Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advertising and Theology

This is essentially the text for the newest Toyota dealer's radio ads here in the Phoenix metro area. It is lifted off of their website's "Guest Services" page:

More pampering while you wait

Our exclusive guest services area is nothing like you’ve ever seen! From a full-service nail salon, barbershop and shoeshine and massage salon, our new facility has something for everyone.

Book an appointment with a licensed cosmetologist to coincide with your vehicle service and save time out of your busy day.

Our exciting children’s play areas are equipped with a pirate ship and video games.

There are three customer lounges with large screen TVs and comfy couches so you can relax while we take care of your vehicle.

Catch up on some work in one of our wireless Internet computer stations.

We also offer shuttle bus service to and from Chandler Fashion Park so you can get some shopping in while we handle your vehicle.

This Changes Everything

In the radio spots there is a dramatic pause after all of the amenities and services are enumerated (including a massage parlor, a gourmet sandwich and fresh baked cookie shop, Edenic environments, among other things), then the announcer breathily whispers... "THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!"

First of all, does anyone for a moment really believe that a car dealer offering a manicure and massage, a miniature Disneyland for A.D.D. kids who were dragged to their parent’s “car buying experience”, a gourmet sandwich shop, a TV set playing Dr. Phil, or a shuttle to a mall to kill time, or wi-fi for the workaholics or the internet addicted really changes EVERYTHING?... In what reality? In whose world? Is there really a planet or a universe that exists that will be radically altered because someone can now buy a car and have all of their passions, vanities, obsessions and delusions fed at the same time? The fact that someone even THOUGHT of this “tag line” and even THOUGHT that it would speak to a target market, and even THOUGHT that it sounded “punchy” or had ANY substance to it is utter insanity. It really should be the punch line to a Monty Python bit, or a wry, sarcastically delivered review of some inane and vapid reality show starring Paris Hilton (or whoever the equivalent du jour is).

But, no, someone really sold this as a serious ad to Toyota. Someone really thought it said something to a target market. And the sad and frightening reality is, it does speak to a real market.

The other sad reality is that this does not change anything, it merely AFFIRMS everything about THIS planet, universe, reality and existence. People are captivated by pleasure, ease, comfort, entertainment and the illusion of being cared for. The reality is the same reality that was presented to Eve in the garden: The fruit looked good to eat, it promised pleasure, and it was a painless shortcut to attainment of the goal of “fulfillment”. St. James calls it "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life". The universe revolves around me, my desires, my wants, my comfort, and I deserve it all, .... after all, McDonalds has already told you that you DO deserve a break today, remember?

Like the Serpent, Toyota appeals to the passions and our vanity and presents us with the illusion that it is all about the customer, they care about our well-being, our comfort, our desires and needs. But in reality, they care about our dollar, not us. The promise of free pleasure and pampering, providing for our every fleshly and psychological desire is a snare. The reality is, the spiritually darkened human being is manipulated to extract the dollar. There is no true “pampering”, no concern for the person. It is manipulation and lies, an illusion presented for an ulterior motive. But the “market” believes them. And the “market” flocks to the dealership and eats the fruit.

But nothing changes.

Everything stays the same.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More Vintage Photos

Between my sojourn in the acapella churches of Christ and my conversion to the acapella Orthodox Church, I made a pit stop in the Episcopal Church where I could actually play a guitar in public. We did a couple fund raising dinners for the parish. We managed to put a decent band together with our multi talented choir members. This was circa 1994. This is me, the Wrong Reverend Stevie Ray, lead guitarist for "The Episcopresleyans". Our intro included among other things, "We asked ourselves, what would give this act some real class? And we thought, what do you see when you go to a symphony? MUSIC STANDS! ...." After the band member introductions I'd say in the "Cool Hand Luke" drawl, "What we have here is a failure to excommunicate."

I have to say, we tried this "schtick" at an Orthodox Church and ummmm.... Episcopalians are a whole lot more fun. We should have learned an Arabic version of "Radar Love". Oh well... WE had fun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Old Photo Albums

...yield the strangest things.

This was taken in 1972. I was 20 and visiting my Grandparents in Cabot, Arkansas (just north of Little Rock). 1972. Little Rock. Arkansas....

I was sitting at a McDonalds, outside at a wooden picnic table eating a Big Mac and sweating so much my hair was dripping. It was probably 98 degrees and 90% humidity. I didn't think it wise to eat inside the way the diners were looking at me.

Can you say "Deliverance"?

Anyway, I'd been there maybe ten minutes and a police car pulls in and circles the parking lot once. Twice. Three times. Ring around the hippie.

The car stops at the curb and the cop gets out of his car. He was the "Southern cop cliche". Aviator sunglasses. Big gut. Swagger. He steps up to my table. I look up at him. He drawls, "Yew 'bout done?"

"Um...just about," I say half cheerfully, trying not to sound sarcastic.

He tugs at his belt as if his pants are going to fall down. "Mebbe yew didn't git it...Yew 'bout done?"

I got it. "Yessir, I'm done." I start wrapping my burger up and stuffing it in the bag.

"Good. " He looks around slowly and says staring off into space without looking at me, "It's kinda busy round here and we need places fer folks to sit."

I look around. I'm the only one sitting outside. "Yessir. I see that. I'll make room right away."

"Awright. And it stays pretty busy here, so I wouldn't come back anytime soon, y'hear?"

"Got it. Thanks for the warning."

I get in my 1968 Volkswagon Beetle with the smiling sunrise painted over the back license plate light and head to my grandparent's house. He sits in his car and watches me drive away. I watch my rear view mirror to make sure he stayed put.

