New Patches

It’s not something I see every day.  Perhaps, if I had lived a century ago it wouldn’t have seemed so unusual.

The Lovely Lady and I were headed to visit one of our favorite shops in a neighboring town when we saw the long, black slabs of treated wood lying along the railroad tracks.  It’s odd, but most of us don’t give a second thought to trains and the metal rails they travel on these days.

As we drove along the road running parallel to the tracks, we began to see yellow vehicles ahead of us.  For a moment, it appeared to be a group of school buses, but, drawing nearer, we realized the machinery was riding on the rails. 

There were four or five long pieces of equipment, each one with the same large steel wheels running along the tracks in much the same manner as a train.  These vehicles had a different purpose than carrying freight, though.

The huge creosote cross ties—the ones we had seen for several miles before—were lying under the boom arm of one of the machines.  Another one, running ahead of the boom-armed contraption, had a pneumatic device that hammered out the old, worn-out ties.  Then the new tie was maneuvered under the rails by the boom arm.  After it was set into place, another machine hammered home the spikes that held the rail to the tie underneath it.

railroadcrewThat’s not the way it used to be done.  It used to take an army of men, with crowbars, saws, and sledgehammers to do the job of these three or four machines.  Everyone had an assignment and it took all that manpower to do the job, too.

Backbreaking labor was what it was.  The rails weighed tons, the ties somewhat less.  Still, they were heavy and hard to manage.  There were always lots of dusty, scuffed pairs of boots on the ground when the railroad was undergoing maintenance.

On that recent day, as I marveled at the technology, I realized that I was seeing not one set of boots on the ground.  Each machine was operated by a single person who, undoubtedly, simply babysat the process.  The functions themselves are programmed, measured, and completed by computers and motor-driven mechanisms.

The thought hit me.  The relatively ancient technology of the railroad is being repaired and maintained by cutting edge technology.

What a dichotomy!  The old rails are relatively unchanged since the nineteenth century.  The huge steel bars are still attached to the cross-ties underneath them to maintain the correct spacing for the wheels of the heavy cars in much the same way as they have always been.

The first trans-continental railroad was completed just a few years after the first commissioner of the United States Patent Office suggested (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that we might be coming to the end of the need for new patents.  It was the mid-nineteenth century.

The technology in use is over one hundred and fifty years old!  Yet, the technology which maintains that ancient system utilizes the newest advances in human knowledge and ability.

I laughed as I considered the foolishness.


We hate change—real change, that is.  We are happy to accept changes in the way we prop up our old ways, but refuse to tolerate even the slightest suggestion of a complete reversal in direction.

The Teacher addressed our problem with incrementalism in His time on earth.

I suggested recently that He came as a disruptor.  

He came, not to change the way the game was played, but to change the game itself.

He came, not to change the way the game was played, but to change the game itself. Click To Tweet

Somehow, I think many of us would view Him in the same way as the religious folk of that day, should He come and walk among us again in our generation.  We would be just as angry at this rebel as they were.  

We might even demand His death.  Again.

You don’t sew patches of new cloth into an old coat and expect to continue wearing the old coat for many more years. (Matthew 9:15-17)

I count myself in the company of Pharisees.  Honesty leaves me no choice but to admit it.  There is certainly ample proof.

Even tonight, as that scripture was brought to mind, I considered it in the same light in which I have considered it for all of my nearly sixty years.

You don’t sew new patches into old cloth, you close up the holes with old cloth.

That is how my mind thinks.  I believe, truth be told, it is how we as humans generally think.  The problem is, it’s not what He meant at all.

It’s not what He meant.  

The epiphany is staggering for me.  Absolutely staggering.

rags-245431_640What am I doing wearing old clothes when the King has made me His son?  Why in the world would I even consider what to patch the fabric with?

Old clothes?  I’ve got the newest and best threads that are to be found—anywhere!

He makes us new!  

How in the world would He leave us doing the same old trash we did before?

How is the same filth going to come from our mouths still?

How could our relationships continue on as they were?

Change is never easy.  It isn’t comfortable.

He never said it would be.

He did promise to be with us every step of the way.  (Matthew 28:20)

Everything changes.  

New technology doesn’t need to be developed to prop up old norms.  We don’t need to come up with new ways to breathe life into old worn-out methods.

He does the breathing of new life.  He always has.

Cutting edge.  (Hebrews 4:12)  

It’s all there is.





Did I ever tell you the story of the man who cut off his little dog’s tail a little bit at a time?  He didn’t want it to hurt so much.
(W Paul Whitmore ~ American storyteller/sage ~ 1921-2006)


The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
(Henry Ellsworth ~ 1st Commissioner/U.S. Patent Office ~ 1791-1858)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “New Patches

  1. Paul, I clicked over here via the Christian Poets& Writers FB page.This is a great post!
    Our Home Group was just looking at the ‘new cloth on old garments’ parable the other night. This is an illuminating take on that process, especially these lines,
    “New technology doesn’t need to be developed to prop up old norms. We don’t need to come up with new ways to breathe life into old worn-out methods.”
    God has already breathed (and continues to breathe) new life into us. Praise His name!

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