2011 – “There’s a phone on my butt…”

When, at sixteen years of age, I shot up to 6’3″ people started to ask me “How’s the weather up there?” Being a shy kid, I really did not know what to say then. Later, I would have all manner of answers after shooting up past 6’6″, but the best one was always “There’s a phone on my butt. Why don’t you call and find out?”

Okay, I used it rarely because I really hate slamming people. It was generally reserved for some real smart-ass who thought himself cute or clever when he noted that I was tallish.

*******

It’s been “Butt Week”. All week-long my friend “Triple X” has been making “Mac has a Big Ass jokes”. He even envisions my bicycle complaining when I climb on. Why is he doing this all of a sudden? Well I publicly preyed upon Triple X in a very fun gag on the Shuttle one morning on the way up to the County offices.

Of course Triple X is not his name, but I call him that because he looks like a larger, more muscled black Vin Diesel (that’s right. You heard me correctly…MORE muscled). The man looks downright menacing but is, in fact, a sweetheart of a young man. We hit it off right away.

But that morning, on the crowded shuttle, none of the other 18 passengers except Young Thom knew that Triple X and I are good friends. So when I started fugging with him about his “gay shirt” (hey it had some kind of “queer gold piping/blink stuff laced through it”) and then, poking him with my finger across the shuttle aisle asking if it had “two guys kissing” on the front the whole bus froze with fear of a possible Royal Racial Rumble in the Shuttle!

Triple X glowered at me and hissed under his breath as I got off the bus “You will pay for that.”

“Understood” I said cleanly.

And I did…for days. MacButt jokes.

*******

Then last week, after my Netbook was stolen by Tweakers I went back to my room and my phone was missing after just a few minutes.

(Note: Tweakers are like Alcoholics except it’s drugs and while an Alcoholic will borrow money and pay you back way late or never at all, a Tweaker will steal your stuff then help you look for it. That’s the basic difference.)

I freaked out and had a conniption in the Dining Room once I could not find it. It was the straw that broke the Mac’s back.

Now I say “conniption” because technically that is all it is. But when a guy 6’7″ with arms as long as Jordan’s starts waving them and booms his voice about something stolen it looks more like, well more like the beginnings of a Royal Rumble on a Shuttle. It scares everyone but close friends or bunkmates.

So Gregor, unfazed started to call my phone and told me so. “It doesn’t matter!” I yelled. “They make us keep it on vibrate!”

Gergor wisely ignored me and simply kept calling. Then my upper  bunk mate Ricky offered to help me look for it.

Suddenly in our dorm room we could hear thew “BRRRRR” of the phone! Frantically I clawed at the bedding searching. Nothing!! “BRRRRR, BRRRRR, BRRRR” “Dammit! It’s here somewhere!!”

I calmed down and sat on the bed knowing that it was inevitable we would find it.

Then I felt my Butt “BRRRRRR”.

There was a phone on my butt. Why didn’t I just call and find that out?

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2011 – Drinking, Drugging, or Shopping…

schrodingerscat_fullpic_3667In the mornings at Mill Street (our communal compound) I always finds the usual suspects on the back patio. Gregor is smoking and pontificating on Liberal politics (and its current demise); Young Thom has his large sack out (of pills and supplements); the Apostle Paul (quiet in person but mighty in letters) is silently waiting to pounce with a witticism and I am slamming strong coffee and about to launch into a story that is far too long and convoluted for most (I will be chided several times for this in its course).

This morning though it was the Apostle Paul who piped up that quantum mechanics could be used as an argument to get out of running a red light.

AP: You can make the argument that rolling through the stoplight entails an intricate numbers of “stops” as it is happening

Mac: Too bad you cannot produce Heisenberg there in the courtroom…you know like Woody Allen produces Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall. That’s shut the judge up…case over!

AP: Yeah but Heisenberg is dead.

Mac: Okay, so instead you bring in Schrödinger’s cat.

AP: I’ve a better idea. How about Schrödinger’s cat in Heisenberg’s suit!?

Well it is just this sort of nonsense that goes on every morning in one form or another. Of course all homeless people are hopeless drunks (except those here) or uneducated…hmnnn.

Later, Astro Steve (he is a genius who has applied his mind to astrology) stops by and sees I am reading Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, a book about the disenfranchised on Cannery Row after the Second WW. It is a funny, poignant, romantic witty tale that is both rich and sparse at the same time.

