House Story, Chapter 14

House Scraping

I’m in the middle of a shitty job—scraping paint off a century-old house. Twenty-two hours and probably that many more before it’s done. I once thought my worst job was 45 years ago when I pulled a few thousand chickens from their wire cages so the concrete floor beneath could be scrubbed. Even though the smell isn’t as bad, scraping a house (especially one with eaves) is worse.

The folks at the city code department were “kind” when they informed me they really wanted the house painted sooner rather than later. They gave me 90 days. As a friendly reminder, they wrote it on official stationery and stuck it on my front door. It’s nice to be special!

Though I didn’t plan on it, house scraping has become my spiritual discipline this Lenten season. Some people are inclined to give up certain things during these weeks preceding Easter: alcohol, chocolate, smoking, TV, talk radio, even Facebook. Others use this time of Lent to incorporate new activities into their routines: a disciplined Bible study or just reading the Bible at all, deeper prayer or just praying at all, eating a salad every day or just having a conversation with the spinach, exercising, or supporting new causes.

For me this year, Lent is about scraping paint off wooden boards. As I’ve already said, it’s a crappy job with more than its share of physical pain, bruised knuckles, fatigue, boredom, and whining. So much whining! Eventually, though, the scraping will lead to transformation when the old gives way to the new and the house undergoes a rebirth. Like some parts of our lives we’d just as soon not disturb, this old house must be born again.

Jesus spent a lot of time talking about buried seeds springing from the earth, about dying and rising, about holding our lives loosely in order to receive that which all our striving cannot make good on. Jesus was not afraid to scrape away our culturally induced notions of the good life.

When a rich man (Luke 18) asked Jesus for advice on living forever, Jesus pointed him to the commandments and said, “Keep them.” When back came the answer, “I keep them all,” Jesus reached into his tool belt, pulled out his trusty scraper and said, “There’s just a few layers of old paint I need to remove from your life. Yes, I see it. Sell all you have and give the money to the poor. Then you’ll be ready to follow me.” Would that we all had eyes and ears to recognize where scraping is needed.

Soon enough, the house scraping will be over. I’m going to miss wearing these really cool goggles!

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

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  1. Marie Cobb March 22, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    Thanks for a great start to my day. I have scraped paint off a house and painted, with much help from friends. It was tiring but exciting to see the change.

  2. Alex Margerison March 22, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    Sending you peace and perseverance on your house journey!

  3. Sara Wilson March 22, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    I love your perspective, Dan, and I love your writing. All very true.

  4. R. Holton March 22, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    This will be a great book!

    Thank you for sharing your insights as you work on this new challenge. Your home will be filled with fascinating trials, successes and memories that will be more valuable than any final assessment price. Your story is a metaphor for everyone’s life.

  5. Ana Dunn March 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    Dan, I thoroughly enjoy your messages and lessons. I miss that weekly enrichment. I just haven’t found a church home since leaving Michigan so your lessons help fill a void.. Please say hi to Jody. Ana

  6. Nigel Appleton March 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    Dan, great to read this update. There is an international brotherhood of building code people! My particular bête noir are conservation officers who in the UK have to be consulted on any work to older property of any character. (We have a lot of that kind of property) They tend to want original features preserved even if it compromises the overall project and have no regard for the cost of their requirements. Great you managed to find a positive spiritual perspective in this trial by building code.

  7. Dennis Keefed March 22, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    That old paint, so easy to acquire. Why does it have to be so painful to remove?

  8. Marge March 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    I believe another house was scraped and painted in your past. It turned out a majestic painted lady.
    Recently I began reading “We Are Already One” Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope.
    Many passages I marked, “Dan would like this.”

  9. Russell G. Donaldson March 22, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

    Same old blend of poetry, spirituality, and common sense. Great to hear from you, Dan. I’ll also be scraping and painting next summer, God willing.

  10. Willa Brown March 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    Thanks for this Lenten story. Chuckled when I read the part about the sign posted on your door. I would think the city would be happy that you are taking steps to make this house beautiful.

  11. Dave Kidd March 23, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks for adding to the Lenten gloom by reminding me that the west side of our summer place at Bay View needs scraping and painting this summer while we are on “vacation”. This summer marks 42 years of scraping the 1877 clapboards, since we rescued this neglected baby and began the restoration. Scraping puts me in touch with the many generations of scrapers who first milled the boards and then began scraping. I try to picture those who applied what we are removing. At least what we are applying is not lead-based like what we are removing! May Easter be your target date. Dave

    P.S. This has been for us a saga of salvation. Our neighbor had toyed with the idea of buying our place before we found it. He wanted to burn it down so it wouldn’t fall on his house.
    We rescued it and saved ourselves from meaningless vacations. sermon material here…

  12. Molly Schweighofer March 23, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    Thank you, Rev. Dan. Here’s hoping we can all be transformed by scraping off a few layers of crud from our lives! (some of us definitely have more than others, you know!)

  13. Heidi Mann March 23, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    A couple summers ago, the house we rent was scraped and repainted. More than one day as the landlord’s hired “handyman” stood on his ladder outside my open upstairs office window, I heard him making up little ditties that he’d sing to himself: “This is the worst job ever … Justin is really, really bored …” Stuff like that! LOL Maybe you could make up house-scraping HYMNS, Dan! 🙂

  14. Marv Dunn March 23, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Earned my way through college painting houses, I feel your pain!

  15. Allan Martling March 23, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

    Dear Dan, Scraping is preparation for the final coat. It is the most difficult, and as you have indicated, least satisfying. But in order to have a good finish coat, you must prepare the surface first. It is more work, the final coat is fun and rewarding because you have done a good job of preparing. There is a sermon (blog) here somewhere. I’m glad you are not breathing that scraping – another blog. Grace and Peace, Allan