14. Up on the Roof: We’re All in this Together

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

Winter, 2014-15

One of the final projects we worked on before we moved in was the mudroom. The entry into the cottage, it is a narrow room that was originally the front porch and enclosed in the seventies by Joe and Clara to keep the wind from whipping into the kitchen every time the door was opened.

There was a lot going on in that small room: Two sliding glass doors eight feet apart, a step up into the kitchen, a cracked concrete floor, a chimney on the far side, an electric panel that had to be hidden, and lots of old wires that came from the outside across the room to the electric panel. And a leaky ceiling. We had big plans for this small room, but those plans were essentially frozen by sudden snow melt that made us realize we could go no further on the mudroom until the leaky ceiling was fixed, which meant a new roof. Over the whole house.

In addition to expense, the problem was also the timing—it was February and we were moving in in March. A new roof in time for us to move in was impossible. So we did what we could on the mudroom — three walls and a new tile floor and new stovepipe down the chimney for a wood stove. The ceiling was just covered in insulation and the one wall that faced the entrance was left ugly and exposed. It was what everyone saw when they walked in the front door, but it couldn’t be finished until the ceiling was put up and the ceiling couldn’t be put up until the new roof was on. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that each part has to be coordinated with the whole.

Summer, 2016

It was two summers later that the roof finally was started. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that many people working together makes the project more manageable. Even the contractor husband, who likes working by himself, admitted he couldn’t do the roof by himself, even with my puny, inexperienced help. Especially with my puny, inexperienced help. 

We organized a work day and several faithful friends from our church showed up and worked hard, putting down roofing paper, measuring, cutting, and nailing shingles. That July was one of the rainiest months on record, but we only had to scurry off the roof once, and mostly the cloudy days were a blessing. Anyone who has ever worked on a roofing project knows that temperature is ten times magnified up on the roof.

We had rented the dumpster for two weeks, and that was the timetable. The project was costing enough without having to add any extra fees. And with help from our friends we finished it in plenty of time. I am reminded of the Amish who band together and build houses and barns for their neighbors in need, knowing that one day they will be in need and those same neighbors will be there for them.

In his novel Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry calls those friends and neighbors your membership. He writes,

 “…The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had the need the others, or enough of them, would come…”

This is what true membership in a community is about. Oh, we try to legitimize it in groups with dues, membership cards, meetings, but true membership has none of those formal rituals. There is no settling or keeping track of what is owed, at least, not out loud. You go because you are needed, sometimes without being asked, because you know that those same people will do the same for you in your time. It is what we all long for, isn’t it?

To know and be known; to accept and be accepted; to love and be loved. It is the human condition, the human need, and I worry that in our modern technological lives it has gone missing. The devices we hold in our hands or on our laps substitute as our membership in community, and how will that affect the generations to come?


The church has been provided by God to help us be a community and extend community to others. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 as he writes to them about the church as the body of Christ, he says, “…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

If I were honest, I don’t like the idea of official church membership. It seems too much like a club that one can join and leave on a whim. And we all know members who don’t pull their weight, don’t come to meetings, barely pay their dues… God asks more of us than just membership; He asks for the true, pure membership that Berry writes about. In truth, I would say that God has put that longing in our hearts—the longing for pure and real love among our neighbors, of which the church is to be the archetype, the standard.

We fall so short. But when we manage, it is a beautiful thing to watch church members serve each other—by teaching, by listening, by encouraging, by offering food, by giving rides, and yes, by helping to put a roof on someone’s house. It is loving your neighbor, which Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 is the second greatest commandment. By doing the second greatest commandment, we are also doing the first—loving God with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our heart. That is why our hearts sing when we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to serve. 

That day on the roof there was work, there was talk, there was laughter, there was food shared. Hammers rang out, voices rang out, love between friends rang out, and God was pleased.


For further study, read Acts 2:42-47.

Questions for thought:

  • Have you had more than one community “membership”?
  • Who is your membership now?
  • Describe one of the most meaningful times of fellowship and service you have experienced with them? What made it so?
  • Do you think life in modern America hinders true community membership or is that just an excuse? Is it something we need to work on to change?
  • Truthfully, I’ve always wondered why western Christians don’t heed these verses in Acts. Are we so invested in our individualistic capitalistic private enterprise economy that we can’t see that this early church is Socialism? Aargh! Perish the thought! I’m being a little facetious here, but what are your thoughts about this?
  • An effect of the lockdown (on me, anyway) is not being able to enjoy my church community in the ways that we used to. Technology has been wonderful–here we are on Zoom! and I’m grateful for the new far-away pastors we’ve discovered–but I think that has played a part in my feeling far away from my church family. What are your favorite verses about Fellowship/Community?

3. Tearing Down Walls: Open the Room in your Heart

We were a bit hesitant to tear out walls.

Dusty, everyone said.

Old Plaster, the contractor husband said.

What will we do with it? I said.

I was a bit hesitant to write on this topic of walls. So metaphorical, walls are — especially tearing them down…. I could wax poetic, except I’m an unexceptional poet. I could philosophize, except I’m an unexceptional philosopher. I could spout theology, except I’m an unexceptional theologian. And yes, I’m an unexceptional photographer too — it’s particularly difficult to take pictures of walls that aren’t there any longer.