I suppose I was lucky he didn't see a tail light out or something that might warrant an arrest somewhere along the ten mile stretch of highway between Little Rock and Cabot.

Friday, November 23, 2007


(Thanks to Benedict's blog for the article)

Had Toni Vernelli gone ahead with her pregnancy ten years ago, she would know at first hand what it is like to cradle her own baby, to have a pair of innocent eyes gazing up at her with unconditional love, to feel a little hand slipping into hers - and a voice calling her Mummy.

But the very thought makes her shudder with horror.

Because when Toni terminated her pregnancy, she did so in the firm belief she was helping to save the planet.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

Incredibly, instead of mourning the loss of a family that never was, her boyfriend (now husband) presented her with a congratulations card.

While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal.

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

"Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population."

While most parents view their children as the ultimate miracle of nature, Toni seems to see them as a sinister threat to the future.

"The only person who understood how I felt was my first husband, who didn't want children either. We both passionately wanted to save the planet - not produce a new life which would only add to the problem."

But when she was 25, disaster struck.

"I discovered that despite taking the Pill, I'd accidentally fallen pregnant by my boyfriend. I was horrified. I knew straight away there was no option of having the baby. I went to my doctor about having a termination, and asked if I could be sterilised at the same time. I didn't like having a termination, but it would have been immoral to give birth to a child that I felt strongly would only be a burden to the world. I've never felt a twinge of guilt about what I did, and have honestly never wondered what might have been.”

"I've never doubted that I made the right decision. Ed and I married in September 2002, and have a much nicer lifestyle as a result of not having children. We love walking and hiking, and we often go away for weekends. Every year, we also take a nice holiday - we've just come back from South Africa. We feel we can have one long-haul flight a year, as we are vegan and childless, thereby greatly reducing our carbon footprint and combating over-population.”

Meet Sarah and Mark

Most young girls dream of marriage and babies. But Sarah dreamed of helping the environment - and as she agonised over the perils of climate change, the loss of animal species and destruction of wilderness, she came to the extraordinary decision never to have a child.

"I realised then that a baby would pollute the planet - and that never having a child was the most environmentally friendly thing I could do."

Mark adds: "Sarah and I live as green a life a possible. We don't have a car, cycle everywhere instead, and we never fly. We recycle, use low-energy light bulbs and eat only organic, locally produced food. In short, we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint. But all this would be undone if we had a child. That's why I had a vasectomy. It would be morally wrong for me to add to climate change and the destruction of Earth. Sarah and I don't need children to feel complete. What makes us happy is knowing that we are doing our bit to save our precious planet."


The Earth has become the god of the new millennium. We have ceased to subdue it, be stewards of it, reverence it as “our mother” as the Hypokoae of Matins in the 8th tone calls it. Toni sacrificed her first born child to the Earth-god and eats vegan (which apparently pleases the meat-gods.) People mutilate themselves in order to “save” the Earth-god and not displease it by “adding to its problems”. In return the Earth-god rewards them with a “much nicer lifestyle” and a long vacation every year in a vehicle that burns thousands of gallons of fossil fuel and is manufactured by god knows what materials stolen from the god's skin, in a fancy hotel built and staffed by parasites and "problems" begotten by irreligious reproducers, has taken up land formerly occupied by trees and is probably a huge gaudy pimple on the face of the god. Is this is the eco-fundamentalist’s version of the prosperity gospel?... we “serve our god” and are rewarded with a nice lifestyle and a vacation to our beach house in Cabo? All false religion shares a common delusion about the gods, it seems.

It is interesting that in our innate religiousness and hubris as human beings, even in moral lunacy, we still use religious language to define our relationship to the gods and the material world. We are now the saviors, but we are saving our own god by sacrificing our humanity on its altar. Who is the true god here? The earth has become the fabled volcano god of the pagans, if we add to its problems and don’t please it, it will kill us. Sacrifice your virgin children even before they leave the womb, don’t eat the forbidden foods. Humanity is a pollution, a parasite on the god. The human being is not an icon of a God not made of dirt, who has given humanity dominion over the dirt. Have we been good stewards? Perhaps not. Are we self centered consumers? Ask Adam and Eve. Is the answer to treat the earth as if it is our personal savior with a bad attitude toward us that needs saving from ourselves?

Those who have no God have no cohesive theology of a "fall". We know something... everything needs saving. People are no more important than a rock or a tree, but there is still a concept of "salvation" of the cosmos albeit the cosmos is only the immediate environment we occupy. The earth god cannot save, neither can we save the god. In short, Eden cannot be reinstated by human effort. Eden did not save humanity in the beginning, human beings will not save it in the end. But the part they have right is that it needs saving and it takes a God who is human and a part of the creation to do that.

Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, 'Awake!' To a mute stone, 'Arise!'
And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
And there is no breath at all inside it. (Habakkuk 2:19)

Who says to a tree, 'You are my father,' And to a stone, 'You gave me birth.'
They have turned their back to Me… (Jeremiah 2:27)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Random Thoughts

It seems like I spend more time commenting on other people's blogs than I do writing on my own lately. I kind of have "blog envy" of those who post regular and thoughtful essays on deep theological, sociological, political and cultural themes. Me? I just seem to be wandering through life a day at a time and any thoughts I have during the day that have any "pith" to them seem to vanish by the time I get home from work and sit down at the computer. I read an article recently (I can't remember where...) that more people are stopping blogging than are starting now. I'd imagine there are a lot of folks like me who are in the middle of the road and have "blog guilt" for having a blog but not posting on it regularly after starting off in a sprint and posting every day in the beginning. Maybe most of us are figuring out that other people's lives are more interesting than ours and other people are saying what we are thinking much more eloquently than we can and other people are thinking of stuff that we aren't smart enough to think of. So, what else is there to blog about then?

