Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New wine, old wineskins

On Monday, I and three other SOOPers nailed siding on one of the Habitat for Humanity houses going up here in Carlsbad. On Tuesday, three of us (men) went with Amzie Yoder into the country near Loving and tore up an old wheelchair ramp and replaced it with something sturdier. The man in the wheelchair is dying and is a client of Vista-Care, a hospice organization. (Hospices provide services to the terminally ill and their families; SOOPers work for them quite a bit.) Today, we worked on the home of a couple, one of whom has MS and the other some condition that doesn't allow him to work. Both of the latter two homes were extremely derelict and we found ourselves nailing new lumber onto old. At yesterday's home, the floor of the veranda was so rotten the occupants were in danger of falling through. Amzie is very good at visualizing what repairs volunteers can do given the material available and the condition of the premises. I call it "meatball carpentry," a takeoff on Hawkeye's "meatball surgery" on M*A*S*H. I find it hard to resist tearing away whole portions of these homes and starting over. I don't like putting new wood over old. New wine in old wineskins?

Carlsbad people tend to tell us that this is not an attractive city, and they're right. Generally, the roadsides are depositories for beer bottles and cans, and the fences and mesquite bushes along the roads are replete with rags and papers waving in the breeze. Where we live, outside the city, you'll find a lot of abandoned RVs and vehicles littering the countryside, and the brittle brown undergrowth of the desert is not cut, probably because to do so would expose the area to the wind and increase the blowing dust, already a problem on dry, windy days.

But all around us there are great wonders to visit. Last Sunday after church and potluck, Rudy and Ruth Friesen and Agnes and I drove out to Sitting Bull Falls, where a spring feeds a curtain of water that glistens in the sun as it plunges a few hundred feet into the canyon below. The trip was wonderful, especially when we approached the rugged foothills and wound through the canyons until we reached the falls. I've already talked about visiting the Carlsbad Caverns, and nearby, we spent some time at Rattlesnake Springs and the Washington Ranch. A legend here has it that the original owner of Washington Ranch would hire Mexican workers, would pay them on payday but have other hands follow them as they left, kill them and retrieve their pay. The legend says that the numerous caves in the area served as the final resting places for these unfortunate people. This ranch is now owned by CARC (Carlsbad Association for Retarded Citizens) and Agnes suggested that we come back next year and volunteer exclusively at the ranch. It's a magnificent place.

So much to do, so little time. Truth is, there's never enough time to do what needs doing. Another truth is that people get hungry, need clothing and shelter, need love and communion every day, so providing some assistance in bringing these things to them is part of an ongoing challenge for Christians. This fact reminds us that it is probably more useful to help a person augment his/her income in order to escape poverty than it is to bring the same person a charity meal day after day. We need to witness more to governments, not only in chastisement for their neglect, but also in the form of ideas for improving the INCOME of those who are now dependent on charity. Meanwhile, Randy and Donna's house is a mess, a mass of renovations started and never finished, and no amount of lobbying government will finish that job. And so we reach for our hammers at the same time as we dream up alternatives. At least, that's what it looks like through my window today.

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