Sunday, May 31, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

I'm heading back to "civilization". I've been through the literal desert. I've visited the spiritual desert. I'm going home through the metaphorical desert where technology, concrete, noise and the work of man's hands are, for the most part a self-created distraction from the inner desert.

Our human connections are through wires and digitized words and images...
Our journeys are traveled in isolation from one another, and at 75 miles an where, and for what purpose?
The gods of consumption and distraction keep watch over their wares...
and they increase their temples and the people say, "Amen!"
while inconvenient human beings starve at the doors of our churches of cheap instant gratification.

Is it all ungodly? No. It is the inescapable reality of the fallen world. The monks are wired and wireless. They use electricity. They use the internet and cell phones. They drive cars on highways and buy clothing and groceries and building supplies at the malls and in the cities. Even the "subsistence farmer" relies on commerce. But we do well to remember that it was Cain, exiled from his family for murdering his brother, who built the first city east of Eden and his offspring created "civilization", musical instruments, ironwork and commerce. At its roots the city is a place founded on and nurtures division, isolation, distraction and futility. But, like Cain and his sons, it is not beyond redemption. Like the literal desert it can become the icon of our death set before us and if one can attend to the heart and enter silence, His voice can be heard and we can see Christ, even here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

St. John's Dogs

At the ringing of the bells, no matter where on the property the dogs are they come RUNNING to the porch and....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Panorama View

I tried Canon's "Photo Stitch" and it worked pretty well, even though it had to curve the space a little. (Click this one for a slight enlargement).

This is standing at the altar and looking back toward the entry. The arched entry is just below the "keystone" looking panel in the center of the picture. The dormer window on the right is in the wing where the chanters will be standing. The scaffolding and heavy equipment are out now so tomorrow I'm going to do a video tour and put it up on youtube. Stay tuned.

The contractor brought in a one man lift so I could paint the windows...

and patch the hole at the very top of the dome and finish spraying the paint in the peak. Originally he told me I could get a 12 foot ladder and put it on top of the scaffold and if I stood on the top rung I could reach the peak of the dome. I told him the Church is dedicated to St. John, not Barnum and Bailey... I needed a lift. It only took about fifteen minutes to quick set plaster the patch and spray it, but I'm alive to blog about it.
As of an hour ago, 16 days straight of 11-12 hour days, I'm officially done and the flooring starts tomorrow, on schedule and in enough time to finish the building by the consecration on June 9 with MP Jonah and Bp. Benjamin.

Tomorrow I clean tools, reload the truck and look at a couple other future projects and hopefully get some interview time with Fr. Meletios before I head home.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Euclid's Dream-Angles R Us

We basically finished painting today. Now that it is all one color the geometry "pops". It's all the angles in the universe in one place.

Standing in the center of the nave and looking up toward the altar.
Standing just inside the entry looking up and right. (The tiny bit of arch in the lower right is the entry from the narthex into the nave.)
Standing in the center and looking back toward the entry up into the left corner. (The arch in the lower left is the entrance from the narthex into the nave.)

This is the detail at the top of the columns.
Standing in the center and looking left into the chanters wing dormer.
Standing in the center and looking up and left into the dome.
Standing in the center and looking up and left again, a little lower.
Standing in the center and looking back toward the entry and to the right. (The arch at the bottom again is from the narthex.)

When they got the drawings back from the conceptual artist he said "You wanted ANGELS on the ceiling? I thought you wrote ANGLES!" Note to self on Abbott Meletios' desk: Don't let monks who can't spell write proposals.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Letters To Home from St. John's

My wife's nightmare.

Monday, May 11.
Hi Sweetie, I arrived safely at St. John's. The Church is a lot more complicated than I thought it was from the pictures. I might have to stay for 3 weeks instead of two... I'll keep you posted.

Wed. May 13.
Hey babe, We got started and its going slowly to begin with, but we're figuring things out. The services here are wonderful, so peaceful... the singing is just like on the CD! Give Kenzie a hug for me.

Saturday, May 16
Hi Peg, We're pretty close to finishing sheetrocking. Its long, hard days. Compline is such a comforting way to end the day. I got a little time to talk to Fr. Meletios, the new abbott. What a beautiful spirit he has! Miss you. Tell Kenz "HI".

