Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reponsible Dog Ownership (PG-13)

This is Peanut.

This is Nonuts.

If only you knew when you followed my wife, Duke and Maggie home from the dog park that day. Sorry, boy...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Afraid of the Silence

I hate horror films, but that’s another rant.

One of the tricks to horror films is dead silence before someone dies horrifically with an orchestral diminished chord blaring over the panicked screams of the victim.

It’s no wonder we fear silence. If we hear it, something dies.

I work in construction. Job sites often have radios blasting heavy metal, some shock jock with his laughing chick sidekick, hip hop…anything frenetic to spur the pace of a pieceworker’s day or distract from the existential pain of another hour of the rest of one’s life.

I also work in people’s homes, mostly VERY nice homes. Most of them are wired for sound and video in every room. I’ve seen TV’s in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. I once built an entertainment center in a master bedroom that had a centerpiece for a 52” TV (back when that was the biggest available) and nine smaller TV’s surrounding it so the people could watch several channels at once in bed. When I work in someone’s home the people always ask me, “Do you want some music? How about a CD…what do you like? Do you want me to turn on the TV for you?”

“No thanks.”

“Really?... Are you SURE? Its no trouble… here’s the media center, this is how…”

“No, really… thank you anyway.”

“Ohhhh Kayy…but if you want, here it is.”


Then they wander around the house like they are lost, not knowing if they should turn on the TV or stereo anyway. Eventually they find a place to watch TV or play a radio…anything to break the silence. I can literally say, I’ve only had one client in 26 years who said they were glad to finally meet someone who loved quiet as much as they did. Their house was always silent.

I’ve worked with people who cannot endure silence. It has been a rare employee who can work wordlessly, quietly without having to fill the silence with chatter, humming, singing or earphones pounding something into their heads.

Why? If we encounter silence, intuitively we know something will die. Silence is the precursor to encounter. And we are afraid.

Let me say here: No, I’m not a monk-a-bee, I don't stand in my closet full of icons, burning incense and mumbling the Jesus Prayer on a rope the length of jumper cables. Yes, I enjoy music, all kinds. I’ve seen ZZ Top, Cowboy Junkies, Phoenix Symphony, Eric Clapton, Kitaro, Pinchas Zuckerman, Arlo Guthrie, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Led Zeppelin, Yoyo Ma…I love chant, James Brown and Hank Williams. I go to NBA basketball games...well, you get the idea. But many years ago, I set my heart to learn to live comfortably without distractions and noise, and I prefer it above even beautiful sound.

What happens in silence? It is a descent into a place where we have no familiar landmarks, no baubles, bright lights and kaleidoscopic fracturing of reality to hold our attention. We walk into a foggy, still, silent landscape and open a creaking gate that leads to a bleak house that has not been tended for years… it is our inner self. And like all horror movies, what is encountered within can only be preceded by silence.

But what lies within? Yes, the demons. Our self created demons, our twisted perceptions, our vain hopes of escaping unharmed, our panicked reactions to reality, our inattention to signs of impending doom, our lusts and passions, like failing flashlights, that give us irrational courage to enter into dark rooms and descend into black basements. The audience hears the silence, but we don’t. If we attend to it, fear grips us because we know something is about to leap on us and drag us screaming into hell.

But there is always something more in the bleak house: Redemption. Within the house always lies the path out, the tools to overcome, an epiphany, a strength within that rises up and conquers the demons and in the end, the silence opens to the daylight, the world now seen as a sign of salvation, the casting down of the powers of darkness…sounds are now a comfort and peace. Silence no longer is foreboding, it is joy.

God waits within, in the bleak house we have neglected, wherein lies all our demons. The path to encountering both is silence. And we must encounter both to break out into the Light.

(And a nod of thanks to James the Thickheaded's much more articulate post and my daughter who just returned from the Antiochian Village and encountered stillness.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fathers and Daughters

Something far more mystical and glorious than the mysterious red rocks and harrowing skies of a summer storm over the desert is the mystery of love and family. These are two daughters who were out on the town with their elderly, failing Fathers. The pictures tell it all.

