Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Guess the Answer is

No. My daughter asked me a couple weeks ago if we could get a tree before Christmas eve this year. It's December 22 and no tree in sight yet. I've been working 16 hour days to finish projects before Christmas and get some money to make up for another 10,000.00 hit I'm taking on a big remodel. Two in one year is REALLY hard to recover from. We already refinanced the house to take up the slack for the last one. Sigh.... 25 years in business and no major problems, I guess I'm getting them all on my silver anniversary.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Capital Punishment

Some random thoughts on the recent execution...

I spent most of my formative years and adult life as a pacifist. I registered as a concientious objector during the Vietnam War and was ready to head to Canada if my lottery number came up. I was anti war, anti self defense, anti death penalty. I can't really put a finger on when my views started shifting. The concrete shift happened when I took street fighting classes at a karate studio when I ran a residential treatment center for severely disturbed boys who had inclinations toward wanton mayhem. Being beaten with a baseball bat by a 180 pound "hyperactive" (as they were called back then) kid with no concience was not an option for running an effective treatment program. It might make good classroom arm chair philosophizing about non-violence, but broken teeth and bones and 12 other kids and my wife and child in the path of blind rage are not abstracts, they are real.

So...I know that does not illumine the question of restraint versus retribution and punishment. Life in prison restrains the evil doer. But then so does death. Which biblically and according to the Fathers of the Church, death IS indeed the ultimate constraint on evil. Death is actually the blessed curse, it cuts short the days of man so he cannot wax grossly evil. Death is also referred to in our readings for the Saints during the Vigil services as a blessing: God takes the righteous early so that they will be spared the evil days to come. So the question is not "death or no death" the question is "death by whose hands"? Capital punishment was exacted under the theocracy of Judaism. Yes it was a shadow of the Gospel. But the Theocracy of Judaism is fulfilled in the Church, not the State. No one who supports capital punishment believes the Church should execute its sinners and heretics or apostates. But the State is not the Church.
The Church exists for the redemption of the human being, an agent of the Gospel of forgiveness, the giver of the sacraments, the bearer of grace to the fallen race. What the Church cannot do is undo the temporal consequences of the actions of the human being. It may forgive the sin of embezzlement, but it does not forgive the debt or pay it for the embezzler.
It forgives adultery, but it does not pay the child support of the adulterer. It forgives the negligent homicide but it does not substitutionarily give one of its members to serve the prison sentence for the drunken driver who ran over the child on the sidewalk. While the Church can affirm life, repentance and forgiveness, it cannot legislate it. "The state does not bear the sword for naught", St. Paul says to the evildoer AND to good-doer. Do good and fear not the State and its sword he advises. Of course you've all heard this before. This is nothing new under the sun.

The tension is both theological and emotional. How does a finite human being perfectly join justice and mercy? Can we legitimately call on God, and God's ordained State authority to mete out justice to the evildoer, crush those who are enemies of life, peace and goodness? Is it wrong to cry to God to send SOMEONE to punish the men of a village in Afghanistan who are repeatedly raping 12 year old orphan girls...or whatever heinous crime sticks in YOUR head. Is fire and brimstone from heaven too good for them? What about fire and a bullet from an authorized agent of the State? Should they be given time to repent? Should we let them live to find God? What about the time they've already had? How have they used it? Opportunity for repentance abounds every minute of the day. Will a few more minutes make any difference? Perhaps knowing the minutes are about to end will be more motivating to repentance than the prospect of unlimited minutes in solitary confinement. I don't know.

Is the death penalty inhuman? No, it is ultimately human. Is it ungodly? No, God required it of His people. Is it effective? Depends on how you define effectiveness. Is it a restraint on those who might do evil? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it restrain the one who has done evil. You bet, once and for all. Can he be restrained by confinement? Maybe.

But, ultimately it may not be about restraint alone. It might be more about bringing the inhumanity of humanity left without God up front and personal to the evil doer and the ones who are executing him. If balancing the books of body counts is all its about then what are we about? If its about the violation of something greater than one materialistically determined biological unit doing something to make another biological unit to cease functioning, then we have whole 'nother thing going on here. Justice is about love. We kill the killer because we know more than mere biology has been violated. Love has been violated. No love, no life. The killer exhibits no love and kills someone who is loved by someone else. "Society"...what is society? ...an amalgam of beings that join together in a community mutually respecting and affirming life: love at a primeaval level, I suppose.... society condemns and kills the ones who refuse to submit to love. What if they've learned to love? All the better, then they are prepared to meet their Lover on good terms, and if that is the case, then they are better off than we who are left behind and have to continue the struggle to repent and prepare to meet our God.

Can someone be about grace, love and repentance and still believe in the death penalty. I think so. I am. I pray Tookie Williams or whatever his name was, repented and is forgiven. I even think "society" can forgive him and still take his life, because God would have sooner or later anyway whether he was ready or not... and perhaps this is merely the way God decides to do it by ordaining civil authority to carry the sword.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Kellogg Promises Healthier Pop Tarts

WHAT TH....!!!!?????
Healthier POP TARTS???!!!!
What next? Non-Genetically Altered Strawberry Pop Tarts? No Additive Portobello Mushroom Pop Tarts? Tofu Pop Tarts? Free Range Chicken Pop Tarts?
What marketing idiot thought of "healthier Pop Tarts"?

LEAVE MY POP TARTS ALONE, DAMMIT! If I want a healthy breakfast I'll eat a Snickers with my Doctor Pepper, thank you.... What'll they think of next? Healthy Frosted Flakes? Healthy Cap'n Crunch? You would really consider taking people's childhoods away from them??

Look Kellogg: if I want to eat healthy, I'll buy Krispy Kremes, they have the corner on the market on healthy breakfast foods, OK. Natural flour, natural butter, natural sugar frosting, natural lard. But I don't buy Krispy Kremes, I buy Pop Tarts. Look, fools...If you change Pop Tarts, I'll buy Little Debbie Little Chocolate Donuts instead. I know for a fact that they're just as good as Pop Tarts because that bag of of them has been sitting on the shelf for 3 and a half months now and there's not a BIT of mold on them yet. If whatever preservatives and additives you guys put in your pastries can make Pop Tarts and little chocolate donuts virtually immortal, think what it can do for MY immune system... now THAT'S healthy.

I'm Orthodox folks... and I know when I die, if they ever exhume my body a hundred years from now it will be preserved incorrupt. There will be those who will give glory to God thinking that I was a saint, but I'll be giving glory to Kelloggs because we'll both know it was the Pop Tarts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I Despise Christmas Shopping

My daughter in college noted in my blog that I'll give 60 bucks to a homeless person but my kids don't get squat from me (all good naturedly, lest anyone think she's some kind of malcontent gen-Z or whatever the hell kids are these days....). Welll...they do get squat, but not much more than that. With 4 kids in college at once I basically told them "I put myself through 17 years of college working fulltime/part time and getting scholarships etc.... and if they are really motivated and put their nose to the grindstone they too someday can have 3 degrees and 130 hours of post graduate work and hold a construction job." So we basically supply them beer money. Well, its supposed to go for an occassional rent payment, brake job or books, but it all comes down to beer really, and Ouzo.

Anyway, that's not what this blog post is about. Its about how I really don't get into Christmas shopping. Despise is a bit harsh. I like the giving, I just don't like the shopping.

But that's not what this is about either. Actually, I had a great time Christmas shopping last year for the first time in my life.

We usually get our tree late in the season. My daughter asked today if we can get a tree like earlier than Christmas eve this year. Heck, they were free on the sidewalk last year on Christmas Eve! But that's not the point either, really, its kind of almost it. There are never any gifts under the tree from me until the last minute. My kids always ask "When are you going Christmas shopping, Dad?" I ALWAYS tell them, "That's why Circle K is open 24 hours on Christmas eve." Well, last year I shopped for all my gifts for everyone at Circle K. I stole gobs of napkins from Circle K dispensers (the ones with the red logo on them). I bought everything they had with a Circle K logo on it... coolers, coffee cups, mugs, lighters, matches.
I wrapped everything in Circle K napkins and masking tape and put it under the tree late Christmas Eve.

Inside the coolers were the shirts, books, icons, etc. The lighter went with the new lampada for my wife's altar, and inside the car-cupholder sized coffee cup were the keys to the car we bought for my daughter in college.

I don't know what I'm going to do this Christmas. I may have to see if AM-PM has a better gift selection.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is there a beacon on my head

or what? SK hasn't called us all week. I don't know what that means, but I suspect it means she has found an easier "touch" after we set some limits on her going through the parish directory asking different people for money, or it means she's fallen off the wagon. I don't know which is really worse since both are symptoms of the same disease. Lord have mercy.

So. N. shows up at our Mission last night. She stopped in on her way home from work at the Mall.
She had called twice earlier in the week and the second time it was as if she had forgotten she'd called the first time. We gave her service times. She showed up at one of them. She asked us for prayers for two of her co-workers who got laid off earlier that week. She asked for prayers for her departed best friend who died in a tragic accident. She asked for 60 bucks for a motel room to hold her over until she got paid. In that order.

Bill says, you must have a neon sign on you somewhere. Yeah, perhaps God put it there because I need the testing. I taught the catechumen's class this morning on the Nativity fast and alms. Give to the undeserving poor, judge not, thank God, imitate Christ. What's sixty bucks to me? In the grand scheme, pocket change. I've dropped that on lunch.