At 55 and being a fairly "public" person for most of my adult life as a teacher, minister, counselor, writer, radio program host, reader, catechist, blogger, etc. I'm finding myself becoming more reclusive and quiet and less willing to give an opinion, advice and to be in the spotlight. Any more I do it because I'm asked/told, or because I started a work and need to finish it, or it just comes with the territory of a gift I have and a responsibility I've accepted in order to contribute to a bigger picture... but not because I wanted it or sought it out. In a lot of ways I'd love to be anonymous, silent and still. I look at the abbots and abbesses, priests and monks I know and all the responsibilities they have and I wonder how they keep their balance.
Even in the monasteries there is no true silence and true stillness and anonymity. After all the visits to monasteries I've made, I know the monasteries are an even more intense, busy, servile, and public life in many ways. I also know I'm not qualified to be a hermit because I'm not perfected in my love for mankind in general or even specific people.

In a lot of ways my focus has narrowed over the past few years. I don't concern myself much with "the big picture" in any arena of life... politics, Church issues, culture, economics etc. I sometimes listen to talk radio and the SALEM station's talk radio tag line is "Where YOUR opinion counts!" .... ummmm, yeah, right... it counts for Arbitron ratings and higher advertising rates. A media empire is being built on people's narcissism and the illusion that anyone really cares what they think, including the talk show hosts. The reality is, no ones' opinions really count for much of anything, even if someone asks for them. I know that sounds bleak and negative, but in the end all that matters is Truth, not anyone's opinions. I often wonder lately what our conversations would sound like if all we did was "speak the truth in love". Especially when Christ stood silent before Pilate when He was asked "What is truth?"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


It occurred to me today: Why do you have to pay extra for "upgraded" TV in order to get the "degraded" programming?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Long???

For those who just check in to see if there's anything new.... I'm still alive, but INSANELY busy the last month or more. There's a lot to blog about but I'm only getting a few hours sleep a night as it is. Keep checking back. God willing I'll get some time to blog soon. Good night.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mother's Day Prime Rib Recipe

Since the Apostle's Fast is drawing to a close, I thought I'd post another recipe. The men of our Mission Church hosted a prime rib and champagne luncheon for all the women of our Church on Mother's Day. I cooked the roast and it got rave reviews from some pretty critical carnivores.

It seemed a lot of other people had the same idea and a true prime rib was not to be found in Phoenix, so I ended up with two 6-8 pound rib eye roasts from Costco. Someone else has since fixed this with a tenderloin roast and said it was good too. SO.... here's the recipe. It's worth the work!

S-P's Mother's Day Rib Eye Roast

Place the roast on a wire rack over a cake baking pan.

Pour balsamic vinegar over it and rub it in all around the roast on all sides.

Cup your hand and pour about an inch and a half diameter mound of coarse sea salt in it. (I bought the coarse Mediterranean Sea Salt grinder from Costco and had to break the top off, but any VERY coarse sea salt or Kosher salt should do fine... DO NOT use fine table salt or grind the salt onto the roast, it HAS to be put on coarse.)

Sprinkle the salt liberally and uniformly over the roast on the one side and pat the salt down lightly so it stays put. Turn the roast, pour another mound of salt and salt the other side and ends. (It looks like a lot of salt, but don't worry, this is what it takes for the prime rib crust).

Prepare a mixture of two heaping teaspoons of Montreal Steak seasoning, a heaping teaspoon of red chili powder, a level teaspoon of paprika, a level teaspoon of garlic powder. Sprinkle this over the roast on all sides, covering evenly and liberally (but don't use all of it...that's too much, you can use the leftover for steak seasoning or making the prime rib "Outback Style" when serving it... see the end of the recipe below).

Take a squeeze bottle of honey and drizzle honey over the whole roast in lines about a half inch apart creating a "checkerboard pattern" with the honey.

Cover with foil, put in the refrigerator and let marinate for about 8 hours (overnight).

Take the roast out of the refrigerator at least TWO HOURS before cooking to bring to room temperature (this is important!)

Set the oven to 200 -225 degrees and put the roast in on the wire rack over the cake pan you used to prepare it on, leave it uncovered.

Let cook for about 6 hours (depending on the size of the roast... the large one today was about 8 pounds).

You cannot use "rule of thumb minutes per pound" to cook a roast. BUY A MEAT THERMOMETER! Get an "instant or rapid read" thermometer at the grocery store for about $9.00. Check the roast after about 3 hours and keep an eye on the internal temperature.

No matter what the thermometer recipes say, rare is 110 (NOT 130-40!), medium rare is 120, medium is 130, etc.) You can always cook it more, you can't uncook it.

Remove the roast from the oven and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes to rest before carving.

(You can carve the roast and heat a cast iron skillet (it has to be "smoking hot"! and sear the meat to make it a little more done if necessary...if you sprinkle it with a little of the leftover Montreal seasonings and sear it in a smoking hot skillet with a dab of butter, that's "Outback Style".)

Bon apetit!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Peach Cobbler

Grace asked for a peach cobbler recipe on her blog, so rather than just post it as a comment to her blog, I figger'd I'd share it with the blogosphere. This is a "granny" recipe from Texas and is goooood!

