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, 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, 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.


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.