What's it to God? Maybe its the warning light on my dashboard. If I don't give or can't give ungrudgingly, without judgment, gladly, without fear of condemnation, then the red warning light goes on. DANGER WILL ROBINSON!! I'll be the first to tell someone that money is the last thing on my mind as a goal in life. I make enough, more than enough to live on, and I am able to be generous to a lot of causes. But I pick most of them.

But I get picked a lot. Homeless people pick me out in crowded parking lots, in stores, on the street...they make a beeline straight for me past plenty of other people who look more like money than I do. "Hey man, I lost my job, my wife and kids are in the car hungry, I need a motel for the night, my car is out of gas and I'm on my way to...." I don't know why they pick me out. I dress like a slob, most of the time I'm in painter's pants and a t-shirt, so I don't look rich or like I have a lot of cash. But most of the time I have a couple hundred in my pocket just because.

So yeah, I think I do have a beacon on my head. Maybe God put it there, or maybe God let Satan put it there..."Hey Satan...Behold my servant Steve, he has a successful business, he serves the Church, he's generous to many ministries on My behalf..." "Ah, but is he REALLY generous? Does he give merely to You because You've blessed him? Let weirdos instead of nuns attack his wallet and he will curse You and Your undeserving paupers You claim to love so much...." "Make it so...."

I dunno. That's pretty egotistical. Of course, I'm an egoist, so sure I'd think I'm all that important. sigh....What do I know for sure? I know that God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve in this life, He has not rewarded me according to my iniquity nor recompensed me according to my sins. I am the undeserving pauper who approached God one morning after trashing my life and the lives of many around me and asked for a place to stay, a meal, a couple bucks to get home, and a kind word. I got them all. How can I but give what little God has given to me to someone who asks for no particular reason but that they have the balls to ask?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sacred Exhaustion

It occurred to me today that I'm just too busy for spiritual thoughts lately. Its like being on spiritual autopilot lately... its not that I've lost my spiritual life or that I don't think of spiritual things, or at least want to, its just that life is so overwhelmingly filled with wellll....life, I just don't have time to "spiritually" reflect on it much. Maybe that's a good thing. I have to BE spiritual on the firing line when life doesn't give me a chance to contemplate and ruminate and consider, and not just THINK about being spiritual.

It's only 9:15pm on Saturday night...I'd love to tell you about my day, the services, the nuns, the new "stray" that showed up at our Mission tonight, but I'm dead. By the way, the Hours and Divine Liturgy this morning went well. Gracias a Dios. Goodnight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Senor, ten piedad!

This coming Saturday I'll have the privilege of serving as the Reader for the first Spanish divine liturgy of the first Spanish Mission in Arizona at St.'s Peter and Paul OCA in Phoenix. I learned elementary Spanish in 5-7th grades in Taiwan.... yes, that's not a typo. Taiwan. I went to a Catholic school served by Dominican nuns from the Phillipines. So we learned Spanish from them. Of course that was 43 years ago...but I took Spanish 1 at our local community college a few years ago because I had a lot of Hispanic employees. I know mostly basic stuff and construction vocabulary. And I can read better than I can speak. Fr. Isadore was thrilled that I can read Spanish because it was going to be just him and his wife doing the service. I hope I don't embarrass him. My Hispanic employees say my accent isn't bad for a Chinese Gringo speaking "Mexican".

It occurred to me...I guess I'm Reader Cheech AND Chong. Two natures in one person....

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Who Invented 24 Hour Days?

Its not enough. Of course my clients don't really care about how I spend my days as long as THEIR project gets done. I'm supposed to spend about 8 hours a day on 5 jobs I have going at any one time lately. I'm lucky if I get 3-4 hours a day on each of them, plus travel in between and all that other stuff like eating and sleeping in between. All the jobs are getting done but it doesn't matter how much I get done, unless my body is at their house they think nothing is happening. So I do my residential work in the daytime and my commercial work at night. The commercial projects are open 24/7 and as long as when they come to the office in the morning and see something different they don't care how long I was there the night before.

So I sleep in my car while I'm driving mostly. Those little catnaps at the intersections and on the long stretches of straight freeway help a lot. Well, I gotta try to get some sleep tonight. Last night between my father in law gagging, the phone call from Mt. Athos at 3:30am and then a call from someone at 4:30am wanting to know what time liturgy at our Mission starts, I didn't get much sleep. Goodnight all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Harsh or Real?

I re-read my last post and the first part of it sounded kind of harsh. I suppose, yeah. I found out SK had called a couple of people from our Church and panhandled money from them after I had given her enough for the week last Sunday. She ran out of their money too and was hinting around about needing more because a check from her brother hadn't arrived, allegedly.

Here is where alms and reality and "wise as serpents, harmless as doves" etc. kicks in. Now, I've taken in crack whores, hired heroin addicts, drunks...my best friend was a heroin addict and alchoholic who died of an overdose. I'm no stranger to giving without judgment, turning the other cheek, giving my cloak, etc. How do you keep your spiritual integrity and also set boundaries and teach people in deep denial and the abyss of narcissism that the world doesn't revolve around their wants? I don't know. William Glasser (Reality Therapy) said it is cruel and unusual to allow people to live in illusions and unrealistic expectations of how the world really functions. It is really merciful and healing to teach people, even though it is painful in the short run, how reality works. We do it with our kids, why not adults who are in arrested development?

Anyway, yeah, I've learned to be harsh out of compassion and mercy I guess you could say.
Or at least that is the goal. So, I picked SK up for Church again this morning and took her home to the Shelter this afternoon. No cash, no cigarettes, just food and people who care about her. She went home happier than when I picked her up.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bad Company


When a drug addict (or a recovering drug addict) calls you and asks
"Where are you?" it means, "I want something and I want you to
bring it to me." Let the manipulation begin.

SK, the woman I picked up from prison, calls me yesterday at 5:00.
I just put in 3 days of 16 hours and was about to head to my night job.
"I'm in central Phoenix" I say. Oh, good she says, can you bring me some
Jack in the Box tacos, I haven't eaten all day." No, I say, I'm going to
another job in the oppostite direction of the Shelter. "Oh, OK, bye."
I give my wife a crash course on non-codependent communication with
her: This is what I can do for you. Period. If this is not adequate then
you need to find new friends... but said in a nice way and progressively
more bluntly if she doesn't seem to be getting it. For someone in her
position bad breath is better than no breath at all. We pick her up for
Church on Sundays and visit once a week if we can work it out. But she
still calls to fish for more. You can take the drugs out of people but you
can't take the person who is addicted to themselves out of the people
who used to do drugs. Dope is about narcissism in my opinion. Do you
know what the difference between a drug addict and an alchoholic is?

An alchoholic will steal from you then come and apologize and promise
to make amends.

A drug addict will steal from you then come and offer to help you find
the MF who stole your stuff.

How do I know this? Experience. About 15 years ago I wrote a story
about how I ran my construction company by God's business principles
as taught in the Parables. I'll just post it here and say goodnight, its been
a looonnggg week.

THE COMPANY OF SINNERS

It was July, 1989. The realization was more oppressive than the one hundred
ten-plus heat of Phoenix. I was going bankrupt.

I had left the ministry and started my construction company in 1983, six
years before. I began the way most small businesses do, I borrowed a
thousand dollars from my parents, hired two employees, and worked
fourteen hours a day, six, sometimes seven days a week. To keep a short
story short, by 1987 I had forty something employees. I was making a good
living, good enough to feel guilty about it, even if I did think it was God
prospering me because I committed to run my business on spiritual principles.
But not the "biblical principles" you are probably thinking of.

Early on I decided I would manage my company by grace, not law. I hired
drug addicts, alchoholics, criminals, criminals posing as ex-criminals, and
ex-criminals, the homeless, and a few "normal sinners". "Management by
the Parables" I called it: Hire the worthless and lazy and conspicuously pay
them a full day's wages for one hour's work. Lend to anyone who asks and
then forgive the debts. Hire the prodigals back seventy times seven times.
Allow the wheat and the tares to grow up together and wait for the angels
on judgment day to sort it out rather than judge myself.

Opportunities to bestow grace were never lacking. Everyone, for the most
part, realized they were treated gracefully at one time or another and
appreciated it. Management by grace was working like I had always thought
God's grace worked. Gratitude moved people where law would not or could
not. They showed their gratitude by working beyond the call of duty for me.
They "evangelized", they talked the praises of me to other construction
workers, I was the best boss they ever had, my kingdom was the best
company they ever worked for, and in spite of all their shortcomings they
did the finest work in town. And they did it without being threatened,
coerced, bribed with bonuses and incentives, or even asked. And my
construction kingdom prospered. I thought I had finally come to grasp
how it is God's grace works its mystery in the hearts of the ­unworthy and
worthless. Until July 1989. It was then that I found out I did not know grace
at all. But what I didn't know is not what you are thinking I didn't know.