Quick Cobbler
4 cups berries or peaches
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick of butter
2 1/2 cups sugar divided
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
cornstarch paste

Melt butter in 9x13 baking dish. Meanwhile mix fruit with 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan and cook until syrupy. (An s-p tweak: Substitute 3-4 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar for part of the white sugar to the peach cobbler) Add cornstarch paste to thicken (1/8 cup cold water with two tablespoons cornstarch added and mixed). Set aside.

Combine flour, remaining 2 cups sugar and baking powder. Mix in the vanilla and milk. Pour the fruit into the baking dish over the melted butter. Sprinkle the fruit with the lemon juice. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake at 350 degrees until brown and a toothpick comes out clean. (About 40 minutes)


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Almost Arrested

I was almost arrested for assaulting a woman today.

I arrived at the medical plaza at 7AM this (Saturday) morning to do some drywall work in the off hours. I had a key and the alarm code for the office to get in.

There was a group of abortion protesters from a local Christian pregnancy and adoption clinic on the sidewalk with some typical signs "God is Right, Abortion is Wrong" kinds of stuff. They were yelling at people as they drove into the parking lot "YOU"RE GOING TO REGRET GETTING AN ABORTION!" "DON'T KILL YOUR BABY!". I don't go for that approach myself, but I also don't begrudge them their zeal and guts and dedication. I drove to the fourth floor of the parking garage and looked down. I saw a Hispanic couple who was sitting on a bench in front of the plaza waiting for it to open. They went over to the protesters take some literature and went back to a little park bench in front of the clinic. I took some tools in to the job and looked down again... they were obviously in a conversation.

I got in my truck and drove down to the curb and got out. I walked up to the couple and asked "Se habla English?" The woman said, "No." Her boyfriend said "No mucho." I said, "Yo tengo un pocito de Espanol" (I have a little Spanish). I pulled out my wallet and showed her a picture of two kids. "Son mis ninos...These are my kids". ... "Sus madre no es mi esposa, es una otra mujer", their mother is not my wife, it is another woman". She looked puzzled. I said, "No abortion, estan mis ninos ahora...adoption..." "No abortion, they are my kids now, adoption". Her boyfriend got it and started talking to her. I got a little of what he said. I said, "Son muchas personas que quieren ninos...., there are a lot of people who want children." I poked her side with my finger and said, "Tiene un bebe aqui... no abortion, adoption por favor, sabe?... You have a baby here, please, no abortion, adoption, understand?" She looked at me and said "Si, gracias." I folded up my wallet and said "Gracias, adios," and drove back up to the fourth floor and went to work.

An hour later I heard someone in the office. "Anyone working here?" I looked up and it was two police officers. They asked me for my name, who I was working for etc. I said, "Did I trip the alarm... I have the code and keys to the office...."
"No," they said, "Did you talk to a couple downstairs?" I said yes. "What about?"
"I showed them pictures of my adopted kids and talked to them about adoption instead of abortion."
"Did you touch the woman?"
"Yes, I touched her and said you have a baby there."
"Do you know those people down there?" (Meaning the protesters).
"No, I'm not part of that group, I don't know them."
"Then why did you do that?"
"I don't know. I've never done that before. I just saw them take literature from them and they were obviously talking about it, so I went down and told them adoption was an option."
"The doctor wants you arrested for interfering with her practice, trespassing and assault on her client. You DID touch her."
"Oh. I'm sure she's upset."
"Well, you're not trespassing because you are working here, but you know we could arrest you and take you away for assault. That's what she wants."
"I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I guess it was a bad move, huh?"
"Yeah, very bad.... how long will it take you to finish your job and get out of here?"
"Two hours tops."
"Then finish and leave. DO NOT talk to anyone, stop, or even look at anyone. And if we ever see you here again you'll be arrested. What's your boss' number, we'll have to call him...and what's your number in case the doctor wants to press charges. And by the way, your friends on the sidewalk are gone, they didn't have a permit to be out there."
"OK. Thanks for letting me finish. I'll be done as quick as I can."

So I've inadvertently joined the ranks of abortion protesters. I'll never know on this side of eternity if the couple followed through with their "Family Planning" or went to the Free Clinic.
It cost me a contract to show my kids' pictures to some strangers who were thinking about killing their baby. If she presses charges, there's worse things I could have a police record for, I guess. In the end, it isn't a bad trade off.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another One Launches

My oldest daughter, Brittany walked at University of Arizona with the Department of Political Science after five years of carrying a full load of classes, working two jobs and taking two Spanish classes at once to complete her language requirement this semester.

.....At least we THINK she did.

The GPS photo taken from the nosebleed section of the Tucson Convention Center is being sent to the CIA for computer digital photo enhancement to verify that this is indeed her carrying an unidentified piece of paper (possibly a suicide note if her name is not called) and under the small red postage stamp poster below.

This is the proud grad with friends. We realize she could have mugged a real grad in the bathroom and stolen the gown to meet us outside the arena after the ceremony. No police reports of such an event were published so we think that was really her walking.

At any rate, she got a lot of cool stuff and got to drink some beer and eat good bar food.... well, she doesn't drink beer, but we got to, in honor of the accomplishment. Any excuse works to go to Chuy's.

So, what does a Poly Sci major do after graduation? I took some pictures after our last UofA graduation.....But, we'll see. For now, its all good.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Do I Smell Something Burning?

David tagged me as a "Thinking Blogger"...
So I have to come to one of two conclusions, either his threshold for what causes him to "think" is pretty low, or the blogosphere has lowered the collective concept of what passes for depth, or the meme has pretty much gone around the world and people are scraping for a list of 5 blogs that have already not been tagged, or.... no, one of THREE conclusions. Ummm... wait, make that one of FOUR... Blogging has replaced thinking as a sign of existence...I blog, therefore I think I am.