AS: Steinbeck eh? He writes a lot like Hemingway.

Mac: Yeah, but he is a lot funnier. Come to think of it Hemingway is never funny.

AS: No, he’s not. He’s self-absorbed, too serious and Steinbeck is warmer…that’s because he was a cancer.

We’ve both read a lot of both and we’re right. Steinbeck is hands down the better writer in almost every way. The other thing is (I think later) Hemingway became emblematic of the lost generation. Steinbeck actually found some answers, found some ways home.

That’s what a lot (not all) of these folk want. They want to find a way home. They want to belong; they want to feel affection and that their lives matter.

Don’t we all?

______________

Granted, this was a shelter in Marin California, which only means that the people in the shelter were generally five to six times more interesting and conversationally literate than anyone I ever met in Marin who made any serious money. Those fobs wouldn’t know Steinbeck from a Steinway (“Oh, my neighbor has a lovely Steinbeck”).

There is perhaps a good reason for this actually.

“Mankind is drinking and drugging themselves out of awareness; or they go shopping, which is the same thing,” wrote Ernest Becker. They won’t let you stay in the shelter if you have been drinking and drugging; and if you had the money to do serious shopping you wouldn’t be homeless.

That leaves a lot of “awareness” time. I kinda like it, and them.

Steinbeckian Farce

Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday

The Monk is not back, But I, Mac, am. No longer committed to celibacy (no matter how much a reality it is), poverty or austerity there are still some small things needed to change my lot in life, little things like: a job, money, a decent apartment, a bed, a dresser, my art and computer equipment from cities far and wide across this vast land, a car and a woman. That’s all…nothing big.

These things take patience and time. They take intentionality, planning, execution and a certain bull-headedness in the face of adversity and some heavy headwinds.

When I shut down sansadobe months ago I expected things to change more rapidly. Instead I have had to hunker down much deeper, spread out to more contacts and be more resilient than I could have imagined across the board. It have had to go deeper in my health-related issues, become more disciplined in my computer use, re-learned time-management and find ways to bounce back from serious setbacks (like two netbooks being stolen). I will buy a third netbook in a few weeks and watch it like a hawk, but there are no guarantees so long as you are homeless in the fullest sense of the word (having a bed and a locker does not count as “not homeless”. When I have my dishes in my cupboards I will consider myself not homeless).

Now the amazing thing continues to be the variety of people you meet when homeless. Some pf the most brilliant and creative people I have met in a long time, and some of the stupidest and wildly insane individuals on the other. It is not a place for whiners, the self-pitying or the despairing. They are best left to sleep under a bridge, up “on the hill” and to use their few County given resources to drink away consciousness. I understand…I really do.

But that’s not for me. In fact, in a certain way the harder things have become the more shrewd and steely I have become after brief moments of grief. To be sure, finally having the proper meds, not drinking and getting exercise really help a lot. Also letting GO helps a lot. I have probably never lived so stress free.

So why do I have Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday up above? Well after my second Netbook was stolen I was really adrift a bit. Suddenly I had too much time and no way of providing myself with diversion. I was caught in Pascal’s bind. I don’t have a useable library card (charges I cannot pay from 2008) so I was left to pick from the scant books at Mill Street.

Shit. Utter horseshit.

Until Tina arrived with some books. A definite “hippy chick”, Tina is , well like a select few here, extremely smart and educated. She immediately sensed my duress and provided me with the Steinbeck book, a wonderfully entertaining tale set in Cannery Row (Monterey, California) which I know well as my parents and my sister both live there. In fact, there is actually a street in Monterey named after my step-grandfather, Carl Daniels.

The cool thing is the story is about a ragtag bunch of interconnected folk all kind of down on their luck. No one has any real money. Most of the main characters live in the “Palace Flophouse”.  The only real difference between that community and this one is the near unearthly beauty of that whole bay, the fact that everyone drinks all the time (no one drinks here for long), and the sort of natural interplay between all social castes. We get some of that here, and racism does not exist at all at this level (which says a lot). The real difference is that the principle players still have some social power and sway in their world despite their poverty.

As I sit here tonight in Marin, I am in the richest County per capita in the United States. That cannot help but cause some real divisions. But not among most of our caste. Only those who are so used to stealing as addicts (mostly “tweakers”) to support their habits cannot be trusted.