Monday, May 18
Hi, We finished the rock and started taping. Sunday's services almost unearthly, I felt like it was truly the Kingdom on earth. Fr. Meletios' homily pierced my soul. I've gotten to know some of the Brothers here and they are such a joy to work with and be around. I pray things are well at home. Give my greetings to our daughter.
love, s-p

Friday May 22
Dear Silouana, Our work is progressing with God's blessings. The Church is such a beautiful sacred space. I wept for joy when we finished the taping and I knew it would be perfect. I went to confession with Fr. Meletios and it was so freeing and my soul flew with the wings of the dove. I wish I could explain it to you. Perhaps when we come for the feast day and you get to meet him you will see what I mean. Anyway, please give a kiss of peace to Mary McKenzie for me.
In Christ,
steven paul

Monday, May 25
Dear Sister in Christ, Christ is Risen! Alethios Anesti! It is with great joy in the risen Lord that I bring you greetings from the Fathers and Brothers of St. John's. I fervently pray for you and Mary every night during my vigil before the icon of St. John. There is much work here and I might have to stay another 4-5 weeks (or more) in order to complete the task that God has ordained me to accomplish here. Please send my 300 knot prayer rope FedEx overnight.
Eternally your brother in Christ,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

St. John Trip, Day 13

A couple days have passed. I've been working on the dome and doing the final touch up on the lower areas. I started at 6:30AM this morning, and put the second coat on the dome area. Did I ever mention I HATE heights? Well, I do. My dream job is not an 8 foot ladder on top of a scaffold. If God wants to be worshipped in this Church with nice walls, He'll keep me on the ladder. But so far no angel has showed up and greeted me with their common first words: "Fear not!" I'd probably disobey.

The only finish that makes sense is a dead smooth wall. The architecture demands sharp, clean lines. A couple hours of finish sanding and sharpening of corners is time well spent. Its the last 2% that will make the difference between a "nice job" and a true finished product.
I finished the sanding right at suppertime. After supper Ross and I walked over to the Church and thought, "Man, it would be cool to see how it is going to look..." so we broke out the lights and sprayer and roller and paint and put the primer on the ceilings and columns. First you spray...and try to get some on the walls, not only on yourself.
An extention pole for the sprayer is gold. I was able to spray all the ceilings and beams from the floor. I've been up and down ladders and scaffolds for two weeks and my knees are shot.

After you spray, then you "backroll" with a good quality sheepskin roller. This does several things that even out the look of the walls and gives a good finish base for the final coat of paint. I brought my long extention poles in case I had time to paint. I was able to backroll from the floor instead of on ladders. Its a pain in the neck, literally, but a necessary step.
We finished the ceilings about 9:30PM. I've been working overhead almost all day. Ouch. I think it will be another 4 ibuprofen/twobeer night. Niteynite.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Asceticism at its Best

I've been at the Monastery for 12 days working on the Church. I've engaged the ascetical life while I'm here.

I've fasted from meat (except when I've gone into town to Home Depot for supplies). I've fasted from lust of the eyes (except when I've gone to Home Depot for supplies). I've fasted from lust of the flesh (except when I've gone to Home Depot for supplies). I've fasted from vainglory except when I've had to explain to someone what I do with the supplies I'm going to Home Depot for, or when people compliment what I've done with the supplies I bought from Home Depot.

Other than that..., I've accomplished the greatest feat of asceticism in my ten years being Orthodox, and my 30 years as a Protesant: I've fasted from going in here:

Yay ME!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roadside Grave

While I was driving through the Nevada desert something caught my eye and I stopped.
Hear more about it HERE

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

St. John Trip, Day 9

Someone once said, "God is in the details", and someone else said, "The devil is in the details." In the case of the dome the other guys sheetrocked, the devil was in the details and God has to make it work... or at least it will be a drywall miracle to make it look good. We put the metal corners on and I ran the bazooka on all the dome work this morning. Its as close to cussing as I've been on the project. As hard as it was, I'm glad I hung the sheetrock on the rest of the building.

This is Fr. Jeremy putting the fiberglass mesh tape on all the metal corners and bathed in a trinity of created light (it was the windows and dust, not the "uncreated light:...he's not all that advanced yet, but hey, its progress). The contractor had never seen anyone do this (put tape on the corners, not be bathed in created or uncreated light). It's an extra step, but it will keep the corners from developing hairline cracks if/when the building moves (like the first liturgy when the Bishop consecrates it and there are 150 people in a space made for 75).

