Repairing to Mr. Coffee

7 07 2011

I tell people that I repaired the church’s coffee maker, and their usual response is a look of confusion and the question, “Why not just buy a new one?”  I find this line of thinking mildly irritating.  Half a century ago, people actually tried to repair things when possible.  But a coffee maker?  The repair is usually so easy and cheap, if not free, that I cannot conceive of dumping Mr. Coffee into the waste bin too readily.  The driving force behind the continual growth of your local landfill rests in the fact that a coffee maker’s replacement is very cheap and easy.  For a few bucks, you can have a new one.  For some labor, you can have a dirty and well-used one.  Which do you choose?  It’s not a hard choice, really.  You toss that cheap foreign-made contraption into the trash receptacle and go for a new one.  When a thing is cheap, you don’t fix it.  Instead, you get rid of it.  When it is easily replaced, you don’t look for reasons to keep it.

Now, I say all of this, because Mr. Coffee could just as easily be a real person, not just an appliance with a personal name.  When relationships are cheap, we don’t invest any effort into getting them on their feet again when things go sour.  If a person is easily replaced, then that’s exactly what we do with them when they offend us.  It just happens that this is exactly where our society is heading.  We have these devices that act like social condoms, in that they allow us to interact with each other without getting anything infectious rubbed off on ourselves.  We know them as Facebook, which protects us from actually having to face people.  We know them as texting, because we can’t bear the pressure of having to talk to each other.  Oh, yes, and there’s the weblog (blog), which, in some cases, is the only way to even get through to some people, such as yourself.  The numbers of ways in which we can communicate with other people has skyrocketed just within the last decade or two.  Most of these ways would seem to bring people together, but they do, in fact, relieve us of the onerous burden of having to look into a person’s face and see a reaction when we speak our minds.  In this age, we are connected with more people than ever before.  In this age, we foster shallower relationships than ever before.  The two go together to some extent.  In truth, anyone who maintains a great number of friendships isn’t going to have the time or emotional energy to have a deep relationship with all of them.  In fact, more relationships usually translates to fewer deep relationships, with those few even being shallower than otherwise.  More than that, though, we’ve added barriers to prevent depth, for the sake of our comfort.

I was cruising at a high point on a Los Angeles freeway today with a coworker whom I believe to be a eugenicist.  I can’t nail him down on the subject, because he also happens to be a postmodernist, which means that he can wriggle out of any tight argument by changing what he claims to be on any given day.  I gestured at the broad urban skyline, with that sprawling metropolis before us, and I told him that, taken as a whole, humanity seems quite expendable.  With billions of people on this globe, each one seems easily replaced.  Taken individually, though, it becomes a very different matter.  Name any person you know, and that person becomes absolutely irreplaceable.  He tried to convince me that people are exactly like ants.  I agreed with him, for the sake of argument, that the society was very much like a colony of ants working together.  However, when you take a single ant and compare it with any single human, there’s really no comparison.  If the entire city of Los Angeles were wiped from the face of the earth, I doubt that many people would mourn greatly for the loss of this place.  What they would regret is the loss of individuals.  A city is nothing.  A person, even, would be nothing, except for the fact that there can never be a replacement for the specific people that you know.

Social proximity makes all of the difference.  If Mr. Coffee is just the stage name of some guy who advertises percolators, then his death might make the news, even make people pause for a couple of seconds, but few people will cry over it.  No one would be devastated by it.  However, if Mr. Coffee happens to be your father, then things are going to get messy really fast.  A new spokesman can easily be found.  A new father can never replace the old one, not by a long shot.  Social proximity determines replaceability, which determines how quick we are to discard a relationship, or even a person’s life, when that relationship or person falls into the category of things we would call broken.  On a lighter level, it means that in this age we do nothing to fix broken relationships.  If a friend doesn’t please us anymore, then we simply “unfriend” that person and move on.  New and exciting relationships are always waiting for us, just a click away.  People are disposable.  Friendships are more unlikely than ever to get fixed, when broken.

