Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Simple Glass of Water

A boy and his pagers. Ready to go to work, mid-90s Some friends were complaining about chlorine in their water the other day. I sympathize. No one likes that taste or smell. The state of Washington has these standards that public drinking water must meet, you see. If your water comes to you from one of the major island water systems it has to be tested daily for levels of chlorine as well as a lot of other things, especially organisms such as e. coli or cryptosporidium. Some bacteria are dangerous to everyone, and some are not so dangerous to a healthy person but are life-threatening to someone with a compromised immune system – people undergoing chemo, or people who are HIV-positive, for example. If a system’s water does not test up to the required standards, everyone in the system is sent a letter telling them that the water is potentially dangerous. You might be asked to boil water. The Washington water quality folks are trying to avoid mass illness and death. It’s a modest enough goal. I know all this from being married to a guy who devoted over thirty years of his life to providing safe drinking water on Vashon Island. Rick worked on most of the large water systems (Heights Water, Water District 19, Maury Mutual, Dockton Water) and on a lot of the tiny little creek and spring-fed systems on the island. He started in 1974, working for Mr. Mukai at VIPCO. As an employee of VIPCO, Rick repaired and installed a lot of pipe on Vashon Island. He worked on both septic and drainfield systems as well as developing springs. He decided that he preferred working on drinking water instead of waste water, and for a few years after he left VIPCO he worked independently developing and repairing little water systems. In the late 90s he worked as an underground utilities locator. It turned out that a lot of the water pipes he located on the island he had installed years before. It would be nice if utilities had planned from the beginning to put all utilities in the same trench underground, but they didn’t. When someone wanted to throw a utility in the ground, they threw it in all higgledy-piggledy, resulting in an underground maze that makes digging a new hole or trench without hitting a buried utility almost impossible. This is why you see all those signs saying, “Call before you dig.” This is why there are utility locators. Consider the major Comcast outage a couple of weeks ago when a major fiber optic trunk was dug up in the South Lake Union neighborhood. That, my friends, was a locating failure. Either it was marked wrong, or the mark was ignored. When Rick was locating he learned how to dowse. Some of you may laugh, but dowsing is something that people who work digging up the ground use. They don’t talk about it much. Dowsing is not the first technique they use to find utilities. There are fancy-schmancy locating machines that can send an electronic signal through pipes so that you can trace their route through the ground. Unfortunately for a few decades the new pipe being put in was not metal, but PVC plastic, which does not carry a signal. When there is no signal to track and there are no other clues, it’s time to get out the dowsing rod. Rick spent the last few years of his working life at Water District 19, doing daily water testing, repairing leaks, replacing meters, reading meters, doing locating, and, yes, adding chlorine to the water. When you want to have a simple glass of water, consider all the men and women who are out in all weathers at all hours testing, monitoring, sanitizing, and repairing your water system, and staying up all night with generators during power outages to keep the pumps going and the water running. We tend to think that we have a God-given right to water, and it should be free. If we could go down to the creek and drink the water without getting a galloping case of gastroenteritis, that might be true. That is not how it works. Water is treated and monitored so that you don’t get a deadly bug, or a really annoying one, like giardia. People have to take classes and get certified to do water work, and that’s one reason why you get a water bill. If you have your own system or well, you have to maintain it so that you don’t poison yourself or other system users, and that requires time and money. Nope, water is not free. I haven’t even mentioned cross contamination, when water goes into a connection and then flows back out into the system, perhaps bringing something nasty along. That is something water workers prevent so you don’t even have to think about it. Pretty cool, huh? Thank a water worker today, and pay your water bill cheerfully. People all over the world die from bad water every day, but you and your family won’t. P.S.: If you don’t like the chlorine in your water, put your drinking water in a jug or other container, preferably glass, and let it stand overnight. The chlorine will “gas off.” You can sweeten your water further by running it through a filter – Pur and Brita brands come to mind.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Someone dear to me has discovered atheism as the explanation that makes the most sense out of the world and human behavior. I love and respect my atheist and I love that he is thinking deeply. What he has to say about what he is learning challenges me and makes me think about my own faith walk. It has made for an interesting Lent. Perhaps you are wondering if I, as a Christian, am worried about his immortal soul. Well, no. My faith in God is not a form of fire insurance. My faith says that people have to ripen in God’s time, not mine. My faith says that God takes people as they are. My faith also tells me to do the same: take people as they are, where they are, with love and respect, and without judgment. This is only one of the reasons that being a Christian is really hard. Atheists believe that man invented God, not the other way around. They cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell God. If they perceive no empirical evidence of God’s existence, it follows that there is no God. Whatever life throws at them, they can handle on their own. Given all that splendid reasoning, why do I and so many human beings persist in believing that there is something greater than ourselves? Because splendid reasoning skips lightly over the parts of reality that are invisible to the eye. Purely rational thought omits the longing of the spirit. Because I am a Christian, I shall speak of my Christian experience. I was called. Answering a call from God means you have to answer to something higher than yourself and surrender your own sweet will. In the early days of my adult conversion, almost thirty years ago now, I realized how much harder it is to be a believer than a non-believer. Knowing I was accountable made me want to cop out on my conversion, but it was too late. A Christian has to persist in believing that, all apparent evidence to the contrary, God is good and is working to turn all things to good. As a Christian I believe that Christ lived, was crucified, and rose again. How’s that for a stretch of the rational mind? I am called to stay aware that I am not the one to mete out God’s judgment. You should thank God that I am not in charge of judgment. I am called to perceive myself and others through the lens of humility. I have to work at humility. It does not come naturally to me. By nature and training I have a bad temper, am judgmental, do not think well of myself, and want everything done my way. What is humility? It is not beating yourself up. It is an honest acknowledgement of who you are. It is an unwillingness to be arrogant because you understand how vulnerable you are as a human being. It is owning responsibility for your own behavior, and minding your own business when it comes to other people’s behavior. Humility is contrary to our human nature. When we’re hurt, we feel justified in wanting to hurt back. When we feel victimized, we want to see our abusers punished, and we want everyone else to see them as the dirty dogs we think they are. Humility is counter-intuitive. I believe God asks you to acknowledge your own true worth and dignity, to own your gifts and flaws, to go and sin no more. To walk with your head up and do what you can to encourage the good in humanity, ease the pain of humanity, and contribute to the healing of the world by being your own honest, precious, beloved self. By humanity I mean: the people with whom you deal in your everyday life. Family, friends, the cashier at the grocery store. Did I mention that the faith walk is really hard? Wouldn’t it be great if all religious and all non-religious people had a common vision of good and could join together to make this world a better place? Wow. Too bad that we are too busy finding fault, trying to control other people to make ourselves comfortable, waging war, and worse, to make that happen. Well, that’s what I’m thinking at the end of Lent, and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I only have so much space here. Thanks for reading. Go in peace.