This is my shower curtain. ‘Is that packing tape across the top?’ you ask. Yes it is. ‘Is that duct tape reinforcing the shower ring holes?’ Yes it is. ‘Are you at the end of a 35 year career in teaching that would have seen you making in excess of eighty-five thousand a year had you stayed in Canada?’ Yes I am. ‘So what’s with the ratty shower curtain? You could afford to buy as many shower curtains as you could possibly use.’ Yes, but…. And thereby hangs a tale.
The tale begins, as many of my tales do, with my father. My father was a modeller. I suppose for many of you that means that he glued things together from little kits. Perhaps there might have been a kit or two in the mix, but Dad mostly built from scratch. He built boats by buying strips of wood that he would labouriously shape into hulls and decks; he built train layouts that were authentic down the finest detail, all by hand, from the ground up; he built model racing cars by having a business contacts mold synthetic rubber tyres that were the envy of the club we belonged to; the frames he built himself. That was the kind of modeller my Dad was. And beyond all this physical building, he built into me an understanding that things have value because of the time and love that a caring individual poured into them. Other kids on the block had Dads who bought them things; I pitied them. My Dad built me things, and although he never said as much – for he was a man of few words – he taught me the true value of things.
In the Sixties an entire generation eschewed the possession of things. We wanted to own nothing. We aspired to be like Thoreau on Walden Pond who saw possessions as an encumbrance. We valued relationships and sought spiritual enlightenment. We rejoiced at the oil crisis of the early 70s, for that meant that we would all to learn to do with less, and that would be a good thing. Many of us, myself included, found validation and even salvation in religious convictions, especially those that taught the intrinsic value of humankind, and cautioned against the accumulation of worldly wealth. When I married and began to raise a family, I put many of these principles into practice. We bought older houses and fixed them up, rather than buying new ones. We drove cars that were ten and fifteen years old, and kept them repaired and roadworthy long after their best-before date. We packed lunches when we travelled and ate out infrequently.
When our kids entered their teenage years, we relented for a spell, bought a new house, leased a new van, and did our best not to be an embarrassment or a stumbling block to our culturally sensitive children. But as soon as that brief period was over we went back to an older house and well-worn car and once again divested ourselves of our possessions. When this opportunity to serve God overseas came up, we didn’t balk at the thought of the things we would leave behind, for after a lifetime of eliminating possessions all that we really cared to keep – our photos, our books, and our memorabilia – could fit into a four by four storage box on Wonderland Road. Which brings us to the shower curtain.
Shower curtains have a purpose. They keep the water from the shower from getting the rest of the bathroom wet. And they provide a modicum of privacy. But they have a weakness. Because they are made of relatively thin plastic, the ring holes often tear. Should you replace the shower curtain when this happens? I think not. It is a quick and easy fix to repair the weakness and get many more months of use out of it. Is this minimal expense? Yes, of course it is, but it is also minimal inconvenience to repair it and save both the money and the cost of recycling the shower curtain. While I write this my good wife is with needle and thread altering a pair of shorts that she ‘inherited’ from another. To my mind the difference between repairing and replacing – which clearly can be extended beyond shower curtains and shorts to cars and houses and many other things – is a principle that needs to be more widely practiced.
That principle is best enunciated by the Lausanne Covenant; a statement that I have just recently been made aware of although I have followed it my entire life. It states, “Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.” That’s it; simple enough, isn’t it? But what a change it would make to our Western view of wealth if more Christian would adopt it. Perhaps in a world gone mad for things, it would be an effective way to witness of what a change Christ can make in a life. Pam and I haven’t repaired rather than replaced, borrowed rather than bought, divested rather than accumulated, just so we could live in Malaysia in our retirement years. We have done this in order that we might serve those who are less fortunate than us, and show to them the love of God for them in their need. May that God – who choose to come to earth as a helpless baby of an impoverished family of a despised race – meet your deepest human need this Christmas. And may He teach you the true value of things.