I talked this a.m. with Steve, a man with a genius IQ and a man who knows literature at least as well as I do. We agreed that Steinbeck is much better than Hemingway. He is as sparse a writer, but with a humor and warmth that Hemingway’s self-importance could never sustain or produce.

I heartily recommend this book. Perhaps in the next few weeks I will endeavour to start chronicling some of the stories around here. Some are quite funny, others sad…not a a few bizarre.

Comedy

Maturity, humor, Hulk and HELP?

26 Mar 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

Three Quotes:

“Maturity is grace under pressure ~ Ernest Hemingway

“Life if viewed from a distance is comedy; if viewed up close a tragedy” ~ Charlie Chaplin

Hulking

My first night at I was a run with the other 200 men like the bulls of Pamplona through the streets of the Eugene Mission. 200 men processed like cheese and I was curd 147.

After you have been run through the Humilatior you are stripped naked and all your belongings go into a numbered bin (“You are 147”). If you are me, you look sidewise at this moment for a second, then accept.

You have 3 minutes to shower and then towel off and look for pajama tops and bottoms.

Okay…stop the music. I am 6’7” and 300 lbs.

So after 30 minutes of searching diligently I have something that will barely drape and pull up.

I go to the mirror. The shirt is ripping in places and shredded in others. The pants come up to just over my knees.

I start laughing.

I am The Hulk.

I don’t have $2 for tonight…yet.

I tend to make either nothing or $90 an hour. Still I’d take a minimum wage job right now for a few months if I could get paid today.

Not gonna happen.

I am, admittedly, not as street smart. These guys manage to get their $2 AND supply their considerable nicotine habits (gotta be at least $6 a day). Mike (see a newer post) is needing his air tank for emphysema and is still looking for a tobacco fix.

“Maybe I’ll quit today,” He mutters..

“Good idea Mike” I offer weakly.

The greater issue here is that this place (the Eugene Mission). It is an internment camp.

I am not greenly angry or envious. No, I just want and pray for something better.

So here is my request…dear friends who enjoy this ride…could you spare a bit to keep me alive? Not much…just Starbucks…bucks and a few Western Unions will keep me through till I get work this next week.

Make no mistake (others have) I am not fooling. I have no money and their is no time left. Some act or don’t cuz …well…

Faith hope and love

21 Mar 2011 1 Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

My exit from Portland was unceremonious.

I refuse to dwell. I move ahead in Eugene taking all I learned from Portland with me and laying aside anything not bore from faith, hope or love.

I will miss the Lads, especially Robert the Gangl. But he and I will meet again soon enough. I miss the Kierkegaard class and Kasey’s leading such a open and warm discussion. I miss the worship there.

I was changed and now I am doubling down on that change here in Eugene.

Still I left with hardly anything, not having the funds to transport what I did have along with me. It’s in good hands for now (or most of it).

Almost all was in my one backpack they did not wish me to retrieve just as I was leaving. I do not fault them. My leaving upset some and they flt it better I just go.

Still my lightsaber (Bible) is in that pack, and a Jedi should never go anywhere without his lightsaber. My calligraphy pens, ink…some marked up T-shirts with Zen Greek lettering. My art pens.

So as I get ready to check in tonight to the Eugene Mission I realize at night my laptop will be locked up along with my other bags (there are 4 times the number of men there than in Portland).

So I am at the most glorious library I think I have ever seen. If I could shoot it in Wim Wender’s Black and White (Wings of Desire) it would look like the library in Berlin.

I found what I needed: two Merton books: The Asian Journal and Love and Living.

The collection here in my particular haunts is staggering next to Portland’s run down library. Internet all day long too.

To the few who have worried there is no need. Every open and spiritual path has setbacks. It is what we do with them.

I messed up one day and I had to go. It was not much of a mess-up (as mess-ups go) but a deal is a deal.

I didn’t whine or argue. I just left. (Mac rule#2: “Never spend time with anyone who does not really want to spend time with you”)

God is very good.

I will continue to be a Monk. I will just not do so in an institution for very long. I will find work quickly, find a good roommate, a good church and settle in and serve.

Keeping it simple.

Word and No Word

01 Mar 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

Hope. Ink on paper.

“Elected Silence, sing to me

And beat upon my worled ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing lips; lovely dumb:

It is the shut, the curfew sent

From there where all surrenders come

Which only makes you eloquent.”

