Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sleeping with Sewage

hmmm....Freud might have a field day with my blog's obsession with sewage. But somehow my life seems to attract a lot of it. Maybe I'm one of those "vessels of dishonor" (read: toilet) that St. Paul talks about. Who am I to say to The Potter "Why do I keep collecting crap???" Maybe its because I can.

Well, anyway....I'm sitting here while the thinset dries in my father in law's bathroom.
He overflowed his toilet for the third time a couple days ago. If it weren't for gravity and the fact that our bedroom is in our basement, and our bed is right underneath his bathroom, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Physics, unlike some other logical principles, works in our house, so the water and all that it carries with it falls on our bed.

The first time he did it we were gone. He was still well enough we could leave him alone for a couple hours at a time. I came home and heard something like a tub filling. I found Gil in his bathroom standing in about two inches of water flushing the toilet over and over. I went downstairs and my ceiling had a belly like a whale and there was water flowing down the walls and about an inch of water on the floor. We pulled up the carpet and well.... other stuff.

The second time the sump pump went out in our basement. The sump pump pumps the waste from the toilet upstairs into the sewer lines. If it doesn't pump, it overflows. It flooded my office floor with about 5 gallons of sewage. It was late in the day so I had to replace it. Fishing an old sump pump out of a twenty gallon tank in the floor that services your toilet in the basement is not for the weak. Now I know why contractors call plumbers "turd herders". About 10:00pm I finished the installation and was getting ready to go to bed. I walked in my bedroom and there was a stream of water falling onto my bed through a hole in the ceiling. I ran upstairs and there was Gil. He was doing the same thing but we caught him before the whole bathroom was full and it only soaked our bed.

This time, I decided that to rely on Gil's ability to reason, I should rely on my ability to build things to keep it from happening again. So I ripped up his floor, put in new plywood and cement backer board, sloped the floor and put in a floor drain, a new commercial grade toilet and waterproof tile on the floor.

Gil sits in his chair in his bedroom while I'm working in his bathroom. I walk by him and he says, "I'm so sorry you have to do this."

I think, "Yeah, so am I." But not because I resent him, but because the world is fallen and people shouldn't get degenerative neurological diseases that eat at their brains and nervous systems and organs. I'm sorry I have to do this because it isn't fair that he feels like a burden on us, even though he is, but not in the way he thinks. And yeah, I'm sorry I have to do this because I HAVE to do it because my life is so narcissistic and self centered that I need God to dish out crap to me to make me serve someone else, be compassionate, not resent the inconveniences of other people's needs, and serve the lost, the helpless, the ones who cannot return a favor except by saying "I'm sorry you have to do this......"

I remember over 3 decades ago praying to God "Thou art the Potter, I am the clay... break me and make me into a vessel for your purposes." Little did I know God would decide I needed to be a toilet. Glory to God.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Dropping Stuff in A Toilet

Sunday morning getting ready for Church. Its always when you are running late you accidentally drop something in the toilet. It occurred to me that no matter how fast you put something into water and yank it out, it gets wet. Well, duh.

Perhaps holiness is the same way. If I come into contact with someone or something that is holy perhaps I cannot avoid "getting wet". If I am holy in an unholy situation perhaps those around me cannot help "getting wet" whether they like it or not. Sure they can dry off if they choose, but the fact is they experienced the unavoidable consequence of encountering the Spirit. I'm not usually a drinking fountain in the desert, or a buck twenty nine bottle of water, or a tidal wave or a jacuzzi, mostly I'm just a toilet, a vessel of dishonorable use that people accidentally drop their stuff into. It is sobering to know that however they encounter Christ in me, they get wet.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Subway Evangelist

I visited my son in Boston last week, never been back East. Back East you do this crazy thing... You go underground and ride a train to get places because you don't dare try to drive. I could live underground...There's Dunkin Donuts and magazine vendors down there.

There's also the tall skinny man with 1970's gold rimmed semi-rectangular aviator glasses that look like goggles on his face. He stands like a wooden Indian with his hands outstretched with a stack of white note card sized tracts. Around his neck is a cardboard sandwich sign about the size of a 19" TV that hangs on his chest and back. It has scriptures on it, all the scriptures that no one wants to go public with... you know, the judgment ones, hellfire and damnation. And some opinions about what the scriptures mean. On the straps holding the sign are some 3x5 cards that read "Repent or Burn!" "Christ or Hell" or something like that. A crowd comes down the stairs and part like the Red Sea when they get within 10 feet of him then re-converge on the other side of where he stands. He stares straight ahead, never making eye contact with anyone.

I walked up to him, stood in front of him, took a tract from his hand and said, "God bless you for living out your faith." He looked at me. Something in his face changed for a heartbeat....
"Thank you" he said and looked away into space again.

He may never "convert" a single person in his life, but I prayed God has mercy upon him and knows he was putting his whole being on the line for the sake of keeping people out of hell. He may look like a fool, but I've been a greater fool for far less noble causes. I fear I'm the one in the greater need for mercy.

Friday, November 05, 2004


I was shopping for CD’s at the office supply store when I noticed him. Nearly everyone in the store was in business attire, suits, sport coats, designer casual, mid-calf dresses. It was easy to notice him because he wore a tattered T-shirt worn thin in places, a message across the back, thrift store polyester bell bottoms and a wide belt. His chopped hair looked like it had been cut with a pocket knife and stood up, because of nature, not mousse. I noticed a few of the patrons smile condescendingly as he passed by them, a few pretended they just didn't see him. When I got close to him, I got embarrassed.

