I wrote the essay below for The Presbyterian Outlook. It was published last week. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.[hr] I tinker like an old man in the backyard shed. Relative to the rest of our home, the shed represents all that I am and all that I am not. Soon after moving into our first home on a hushed street in the shadows of downtown Columbia it was clear that while I was a co-signer on the mortgage note, my wife would be the primary resident.
My domain, it seemed, diminished with each passing month. The loose republic of three drawers in separate desks, six shelves in two different rooms, two corners in an isolated closet, and one complete den was initially under my jurisdiction. The tiny den that shrunk when my brother and best friend stopped in for a ball game was once mine. While the art on the walls was more tasteful than the Bo Jackson poster I thought matched the rug, it wasn’t custom framed like the watercolors in the grown-folks living room down the hall. In its original form the love seat was a uniform orange color upholstered in a fabric that was old enough to have gone out of style and come back in, twice. But now, only the left side matched the ottoman and the foam cushions lacked integrity.
Unknowing guests that plopped down expecting something else often remarked that the love seat reminded them of a couch in their college dorm room. To me, this was a compliment. My first flat-screen TV sat on a repurposed chest of drawers from the same epoch as the couch. I love that television for its utility but it’s more than a gadget. The experience of purchasing your first flat screen is a modern rite of passage for men equivalent to and likely better than your first kiss. It represented my advance into adulthood and was a sign that I had arrived into the promised land where your freedom to consume was only limited by your imagination.
I watched my Gamecocks beat the Gators for the first time in that den. I wrote many bad sermons and a few good ones in that den. But now it’s gone. My wife annexed it. I thought she was being nice when she suggested that we look for a new couch to replace the love seat that was now eating people alive. She even let me pick it out. The next week she said the new couch demanded a new rug. And after the rug was placed in my beloved den, she noticed that the walls needed paint. She claimed the new paint would really “pop” if we changed the art on the wall and purchased new curtains, so we did. In one month I was hoodwinked and her hostile land-grab was complete. We still share a mailing address and my name is on the mortgage check the bank receives each month, but the house is hers.
So now, I tinker in the shed. Inside the shed it’s ten degrees hotter than outside during the summer. A rat lives with me and I quit trying to bait him with poison when I realized he eats undesirable insects and frightens my wife. I’ve rebuilt the roof over the shed’s side porch, rewired the exterior, configured a workshop with legitimate tools, installed new interior lighting, hung cabinets, and recovered the sandy floor with crushed rock. The landlord at the main house doesn’t know this but my next project is to insulate the walls, lay cement on the floor, install windows, run plumbing, and add a heating and cooling unit. It will be like a house.
I’m the lead contractor of my shed makeover and I’m also part of a team that’s organizing a new church in downtown Columbia. Churchy folks call the bizarre coincidence of building a shed and a church at the same time, providence. But the people we try to connect with at Downtown Church, individuals and families exploring their faith, wouldn’t understand it in those terms. They would argue that it’s not so complicated that we need to ascribe it to the realm of the sacred. They’d say, the same part of me that is alive tinkering in the shed is at work tinkering in the church. While that explanation makes sense, I wonder if the metaphor can be applied to the circumstances resulting in my eviction from the main house?