At any rate, I don't actually blog much, and I don't do much "thinking" on my blog, its more a journal of life, work, dogs, death, turtles , family events, observations about life, some minor philosophizing, some cool pictures I took, some rants, and stories. I started out thinking I would think on my blog, but I think pictures of Chinese hats, my dogs and framing octagonal ceilings is sometimes a lot more interesting than what I think about contemporary issues. Anyway... thanks David, you're easily entertained! :)

I guess you have to put this in your blog if you acknowledge you've been tagged, so here it is.
After I post the "rules", I'll list my 5 thinking blogs in no particular order of thought provoktion (is that a word?).

Rules for this:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post [already done above -- Me.] so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Now is it optional to display the Award proudly, or is it optional to display it even if you don't do it proudly? I'm so confused by misplaced modifiers and fuzzy instructions. This reminds me of the OCA rubrics book for services. ANYWAY....

5 blogs I visit when I'm tripping the blogosphere fantastic: (I'm avoiding redundancy of listing blogs that have probably been tagged by the 24,289 other Orthodox bloggers...)

SIX blogs....

...and here is the picture of the finished octagonal ceiling in the laundry room that everyone has been waiting for... VERY nice chandelier, 4 recessed lights, ambiance rope light behind reversed crown molding around the bottom... two shots, one in the dark and one in the light.

and heck, just another cool picture I took on my way home from work

Thursday, April 26, 2007

How Not to Get a New Truck

I bought my first new car when I turned 50. I left the dealer about 10:00pm with my Toyota Tacoma with 6 miles on the odometer. At 7:30am the next morning my wife backed into the rear fender in our driveway. The next day one of my clients backed into the front end backing out of her driveway. The next week I started working at St. Paisius Monastery every weekend for almost 10 months. Like a dope I had leased it for 6 years with 15,000 miles a year to save money on monthly payments. In 3 and a half years I had put almost 150,000 miles on it.
They call that "upside down". This is the last time it visited St. Paisius last week. Going through the Salt River Canyon, it became clear to me I needed that 1,000.00 brake job the mechanic was warning me about.

My kids visit us a few times a year. All of them use our cars when they come to visit. Sean is visiting during spring break. He is 17 and uses my work truck to go to Church and run errands. I've always had it in the back of my mind that if one of the kids ever gets in a wreck in my work truck, I'm screwed. I need my truck.

Sean left for Church at 6:45 on Wednesday evening. At 8:15 I got a call. "This is Sean. I got in a wreck at Gilbert and Main." I asked if it was bad. He said "Yes, pretty bad." I asked if he was OK. He said, "Yeah, I'm OK. The other people are kinda OK, the lady has a cut on her leg... here, the paramedics want to talk to you..." He was OK. Peggy was at choir practice, I called her and she headed to the accident. I called friends who drove me and McKenzie to the accident. Sean had run a red left turn arrow. The don't have those in Hemphill, Texas. My truck was on the sidewalk facing the opposite way he was heading, bleeding oil and transmission fluid. Tools, paint, mud, ladders, buckets, saws, razor blades, books, all were thrown all over inside the truck. The scaffold and drywall mud boxes were in the intersection.
I grabbed my crucifix and prayer rope and let them tow it away.

Here is Sean the next morning with his bottle of ibuprofen and the truck at the junkyard where we had to unload all my tools and stuff into my rental truck.

Here is the car that hit him. The driver walked away, his girlfriend went to emergency for stitches in her leg.

I told him cars can be replaced... at my age kids are harder... We thank God no one was killed. Sean said, "Thanks for taking this so well." I told him we need a new van too....

So, "Upside Down Red" is totalled. I have "gap insurance" which pays the difference between what I owe and what the truck is worth. So I walk away free and clear. We went to the Nissan dealer tonight and I bought my second new truck, a bit bigger and hauls more stuff. (No lease.) Soon the new Church at St. Paisius will be ready for drywall. I have a brand new truck that will make the trip now. God works in mysterious ways, I suppose.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not Another One

I don’t feel particularly qualified to comment on the Virginia Tech massacre in one way. I’ve not read any newspaper articles about it, I haven’t downloaded any of the videos on You Tube, I’ve read two blog posts about it and I’ve listened to maybe fifteen minutes of talk radio rants about gun control, evil and the politics of violence in America.

Everyone has an opinion and a dot they connect to some event or aspect of culture, politics, religion, psychology or morality that in some desperate way helps them make sense of the tragedy and what might keep another one from happening.

I don’t know Cho. Though I do in a way. I ran a Boy’s Home for five years. Kids were sent to us to cure, straighten out, point in the right direction, teach or nurture… whatever you wanted to call it. These boys had been beaten, burned, sexually assaulted, starved emotionally and physically, locked up, locked out and had seen things kids should never see much less even imagine. Some were genetically disadvantaged from the start their humanity compromised with low IQ’s, twitches, tweaks and synapses that didn’t fire or fired at the wrong times. Others had their humanity twisted out of them by watching their father have sex with the family dog in the backyard through their bedroom windows late at night then be assaulted by him later, or having scalding water thrown on them by their mother for crying when they got an “owie”. So, yeah, I know Cho. What I don’t know, nor does anyone, is how his peculiar experiences in life intersected with his peculiar humanity and its peculiar limitations. Nor do we know why he chose to work out his salvation, or his concept of it, in the way he did.

One thing I came to realize working with the shattered humanity I have, is that every action is purposeful and is intended to control some circumstance, create some illusion or tweak reality so that some deep existential pain within me will be alleviated and some vast dark void in my soul will be filled. We used to have a saying about all the dysfunctional ways the boys would try to do that: “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” It’s a cliché that covers a multitude of sins.

