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.


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.

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