Here is what I did not anticipate. After a few years under grace people
began acting like the people in the parables. They began to strangle one
another for ten dollars when they had been forgiven of two thousand. If
someone THEY deemed "worthless" got the same wages they got, they
decided it would even things up if they put in a lackadaisical four hours and
then turn in eight on their timecards. They raged at me against the
prodigals who were welcomed back with no strings attached simply
because they showed up on my doorstep. “Unfair” they’d shout. They
demanded the authority to cleanse the field and root out the tares from
the wheat. They asked for their paychecks up front then took off to the
crack houses and bars. And it was in July that I realized my crew, in a
few short months, through their deteriorating attitudes and performance
and a conspiracy of silence by default (everyone thought someone else
would tell me what was happening on the jobs), had consumed the nearly
two hundred fifty thousand dollars equity I had invested in the company.
My grace did not run out but my financial resources had. I could no
longer make a twenty thousand dollar a week payroll so I began letting
them go as I finished my contracts. I found each one of them new jobs
with other contractors. I went from fifty five employees to four in two
months. Nearly all of them told me they knew what was going on all
along and each told me how it was everyone else's fault the company
went down the tubes. No repentance, just rationalizations. The grand
experiment of management by grace had ultimately failed. Of course it
would dummy, I reasoned. I should have realized ultimately I am only
human with limited resources. I’m not God. But my reasoning was false,
and not for the reasons you might think.

It was Thanksgiving time. I sat overwhelmed, staring at my books. I
owed the IRS twenty five thousand dollars in back payroll taxes, my bank
twenty thousand, various suppliers thirty thousand, and about another
twenty thousand to miscellaneous accounts. I had several accounts
receivable that had gone nearly six months past due with no money in
sight. I was thankful, marginally, that I still had some clients and a
business. What was left of it. I still had food on the table, my house,
my family. But I was not very happy.

It was also at this time my first book "The Lord of the Hunt and Other
Tales of Grace" was making the rounds to publishers. I had racked up
about ten rejections. It had been at a prestigious publisher for three
months getting serious review; it was rejected. And how do I tell this?
In the midst of all my failures, I was ruminating angrily over a comment
made by a fellow Christian, a skeptic of my practice and teachings on
grace. When he found out I fired everyone because I was on the verge
of bankruptcy he came to me and said, "So, you finally wised up and
cleaned house, huh? It's about time you gave up on all those deadbeats
and that management by grace stuff." And in the midst of all this, peace
came. In torrents: a crystal, chilling, cleansing wash of peace, it came.

Peace came when I finally realized I had done what I loved, or more
exactly I still loved those who did me in. I hadn't "cleaned house"
because I hated them, they burned the house down around themselves
and me. I just threw them out the window to save them from the flames.
And in the midst of my burning house I sat down, full of joy: I finally
knew grace. And I quietly watched the flames in peace.

Management by grace had not failed after all. It worked on me. It
taught me that grace is not a technique, or a manipulative instrument
God "uses on" people to get them to be grateful enough to change their
behavior and attitudes, but it is love given solely from the heart of the
lover regardless of the response of the beloved. Grace is loving someone
to death. To show grace is to die, joyfully, because of your singleminded
passion for the ones you love. Yes, Jesus showed grace when he healed,
gave, fed, forgave and comforted people during his ministry and yes,
the people followed. But the final act of grace is death, death at the
healed hands of the lepers, called for by the mouths of the ones whose
tongues were loosed, watched by the eyes opened by his touch. And if
we intend to follow his steps and show grace to sinners we must be
willing to -- no, you will, die -- and that by their hands.

You see, our faith is ultimately the same as Jesus' on his cross: faith
that God raises the dead. That is the truth of the gospel in the final
analysis. We were dead in our trespasses and sins as Paul says to the
Ephesians, stone, cold, stiff, dead. And by his dying grace he raised us
up. So, now we forgive one another in the same manner as God in Christ
has forgiven us: Through death, laying down our lives for the unworthy,
the ungrateful, the lowest, the least, the unlovely. Whether or not they
become worthy, grateful and lovely. Unconditional love. Free gift.
No strings. Gratis. Grace.

Well, there you have it. My two hundred fifty thousand dollar Sunday
school lesson. I’m still paying for it. and will be for years. But I would not
trade what I now know for any amount of money.

If you don't mind, I must go now. I have a fire I must throw some water on.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Had a Dinner Date

tonight with two priests, a monk, a catechumen, my radio show co-host and my wife. We ate Chinese, shared conversion stories, cut up (yeah, priests and monks can cut up....), found out we knew mutual friends (but then Orthodoxy is a small world...), and ended the meal with the Fathers quietly chanting the after meal thanksgiving in the middle of the restaurant. Black robes, hats, beards, chanting...and none of it even felt wierd. Maybe this "orthodox thing" is sinking in.

Father Damian calls me ahead and says, I'm bringing a priest, a monk and another person to dinner with me. You aren't paying for it this time, its going on my card. I say, OK. The check comes, he picks it up. I slip him some cash under the table. He looks at the bill. He looks at the money. He looks at the bill again. He reaches in his pocket. He folds the black leather holder and puts his head on it. He looks at me. "You won't believe this... I forgot my wallet."
"Of course you did..." We both grin.


As we leave, Monk Joseph says, gee you really look familiar...have you ever been to St. Paisius Monastery? I said, yeah, I've built a lot of stuff there for them. He says That's it! I worked on the laundry building with you when I was visiting there once. Ah, I say, Hagia Laundria...yes, I remember you now... you were the guy in the black robe with the beard! He laughs heartily. We all part in peace and good spirits.

A nice Friday evening out.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I Went to Prison Today

not as an inmate, but to pick one up who had been released. The Abbess of St. Paisius asked if I'd do them a "pastoral favor"... how can you say "NO" to an Abbess? Anyway, S.K. was imprisoned for drug use and prostitution.

She was being released on Sunday morning. She called and asked if I could pick her up. I kind of hesitated...right in the middle of Matins and I'm the Reader for our mission. But then I thought, oh yeah...sure, I'll pass by on the other side because I'm going to the Temple and can't be bothered with a wounded body lying by the side of the road. OK. That nanosecond of hesitation is worthy of repentance. Some day the gospel will sink in....

I learned early on in "pastoral ministry" classes that you never leave yourself alone with a woman in a "counseling situation". Transporting a prostitute to a halfway house alone? ehhhh...yeah. I figured it might be a good idea to take another woman with me. But who from the Mission could I take? My wife is the only person in our Mission who can carry everyone in the choir and is the choir director. Bill (my co-host on the radio show) can read, so I took his wife with me. We arrived and waited almost two hours in the parking lot of the prison for her to be released. She is 50-ish, haggard and, if a prostitute, would be the object of someone's absolute desperation for human contact. We talked while we took her to Walmart to buy her some clothes and personal items, then to Taco Bell for the first fast food she'd had in almost two years. Then to the halfway house to check in but which didn't open the doors until 5pm, to my house for the afternoon, then back to the halfway house.

All of her family, mother, father, brothers, step family, and kids are on drugs. Some have died, committed suicide and several are in prison. She has one sober brother. She is afraid. Her stomach hurt from fear. She is out of prison, clean and sober and knows no one, has no one and is in a strange town. A perfect recipe for relapse. She wants to call us, she hints and fishes around for more help than we are able to give. I deflect the bait and talk about recovery, fear and staying focussed on the future. She says I sound like someone who is in recovery. I just say we are ALL in recovery from life and sin. She laughs, "Yeah, I guess you're right...that's good, I'll remember that..." She says her life is in the hands of the Lord. Foxhole conversion? I dunno. I've heard that before from druggies coming off detox and rehab. I always pray its real. It is real, I suppose, at the moment, like for all of us. Staying real in the long run? God only knows.

I parked at the curb, got her bag, and we wove our way through all the crazy homeless people congregated at the door of the shelter hoping for a bed for the night. She had a ticket, they didn't. She went in the door, turned and looked like a child walking through the doors of first grade away from her mother for the first time. I looked at all the people she would be cast in with at the shelter. They are all in prison.

Prison. Self made, man made, chemical, environmental, forced upon us, chosen by us, they are all hell. "Bring my soul out of prison that I may praise Thy name..." Lord have mercy!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Death by Computer

Ohhhh kaaayyyyy.... I just spent 4 days recovering from a Windows XP computer crash. I saw it coming like one of those slow motion car wrecks that you know is going to happen and you just sit and watch helplessly. I went to print a document and started getting error messages. I removed and reloaded my printer software... more error messages. Tech support, more error messages, system restore, and error messages that wouldn't stop popping up, then frozen machine hell breaks loose. Nothing moves, nothing loads, nothing makes a sound. I'm staring at a blue screen headstone.

So, I reinstall XP... and DAMN! I lose everything. Weeks worth of files, radio shows, documents, email, all gone in a nano second. Yeah, yeah...daily back ups... you don't have to tell me twice.

I found a data recovery program for 29.95. Bought it, ran it, got my stuff back as far as I can tell. Now I know why "data doctors" cost so much. I probably spent 20 hours doing the recovery. I just finished reloading all my critical software. What I wouldn't give for Bill Gate's home phone number at 3:30 in the morning......

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cussing

GOSHAMICKLEDICKLEPICKLEGEEWILLYWOBBERSDOGMYCATS AND ROWWRBAZZLE!
Wow! You sure are cussable!

An "attaboy" to the first person who can tell me who said that.

Anyway, I'm sitting here on my other computer waiting for a "data recovery" program to scan my hard drive on my new computer that crashed last night. No, I didn't have a backup...I have a back up of THIS computer but not my new one. I lost about two months worth of radio programs, files and research etc. not to mention all my programs and software I installed for the radio show studio. Oh well...I don't have Bill Gates home phone number to ask him why Windows XP crashed on me after only 8 weeks of using it.

