Old House Electrical Wiring
Photography by D. Plasman
I’m removing electrical wiring from the old house we’re slowing reviving back to life. It’s called “Knob and Tube” and was first introduced to American homes in the late 19th-century. What I’m pulling out was installed in 1900 when the house was birthed.
The white ceramic tubes were placed in the drilled holes of floor and ceiling joists, allowing the wire to pass through without coming into contact with the wood. As added insurance, the wire was wrapped around white ceramic knobs to accomplish the same purpose on long spans of timber.
The aluminum wire (today’s wire is cooper) was protected with asphalt-coated fabric and rubber. After 115 years, the protective covering has dried out and snaps like peanut brittle when I bend it. Bare wire next to old wood keeps fire fighters busy. Nearly 30,000 electrical fires occur every year in homes around the country; most of these are the result of old wiring that can’t handle the demands of modern appliances. (My friend, colleague, and former congregant, The Rev. Ann Kansfield—the first female and first lesbian chaplain in the New York Fire Department—no doubt, knows all about this hazard and could explain it a lot better than I just did!)
As I’ve discovered while putting a house back together, the necessary tasks are dirty and unglamorous. Grunt work, much of it. Most days, I wear a band-aid somewhere on my body, and I find reasons to rejoice when my fingernails are clean.
Oh sure, the people of HGTV make knocking down a wall look sexy. Nicole Curtiss (Rehab Addict) is nothing if not perky. And don’t tell me that Jonathan Scott’s thick hair (Property Brothers) isn’t streaked for the cameras. Tarek and Christina (Flip or Flop) annoy me to no end—and I have nothing against southern California. How do they completely tear out an old kitchen and replace it with high-end cabinets and granite countertops in a twenty-two-minute episode?
I’ve been re-visiting Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a study of Psalms 120 – 134. I first read it thirty years ago. I’m not sure why it beckoned me to pull it from our cluttered book shelf; maybe it had something to do with staying the course in spite of what is often slow progress. My dog-eared copy has markings on nearly every page. Here are a few quotes:
There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God, and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab.
Perseverance is not the result of ‘our’ determination; it is the result of God’s faithfulness. Christian discipleship is a process of . . . making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms.
I can’t claim that pulling out old electrical wire is an act of holiness. But when I return to the task, I’ll be thinking about a patient acquisition of virtue, the abundance of God, and a map of divine faithfulness. That will make it a good day!