catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 9 :: 2013.04.26 — 2013.05.09


Between the Rock and a hard place

“Hello! My name is Luddie - short for Luddite. This is not my first time up at the microphone. But sometimes, you see, I still get nervous. And, I get the thought that maybe I ought not to be here… [a rippled hush falls over the room]. Well, I mean, I have been coming to these meetings for a very long time now, and maybe I should be recovered by now. But I can’t help it. I am addicted to the antiquated, to the tried and the true, that makes me blue… I eschew the new… Should I try rap or karaoke? But forgive me, please, for saying that if I am forced to buy one more complicated brand new electronic thingamajig and have to unlearn, relearn and redo my precious little free time strolling in the lush “reality” of nature to fiddle with- well, well, I, I, I might just have a genuine pitching fit and, and — break something!”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my nightmare. Or at least to my rather warped sense of humor and skewed idea of a pleasant daydream. Truth be told, there are some days that dealing with the technological artifacts of progress causes me to contemplate seriously the need for membership in a mutual whining society, anonymous or otherwise. New does not necessarily mean better, or even faster. It simply means newer and, of course, different in some way.  When Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new,” (Revelation 21:5) I really don’t believe that an intentional increase in 21st century automation-induced aggravation is what He had in mind! The “chastisement of our peace” was put upon Him, and He is our Peace and our Healing (Isaiah 53:5).  There are times when, like Pilate, I want to wash my hands of the whole technomania trend — mind you, with a simple pitcher and bowl. No fancy computerized “talking” washing machine, thank you very much.

Machines are meant to be servants and not saviors. We get into spiritual trouble when we expect too much of them and of the very human people who create them.

Machines, machines the deluding group, the more you enjoy them, the more they poop…out that is! The more complex they are, the more that can go wrong, give out or die. What are inventors and designers thinking these days? Have any of these folks heard of Occam’s Razor? Probably, but it feels like they’re using a wrecking ball and not a razor when it comes to making design changes.  Speaking of razors, I must admit that there’s some technology since the straight blade and the strap that I actually do appreciate. But disposable razors? And the potential impact on our environment? Forgive me please, for I digress.

Oh, the tyranny of technology. Machines, meant to serve as mindless slaves, actually do exert a subtle kind of control over us by virtue of how much we have come to rely on them.  The situation with our reliance on machines feels as if “slaves [of plastic, wire and steel] rule over us, and there is none to free us from their hands” (Lamentations 5:8).

Take the friendly washing machine, for instance.  I’ll acknowledge that there have been tremendous advances in technology from the old days of ringer and tub to today’s new-fangled push-button options. No more bending over a jumpy machine to squeeze water from items piece-by-piece. But what have we now? Retro excitement! New fangled clothes mangled. Machines that whip and whir so fast on the spin dry cycle that clothes come out looking as pitifully wrinkled as they did in the good old days of the wringer and tub. Brassiere straps too much of a challenge for that old double-cylinder wringer? The modern design of agitator posts in most washers is such that things still get caught and wrung around between post and base, and damage occurs. So here we are in 2013, with our fancy new washers, and we find ourselves once again with the genuine need to hand wash our brassieres and other unmentionables. Even more so, today’s sexy comfort and figure-enhancing undergarments lack the drab and durability of Grandma’s heavily stitched cotton cup bras. Curve enhancing soft cup underwire bras don’t stand a chance in the maelstrom of change that constitutes the modern American agitation-action spin washer.

And regarding the category of unmentionables, perhaps one of the biggest unmentionables is simply in the category of machine functionality itself.  Speaking of that hand-washing thing, it’s nice if you have a new washer that includes a gentle swishing function that maybe you could legitimately call a “hand-wash cycle,” not just some imitation soak and drain action.  Soak and drain? Give me a cheap two-buck plastic basin from the dollar store, and a sink, bathtub, garden or other place to pour the water and that’s good enough to get the job done. A reasonably antiquated way of doing it, but I have learned that new methods and old things don’t always mix well – for example, my relatively new washing machine (less than a year old) is not a good human stand-in when it comes to caring for antique linens.

You see, I’m in the repair business. I’m a nurse. Healing and restoration is my business. It’s my calling. I deeply appreciate and care for old and broken things, because I believe there is still value and the potential for life in them. That’s a Christ-honoring attribute. Salvation.  So buying old vintage linens from thrift stores is something I like to do. I bring them home, soak them overnight in really warm water and a brightening agent or bleach, and more often than not, I then have something really beautiful that serves in so many ways — aesthetically to feed the soul, and practically to cover tables or pillows. And all at a very wise-steward kind of price.

