conscious journey of simplifying and letting go of possessions. (The term refers to a parable told by Jesus in Luke 12.) I confess we’ve been on a bit of a lull since arriving in Portland on Labor Day. Having managed to fit all of our possessions into our then two cars, we’ve gotten rid of very few things since arriving here. (We did sell my beloved car but that had more to do with financial concerns than simplifying.) 

I won’t reiterate all of the details of why we feel letting go of things is important. (If you want that detail, please read Emptying Barns at One-Year.) I will, however, say that this is primarily about removing the clutter that keeps us from God. It is about using our share of the planet’s resources and being faithful stewards. Emptying Barns is an attitude that says, God’s justice and God’s extravagant love is about relationships not things. 
When I said, “Selling our house and becoming renters will allow us to respond quickly to wherever the Spirit calls us, I perceived that we might move to a different neighborhood in Portland when our lease expired. I certainly didn’t think God would send us packing – after only five months – to a small town sixty-five miles east in the Columbia River Gorge. I also was talking big when I said that; I had a romanticized view of my ministry-in-formation. 
That’s the nature of responding faithfully, though, isn’t it? It’s rarely like we think it will be. God tends to continually challenge us to do more than we thought we could. God stretches our perceptions in surprising ways. For example, I’ve been quite self-satisfied that we moved from a three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom duplex, and then to a studio apartment. Yet, I’ve learned that the downside of a 250 square foot studio apartment is that it is very difficult to provide hospitality. 
We will be moving into a one-bedroom apartment in the Hood River area this week. I confess I feel a little guilty. It’s a very nice apartment. Very nice! It doesn’t fit with my image of Emptying Barns but, I confess, I’m excited about the opportunity we will have to provide hospitality. I can imagine folks gathering in the our living room overlooking the Columbia River. I can imagine using this space for my ministry-in-formation.
Yes, Emptying Barns is about letting go of possessions but it is also about letting go of preconceptions. It is about being still, listening for the voice of the One, trusting and responding, and sometimes it is about having the physical space to be hospitable. 
God of Surprises,
Your abundant love never ends,
    as You challenge me to be truer to Your will.
Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out,
    You show me my arrogance and,
        turning it all around on me.
I feel so overwhelmed lately,
    You beckon me to places that surprise me,
         that require I trust in You.
Heighten my senses that I can feel,
    Your loving embrace around me.
Open my heart and mind to You that,
    I can see what I need to see,
        trust You where I can’t yet see,
            and still reflect Your love to others.
In the name of the rabbi who surprised the world,
   by opening himself fully to You.

Emptying Barns at One-Year

I remember it clearly. The two of us were sitting up in the bed, the bedroom of our three-bedroom house, after a
refreshing afternoon nap. My wife Maggie and I decided on that day that we were serious enough about letting go of our possessions to finally go public. So, I blogged our plans. (You can find that blog here.) Our journey has far exceeded our initial plan to let go of a mere 1000 items in one year. Today marks one-year.

A Spiritual Journey that Confounds
We’ve been at times fascinated, at times overwhelmed, and at times frustrated by the reactions of people when we’ve talked about our journey of Emptying Barns. So, let me clarify up front: this is motivated by our faith. It is not about “starting over” or saving money on moving vans. Because it is motivated by our faith the process is a spiritual journey. 

The spiritual aspects of this journey are multifaceted. There are two primary spiritual aspects of note, however. 

Justice & Compassion: Looking Outward
This spiritual aspect is best expressed in the question, how do my actions as a human being impact creation? This question leads me to a concern for stewardship, the care of the planet upon which we all live, and a desire to use only my share of resources. As a Christian, the Genesis creation narratives, as well as the arc of the whole Bible, inform my sense of responsibility to the ecology of our world. When the biblical text refers to dominion, the original Hebrew text implies a sense of caring for, much like good parents care for their children. My goal is to have as limited a resource-use footprint as I can manage. 

But creation includes more than wheat stalks, migratory birds, polar bears, and the sea turtle. Creation includes other human beings. My actions and inactions also harm or help human beings. When I eat chocolate harvested by the forced labor of children, I contribute to their enslavement. If I accept as “just how it is,” unjust economic systems than I am not acting according to my faith as fully as I should. Because of the accidental location of my birth (white, male, Anglo, American), it is probably impossible to fully avoid participating in systemic injustice but I am obligated by my faith to try. 

The interconnectedness of all of creation means any action I take, or fail to take, will ripple and influence people, plants, and animals I will never see. But I can choose to be hospitable to the “least of these.” I can choose to use resources wisely and share freely. I can choose to have less, so others may have more.

Looking Inward & Outward for the Divine
I can also choose to have less stuff so that I can see the divine in others. This second spiritual aspect of the Emptying Barns journey is about freedom. It is about the freedom from my possessions. Whether we admit it or not, our possessions, their acquisition and maintenance, shift our focus away from the Divine that is within and between each of us. When we use our time earning money to buy the latest gadget or to afford housing big enough to store things with which we simply cannot part, we take time away from others. We take away time which might be better spent in relationship with someone who needs us. The result is our stuff keeps us from seeing the face of God in others.

Likewise, our acquisition and maintenance of material possessions distract us from time spent in silence with God. The noise created by our things keep us from noticing the Divine.  And, though, I believe God never leaves us, that God is ever challenging us toward the most loving action, the noise of possessions can mask the still, small voice. If we are to truly respond lovingly, to be who we truly are, our senses need to be tuned to hearing and discerning the luring of what I call the Holy Spirit.

