Archive for the ‘restoration’ Category

I have two sweet, passive, house casts. The cats recently got to licking each other, which resulted in some biting, then some hissing and scratching, finally we had to separate them.

We did this by moving between them. It’s called splitting behavior.

We live in a violent world — cat fights, family fights, the San Bernardino shootings, the Paris bombing, the civil war in Syria.

An unholy violence touches all our lives. A friend of mine was murdered by her husband.

The Bible is no strangers to this.

Listen to Jesus.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matthew 11:12)

The Bible is not all happy sheep, gentle doves and precious rainbows. It includes terrors, violence, mayhem — lots of death.

Cain murders Able, the world drowns in a flood, Abraham travels to sacrifice his son Isaac, the Egyptian’s are devastated by the plagues. Paul murders Christians, Jesus dies like a criminal nailed on a cross of wood.

The Bible verifies that life is rough and tough, dangerous, and we are vulnerable and the violent bear us away.

But the Bible also helps us know how to live in such a world, wisely.

What did Jesus say?

Matthew 15:17-19

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Jesus said what?

Jesus said that violence — physical, sexual, verbal violence — does not begin with standing armies, tanks, guns and bombs.

It rises out of the pathology of our own souls.

Violence begins my heart and yours. It is not far off.

It is as close to us as our own hearts. Because of this, we must be careful to no let anger and hate rule us or we too might say or do terrible things.

Jesus warned us saying, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matt. 5.21-22).

Yesterday out driving, a slow car in front of me so irritated me, was taking so much time, so timid, so slow that I grew very impatient. It’s in me too.

When I went around them, in my fast sports car, I didn’t make a hand jester. I was so glad. I think it was one of the elders of my church.

Violence lurks in us all. Perhaps we are too strong with our family. Perhaps we are raging about someone at our work. Perhaps we are verbally abusive at home.

We must pray: “God remove hate and anger and violence from my heart.”

Let’s now get clear on this.

Jesus instructs us not to use violence to attempt to bring about his kingdom.

When Jesus was arrested, one of his companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

But Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:51-52)

We must beware of reaching into our hearts and dredging up violence against non-Christians or anyone. It will come back to bite us.

At his trial Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place”

This ” my servants won’t fight” was and is a statement of Christian principle.

It is a principle Jesus is very clear on. He says it unambiguously.

Luke 5:29. “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”

This teaching is very powerful. We all must grapple with it.

No cheek slapping. Restraint can save us — save Christians and the church — from abuse, from harming others, from crusades, from taking up arms to bring about faith.

Is someone slapping you? Are you slapping back?

“What, ” you are thinking, “do I just stand by, and let harm happen to my self, my family, my people?”

No, we apply the violence cure.

The Bible and Jesus teaches us to bravely stand up against violence.

Just because Jesus doesn’t employ violence, he does not model or encourage us to act like helpless sheep, to give in, to give up.

One way the Bible teaches us to stand against violence is to respect and work with the police and military in their efforts to protect us.

Romans 13:4 says, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Police officers, government leaders, military, then it their duty to defend, to sometimes use force to stop violence. They must be brave, do their jobs, but they should never use force — unless necessary.

We stand with them in their role.

In my career as a pastor I have worked along side of the police, Child Protective Services and the courts. I have reported sexual abuse and physical abuse to helpful authorities. I have comforted and counseled women who have been abused and I have worked with soldiers suffering from PTSD.

I have cried with victims and stood in court with them. I have walked out afraid of being beat up on the street.

As a church, my church holds Church Has Left the Building Sundays,. On these we have fixed up a local domestic violence shelter, our staff has reported abuse, we have set up a counseling center, we have paid for professional counseling for victims.

In the last few years, our church has the become the REFINERY, a place where people get better, are protected, can recover.

We are all about, healing hearts, wounded by violence.

Our staff MFT’s increasingly busy. We will report the bully at the school or in the office or on the ship, call the police on the law breaker, report the threat.

We are not helpless sheep!

