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.

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