Portlandia (and chicken)

The Urban Monk is surrounded by chicken in Portland.

This weekend three of us at the Mission were treated to a retreat up in Corbet overlooking the, er..some really big river (The Macman is urban after all…a river is a river till Spring when the sun comes out again).

We were at dinner and as I tasted the darker meaty material on my fork I looked at FISCHE (Robert the Gangl) and the following transpired:

Macman: Fische, there is something wrong with this chicken.

Fische (grinning): Um, tastes fine to me (he says as he eats his pot roast greedily).

Macman: No, it’s like the texture is all wrong and it tastes foreign to me…albeit enjoyable.

Do we have chicken like this chicken back at the Mission? I mean, I have had chicken about 50 different ways, but never this way (shakes head).

Fische: No Macman. It’s a new kind of chicken. Shut up and eat it.

Macman: Okay, if you are sure it’s safe.

The next morning they serve squares of something. “Fische, is this scrambled eggs?”

*******

Portlandia started recently on IFC. A decent quick review is HERE.  I liked it a lot (watching it at the Portland Library). I am new to Portland and kind of like a wide-eyed kid (very much like supposed SoCal couple Armisen & Brownstein) from NorCal I find new and fun things daily and report on them.

My favorite segment in the first episode of Portlandia was when they go out to eat and engage the waitress in a protracted inquiry about the organic life of their soon to be consumed chicken (sighs) . The waitress says she has more information and comes back with a detailed biography of the chicken including a picture.

"Barry" the chicken about to be consumed, and his biography from the farm.

The whole show is fun and makes sport lovingly.

As for chicken and I? I am starting on a utterly OTHER diet tomorrow. I have not lost any weight at the Mission and that is plain dumb when you go into self-denial mode (which is paradoxically life-affirming!).

I went to Whole Paycheck today on the MAX and got Miso soup mix…I am serious. Hard-boiled eggs in the a.m.; Miso soup at noon and salad for dinner for the next month. No sugar, no bread no empty carbs. No more chicken.

And I will do tea instead of dark french roast if it interferes with my hunger for austerity.

*******

c1993. Christopher C. MacDonald.

“O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth.
I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices.
I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of humanity, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.”

I really am starting to have fun. Those of you who have been reading SANS ADOBE from day one know fun was extremely hard to come by all last year. 2010 was a year of nothing but loss and humiliation.

But as Soren Kierkegaard once titled a sermon: “Misfortune is Good Fortune”. I always agreed with what SK said in that sermon;  I just did not want to have to live it.

In retrospect, I feel it was all necessary and am grateful for it.

Now that I have settled into the Mission and accepted it on a deep level (and what comes and does not come with it) I am unbelievably free. I study daily, do art and attend Bible studies, worship services and “meetings” as I wish.

Speaking of Kierkegaard, today I had the good fortune of attending a class on him at Imago Dei Community (a progressive church in Portland).

After that, downtown to the library to pick up Lewis’ The Great Divorce (for my Thursday class on God in the Dock) two Merton books (for me) and The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life.

That may sound bland to many of you, but it’s a bit of heaven to me. It’s like meeting up with old friends for coffee, only they come from the 4th through 20th Century and not our time.

Portlandia says that Portland is where “young people go to retire” and that it is basically like the “90s never ended” (No Bush years at all).

I am actually gonna push the clock back to the late 70s and early 80s Berkeley. Logos Bookstore on Telegraph, the inception of New College, Radix Magazine, SCP (Spiritual Counterfeits Project) and Earl “The Pearl” Palmer at First Presbyterian Church is more like what I am seeing.

Where? Well Door of Hope (where they are so concerned with core Christocentric Bible Study they are sidestepping the Arts for now and allow their website to be “sucky” even though they could change it in a weekend), Imago, and others. Soon (come Summer I and others will try and see SPOKE thrive in Portland.

This morning’s Kierkegaard class was FAB. Well attended (especially considering it was for Kierkegaard and he has been bad-mouthed by many in the church wrongly) and led artfully by someone obviously as struck by Kierkegaard as I have been..

I left with a big smile. Portland is home.

It’s all terribly interesting. I’ll just pass on the chicken. Barry is safe.