The back of his T-shirt, in big block letters said, "ASK ME ABOUT JESUS". His belt was one of those embossed cowboy belts, but instead of his name across the back it said, "JESUS IS LORD". His belt buckle was the size of a hub cap engraved with "PRAISE THE LORD". My first thought was, "Oh. no. these are the kinds of goofy people who turn people off to Christianity. There is not a person in here who would ask this guy about directions to Circle K much less about Jesus. And I know I certainly wouldn't send one of these people to him if they were seeking authoritative answers about Jesus."

Then I caught myself.

"So, just who do you have in mind as an authority on Jesus, Steve?" I asked myself, "someone more like yourself I'll bet. Someone with a degree in Jesus-ology, someone sharp, witty, articulate, judgmental, rejecting, condescending, and more impressed with the outward trappings of the culture than the inner spirit of the person?" (I talk to myself like this.)

He, I .... whoever was talking to myself. . . was right. So he looked more like a geek than a Greek scholar. But who better to ask about Jesus than someone who NEEDS him. Jesus probably IS his best friend because he didn't look like a person who had many friends (I know, I know….even that is judgmental). And again, I was confronted with the scandal of the gospel, the kingdom of "fools for Christ's sake". I thought about all the people who know Jesus far better than I ever will because they have no one else to go to, nothing else to hope in no illusions to hold on to, no pretenses to keep up. They are the foremost authorities on what it means to have Jesus as a friend and not only does the world reject them, we do too.

Mark my words, we seek out the flamboyant, the clever, the ones who can tell a marvelous, hilarious, moving story of how God intervened powerfully and miraculously in their lives to give them Christian smiley faces and victorious faith and deep spirituality. You will never see any "goofy looking", inarticulate people on the lecture circuits telling their stories. No, you will never hear them give a testimonial, read a book by them nor hear a tape of a class they have taught. Heck, even the Christian talk radio people cut them off early in the conversations. But if you get to the end of this and feel like you want to talk to one of them you don't have to go far to find them, they are right in your church. They have been there all along, you just have not opened your eyes to see them. Look around next Sunday. You will see them in the same pew, week after week, quietly living out their private desperations in the company of their best friend. Jesus. Their lives are really the essence of spirituality.

For the most part they give no thought to all the fine theological distinctions between faith and endurance, spirituality and perseverance, overcoming and holding on, victory and sticking it out. Theirs is a death grip on life simply because to let go would mean utter ruin. If we understood their pain we would know they have greater strength in their weakness than ten of us who feel like we have found a convenient handle on God and life. Talk to them, see if it is not so.

They are the ones who take no thought for tomorrow, it is enough to survive one more day, sometimes one more hour. The burden of even three tomorrows would crush them should they consider it seriously. They are the ones who "let go and let God", not because they necessarily gave control of their lives to God because some spiritual guru recommended it as a path to greater awareness, but because life was wrenched from their grasp by forces they could neither comprehend nor control. They have no inner strength left to hang on, no well devised plans and clever techniques left to arrange and order even a tiny corner of their universe. They do not read the latest Christian self help books on grief, depression, fear and anxiety so they can identify which stage they are in and work out a plan to get on to the next and eventually get on with a normal existence. They have no normal existence, they are perpetually out of control, careening in a fearful, wild roller coaster they are unable to stop, their screams of desperation drowned out by the screams of joy of the happy Christians around them.

You see, these are the true heroes of the Hillside Sermon. They are the poor in spirit, the ones who mourn. They are the ones in need of mercy, the ones starving for righteousness, the helpless, the hopeless, the castaways. But these are the guests of honor at the Feast of All Feasts. These are the lame, the weak, the spiritual bag-ladies and winos constrained by the Gospel from the gutters and cardboard shelters of life to come enjoy the banquet given to those who can only come and eat but could never bring pot-luck or return the favor. They are the ones with no pretenses of being there because they knew the host, hobnobbed with the right pastors or parish council members or were members of some moving shaking Church organization. They know they are being fed, not helping themselves. These should be our teachers. They, not we, are the sign of the kingdom come; not the articulate, the Who's Who in Whatever, the easy to look at, the shoppers-through-catalogues, the cutting-edge people. "The lame walk, the blind see, the Gospel is preached to the poor" St. John was told when he asked if the kingdom that Jesus preached was for real. The shepherdless sheep are sought after and gathered into the fold. The outcasts, the ones we refuse to see, the ones who didn't make the cut, the ones whose names are "Who?", the lepers, the untouchables, the social disgraces, the lowliest of the low, the sinfulest of the sinners, the lostest of the lost, these are all present at the king's banquet table. They are the sign of the kingdom among you.

We should look up to them because they have been lifted from the last place to the first. They would never presume, dare, even think, of claiming the first seat. Even now when they hear the Master's voice saying, "Come up here, sit by me", they look behind them thinking His call is to someone else, someone like you or me who write blogs and post to lists and teach classes and tell stories and divulge wisdom. But it is for them. The last in line are called out and given eternal "cuts".

So, the next time I see him I hope I have the guts to set aside my arrogance and condescending spirit and ask him about Jesus. I hope he will take the time to talk to me even though I wouldn't have taken the time to talk to him.