Thursday, February 23, 2012

First Kiss

I'm sure they did. As many years as I lived with them, I'm sure he said it. But as hard as I try, I cannot remember it.

It seems like after you are 40 and have a few years of relationships under your belt you begin to unravel some of the nuances of your parent's marriage that were lived out before your eyes but uninterpretable for lack of experience.

I realized long ago that my parents were a lot like what I remember my Dad's parents were like. I lived with them for a couple months at a time as a child and visited often. G'an would order Gan'pa around, bitch about everything he did and call him out when he embellished a story. Gan'pa would sing song, "Oh, Minnie..." and just go on doing what he was doing or would just finish his story, while Ga'n rolled her eyes or footnoted his story with "facts" as he told it. I figured out years ago that my Dad married his Mother. I didn't know my Popo (Chinese grandmother) and Grandaddy well, but I knew my Popo well enough to know what it would take to live with her and I imagine my Mom married her Dad in some ways too.

I look back now on some mysterious incidents and realize my parents had their marital crises. My Mom recently told me there were a few times she had her bags packed but unpacked them before Dad got home from work. Dad isn't quite as open, but I imagine he thought of driving to work and just keep going through the light and on to where ever the road ended. But then what married man hasn't sooner or later? But they've been married 60 years now.

Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple months ago at age 84. I suspected at her age she would just say, "That is that" and let nature take its course. She opted for a radical mastectomy and a year of chemo. I think I know why.

As my parents have aged my Mom has said "I hope your Father dies before I do because he won't know what to do if I go first... If I die first you HAVE to be sure he gets into assisted living." She is right. My Dad knows she is right too, though when she says that he'll say in the same sing song Gan'pa used to, "Oh, Momma..."

Mom had her surgery last week. When they wheeled her from recovery to her room, Dad tailgated the gurney all the way to the door. When the nurse told us we had to leave the room while they moved her into her bed, Dad stood a foot from the door pacing in a small square dance waiting for it to open. He was the first in when they opened it. He hovered over her bed and even though she was still groggy he asked, "do you want anything... can I get you some water... do you want me to order some dinner... how do you feel... "

We stayed for a while until he was sure she was comfortable and the nurses were going to be attentive enough.

I'm sure they must have done it sometime, he must have said it before, but for the life of me I can't remember it.

As we said goodbye for the night, my Dad leaned over the rail of the hospital bed and kissed my Mom. "I love you," he said as he stroked her head. She smiled. "Go home, JG, I'll be fine."

A day later my Mom had to be able to walk around the nurse's station in order to be released.

My Dad walked beside her, at a certain distance but close enough to catch her should she stumble or fall.

Side by side they shuffled down the corridor, he with 3 heart surgeries, she mutilated by cancer, each knowing what they are walking inexorably toward, but walking toward that place together. It was a closeness and distance that had been hammered out over 60 years.

I know that was not their first kiss, nor their first walk together.

I suspect, in the mystery of human love, they may have been the most true, the most real.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Conspicuous Piety

Anonymous asked, "A quick question. "Don't be conspicuously pious" strikes home. So should I cross myself before having lunch with folks from the office?"
Some of my friends are for it, some are against it and I'm with my friends.  :)

Personally, I generally don't. I don't want to be identified as a Christian by my co-workers by my "pious acts" but rather by my Christian acts that they would not view as a public "show" of my religion.

Lately Tim Tebow has taken the issue of public displays of personal piety to a new level. (Not that no athlete has ever crossed themselves, prayed or knelt in the end zone before).  But for some reason he has spawned an "in your face" public piety that I think speaks of the polarization of evangelical American Christianity and the culture more than perhaps the piety and beliefs of those who practice it.

I will lay aside the fact that "this is a free country and we can pray, bow, chant or stand on our heads for Christ, Allah, Zeus, the Cosmic Chicken King, or our Fairy God-mother."  That is not the issue. What we are free to do does not make doing it edifying nor compelling to those who watch.

The issue for me is, who is it for and what does it accomplish?
Of course there are those who think crossing, praying in public and Tebowing are "standing up for Christ".  Perhaps. It does take a degree of either courage or social unawareness to do something in public that would be viewed as stupid or offensive by some. However, doing something socially awkward and offensive, even if it is well intended or even religiously motivated doesn't make it good, it just means the "doer" is well, offensive and awkward.  That's why multi-level marketing works.  And just because someone is insulted for a display of anything doesn't make one a martyr for the cause.  Street evangelists with loudspeakers who harass passers-by are rightfully persecuted for being annoying asses whether they are selling cell phone plans or salvation.  But is this all on the same level as crossing one's self before a meal in front of friends?

The questions for me are: "Is it really standing up for Christ?" and "Who is it for?" Personally, I tend to think of religious displays done publicly as standing on the street corner making a show that might impress some other Christians.  I think it drives a wedge between me and a cynical unbeliever that I would never reach with pious behavior but possibly can reach with love.  I would rather have someone not be surprised if they saw me cross myself than to be surprised that I DO cross myself, if you get my drift.  The "aroma of Christ" and the "adornment of holiness" is, according to St. Paul, our lives, not our words or "washing of hands" in public.  The true sign of the Cross is the crucified life, the outward sign (the "icon", if you will) of the Cross must have a correspondence to something real (incarnate, if you will) to those who witness it.  Without the correspondence and integrity of the incarnate and the sign/icon, the outward is merely a potential for an awkward moment or possibly an offense, and perhaps worse, an hypocrisy waiting to be called out.  That is why I don't buy making the sign of the cross as a particularly good thing to do even though it is congruent with the fine points of Orthodox theology. We should not expect to be judged favorably or accurately by those who do not share our theological paradigm, nor should we begin "teaching them" about our faith with displays of private piety and the esoterica of our religion.  Our initial point of contact should be the common ground of both our experiences and expectations of "true religion" (and ultimately what the sign of the Cross really MEANS and really points both of us to): self sacrificial love for one's neighbor.  Even the irreligious can understand that and can be impressed by it. Becoming all things to all men, according to St. Paul, sometimes means giving up the trappings of our personal piety in order to not be judged wrongly by the unbeliever.