No Exit

The introductory photograph (above) is not what you may think. True, it is all my stuff packed up in the hallway on the third floor at CityTeam, there is a giant EXIT sign pointing the way out, and one of us here dearly wants me gone.

I’m not going anywhere. In fact, I just came from a service at Door of Hope church that was as “CORE” as I have experienced since either the days of Darrell Johnson at Fremont Pres., or the early 80s at Warehouse Ministries.  I have found a “home” amidst Portland’s many healthy and thriving churches.

So it was no real surprise when I returned and within five minutes I was in the middle of a major “problem”. This is how it goes. The only difference between my response now verses previous reactions is that I have been very deliberately training for this for months now (coming up quickly on three). So I am very “grounded” and have already been tested many times in various ways.

In other words, as frightening as you may find the following account, it was a no-brainer for me.

The Incident

It was in a grounded hopefulness that I returned home with my quest for a home church satisfied. I had asked the Holy Spirit to give me that inner “sense” of “at-home-ness” that has always served me well in the past, and it was so.

When I came into our room I noticed immediately that my bunk was disheveled and my books had been thrown back up haphazardly on my shelf. There was also a Pearl Jam poster right over my desk area. I like Pearl Jam plenty, but not as the focal point for morning devotions. I respectfully asked my roommate to decorate just his half of our room and added “Is that all right?” Later I asked about the bed.

He feigned ignorance, looking exactly like an empty-handed person would in front of a dropped tray of food.

“You messed up my bookshelf” I said flatly “and I need you to help me fix it.”

As I tried to get it back in place some of my books fell back down behind his bottom bunk (yes I have the top one). I asked him to get them as I didn’t want to mess with his bunk.

“Get them yourself you fat Muthaxxxxx! I’ll FUXXING STAB YOU in the back of your skull!” he said as he walked out the door.

Then he came back twice to utter more threats. “If you don’t move out now I’m gonna cut your throat in the middle of the night.” Fortunately for me, he made the second threat so loud and public that I had two eyewitnesses and a few other hearers.

“I don’t have that choice,” I said calm but firm. More curses then he left.

It is here that the wide variety of experiences I have had with utterly insane situations really helps. I am one of those people for whom crisis most often means things shift down into slow motion. I see the whole field, do not feel rushed or the least bit rattled, and generally know exactly what to do.

I think I am really clear m a crisis but not so very good with normal life yet.

Anyway, if it gives you any idea, on a scale of one to ten this was maybe a four.

One brother wanted me to call the cops and have them just come get him. No. I did not feel I was in any real danger and I had asked one of the other brothers to confiscate his knife (a particularly nasty straight blade).

Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

I simply went downstairs and called the director. “I just wanted you to know who to look up if you come in tomorrow and I am missing.”

He laughed. “Maybe you should sleep in the dorm,” he said.

“Okay, yeah. The guys miss my snoring in there anyway.” (more laughter).

Living in Community

As I have written elsewhere, living in a mission with other addicts in recovery has its own set of issues. Actually they are basic human issues, just multiplied by ten. If a normal group of people are interested in your response to a situation, this group is gonna downright fixate on it. So now I got 14-plus guys watching my every facial expression and evaluating every word.

Some of the guys wanted to beat his ass out back. My idea was tp pray for him and then I went to bed in the dorm with a book.

I had, of course, been watching the man’s inner torment grow. Before I was assigned to be his roommate he had been able to isolate from the group and live alone. I understood how my very presence threatened him. I kept to myself and simply encouraged him in his art. I drew the line at 3 a.m. weird-assed statements that were perverse and dark. I simply, and not unkindly said  “Um, I’m trying to sleep. Please keep that stuff to yourself”. On this particular day my only real interaction with him was to fetch him some cough medicine in town.

It was never about me. I was the occasion not the cause. It was nice, for a change, to know that. I have, in the past, so often been the root problem of any given disruption that it is now refreshing to have a clear conscience.

I slept like a baby until “Microfiche Man” (my nickname for him) woke me up at 5:30 “Hey Macman! Why did you put all your stuff in the hallway?”

“I didn’t” I said bleary-eyed and went back to sleep.

“Mac-Murphy”?