The Oxford American Dictionary tells me that the word wall is from the Old English word weall — a vertical structure, usually solid, that defines and sometimes protects an area. In fact, if walls divide and separate us, we could discuss the new trend in houses that opens up kitchens to the living areas of a house. So do we want an undefined and unprotected kitchen? Yes.

I have read Jane Powell’s “Bungalow Books” extensively. Her humor,  her authenticity, and her strict ideas against “remodeling” feed my soul. Don’t do damage to your old house, she says. If you keep to its period, no one will hate you in fifty years. No one will have to rip out the trendy 4×8 sheets of fake paneling that you have carefully installed in the family room. I especially liked Bungalow Kitchens, and yes, I read Bungalow Bathrooms too. I renewed them both until the library wouldn’t let me keep them any longer. Powell says, Never under any circumstances should one listen to an architect who suggests changing your bungalow to an “open plan.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close…) Two points are especially important here: 

1. We don’t, technically, live in a bungalow Although it was built around the time of many bungalows, and it might fit the definition, as in being one story and a modest, affordable dwelling, the cottage has no architectural presence. There’s nothing that makes it stand out except the clipped gables. There’s no beautiful woodwork; no lovely front porch with the classic bungalow pillars; no charming little windows, stained glass or otherwise… My father put it succinctly — that house growed like Topsy…(from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe). The closest the cottage gets to architectural charm is a couple of nice built-in cupboards and a big brick chimney, all of which we are taking great pains to keep.

2. We didn’t hire an architect No, we didn’t. My sister and her husband were the closest to architects that we could find for free (she’s an interior designer and he used to do the windows for Gimbels in downtown Pittsburgh) and they said, “Oh, take out this wall. Yes, take it down.”

The most important thing to do before tearing down a wall is to determine if the wall is structurally necessary.  The contractor husband is an expert on whether walls are structurally necessary, so he climbed up into the attic above our bathroom, dodged cobwebs and spiders, and checked out which way the joists and rafters run. It turned out to be safe to tear down the walls. Full speed ahead: open up the room; let in the light; make the rooms bigger; invite everyone into the kitchen.


Walls are human made things. The only thing that I can think of,  in the natural world — in God’s creation — that might be a prototype for a wall would be mountain cliffs. Walls were made to define, to protect, to separate, to divide…. (That’s not to say I’m totally against walls — walls around a bathroom are a fine idea) but mostly God wants the walls around us gone.

It’s scary taking down walls. What if you take a support wall down and the structure starts to crumble? What if you expose what’s underneath? Let me tell you, it’s guaranteed to be messy and ugly; it’s also guaranteed to be hard work; and there will be surprises. So why even try?  

Because when that wall is down, it opens up the room that is your heart; it makes the room bigger; it lets light into your life; it allows for true relationships, both with people and with God.  We all have walls around us —  some are wallpapered nicely to conceal the cracks, nicks, and holes that would show if it weren’t for that expensive wallpaper we bought to cover them. And it took years to get that wallpaper fixed on right, didn’t it? We’ve all got our own cracks, chips, and gaping holes that we keep covered at most any cost. But God knows what they are. If we allow it, he will work on us until we admit that yes, the damaged wall needs to be taken down. Exposing what is underneath is scary — it’s been covered for so long, we barely know what is there; but once it is gone, the light — God’s light — exposes it for what it was: sin. 

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

This might bear repeating: If we walk in the light, if we follow after Christ, we will have true fellowship with one another. If we tear down the walls that keep us bound in our own prisons, if we tear down the walls that keep us in darkness and the light flows in, we have true fellowship  — with one another and with God.

Jesus Himself said He was the light of the world. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

Why would we not tear down the walls that confine us and follow the light of the world?


For further study,  read about living as Children of Light in Ephesians 4:17-32 and Ephesians 5:8-14.

Questions for thought:

  • What walls do you have around you that prevent true fellowship with other people? Shyness, Pride, Arrogance, Selfishness, Busy-ness, Lack of self-confidence, Fear, Money, Not enough money…It also occurs to me that (in the light of the first essay) these are all idols that we allow to be more important than God.
  • The quarantine and lock-downs we are facing with Covid-19 have now lasted longer than a year. It seems to me that the lack of gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ has allowed us to hide behind our walls–and this in the name of public good. The introvert in me is finding it more and more difficult to go out into the world; frankly it has allowed me to hide behind my walls. Do you think this will damage Christ’s Church? Our witness to others? Our love toward each other?
  • We just added a giant south-facing window to the final room we are re-doing, and now that the light streams in, I can clearly see the dirt in the room. I love this metaphor for the light of Christ exposing our sins. Any thoughts?
  • When we walk as Children of Light, we set an example to those unbelievers who still walk in darkness. The struggle is how much of the world can we let in, and still be living as the light-filled children God wants us to be…
  • Write a prayer to God asking Him to help you tear down your walls and let in His light.

 

 

Jane Powell’s books include Bungalow Kitchens; Bungalow Bathrooms; Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home;   Bungalow Details: Exterior; and Bungalow Details: Interior all published by Gibb Smith Publishers.