Solomon said, “What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:15 Pessimistic? I think not. Who can straighten the path of the entire human race since Adam’s sin? Who can count all the ways we lack love? Who can straighten a child deformed by the dozens of people who have bent him, pushed him, twisted him and crushed him? Who can count what was beaten out of him, drained from him and torn out of his soul? What is lacking is not even clear to ourselves much less those around us.

Why does one person go on to a life of introspection, chose a path of painful healing and look to love as the cure for the darkness and another cast themselves headlong into their darkness and lose themselves and try to take everyone around them into that black hole?

The greatest despair is not to despair of the possibility of encountering healing love. It is to disbelieve that it even exists, and if it does, that it does not matter. The nihilistic spirit of the age is a culture of ultimate despair. Relationships and even love are utilitarian and ultimately are in service to our “feelings”. We are slaves to passion, and if we cannot “feel” something, we WILL feel come hell or high water and will do anything to experience something within us that tells us we are human and not an empty void. Even if that feeling is pain, sorrow and twisted exhilaration.

I ask myself of Cho what I asked myself of dozens of young boys I lived with for five years, “Is there anything that can be done to straighten this twisted human being, what could I possibly add to this empty vessel to fulfill its humanity?” All I can come up with is love. But the problem is, who am I that I can possibly love to that depth and intensity? I am inadequate to the task because I too am twisted and empty and shattered. But bad breath is better than no breath at all. Perhaps my imperfect and shallow and weak love will give a glimmer of the greater Love awaiting us all. If Cho had encountered a real Christian, would it have made a difference? We don’t know if he did, or that it ultimately would have mattered. I just believe some people are bent and in this life cannot or will not be straightened. And the rest of us have to live with this reality when the dark emptiness in them spills over into our lives and engulfs them. The only hope we have is the hope that even in that darkness there is still a Light that shines in that darkness and if we are faithful the darkness will not overcome it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Has it Been Two Months??

Gee time flies when you're having Lent!
What's been happening?

Well, I've been working like a dog (like a Great Dane, not a chihuahua...)
For some reason I've been doing a LOT of doctor's office remodels lately and of course they have to be done before they open and after they close. So I do those before I go to my "day jobs". And all this going on during Lent and Holy Week and being the Reader at our Mission

Of course we have to keep places like this surgery room REALLY clean while trying to do drywall work.

I was on my way home one night on the freeway about 11:00pm from Safeway Corporate offices (another after everyone goes home remodel) feeling sorry for myself for having to work 18 hours that day and saw someone having a worse night than I was...

Of course, when you're sacrificing a lot and begin feeling like a martyr, strange things happen....

No, its not stigmata. You shouldn't use your hand to pound a piece of one inch copper pipe into a fitting. Use a mallet next time, stupid. No crowns of glory for being a dope no matter how much it hurts. sigh.....

But it hasn't all been work work work. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" as Jack Nicholson immortalized in "The Shining" (Shelly Duvall looking over the typewriter at his manuscript was one of the most psychologically frightening and well shot scenes in Kubrick's career). Anyway, I digress. We went to St. John's Monastery for a pilgrimage and to visit this guy

He's not really all THAT scary and sober... he's really just a Russo-phile poser. But he is a novice there, and my step son. While I was there I interviewed Abbott Jonah about the Jesus Prayer, monasticism and the spiritual life for my radio program . On our way back we stopped in San Francisco to visit St. John Maximovitch who lies incorrupt in a shrine in the Russian Cathedral there. My wife had some heart problems during Lent. She was prayed for all over the world and annointed with oil from St. John, and when she went in for the catheterization they found no blockage. So we stopped in here to say "Thank you" to St. John.

We also drove through the Sequoia National Park where they have some REALLY big trees. This one was a sapling when Christ was born. This is a tree hugger's dream...
This was a scenic stop off where you can see 11 mountain ranges at one time.

By the way, that's my 14 year old daughter hugging the tree. She's 14 going on 23. She refuses to go to a convent so this is the next best thing for her Dad's sake...
Speaking of convents...I just returned from St. Paisius Women's Monastery where I've been building stuff for them for about 4 years now. This is where my father in law is buried.

Another painter and I spent two days and painted the main building, the barn, 3 sketes, 3 outbuildings, the goat pen, and about a half mile of fence. This is the cemetery fence. I loaded a generator and my spray rig in the back of the truck and drove around it to paint it. In the background is the new Church that is being built. God willing, I'll be able to do the drywall work on the interior when the roof is on.

So... that's the life of Steve for the last couple months. Now you'll have to excuse me, I need to go put something on the sunburned bald spot on the top of my head. Next time you're painting outdoors in the Arizona sun, wear a hat. Remember, no glory for dopes, just pain.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Self Image, Narcissism and Loneliness

The following is an article from the Seattle Times. It is a completely secular validation of what the Scriptures and the Fathers tell us:

"Self-knowledge is needful; this is the knowledge of oneself and especially of the limitation of one's talents, one's failings, and lack of skill. Abbot Nazarius

"Our greatest protection is self-knowledge, and to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature, a certain grace of form or the life, and they think that this is what they are. Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves: because of their absorption in (the false images), they overlook what is their (true self) and leave it unguarded. How can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves: each one must know himself as he is, and distinguish himself from all that is not he, that he may not unconsciously be protecting something else instead of what is truly himself." St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Since the time of the transgression of our forefather, despite the weakening of our spiritual and moral powers, we are wont to think very highly of ourselves. Although our daily experience very effectively proves to us the falseness of this opinion of ourselves, in our incomprehensible self-deception we do not cease to believe that we are something, and something not unimportant. Yet this spiritual disease of ours, so hard to perceive and acknowledge, is more abhorrent to God than all else in us, as being the first offspring of our self-hood and self-love, and the source, root and cause of all passions and of all our downfalls and wrong-doing. It closes the very door of our mind or spirit, through which alone Divine grace can enter, and gives this grace no way to come and dwell in a man. (From Unseen Warfare)


Does Your Mirror Lie?
How people view their appearance, smarts and importance rarely reflects the truth

Story by Kyung M. Song,
The Seattle Times

David Dunning played the cello seriously as a teen - and he thought himself quite talented.