On a darker level, people who do not suit us are also quite replaceable in a physical sense, and that’s where things get really hairy.  We’ve seen it before, in the Nazi holocaust.  The next holocaust is a little bit closer, because society is a little more loosely connected.  The value of a human drops when no one gets close enough to know the individual as a unique and irreplaceable item.  As we more easily drop the inconvenient relationships from our lives, we more easily drop the inconvenient people from life on earth.  The next holocaust will be welcomed by people who don’t care much for the anthill, because, when it really comes down to it, they never really invested the time and trouble to know the ants.  When Mr. Coffee is so easily replaced by another cheap appliance or person (depending on what he is), he is more frequently buried in a landfill/cemetery, rather than spared.

Ah, but that’s the next holocaust.  The holocaust that’s going on today also follows the same principle.  If it’s still unseen in the womb, then killing it is just an abortion.  If it has left the womb and we can see it, then killing the thing is murder, deserving of harsh punishment.  The reason is simply that once we have seen it and done some face time, it ceases to be merely a baby and begins quite swiftly to become a Johnny or a Jennifer.  To see and interact personally is to develop a relationship.  The closer we get, the more human it becomes, until it seems less like the member of a species and becomes, rather, its own species entirely.  A pack of wild dogs is just a menace, but your dog, Rover, is a family member.

The further apart we drift, the closer we get to killing each other.

Every good Christian wants a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Simply put, we want to be something better than just another unit of this anthill.  We want to be something irreplaceable to the one who made us.  The fact is, we always were, and we always will be.  We already have that kind of significance to our omniscient creator.  The only variable is in whether or not we seek to reciprocate that relationship.  The less we know and appreciate God, the quicker we are to kill him.  In this is the key to our own salvation, for we cannot ever really kill God.  The more shallow the relationship, the more likely we are to put him out of our lives when convenience doesn’t suit.  We attempt to kill God by removing him from our world, and those who try generally succeed.  Such is Hell.

So, here I am, waiting for that KSD301 thermostat, so I can finally fix the church’s other coffee maker.  Hopefully, I can resist the urge to make a several-gallon pot of coffee, just for myself, simply because I can.  The next time someone asks me why I bother, I’m going to say that I really love my coffee, but I’m going to explain that I believe in fixing things when reasonably possible, rather than discarding them.  In an age where even people are swiftly becoming disposable, I find myself reacting to this trend by doing little things to repair rather than replace.

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To Them Who Did Not Turn the Other Cheek (everyone)

1 07 2011

Jesus was a peculiar individual, to say the least.  We thought that merely abstaining from sex with another man’s wife was sufficient for a sinless life, but he told us that we could not even give her a hidden, much enjoyed, sideways glance.  We could understand that much if we really strained ourselves.  Not leering at a woman was something of an extreme measure along the lines of avoiding sex with her.  Yes, but, when he said that we would be better off plucking out our eyes than let them cause us to sin, well, we thought that was just hyperbole.  What part of your body causes you to sin?  Get your knife.  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  A Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ…but not that close.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, an act that will lose its sting much like the sinking of the Lusitania, Christians from both sides of the aisle took opposing views on how to respond.  On the left, we had people saying that we should practice the teachings of Christ and turn the other cheek, meaning that we should be passive and do nothing.  Those on the right said that Christ’s teachings in this were meant on a personal level, not a national one, and that if we did nothing, then we were just inviting more attacks.  Neither side really applied Christ’s message to the situation.  More importantly, though, the leftist response underscores a serious problem in modern Christian understanding of this passage, and the conservative response and their failure to hit this misunderstanding head-on seems to indicate that they don’t generally understand it much, either.

