This I Believe

Jeanne - Winston Salem, North Carolina
Entered on August 22, 2007

Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM, I pull into the usually packed parking lot at the Home Depot, and I can find a parking space. Though during the rest of the week America throngs into the home improvement havens of the nation, on Sundays the Christian contingent goes to church. So I sidle up to the best spot, next to the parcel pick up doors, a smug smile on my face.

As a practicing Christian, I used to feel guilty about not going to worship at the appointed time. But once I started to work on my own dilapidated house, I realized that there is a certain theology to the act of renovation.

In the 1980s, I bought a 170 year old farm house nestled into the hills above the Susquehanna River in New York.

“Raze it; take it to the ground,” said impartial observers. But even though snow fell inside the windows during the long contemplative winters, I never gave up hope that the house could be redeemed. I never realized that my own salvation would follow along with it.

Through carpentry, I was forced to develop patience and understanding.

“Measure twice, cut once” said Mark. Kleczewieski, a Polish student I worked alongside during the endless cycle of household repairs.

He was quoting his grandpa and it sounded more philosophical in Polish, with all those consonants strung together colliding like the fast splat of a nail gun, but philosophical it was. The extensive hippie carpenter contingent of the area concurred. They let me help them build their houses, making expensive mistakes on their projects before my solo attempts to redeem my own home.

Gradually, I learned that carpentry is not at all a vocational skill, but rather, a theological endeavor. I realized early in the process that it was no accident that Christ was a carpenter before he became a savior. Only one who has cut and fitted and recut and refitted boards and drywall can know the true nature of imperfection, and thus, learn forgiveness. The God I met during those quiet years of construction was one that had no great expectations of perfection for us, the two-legged creations. Why else, among all the tools of change and growth, would she have given us molding?

These days, when I am disturbed by traffic or multi-tasking or waiting in line at the post office or by horrendous war and ethnic genocide, I think of Grandpa Kleczewieski.

Measure twice, cut once.

“My daddy says measure three times, cut once,” my granddaughter pronounced one day, as I was asking her to be patient. She added that her imaginary friend Lala’s daddy tells her to measure five times before you cut. This I can believe.

I believe that our grandchildren are living in faster, more complex and desperate times than those gentle summer mornings in the Susquehanna hills. They are living in a world in which patience, understanding and forgiveness are hard to reach, but crucial to practice. It takes a lot of trial and error to build a just and peaceful world.

It takes a lot of molding.

The earth is a house I construct for all the grandchildren of this world. On Sunday mornings, when I am at risk of forgetting this, I drive down to the Home Depot and consider renovation.