When one of my daughters was in middle school, she was harassed, inappropriately touched by another student. I went straight to the principal and advocated for my daughter. I stood up and protected her.

I yelled at the principal. I shouldn’t have. But I would not be put off, until something was done. We must protect our kids and stand with them in trouble.

Secondly, Jesus instructs us to stand up to violence with words.

When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus, Jesus verbally defended her and stopped her accusers from stoning her.

Jesus did this with intelligent thinking. He used words.

It is recorded in John 8:7 that he confronted her accusers by saying,” “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Her accusers snuck away. This was so powerful that the phrase “throw the first stone” is now a conventional, protective part of our everyday speech.

Go create words; defend women from double standards, defend children from abuse, defend us all, from violence, from a culture of violence.

For as long as we have strength to stand up to bullies, it is both our nature and our privilege to do so.

Following Jesus we should stand against verbal abuse, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, abortion, bullying and racially motivated violence.

My church is the home of the Grossmont College’s Southbay classes to train adoptive and foster parents. We give away space for free for this to happen.

We are The REFINERY that empowers.

We are mending the ravages of family violence right here, right now.

Thirdly, we stop violence by becoming peacemakers.

We Christians should always be growing in learning peacemaking, in learning to conflict negotiation, in finding non-violent ways to stop violence.

Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, [taught Jesus] for they will be called children of God.”

Peacemaking uses the leverage of language, the force of negotiations to find solutions.

Jesus called each one of us to peacemaking.

When I was in South Africa a few years ago the Christians there totally inspired me as to what Christians can do.

When we were in Johannesburg, some of the pastors told us that during the Soweto riots of 1976, the church gathered and prayed.

South Africa was at the brink of civil war, racial war, but the church prayed and white President F.W. DeKlerk unbanned the ANC and unbanned the South African Communist party and of all affiliated organizations, and released Nelson Mandela from 26 years in prison then sat down at the table and negotiated the country away from Apartheid and war and hate.

It worked. God worked a miracle. It was and is still messy, but it worked.

We can take a lesson from this. God hates it when the strong prey on the weak, when innocent ones are harmed, and God helps those who resist this.

We can oppose even our own government when we see that it unjustly uses violence against it’s own citizens or when it uses violence to wrongly dominate people’s of the world.

Christians can stop violence by not voting for haters and war mongers.

It is not unpatriotic to vote for laws and leaders that protect, those who will protect all races and religions and peoples.

We are the people of the first amendment. We stand for protection of speech and religion and safety for all.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. And red lives matter. And white lives too.

The lives of our young people matter, the lives of police officers matter too. Christian lives matter; Muslim lives matter too.

All lives matter — the unborn, the sick, the disabled, the old, and the church should work for the protection all precious, God loved lives. We are to protect the lives of those Christ died for.

If we have ever been bullied or beaten or raped or verbally abused, God hates that and he suffers with us and want to protect and help us.

What to do? Report abuse. Get help. Pray. Move away from it. Protect ourselves, protect our friend, protect our children.

Christians need to shelter victims. When it comes to sexual abuse or sexual harm, we need to engage in splitting behaviors.

When I was in South Africa, on church we visited had renovated a whole housing complex that was formerly a Dutch, Afrikaner compound, and the homes were given to people in the congregation if they would take in a baby or child who had lost their parents to AIDS. We saw those homes, we held those babies.

The church can redeem a broken culture.

If a woman tells you she has been raped, believe her, get her to safety, help prosecute the rapist, take her in, keep her away from the abuser.

We need to work with law enforcement, criminal justice, educators, mental health professionals, and many others to stop sex trafficking, to stop sexual abuse.

Too often the church has been too silent and too soft on sexual abuse. No more.

Lastly, Jesus taught and modeled an internal response to violence, “Be not afraid!”

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body [said Jesus] but cannot kill the soul”

And Jesus said: “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world” (John 16.33).

We Christians are on the side of the winner.

In the end God wins. His peacemaking wins.

God will redeem our evil, violent hearts, and in the end, peace and peace making will rule the day.

This is our certainty.