However, now my laundry room salvation enterprise has been threatened. Not too long ago, I set out to soak some antique linens overnight and left them for quite a bit longer than that. On many occasions past, I would allow them to soak for 24 hours or more. Imagine my shock and surprise when, after many hours, I returned to the washer and found the linens stiff, rumpled and dried out in the bottom of the tub with the chalky residue from the oxidizing agent clinging to the sides of the drum. “Hmm…”I thought. “What have we here? What have I done? Did I actually forget and run a regular cycle?  No. I remember that I left lid up on the washer so I could periodically check on the batch. Maybe something is wrong with the machine. I’ll call the manufacturer to find out.” Thank God (and I do mean that sincerely) that the desktop computer was functioning, because my washer didn’t come with a paper owner’s manual. They’re now only available online. So, I needed to go online to find a customer service phone number to talk to someone to find out how to get an owner’s manual. (Silly me — I guess I should have thought of that as soon as the machine was delivered. But who has time for that? Really? )

So because I had a very nice gentleman on the line, I decided to ask whether there was a problem with my washer.  His response: “No. There’s not. The washer automatically drains after 24 hours.” Eureka! I think I made a connection there. So where is that information in the owner’s manual that I did not have access to? Well, er…umm…let’s say that I am still looking for that particular statement. The manual says the machine “soaks for a specified period of time.” So what is that? More than a minute and less than an epoch? Isn’t quantitative precision an attribute of advanced technology? And “soaking” and “draining” are two different concepts, right? I digress.

But it gets better! Since this very nice gentleman really was doing such a fine job of explaining the mysteries of modern agitation washing, I decided to bring up the issue of the “reset” button that really doesn’t — or at least not in the way it is described as a helpful feature. The purpose of the reset button is to allow you to stop the washer as it fills so you can increase the load size to add a few more pieces of laundry. How nice! It’s labor-saving, energy-saving and water-saving. Not! Let me say that again: not! You see, the reset button does nothing but immediately end the wash cycle, draining the tub, so that the cycle starts all over again and the tub can be filled with more water. Pure genius, right? Tell me, is this some kind of covert conspiracy or something between detergent manufacturers and local water companies, just to force us to consume more or to punish us for the stupidity of daring to want to add “just one more towel” to the load? At least the manufacturer was kind enough to include the following note in the instruction manual: “This is a high-efficiency washing machine. This system requires less water while providing effective cleaning action. You may notice that the water level is lower than on your previous washer. This is normal.”

“This is normal?” In whose conception of the universe? “Requires less water?” Who are they kidding? But here’s the really scary thing. It is actually normal. Not the water level per se. But our tolerance as a society for deceptive incongruity — for lies of convenience, for the massive individual moral malaise that makes it seem okay for big corporations to treat consumers in this way.  Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. I may have been born a sucker, but I am a born-again believer, and I am unwilling to put up with such deception. I will roll out of my comfort zone far enough to call up and call out businesses to let them know that I can see through deceptive business practices, and will do so in a cordial and respectful way. More of us need to find the time and muster up the courage; we shouldn’t be leaving it all to consumer advocacy groups. If we use the products, it is our responsibility to take part in the gate keeping.  The big thing to remember when squawking to companies is not to vent and dump on some poor well-meaning, over-worked and underpaid customer service associate, but to remain tactful and respectful — even if you feel like you’ve been sold a feeble fake of a Pet Rock® for the price of a Tivoli® diamond.  

Behavior that looks so crude, rude, greedy, mean, dirty and downright idiotic could perhaps be. But it’s really not that simple.  And therein lies the heart of the problem. Christ’s warning on calling our brothers idiots and fools (Matthew 5:22) needs to be a governing principle for our behavior here.  We need to maintain intellectual humility and must understand that designers of the machinery that is supposed to make our lives more enjoyable have many masters besides Jesus to whom they are held accountable as well.

Some of the problems we experience with machines doesn’t arise from designers’ and manufacturers’ stupidity, but attempts to meet competing demands. And some of those demands are for noble purposes, like keeping little kids from drowning. Manufacturers’ adherence to consumer safety laws  means the creation of washers that don’t have acceptable soak cycles. So, we waste water to save a life. We endure discomfort to help others. That is what it means to follow Christ. All the while we yearn for things to work cooperatively, peaceably, sensibly. And they don’t.  They just don’t. We live in a great, big, broken world full of all kinds of fragments. Sometimes the fragments align well and sometimes they don’t. It’s just that the older I become, it seems that more and more I see the fragmented nature of the universe and long for the place and time when Jesus indeed “makes all things new” in such a way that the fragments are gathered and made as one in Him.  

So why, oh why, if I can see all this, do I expect for something new to behave as if it is old? Do I have rocks in my head?

Yes. I do. I think we all do, or at least we all ought to. One Rock that is.   Jesus. My Rock. Your Rock. Our Redeemer. He is the Rock.  And the power behind the washing machine.  He is the support for all we do. We must understand that “apart from” Him we “can do nothing” (John 15:5). I am coming to the painful realization that I can’t do things apart from other people either —  that is, I can’t separate from people who mess around with my neat little ideas about how the world should be; I must endure the pain created by those who will malevolently or ignorantly disrupt my world. I need Jesus. But I need other broken people, too. And, I need to whine, just a little bit. (Like now!)

When it comes to new automated washers, sometimes I think I’d rather just have a river and a rock, and a big old chunk of lye soap. Maybe that’s the crux of the issue — lye soap, or rather lie soap. Things are cleaned up, spiffed up, newed up, and we are sold a bill of goods on how wonderful the change is supposed to be. But that’s a lie, and to cope, we almost have to make ourselves believe the lie. Yet we cannot accept deception. We must be salt and light (Matthew 5:13) and be “strong in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24) even though it may look like every modern machine making its way off some assembly line somewhere has been solely designed to season our efforts with suffering.  We can, however, continue to lament and cry out to the Lord:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness!” …For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.   (Lamentations 3:21-23, 31-32)

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