Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Repair or Replace Conundrum

Written by: on February 6, 2020

I have become quite fond of a show on Netflix called The Repair Shop, which originally aired on the BBC in the UK. The Repair Shop exists on the property of the Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex,i where a group of craftspeople have come together to fix treasured antiques of all sorts. The idea is to overcome the modern throw away culture. In any given episode someone might bring in an heirloom clock or a piece of furniture or a toy from their (or their parent’s) childhood that has seen better days. The artisans at The Repair Shop will then go about doing full, and frankly amazing, restorations of the thing. There is something beautiful about how lovingly these craftspeople bring these things back to life and how much joy it brings their owners to see their heirlooms restored.

I wonder sometimes what our culture will leave behind for our children and grand children. I cannot see my kids passing down our Ikea hutch to their kids. Our culture excels at creating things that we can throw away and hopefully recycle. Throwing things away is easy, especially when a newer, better version of the same thing is three clicks and one credit card transaction away.

In transitioning away from modernism, postmodern philosophers decided that what made modernism tick was no longer of value and as such decided to throw it away. In their defense there were a lot of underlying things about modernism that were wrong. There were a lot of people being held down by philosophies built on ideas that would prop up only a chosen few. Unfortunately in the process of cleaning up the bits of culture and philosophy that were rotten they chose to throw away the whole thing all at once.

In many ways I find the paths that postmodernist have chosen superior to their corresponding modernist paths. But I find it hard to swallow the choice to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the way that many postmodernist have. When I am interviewing new developers for positions at work I always ask a question that goes something like, “given a bug in a piece of legacy code, how do you choose whether to fix the bug or scrap the code and rewrite it from scratch?” I am looking for a thought process that is circumspect enough to see that scrapping that piece of code would have effects outside of itself and an ability to weigh out the pros and cons of that decision versus the time it would take to fix it. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of postmodernism has chosen to simply scrap things without any consideration on the effects of the action.

I wonder if there is actually a happy middle between where the postmodern deconstructionist went and the Enlightenment ideals they are trying to deconstruct. Yes, there are groups who are oppressed or under represented because of the way the Enlightenment structured things. But not everything about the Enlightenment was terrible and in need of complete reconstruction. Could we find the place where, like the artisans of The Repair Shop, we deconstruct the bits that are rotten and replace them with new bits that are not rotten rather than throwing the whole thing out and starting over? The opposing sides would say no, but for the rest of us we have an opportunity to do that very thing. Will we choose to do the hard work of fixing the rotten bits or simply chuck it and start over?


i “The Repair Shop,” Wikipedia, accessed February 6, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Repair_Shop.

About the Author

Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

8 responses to “The Repair or Replace Conundrum”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Sounds like a great show Sean. Love your both/and approach. And thank you for always teaching me about the world of code.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I like your “when to fix and when to start over” interview thought process inquiry. The discernment process of this conundrum has wide applications not only in computer code but also in other realms of life. “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater” never seems to yield healthy results or a healthy foundation to build upon. Once again, thanks so much for sharing a very helpful construct in trying to understand modernists and postmodernists.

    • Sean Dean says:

      Thanks Harry. There’s a lot more to the question than what I explained in the post. There’s a lot of maturity needed to look at a problem and decide if it’s worth the cost to fix it, but also restraint to not simply throw it in the bin and start over. I learn a lot about candidates based upon their answers. I think we can learn a lot about people if we have a similar construct for whatever situation we’re in.

  3. Sean, great post. I could not help relate your repair or replace analogy with the phrase, “old is gold”. Maybe the discernment processed would be helped in looking for the gold in the old.

    • Sean Dean says:

      Wallace, I love the idea of looking for the ‘gold in the old’. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in a lot of deconstructionist thought, the idea that there might be a significant amount of gold in the old. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Sean, I loved your post, especially with the analogy of the repair or replace syndrome. Loving fix-it-up shows, I understand the fascination. Thank you for the explanation of postmodernism and how they have attempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I like your idea of fixing what’s broken it reminds me to eat the meat and throw out the bones.

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