The Habit of Perfection by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Words On

Kierkegaard class with a delightful exploration of words meant to stir,  call and secure the hearer with Christ’s promise of restive attention in our individual burdens and lostness.

Smart lively people, a fine teacher, mindful commentary and a nice group spirit.

Then the pastor’s teaching on an enigmatic passage from Matthew 11. John the Baptist and his dirge; Jesus and his wedding songs and the decision by some to simply watch unmoved. She teaches with her English accent in a way that also hints beyond convention. Ironically, you can get wider audience with a good accent.

Communion at Imago Dei. Ink on paper. Feb. 27, 2011.

Later, working the front desk a man approaches. He starts to tell me about attempting to get SSI. I realize in the first few moments that he has begun to tell me about every injury he has ever had. He is 55 years old and is now at age 5.

I settle in.

I can multi-task. You really can think about two things at once if you do it really really fast in your head. So as I listen attentively to him I am also thinking about St. Jean Vianney, the Catholic saint who listened to people’s confessions and lives 16 hours a day and became famous for it. We need more listeners in the Church…that and a few less preachers. By the time St. Jean Vianney had bolstered me, the man was at age 27 and going end over end off a bike.

Out my fettered window.

H. comes up (a regular) and let’s me hold his $50 while he goes across the street to play $2 video poker. I tell him to leave after he wins.

“But then I can’t play and have fun.”

I look sideways. H likes it when I do my Robin William’s impersonation, so I figure that accent will help.

(As Williams) “H..do this. Walk in and ask everyone to line up..then throw your bills at them one by one. I promise…you will have more fun!”

This actually works. He leaves me holding his $50. Comes back ten minutes later with $8. He says “I told them I had to come back because you are so big!”

“Yessah! My grabbing you by the neck is like being choked by two large steaks!” He busts up.

Still later upstairs,  a brother in the Mission starts in about Imago. “Some chick got up and…”

um?…No.

I cut him off with a grin, saying in my William Wallace brough  (by now you have noted the accents theme) “and lemme guess…she played a song yeh-ya dudn’t dance; did a dirge but you wood naw mourn – bet you just sat there like a speck-tat-tor rright?”

Busted.

He laughed and that was the end of all that nonsense.

No Word.

But what of Hopkins’ poem?

In this world, with its cacophony of words we need silence without and within. My favorite lines are about “dumb lips”:

It is the shut, the curfew sent

From there where all surrenders come

A curfew sent from the seat of the soul is a powerful thing when it still the tongue. Powerful in its silence and in its faith.

Interspersed with all the words yesterday I had some wonderful alone time.  As silence beats upon the “worled ear” it is resurrected, regains its tonal receptivity and can deliver one to a place of peace beyond comprehension. Mystics have long understood this, but it is available to any man or woman who will simply turn off the tv and sit outback or in a quiet room.

Pascal said the hardest thing for a human being to do was to sit alone in a quiet room. I agree unless God fills that room. It’s okay to have an empty room or an empty heart given a God Who “fills all in all”.

I figure if I can do it here, at the Mission, I can do it just about anywhere except an IKEA.

Desk.

History Repeats Itself?

23 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

The Macman, circa 1978.

2/11/1978 – San Francisco, CA. It is 4 a.m. and the City is not yet moved. Cold, quiet in a City way (never totally). I have been sick for ten straight days with acute bronchitis.

New to the City, I am alone is most every way, laying on my bunk for endless hours. The pain, coughing and lack of any energy is ceaseless.

I came here because I love God and want to know Him better. But I am unsure now. There is a “game” going on around me I do not understand. I am an outsider, like a rough wet dog that has been let in and has slumped down on the oriental carpet.

Down the hallway from my room is an older 26 year old man. His floor and shelves are covered with Bible encyclopedias, lexicons and Greek tools*. I know nothing except they are important to study., which I have not been well enough to do.

There are no women here – or at least none that interest me. There is one, but she is out of my league. God the age difference! She is 25!

The San Francisco skyline is actually far below me, off West near City College. I justwantto be well so I can learn and serve. I want to know God better.

I am reading “Humility Against Despair” by a Catholic writer named Thomas Merton. Mitch gave me the book recently. It’s okay I guess.

The Macman, circa 2011.

