Victoria Atkinson White: Duct tape signals the need for innovation

Flickr / Macwagen

What items in your institution are being held together with literal or metaphorical duct tape? What brokenness are you hiding that needs to be fixed? wonders a managing director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

How many rolls of duct tape does one house need? We have eight.

Craft projects made from duct tape have risen in popularity in the last few years, particularly among the younger crowd -- hence the presence of polka-dot and chevron duct tape in my house with children. I really don’t care what the tape looks like; I simply need it to work, to hold together the broken pieces until I can get an item fixed.

Honestly, there are a few items, held together with several layers of duct tape, that I have no intention of fixing. I have even inherited a few things, like books, picture frames and containers, that have held together quite well with duct tape.

Recently, I heard someone say, “Anytime you see duct tape, there is an opportunity for innovation.”

Duct tape fixes a design flaw. Something is not functioning the way it was meant to work. Something needs to be improved or, in some cases, completely redesigned.

My eyes are now open to look around for literal and metaphorical duct tape.

I see it on the back of a church sound system, where new equipment keeps being added to accommodate all the recent music ministers’ different visions for music and worship. The church is doing its best to attract young families with dynamic worship, but when I sit toward the back of the sanctuary, the sound is crackly and garbled. Duct tape.

I see it in the trailers on the lawn of an overcrowded school. Students and teachers are crammed into the trailers the same way they are stuffed into the inadequate classrooms of the permanent building. Duct tape.

I see it in a denominational meeting where critical issues about relationships and caring for those disenfranchised in a community are tabled until the next year’s meeting. Duct tape.

Duct tape is just as versatile repairing brokenness in metaphorical circumstances as in reality. Sometimes we use duct tape, needing its strength in the short term, knowing it will ultimately make a problem worse in the long term. Other times, in our haste, we can use so much duct tape to address an issue that we cover up the design flaw and forget what lingers beneath and needs to be fixed or redesigned.

A few days after the Orlando mass shooting, I heard a news report calling for an assessment of medical centers across the United States. The reporter was criticizing a large number of centers for not being equipped to handle a mass casualty. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape.

Perhaps there are medical centers in need of upgrades and modernization. But redirecting attention away from the real issues around a shooting that killed or injured more than 100 people doesn’t prevent another mass casualty.

And yet we tolerate this over and over again for generations and generations.

Rather than redesigning or innovating within our contexts, we keep adding duct tape.

We add more equipment to the music program four times over in the hopes of reaching those who are not listening to the particular message we are broadcasting. We add trailer after trailer instead of forecasting a community’s needs and building new facilities. We bury, under the convenient decorum of Robert’s Rules of Order, the uncomfortable call to meet the needs of those among whom we are most likely to encounter the face of God. And we point to what is wrong with medical centers rather than doing the hard work of addressing gun violence, access to assault weapons, mental illness and the marginalization of those who vary from “the norm.”

Too often, we not only use too much duct tape; we abuse it.

Too often, we duct tape over our own brokenness to protect ourselves from the discomfort that accompanies finding new ways of loving God and loving our neighbors.

How many rolls of duct tape does one house need? None.

Try Scotch tape -- or something else transparent. We need to see the brokenness we work so hard to cover up, lest we forget that it is there and excuse our lack of innovation.

Or better yet, try having no tape at all. What if we lived with our brokenness long enough to become irritated and inconvenienced, and so motivated and moved to innovate and redesign that which stopped working a long time ago? What if duct tape no longer signaled the need for innovation; what if, instead, innovation signaled that there is no longer a need for duct tape?