Around Thanksgiving time we all loaded up in a van and went down to the Arena where the Trailblazers fed us dinner. It was bitter cold, and after I had gone out to smoke I went to the pickup area and ran into Dave, who is one of the few with a cache of cultural references. We chatted as I re-lighted my pipe then he stopped me suddenly.

“Sorry to interrupt” he said, “but turn around, you cannot miss this. ”

I turned and saw four of our guys (one a large Indian) and a fifth in a wheelchair coming toward us.

“Think of the ‘boat’ scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” he said grinning.

“Yeah, and I am Mac-Murphy,” I snapped back.

I bring this up because I am officially a “patient” in this program. That means I don’t have to (or get to) fix anyone or anything. And I don’t.

Encourage? Yes. Serve? Yes. Respect? Yes. Fix? No.

That is why I went back to sleep leaving my stuff in the hallway.

The executive director would be in come morning and he would do whatever was best.

Clarity can be a wonderful thing.

The Larger Picture

Someone here recently asked me “Do you believe God brought you to Portland?”

“I dunno,” I said, “I’m sure I brought me to Portland, but now that I am here He sure did.”

There is your paradox.

Beyond and above the photograph of my stuff under the EXIT sign, is the greater, simpler reality that I am supposed to be here. It is God’s intention to transform me via grace through both discipline and encouragement (I get both in daily doses). I can say with utter confidence that “God uses all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Ro.8.28).

It is natural as I grow stronger and as I feel my limitations here (like having the same 40 cents in my pocket I had a week ago) to think briefly about simply getting a job, a small apartment and not having to endure the daily antics around here (and they are constant). But I hear Him whisper gently “No. Trust me. Stay. Settle in. You’ll be glad.”

I believe it. I am staying for the whole deal.

*******

Epilogue

The EXIT sign was for my roommate. They even use the lingo. “He was exited”.

By the next afternoon, I was moving my stuff into an empty room.

I remembered a ceremony Moon and I did back in Marin to sort of “purge” a room of past associations. I painted over some weird signs he had made and rearranged the room so it in no way resembled what it had been. It has very good Feng Shue now. It is not unlike one of my favorite rooms…my one at Simpson College in 1978. It is fitting as I am very much like a new student running with a new pack of guys here. It is interesting that while the guys my age respect me it is the younger guys who invite me to run with them. They want to study with me, sit around and discuss and pray nightly, go hit services or join a Bible study off campus. They don’t seem to notice I am two or three decades older.

Microfiche Man just came down for a smoke (It’s about 1 a.m and I am on graveyard at the front desk till 6 a.m.).

I go up and get my pipe and my new roommate Jimmy says “I am just laying here thinking about how good God is.” He means it. “yes, He is good. Goodnight Jimmy.”

Downstairs I light up and tell Microfiche Man about this article and that I name him. He laughs, then smiles “You make me sound like a super hero.”

“You are a super hero,” I say grabbing him by the scruff of the neck.

“Haha!..I am ‘Gangle-Tron’” he says.

“That’s a good name too,” I say. “But you are first and foremost Microfiche Man. Somehow after I talk with you all my problems seem SMALLER.”

He shakes his head grinning, stubs out his cigarette and calls it a night.

A Day in the Life at the Mission

It starts early and runs long. Usually, for me around 4:30 or 5 a.m., ending at around 10 or so. There are four class sessions and a “House Meeting” where you have to pretty much report in on how you are really doing. Add another three hours of dishwashing parsed out in three shifts and you have a pretty normal/full day.

The fun (and yes it can be fun) is what you do with the pockets of time here and there available.

So I am reading six books at once: Malraux’s classic “Voices of Silence” on art, Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” (however I am tiring of the “Lady Ashley”), Parker Palmer’s “In the Company of Strangers”, two commentaries on the Book of Revelation, Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” book “Shoeless Joe Jackson” and a scholarly text on Eastern Orthodox iconography by Ouspensky (not that Ouspensky) and Losse on St. Vladimir’s Press.

Rebooting the brain

While at the library looking for the commentaries I man had a librarian in tow looking for Pascal’s Pensees. I remarked that he should look for the Dutton edition over the Penguin as the Dutton is a finer translation and sports a forward by T.S. Eliot the other does not.

Even the librarian looked at me like an Uber-geek.