2/22/2011 – Portland, OR.

It is 4 a.m. and the city is not yet moved. Cold, wet, and loud with the noise of construction, generators and men in cranes. I have been sick for 21 straight days with pneumonia, then acute bronchitis – the first time since I had it at Simpson Bible College in the late 70s.

I came to CityTeam and Portland because I love God and have allowed other things to eclipse this. I need a total stripping down and humiliation not at my own hand, but as fits pride.  I want to know God more intimately and I am undeterred in this.

But there is a game going on, even here, which I do not understand. I have to navigate solely by Word and faith (and sacrament soon). I am an outsider, the quintessential kind. A rough dog, wet and slumped down on matted carpet.

Down the hallway from my room is younger 26 year old man. His floor and shelves are covered with Bible encyclopedias, lexicons and Greek tools**. I know exactly how to use all of these being richly steeped in exegesis and hermeneutics the last 33 years. It is one of the things I do best.

The Stacks in The Hole.

Despite being sick for three weeks I manage to study hard, do art, fulfill a 63 hour a week schedule, counsel others, pray, serve…endure hardship.

There are no women here, so I am oddly at peace. There is one out of my league but my God the age difference! She is like 40!

The Portland skyline is actually below me and City College is to the West. I just want to be well so I can learn and serve better. I want to know God deeper, colser and sweeter. This does not require perfect health.

I am re-reading “Humility Aggainst Despair”. No one can see God until ego is deposed to some degree and the heart is pure. Purity of heart in our age means to be stripped bare, made of “no account” – to become truly silent and allow God to remove what He wills and sweep the beautiful empty floor that is left.

Poverty is useful. It does not lie if you listen to simple instruction. To be sure, some measure of this poverty should be chosen (I can leave at any time); but other parts must be imposed because we will not choose it.

This monk’s life is 30 times harder than I thought it would be. Not 100, nor 1,000 times. Just 30 (or maybe 33?)

*******

* notably Kittel’s 10 Vol. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

** notably missing Kittel’s 10 Vol. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament so far.

*******

Zen Greek Calligraphy

Christ “Phos”

“Phos” is “Light” and Christ is the Light of the Cosmos (John 1;8) He is the Outer Light and the Inner Light – the Sun without; the Son within – We the Moon both inside and out. Zen poem:

Christ φως

Zen Greek

Good Miso

Empty Bowl

Prayer Now.

* Underwear Lost.

Underwear Lost

I often say Zen is my vaccine against Commercial Christianity – what Kierkegaard called “Christendom”. Zen brings clarity, experience, seriousness and humor. So when I was first sick I attempted to do my laundry four floors down. I did not finish and half my belongings (including my underwear) were given away to the homeless (all clean now).

I find this funny, even though I now have no underwear.

Zen Greek

Robert The Gangl (my patowan) is prying me constantly for useful knowledge.  He setup a white board in his room for Greek studies. I made him some flash cards and photocopied the alphabet and phonetics. He is already reading F.F. Bruce. I mentioned the author and he found a book on the Canon of the New Testament. He has the guft (he’s a Jedi) and the desire. I spend no time motivating him. If anything, he motivates me!

Yesterday I started in earnest on Zen calligraphy with Greek texts. I have been preparing, studying and doing some practice for a month. Yesterday I woke up and it clicked! I started immediately and worked hard for hours.

“Treasures” from Colossians 2.

I made my own Zen brushes (I have no art budget..or any budget really). I cut some soft brushes with my exacto.

(My apologies. My camera SUCKS. I know you are all use to decades of top notch pix. Sorry.)

Good Miso

Diet is my next issue. Solution is Miso soup. Simple, meditative. It is delicious, poor and beautiful.

The dark seaweed leaves under the green onions like a koi pond. Smell of bonita and weight of Miso paste.

Japanese garden, Portland. Monday.

Prayer Now.

And not now – then again – then drifting like wind. The boomerang of Self. God waits. Sorry Father. I may yet begin the small sounds of Your heaven.

*******

I am better now. Not recovered by any means but I have some energy. I have vision and He renews my strength in the morning…this morning. I go to bed a heap of frayed nerve endings and wake up 5 hours later new.

The Monster is on the run after 21 straight days. i endured it well I think – certainly faithfully for a change.

I was attacked by others when really sick and they almost had me ousted. I would have had to leave if I would not/could not work the full schedule.