This one slowly shuffled to his pace and he held her arm as they negotiated the puddles and curbs and rough sidewalks of Jerome.

This daughter sat and chatted with her Father as he dripped strawberry ice cream down his chin, over his hands and onto the sidewalk. He couldn't lick it faster than the sun ate it.

This Was Worth the Trip

Sedona is a couple hour drive from my house. Wifey and I took a weekend vacation and caught a rare Arizona rainstorm while driving around. Photographers wait for lighting like this for ages. This was taken from the side of the road near dusk with my cheap digital camera. (I didn't upload the 5 MB version of this shot here so its a little less impressive). Sedona is one of the top destinations in the world and has a reputation for being a spiritual "new age vortex". This is why (click the image for a full screen view).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Clients from Hell

I went to a house today to do some "punch list items". A "punch list" are things that need to be fixed or completed at the end of a project, usually flagged by the owner before or immediately after they move in. This was probably my dozenth trip to the house to do the "final punch list" as a favor to the architect/builder who is an old friend of mine because he cannot get the original subcontractors to return to do the lists any more. The owners put little pieces of blue tape on everything wrong with the house. The first time I went it looked like blue chicken pox. After hours of "fixing things", we get called back a few days later and there is MORE blue tape the next time, not less. This switch plate got "blue taped" today...

I could not figure out what the tape was for. I pondered the switches. I looked at the edges to see if there was a gap in the drywall around it that needed caulking or painting. I checked it for cracks or black smudges and fingerprints. Then it dawned on me.

I thought, "No...not that.....that's not possible."

I looked at the outlet below it. "No....that can't be."

I went out into the hallway and looked at the hall light switch. ""

I walked down the hall to the next bedroom and looked inside the doorway at the light switches. I looked at the outlets. My face went blank as a beggar's plate. "NO!"

I ran down the hallway looking at every switch and outlet, my face twisting in horror at the sight of the truth dawning on me.


But it was the truth... THIS is what I saw everywhere I went

...yes, EVERY screw in the house was aligned at twelve o' clock. The upper right hand screw on the blue taped switch plate was at one o'clock.

I fixed it.

There will be more blue tape tomorrow.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Easy Personality Test

I think it was Dave Barry who said something like, if you want to really know someone just watch how they treat waiters and waitresses. It doesn't matter if the waiters are good or bad, there is a dynamic of human interaction between diner and waiter that reveals the true character of someone.

This is a cheap and easy personality test. If you are dating someone, if you want to know what a potential employee/employer is like, if you want to REALLY know your boss or even your priest (or any spiritual relation), take them to a decent restaurant when it is fairly busy. Then just watch them interact with the wait staff.

Are they polite?
Do they speak to them like human beings?
Are they condescending or rude?
Are they demanding, self absorbed, or act like yours is the only table in the restaurant?
Do they criticize them?
Do they make allowances or adjust their expectations for how busy they are?
Are they complimentary of small services or attentiveness?
Do they say "Please" and "Thank you"?
Do they smile or joke with them or treat them like "servants"?
At any time are you embarrassed by how they speak or act toward the waiter?
And finally, how do they tip? Do they tip with grace or law? (Personally, I tip 25-30%. Jesus says if we are constrained to go one mile go two, give your coat and your cloak. If the service is lousy, tip like Christ crucified: with grace and mercy for the sinner.)

I've been to restaurants with a LOT of people in my life. Dates, friends, employees, employers, priests, monks, abbots and bishops. And this is a fact, the true measure of a person is revealed at a restaurant table. You will know in one hour whether a person is humble, and regards himself as the servant of all or if she or he is an arrogant, self centered egoist. Over the years I've lingered behind to apologize for my table-mate's behavior, I've slipped additional money under my plate to make up a cheap tip or as a propitiation for the rudeness of my friends and, it is sad to say, even clergy at my table.