Then Dunning heard a recording by Jacqueline du Pre, the late English cellist who was renowned for playing with a brilliant ferocity. "So that's what you do with that instrument," a chastened Dunning, now professor of psychology at Cornell University, recalls thinking. "I had no clue that you could do that with the cello."

Dunning's epiphany was a classic example of a phenomenon familiar to social psychologists: flawed self-assessment. People - as researchers have documented again and again - systematically misjudge their competence, virtues, relevance and future actions. And those erroneous views can, researchers say, endanger health, ruin relationships, dent finances and cause other misery.

People generally consider themselves smarter, luckier, better looking and more important than they really are. They regard themselves as exceptional and believe that they will avoid the divorces, premature deaths or weight gains that befall everyone else.

Self-serving biases permeate people's perceptions. They claim credit for good deeds and successes but shift blame to others for their failures. A Toronto motorist captured this tendency on an insurance form: "A pedestrian hit me and went under my car."

"Most of us have a good reputation with ourselves," says David Myers, a professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who wrote the textbook, Social Psychology.

Blissful incompetence

People's high self-regard tends to be unjustified, social psychologists say. The link between people's personal estimations and the not-so-flattering reality is sometimes perilously weak.

Researchers at Australia's University of New England reviewed 128 studies in 1982 and calculated that people's perceptions of their intelligence versus their actual performance on tests and academic tasks had an average correlation of less than .3. A perfect correlation is 1.

In another study, in 1977, 94 percent of college professors ranked themselves as above average, even though by definition only 50 percent can be in the top half.

The least skilled people have the most exaggerated sense of their abilities. Dunning and a colleague conducted several studies to test theories about incompetence and inflated self-assessment.

Forty-five Cornell undergraduates took tests on logical reasoning and estimated how their test scores would compare to that of their classmates. The students who performed in the top quartile lowballed their actual scores and rankings. But those in the bottom quartile were grossly off mark. They misjudged that their scores would fall at the 62nd percentile instead of the actual 12th percentile.

Conclusion: Incompetent people are doubly handicapped because they lack not only the requisite skills but the ability to recognize their own deficiencies.

Intuition is dead wrong

People's self-perceptions fail in other ways, too. Often they are guilty of unwarranted optimism. People believe themselves invulnerable to bad fortunes, whether picking losers in the stock market or catching sexually transmitted diseases. Marriage-license applicants correctly guessed in a survey published in Law and Human Behavior that half of marriages end in divorce. Yet most of the 137 would-be betrothed put chances of their own marital dissolution at zero percent.

People are egocentric. They think their actions, absences and contributions are much more conspicuous than they actually are. Social psychologists have dubbed this the "spotlight effect." Students ushered into rooms while wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a large photo of Barry Manilow (attire researchers verified most college students consider mortifying) guessed that twice as many of their classmates would take note as actually did. Other people are more oblivious to our appearances, emotions and behaviors than we imagine. Stewing silently against a colleague? Chances are he barely has a clue.

People also think their virtues uncommon but their failings typical. Tax cheaters believe everyone else cheats, too. An infatuated person, Myers says, assumes the other reciprocates the feelings. People who drink heavily but buckle up in the car bolster their self-image by underestimating how many other people use seat belts. As the Talmud says, "We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are."

Consequences in life

Some social psychologists argue that shortcomings in self-assessment in laboratories are inconsequential or artificial. But researchers amassed persuasive data showing that people - at least North Americans - commit systematic errors in perceptions that can jeopardize their health, sabotage careers and even world peace.

People with unrealistic optimism are less likely to say they intend to get a flu shot. They are more likely to chance high-risk sex or disregard doctors' orders. They also risk wasting money on gym memberships by overestimating how often they will work out, Dunning said, or by miscalculating how carefully they will monitor their cellphone minutes.

Grades, too, can suffer. Children who can realistically gauge their own learning do better on exams. Fifth- and seventh-graders in an experiment published in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology bore this out. They devoted less time to easy booklets and focused their studies on the difficult ones. First- and third-graders, in contrast, underestimated the effort required to memorize the more difficult booklets and split their attention evenly among the booklets. The result: the younger students fared worse than the older students on subsequent tests.

Employees with flawed self-views might reject their supervisor's valid, but negative, reviews. Then they feel cheated with their "paltry" raises. Husbands and wives separately tallying how much each contributes to household chores produce estimates that add up to more than 100 percent.

Inflated self-views aren't all bad. They can buffer people from stress and depression and motivate them to keep after challenging tasks, Myers says. But on the whole, Myers contends, errors in perception bear blame for much of life's disharmony.

"It's at the root of many divorces, as both partners see themselves as contributing more and benefiting less than their counterparts," Myers says. "And it's endemic to many conflicts, where each side thinks its motives are virtuous."