I am a tough son of a bitch when backed into a corner. I worked. Plus, with no shame in my life, I am a bit of a lion. I would not wanna F with me, even though I am compassionate.

Empty Bowl

I AM that same man/boy of 1978/2011. “We” love Christ for Christ’s own sake; find all religion highly suspect at best and want to love God and people. I am a very young man in an old body just as I was an old soul in a young body. Same man, yet different. Now a Jedi.

Example?

Yesterday I walked past a row of flowers in pots. 99 cents each. I could have bought one but thought “why rush? Best to plant seeds and grow them from there.” Thus have I changed. I am more interested in the process than the result (though I shall have that too).

This is my life now. Growing and waiting for the end of Spring…yet utterly aware NOW. Cultivating, drinking soup from the same black bowl; drawing ancient texts with a Zen brush, and walking.

Theos (God), Thesauroi (Treasures), Thanatos Ou (Death Not)

You accept the things you cannot change…

03 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

..and people more often.

Any viable spiritual life will require humility, and humility is best cultivated by humiliation. The Ego as EGO cannot sustain humiliation because it feels it must be protected at any cost. Ego has no faith at all.

Faith says “wait, some good may come from this”. In fact, it often sees the good long before it arrives.

So recently I was humiliated. A woman I had befriended (but had decided not to date by mutual agreement) wrote a particularly nasty email to the head of the Mission here accusing me of just about everything and anything short of incest and clubbing baby seals to death on lunch breaks. It did not matter that there was no basis for this in any of my actions, words or even thoughts (totally blameless…which NEVER happens)…the damage was done and I have to sleep “on the mats” for a week and am on “restriction”.

(If you are reading this I am just happy you revealed your true self. I forgive you. Truly. But don’t contact me again.)

Like any kind of  “order” it does not have to be fair. I am reminded of that line from “The Mission” where Jeremy Irons says to Liam Neeson “You are part of an order not a democracy”. I have also read enough Thomas Merton to know that he was often ruled against unfairly yet bore this with both humility and grace.

I’m not Thomas Merton, but I accept my “punishment” and do see that good will come from it. A man can never get too much humility, and with my ego already reeling from a constant daily barrage of challenges this only intensifies it’s demise.

What is left over when the ego is deposed? Hopefully faith, hope and love. Certainly freedom from the Self and Ego are our deepest self-made traps. Show me a humble man or woman and I will show you a wonderfully dangerous and interesting person.  It does not signal even the slightest amount of “worm-theology” (for that too is Ego and self-absorption).

Freedom to explore, write, create, give, serve and to forgive. The freedom to set aside hate or retribution (leaving the karmic debt to other powers that be) and the freedom to be wrong. The last one is particularly freeing. The freedom to be wrong. Imagine all the people you know who are never wrong and cannot be wrong. Are they free?

This is the great irony.

I may be sleeping on a mat, but I am free.

Portlandia (and chicken)

31 Jan 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

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

19 Jan 2011 1 Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

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 feel 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

12 Jan 2011 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

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 srious 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.

Being good…

26 Dec 2010 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

“You’re a good man,” says John as I pass by.

“I’m okay,” I say without hint of irony or self-mockery.

Moments earlier I had been talking with one of the “homies” who had been booted that morning.

“The young man just kicked me in the foot and yelled” he said.

I listened to his complaint as I do others every day. I cannot make their situation much better, but I can listen. I do promise to bring up how they men are awakened every morning. I have been kicked awake before. Unlike my bro here I do not tend to jump up and start yelling. Instead I have groaned, looked up and with a mere look suggesting that the person’s foot might next find a new destination at my bidding.

Later, one of the guys in charge starts remarking tersely “well ole Mac now has responsibility for Mr. X (names is witheld for privacy purposes)!” And off he goes to the races about the guy, supposedly for my benefit.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say calmly. “It is a simple matter. I will bring up how we wake up all the guys. If it applies to someone it applies, if not, no big deal. Just no one should be awakendwith a kick no matter how light. It’s a respect issue.”

The guy questioning the other guy has been called into question by other guys…and ad infinitum it goes…

So the only real way of functioning is to always hold to what is best for people or for their good. That means far more than anyone’s opinion, especially mine. That’s the only true North in this endless sea of words, justifications, accusations, denials and petty bullshit. It’s how I stay sane and sober at the same time.