Other than that, life is still as hectic as a one armed wallpaper hanger (that's construction lingo). I had two full time jobs and 7 "side jobs" last week. I worked on an NFL player's house referred by a Diamondbacks pitcher I've worked for, the widow of a former US Senator, and the grand daughter of the founder of Ping golf clubs, and a couple just ordinary rich people and Safeway grocery store's corporate headquarters. But you know what? Drywall and paint is still drywall and paint no matter where the house is and who lives in it or what they do for a living. I treat all my clients the same way whether they live in a trailer or a 20,000 sq ft. house on a hillside. And I do the same quality work for both.

That just makes my life easier to have one facade instead of many, and it keeps me sane not having to remember how awestruck to act at someone's credentials or job or the cost of their doorknobs.

I just viewed the post and I have NO idea how and why those words got underlined.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I've Moved Some Stuff

to another blog. I decided to keep the Introduction to Life, Death and Love: A Journey Through Spiritual Despair here but move the entire manuscript to its own blog. The only thing that will be posted there is the manuscript. This blog will continue to be just my pithless thoughts on daily life in my current world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Life, Death and Love


I found an old manuscript for a book that I wrote during the late 80's. I remembered writing it, but the computer I wrote it on long since died and I thought it was all in there. I was cleaning my bookshelves and found a tattered manila folder and in it was a sheaf of yellowed, wrinkled and hand-edited papers: my manuscript for "Life, Death and Love: The Heart of Sorrows". It was a time of spiritual desperation that I still vividly recall, but for the most part no longer exist in. By God's mercy, I only now visit the shadows of spiritual desperation, not live in the dark abyss continually. I may post it entirely here, I may do excerpts... I don't know. Much of what is in it is intensely autobiographical and personal, as perhaps a book on spiritual despair must be since it cannot be written about adequately from an academic viewpoint. Anyway, here is the introduction. Perhaps more to come....

LIFE, DEATH AND LOVE: The Heart of Sorrows
A Journey Through Spiritual Despair

Introduction

This is a book about sorrow. It is not about crisis, of some extraordinary evil or desperate station in life dealt you by fate or choice or Satan or God. It is of a kind of life, a life of mourning, of a spiritual melancholy, of perpetual sorrows of a depth and intensity that can only come from believing in God, or longing to believe in God in the face of the chaotic ambiguities and havoc of life.

This book is for the ones who find the experience of spiritual joy elusive. It is for you who feel guilty because you fake the happy Christian life to be accepted by a group who, deep inside, you believe are for the most part faking it too. It is for those who find more reasons to question God, to rail at Him, to argue with Him than to praise Him. It is for those who have a deep and hurting hollow place within them that no sermon, no prayer, no scripture verse, no spiritual exercise has ever touched with healing. It is for those who struggle silently with a sense of abandonment and loneliness in the midst of friends and lovers. It is for those who are exhausted by desperation and waiting for God. It is for those who sometimes feel they can wait on Him no longer and consider death a treasure to be sought more than life. It is for you who have considered suicide because death held out to you an enchanting promise that no logic or philosophy could dissuade you from believing.

I do not come to you like Job's friends with the mirrors and smoke of religion to magically turn the reality of these struggles into a shared illusion of joy. I will not try to tell you a step-by-step plan on how to overcome the sorrows because I do not know one. But neither do I seek one because I am not yet sure that they need to be overcome, or that they can be, or even that they should be. As fearful and as dark as the sorrows come, if they come from God it would serve us well to dwell in them, seek their wisdom and learn their ways: Their ways would lead us to God Himself, the Healer of the broken hearted. So all I will tell you is what I have experienced of God, His presence and absence, about humanness and hopelessness and fear and forsakenness, about faith, about love and hope in these, my sorrows.

I do not presume to think that in my struggles I have asked God any new questions, observed some new manifestation of God's ambiguous presence and appalling and embarrassing absences, or cursed God more articulately for any of it. I make no pretense to have suffered any more angst over the futility of existence or fallen any more deeply into despair at injustice, decay, and finitude than anyone else who walks this world with clear and open eyes. I seek only to cast the Light upon the experience, the One True Light that does not seek to trick the eye and hide the wrinkles and spots, but reveals the realities in all their harsh and glorious truths.

Of what value is this if I cannot give you answers, you ask. If nothing else, you will know you are not alone in your sorrows, nor lost while walking in this way, nor are you unspiritual or lacking faith. I write so you will know, even if you are raging at God in the shadows of death, you are indeed longing after and deep within the heart of God, that you are not opposed to Him and cast off by Him. You will know that yours is the common experience of the prophets, the apostles, and of all true lovers and friends of God.

I give you this, Life, Death and Love, each with its peculiar sorrows. They are each an odd road sign that points into the abyss, the unmapped caverns of spiritual despair. They lead us there because, if we will risk the journey, it is there in the darkness that we will find God silently waiting.

I have decided to move the rest of the manuscript to another blog that will be dedicated solely to this book. If the topic of spiritual despair and dealing with the absence of God, the experience of suicidal thoughts and love and romance as signposts to God, then go to my other blog, Life Death and Love and the entire manuscript will be posted there... eventually......

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Waiting for Tires

I dropped off a couple tires at Discount Tire because I got a citation from the city for having two flat tires on my 1959 Chevy pickup. Actually the two flat tires were the most attractive part of the truck. It needs paint real bad. Instead of waiting for an hour and reading old issues of Sports Illustrated, Car and Driver, and Women's Day I decided to run home and catch up on computer stuff for a minute, answer email, check out a half dozen blogs I check into whenever I can and perhaps make a pithless comment...you know who you are... OK, did that and I have ten minutes before I have to go back and pick up the tires, put them on the truck and then take my daughter to her "belt test" at the karate place.

I did karate for a little over a year back in the mid '70's when Kung Fu and Bruce Lee were popular. I did it because I worked at a boy's home with violent kids. My first month there I had to tackle a 12 year old who had a baseball bat and was beating the walls in the house. Fortunately he was big but slow and it was in front of all the kids. The mythology that grew around that take down over the years was interesting. Now, this was BEFORE I took lessons, but I soon began and the kids kind of tweaked the chronology and soon it was being told to the new kids that I was a black belt and did a flying wheel kick and broke the baseball bat and took him down. I allegedly had hands so fast I could take your left eye out, show it to your right eye and give you a heart attack and kill you that way. Reality was, I took lessons and, yeah, I was pretty good. I was matched against a black belt in a dojo match. I was an orange belt. I scored the first two points and humiliated him. He broke my knee and was disqualified. I won but still have a bad knee and only an orange belt. The quotable quote from my karate instructor:
"There's no such thing as a humble black belt...its all an act." hmmmmm....
Gotta go pick up my tires.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Too Much Life

Sheesh... where did the last two weeks go???
Mostly about a gazillion hours into work. Self employment is great as long as you can keep all of your clients happy. In construction that means showing up and doing something visible that they consider worth paying for and getting projects done on time. When you have 4 jobs that all have to be done in the same week, you just go from job to job and work until you get done. Fortunately (in a way) one of my clients is Safeway corporate headquarters and I can work there around the clock because they have 24 hour security guards on the premises. There are actually areas that the guards have to sit and watch us while we work. I guess they don't want us stealing the price of brocolli at next week's produce sale... seriously......

Then I come home and wrestle with my new computer. Installing a printer was a major battle.
Probably 12 hours worth of installing, uninstalling, surfing for drivers, updates, Windows help files, emailing tech support, trying solutions, taking the printer back to Comp USA and getting a new brand, then finding out I have the same issue with the HP that I had with the Epson... AAARRRGGHGHHHH!!!!! Go through that again, except HP's tech support got me hooked up finally.

Out of town a few days. Get off work, run to Tucson to speak at the College ministry (OCF) meetings two Tuesday nights. Then a visit to St. Paisius Monastery for the consecration of their new Church building's altar area. The footings were poured and the site is laid out for the Church. Bishop Longin was there and over 200 people/priests etc. I was privileged to be the "protosealerarch"...during the service I sealed the cannister that holds the relics, holy earth and oil that is embedded in the earth at the site where the altar will be. Now we begin construction!
Then a day trip to St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence to help drywall and finish the new bakery for the monastery. In between all that there's life in general, our new Mission, trying to figure out how to use my new production studio equipment and software for the radio program, recording and producing new programs, and trying to find some time to sleep.

My wife just left at 10:30pm to take our son and his friend back to Tucson. She'll be on the road until 3:00am after getting up this morning at 5:00am to fix food for our Mission agape meal/ coffee hour. Honestly, I pray she makes it back. I know I couldn't drive them, I fall asleep at the wheel in a heartbeat just driving in town. I fed my father in law, changed him and put him to bed. I need to go to bed.

Sometimes I think my life is just way too crazy. Tomorrow I only have two jobs to do. And a radio show to record and produce. A light day. Thank God.
Goodnight.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Radio Angst

I've been doing a local Orthodox radio show every Sunday afternoon for almost 7 years. A local priest started it and I was a guest on his show when a group of us converted. After the show he asked if I would do the show every other week to give him a break. I ended up doing it about 48 weeks a year. His parish dropped their support a year ago and I found some priests who said they'd take up the pastoral direction and a part of the financial support, I'd have to raise the rest. We signed a contract, and seamlessly began a new program which was more in line with the vision I originally had for it. We put up a new website and the show took off beyond our wildest hopes.