The Lion will one day lie down with the lamb and yet the peacemaking Lion will yet remain the conquering Lion.

Christina Perri in her song “Human” expresses a universal sentiment; we can pretend to be perfect, but we are — human.

We break down. We cry. We doubt. We get overwhelmed. This is what we do. We don’t need to pretend we don’t.

The truth is, human, is attractive.

Most of us don’t like people who pretend to be perfect, who act overly spiritual. We like spiritual people who are comfortable in their own skin. We like godly people who are comfortable with their own imperfections.

I was walking on a sidewalk recently and stepped just off, half my foot on the walk, half on the grass, boom! Down. I laughed. We are top heavy: it is amazing we stay upright so much.

When we were finishing our oak floors last year, I came to the room and kicked over a whole gallon of polyurethane. We laughed. And had fun spreading it around. It gave us a quicker way to do the floors.

We spill, we fall, we get tired. Hungry. Sleepy. These things aren’t bad; they are just — human.

All the Bible heroes were human, weak and fallen.

Noah got drunk. Abraham said his wife was his sister. Jacob schemed. Moses was afraid. Jonah ran away. King David didn’t. He should have. Jeremiah raved. Peter was impulsive. Paul bragged.

Let’s face it. We humans aren’t perfect.

How should we Christians think about our bodies?

1Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Bodies are good; bodies house God. God values bodies. He paid a great price for then. He created them as precious containers for the glory of God.

Last week I fed my body talapia, summer squash, yams, spinach, steel cut oats, almond milk. I gave it about eight hours of sleep each night. I worked out at the gym three times with weights and an elliptical machine. These activities were to me, deeply spiritual. I was honoring the house of God.

Last night I ate dark chocolate. I was deeply honoring my taste buds.

I love being human. I love my body. But I’ve never heard anyone say that in church. In church we talk a lot about the value of our spirituality. We don’t talk enough about the value of our humanity.

In fact, historically, Christians have too often had a negative and neglectful attitude toward their bodies. One of the early heresies of Christianity was Gnosticism.

To the Gnostic Christians God was transcendent, high, far removed from his creation. They did not believe a perfect God could create the imperfect material universe.

So they invented the idea that the material world was created by an evil, lesser God, sometimes called a “demiurge”.

The Gnostics put forward the idea that matter, whether it be the physical universe or the humanly body, was evil and the spirit was good. That is an error. This is the error of dualism.

Some even claimed you could sin in the body and it wouldn’t effect the spirit

The Bible doesn’t support this view. True Christianity rejected Gnosticism.

Bodies are not evil. God, the one, true God made bodies, took on a body, and will give us new bodies in the new creation.

The idea of a disembodied spirit, a ghost, is actually very spooky to us. It is unnatural. It is false.

But we moderns repeat the Gnostic error when we hate our bodies. We repeat this error when we neglect our bodies. We repeat this error again when we separate spirituality from our bodies.

Everyday I take a hot shower. This is part of my morning devotions. It ministers to the ache in my neck. Yesterday I ate a Popsicle in the shower.

Hot and cold — at the same time — it is the epitome of holy, sacred, devoted spirituality. This truly honors my God-given senses!

Bodies are good. They are made for honoring. Never hate your body. Feed it, Popsicles.

Jesus had a body.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.

Look closely at this verse. When God became flesh, then we saw his glory. the glory of God was revealed in the flesh of Jesus.

The creed upholds this: Jesus was fully man, fully God!

I love the humanity of Christ. He cried. He hugged children. He got mad. He allowed his followers to eat on the Sabbath.

True wisdom is gentle with human.

A Christian friend told me recently that the church leaders she grew up with were very “aloof, cold, inhuman. You wouldn’t want to talk to them; they were always wagging a finger and telling people what they were doing wrong.”

They weren’t very human.

Being overly-spiritual is the same sin as being overly-physical. Both are an “overly.” Coldness does the same damage as lust. Both abuse.

Jesus wasn’t like that. He identified with weakness. He would talk to anyone. The only people he judged were the super-spiritual leaders who acted better than ordinary people.

