November 7, 2011
Behold--I've Come to Fix the Sink
Well, I've learned a few things over the past couple of weeks.
I learned this last point, thankfully, soon enough for it to matter. Let's see if I can explain this. My furnace stopped working, so I called my furnace installer to take a look. He couldn't make it, so he sent his brother, who ascertained that the furnace wasn't working because the water heater was siphoning off its gas to heat our water. This was due to years of neglect of basic water heater maintenance, as well as decades of bad do-it-yourself decisions made by the house's previous owner. Three thousand dollars later, my water heater and a fair bit of piping were replaced, and my furnace was working again.
But then the main water pipe started leaking. I called the hot water heater guy, who told me that my now uberefficient water heater was exposing a systemic flaw caused by yet another poor do-it-yourselfer in my house's history. This fix would run me $1500, and if I didn't act soon I was risking a burst pipe and a houseful of water.I decided to call my plumbing guy, a fellow I used to go to church with. (His name's Chris DeLuca, and I will gladly give you his phone number if you'd like it.) I felt a little bad, since we had discussed having him replace my water heater sometime in 2012, after I had given enough blood to pay for the installation. So I felt I at least owed him a bid. He came by the house, stared at the leak for a few minutes, turned off the water and uncoupled the pipe (I'm totally guessing what "uncouple the pipe" means), stuck his finger in it, turned around and told me, "You need a new washer." So we drove to the local hardware store and bought two washers (just in case). Two dollars and twenty-eight cents. We drove back to the house and he stuck the washer in the pipe. Then he recoupled the pipe (see above), turned on the water, stared at the pipe, and then turned around and told me, "That's it."
That's it? I asked him how much I owed him. He checked his watch and told me, "Thirty bucks." For those keeping score, that's roughly 2 percent of the other bid. I paid him $150 and very nearly gave him a hug. If I ever let anyone other than Chris DeLuca touch my plumbing, somebody smack me.
There's something inherently risky about letting someone into your house, especially if they're coming in response to an expression of need. Hardly a week goes by without news reports of home invasions, fraud and robbery that began with a knock on the door in the wake of calamity--people claiming to be sent by your insurance to fix hail damage on your siding, people dressed as city workers claiming to need to check your gas or water or electricity, people dressed as police claiming to be investigating a crime only to perpetrate one once you let them in. Communicating need and opening your door are alike acts of vulnerability, and there's a world full of people only too happy to take advantage of you right when you're ready to trust.
But we continue to communicate need, and we continue to open our door, because really, what other choice do we have? And every once in a while someone comes to the door and responds to your need who knows what he or she is talking about and actually has your best interests at heart. So we continue to risk vulnerability, and sometimes we're rewarded for it.
Hospitality is a spiritual discipline, I think, precisely because it's an act of vulnerability. The apostle Peter encourages us that we may well entertain angels simply by opening our door, and the Bible bears him out with various reports of angelic and even divine visitations. But there are other examples of scoundrels paying visits, which itself is an opportunity for us to grow in our spirits. It was the scoundrel Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, after all, who visited and robbed a vulnerable bishop, but it was the vulnerable bishop who redirected Jean Valjean on a more redemptive journey.
When we stop opening our door to those offering help, we effectively stop communicating our need--even if, as is often the case, we get more and more needy from behind closed doors. I've found that it's much easier to complain about troubles than to actually seek deliverance. That affects our relationship to God--we keep God locked out of our daily needs and so refuse to let him be God--but it also affects our relationships with one another. And our souls (and really our whole culture, which is as needy as we are) suffer for it.
This whole experience with my leaky pipes has reminded me that I'm a person in need, and I live among a people in need. It's reminded me that my God shall supply all my needs, and the needs of all those around me, and that sometimes God will do so by putting us in touch with each other. And while there are scoundrels waiting to catch us at our most vulnerable, even they have needs that maybe God has us in mind to address. And all these encounters hinge on whether or not we'll open the door.
That reminds me of a little cartoon from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at November 7, 2011 11:15 AM | TrackBack