“In some ways, before the event, the building was just another building on the beach. Now it’s a site of trauma and tragedy, a sign of — I don’t know. I don’t even know what it is. Is it a sign of mismanagement, over-optimism, negligence? I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.”
Surfside resident Darrell Arnold speaking of the collapsed Champlain Towers (Washington Post)
The remains of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, were demolished last night. Rescue efforts for the still more than 120 residents missing paused over the weekend in preparation for that demolition. The same company that managed the demolition of the fallen World Trade Center towers after 9/11 brought down what remained of the Champlain Towers Sunday night. Initially planned for weeks from now, city leaders moved up the demolition due to an approaching tropical storm in the seaside community.
Much has already been written and considered about the collapse of the Champlain Towers on June 24. Investigators are still trying to determine what happened.
When I woke up on June 25 to the news of a collapsed beachside condo in Florida, my first thoughts were Jesus’s parable of the wise and foolish builders in Luke 6. In many ways, the collapse of these condos built upon foundations of sand is a metaphor for what is taking place in our larger society today.
Luke 6:47-49 (NLT) I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
As so often occurs after these types of tragedies, the blame game has already begun. Inspectors have been suspended. Homeowner association leaders are being questioned. Americans do not look for someone to take responsibility as much as they do for someone to blame. Any online article about the tragedy features multiple comments suggesting, “Hold them accountable!” We don’t know who “them” is, but that’s not the point. Someone must be blamed! That is how we deal with tragedy today.
The Surfside Champlain Towers complex was part of the 1980s condominium boom. The building’s developers offered a high-scale environment and glitzy views for upper-middle-class prices. In the forty years since its development, the building has deteriorated. Maintenance and repair needs outpaced the spending capacity of the building’s residents, even as prices for the apartments continued to rise. A consultant’s report in 2018 identified severe problems of concrete and corroded rebar and warned that these problems already led to significant structural damage. More than $15 million was needed for repairs, but the residents did not have that money – and neither did the homeowners association. Residents were recently given a bill between $80,000 and $200,000 each, in addition to their mortgage to pay so the repairs could be made. The bill could be paid up front or in monthly installments. Most could not afford the bill.
In recent years many opted to sell their condo in the booming real estate market. Real estate agents said their condo would sell quickly, despite the growing repair needs. Those who sold their units could even make a profit. Seven units sold already in 2021 for record-breaking prices.
An association of homeowners oversaw the dysfunction. Unqualified but democratically elected representatives of condominium owners found themselves incapable of correcting the problems of Champlain Towers. Budget shortfalls were one part of the problem. Funds that might have been used for massive repairs needed at Champlain Towers were only enough to fund the routine maintenance and upkeep. Another problem was political infighting. Although a report three years ago noted the need for significant structural renovations at Champlain Towers, little progress was made since that time – even while multiple rotations of new homeowners association presidents and resignations have occurred since that time.
These issues are not unique to Champlain Towers. It is a national trend according to a recent report in the New York Times:
The deferred maintenance and inadequate savings at the Champlain Towers building are common dilemmas at condo associations across the country, where volunteer board members, sometimes with little expertise in financing or maintenance, find themselves dealing with vicious infighting with their neighbors and pressure to keep dues low. About one-third of associations are far behind on their savings, with 30 percent or less of the money needed to prepare for future big-ticket projects, said Robert Nordlund, whose company, Association Reserves, has studied tens of thousands of condominium groups and other homeowners’ associations in all 50 states. He said some boards get stuck focusing on regular maintenance costs — utilities, gardeners and pool cleaning — but fail to think about the even bigger bills that could arrive with sudden urgency.
Indeed, we could transpose these trends across many aspects of American life and systems. It is not just condominiums. It is infrastructure, the economy, politics, morality, the family unit, even churches. Our society is built upon a foundation of sand. It appears to be standing but is destined for a fall. The values that undergird the way we behave and perceive the world are unsustainable.
It is difficult to find a facet of American life where the problems are not worsening, yet few manageable solutions are currently considered. We are waiting for someone to save the day. Ultimately, we have grown content to leave the problems for the next generation to solve.
The Foolish Builders vs the Wise
These are the habits and mentalities of the foolish man who builds his house on a foundation of sand. He hears the truth, but he does not do the truth. He knows the truth, but he does not confront it. It is easier today to build on the sand of quick fix, instant gratification comfort zones. But then the storm comes, and the ending of the foolish man is inevitable. Not only does his state of life collapse, but as Jesus explained in Matthew 7:27, “Great was its fall.”
That is not the case for the wise and righteous man. He is the man who hears and knows the truth but goes further and obeys the truth. He takes the hard lessons of life and adjusts his world. His house is built upon a rock, capable of withstanding the greatest of storms. His way of life is not convenient. It is not popular. But it is formidable, and it defies the storms when they come.
I fear too many believers today are taking a presumptuous and dangerous approach to the principles taught by Jesus in the story of the wise and foolish builders. It is not enough to be part of the right church, know the right verses, confess the correct doctrine, or profess the right decisions of faith. We have to be doers of the word – not hearers only!
The storm is inevitable for both the wise and foolish builders. Make no mistake, a storm is coming! The observable devolution across the spectrum of our society, from Surfside, Florida, to the siege upon the US Capitol in the opening days of 2021, warns of a dark cloud on the horizon. It is time to test the foundations before the storm is upon us.
Each Monday you can find a new Monday Morning Devotional here at the website to consider a Biblical perspective of the world we live in today.