Or“Why the Maintenance Committee Won’t Let Me Fix the Parsonage Anymore.”
On a recent weekend, my beloved wife and I spent the day rearranging furniture for the kids. The rearranging comes from having moved so often in previous years, and now we are trying to stay sane while living in the same place. So, we move stuff inside the same house. It’s easier.
We got done with the bedroom project and were ready to settle in for the evening. After all, a good Sunday starts with a decent Saturday night. Except I noticed a problem in the kids’ bathroom. Their bathtub faucet was leaking. Not a steady drip, but a pretty steady stream. Not liking to waste water for both environmental and economic reasons, I thought I’d fix it right quick. After all, it should just need to be tightened, since it’s not turning off all the way.
Here, though, are the lessons learned along the way:
1.) It would be wise to help others learn to spot problems. And to report them. My middle daughter had seen the faucet stream and did not realize it was a big deal. She did not realize that it was a problem and she did not think she needed to mention it. It is of value that anyone in leadership or plumbing be someone who can be told about problems. Otherwise, issues may simmer that you are unaware of and those can cause problems. Note how Absalom “stole the hearts of the people” in 2 Samuel 15. It was not that David would not hear the people, but people thought he would not. Be prepared: a little relationship strengthening that encourages sharing of issues can help you deal with problems in a timely fashion.
2.) Sometimes, little drips have a great deal of pressure built up behind them. In this case, the bathtub faucet was leaking because of the pressure from the hot and cold water feed pipes. (Yes, we have running water in both temperatures in Arkansas.) The apparatus that holds the two in balance and causes them to work together was not holding the pressure back. I expected a quick tightening of that structure to get the system back to where it needs to be. However, this was not the case. Consider what you see in Acts 15 with both the Jerusalem Council and Paul and Barnabas: there is more than just the minor drips of food or personnel, but underlying issues of trust and theology in these situations.Be cautious: what looks like a small issue can hide powerful pressure underneath.
3.) When I unscrewed the top portion of the faucet, I could not find the problem, so I took off the next layer. This exposed where I thought the true problem lie, and so I turned, picked up a wrench, and twisted. At this point, the inner workings of the faucet separated and sprayed across the bathtub with the full force of all the water pressure in the house behind them. From both the hot and cold water feed lines, the water is spraying the length of the bathtub, hitting the back of the tub, and splattering up to the ceiling, across to the far wall, and everywhere else it can get. The bathtub is filling because this spray is of a higher flow rate than the drain pipe can handle. The simple adjustment broke open all the pent-up pressure that sits in the pipes on an everyday basis. What was my solution? I tried to fight back against that pressure and reassemble the faucet to cut the water off.
Which absolutely worked as anyone else expected it to: every piece I got close to re-installing shot back across the room. Meanwhile, the raging waters are filling the bathtub, and my beloved is starting to bail out the bathtub with a five-gallon bucket while I keep trying to reassemble the faucet against the full pressure of the house water. That includes a few burns from the straight-hot side of the plumbing. Oh, and what did I learn about plumbers? They run pipes in a house and put cut-off valves on toilets, sinks, dishwashers, but not bathtubs. The small problem and the lightweight effort to address it only revealed a bigger issue, and an issue that the design of the house was not structured to fix lightly. Drift over to 1 Kings 12 and consider how Israel plunged into an ugly civil war and then on into idolatry because one problem, excessive corvée, exposed the greater torrents in Israelite society. Be ready: when you tinker with a small problem, you may open up a major gusher that you are unable to contain.
4.) The only way to fix this problem was to cut off the water to the entire house. Except the city of Almyra, being a booming town for water meter thieves or something, keeps the water meter box lids locked, and that’s where the whole house cut-off valve is located. The chairman of the maintenance committee is at the house by now, having been called in a panic, and he cannot get it opened either. So, he smashed the box lid with a hammer, and then we finally shut off the water. Meanwhile, we had opened every other faucet we could think of to try and reduce the water flowing into the bathtub, allowing the bucket bailouts to keep the house from flooding. Suddenly, though, it was all off. Cutting this flow allowed the reassembly of the faucet, the draining of the tub, and order to be restored within the bathroom. Go back to Acts 15, along with Acts 11, and consider what happened at those moments of major controversy in the early church. They stopped everything and addressed the issue, then went forward. Be willing: it may take a bigger effort to fix a problem than you were prepared for, but it must be addressed.
5.) The next day, though, we found a secondary problem. After getting the water back on in the house, the kitchen and other bathroom had no water pressure. Now, I know it’s a “first world problem” for the shower to only trickle or the toilet to take half-an-hour to refill after flushing, but something just was not right in the pipes. Further investigation showed that grit and rust which had built up in pipes over years had broken loose during the great pressure blow, and then had settled into individual fixtures, choking their effectiveness. Each specific fixture had to be taken apart and either cleaned or replaced. Fixing the main problem left us still dealing with other problems, problems that we did not have before. Consider Galatians 2 and how Paul and Peter had to deal with the implications of the Gospel, or Genesis 9 and the mess Noah and crew got off the boat to face.Be warned: when the first problem is over and done, the impact will hit places you did not expect and have consequences you were not ready for.
Why do I tell this story? Partly because I’m a preacher and I hate to waste a good moment: the circumstances of life are not the Word of God, but if we can find illustration of the Word in them, then that’s good, true?
Beyond that, I think this has application for us all. It may be at the personal level, the family level, or the church level. I think it is definitely present at the denominational level: for many years funding and sending missionaries and operating seminaries was the function that kept two very strong forces in balance within the SBC. Without allocating to hot and cold, these are what we would now consider the Traditionalists and the Calvinists, or perhaps the Unlimited Atonements and the Limited Atonements–now, though, that functional unity is done in many ways. We have these two streams spraying hard and the side-splatter damage is getting worse. Or, to stick with last Saturday, the tub is filling and the house is about to flood.
What are we going to do?
Some folks would like to find a way to just recap it and go back like it was. I think I have been that way, though I’ve realized that’s probably not happening.
Some folks would like to route the pipes to two separate handles and be done with it. You can mix a little C and a little T however you like, but no more “one-knob-for-all” in the SBC.
Some folks think this is a good time to just cap off one stream and call it a day. That’s how I fixed a minor sink leak, but you can’t fix the tub that way.
What is the truth is this: we need to start bailing out the tub and start considering choices that might be more work than we have ever wanted to undertake. It may be that we need to isolate those outlets of our effort that are most divisive and cut that off until we can sort it out, even if that is a painful action. It may be that the whole structure needs to shutdown while we determine and implement the best method of repair. (I’d argue we would need to keep funding to IMB missionaries, lest they lose work permits they’ll never get back. You can’t bring them stateside and assume they’ll all go back.)
Whatever we do, we’ve got to do it and do it soon. In the half-hour of chaos last week, I used more water than we typically do in a week. We’re using more effort on these issues than normal ministry, outreach, and mission use in many weeks. That is going to cost us, big time.
Truthfully, this will leave residue, but we have got to do something with it.