According to Christ, when someone hits your cheek, you ought to offer him the other cheek to hit, also.  When someone steals your coat, you give him the shirt off your back (ladies, don’t do this, exactly).  Turning the other cheek is not passive.  He didn’t say to hug your knees and cry.  What he said is, essentially, that you should invite the other person to do it again.  Now, we’ll work with the understanding that Ezekiel told us that we are responsible, at least to some extent, for the sins of our neighbors.  We can say it would, in this case, refer to fellow members of the family of God, but there is, at least, the expectation that we should warn another person of their sin, if we see it.  Christ’s view of sin is simply that we should do everything in our power to prevent even the tiniest, most subtly discernible sin.  By inviting a second strike, or a second theft, the initial impression is that we’re encouraging a second act of sin from the other person.  This is not the case.  The fact is, simply, that a man cannot steal what has been freely given to him.  If you invite the other person to slap you hard in the face, then you have not been wronged, really, when the other person takes you up on your offer.  Fundamentally, when you make the offer that the other person offend you again, you actually absolve them of that sin.  It’s the evasion of sin taken to an extreme.  Not only do we need to do everything in our power to avoid committing sin ourselves, but we ought to do what we can for others, also.

I have only seen this sort of thing happen once.  My parents caught an illegal immigrant in their storage room, stealing clothing.  What was their response?  They helped her steal more.  I’m sure she was baffled.  The moment she realized that she was welcomed to take it, her conscience was cleared.  The guilt was gone and over with.  If they had pretended not to notice, then she would have walked away a thief.  She would have thought herself a thief, and, for all practical purposes, she would have been right.  She could not take up an offer that was never made.  It’s not a gift until someone actually gives it.  Until then, it’s just another theft.  Turning the other cheek can not ever be a passive act.  It never will be.

In the matter of a literal strike to the face, or anywhere else, the Christian will likely either find himself fighting back, or, simply, keeling over in tears.  The offender will then walk away satisfied, or continue offending.  Either response by the Christian is an unchristian response, unfortunately.  To take Christ’s teaching to heart means that when I finish crying my eyes out, I’ve actually got to find that jerk and ask him if he would like to hit me some more.  He needs to know that he took nothing from me that I didn’t willingly give.

Ouch.  You’re welcome.

It reminds one of a time when Jesus told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have everlasting life.  Oh, it’s such a cliché, now, but then it sounded like pure craziness.  Naturally, people turned away in droves, shaking their heads and mumbling about the crazy rabbi.  It sounded crazy for a person to cut off his own hand to prevent sin.  It sounded like unproductive madness to give someone permission to strike back.

Hit me, please.  No, really, if it makes you feel better, then do it again.

Passivity is much easier, but it doesn’t really accomplish the purpose of preventing sin, aggressively and fanatically.  Doing nothing about it not only is unpleasant, but it doesn’t really even earn you any points in Heaven.  You get to suffer, and it doesn’t even count for anything.  Now when it comes to the matter of one who goes about killing others, the underlying principle is still the same: prevent sin fanatically.  Stop that killer from killing again.  The other man’s cheek is not yours to offer.  Stop that sin.  Make the beating stop.

Nothing in the Christian doctrine is so well-versed, frequently said, and, amazingly, so rarely followed.  We could even go so far as to say that if you won’t turn the other cheek, and if that aversion causes you to sin, then perhaps we should get out the knife and eliminate that part of the body.  Indeed, Christ promised his followers quite a bit of suffering.

No, we don’t mean it, really.  When we fail, repeatedly, to turn the other cheek, we aren’t really going to cut our cheeks off.  When we get hit, we aren’t going to find the person on the following day and offer our faces as punching bags for a second round, in order to make a point that the first round was also our gift to him.  No, what we’re going to do is hug our knees and cry like a baby…or, we could seek him out and beat him to a pulp, which feels much better and actually does something toward preventing recurrence.  We’re going to hold our neighbor to his sins and hope he burns forever for it.  Then, at the end of it all, we’re going to hope to God that he doesn’t do the same to us, because he’s already said that he will forgive us as we forgive others.

When it comes to the teachings of Christ, we generally accept as much as we can, rationalize the rest, and then fail even to perform what little we can accept of it.  We can only hope that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, because if he wasn’t then we jest when we call ourselves Christians.  This hope isn’t going to get us very far, considering that he demonstrated his meaning by giving up his life to people who wanted to kill him.  Even his earliest followers did the same.

This Christianity stuff is really intense if you’re serious about it.  This is no joke.  I’m not laughing.  I’m wringing my hands and hoping I read it wrong.