An indulgent dive into “My Documents” brought me to the following essay, which I began writing several years ago. Some time-defying adjustments—minus a metaphor, plus a William Davies reference—made for something I’m happy to dredge out of obscurity. Glad I’m past all of this…

Having attended 3-4 different churches in the last five years (not proudly, and depending on how you define “church”), I’ve listened to a lot of sermons by a lot of preachers. In grasping for illustrations, many have made sin 3D by reminding congregants of their irrepressible desire for new stuff. Who doesn’t want a new house, a new car? New clothes, they say.

I know I don’t speak for everybody, but I have a suspicion these illustrations may be getting a little outdated. In my life, so far, I have never wanted a new car, much less a new house. I have always wanted an old car, with nuance and character that says to passersby, “I don’t make very much money, because I work at a restaurant, because I am a writer, and also I live in the 90s.”

To the similarly trendy youth who may be currently poking around the junkyard for an old car in order to look good: a word. This is something my parents told me from the beginning. Consider your other options. Consider budgeting for a newer car. I’m afraid to say, however, that once a 22-year-old decides he wants a 17-yr-old Jeep, there’s no buts about it.

Cherokees are wonderful, especially the older models. They look great, have resilient bodies, reliable engines—they look great. Six months after its purchase, though, I had already spent more time and money trying to keep it functioning than I likely would have had I gone for, say, a 2009 Civic. Only that would have been boring.

The Heep was in fair condition when I bought it, and still in fair condition a few months later until a light on the dashboard began flashing, and the headliner began to sag, and the tires wore down, and the air conditioning broke. Then it was 99 degrees in Virginia, and the passenger seat melted onto my fiancée’s new pants (what?), and the corroded battery met an untimely death fifteen minutes before I was due up at work. “All this could have been avoided,” the mechanics told me. “If you want to keep this thing running, you have to take care of her.” By which they meant either A) “pay us money you probably do not have because ‘you are a writer’” or B) “Do It Yourself.”

I chose B. The next item on the list of Things to Fix was the drooping headliner, the ceiling fabric that had sunk so low I couldn’t see the road in my rearview. I had already tried to spray it with adhesive but the adhesive had stained the fabric, which then continued to sag, so I pinned it up with tacks, which fell out of the ceiling and landed in inopportune places throughout the vehicle. By googling I learned of a well-reputed upholsterer down the road, so I did what any of us would do. I continued googling.

I lost myself in online forums, in the virtual clutches of alleged car experts and YouTube videos by middle-aged handymen who never dreamed they too could be filmmakers. “Simple & Fast,” they said. One expert completed the task in three minutes flat. Inspired, I pulled out the toolkit my dad had prophetically gifted me in honor of adulthood and started unscrewing things. Five trips to Martin Hardware and one electric shock later, I stepped back and realized I should’ve left it to the professionals after all.

The above experience goes by many names: self-imposed expectation, a little-l law, hubris. In any case, the demand of DIY is an exceptionally personal one. Whatever you are doing—home repairs, wedding planning, even curating personal fashion—you are doing it yourself. You step out alone on the high wire, but not without spectators (if not real, then imagined).

Vanessa Friedman, critic for the New York Times, once wrote about “Fashion DIY” in a piece which commented on Gucci’s decision to make “design it yourself” products. These encourage consumers to customize their own clothes.

Before everyone gets carried away and rushes down to seize power for themselves and start decorating, it is worth pausing and acknowledging that there is a risk to all this. Not just in making a bad color choice—after all, there is a reason designers are designers and the rest of us are not […]—but in revealing your own lapses in taste or judgment.

There was a time in middle school when customizing Nikes was on everyone’s to-do list. I didn’t pick up subtlety so well as my siblings and thus went out in green suede shoes with orange accents and my initials emblazoned on the heels. To this, Vanessa says coldly, “The mistakes you make will be your own.”

In his sweeping new book Nervous States, William Davies writes about not DIY but a widespread (and rising) distrust in “experts,” such as scientists, and researchers. I might also add upholsterers and MECHANICS. The role of the expert is to describe something fundamental about reality that the rest of us can’t see. The Earth is round, the experts say, and those of us who have never flown high enough to see its curvature are expected to believe them. “The perceived arrogance of the expert or professional,” Davies explains, “…is in claiming some disembodied, dispassionate perspective, not available to the ordinary businessman, consumer, Twitter-user or crowd-member.”

Davies calls back to Enlightenment-era Thomas Hobbes who zeroed in on arrogance, which is not exclusively a quality of the expert. Describing all of us, Hobbes wrote, “They will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” Davies extrapolates, “Human beings suffer from an innate problem of excessive self-confidence, which makes trust and peaceful exchange harder to achieve.”

In the same way, the spirit of DIY defies the experts, or tries to. It’s self-empowerment but also, often, an attempt to wrest power from those who could easily do what we wish we could. The underlying motivation may be fear before pride, though maybe neither one is far from the other. We’re expected not only to defer to experts but to trust them as well, and some voice in our heads buzzes with What if they’re lying?

Regardless of your life-proficiency, it’s likely you’ve entered the auto shop warily, eyes peeled unless you personally know the mechanics, have some reason to trust them. Those of us who peer with dread under the hood of our cars know that vehicular experts could say just about anything. I don’t even know what they could say, is how much I don’t know. Excessive self-confidence, in situations like these, becomes a shell of self-defense.

Hobbes (via Davies) suggests that arrogance comes as the outpouring of a first, deeper malady—that is, vulnerability. “What makes violence inevitable, Hobbes reasoned, is not so much that certain people are strong and aggressive, but that most people are weak and fearful. If you and I are both afraid of each other, it makes sense for me to attack you, or else risk being attacked first.”

In this estimation, fear is the reason for violence. Fear, I think, is also the reason I tried to fix this very small piece of my car. It is also the reason, as a Christian, I tried to save myself, and then the rest of the world. With the rhetoric of “taking up my cross” and “building the Kingdom of God,” I exuded an excess of self-confidence borne of insecurity: “If I can’t do this, what does that say about me?” We step out alone on the high wire, because, oddly enough, we’re afraid—of what it would mean if we didn’t go, of what we would become if we leaned on someone else. Fear keeps us from asking for help when we so obviously need it; it prevents us, as Christians, from seeing ourselves as the objects of the love we claim to have in spades.

Poking the blister on my hand, which had bubbled up from the electric shock of when I tried to remove the overhead light, I admitted I did not know much about cars, or how to live on Planet Earth in general.

The car kept breaking. The next day it didn’t start. I couldn’t even identify what was wrong with it this time, but as I turned the key and nothing happened, and turned it again, a small part of me, call it ego, arrogance, whatever, gave up the ghost. At least for the time being. That was the small death of the self who thought he could do what he could not do. And that is a death from which we will all be revived by an automotive expert who really knows his stuff.