To the Christian who told me the leaders in her church were cold, I told her, “As a leader yourself, do the opposite of what you grew up with — be approachable, friendly, non-judgmental — and then you’ll be a good leader .”

There is so much to value, to cherish, to love about being human.

In Psalm 139 David gushes, “Body and soul, I am marvelously made!”

Bodies are a great gift. Bodies are marvelous!

Our noses can remember 50,000 different scents.

There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies

If uncoiled, the DNA in all the cells in your body would stretch 10 billion miles, from here to Pluto and back.

Our bodies contains approximately 100 trillion cells.

We are freakishly complex! God did this. He gave us this.

Did you know that most of us have tiny mites living in our eye lashes. We are never alone.

We have more bacteria in our mouths than there are people in the world!

We are cities. We are thrilling. We are frighteningly marvelous!

1 Corinthians 9:24-27-25 (The Message) gets it right, “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”

Paul is the model of the fully awake and alive human who takes spiritual responsibility for his body.

Being human doesn’t mean doing whatever feels good. What separates us from the animals is the power to rise above our instincts, our cravings, and to make good choices.

Paul is no animal; he is a fully focused, empowered, self-controlled human being. As such:

He runs to win.

He trains hard.

He avoids sloppy living.

He stays in top condition, for God, for Christ, to honor Christ in his body.

To care for our bodies, to love them, train them, control them, push them, discipline them — this is part of true spirituality.

What if you want to change in this area?

Change begins with knowledge, and awareness, and desire to honor God in the physical areas as well as the spiritual.

And change begins with the Holy Spirit’s conviction and help.

If we have been overly spiritual, perhaps even religiously addicted, then our challenge is to again embrace our human side. Lets not cover up human with religious.

If we have neglected our bodies we must begin to love them again. When our bodies tell us they are tired, we should put them to bed. The most recent research on sleep indicates that getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, may shorten your life.

When our bodies are hungry we should feed them. Veggies and whole grains — not french fries and sodas — power us best to honor God.

When our bodies are inactive we should exercise them

When broken we should have them fixed.

What if we have abused are bodies and are paying for it now? What if in the past, we overate, we over-drank, we smoked, we used illegal drugs? What if we still do?

Then we should do this. We should forgive ourselves, get help, fight for health, and move on. We can, with God’s help, honor what is left.

To some degree our influence on others, the amount of good we will do, the number of people we might point toward God, the creativity we may offer the world … all this may depend in part on how well we take care of our bodies.

Human — it’s spiritual!

Monday night I pretty much hit the wall, after working nonstop for twelve hours, preparing the floor, and I ended the day by hitting the sack — late. Work tends toward that, a flat ending, following a familiar line that gets you there. The energy line goes something like this: it rises up on inspiration, peaks at perspiration and dips at last into mind-numbing exhaustion.

The job I was on was to restore the old oak floors at the church. The mission was to beautify the world, the vision to create sacred space in which people might be inspired to know God, the question after more than a month of slaving: Was it worth it?

Yeah, it was, but to see that, I had to look past tiredness, I had to overlook the imperfections in the floor which we, as we worked, lovingly referred to as “character,” and I had to imagine a better future, a future in which people will walk in the doors of this church, love it, make a home there, on the floors, and do nothing less than, transform, renew, refinish — like the floors.

The whole process, the original “bright” idea, the collaborative, “lets take a look,” the peek under the old, stained carpet, the discovery of the distressed but still beautiful oak floor, the equipment rental, the sanding and more sanding and more sanding, the realization that we didn’t really didn’t know how to sand an old oak floor, the sanding again, the choice of a finish, the realization that it was the wrong choice, the process of choosing again, the final floor prep, the flawed first coast, the better second coat, the still imperfect third coat, the still imperfect but last-shot-in-order-to-leave–enough-dry-time fourth coat of poly.

Wow! The putting of the pews back in, the screwing them down in the old holes, the standing back, the asking of the questions, the interestingly different responses. It is so interesting, people’s response to change. For those who didn’t engage in the process, the first blush is often negative, in odd and inaccurate ways.