IF someone I know ever converts and asks why I didn't cross myself and pray in front of them, I'd just say I didn't want to make them uncomfortable or offend them out of respect for their beliefs at the time.

All that said, I'm inconsistent and it depends on who I am with. I generally pray or cross myself if I am with other Christians (even some evangelicals). I generally don't in a mixed group with people I don't know and who don't know me well enough to know I am either a Christian or at least a "helluva nice guy". If I'm eating alone or when I DO make a sign of the Cross in a public setting, I keep it small and quick because its for me, not everyone else. 

So for me, I'd rather be seen in public taking up my cross and dying to myself than crossing myself.  Of course, it's not an "either/or" but I better be damned sure if I go for the "both/and" I better have both lest I put the Cross to open shame and hold it up to public ridicule by my actions (I think St. Paul in Hebrews has something about that...). 

By the way, yes, I'd put an icon in my cubicle.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Following Too Closely

Everyone is going somewhere.

Most of the time the place people THINK they are going is neither where they are headed nor where they end up.  Even in a "spiritual journey".

Therefore, don't follow anyone too closely. Keep enough distance to see the road ahead.

Tailgating in cars and spirituality usually ends up in a wreck.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I've been on my new job for about 5 months now.  Even though I've not been in an office environment for 35 years and out of "human services" as a career for over 30 years, not ever working in a school context nor knowing Microsoft Office like the back of my scarred and wrinkled hand, my main concern was not   human services competence to deal with problem people (having run a social work construction business and dealt with Orthodox Missions), computer skills (I have enough), or ability to learn the job (I catch on quick)... it was "Can I work for someone else?"

"Working for someone else", of course, is a red herring. Even if you are self-employed, you work for someone else.  EVERY client is "someone else".  I realized a long time ago that *I* am not my "own boss"... every client is my boss. Some days I had three or four bosses.  Being self employed,  I didn't have to deal with one personality and one set of expectations a day, but several.   One learns to be incredibly flexible and perceptive when one has to discern and please a lot of different personalities daily. The upside was if I didn't discern well, the job was finite... I could finish it, even if it took all day to please the client and I lost my ass for a day's wages bending over backwards for someone, at the end of the project I could walk away and go on (as we say in construction) to "New Money" and I didn't ever have to go back unless I chose to.  The problem in an office environment is you can't "move on to new money" tomorrow morning.  These people are the people you will deal with forever unless you want to find a new job.   So after a few months at my probationary period evaluation the question I asked myself was, "Would I rather deal with a daily/hourly change of bosses and co-workers or can I deal with these people on a long term basis?"  Do I quit or do I stay?

In my final hiring interview I told the Executive Director that I didn't NEED the job and I was interviewing them as they were interviewing me.  I said, if I had gotten the impression that the people I'd met were small, petty and prone to drama I'd turn the job down and stay in construction, but I liked how they interacted and I liked everyone I'd met so I would take the job if offered.  After five months, is the place perfect with perfect people? No, of course not.

The challenge for me was (and is) after 30 years in construction, how do I "be a Christian" in an office environment where I interact with people for eight or more hours a day and every day forever as opposed to a few hours once in a while and with an expectation that the relationship will end at an agreed upon time.  It's easy to fake being anything in short spurts and in limited exposure (much like being a Christian at Church...but that's another blog post issue).  When people deal with you every day it is harder to hide the quirks, touchy spots and baggage. And on top of that I represent the "company" to clients, I don't just represent myself.

Well, the good news is, people are people. The things that "work" in construction work in an office work at Church work in marriage work in driving on the freeway in rush hour work in a monastery work at the grocery store work on the street corner with the homeless guy with a sign... etc.  What "works" is simple, really.  Just be a saint.

Be silent.  (My opinion isn't a necessity.)

Speak with grace if speaking is a necessity.

Acknowledge people's goodness.

Apologize sincerely even if the wrong is only perceived.

Don't engage in nor take morbid interest in debates, disputes and gossip.

Go the second mile without being asked.

Give the cloak when asked for a shirt (do more than expected).

Be concerned about other's burdens.

Say please. And thank you.  Often.

Ask for help. 

Be gracious for unasked for help.

Bring donuts.

Don't boast.  About anything.

Be someone who is known to have a sense of humor.

Don't be conspicuously pious.

Compliment other people behind their backs.

Say "Good morning" and "Goodbye".

There's probably more, but off the top of my head those are a few things I can see work everywhere, at all times, with all people.

Or, I suppose I could just say, love your neighbor and be humble.

But then that would be too easy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Orthodoxy in the Workplace

The student was not treated well by our staff person. 

The parent was outraged.  The mother left a voicemail for me after hours.  I could tell she was REALLY trying to be calm. "I will call you in the morning," she said. The father was the "contact parent" on the roster.

I talked to the Admin. person responsible for the offending party. They said they would deal with it.

I decided to make a pre-emptive apology. I called the Mom and then the Dad... I apologized every way I knew how for the "School's behavior".  Damage control accomplished, relationship restored. 

In cubicles sound carries over the 5 foot walls. 

When I was done, the people around me gathered and said, "We've NEVER heard anyone grovel and apologize so eloquently and sincerely... that was AMAZING!"

I told them, "Obviously you have not offended as many priests, bishops and monks as I have."

Orthodoxy works in the real world.