Let me tell you about my washer and dryer.
My husband and I purchased them when we moved to a new city far from our hometowns; we didn’t want to rent a unit from the complex every month. So with the small income we had budgeted for such a purpose, we drove out to a local big box appliance store and purchased—well, not the cheapest washer and dryer in the store, but close.
The washer is, to the eye, a big tin box. There is no fancy digital display. The ‘hand wash’ function consists of swamping clothes with water until they drown, agitating once, and then giving up. It rattles and wheezes and makes odd sounds. Sometimes, mid-cycle, it will make a strange groan that brings me running from another room, and then it waits another three years to make that sound again.
The dryer: same tin box. The dial broke eons ago and so now I have to roughly guess how to set the timer. A starling flew into the back of it and died before we managed to get a cap for the vent. I once accidentally dried a package of gum in there and despite my having managed to remove 99% of the gum from the inside of the machine one strange, discolored spot has persisted for six years. Once, when I had to tumble-dry thirty-two tablecloths in one night for an event (don’t ask), the dryer literally gave up in the middle and died. Wouldn’t turn on, wouldn’t move, wouldn’t anything. I rejoiced. The next day it started up like nothing ever happened and has been going in all the years since.
I go to stores sometimes and stare at the washers and dryers with their digital displays and tiny handwashing sinks embedded in the lid and cool blue lights and I yearn. I have begged mine to give up the ghost so I can give up and get a new set. Die, I whisper to them quietly, even as I perform the necessary maintenance to make sure they don’t accidentally burn our house down. Please give up.
Now here’s the funny part: we can afford to get a new set, and we don’t. We won’t.
Because they work. I mean, they wash the clothes. They dry the clothes. Nothing still smells like armpit when it comes out. Unlike other machines I’ve read about, they don’t grow mold or trap water. The little quirks are annoying but hardly fatal dealbreakers. And while I really, really, really want the shiny Samsung set instead of the gigantic white boxes I have sitting in my laundry room, and while I would really like them to be quieter, I can’t bring myself to abandon something that fundamentally works just because I want a couple of new bells and whistles.
I say this to say that sometimes the old stuff is the good stuff even when we don’t want it to be.
Go on any internet forum and you’ll read wistful, longing comments about the vacuums and refrigerators of the 1970s which went on forever and, when broken, could be fixed, unlike our cutting-edge appliances that cost nosebleeding prices and still need to be replaced every few years. I read about an old Irish cable-knit sweater recently that was a fifth-generation hand me down, so brilliant was its construction and wool. Farmers are discovering that some modern farming ‘innovations’ have caused inestimable damage to land, livestock, and communities, and that those old-fashioned methods might just have been better all along.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately regarding faith, and how we modern Christians seem to want to reinvent the wheel every five years. It’s not that new things are wrong or even bad, but I think the constant push to be ‘relevant’ and ‘fresh’ comes from a mistaken assumption that people want to be entertained, or engaged, or always encountering something novel when that’s not what people want at all. To be clear: I don’t think discussing or addressing modern issues or concerns are problematic and those discussion are often sorely needed. Rather, I’m talking about how we believe that if we don’t constantly put Jesus in a shinier package people won’t want Him. That we have to advertise and share Jesus like He’s a new HBO series. That we have to constantly be creating new content, new activities, new methods.
True story: a friend of mine, a few months ago, was going through a rough time. I didn’t know what else to do, so I sent her a card. And I don’t remember my mood at the time, but I remember feeling like a little handwritten card was so…retro. I was at work with my supervisor who had just purchased a new tablet and a pen, and I had just been to church where my pastor had literally said the words “hashtag Jesus,” and I was just thinking, I am a dying breed, I am ancient, I am officially old.
But my friend called me two days later in tears because the card meant so much. And it was a reminder to me, even a small one, that the stuff we can be so quick to dismiss as old-fashioned really does work. Really does matter.
One more thought:
My husband and I are, in a loose and prayerful sort of way, considering a new church home. We’re not in the visiting-new-churches every Sunday stage of looking, more in the exploring-in-our-free-time-while-attending-our-current-church stage, but we’re toying with the idea. It’s a baby thought. May not even happen. But, as we’ve gone through the process, I’ve thought so much about how and why I miss my old home church where I grew up.
Sentimentality, sure. Nostalgia too, probably. It did not have a flashy youth group or any playground beyond a basketball hoop in the parking lot. It was in a rural area and the preachers, while I loved them and they were faithful in the Word, were never quite my style. If you tried to take a coffee into the sanctuary it’d have been slapped out of your hand.
But it was so good because the people were good and ‘fellowship’ didn’t just mean events, it meant conversations, and caring and phone calls and friendships. And we had plain old ordinary services, and plain old ordinary Sunday School, and plain old ordinary Bible study. And it was the church that taught me to pray and study Scripture and to love God, and I miss it because it did all the good foundational things that mattered.
As I step into the new year, I want to turn back. To remain consistent in the old stuff, the good stuff. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I want to spend my time on the foundations and the well-trodden paths. Not here for nothin’ new. Not here to reinvent the wheel.
If it’s not broke, why fix it?