Reality check

So, how do you get a true, or at least truer, picture of yourself? One way may be a "self-regulation" model professor Glenn Regehr and colleagues at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine are promoting. It involves medical professionals seeking formalized feedback from peers, patients and standardized tests to identify their practice habits and outcomes. Whether physicians are as skilled as they assume may be less material than whether they know when to ask for help - much as Regehr says poor spellers avoid trouble by knowing when to consult a dictionary.

External feedback is critical because recognizing your own biases is intrinsically difficult.

"It's like trying to scratch an itch in the middle of your back," said Chip Heath, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University. "You can do it, but it's easier for someone else to help you out."

Heath has examined ways that companies and organizations can compensate for individual biases. People tend to form views based on limited and biased information (it rains only after I wash my car) or they over-rely on vivid but minor evidence (a glowing recommendation from someone who barely knows the applicant). Companies can counterbalance those tendencies, Heath says, by assembling broad, objective, relevant facts to form decisions.

The technique works for individuals, too, Dunning says. Frank feedback from spouses, children, bosses or colleagues can yield enlightenment for those secure enough to seek it.

If they concur that your humor is insipid, your body is unfit for skinny jeans and your musicianship is merely middling, Dunning says "you might consider the possibility that it might be true.

"The road to honest self-insight runs through other people."


The last line is the real kicker. This is what the Church is about: the healing of the human person. We submit our self assessment to the community and to our spiritual directors for a reality check. True humility accepts that we are indeed self deluded, proud, and constitutionally incapable of seeing ourselves "according to sound judgment and not more highly than we ought" (Rom. 12:3). The willingness to both give and accept corrective assessment is probably one of the greatest weaknesses of our culture of "self image psychology". We are so afraid of damaging someone's frail self image we allow people to live in self delusion and the ultimate psychological, emotional and spiritual pain that inevitably creeps into our souls because we intuitively, in the darkest corner of our hearts, know we are "not all that". We have seen a false face in the mirror and beleived it to be our own, and the lie is sustained only at unspeakable cost to our souls. No one believes the lie but ourselves, and everyone behind our backs is speaking the truth about us. There can be no true communion, no integrity, no wholeness, because we neither know the truth, speak it, accept it or believe it. And we are lonely. The spiritual devastation in our age is loneliness and it cannot be cured by adding lies to our lies. The Truth sets us free, from self delusion, narcissism, false images, fake faces, and opens us to Love which can heal the sicknesses, failures, and illusions we cling to.

"He who has been able to see himself has accomplished more than one who has seen the angels." St. Isaac the Syrian

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What Not to Do at 54

If you ever go for an X-ray... remember this.
I finish drywall, someone else usually hangs it. I'm 54. I used to hang drywall in full sheets. Now I hang drywall in small pieces.

Darrell (that's what we call him...) had an X-ray room to sheetrock at a doctor's office we are taping and texturing. He never hung lead lined sheetrock before, I did it a few times in my "manly youth". They put lead on the back of 5/8" sheetrock to keep the X-rays from sterilizing the patients in the waiting rooms and X-ray machine operators. It also keeps Superman from looking through the walls at the nurses, and keeps Kryptonite from harming the doctors. There's all kinds of tricky stuff you gotta know to shield the joints and screws and electrical boxes etc. NO X-rays can leak through the walls when you are done.

Anyway... lead lined sheetrock weighs about 300 pounds per sheet. Darrell had 13 sheets of it leaning against the wall for 3 weeks. It's the last room in the doctor's office. He told his boss he wasn't going to do it. No one else in his company had ever hung lead lined sheetrock before. He complained, he begged, he whined, he threatened to quit.
No one came to help. The sheetrock didn't come with instructions.

Knowledge is a terrible thing sometimes....

So... Thomas and I hung a few 12 packs shy of two tons of sheetrock this morning, then finished taping the other 8,000 sq ft. of offices after lunch.

I think tonight will be a 6 ibuprofen/3 beer night... or is that 3 ibuprofen and 6 beers....
No matter, both work.

That's the lead lined board on the right. That's us cutting a sheet with a reciprocating saw and a metal cutting blade... and no, Thomas is not a euchuch now, and he can still play piano...he moved in time.

This is Thomas putting a sheet in place. Years ago, he used to be a power lifter.
Deja vu all over again.
That is Darrell "helping".
Notice Darrell's three finger "ducking" technique to help push it in place. He's no idiot. If Thomas' knee gives out and that falls on him, he'll look like a cartoon character run over by an steam roller.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Arisona Snow!

Caldonia Sun posted some beautiful pictures of snow and ice in the Appalachian Mountains

However... one expects the Appalachians to have snow.

This is something you don't see every day in the Phoenix, Arizona area...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Theophany at St. John's Mission

Yes, I live in the desert so water is as scarce here as it was in Jesus' land. Arizona has only one natural lake, all the others are created by dams. Tempe, the home of Arizona State University, has dammed up part of the "river" and created Tempe Town Lake, along which is being developed hotels, malls, a river walk and condos. This is where our Mission went to bless the waters on Theophany.

The visitors to the Town Lake Park had never seen anything like THIS before at the Lake...a bunch of boys and men in satin, gold and purple dresses parading around.... well, I take that back, Tempe IS a University town and does have a Mardi Gras party every year. Maybe we weren't noticed after all.

We had a couple special visitors. The Tribune Newspaper's religion editor and photographer came to do a story on our Mission and came for the Divine Liturgy and the Blessing of the Waters. I gave him a CD of our radio program on Theophany (there's two parts, actually) and the program notes. He commented to me as he left, "This was a beautiful service and there is a LOT to write about here..."

Everyone got a shower....