That began the worst year of my life in Orthodoxy. There is no way to blog all that has happened without scandalizing someone, so I won't.

My Bishop who is aware of all of the wierdness and has been in the middle of some of it says ignore it all...if you weren't doing something no one would talk about you, keep focussed, don't quit. Its hard. But, I was trained for this when I was the ministry in the church of Christ. I recall an elder's meeting where the Youth Minister and I asked for a cost of living raise once. Elder J.D. looked at us and said, "Everyone knows preachers are a necessary evil, we have to hire you because we couldn't have a church without ya'll. But everyone knows the only reason someone is a preacher is they can't do anything else and make a real living. So you are lucky to be getting what you are getting." That was just one meeting. I took almost 20 years of that kind of stuff from him. So, yeah, I came into Orthodoxy with a thick callous. I have a high tolerance for pain when it comes to doing what I believe in. The only thing I can honestly say is I did everything I have done with blessings from priests and bishops and with spiritual guidance and advice. I've been obedient. All else is in the hands of God.

The upshot of the past 13 months for the purpose of this post is merely this: we couldn't raise enough money to keep the radio show on the air locally. By the time our contract was coming due to be renewed we were over 4,000.00 in arrears and counting to the tune of 325.00 a week. I just couldn't keep up with keeping the show afloat on my own any more. (My court thing with my business ended up costing me over 7,000. so far.) So after 7 years, I decided to call it quits...locally. That was a hard decision. But the facts were we had little local support and a lot of controversy, the website has grown exponentially, and we just can't seem to pick winning numbers in the Lotto... :)

Through the extreme generosity of our internet listeners and a local person, we've been able to pay off our debt. That allowed me to buy a small studio set up to put in my basement office and begin recording programs for our program website, and for Ancient Faith Radio and Incarnation Broadcast Network

So, we're still "on the air". Now I have this studio and new software and I have to learn how to use it all in my spare time. I'm a tech-dunce. So we're going to record, and as I figure it out the quality of production might get better, but for now its just two guys in my basement talking about stuff into a microphone. Not elegant, not broadcast quality, but its a new beginning.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Happened??

I have about 15 minutes before I have to leave for Vespers...what happened to the last couple weeks?? I get up at 5:00, I go to bed about 11 or later sometimes. You'd think in that many hours in a day, I'd have time to "blog" SOMETHING. sigh....

I guess the fast foward version is setting up a new computer and network... THAT was a huge chunk of hours for this tech-dunce. Did you know that Windows 2000 and XP can't talk to each other? Sheesh...XP can even talk to '98 and ME... but can it talk to the OS I have... of course not.
I also set up a recording studio in my basement in order to continue broadcasting our radio program on the internet. That was the motivation for a new computer with more RAM and faster processing. Oops... gotta run. Vespers time! Later.....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity

I'm supposed to be leading Reader's Typika right now for our Mission, but I'm staying home with my father in law who has diahhrea. Its just not compassionate to make him sit in a dirty Depends for 4 hours because his daughter and son in law are the Reader and chanter/choir director and can't change several times him during the service. My wife carries the bulk of the musical responsibilities and we have someone who can intone "Lord have mercy" and read Psalms just fine, even without a black robe on.

So... I know I'm not a monk. I know I live in the world. I know we are to be "in the world but not of it". I visit the monasteries quite a bit, I know there are no mirrors. Last week I stood in front of the mirror and re-invented myself with a shave and a haircut. Now to maintain it, I have to stand in front of a mirror much longer than I used to. What's the problem? IS there a problem? Am I creating one, or by being aware of the fact that there could be a problem I have in fact avoided it actually being one? Where is the intersection of image/world/culture and vanity?

To begin, everyone has to be something, even a monk who doesn't shave or cut his hair at all.
That in itself is an "image" within a certain culture that just happens to be tied to the Church. I know priests and laymen that have adopted the monkish look as part of their "Orthodoxy". I know the traditions vary regarding priests' hairstyles and beardedness and the topic of clerical facial hair becomes an instant flame war on some discussion lists. I recall seeing two priests comparing pony tails and discussing the "bad hair days" when the pony tails didn't quite hang right because they were works in progress. Hmmmm...I thought, gee, if you can't really be unvain I guess you can at least try to look like the people who aren't. After all, image is everything, right? sigh....of course not every priest with a beard and pony tail primp and condition it with Paul Mitchell products. Its harder to flame someone's inner thoughts than an outward appearance, after all hair is just hair, right? Its ego PLUS hair that gets us. Ego plus anything, actually.

OK, I know I'm rambling here. Anyway, so I'm finally getting in touch with my inner Charlie Chan-ness. I'd say Jet Li, but at my age, with my gut, its more like "Biplane Li". Its not that I was ever ashamed of it, but it just wasn't something on the surface. I could even watch movies that portrayed Chinese people in stereotyical roles and not be offended for myself or the Chinese culture... nor am I about to become a Chonky "Jesse Jackson" looking under every adjective and noun for racial slurs. But race is an interesting thing. It is a reality. SHOULD we celebrate our racial heritages? Can we do that without walling ourselves off? Is politicized and mandated multi-culturalism just another liberal plot to stick the Rainbow up our collective ummmmm.....
Or is politicized melting pot uniformity-ism just another conservative plot to keep non-English speaking people from burning up our tax dollars? Those things are way beyond me. All I want to do is find a place in my head for what and who I am connected to a much larger community that stretches back thousands of years and intergrate that into where, who and what I am now.
Its not about living in the past, or in my head in some illusion or comic book version of a culture I've only encountered on a non-verbal basis. My mother never sat down with me and said "This is how WE do this... or this is the Chinese attitude toward that..." Although when I read about the culture and talk to people, I can see I was raised wellll... Chinese, insofar as my mother reflected the culture she was raised in after they immigrated to Hawaii when she was a child.
I know I unconciously passed some of that along to my kids, albeit now watered down and obscured by the fact of being Chonky and first generation American born.

I also have two adopted racially mixed kids. My daughter, whose birth mother told us she slept with a Mexican man, I recently figured out is actually Navajo. I met her "twin sister of different mothers" at a McDonald's in Gallup New Mexico last year. My son, whose birth mother also claimed a Mexican stud... well, he passes for Greek, Arabic, Mulato, and Mexican. We know this from his girlfriend's parent's reactions to him. They both look like "my kids". Well, except for the fact my son is 6'5"...if they look at me with suprise, and I just tell them he gets his height from his mother. ehhhhh.... I have no idea where this thought was going....

So, back to the original point, or search for a point. I think it was "Everyone has to be something". No matter if we cut our hair or not, style it or not, we are engaging our culture, be it ethnic, religious, or business by how we groom ourselves. Something as simple as what we do with our God given hair we are making a statment. How that statement intersects with the bigger statement of our lives is the issue. Is Christ manifest, not because of or in spite of, but within my racial and cultural heritage? Do dreds, or Fu-manchu's, or pony tails, or beards or smooth faces make a Christian? Of course not. Can they be baptized? Absolutely, my hair went into the water with me, if I recall correctly. So all that's left really is me. Yeah, I'm vain. Heck, I have a blog, for crying out loud. Yeah, I like it when people say "I like your new look". But I liked it when people liked my old looks. And of course there's people who don't like any of them. Whatever. I don't live and breathe by my critics or fans, ultimately. I live and breathe in Christ who made me Chonky. How do I praise and glorify Him FOR what I am, and IN what I am?
That is the issue.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

spam spam spam

No, its not a Monty Python skit. Unfortunately spammers have found my blog. I have no clue how that guy found out I need a "male enlargement treatment"... ahem.....but if I want that information made public on my blog I'LL post it, thankyou. Anyway, folks, I guess I need to resort to that annoying speedbump where you have to duplicate the fun house mirror letters in order to post a comment. I know... but heck, what significant thing were you going to do with those 10 seconds it takes to log in? Its a fallen world, even in blogger land powered by Google and Microsoft. sigh.....

Monday, August 29, 2005

Roots


When I was a child, I did not know that it was too soon after World War II that my father married my mother, Nellie Kim Yuen Ching. When my father took her home to meet his parents in Cabot, Arkansas (just north of Little Rock), my grandmother looked at my mother, then at my father and said "We sent you over there to kill them, not marry them." After I was born, the first grandchild, my Grandmother warmed up. When I was two, she used to put me on her lap as my granfather drove around downtown Little Rock and have me yell out the car window "HEY JIGABOO!" to the Black people.

I'm what we call "Chonky", half Chinese, half Honky.
I was called "Chinky-loo" on the playgrounds in elementary school. My father was transferred to Taiwan in the early 60's and I was a half-breed there too. The Chinese kids saw me as "White", the white kids saw me as "Chinese". It was just wierd to both of them that I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch in a brown sack and not rice in a rectangular tin box.

By the time I got to high school we were far enough removed from the War that only the reddest of the rednecks would make fun of me. Then Cheech and Chong put out their first album and Bruce Lee became popular. For once in my life, I was actually racially cool. For the last 35 years I've not experienced anything like my childhood. Here in Arizona people ask me if I'm Mexican sometimes, or Indian (casino Indian, not tech support Indian...). Some guess Chinese. It is no big deal, but there always seemed to be a part of me that was like some old pictures and souveniers of a nearly forgotten time and place pushed far under the bed in a shoebox. You know its there, you even know what's in it, but you only think of it at odd times, and you never take it out to look at it or show anyone.