“I think it will be loud.” It wasn’t. “Shoes will put black marks on it.” They didn’t. “It will be hard to clean.” It isn’t. “I hope I don’t fall.” Nope, not slippery.

But when all is said and sanded and coated, there are the encouragers, the perspicacious, appropriate responders: “Awesome job! It looks great! It is so clean! It is brighter in here! This was the right thing to do! I love it! Thank you!”

I not sure how I feel; it’s a mixed bag of emotions, from “we could have done it better” — my own form of negativity — to “I am so glad I had the courage to make this happen!” Yeah, that’s how I really feel.

Life is like that; it’s a push and a stretch and a long hard row, that changes the world, that revisions spaces, that refinishes reality, that makes a possibility for better to be created on top of better.

What’s next!

“I just wanted to give a little advice to help her.”

“Yeah, I bet that didn’t work.”

“No it didn’t; it blew up in my face, the little advice.”

“Why was that?”

“She didn’t want it.”

Of course she didn’t. It was something from the head, but the matter, it was something in her heart. It makes me want to go fishing, catch something, drag it to shore and feed the world with it. You can’t heal a heart with just a head. It’s like asking a bandaide to heal a cancer.

The mind can be a shallow thing, full of opinions, biases, judgments and stunning limitations. The heart is a deeper thing, full of will, personality, experience, dream, hurt, emotion, identity, desire, hate and love. The heart has a depth that the mind cannot fathom.  An idea won’t heal a heart. A rule  won’t heal a relationship. Deep calls to deep, experience calls to experience, brokeness cries out and clutches brokeness, weakness reaches out and gently touch weakness.

“Try saying, and trying feeling it as you are saying it, something like, ‘I’m so sorry you are hurting so badly.'” And maybe give up, thinking one talk, one time, and one little piece of ‘wise’  advice will do it.”

I wonder, could we learn to better sit with each other, for a while, for as long as it takes, and listen and really understand the best we can, and really “get it” and so find our way back to each other’s broken hearts?

We might; if we let heart cry out to heart.

 

Something in us wants to restore things.

A few months ago I snapped a photo of the gleaming white concrete steps and glanced upward into the narrowly ascending tile stairs.

How many people had come down those since they were made, stepping slowly so as not to slip, hearts pounding, anticipating the bottom, the backwards fall, the sudden sucked-in breath, the deadly shock?

Only a few hours earlier I had kneeled in the bottom of the pit, the tank, the concrete coffin and pounded away on the floor with a power bar. Paint chips flew everywhere, green paint, yellow paint, white paint. Dropping the bar, I grabbed my paint scraper and pushed it down hard, dragging it across the accumulated crud on the top of the paint and concrete. It screeched along the cold surface like fingers on a chalk board.

What was it? I wasn’t sure? Sediments from the water? Oils from people’s skin? The thin greasy yuck of ten or more generations of yellowing anger, lust, hatred, selfishness and pride? I sanded it, I TSP’ed it, I pounded it again, and it slowly yielded to the onslaught, as it is want to do.

I rose up from my knees thinking, “Jesus may have died for your sins, but somebody eventually will have to clean them off of the bottom of the baptistery.”

The whole experience had been rather unique from the beginning. I thought it would be simple, repaint the old baptistery. It wasn’t.

 Even the trips to the paint store, three trips, had an interesting aura about them. “This paint isn’t really meant to be submerged,” the clerk said, turning the gallon can in his hands.  ”It’s water proof, but … maybe you should go to a pool store.”

At the pool store Mark, the pool expert, added another wrinkle. “You need to bring in a paint chip. I’ll test it to see what kind of paint was on there. Then we can pick a paint that is compatible. Otherwise, it will just peel off.”

But when we pooled the paint chips I brought back, dunking them in three different kinds of solvents, nothing happened. The thick, adamantine pieces stubbornly resisted dissolving in anything. “I think the paint is from the 17th Century,” I quipped. Mark looked nonplussed. But we still didn’t know what we were painting over, just that it was really old, really hard and resistant to solvents. It looked a lot like the peculiar texture of human corruption to me.

