Note: This blog entry originally appeared as an editorial in The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, where I work as News & Information Manager.
If Joseph and Mary were alive today, looking for a place where Mary could give birth to Jesus, where could they find solace? After some online and empirical research, I’ve concluded that it would not be in a stable filled with animals. No, today it would probably be in a storage unit.
This theory first came to me while driving to work recently. I noticed construction workers pouring concrete in a lot next to an already existing storage unit facility. Apparently the units were all filled and more were needed. On my five-mile drive to work, at least four storage unit facilities exist. Two of them are “climate controlled” and one is heated.
No swaddling clothes needed to stay warm here.
I confess to knowing something about storage units. Before moving to Green Bay in 2008, I rented one to store goods while waiting to buy a new home here.
According to the Self Storage Association (yes, there is such a thing), the self storage industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. commercial real estate industry in the last 35 years. There are approximately 46,000 primary self storage facilities in the United States with rentable space that totals 2.22 billion square feet.
That’s a lot of space for wise men, kings and barn animals.
Nearly one in 10 U.S. households currently rents a self storage unit, reports the Self Storage Association, which is up from one in 17 in 1995. It’s a profitable business as well, with the industry grossing $22 billion in 2009.
What do these statistics tell us? I believe they indicate that we Americans are controlled by our possessions. Rental units are no longer used simply to store furniture while a family relocates. Today they serve as long-term rentals to store goods. We own so much that we have to rent storage space to hold all of our stuff that doesn’t fit into closets, attics and garages.
Not all Americans rent storage units. Not the estimated 2 million to 3 million who are homeless every year, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Most of these Americans cannot even afford to rent an apartment. Fortunately, churches and communities team up to provide shelters for the homeless, especially during the winter months.
Isn’t something wrong in our country when there is such a disparity between the haves and the have-nots? When an estimated seven square feet of storage space exists for every man, woman and child in this country, yet homeless shelters struggle to find enough space to accommodate people living on the streets?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the modern-day Joseph and Mary wouldn’t take shelter in a storage unit after all. Storage units have locks to protect all of the worldly possessions inside. Jesus, the Son of God, was born to give hope to the hopeless, to unlock the hardened hearts that bind us to our possessions and blind us to the suffering of others.
Given the choice between a heated storage unit and a crowded homeless shelter, Mary and Joseph would choose the latter. For while the cries of the poor are heard here, so too are the voices of justice that give shelter and comfort. Isn’t their example why the Son of God was born among us?
Below is a gallery of stained-glass images I’ve taken over the years that relate to the Nativity.