For the “washing machine” group (and the rest of us)

One of the matters from Crouch’s book that we considered on Sunday was how cultural artifacts tend to move the horizons of what is possible and what is impossible (or at least more difficult).

Crouch offered 5 questions that serve in understanding how a particular artifact fits into its broader cultural story:

1) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?

2) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?

3) What does this cultural artifact make possible?

4) What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)?

5) What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Each circle received a different cultural artifact to assess by these questions.  The artifacts were: fast food, the microwave, the cell phone, the refrigerator, the washing machine, the interstate highway system, the TV, and the internet.

I was going to read the following quote by Francis Schaeffer from an essay he wrote entitled, “Ash Heap Lives,” but I ran out of time.  Here it is – esp. for the “washing machine” group:

“Do we understand that material possessions are not necessarily good in themselves even in this life? Let me give two illustrations from our early days in Switzerland. When we first came to the villages of Switzerland, most of the women washed their clothes at the village pumps. This was not just something staged for a tourist postcard. When I saw them walking down to the village fountain, putting their hands in the cold water, and standing outside even in bad weather, my typical American reaction was, “Isn’t this a shame? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these people had washing machines.”

Gradually a different idea dawned on me — working at the fountain took up a lot of the woman’s day, but she spent the time talking with other village women, doing a necessary job; she existed in a very human setting. Was that worse than a woman in the United States or a woman in Europe today who has a great number of labor-saving devices — who pops her dirty clothes into a washer and leaves them — but who spends all her time being morose and lonely? The question is, What does she do with the time she saves? If she spends all her time just doing nothing or destroying herself and her family, wouldn’t she be better off washing at the village pump?

Also, when I first came to Europe, many women worked in the field because farm machinery was scarce. Even on the larger farms, most jobs had to be done by hand, and this was certainly true on the small Swiss farms. In those days, the work was hard. Now all the Swiss have lovely little tractors, made especially for the mountainsides. But then cutting the hay meant working the scythe by hand and loading the wagon. And I saw women out laboring with their husbands, sometimes doing the hard work of pitching the hay. I thought of all the American women who did not have to do this: “My, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Swiss women could be saved from this hard physical work?” But I have changed my mind. The women who worked with their husbands shoulder to shoulder during the day and then slept with them at night had one of the greatest riches in the world. Is anything worse than our modern affluent situation where the wife has no share in the real life of her husband?

Is it really true, then, that having increased material possessions is automatically good, even in this life? No. Of all people, Christians should know this because God’s Word teaches it. We must not get caught up in practical materialism.”


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3 Responses to For the “washing machine” group (and the rest of us)

  1. Katie Newman says:

    That is such a great portion from that book! As Scott and I have talked through this more, it does seem that so many of our labor-saving & time-saving devices have, along with blessing us to a certain degree, truly taken away a lot of the community that we can have, and a lot of the serving we can do for others.
    Our society is set up so differently than the other societies that I cannot imagine having the time to hand-wash and hang-dry my clothes (is that possible in Chicago in the winter anyway?) 🙂
    I just finished two biographies- one on Sarah Edwards (Jonathan Edwards’ wife) and one on Elizabeth Prentiss…they lived 100 and 200 years ago.
    It was amazing to me to see how their lives functioned. They actually did ‘work’, but their work was home-based. They did ‘homeschool’, but only if there was no school available for their children. They most certainly did a lot of discipleship and counseling in their homes (alongside of, and in benefit to, their husbands ministries) while they washed dishes, and raised kids, and made food.
    It was nice to see lives that were not ‘compartmentalized’. Today, I ask girls to go out to coffee; all to often we ask another couple to go out to dinner with us. I think that this is mostly effortless and selfish (reading into my own motives, and not those of others who do this!).
    We love having people in our home, but it is also a cultural norm to go out and have someone else serve us, instead of serving others and cleaning up after others. Moms meet other moms and their kids at parks to play because they don’t have village pumps at which they can fellowship and share life- and the kids certainly don’t typically have the expectations for helping mom and dad in their trades as they used to.
    I am grateful for my dishwasher, my running water, my washing machine…but I think it’s a great task to get intimately involved in others’ lives when we depend on ‘things’ (washing machines) instead of getting to live life with others (village pump) to be ‘efficient’ and ‘accomplished’ in life. (Which raises the question of what says that you’ve been efficient and accomplished a lot in your life?)
    So, please, who wants to come over for dinner?

  2. Chris McGarvey says:

    Katie, Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing. And I’d say, “We’ll come (for dinner)!”, but I think it’s our turn to ask you guys!

  3. Christina Hunter says:

    Since it’s not the McGarveys turn, we will gladly come over for dinner! Thanks for your thoughts, Katie!

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