Horses Don’t Use Litter Boxes!

In 1900, New York city “had about 175,000 horses.” There are no litter boxes for horses, which produce “up to thirty-five pounds of manure and a quart of urine a day.” If you do the math, this means that there was 6 million fresh pounds of manure and 44,000 gallons of urine in the streets each day. To deal with this open sewer, multiple jobs became necessary:

“Sanitation workers patrolled the streets in wagons (horse-drawn), armed with rakes and shovels. Unable to bury the waste fast enough in landfills, they piled manure in vacant lots across the city. Often manure piles rose to a height of forty, even fifty, feet. … Fashionable ladies in long dresses had to wade through the sticky goo or hire a “crossing sweeper” for a few pennies to clear a path.” [1]Albert Marrin, Black Gold : The Story of Oil in Our Lives (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

New York FilthWhen a horse died, you couldn’t call a tow truck. “Since a dead horse was heavy (about 1,300 pounds) and difficult to move, sanitation workers left it to rot away, then carted off the bones. For example, in 1880, an average year, workers removed some 15,000 horse carcasses.” [2]Ibid.

Dead Horse

Shoo Fly Shoo!

If you have spent time at a garbage dump or in a developing country you can foresee how the heat of summer made these problems worse:

“Warm weather brought flies; in the 1890s an estimated three billion of them bred each day in horse manure in New York City. Manure piles, alive with wriggling white maggots, seemed to move on their own…Dry weather turned manure into brown dust, fine as talcum powder. Wind blew the dust onto people’s food and into their eyes, noses, and mouths. New York’s health department blamed this ‘street dust’ for 20,000 deaths in the city each year.” [3]Ibid.

Gasoline – The Fountain of Eternal Youth?

So when the car came along, “some could barely contain their joy at the change. God bless gasoline! One writer praised it in flowery words, calling it ‘the juice of the fountain of eternal youth. . .. It is health. It is comfort.'” The introduction of the automobile also created tremendous opportunities for wealth-generation (unless you were a blacksmith who made horseshoes).

“Everyone seemed a winner in the automobilification of America. High-wage jobs were created for union workers in the auto industry. Numerous corporations made money building cars and supplying parts and raw materials to the automotive industry. Shopping center developers loved the automobiles that carried customers to their malls. Home builders and the trade unions wanted to build new homes on vacant lands. Farmers loved the automobiles that made their farmlands close to the city more valuable. Millions found jobs servicing and repairing cars. Thousands of jobs were created building and maintaining roads and highways.” [4]William H. Davidow, Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet (Harrison, N.Y.: Delphinium Books).

Horse Pulling CarThe automobile seemed like a gift from God! Fresh manna instead of manure!

We Shape our Tools, Then Our Tools Shape Us:

But technology always brings both good and bad. Neil Postman put it this way: “Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.” [5]Neil Postman, “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”, University of Waterloo–five-things.html … Continue reading With regard to cars, it is easy to see some of the powerful ideas embedded in this technology. Here are three:

  1. The dismantling of the geographically rooted extended family: Although he wasn’t talking about cars, Sigmund Freud described the problem well: “If there had been no railway to conquer distance, my child would never have left town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice.” [6]Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), 38. Also consider that “as late as 1815, few people traveled more than a mile from where they lived to the place they worked.” [7]Davidow, 170.
  2. The destruction of transition time: In the past, travel meant spending time transitioning from one thing to the next. A comedian named C. K. Louis reminds us that we shouldn’t complain about flight delays! Instead, we should marvel that we can get from New York to California in 5 hours. He goes on: “That used to take 30 years to do that and a bunch of you would die on the way there and have a baby. You’d be with a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now you watch a movie you take a dump and you’re home.” [8]C. K. Louis, “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”, available from:
  3. The substitution of reflection with reflex: Cars speed up the pace of modern life in unprecedented ways. “If you are driving a car at 150 kilometers an hour and you think you’ll have an accident.” So to keep up, we have “to live more and more quickly. Inner reflection is replaced by reflex. Reflection means that, after I have undergone an experience, I think about that experience. In the case of a reflex you know immediately what you must do in a certain situation. Without thinking. Technology requires us no longer to think about the things.” [9]Jacques Elull, The Betrayal of Technology, Interview by Jan van Boeckel and Karin van der Molen, available from: (1992, ReRun Productions).

Sabbath Skid Marks!

It is a massive understatement to say that we take cars for granted. “Canadians spend an average of 32 working days per year – over a month! – driving in vehicles to or from work. (This excludes all other driving).” [10]Arthur Boers, “Too Busy to Be Faithful,” Faith Today, September-October (2014), 31. Modern society moves fast, and we need to learn to slow down! Besides practicing a regular Sabbath day, we also need smaller Sabbath moments. We can find these in the “time between the times.”

Skid marks

The Christian “Monastics have a practice they call statio that means, simply, stopping one thing before beginning another. Rather than rushing from one task to the next, pause for a moment and recognize the time between times. Before dialing the phone, pause and think about the conversation and the person on the other end. After reading from a book, pause and think back through what you learned and how you were moved. After watching a television show, pause and ask for a spirit of attention. Do this often enough and even mechanical acts become conscious, mindful. I find that if I take time to pray for the recipient before beginning to compose a letter or before making a phone call, it makes the task less of a chore and more of an opportunity in which to receive or express God’s grace.” [11]Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 168.

What about you? Do you have other ideas for how modern people can make Sabbath skid marks?


Recommended Book:

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When Cars Replaced Horses: A Case for Sabbath Skid Marks


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