Mark wanted to sell me two cans of paint at $90 a gallon and a cleaning kit for $37. I settled for the $59 per gallon epoxy paint after he said that it would probably stick just about as well as the other. I had some TSP and an acid based concrete cleaner  back at the church, down in the basement,  in the old supply room where you can pretty much find anything if you look long enough.

Mark took a long time. He was really slow.  His every movement was in slow motion. He had all day. I didn’t; I fidgeted. Murderous thoughts surfaced in the back of my brain, not compatible with my mission. I chipped away at him in my mind. Why did Mark push the more expensive products? After all and with all due respect, it was for the baptistery! You’d think he’d offer a discount to try to score some points for himself on the side.

Maybe he did. At the register he took 15% off, but I think it was because there was a sale going on. Earlier he had told me he didn’t go to church and that they didn’t give discounts to churches. Other thoughts came to mind. His name is Mark, and his story isn’t over. 

Back at the church, I kneeled again in the baptistery, paint roller in hand, the thick white paint dripping off the cover, onto the floor. The moment was sacred. It was an honor to be in this place. The concrete enclosure had a unique, historical, purposeful presence, like the ancient baptismal tank at the Baptistère Saint-Jean in Poitiers, like San Giovanni in Fonte, the Lateran baptistery built by Constantine in Rome.

But this baptistery is no museum. People will not come to look just to look. This baptistery will receive the devoted ones on this very upcoming Sunday.

They will step down into the rippling water, shining brilliant white, reflecting its new paint. They will stand in the water before their friends, families and God, and they will make their professions of faith in Christ.

They will dive backwards into the water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit like people have for thousands of years, and they will lie still below the surface, dead to their crud, dead to their old selves, dead to their sin, and they will be lifted up from the watery grave with faces shinning white – new ones, redeemed ones, fresh ones, life-splashed, righteously strong and beautiful ones.

I hope the paint is dry. Otherwise the saints looking on may see an ethereal, white glow on each baptized face and mistake it for a miracle.

No matter, paint in the water or not, this moment will be a miracle, new life springing up in an old baptistery.

I like it; I always have. I like something old scraped, sanded, repainted, restored.

I grew up with restoration; it’s part of my DNA. My Dad renovated the Christian campground that I grew up on in Missouri. He built a kitchen out of rocks and cement for the camp, and he built a bunkhouse for the alcoholics who came down from Kansas City to get away from the environment of their addiction. They were in a renewal process themselves, getting away from poison in glass, learning the Bible, working with their hands.  It was there that I found old Red, the stray tom cat I took in. It was there that my mom made a yard out of a woods, in the home my dad built for us on the campgrounds. In that front yard she planted Iris in the front yard and put up a bird feeder in the back that the brilliant red cardinals came to feed at.

My Dad and I repainted my first truck and car in the camp shop there. My dad was always renewing, running a chain saw or a brush hog to clear more land, putting up hay for the couple of milk cows we had, building a building, building a man. Eventually the chain saws and tractors got to his back, and he couldn’t do it anymore and we moved back to California, but he and my mom never quit this kind of thing. I talked to my dad on the phone the other day. He is now in charge of a program at the retirement home where he lives in that goes into the apartments after someone has died and cleans up. He takes out the trash left when a life is over, and redistributes the things still useful to furniture a life still being lived somewhere else.

When my parents moved to Los Angeles near the ends of their careers, my mom transformed an old mansion into a home for homeless women and children. My dad continued his work with addition, setting up a really cool treatment program for men at the Los Angeles Rescue Mission.

About that time my mom got involved in turning the big house into a half-way house for women and  children who were homeless. That’s when I came on the wash stand.  My mom found it down in the basement. The style was good, three drawers, sculpted legs, but it was painted white, chipped and dirty. I expressed interest; she said I could have it, so I took it home and began to sand it. Nice, from what I could see. As the paint came off I could see that it was quarter sawn oak with a kind of zebra striped grain.