An Experience of Understanding & Liberation not Sadness
One of the confusions that people have about our journey is that they think that this is a path of sadness. They mistakenly believe that our happiness is tied into our possessions. It is not. Yes, I have felt temporary sadness as I let go of some of my objects. I have discovered, however, that the sadness is not tied to the object but to a memory. 
For example, letting go of my large collection of Matchbox cars caused me to burst into sudden tears. It is not the cars that I grieved. Rather, it is the joy of being with my brother for hours as we played with those cars that I grieved. We live in different cities separated by thousands of miles and rarely spend time together. I miss him but I no longer need to store a box of old toys. 
A typical comment from people who we tell of our Emptying Barns experience is, “I could never do that!” Part of my own hesitancy in letting go of some of my possessions reflects a lack of trust in the extravagant, abundant love of God. I have mistakenly believed, if not in word in action, that I need my things to be secure. My security comes from relationships with the Divine in others, the Divine in myself, and what I call the Holy Spirit. As I’ve become more in tune to the Divine luring and nudging I’ve found less need to have things around me. 
Giving away my possessions brings joy. Since my grandmother died twenty-three years ago we have stored quilts that she made. The handiwork is remarkable. Some of them she made with my great-grandmother. At most we have pulled them out every three years, looked at them, marveled at them, and then put them back in the box. I admit little joy from these objects until we gave them away. They are now the possession of the Woodford County (Kentucky) Historical Society and on display. I cannot adequately describe in words the joy that I feel knowing that others can see and appreciate the great love and skill my grandmother sewed into those quilts. I would never have felt this joy had I not let go of them. 
A Continuing Journey
We will leave for our new home in Portland, Oregon with our goal achieved. When we leave on Monday morning we will carry with us only what fits in our two cars. While I am pleased we have gone from a three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom duplex to a studio apartment, our journey is not over. We still have far more possessions than we need. 
That is why I am once again making a public commitment to continue to let go of things. I am making a commitment to embracing the Divine within and between all of us. I am committing to more fully embracing the path on which God calls me.

Letting Go Leads to More Letting Go

Each time I let go of physical objects on our journey of taking on our move only what fits in our two cars (which has now become one, more on this in a future blog), I feel compelled to go back and give up more.

For example, I jettisoned as many of my children’s books as I thought I could give up before our house sold. Once here in our transitional, local rental apartment, I decided to go through them one more time before the move west. I was able to give up another box and a quarter of children’s books. Proud of that accomplishment I  tweeted a photo of the five remaining boxes. Those who know my love of children’s literature and the artistry found in picture books can attest to the magnitude of that accomplishment. Yet, by the next morning, the nagging to give up more of the children’s books morphed into certainty that I could do so. The result was that I have given up all but one & an eighth boxes of children’s books. I gave the books to my son, who has observed a need for them in his community. Now, I’m thinking about those beloved early childhood philosophy books of which I’ve let go of so many. Surely I can give up more! Or so, the Spirit seems to be saying as it lures me toward opening boxes I thought were ready for the move.

My wife and I have been on a path of emptying barns. Emptying Barns refers to a parable Jesus tells in Luke 12: 13-21 in which a rich man stores up barns of grain (possessions).

Related Posts 
The Year of Letting Go
What’s the Point of Giving Away All Your Stuff?

What’s the Point of Giving Away Your Stuff?

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life
 is being demanded of you.  And the things you have 
prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those
 who store up treasures for themselves but are not 
rich towards God.’ Luke 12: 20-21 NRSV
     Awhile back, Maggie and I made a public commitment to give all of our stuff away except for what will fit in our two cars. We’ve been trying to let go of possessions and simplify our lives for decades. The impending move to Oregon has given us an opportunity to truly step out and do what we’ve dabbled in for years. So, what’s the point? 

     In my meditative readings of scripture, the Spirit has seen fit to repeatedly return me to one message: let go of your stuff and your life of earthly security. This is part of my journey as a follower of Jesus. According to the writer of Mark, the brothers James and John left their father, their hired hands, and their fishing business to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). They did so “immediately.” 

     Likewise, the Spirit has focused my attention upon the writer of Luke’s emphasis on ministry to the outcast, to the poor, to those on the outside. Writes Luke, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33 NRSV). While I do not prescribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, the gospels are filled with Jesus talking about wealth and money. When taken as a whole the point is this: wealth is not intrinsically bad but it has a nasty habit of getting in the way to salvation. 

     When James and John heeded Jesus’ call, leaving their fishing business behind, their actions became metaphors for each of us. We are each called to let go of those things (physical, emotional, or spiritual) that prevent us from following the Spirit’s push to do God’s will. In my case, I am discerning a push to do God’s will through new church ministry in Portland. 

     Pragmatically, beginning a new church means financial insecurity. It means that I will not have a paid ministerial position for years. It means that I must fully trust the Spirit to guide me as this vision of a new community of people who follow Jesus develops. I am convinced by the nudges of God in scripture, within creation, and within my own life, that to start a new “church” requires me to give away most of what I own. My stuff must go so that it cannot prevent me from doing God’s will. 

     The developing vision for Embracing (the name for the new church) is one of a “church” that looks nothing like the institutional structures that we associate with “church.”  Embracing God’s vision and collaborating with others, requires me to let go of images of church committees and stone edifices. From this loss of past associations, I am convinced God will create something remarkable.

     Giving away possessions is an act of living into my faith in an abundantly loving God. It requires trusting in God and the unfolding future God holds for us. As we seek to be ready for the next chapter in our lives, I am reminded of a quote from theologian Henri J.M. Nouwen. He said, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” I believe God is creating a new kind of thinking as Maggie and I strive to change the way we live. So, what’s the point of giving away most of our possessions? Doing so will enable us to more fully respond to God’s inexplicably extravagant love.