We spent the weekend in a mansion in Barrington, Illinois outside Chicago. That's not it, but there's a passing resemblance. There were at least 12 bathrooms. I tried to pee in every one. It was a territorial thing.
The mansion was owned by a friend of a friend of my sister-in-law, or something like that. The friend of a friend lives in one of her other four houses, not the one we stayed in. They only come to the Chicago mansion for two weeks at Christmas time, presumably to see snow (they live in California the rest of the year) and to count the bathrooms. I don't know. The rest of the year they let other people, including apparently friends of friends, stay in the mansion. It was nice of them, although in truth I can think of better uses for multiple millions of dollars. Still, it was nice of them. This past weekend it hosted about 20 members of Kate's extended family, who all congregated for a triple graduation party for the Ott family. My nephew Jacob graduated from high school. My nephew Jonathan graduated from college. And my sister-in-law Alice celebrated the completion of her Ph.D.
It was nice being with Kate's family. It always is. It was weird staying at that mansion. There is something about the American suburban mindset that is deeply disturbing, even as I find myself immersed in it. We stroll our Westerville, Ohio neighborhood and encounter neighbors who are attempting to sell their suburban homes. We sometimes ask them why. And they tell us: the kids are grown. We don't need this four-bedroom, 2.5 bath house anymore. We nod understandingly. It makes sense. And then they tell us they are moving to a new 7-bedroom, 5-bath house in the country, with indoor pool, tennis court, and detached equestrian barn. It's an investment. It's time to enjoy life. Some day there will be grandkids, and they will need a place to stay. Maybe the grandkids will bring their friends along. Maybe the grandkids will join a soccer team, and the entire soccer league will need a place to stay. Who knows?
I hear the most ridiculous reasons. But the reality is that some people apparently don't know what to do with their money. So they look for novel ways to spend it. It's the American way.
We went to church at Willow Creek Christian Fellowship, smack dab in the middle of McMansionville. It's the grandaddy of all megachurches, and some 20,000 people show up every weekend. I was all set to hate it, but I didn't. I liked it. The auditorium was vast, the seating was plush, the coffee shop(pe) had a fire roaring in the fireplace, the food court was hopping before the 9:00 service, and it all had all the faux-Americana trappings of Disneyland, including an indoor waterfall. Mickey and Minnie didn't greet us at the door, but Millie did, and Millie made sure we knew which wing of the compound held the children's classes. We took the monorail to communion. Okay, no we didn't, but to say that I was in a cynical mood before the service started would be an understatement.
The service was warm, intimate, personal, and moving -- everything I was not expecting. We sang a couple rocked out versions of old hymns. We prayed for one of the pastors, whose 12-year-old daughter has leukemia, and he sat up there and cried while the assembled McMansionville hordes prayed for him. We prayed for George W. Bush, which nearly led to convulsions in my plush seat. We prayed for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il, admittedly two firsts for me, and we prayed for peace on the planet, believing that that is what God desires. Mostly we prayed and worshipped. Bill Hybels, the pastor, was the anti-televangelist -- low-key, humble, surprisingly open and vulnerable in admitting his and his church's mistakes. I pretty much became an instant fan, although he would rightly tell you that he's not looking for fans.
I'm glad I went. I'm glad I stayed in that mansion, if only because that's where Kate's family was hanging out, and it's always worthwhile spending time with them. I discovered that I still love the Loop. No great surprise there. And the 7-hour drive each way gave Kate and I a chance to catch our breath and reconnect after several weeks of almost non-stop activity. Oh yeah, I'm married to you. Nice to see you. And it was.