My brain has come back online different (and with a vengeance) after the “reboot”. It is like removing a host of viruses from your operating system and restarting. The sucker runs very fast now and dosn’t “blue screen” or “freeze”.

Would the library of my mind be available to me if I was still imbibing? Probably. The more subtle issue would be the dexterity of mind that now ransacks that library at will.

When not reading, in class, studying, creating or washing dishes, I go on short walks, smoke my pipe and have discussions with the younger guys who are spiritually hungry. Then I do art. I did an icon yesterday after a serious study of the history and theology behind them. It was my first attempt. I did it on good art paper that Jan sent me and it will be applied to a box.

It is not all serious though. No one who knows me would believe that. So while doing dishes Dr. J (the 28 year old cook) and I practice hip-hop moves. Young Dr. J has it figured out. You just “drive the bus”. Every dance move is just a movement you would do driving a bus. Wipers swaying, the round about wheel, pumping the brakes and my personal favorite “adjusting the seat”. I would say I look ridiculous (which I do) but I did say it was “driving the bus”, not ”driving the Miata”.

Dr. J’s brother has just entered the program. I have no nickname for him yet. It’s rude to do that when someone is detoxing.

A thoughtful and quiet young man with a drug problem. I am his assigned “Reader” which is like being his Jedi. It’s a good fit. Later Dr. J asks if he and some of the other guys can start meeting up later at night to do informal theological questions with me. It removes my last “extra hour” of possible sleep but I cannot say no.

The Word

I go on a walk and pick some wood out of the Wood working shop dumpster to paint on later. It is bitter cold and some snow flakes fall lightly as I talk with Scott Mitchell on the phone. He reads me a long passage from Thomas Merton’s “The Sign of Jonah” about the call of the contemplative. He also remarks that I seem to have regained my love for books. “In the past few years you sort of looked down your nose at that.” This statement, like the others made by those who really know me, cannot be disregarded. I have come to trust the perceptions of others about myself over my own…but only those who really know me like Rod, Scott, Leslie etc…

He says I sound different. Clear.

I cannot tell really. I just have to trust.

When I get back it is time for an informal Bible study with three of the younger guys. They approached me and asked to do serious study and would I teach them how?

My social calendar seems relatively open.

But I find there is a fine line I am dancing here. How do I shape such a study it so it is lean, direct, yet easy to handle? Worse, how do I do so without the usual tools available?

No easily available internet access for reference. No Greek commentary sets (they are in Monterey and I am not in a position to ask my parents to pay to have them sent up), and I am penniless. Hmnnn…

For now I will pray to be provided what they need. I don’t need much of anything as most of it is already in my head. For example, when we studied John 1 last night I already knew the background of the “Logos”. But how can I show them how I got there?

It’s gonna be a  challenge. The main library is sparse. I am serious when I say the one in my head is better stocked, yet for accuracy sake I’d like to have the texts.

On the one hand it seems silly to me. What kind of a world (and Church) do we have where you cannot get free access to Internet and where your local church has no Bible study helps to borrow?

On the other hand, I am learning to accept things that ARE, as they ARE, and to improvise.

Still, it is more than a little “Shawshank” around here and we have no Morgan Freeman (or I am him).

The End of the Day

I lay awake in my tiny room with scant possessions, no money and my roommate gets surly if I suggest we spoon. I am oddly happy and content.

As the 12 Step program suggests, I recount and examine my day. I am grateful and have no much criticism though I am not doing what I do as a means of earning anything. The word “stewardship” is better.

Should I now feel massive guilt for the destruction I have caused and the losses? Only if I wish to repeat them. True, amends and even restitution await me on a practical level as part of my program. But a morbid introspection is just as narcissistic and self-willed as drinking.

(And make no mistake dear reader. Behind each of our own “issues” is the very same core issue: “Self” or “Ego”. We are no different at the core of our human condition, it has just played out differently… perhaps less obviously. And that is a danger I do not face).

So to Hell with it all. Really.

What I am learning is that true spiritual freedom is worth most any cost; that adversity introduces you to your real self; and that the grace and love of God is wider, deeper and more pervasive than I ever thought (and my view was hardly small to begin with).

No it is morning time and time to do dishes.