No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” ~Matthew 9:16-17 (NRSV)
Today we all, in the comfort of the modern western world, take indoor plumbing for granted. It is so much a part of our lives that we scarcely notice it, unless there is need to call a plumber. And yet, there are ALL kinds of problems with it, which we are quite blind to most of the time. Frankly, I’m a little bothered that no one even talks about these concerns.
This is no small issue in terms of risk and cost. We need to reevaluate whether this is really necessary in our society and our homes, especially given all the problems with it. Here are just a few that I can think up off the top of my head:
1. It can clog. Sometimes that’s a minor issue, sometimes a major, expensive issue.
2. It can break. And if THAT happens, it’s always a major issue, no matter where it happens, because….
3. It’s contents are under pressure. What makes our faucets run also presents a huge problem if anything goes wrong. For minor problems, it can be shut off, but what if #2 happens?
5. It requires all sorts of other gadgets, which also add cost. Faucets, regulators, valves, water heaters, meters… look how much complexity indoor plumbing has added to our lives. Life was much simpler beforehand.
6. It is unsightly. So we either need to hide it (a pain), or let it out in the open where it can be seen (ugly). Before indoor plumbing, there were no such issues. (by the way, the same issue goes for telephones, cable TV, electricity, gas…telephone poles? Ick… Pressurized gas lines? Holy Crud!)
7. Copper thieves love it. “Nuff said.
8. It’s fed by an underground system of water lines, which is expensive to install and maintain, and a major hassle to fix: tearing up roads, digging up yards, etc. How much of our taxes over the years have gone to maintaining and upgrading this system? And how much inconvenience on roads we frequently travel? Not to mention underground lines on our own property getting tree roots, etc. and having to pay though the nose to dig up our yards and replant our grass…
9. The cost of water and sewage treatment: why can’t we all just have septic tanks? Outhouses? Surely what we did with sewage before indoor plumbing was simpler, more decentralized, and less costly. And what was wrong with well water that we have to treat all our plumbed water with all these chemicals, and all the added expense of that?
10. It has contributed to a culture of laziness and on-demand expectations. Our children would be stronger and have a greater sense of responsibility if they couldn’t just get instant clean water whenever they wanted from a faucet or public water fountain, but had to hit the well every morning and evening and carry it in like the rest of humanity has done for 5-6,000 years.
And I could go on….
Can you imagine living at a time when this would have actually been debated? Can you imagine a time when people may have opposed in outspoken fashion the installation of indoor plumbing and city water systems in their towns and houses? I don’t know if that happened, but I would be willing to bet it did, in many, many places. Given these problems and others, shouldn’t we have said “no thanks” and fought the change, not letting society run roughshod over us? Look at the price we’ve paid for this “advancement!”
I’m sure by now you can see where I’m going with this, and hopefully hear more than a little playful sarcasm. Of course, no one reading this (including me!) would be ready to give up indoor plumbing and roll the clock back 150 years. We gladly put up with these “disadvantages” for the extensive advantages it has afforded us, both personally and at a societal level. We can’t imagine a time without it. We seldom even think about it all. And those in the 2/3rds World who don’t have it envy us.
But there was a time when perhaps this change in our culture, in our houses, and in our churches, was debated and not 100% welcomed. Hindsight is 20/20, foresight is usually very nearsighted.
We as the Church in the western world are in the midst of several significant culture changes, many being driven by advancements in technology. Like any other change, some welcome it, some fight it, some don’t know what to think. Like any other change, it comes at a price, just like indoor plumbing did. And not every change is good. But for those that are, the price is worth moving forward and opening up new realms of possibility.
The church I currently pastor is going to have some decisions this year and coming years about changes and technological upgrades, some of which we know, some of which we can’t see yet. These will be changes necessary to open up new possibilities for worship and ministry, and better reach people that we right now have a harder time reaching. These changes will also change us. Not all of it will be comfortable for all of us. But nonetheless the choice will be before us.
Technology certainly comes with it’s problems. But those who have made the shift are willing to accept and navigate those problems, just like we do with indoor plumbing. And the advantages and new possibilities are impressive and exciting.
So the question we all must continually ask as the Church, and as churches, is “are we going to focus on the problems and the difficulties of change, or on the possibilities for worship and ministry that are open to us, and the changing culture we are trying to reach?”
We will be wrestling with this at the church I pastor, and I believe we’re up to the challenge. We will do so thoughtfully, not just succumbing to fads. But the time is upon us to face these changes and respond wisely and optimistically. As it is upon so many churches. Whether it be technology, new forms of worship, or new ideas for outreach and service, the only thing that does not change is the gospel we proclaim. Whatever the most effective way to do that is, in our unique contexts, that’s what our churches must pursue. And that comes at a cost.
I’m sure you join me in appreciating and relishing the advantages of indoor plumbing in our homes and our churches, and I hope you will set your sights, positively, on what the next “indoor plumbing” issue is facing your worshipping communities—not to succumb to a fad, but for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ to go forth effectively to more people. Including maybe even ourselves.