House Story, Chapter 11

ParisDoor1Photography by D. Plasman

Stripping paint and eliminating racism, I admit, are seemingly unrelated topics.

Recently, I bought a thick wood door with a 5-foot window in it for $45 at a local resale shop. Someday, it will serve as the entrance door to the old house we’re rehabbing. The door had several layers of white paint; stripping it off was my project a few days ago. We don’t yet have a functioning kitchen or bathroom, but sometimes a diversion is exactly what you need to get back on track.

Removing paint with liquid paint stripper is a messy and unhealthy job. If you can do it outside, by all means, do so. The chemicals eat through everything, including skin and leather boots. (I always wear rubber gloves but took them off for this selfie!)

Yesterday, I was sipping coffee at a restaurant in downtown Elkhart, IN. CNN news was on the overhead TV and the nonstop story was the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. The resulting unrest in this predominantly African-American community caused local law enforcement to act more like a military strike force than a police unit.

The gentleman sitting at the table next to mine was working at his computer. He was black with a head of grey hair. I leaned toward him, “Excuse me, mind if I ask you a question?” He nodded. “Do you think things have gotten better or worse for African-Americans in our country? ParisDoor2I have no ill feelings toward people who paint wood doors, but it’s beyond me why anyone would cover up a beautiful wood door adorned with scrolled features. I feel the same about wall-to-wall carpeting over hardwood floors. Really!!??

When stripping paint, things always look worse before things look better. Maybe this is what the world looked like—the chaos of a formless void—in Genesis 1:1. I imagine much the same could be said about a tar sands oil spill.

I’m not sure what answer I expected, but the one he gave surprised me. “Yeah, things have gotten better. I can eat anywhere I want and use any public restroom. Economically, I’m better off than my father and his father. I think 90% of any group of people are basically good and law-abiding, and 10% are bad apples and troublemakers. That’s true for whites, for blacks, for Muslims, for Jews, for Christians, too. It’s certainly true for politicians, although I’m not convinced anywhere near 90% are good. We always fixate on the problems and never on the improvements.

ParisDoor3The door isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting there as the wood grain reveals itself. Trim features, once hidden, now see the light of day. The true character, lost beneath coats of paint, has another chance at life.

It’s not as easy to scrap off human exteriors to reveal the beauty beneath. People who are closer to holiness than most of us seem to have the capacity to look deeper than the mere surface.

“My name is Kevin, by the way.” “I’m Dan,” I replied. Kevin went on to say, “I sell kitchen appliances. Every brand we sell is a good one, but not every appliance arrives at our store in perfect condition. Some come scratched or dented. Occasionally, one arrives with a malfunction of some sort. That doesn’t mean I stop believing in the appliances I sell.”

I doubt our brief exchange is going to solve the racial issues that plague our country. But that appliance salesman made me want to be a better human being and see the better human being in others.

[For previous installments of A House Story go to and pull down the CATEGORIES menu and select A House Story]  


This entry was posted in A House Story and tagged , , , , .


  1. Beth Cafagna August 20, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Your visuals brilliantly illustrate the long process of change. So wonderful to see that beautiful wood underneath the layers of paint. Al and I spent our early years of marriage (4 years before Carl was born) refinishing old furniture that was beautiful underneath. What if we could peel away the hatred that people learn and the prejudice that builds up inside our brains to reveal that we are all human, and there is something to salvage in all of us. Thank you for your persistence. Many people would have quit the rehab of the house by now, and many people have given up on improving justice and opportunity for all Americans. We always need new and improved inspiration. Missing you a lot at Edgewood! Beth

  2. Marge August 21, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Sometimes it is very difficult to see the positive goodness under a thick disfiguring facade.
    Even if I have difficulty with a few people, I remind myself that they are an adored, beloved child of God. Just like your beautiful door.

  3. Dennis Keefed August 22, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    Chemicals for stripping can be noxious. Restoration is not made without someone risking a sacrifice to make it happen. My prayers go out to those who sit down with haters, listen to their stories, and absorb the impact in order to disperse that poison. When I meet my next hater, how will I respond?