I used paint remover, sanders and then hand sanding. The problem was that the white paint was in the grain. More sanding and more sanding, and then I made the test. I rubbed an oak stain into the smooth surfaces,  and on the backside of each stroke, beautiful golden grain patterns appeared.  I rubbed on a  light, protective layer and added some new pulls on the drawers. It has had a prominent place in our home for the last 25 years.

Progressively larger and better TV’s have sat on the oak piece. I really like modern technology, but the technology has come and gone, was new, then was old, and was given away, and the oak stand has outlasted the black plastic boxes, circuits and wires.

I like it. I like my hands on a surface, adding an new gleaming finish. And like my mom, I like my hands down in the earth bringing  something blue and purple and yellow out of the ground.  I find it more meaningful to find, restore and preserve something old than to get something new.  I love old homes, old baptisteries, old cars and old wash stands fixed up – they rock.

The other day I was at Sophie’s Gallery in Liberty Station. Liberty station was formerly the Naval Training Center (NTC).  It is now a beautiful Point Loma shopping mall.  On the walls of Sophie’s were wooden boxes and box tops, with the bottoms painted in scenes and the sides acting as frames. I asked about the art; the owner called it “repurposed art.”  I like that. The Naval Training Center was repurposed. The boxes were repurposed. I like repurposed. I am repurposed.

I know now that I am the greatest restoration project I will ever work on or experience is me.  I too am a piece of work, under restoration. I have been scraped and sanded, and I too have been repurposed.

Early in life I got old. We all do.  It is the kind of old where our social and psycho-personal surfaces oxidize, rust, dull and fade from early psychic dings and wacks. Then we flake and rot, inside.  For me, this premature aging was hurried along by my own bad choices and from the stupid mean choices of others. I was this kind of old by the time I was in third grade.  

It was the old that couldn’t tell Teresa, my fourth grade crush that I loved her. It was the kind of old that chased Roy Coons into a shameful corner on the play ground.  It was the kind of old that had to hit a homerun over third base to feel good, the kind of old that held my brother down and screamed at him during a basketball game, the kind of old that threw over the monopoly game board when I saw all to clearly that I had lost, and then all the fake money and green houses and red hotels went flying through the air and bouncing over the braded rug in the living room and the game was very clearly a mess and over and ridiculously done.  

Enough of the stupid and embarrassing examples; it’s the kind of universal old that comes straight out of outhouse of our interior corruption, from the nasty chamber pot of selfishness and competition and judgment and ranking and exclusion.  I hate it. It’s so stupid ugly. It is so deeply pressed into the grain of our psychic wood. It is so ground into the psycho-social floor of our very existence. And it is so mean-hard to scrape off.  “Help! Call that guy that advertizes about doing remodels.  Help! Call the police. Help! Help! Call 911 and get an ambulance here, now! We have to go to the hospital!”

When I was eight years old I told my mom I wanted to pray. Just before that I remember walking down a road and kicking a rock and thinking I’m destroyed — eight years old and done. I remember thinking, “There is something horribly wrong with me! And I am going to be punished; I am going to rot in some kind of ugly, insane and horror-house place forever if something isn’t done about this. “ It may have been imperfect contrition, but I don’t really think that was all of it. I wanted to be young again and I knew that the only one who could do that was the youngest one in the universe. It wasn’t simply fear; it was fear compounded with hope.

And so I did something that was more like letting someone else do something than doing something myself.  I told my mom I wanted to pray. Pray what? Pray a prayer that said that I was old when I was still young and that I wanted to be young again.  So I did. I prayed that I would be forgiven for the choice that I had made that made me old.  I prayed that I would be made over, fixed back up, as restored as an old baptistery fixed up or an old wash stand refinished.

After I prayed, I remember feeling shiny. I remember feeling like I had just been scraped, sanded and repainted. I remember walking out into the backyard and feeling ridiculously light. I remember feeling young again. It was unexplainably crazy good,  just what the doctor ordered, what had to happen to avoid being ruined and discarded.

