Tuesday, May 05, 2009

When Friends Break Things (or, That Sickening SNAP Sound)


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Things that break seem to fall into one of 3 categories. It was badly made (defective or cheap); it was old and worn out; or the user was just stupid.
I’ve always hated borrowing things. Mostly because of this engrained obligation taught to me by my father that something should always be returned the same or better condition than when it was borrowed, regardless of which category the break falls. So a borrowed knife should be sharper; a car washed and polished; a power saw lubed and cleaned. It’s kept me from borrowing many things knowing I’d spend more time getting it in better shape than when I got it. And then if it breaks, I’d have to replace it and I still wouldn’t have the benefit of owning whatever I borrowed!
My wife and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on this subject. Probably because she doesn’t realize the hours I spend disassembling a weed-eater to clean it up, replace the cutting line and lubing it before returning it to the owner. Even something as simple as borrowing a wrench makes me jittery. I always seem to peel off the chrome finish or put a nick in it.
But when it comes to people borrowing things from me, It doesn’t bother me if it breaks in the process. My pickup has had the inside door handle snap off 3 times in the past few years, twice when someone borrowed the truck (yes, it’s true what they say about having a pickup). Hearing the story of their horror when the handle breaks off in their hand and the gyrations they experience trying to get out of the vehicle is humorous enough without me heaping on a dose of guilt.
I find the older I get, the more tolerant I’ve become when things get broken out of stupidity, probably because I’ve become so masterful at being stupid myself. I recently was given access to a friend’s home when visiting the SF Bay Area. The key was cleverly hidden in the trash. I’m convinced this was a perverted test of our friendship. “Oh sure Erich, you can stay at our house. We’ll be home late so just dig through our garbage can where we’ll hide the key”.
We arrive late in the evening. Thankfully there’s a street light shining onto my friend’s driveway. Unthankfully, there’s 3 garbage cans. Nice. The scavenging begins. To my amazement, I actually find the key with the skill of a seasoned dumpster diver. Inserting the key into the lock on the iron gate, the key turns but with a lot of resistance. Something is not right. I remove the key and find the key twisted 90 degrees. Yikes. Cleverly, I stick the key in from the inside, assuming the lock would turn easier. It turned easier only because the key was now cracked and SNAP. This is one borrowed key that will not be returned in better shape than when it was received. And since the critical part was now lodged in the lock, retrieving it to make a new one was impossible. Things got worse before they got better. Just imagine a 54 year-old attempting to climb over a wrought iron fence in the dark, in a strange neighborhood… but that’s another blog.
But the cost of a key is a bit different than a $250 custom made fishing rod. But stupidity doesn’t seem to have a sense of value. In this case the rod was mine. It was the first (and probably last) rod I have ever built, which means, I spent way too many hours in the garage smelling doping products and epoxy, meticulously wrapping thread around eyelets and constructing the cork handle. The setting was on Shasta Lake on a beautiful fall day. A couple we’ve known and loved for years were up in Redding on business (riiight, come to Redding on business. That’s like going to Hawaii for a sign convention). Anyway, for the sake of not wanting to embarrass them, I’ll give them the fictitious names of Ron and Lani. It was good to see them and an opportunity to show off the neighborhood. Rumor had it that Ron had never caught a fish before so we threw our poles in the boat and off we went.
The first clue that Ron had limited experience fishing was when I saw the handle of his fishing reel fly by my head and into the lake on his first cast. It took some convincing but Ron finally succumbed to the idea that casting might not be a problem, but retrieving the line with no handle could pose a challenge. Of course, that meant Ron would have to borrow one of my poles. Yup, you guessed it. My custom rod was now in the hands of someone who chummed the water with fishing reel parts.
As the good Lord would have it, Ron soon snagged a spotted bassand squealed with girlish delight. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating. Regardless of the gender of his squeal, the focus now was on the fish and not the pole… you know, the custom fishing pole with 100s of hours spent crafting the finest fishing instrument I’ve ever had. Not to prolong an agonizing moment, it wasn’t long, seconds actually, that the physics of a thrashing fish on a short line resulted in a distinct SNAP.
“Hmmm, looks like I’ll have to stop by the local drug store and buy you a new pole.”
Ron has a great heart, but is clueless when it comes to assessing the cost or value of a fishing pole. But aren’t we guilty of the same when we access the value of Christ’s death on the cross as something we can replace by doing something good or dropping a tip into the offering plate? Our gestures of good works are as meaningless as a drug store fishing pole. In fact, they’re insulting. In the 64th chapter in the book of Isaiah it says:

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”


When we broke our relationship with God by our sin, there was no replacing it. We became as separated from God as the two broken ends of the fishing pole in my garage. We are utterly and totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy to mend our relationship, and only the work of Christ can do that. God never intended us to replace what we broke but simply accept Christ’s forgiveness. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—“ (Ephesians 2:8).




“Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Elvina M. Hall, 1865.

1 comment:

  1. wow. i wonder who that chump was... i feel better now about putting the freezer through the garage wall with the suburban. first, cause a 454 is way to big for a 16 year old, and second, cause it didn't actually break anything. except some drywall. soooo replaceable.

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