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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

I'm not sure how plumbing fits into the divine economy.

When I was growing up, I learned a few handy things about yard work, housecleaning (no one would believe this, but I was taught), car engines, and such. But I did not learn much about home repair and maintenance. After having completed a masters degree, I was overjoyed not to be in school. In my first house, a rental, with my own washer and dryer, I started facing what anyone will eventually face--the need for home repair.

I did not want to spend my meager income to wait around for a repair truck to come to the house, only to find out that it would be a few more days of waiting while a part was located. So I decided to put my many years of education to work at the public library. I read about how washing machines work, and I found the problem and solution in a repair manual. I was surprised how simple it was for me to accomplish the repair. I made sure that Everly joined me for an appropriate amount of admiration time, watching the repaired machine do its job.

That was the beginning of my budding confidence for doing home repairs and maintenance. Especially during the leaner years of tight family budgets, I undertook the repair or installation of washers, dryers, electrical outlets and switches, refrigerators, stoves and ovens, doors, broken windows, bunk beds, bookshelves, lofts for beds, and more. I joked often about my home repair average, sort of like a batting average in baseball. If I attempted five repairs, and four were successful, I was "batting" .800 in home repair.

But plumbing always seems to bring my home repair average down. There is very little that is direct or simple with plumbing. Something always comes up, and it takes lots of experiential knowledge to understand how to deal with the variety of possibilities. I don't have that kind of knowledge, so when something unexpected comes up, I have to scratch my head and wonder how to deal with it.

That was the story of Thursday. On Wednesday night we had a toilet breakdown. First the valve in the tank was stuck closed. Flushing required filling a bowl with water and dumping it in the toilet. After I spent some time messing with the valve gadget, I created the opposite problem. The float would no longer shut off the valve, leaving the water in the tank running constantly. I took apart and messed with the contraption, only to find that nothing I could do seemed to make a difference. So I cut off the water supply and we made due.

Thursday morning I went to the big box hardware and bought a replacement valve and float contraption. With very little difficulty, I removed the old one and put in the new one. It worked perfectly. My confidence was up. I started thinking about the shower head. I remembered a couple of kitchen sink items I saw while hunting down my toilet contraption.

Heady with my plumbing success, I returned to the store to buy a new aerator tip for the kitchen faucet and a new nozzle for the shower. Both of these were fairly simple to install, and they produced appropriate "oohs" and "aahs" from the wife and daughters who share my household. Last, I started removing the old and non-functioning kitchen sink sprayer and replacing it with a soap dispensing pump and bottle. I thought that would be the easiest task of all.

Seven and one-half hours later, after a few strategic applications of a power saw with a metal-cutting blade, a few dozen cuts and scrapes on my hands, cutting two washers by hand because I did not have the size I needed, at least forty trips in and out from under the sink on my aching back, and one new thirty-dollar tool, I was able to clean up my mess and admire four jobs well done. But the time required diminished the celebration.

Actually there were five jobs. While working on the sprayer/soap dispenser job, I knocked loose the sink drain and trap, which I then had to put back together, with one of the handcut washers which took about thirty minutes to get right. Someone in my household found that to be very humorous. The kids, on the other hand, were appropriately sympathetic. Seeing and smelling me, my family was hoping to celebrate after I tried out the new shower head.

Plumbing, as a human creation, stands out to me as a clear example of the admixture of good and evil in human accomplishments. I should not pick on plumbing, I guess. But if God had included modern plumbing in the original creation, we might have ended up with an eight or nine day week.

Maybe plumbing is a penance for people like me. It seems so simple, but getting new connections to seal and old connections to unseal is often bewildering. Resorting to brute strength may not move anything, but other times using force leads to disaster when parts break and water flows. The lore of plumbing is far more complex than I have been able to learn through my intermittent dabbling.

I can act so confident in my knowledge at times that I'm sure there are people who take some satisfaction in knowing that I can't seem to get plumbing figured out. So until I decide to take on the seat washers in the bathtub faucet, I'm glad to be leaving that plumbing behind.

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