I wasn’t finished by that prayer; but I was begun. The restoration had begun. It is still in progress, like road work in Boston, never really finished but apparently further along, frustratingly slow, but headed in the right direction.

The thing is that more scraping is required than it looks will be necessary in the beginning. The sediments on the floor are harder and deeper than you think. Later, in mid-life I began to realize that I had put on a mask in the first act of the play and that in the second act it was still on and it was keeping me from playing the role that I was now being asked to play.

We had a marriage. We had a Rosalind, our daughter. We acquired a  mortgage. We snagged careers. We had friends. We discovered that in having Rosalind, we had a disabled daughter. And it was needful that I understand that there was pain to be faced in working at a minority isolated high school  and pain in my wife being overwhelmed and pain in being  overwhelmed myself. And yet I couldn’t I couldn’t be overswhelmed because I had to win the game and hit the best hit and fix up the house and fix Rosalind and it just wasn’t okay to be weak or vulnerable or to grieve or to admit that I couldn’t actually repair brain damage.

I went to the doctor. I went to an interior specialist, a therapist, a MFT.  It was hard. Men didn’t do this, not so much then, at least not the men I knew.  I didn’t want to go. I kicked a rock down a road first and seethed. In the end I went because I couldn’t not. It was too painful. I went in the same way that I had prayed when I was eight years old. I went because I needed someone else to fix what I couldn’t .

Bill, my soul doc, gave me a test. I figured I did well. I had a history of testing well. I did, and I didn’t. I figured I answered in a way that made me look good. I did, but that made it come out that I was  trying to look better than I was.  I remember Bill sitting down with me and going over my test. He said, “You have a tendency to present a carefully constructed self. You aren’t being congruent.”  I was shocked, offended. He didn’t back off.

He gave me a copy of a book. It helped. I could take it easier in book form — read the concepts, apply them to myself, nobody else in the room pointing a finger at my heart, just me and the cool ideas. I have always loved ideas, particularly the ones that operate like a paint scrapers or the shiny ones that work a lot  like new paint.

Congruency is where what goes on inside is like what goes on outside. If I feel weak, I express weakness. If I feel overwhelmed I say so and take cover in others love. If I feel angry I find appropriate ways to express that. In the past I had hidden these emotions. I wanted to be respected, so I presented a respect-worthy self. I presented a fortified, intellectualized,  managed, attractively storied image. And it worked, kind of.  I was respected, and I was  perhaps even feared in the way people fear someone that they feel is superior to them.

But it didn’t work in one very important way — I wasn’t loved. People admire a strong man, but they don’t necessarily love him. To be loved and to give love I needed to be real, authentic, congruent. I needed to take off the mask and let people see a whole person, strong and weak, intellectual and confused, right and sometimes wrong.  I needed to be remodeled into a more complete person. I needed not simply to be spiritualized, to not just say a prayer, but  I needed to be humanized, to live openly with my own flesh. I needed to be comfortable being human in all its rotted and rusted and dented essence.

I began, the first tentative steps of disclosure, of honesty, of humanness. It worked, almost magically. Disclosure begets disclosure. Be open, people are open back. Rip off the mask and others do too. Quit pretending to be a saint and you actually begin to have friends. And then there was the best. I came to a startling conclusion. If I could learn to accept weakness in myself, then I could accept it in my wife and children and friends. If I could quit criticizing myself, I just might begin to quit criticizing others. This was transformative for me  then, and it still is now.

This scraped and sanded the crud out of me. This put a new coat of paint on my inner baptistery. This made my face shine, and it made the faces of those I dunked in my waters of acceptance shine too. This began to put to death an old life. This began to repurpose me. I began to live more connected to other people. My face began to shine more, to shine with tears more and to shine with a smile more.

It isn’t done, not by far — scrape, scrape, sand, sand, paint, paint, paint.  This week I rolled a new coat of white paint on the old baptistery floor. The last baptism loosened some of the new paint. Weird, the improvement of the old is  never done. I’m thinking of tiling the floor now. Paint isn’t going to cut it.

More restoration.

 Good.