I became Orthodox and learned about all the great Saints of the Middle East, Russia, the Balkans, and even America, but even they were Russian or Aleut. I was a stranger of race once again. Then I saw an icon of the Saints of the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese Orthodox Christians, martyrs. One of my kids bought it for me for last Christmas. And it drew me in.

So tonight at the supper table my wife says, "Its time to cut your beard." She has seen me looking at the icon of the saints of the Boxer Rebellion. At 53, I'm Chinese. I'm white bread American. I'm Orthodox. And I'm home.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Tree of Life


Eden lost. The Tree lies asleep, a lace of twigs against the darkening ice gray sky. Where is the Man and the Woman to whom it was to give life? Why is it naked like the Man once was? Why does the earth devour its fallen, umber rotting leaves?

Its limbs twist and reach to heaven, to earth, to no where. In the fullness of time, it will find Heaven and Earth, The Man, nailed to its branches. He opens the sky, He brings the Light.
He is the Leaf fallen yet incorrupt, neither is He devoured by the earth. And in the naked glory of His suffering the Tree awakes and once again gives life, Eden is restored, and Man is given the Fruit of Life.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Winter's Day



Boston, November 2004, Holy Cross.
I realize that I am approaching the winter of my life. My father in law has brought a sense of mortality to our household. We watch him plunge inexorably into the abyss of his disease. He will eventually be speechless and helpless, a 190 pound infant. He will die in the same state he was born in, absolute dependence on someone who might love him enough to care for him.

There is a cold beauty to death. It is the blessed curse, the end of life spent in the bleakness of corruption and struggle, futility and the stark, chilling cursedness of the consequences of human sin. It is also the leaving behind of beauty, the still-green signs of life and warmth and resurrection, of love. Its curse is that it confirms the solitariness we brought into the world through the breaking of our communion with God. Its blessing is that it ends the inexorable plunge into the abyss of corruption and defeat and loneliness. The winter never quite destroys all life, sin never quite destroys the image of God.

Yes, sin separates, its winter is a cold and lonely place. We sit in the snow, yet among the trees, in the cold and yet in the sun, alone, yet loved, waiting for this mortal seed to bear the fruit of eternal spring.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Unexpected Beauty

I was washing my drywall tools in the far corner of a client's back yard and saw the bush with these one inch round yellow berries split open exposing their brilliant ruby seeds. Such a small occurrence in the grand scheme of all creation, so easily missed. In a couple days the seeds are fallen and rotting black, the berries split and brown. Just goes to show that if we don't pay attention we'll often miss the best stuff God has to offer. (click on the image to enlarge it... I know...you probably already knew that, but I just learned that trick a few days ago.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Full Moon

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Scottsdale, AZ
(I just figured out: click on the picture and it gets bigger! Wow... ain't technology cool?)

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Coolest Thing About Toronto


I just spent 4 days in Toronto at the OCA North American Conference. It was wellll... a conference. Thank God there are people who like reports, budgets, elections and social hours if that's what it takes to run an archdiocese. I was there to get a feel for the ethos of the Archdiocese since we recently moved to the OCA to help start a Mission Church. I liked what I encountered there in spite of the machinery of administration.

Toronto is big, and maybe I just didn't see enough of it, but this was the coolest thing in the city as far as I was concerned. I want it on my front yard.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Light

Gladsome Light of the holy glory... at the setting of the sun we praise Thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Home by Six

We've been working half days this past couple weeks... 12 hours, sometimes more. Getting home at ten after climbing 28 foot extention ladders painting the exterior of a house in 113 during the day... wellllll, I'm too old for that now. Anything for a buck, though, if you're self employed. I like eating too much to give it up at this late stage of my life.

Yes, we have new goldfish. Six young 'uns. Nice coloration. The sign on the tank at the pet store said they get 12 inches long. The black one with the feathery fins cost 4 bucks. The others were about 8 cents each. They hide under the rock all day so we don't see them.
Not very entertaining like our former fish who would swim up when a human shadow came across the water. What do you want for 8 cents I guess? Maybe they'll catch on.

My father in law continues to decline. He's taken to taking off his Depends in the middle of the night and peeing all over himself. He took them off in his chair yesteday and tried to get up to throw them in the trash. Tipped himself and his chair over and my wife had to get the next door neighbor to help her pick him up off the floor. She said she yelled at him. I think she felt bad because she didn't feel bad about yelling at him. She's being a saint taking care of him and being sure the burden doesn't fall on me except when absolutely necessary. I appreciate it. I know I'm sleep deprived most of the time already. I thank God for straight stretches of road and a good front end alignment on my truck. I don't know how many times I've fallen asleep at the wheel on my way home from work. I think all the saints whose icons I have on my dash don't want to be involved in a multiple car pile up on the freeway so they protect me... or at least the other commuters around me.

As much trouble as it is, we still take my father in law to Church with us and out to eat with our friends afterwards. We've gotten used to his gagging and yelling "AAARRRGGGHHHHHHH!" to clear his throat and cough up liquids he gets down his windpipe... well, not really "used to it" but at least we know what's going on. People and waiters haven't heard it before so when it happens they stop and think someone is dying (and he is, but not right then and there). We all just keep chatting, and they wonder why we aren't jumping up doing the Heimlich Maneuver on him. They kinda stare and lean over and whisper to each other. Its not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear while you are trying to eat, either. But I don't know of any restaurants that have a "gagging and no gagging" section.

I go to court next week to get my final fine for helping my friend from Church. All told its going to run me about eight thousand dollars. We're refinancing our house to pay him and the courts off and get it over with. Nuff said.

I feel kinda wierd writing about goldfish in the aftermath of a bombing of London, but I guess goldfish are as much a part of the world and people's lives as terrorists and clashing ideologies. How do we compartmentalize the "horrific" from the "ordinary"? It is ordinary, meaning, a commonplace occurrence nowadays for people to be shredded to death in the name of someone's goofy theology or political ideology. If the horrifical world was not balanced by goldfish and tomato plants and blogs and paint job deadlines, we might just hang ourselves in despair. Some people may be no damned good, but not all creation is. Its just that the simple joys and the glimpses of wonder don't make front page headlines. Probably rightfully so because they are so idiosyncratic. Who else shares my glee at seeing my goldfish dart from under a rock for a split second? Anyway... so much for philosophizing in the face of someone else's death. I'm sure a tomato turning red on my back porch won't go a long way to explaining what happened much less easing the loss.

Well. I guess I better go fix dinner. A glass of red wine and a cupboard full of spices to create something delightful to share around a common table...what else do I need to fill my house with a sense of belonging and love for a few hours while the rest of the world rages out of control? Its a small gift for a short time, but its a thin thread that keeps the fabric of our being from coming completely unravelled.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

What Do You Say

when you have nothing in particular to say and you have a blog that accuses you every time you log in and you see it has been weeks since you've posted something? Everyone can probably tell I finally figured out how to use the thingy that lets you post pictures to a blog. That was entertaining for a while, at least for me. I could do a daily diary of the wierdness and pathos that I encounter every day. I could tell about the rumor started by and among our city's clergy that I've been excommunicated. I could tell about my fines and restitution I have to pay for doing a favor for a filthy rich lawyer member of the Church who sued me. (sigh...no matter how I word it, it sounds bitter, doesn't it?) I could update everyone on caring for my father in law. I could tell about our new fish. But, nah....

We had a graduation party last Sunday. We had friends over who have been scattered to 4 different parishes by church politics and strained loyalties. We are all still friends but each family has chosen a path to try to maintain spiritual sanity. We sang at the meal and sang the Pentecost Troparia, which was our Mission's hymn, for the first time together in years. It was a reunion of spirits, a sweet remembrance of what was, and I still hope some day can be once more.

Early this morning I went to St. Anthony's Monastery and finished some walls for a monk. He said I did a week's work in 4 hours. There is little in the world more soul satisfying than a grateful monastic. Later, we went out for dinner with old friends to a real "hole in the wall" barbeque place run by Reggie and Mary from Mississippi who learned to barbeque from his grandfather. A humble family, truly grateful for our satisfied smiles and compliments on Reggie's cooking.

All in all, life is good, folks. I just can't work up enough energy to crank out a raving rant or get mad enough at anyone or anything to shred someone. I can't work up enough bitterness or resentment to write something really depressing or angst-ridden. What is, is. At the end of the day when I close my eyes, it is gone. When I wake up, it is there, but so is everything else that was there the day before, and at the end of the day, it was all in God's hands. What more can we really ask.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Aloha Motel

Last Tuesday I logged about 8 and a half miles to and from the bathroom. I passed so much liquid from both ends of my body I thought my wife would find a ring of dust on the toilet seat in the morning. I was scheduled to fly to Chicago on Wednesday at 4:00pm for a conference with a group of Orthodox people in Media. I got up Wednesday morning and my wife fixed me a slice of dry toast and a glass of Pedialyte. I said, if this stays down and in, I'm flying. It did. I went. Everything stayed put. Thank God.

The meeting was great. Grassroots stuff. No "sponsors", just ten people who took time to gather, priests and layfolk all in some form of media, seeking to spread the Faith. We formed an "Orthodox Media Guild" to assist each other in our ministries. More to come on that as it develops.

