18 July, 2013

The Erosion of Covenant

I live in a subdivision where we have a Home Owners’ Association Covenant.  Every person who buys a home in the subdivision is required to agree to the terms of the HOA Covenant as a condition of their buying property within the subdivision.  The Covenant was designed to keep the home values at the highest possible, and for the safety and aesthetic value of the community. 

There are basic rules such as keeping your lawn cut and your sidewalks shoveled.  There are environmental concerns such as keeping grass clippings off the street so they don’t end up in the storm drains and pollute the lakes; safety concerns such as putting a fence around your yard if you have a child’s swing set and keeping your car off the street overnight.  And, given that there are no street lights in the subdivision, every home is required to have either coach lights on the outside of their garage or a lamp post closer to the sidewalk.  These are reasonable rules for safety and aesthetic value.  In the early years of the subdivision as homes were still being built and original owners lived in those homes, the covenant was widely enforced.  People were gently reminded to keep signs out of their yards, to put their cars in their driveways or garages. 

But as original owners sold their homes and moved away, the covenant was enforced less and less.   Advertisements for various events appeared in yards; cars were left on the street, trampolines appeared in unfenced yards, and coach lights were disconnected from their governing light sensors.  A broken down, unregistered car drips oil on the driveway of a home while the running cars are parked on the street because there is no room for them in the driveway.  And a police car remains parked on the street for days on end as if the one who enforces our laws is above the covenant.  If reminded of the covenant, residents sneered and were rude about someone telling them how to keep their property.

This struck home with me when I listed my home for sale.  The Realtor told me that if it weren't for the trampoline in the yard of the people behind me and the rusting swing set in the home beside me, I could ask $10,000 more for my home than I could with those “eyesores.”   When I asked the officers of the Home Owners Association to enforce the rules, my e-mails went unanswered; six months after my initial request and three requests later, I received an e-mail that said they were no longer enforcing the covenant rules. 
My response was disappointment and a keen sense of injustice.  I purchased this property and built my home under the terms of the Covenant.  I have always been conscientious of the rules and followed them.  Yet I was being punished (economically) for the decisions of others to not follow and not enforce the rules.  It was grossly unfair.  Further, those in the neighborhood of whom I had reminded of the Covenant rules were openly hostile to me for my voicing my concern. 
“Are you telling me that my putting a damn church yard sign in my yard is taking down the value of your home?  Bull Shit!  Let them fine me.  I have freedom of religion.”
“There are trampolines all over the subdivision without fences around them.  If others can do it, so can I.  Just try to make me take it down. I’ll sue your ass off in court.”
The final straw for me was a note left on my car in my driveway earlier this week.  It read:
“You can’t move out of the neighborhood fast enough.  Your need to control everyone elses property have pissed off enough people.  Your lucky I haven’t burnt your house down to get you out faster.”
Of course the note was unsigned. 

It would seem that following the rules that one agreed to when purchasing the property is no longer a necessary part of life together.  If the rules are not convenient for me, I don’t need to live under the covenant to which I signed my name in agreement.  And, it’s fine to be rude and hostile toward anyone who has an interest in following the rules. 

The prophets of the Old Testament faced the same situation.  Amos was called by God away from his herds and vineyards to address the breakdown of the covenant between God and the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel.  As soon as he voiced the concerns, he was asked to leave.
And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."  Amos 7:12-13
Likewise with Elijah in 1Kings 17 and 1Kings 19.  Even Jesus was not immune from this rejection:
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.   Luke 4:28-30
As long as there have been communities, there have been covenants.  And as long as there have been covenants, there has been an erosion of those covenants.  It would seem that we humans are not capable of a long term commitment to live by the rules to which we initially agree.  Like my neighbors, the rules become inconvenient to keep let alone enforce.  They become cumbersome and stand in the way of our individual happiness and our self-serving interests.  We fall away from being interested in the well being of the community in favor of our own comfort and convenience. 

This is true at all levels of society, not just in my subdivision.  As a nation, we care less about what is important for the environment and for future generations than what is most advantageous for me now; I want my cheap petroleum products, my gas guzzling SUV, my succulent green lawn in the desert, and my grocery store stocked with factory grown, cheap food stocks.  The wells destroyed by fracking, the CO2 raising the planet’s temperature, the depletion of water resources, and the health of migrant workers who work in chemical laden fields of genetically altered produce (while their families cannot afford to buy any fresh produce) be damned; MY needs must be met.

The root of the word covenant  is from the Latin word convenÄ«re which means “to come together” and “to agree.”  We are a society that does neither.  Witness our congress: they can neither agree nor come together to pass basic legislation that benefits the well being of others.  We are so bound to our self-interest or those who pay us hardily for taking care of theirs, that we do not function any longer as a community.  The “Me” generation attitude has gone viral and spread across the bounds of age. 

And in the meanwhile, the planet is baking, children are starving, people are dying of preventable diseases because they cannot afford basic heath care, the educational system has fallen into major disrepair, people are homeless, prisons have become big business, and people cannot earn a living wage.  We need to come together; we need to care about the communal good. 

But that’s not in my best interest or yours.  Or is it?