I let the guy go on. Finally one of my other roommates in the dorm says “You might wanna listen to Mac. He has a calming effect on the men. I have seen it more than once.”

It’s true. They sense I mean them well and see them as made in God’s image. If they don’t recognize it it does not make it any less true.

Mr. X downstairs had wanted to unload his burden. I chose to let him. Then I said “It is a shame really. Don’t we all – all of us here – have quite enough on our plates without adding to the weight of others?”

Mr. X smiles. “I like that Mac,” he said warmly. I wished him God’s irrational peace.Then John, who has watched it all quietly,  said I am a good man.

I am not a good man in many ways and I am in others. Thus I think I am just okay. Yesterday was Christmas and I was sick all day. It was okay too.  I slept a lot and prayed a bit. I am glad the holidays are over.

Of course I thought of Adam, Camille and Lori at my parents house for Xmas. That made me happy (envy is not one of my sins). As for me, I have to have faith that next year I will be with them. You do not turn an ocean liner around on a dime. It takes time. I am putting in the time now…like yesterday laying on a cheap bed in the sober dark.

I realized I had not spoken with Jesus much lately. I apologized. “You get eclipsed by program and other people’s bullshit” I said (like He has never heard that one before). “I’ll do a proper celebration in April when You were really born.” I did not sense His laughing at this. Guess He has heard that one a few too many times.

I am not a good man, but I know the one Good Man. Better still, He knows me.

Purity of Heart?

16 Nov 2010 Leave a Comment

by bakdon in Uncategorized [Edit]

Ghoulies at Pioneer Plaza

Life here is very circus like punctuated by real dram, comedy, unbelievable daily feats and the usual clashing human personalities

I can see why some men give up and “go back out” but I have seen too much and have also found some inner freedom that can keep from the knee-deep bullshit of others.

Of course I have my own to deal with, but that is, I believe, essentially the point of most of the program. To the extent I get sucked into thinking about or evaluating others I am lost and will return to alcohol via resentment and self-rule.

I failed yesterday. Not the “real failure” of drinking (needed to remind myself of that), but rather a normal failure. I failed to re-clean the bathrooms after diner in preparation for the evening. To be sure it was a bit of a sucker punch as I do not know the job…but a failure is what it is.

Roger was not happy. “We call ourselves Christians and charge them $5 a night and they are faced with that?” he said aloud in a controlled burn. “Clean them now!”

Well, some older (yet younger) me would have dwelled on this. But I simply cleaned and determined to do a kickass job today.

Meanwhile one of the brothers, who I have listened to criticize others and particularly their motives, started in on me. Turns out his last criticism (the bathrooms) was dead on. The rest was pure emotional projection (aka: “Poo-poo No-no”).

Part of the program is learning NOT to take the inventory of others. This is huge. I am spiritually prone to NOT do so anyway, but others are not so fortunate. It grows and feeds on itself and makes them miserable. On the far side it invites all of us to self-pity, isolation in rage and judgment. So…we drink.

I don’t wanna drink again. I do not wanna feel any resentment again against any human being but deal straight up with “instances” and keep an extremely short list. This is for my own inner peace and also so I can see God.

That may sound strange, but it is a beatitude. Jesus says “Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.”  When we think of “purity” we think of sex-less-ness in some way. Well in the most overtly sexualized culture that has ever existed on the planet that may well be true. But I would wager that anger, resentment and judgment are even deeper foes to purity of heart.

Resentment, and it’s bigger brother “Envy”, befoul the human heart, cloud the spiritual optic that only faith can provide and reduce God down to an idea to be used to justify spiritual murder and avarice. From there the fertile ground for lusts comes: sex, drugs, alcohol, food etc…for we have ceased long before from wanting God for God’s own sake in purity.

Today I need to work at my work; work at my recovery and keep my heart open to God and others. I do not need to defend that which is indefensible. I live by grace through faith. If anyone has a problem with that they can take it up directly with Jesus. He is most patient on such matters.

In the meantime, lest the larger picture be lost, it is a heavy workweek. 250 holiday food boxes to be processed and delivered; 300 homeless to be fed a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday; 5 huge pallets of boxes filled with warm (new) coats just went out and we have our normal/regular work as well.

And the work does go on…which is why the bathrooms need to be cleaned and stocked at least twice a day.

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