It was my first time to Chicago. Cool town. I walked down town for a few hours, couldn't see paying 32.95 for a pork chop where Al Capone ate once, so I had a killer Polish sausage and a beer.

I had a night to spend so I figured I'd get a motel near Midway. I found the Aloha Motel. "New Rooms" the sign said. 60.00 a night on a holiday weekend, three miles further down Cicero Street than the Hyatt, Marriot, etc.. For three times the price I'll spend the gas money to drive. I checked into my "new room". The pictures are below. I have no idea what all the stuff on the walls was, although I suspect it had something to do with the cable channel. Its the only place I've ever stayed where I felt like I had to handle the soap with rubber gloves on. I thought about getting in the car and sleeping in the parking garage at the airport. Sleeping and having my face on the seat of a car where someone's butt was seemed like a healthier option than taking my shoes off and walking on the bathroom tile. Come to think of it, the sign didn't say WHICH rooms were "new" actually. Maybe there were two "new rooms". That would be plural, thus true. But I was still recovering from whatever it was that was trying to kill me, so I decided to try to get some sleep.

Wellllll... at 10:30pm a large group of African American young men checked into the room next to mine. I think it was prom night, or graduation, or just Friday night at the Aloha. By 12:30am they were just about drunk enough to ALL be speaking (yelling) at once and understand each other. I guess some of the group were too drunk to climb the stairs to the room and were still in the parking lot. The three women downstairs were screaming at someone and each other and the guys in the room would slam in and out of the door, scream down the balcony and across the parking lot to someone else's party. About 1:30 the police showed up and argued with the revelers for about a half hour. The parking lot sounded like a "My Sister Stole My Husband Who is Sleeping with my Mother" Jerry Springer Show. Of course the guys next door had to defend their women, at least verbally, from the balcony. So the police came upstairs and they hauled someone out of the room next door. After they left, of course the remaining tenants had to discuss it. It was not William F. Buckley and Edwin Newman in rational dialogue. At 3:30 am the police brought him back. Then they had to talk about that. At 6:00 am I got dressed, drove to the airport and dozed in the gate waiting area for 6 hours waiting for my flight.

Yeah, it was worth it to network with some great people who are really committed to sharing the Faith. Ah, yes....Sufferin' at the Aloha Motel for Jesus and the sake of preaching the gospel...I'm just imagining the stars in my crown now......

I Found a Motel Near Midway, Chicago!

Yes, that is clean toilet paper plugging the holes in the curtain.

Newly Remodeled Bathroom

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Two Down and Two to Go

I attended my step daughter's Master's Degree Graduation in Lubbock, Texas last week.
I saw what I missed by not attending my own Master's hooding, walking and wellll... a LOT of sitting. I was struck by the vestments worn by the presiding faculty. Gold and silver medallions hanging around their necks, ribbons, hoods and robes of many colors with velvet stripes, funny hats, all worn slightly differently. I was reading the program that described all the regalia and their meanings. If you wear this color you are that, if your hood is this long you are this, if your robe has this many stripes you're another thing. I'm watching the leader of the procession solemnly stepping, holding in his hands an ornately carved staff with a silver sculpture of some kind on the top. Following him are the faculty, all in order of rank and seniority, all which could be interpreted by "reading" their vesture. I'm thinking: Didn't I see something like this when our Bishop visited a few weeks ago??? Yeah... the irony is that most of the folks in the picture below...now this IS Lubbock, Texas, the Buckle of the Bible belt... if not the buckle, it is at least the "Billy Bob" engraved name on the back...I lived there, I know.... and most of them are more than likely Baptists, Church of Christ, Bible Church, etc. They would be the first to holler "FOUL!" at the concept of a robed, vested, mitred pastor carrying a jeweled staff with a gold cross hanging around his neck in procession down the center aisle of the church, followed by his entourage of priests, deacons, subdeacons, and altar boys all distinguishable by their vestments and regalia, and having the gall to take a seat on the high place.

And yet... and yet....is this not the "church" of our western culture: Academia? And are these not our "clergy": the robed, vested and mitred, medallioned doctors of philosophies who preside at the passing on of the holy tradition of scholasticism? I'm not a historian of garmentology, but I'd wager that the academic vestments were originally designed after, or maybe were, priestly garments. Modern protestantism may have dumped the priesthood and all of its glory in the Church but it still holds fast to it in the arena that "really counts": Reason and logic, learning and scholasticism.

So, yes, mankind WILL have its priesthood. Mankind WILL have its vestments and processions. Mankind WILL elevate others to offices above themselves and honor them. Mankind WILL surround itself with regalia and dress funny and walk funny and endure assemblies that go on and on and on for the sake of giving itself status and proper dignity of its offices. However, the church of Texas Tech, in the middle of the Bible Belt has nothing on the Orthodox Church. Our vestments are a lot nicer and our processions go around the buildings three times not just once, and our services may be as long as theirs, but we at least get to stand and not be considered rude.

The Bishops and Priests of Our Culture

Friday, May 13, 2005

Graduation Day

We travelled to University of Arizona to see my step son graduate from the College of Liberal Arts with his degree in French Literature. It was the "College Graduation Luncheon" instead of the mass graduation the following day. We got to eat lunch with strangers at a big table instead of sitting on a football bleacher for 3 hours. Definitely a more intimate affair but there were still about 900 people present at the catered luncheon. We had a hard time getting the attention of the wait staff for water refills and exchanging our meals for the correct ones. "Where's a Spanish Major when you need one?", I wondered.

Anyway... the Dean of the College is calling out the students in groups of about 15 so the parents can take pictures. No one is paying any attention until their kid's group is called. John is an "S" so we had a long way to go. Bout half way through the salad, I hear the announcement: "Letters H through L please come forward....That would be H, I, J, K, and L, please come forward....."
Hmmmmmm... Maybe he should have announced the "H through L" in French, Russian and Spanish, the students might have known THOSE alphabets.

The majors were interesting. There was a "French and Genetic Engineering" kind of combo. Maybe that person was studying how to genetically alter the French. There would probably be grants for that from the government. There was one "Religion and Math". Well, we know there's at least one Liberal Arts grad that will be able to count change. Mostly there were a lot of Creative Writing Majors. I tell my daughter there's probably going to be some good Blogs coming out of this college. There was a "Religion and Creative Writing" grad. Hmmm...Maybe there's room on the Jesus Seminar for another person. I know I'VE made a great living with my religion degrees and creative writing classes. The best graduate announcement was "Jesus Avila Lowell the Second", Religion Major. Well, duh. What else would Jesus major in?

So, to all the Liberal Arts graduates out there, hats off to you! And yes, I will supersize that and it is for here.

Proud Mom and Sister with the French Major College Grad at $17.00 a Plate "Marie Antionette Memorial Cake and Water Luncheon"

Terrorism Emergency Response Team Deciding How to Put Out Cigarette Butt Smoldering in Trash Receptacle Outside Student Union Building

Liberal Arts Major at Work outside Starbucks

Thursday, May 05, 2005

God Damned Circle of Life

We really have Disneyminds. The Turtle was so… cute. It was moseying across the parking lot, obviously an orphan, and we adopted it. It turns out it was a water turtle. And we have a pond. Our pond has Disney fish in it. When I walk to the edge of the pond, 15 fish dart toward me and their mouths start kissing the surface. I throw fish food flakes into the water and they frolic, gobbling the sinking flakes, like giggling children catching huge snowflakes on their tongues. For a few minutes each morning I communed with my 15 best friends.

I should have known. The last couple mornings they didn’t come to the edge, there was no greeting, no joy. They laid still, stiff as fish sticks, at the bottom of the pond. The pet store kid said it wasn’t the pond water, they weren't sick. It was a reaction to a predator. The fear of death had paralyzed them. But the turtle was so… cute. We put "feeder fish" in the pond. The others were big fish now, too big for the turtle to eat. They'd get used to it.

This morning I go to the pond and I find 5 fish floating. Bitten in half. Disemboweled. The head of one is at the bottom of the pond. Several more are missing. My Disney Pond stewn with corpses. Disney lied. The Circle of Life isn’t The Lion King and Fantasia, the Fish and Turtle dancing like Hippopotami and Crocodiles in tutus and ballet slippers, it isn’t wildebeests and lions and snakes and elephants dancing on each other’s heads singing show tunes. The Circle of Life is death. The Circle of Life is randomly, wantonly having your life cut off. The Circle of Life is making a mangled carcass out of what was a graceful, feathery creature that only God on a good day could have imagined creating. The Turtle was just being a turtle in the fallen world. The Reptile Store Kid said, "Yeah, its a male. They are bad. They kill just to kill." The Fish were just victims of its Turtleness…and my Disneymindedness. Ever since Adam ate the fruit, nothing fasts. The lion lies down with the lamb but only after it breaks its neck and disembowels it. This is the Circle of Life: everything dies, and if our prayers are answered it might be painless. But mostly it is wracked with suffering, sometimes inflicted by someone else. Intentionally or not, our lives are often taken from us. And we live paralyzed by fear of death. We cannot move toward joy, toward the One who feeds us, toward each other, toward our Life, our Sun, our True Food. The fear of death turns us wooden, we become mere images of the reality of our true selves. We are stiff, lifeless, unconnected, motionless…dead yet living. St. Paul says the sting of death is sin, falling short of our real life, our true self, our fullness of being. The fear of death paralyzes, we live in constant dread of the Circle of Life because we know life is not a Disney cartoon, but a pond with beautiful, rotting corpses floating on its surface while certain death lies camoflaged, waiting on the bottom to ravage us as we drift by. (Hebrews 2:14-15).