The measure of a person is how they treat those "beneath" them, one time encounters with someone who has no meaning or purpose except to serve a desire of the flesh. Jesus may as well have said, "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for waiters."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Life, Death and Love

"Every willful desire for death is directed toward peace, not toward nonexistence. Although a man erroneously believes that he will not exist after death, nevertheless by nature, he desires to be at peace; that is, he desires to be in a higher degree." St. Augustine on the psychology of suicide. Thanks to Fr. Gregory for the quote from St. Augustine.

I'm posting the final two chapters of my unpublished manuscript, "Life, Death and Love" (most of the rest is available in the side bar of my blog) in response to St. Augustine's observation about the deeper and spiritual motivation for suicide. I have spent most of my adolescence and adulthood with an undercurrent of longing for death. Like many human beings, I've had suicidal thoughts situationally intensified. There is indeed an element of escapism in fantasy about death self inflicted, but as Augustine points out, it is ultimately a desire for peace, to BE at a higher degree. That higher degree is ultimately realized in love, and as St. Paul confesses, the desire to depart is often conflicted with the need to stay. (Phil. 2)

CHAPTER 14 The Gospel According to Romeo and Juliet

“Ah. dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amorous; and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour? For fear of that I still will stay with thee, and never depart from this palace of dim night again: here, here will I remain (here with worms that are thy chambermaids; 0, will I set up my everlasting rest; and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world wearied flesh.) Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! and lips, a the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing death! Come bitter conduct, come, unsavory guide! Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on the dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark! Here's to my love! 0 true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die." Romeo

"What's here? a cup, clos'd in my true love's hand? Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end: 0, churl! drink all, and leave no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips; haply some poison yet doth hang on them, to make me die with a restorative. Thy lips are warm! Yea, noise! then I'll be brief - 0 happy dagger this is thy sheath, thet'e rest and let me die." Juliet

"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us ... the one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." St. John

Romeo and Juliet. Love and death. I am the incurable romantic; I am drawn to death because I am drawn to God.

I wish to die because I am desperately in love with my Beloved. This is the heartbreaking joy of passion, it is the Divine Romance.

All lovers know that love bids us die for the sake of our beloved. This is the beautiful tragedy of love. The romantic amalgam of love and death is the highest, the simplest and most profound of all mysteries held tenaciously by the human heart. This is Truth: Death is the final witness to the true depth of passion of the lover for the beloved. It is not when, at the end of the story, the lovers finally make love that touches our very souls. The most captivating and romantic of all endings is when two lovers willingly and gladly die for the sake of eternity in one another's arms. Death for the sake of love is simply the gospel according to Romeo and Juliet. Death is embraced by lovers because they know in death they will shed all the limits of the world and hindrances of this flesh and be ushered into the final and complete union of their hearts. In death for the sake of love there is a trust as deep as their love that there will be a resurrection of the two as one, inseparable, complete and eternally bound. This is Truth, eternal, inescapable.

The heart of love knows that love and death are indeed a single substance. There has never been a lover who has not sworn he would forsake his very life for his beloved; every lover offers to his beloved his willingness to die for the sake of his love, for the sake of her love, as evidence of the passion in his heart. Love lays down its life for the beloved, sometimes in a single act, more often in acts done singlemindedly over the years for the sake of the beloved. Whether a life is sacrificed in a moment or over a lifetime, it is laid down for the sake of possessing the heart and soul of the beloved, it is gladly and willingly given to the one desired above all others.

But it is when we hear of two lovers choosing the moment, the single act with hope for some eternal certainty of one another's presence that our hearts are touched in a place that is sometimes too fearful and holy for even ourselves to enter and seek its blessing. Our reasonable, calculating minds will tell us the lovers' suicide pact was a waste of life, an eternal mistake, an unthinking and terribly short sighted solution to traverse the barriers of loving in a world that seems hostile to passion. In our world-bounded humanity we resist touching the holy sorrow deep within us that envies them. We try to reason away the inexorable logic of love that, in our hearts, understands the reasonings of the heart broken by the desire for unhindered union with the beloved. We do this perhaps because in our humanity we fear death, and sometimes truly fear love more than death; but somewhere deep in our humanity we know death for the sake of love is what life is truly about, that it is an anchor of hope cast into eternity itself. If we will, and we must, set aside our fears and open wide the door to the mystery of love and death we will find the One to whom both love and death belong, in whose image we are created, whose nature we share. The door opens to the very dwelling place of our eternal Lover, God who gladly died for the sake of becoming one with us, his beloved, for all eternity.