Now the mud goes on... that'll be my job for the next 3-4 days. In all false humility, I'm good at it. But that means, I'll be the one doing it all...anyone else will just be creating more work.

This is the first coat of mud on the lower parts of the ceilings. Its coming together.

Its late and and the four ibuprofen and a beer is about to kick in so I can sleep.
Nite nite.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 8, St. John Trip

The contractor's guys showed up this morning with the scaffold and started the sheetrock on the dome area. Even though it is high, it is the simplest part of the project. After watching them for 8 hours (God bless their efforts), its a good thing they didn't do the sheetrock on the rest of the Church. They did a nice job, and that's a good thing too.
While they did that, I mudded the ceilings and then we put the cornerbead on the rest of the Church. (Its a metal piece that makes all the corners on your house.) There are miles of corners to put on. Fr. Jeremy is following me and putting fiberglass mesh tape on all the corners. Its an extra step and probably another 20 bucks, but it will help to keep the corners from cracking when there are a hundred people and the building starts flexing.

One of the big concerns was the acoustics in the building. Apparently the old building where the dome was taken from was "dead". Fr. Martin (the choir director here) came over late in the afternoon, just said a few words and declared that the acoustics are great. You can actually hear the reverb (slight echo) in the building now that the drywall is up. That makes a choir director smile.

Tomorrow we put on about 300 pounds of joint compound on the cornerbead areas. That's an ouch at the end of the day.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


It is Saturday and the general contractor's guys are taking the day off. I decided to get a jump start on the finishing below the dome. The lead guy (who is one heckuva nice guy), told me he would help me do the taping and finishing... as in "I'm not like, a taper, but I've done some mud work." Print this out and put it on your refrigerators blogreaders: NEVER LET A CARPENTER DO DRYWALL FINISHING. is Fr. Jeremy "pre-filling" with a non shrinking compound. This levels out the bad joints and fills the wide gaps in the sheetrock. There's a lot of that due to the difficulty level of the sheetrocking.
This is yours truly running the "bazooka". This machine basically lays a bed of mud and puts the drywall tape on top of it all in one stroke. The entire set up costs about 2000.00, but considering you can do in one hour what someone by hand would take nearly a day to do, it's worth every penny. The downside is it is a back breaker to use. Imagine twirling a twenty five pound baton around for a couple hours or all day when I was a younger and stupider man).

The blue streaks are fiberglass mesh tape on the joints of the sheetrock. The helpers spent all morning putting it on. We also have a special material for finishing the oddball angles on the ceiling called "flex tape". It conforms to any angle...and on this job that's a good thing.
We got a lot of the initial mud work done today. We still have about 25% of the ceilings to do yet (we ran out of gas, motivation and time before Vigil) but I'll probably do those Sunday afternoon... after my Traditional Sunday afternoon nap.)

Instead of attending the Vigil tonight, I took a long walk in the forest around the Monastery. I was a good walk. As much as I like being here I know the "thought" that I could "belong" here is a delusion. Being a pilgrim and a worker for a couple weeks is a far different thing than being called to the monastic life. More on an upcoming podcast on Steve the Builder. Stay tuned.

Good night.

Friday, May 15, 2009

St. John Trip, Day 6

We are five days into the sheetrocking and today finished all of the lower ceilings, round altar wall, shrines, lower faces of the beams, all the "triangles", and walls. These are the two youngest monks at the monastery who got the obedience to help me with the sheetrock. They are putting up the last sheet of drywall in one of the wings of the cruciform; the altar would be to the right of the picture the narthex and entry is to the left. (I am in the opposite wing taking the picture.)
This is what Ross called the "stealth drywall". He and Brother Eamon did all the tiny triangles around the beams, and the bottom sides of all the beams. It took them about 50 hours, and not because they were particularly slow, there's just that many of them.
This is the view of the altar from the narthex door. It is 6:00pm. We just finished cleaning the jobsite up, sweeping the floors and moving the rest of the sheetrock to stage it for doing the dome. Before we left for the night, Fr. Jeremy, Brother Eamon, Ross and I stood in the chanter's places and sang "Shine, Shine O Jerusalem". A fitting end to the week.

Tomorrow I start on the mud work on what we've completed. Monday the contractor will bring scaffolding so we can begin the dome.
It is truly humbling to think I'm building places where people will be worshipping God for generations, where saints will be formed. I often wonder why I am called and permitted to work on these projects. I wonder what I'd be doing if I had not been fired from my ministry job 27 years ago. But, as I mentioned about the "will of God for our life", I know enough now about the providence of God to know that I am still in the middle of the story, and I really don't know if this is the final purpose and goal of my life and vocation.