And yet…Christ is risen from the dead, damning death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.

Yes… God damned the Circle of Life. He entered the circle and broke it. By death He rendered powerless him who had the power of death and delivered those who were held in slavery to the fear of death, St. Paul says. Satan is cast down and he and this fallen existence will gasp their last rotting breath some day when death and Satan are cast into the lake of the second death, and in the power of the Resurrection, Life will reign triumphant and eternal. (Rev. 20:14) The lion will lay with the lamb, not because the lion has become a lamb but because Life reigns.The Turtle will swim with the fish, not as a fish but in all its Turtleness because Life reigns in it. And we will live in true communion, the image of God fulfilled in us, swimming in joy because of Him who damned death by His death. God damned the Circle of Life, Mr. Disney. It is in Christ that your cartoon life is fulfilled and takes on reality. Until that day when Life embraces creation and all is transformed, I wait, like all creation waits in hope, groaning and weeping at the fallen Circle that encompasses all that is beautiful and joyful in this world. (Rom. 8:19)

By the way. We excommunicated the Turtle. Its still alive, but not in our Pond Fellowship any longer. The Reptile Store Kid took him.

Its Friday afternoon:
I took one of our remaining 5 fish to the pet store for a diagnosis this morning. Its eyes were clouded over. It was lethargic. We looked in the disease book. It said the introduction of a predatory or aggressive fish to the environment will cause fish to die. There are latent diseases that stress will cause to flare up and it will kill them. The Pet Store Kid gave me some antibiotic. 5 hours later we have one fish left. Hebrews 2 says we are held in bondage to the fear of death. So are fish. Damn it. We buried our Fish in the corner of the yard with our Dog and Hamsters and Rats.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My Stubborn Will

I wrote the words to this in the front flyleaf of my Bible 35 years ago. I still love it.
My Stubborn Will, Mrs. C.H. Morris

My stubborn will at last hath yielded
I would be Thine and Thine alone
and this the prayer my lips are bringing
"Lord, let in me Thy will be done."

REFRAIN:
Sweet will of God, still fold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee
Sweet will of God, still hold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee

I'm tired of sin, footsore and weary
The dark paths have dreary grown
But now a Light has risen to cheer me
I find in Thee my Star, my Sun.

(refrain)

Thy precious will O Conquering Savior
Does now embrace and encompass me
All discords hushed, my peace a river
My soul a prisoned bird set free.

(refrain)

Shut in with Thee, O Lord, forever
My wayward feet no more to roam
What power from Thee my soul could sever?
The center of God's will, my home.

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee
Sweet will of God, still hold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Laying on of Hands


Bp. Benjamin St. John the Evangelist Mission April 9, 2005

Even though its "only" a Reader's tonsure, it was as humbling as any event in my life.
The only other time I've been in this place was when I was in second grade and travelled to somewhere far away to have the Bishop lay hands on me as an altar boy in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church. It was as holy and awesome an event this time as it was 45 years ago.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Pascha

It is 8:30 AM Sunday morning. About four hours ago the last member of our entire Mission trickled out our front door. We began the Mission on Meatfare Sunday and have travelled Lent together, built liturgical furnishings, learned new music, endured opposition and naysaying, met new people, formed a parish council, embraced a new jurisdiction and our new Bishop, set up, took down the Church every weekend, did reader's services every other weekend, manned our posts through family crises, puking kids, demanding businesses, kid's gymnastics and karate classes, and Grandpa's downward spiral into total helplessness. We arrived at our chapel at 9:30 last night, exhausted, apprehensive about choir, music, rubrics and kids. Father Damian intoned his first prayer at 11:00 and the Spirit descended. Or perhaps we ascended. Whichever it was, we entered the timelessness and otherness of the kingdom. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness of all the human frailty that laid the path for the beginning of this new Mission did not overcome it.

The hours between 9:30pm and 4:30am last night were only matched by the first Pascha we had 5 years ago in another Mission we had begun with dear friends. It was the taste of new wine that I have never forgotten but hadn't tasted since.

It has been too long since I've experienced the inexpressible joy and sense of the triumph of the resurrection, the communion of the saints, the holiness of the 8th day, the glory of the Church and the taste of the sweet fruit of the labor of Lent. For the first time in years Pascha was a bright flame of glory and a resurrection of my spirit and not a dimly burning candle of wistful hope for something more.

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Miscellaneous

Who the heck invented days with only 24 hours??? My helper has been on Athos for 6 weeks discerning becoming a monk. I found someone to take his place for a week, but other than that I'm working solo. Mostly half days, 12 hours plus.

There's a painter I've known for two decades. He's a riot. He walks onto a job, a big warehouse.
There's electricians, plumbers, sheetrockers, laborers. He strolls to the middle of the huge open area and yells: "HEY!!!! ANYBODY HERE NOTICE HOW GOOD LOOKING I AM?"

He tells me he's supposed to have the job painted by Monday (I'm the drywall finisher). I tell him I'm working solo, so the job might not get done in time. He says, "I know how you can get done sooner." I say, "Yeah?" He says, "WORK FASTER!"

Our new Mission is going well. I've helped with several so the work is not a suprise, but it is still a lot of work. We're learning the Russian style of music etc. coming from 7 years of Antiochian Byzantine music and liturgics. The hardest part is getting my father in law up, dressed and out to the services. The "progressive supra neural palsy" steadily eats his brain and everything progressively takes longer and longer to do, and we can't leave him home alone. My wife is choir director and I'm the Reader and leader of the reader's vespers, matins and typika every other week. Gil is a trooper, sitting in his wheelchair for hours through matins, liturgy every week, and now Holy Week. I guess I know how we can get services done sooner... chant and sing faster.

I went to court to be arraigned for "contracting without a license", the outcome of a favor done for a member of the Church that went south and he turned me in to the State out of vindictiveness. No good deeds go unpunished. So, I go to the courthouse at 7:30AM for my hearing. Its a huge building with a grand entrance lobby full of security and airport type x-ray machines. I walk through the metal detectors and get wanded by the security guard. He asks me "So, do you know where you are going?" I say in a loud voice, "Not to jail I hope!" He stares at me for a second. I'm grinning, so he grins too. "Yeah, not a good way to start the day..." I go to the courtroom. I sit with several other people waiting for the judge. He calls my name, I approach the bench. "The charge against you is contracting without a license. Your plea is not guilty. See the lady next to me and she'll give you the court date." I want to go... "HEY...I'm guilty...." but I get gavelled and he calls the next persons name. I'm standing by the bench and I hear him tell the next guy, "The charges against you is assault. Since you bit someone in the process we can't resolve it here, your plea is not guilty. See the lady next to me... etc.". And on it goes. 10 minutes, he clears the courtroom. I guess that's what makes this country great. You can't even be guilty if you want to be.

A lawyer I talked to said I could counter sue the guy for extortion. Its a long story, but its tempting. Not a good thing to be telling me toward the end of Lent and I'm wanting some ribs and a chimichanga really bad. I won't do it. But vindictiveness, self justification, and resentment drives a big part of our psyches. I've known contractors who bypassed the legal system and just saw to it that the offending party spent the balance due them on medical bills or a new car or... sigh..... vigilante justice has its bright side when you're cast into darkness by someone rich enough to make your small life miserable and can out spend you in court. In the long run, its so much easier to just take the word of the Fathers: If you are accused, consider yourself all of that and worse. But I suppose "easy" depends on your goals in life. Humility only comes by being humbled, not by hiring lawyers to vindicate you before a bunch of people who really could care less. Those who do care, they could really care less about your legal status. One of my clients said he stayed up all night praying for me the night before my hearing. That is humbling.

My Toyota pickup is a little over 2 years old now and has about 70,000 miles on it. I think I've washed it three times. And once was a week after I bought it because it was brand new.

My right knee and left heel hurt. Not a good combination. I think they have about a million miles on them. The knee is probably developing the arthritis the surgeon told me about 26 years ago when I got it kicked in by a black belt who was losing a match to me when I was an orange belt. "There's no such thing as a humble black belt" my Sensei used to say, "its an act."
Hmmm...seems to be an issue with just about anyone who wears black in their vocation, I've discovered over the years.

It would be nice to have a faster computer. Doing the sound editing on the radio show for
the website and Ancient Faith Radio seems to take forever. Of course "forever" in computer time is minutes instead of seconds. I wonder what significant thing I would accomplish with those extra ten or fifteen minutes? I could justify it to my wife if she could be assured that I'd spend that time talking to her, I bet.... but I doubt that she'd believe me...

We now have two turtles. One I found one morning trudging along in the middle of the road. The other one a friend of ours found wandering in the parking lot of their condo. They live in our garden. One is a water turtle and we put it in the pond once whenever we can find it after it climbs out and hides in the yard. They're pretty cool. I wonder how many times God has found me obliviously wandering in the middle of the street about to be run over and picked me up, took me home and dropped me in His garden?

You'd never think to back up your cell phone's phone book. My phone died last week, less than 3 months old and just croaked. I think about it now. I wonder how much valuable information we lose by not talking to people, then they just croak unexpectedly and everything they had in them is lost and irretrievable. Sad....

Well, off to Holy Saturday....