This is, thus far the end of my pilgrimage in my search for the meaning of my desire for death. I can go no further or deeper than the very love of God himself. This is the place I rest, this is where I am content to dwell for now: My desire for death is a witness to the very passion of God that has won my heart and mind and soul and strength. It is a manifestation of my desire dwell forever in the heart of my Beloved; in death alone can I truly know the depth of love that loves to death.

In death alone I know that in love there is resurrection, that the love I share with my Beloved is stronger than death, a flame of passion many waters cannot quench. In death alone I know life is a burden gladly shed for the sake of eternity with my Beloved; all that keeps us apart, all our adversaries, the limitations of my flesh and heart are rendered powerless by death. In death sought for the sake of the Beloved, love alone is sovereign, our true union is consummated, finally and completely, and we will never be lost to one another again.

CHAPTER 15 “…and boy gets girl."

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Come, and I shall show you the Bride of the Lamb. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 'And I heard a loud voice say, 'Behold, the very presence of God is with his people, and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying or pain: the first things have passed away. ' " The Revelation of St. John

This is the whole of The Book. It is a story of love, surely, but of a love like all true loves, one that suffers greatly for the sake of finally and eternally possessing the beloved. It is the divine romance, the story of God's passionate pursuit of his beloved through Hell and high water to have her for himself. And the heart of sorrows is the heart touched by this True Love, it is the heart that longs for the ending of the story.

The Revelation of John is at the end of the story, an epilogue of sorts, told in images of such high definition cataclysmic, epic proportions with surround sound, that the mesage cannot be missed if we will stand back from the screen instead of standing with our noses to it. It is simply a retelling of The Love Story in ghastly and beautifully awesome images in case we did not understand when it was told in the terrifying human drama in which it actually happened: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl both suffer greatly, insurmountable odds are overcome, boy gets girl in the end and they live happily ever after.

And this is the end of the matter for the heart of sorrows, the One bruised and beaten by and for the sake of Love. This all lovers know, to this all lovers will say it is so and Amen: In the end, in love, nothing, but nothing, matters except the presence of our beloved. If that presence is ours we at once lose everything and possess all creation. This is Truth: When I finally sit in the presence of my beloved, embraced in her unconditional passion and love for me all the pain and sorrows of the joining of our hearts, the hell of the fear of rejection, all my longings for her in her absence, all of my doubts about her love, all of the darkness of being abandoned by her because of doubts and fears, all of our unbelief, lack of faith, all of it is consumed, all is swallowed up in our love. None of it matters, none of it is of any consequence, none of it is even remembered, all the first things have passed away, all things are new in her present embrace. There is now only my beloved; no belief or unbelief, no fear, no doubts, no past, no future, no sense of the passing of the present moment, only the two now one in a mystery and the eternal sense that it is now as it was intended from the beginning. For that moment love reigns supreme, the world, the two of us, God himself and all his creation is a seamless tapestry; everything is woven together by the bright threads of romance and passion. This is the final and best mystery, the hope to which all we know about human and divine love, and that to which John finally points us.

This is the eternal moment I long for most desperately. To rest in the arms of my True Beloved, to sit in the presence of His divine passion for my heart and soul, to be lost in Him, to be one with Him, finally and completely. It is then that I know all of life with its tears and desperations, hopelessness and fears and sorrows will be swallowed up in His holy and fearless love. It is then I will know that I am, but it is truly more than knowing: I will be, yes I will BE my Beloved's and He will be mine.

"Arise my darling, my beautiful one. For behold the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers have appeared in the land. Who is this that grows like the dawn, as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun? I am my beloved's and his desire is for me. Come my beloved, let us go out into the country. Let us spend the night in the villages. Let us rise early and go to the vineyard, let us see whether the vine has budded and its blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love."

"The Spirit and the Bride say come…"