Regardless of the end of the story, I know I'm in my final chapters, and I repent of all the times I cursed the day I thought I was forced into becoming a construction worker. And when I can't move my fingers, and I can't get up off my knees or up a scaffold without something popping or creaking, when I sound like my old dog, and wonder why I couldn't be 20 years younger doing this... I remember God always gave people their hardest jobs when they are old. I plan on asking about that some day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

St. John Trip, Day 5

We actually finished the "stealth bomber ceiling" today and started putting up the high sections of the walls (in drywall you do the ceilings first then the walls. Ross and Brother Eamon did the lower parts of the walls while Father Jeremy, (my stepson who has worked for me when he was living at home) and I did the ceilings. With the details around the beams done you can see the complexity of the framing and drywall work a little better. When we finish the lower parts of the walls, we will erect scaffolding and start on the dome and dormer window area.
We also started on the round wall behind the altar.

We started using full sheets of drywall but it was really hard to get it to bend enough and they began breaking because the radius of the wall was a little bit too tight. I didn't want to have to hang the wall in double layers of quarter inch sheetrock, so we set up a makeshift jig to pre-bend the half inch sheetrock overnight.
It is supposed to rain tonight so the moisture in the air and the tension on the sheetrock over night will help it keep the curve until we can screw it to the walls where it will dry out and stay put. The County Building Inspector came by today and "signed off" on the entire sheetrock job even though we weren't even half done yet. She looked up and said, "Whoa...that was a challenge wasn't it?" She said if we did that good a job on the ceilings she's got no doubt we'll do the walls right. It was a nice compliment... my entire body still hurts but my ego feels good.

If we finish the walls tomorrow, I might start the mud work on the stealth ceiling while the guys keep on the sheetrocking since everything from here on is pretty straightforward and square. The taping and mud work will be its own challenge to make everything look straight, square and even.

The Will of God for My Life

What does a thousand miles of desert say about the will of God for our lives?
Listen HERE

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Despota of Drywall

I finally arrived at St. John's on Saturday night just before dark. I took this picture of the exterior of the Church. The dome is from the original chapel at Point Reyes (and the chapel wasn't much bigger than the dome, so they expanded the Church space under it. At supper Fr. Meletios announced to the monks that I will be staying in the Bishop's quarters...which, he said, shows how highly he regards the drywall work to be done. Coincidentally, Bp Benjamin showed up Sunday afternoon for a brief visit to see the Church. Fortunately he wasn't spending the night. Its only a double bed and I snore.
So....What does the Stealth Bomber

and the Church at St. John's have in common? Well... read on.

Monday morning I started on the sheetrock with two of the monks helping me. We got half of the altar ceiling area done in about 8 hours. About 6 sheets of drywall. (30 to 40 sheets a day is normal quota)... Why?
Find a square corner... I dare you.
It is a little hard to see from this picture, but the ceiling angles up and down in about 7 directions in this small area, and then dies into a round wall in the back behind the altar.

This is Ross, one of the pilgrims who is helping us. He has never hung sheetrock before, but I gave him a crash course on how to read a tape measure and cut drywall, then gave him a drywall knife, a T-square, a screw gun and a saw. He and one of the monks have been doing the closets, columns and lower parts of the walls that are square and straight. Today I graduated him to ceiling details. He kept saying to me, "You know, maybe if you....the ceilings might go faster." I'd say, doesn't quite work that way. It took him about two hours to put up 3 pieces of drywall less than a square foot each. He said, "NOW I understand what you guys have been doing..." Don't judge until you've cut an unequal quadrilateral in my shoes.
You can see from the pictures that, like the stealth bomber, there is not a single equilateral piece of surface anywhere.

The framers did the best they could with the design, but almost none of the angles are "true", so every piece has to be cut, "dry fitted", recut, refitted and then installed. Maybe if I had paid more attention in high school geometry it might go faster, but Euclid is unforgiving. Two degrees or that this way makes a big difference if you want to be able to screw the sheetrock to the framing.
After about 35 hours in 3 days we have a little over half of the ceiling done. In 26 years of drywall work, this is the most difficult job I've ever done, hands down. But.... I'm loving it.