This week we have been reminded on a few occasions how much we take certain things for granted.
A few days ago, I woke up and turned on the shower, only to discover that there was no hot water. The problem, as it turned out, was our water heater, which is a home-made version, fashioned from a fifty gallon oil drum. The element and thermostat had gone bad, as it does about every 4-5 months because parts here are made in China, and apparently China doesn’t put quite as much effort into their elements and thermostats as they do into their Olympics.
And so, the morning had me scurrying around town (and smelling a bit ripe as temps in Lusaka are hovering around the mid 90’s lately), looking for the spare parts. The first place I went to had the element, but not the thermostat. So, they sent me to a place down the road that they assured me would have what I needed. When I arrived at that place, I was told they never carried that type stuff. Never had. Never will.
Then, in a moment of desperation, I contemplated breaking “Jerry’s Golden Rule of Driving in Lusaka,” which states NEVER EVER EVER, Under Any Circumstances, Go Downtown at Lunchtime On a Weekday! But, I was desperate though, and the thought of taking cold showers for the next few days (weeks?) was enough to cause me to seriously contemplate taking these very insane measures.
In a moment of clarity, I changed my mind and headed home to see if there might not be another solution. Luckily, one of our landlord’s workers was able to pilfer what I needed from some old parts in the garage.
The whole incident though made me realize how much I take showers for granted. I mean, most mornings, I wake up, stumble toward the bathroom and turn on the water, and then, while still standing, take a short nap while I wait for the water to reach a nice, even temperature. Most mornings, I don’t even think about being thankful for the ability to take a shower. I just take one, and go on about my day. But when something is just there almost every day of your life, and then suddenly it’s not there, it has a way of making you take notice.
In Zambia, there are often shortages of one thing or another. During droughts, there are shortages of maize and many become malnourished and susceptible to illness. Today, there is a shortage of petrol, and cars are lined up at local filling stations, reminiscent of the 70’s in America.
People who have mused over the recent and phenomenal growth of the church in Africa (in 1990 about 9% of the population in Africa was Christian; today about 45% are Christian!), have pointed to a variety of reasons. Some have said that Africans are inherently religious, and that Christianity provides a framework for relating to the increasing presence of Western influence on the continent. Of course, those who would say that, forget that Christianity was African long before it was Western.
Personally, I think that the reason for the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa, is because the nature of life in Africa lends itself to understanding biblical truths, far more so than the nature of life in America. Africa understands that we live in a broken down world.
In America, I think we have a very hard time living out the mandate to “fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” and understanding that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” (2 Cor. 4:18). We think that by trusting in what we can see, feel and touch, that we are demonstrating our superior intellect. We tell ourselves that to do otherwise, is to believe in magic or fairy tales.
And yet, the world around us is constantly reminding us of its temporal tendencies. Tsunamis wipe entire villages off the map in an instant. Automobile accidents claim the lives of those we love without warning. Our trusted homes, in which we invest so much time and care, are easily reduced to ruble by a tornado, hurricane, fire, or two year old. And, we have all recently been made aware that our financial security is far less secure than we would like.
A casual glance at the evening news reminds us that the world is a fragile place. Or, as Paul says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning, as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time,” (Rom. 8:22). And so, is it really a demonstration of our superior cognitive abilities that we would trust in what is clearly untrustworthy? Is it really that smart to put stock in things that “moth and rust destroy” rather than storing up for ourselves “treasures in heaven,” (Matt. 6:19-20)?
It seems that we have a hard time grasping that until some unfortunate circumstance forces us to take a cold shower, or wait hours in line for gasoline, something that just a few days we accomplished on our lunch hour, along with forty thousand other things. Until those things that we have taken for granted have suddenly and unexpectedly vanished, we seldom consider their truly fleeting nature. But when our trusted comforts and assumptions suddenly get swept away, we usually become quite willing to go running from place to place, searching for the solution to our problems, and willing to break our golden rules in the process, whatever they might be.
Remember how churches, synagogues, and mosques, were packed on the days immediately following 9/11? And, how as soon as it became clear that the threat had passed, those places of worship returned to their former state of less than overflowing?
Maybe the best thing that can happen to us, is for things to begin to break down every now and then, for the wheels to come off the cart, so that we can be reminded that there are destinations that can’t be reached with cash or credit card, that reality extends beyond the tangible, that the vast majority of the iceberg will always be hidden to those who refuse to venture from the surface.
No, there is nothing foolish about faith. In fact, most of us have more faith than we realize.
We just have it things that don’t merit it.