Friday, July 31, 2015

July 30, 2015

Well, I have spoken to doctors and to a psychologist, to a spiritual director and to friends... even to strangers.  I think the conclusion is clear: I am not fit to do my job.  Oh, there's always the possibility that an anti-depressant might help.  Perhaps if I got back on a lower dose of testosterone that I don't need to get shot with.  But no matter what, I can't keep doing this, to this depth, at this level.

I am often overwhelmed, and feel unable to take on anything else, or do anything else.  When I feel this way, I can't talk to anyone.  People tell me "Just ask and I'll do it", but I can't speak.  That's the last thing I can do.

Sometimes when I'm overwhelmed to speak is to yell, unnecessarily. At this point, I'm breaking relationships, not restoring.  I can always apologize later, but there's only so often that I can apologize without being seen as a hypocrite.  I tell everyone, believe what you see people do, not what you hear people say. Then I am a workaholic, an unfair judge, an impatient, stingy man.  Of course, I am also generous, supportive, peacemaker.  It just depends on which mood I'm in.  Salt water and fresh can't come out of the same mouth.  A man cannot be ordered about by two masters.  Something's gotta give.

The easy answer is to say that I should quit, let someone else run things and just write.  That's what I'd like to do.  But there's no one to run it.  Everyone who is willing isn't able.  Those who are able aren't willing or are too ill or broken down to function.  Some are both willing and able, but can't work on the below-poverty level I've been living at.  Lack of training? Lack of will?  Something around there.

So what if I just walked away?  Just allowed the Lord to re-order the work I've done?  This is a difficult choice and not one I can do in a godly manner.  If I walked away, the fragile hold that us four congregations have on the property will unravel.  We don't have another Mennonite pastor to take over Anawim to represent ourselves to the PNMC... well, maybe one, but she wouldn't want it. Sanctuary/Redbarn/Anawim is the hub of the Gresham Day Shelter network of churches.  Just like in St. Johns, if I walked away from that, all the ends would crumble.

If I walked away, that would also mean walking away from the house, which is just as much stress on me as anything else. This means seven people out on the street.  Two of which wouldn't have anywhere else to go.

And there are all the people of Gresham.  The street folks.  Some think they don't need us.  Most know better.  Everyone on the street in East County agrees that if Redbarn isn't open during the winter, people will die.  And others will be sick, get frostbite, suffer from hypothermia.  Not to mention go hungry, lack self-respect and the streets of Gresham will go back to the violence and wreck it was twenty years ago.

Some may think I think too much of myself to say that it would all fall apart without me.  But I just found out that the final ministry to St. Johns is shutting down, six months after we shut down, trying to find others to train and take our place.  No one else trained, and the ministries shut their doors one by one.  The street folks are still better off than they were before we came, so there's that.

But Gresham is held by a thread.  Usually, it wasn't held at all, but now it's by a thread.  And that thread is keeping this juggling act going between the city and the homeless and the neighbors and the churches-- convincing them all that we can live with the others.  Care for them and support them.  I think Pete Blaine is trying to do this, but it requires a lot of energy.

Let alone being generous with a couple thousand pounds of food, a facility to keep clean for the many meetings that use it, balancing fair pay with fair treatment and fair boundaries. I've been flying by the seat of my pants for so long, I don't even know how to explain half of what I do.  It just makes sense.  And we survive and grow toward another day.

I'd love to hand it off, to walk away.  But I couldn't live with the consequences if I did.  So I keep on, some days doing well, and some not so well.  But still holding that thread together.  I pray for God's deliverance, for Jesus to send someone else, like he did with Elisha.  I'm not looking for a chariot of fire.  An elevator will do.

In the meantime, as the voices grow more frequent and louder and multiply that I'm not fit for the job, that I'm a poor leader, that I'm doing it all wrong, I just need to remember to not be angry.  They are right.  I'm sure someone else can do a much better job than I.  I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Two Burdens

Sermon to me from the Spirit:

Jesus' yoke is easy and light. If our yoke is too burdensome, then we are probably carrying two yokes: Jesus' and our own.
Jesus' yoke is to always be merciful, always be forgiving, always be generous, always to make peace, to heal the broken, to welcome the sinners and to take time to rest, giving our worries to Him.
Our yoke is to live in fear, to protect and defend, to hate the sin and the sinner, to earn a living, to obtain the proper education, to be clean and properly dressed, to make God's people pure, to pour our energies on those whom we have never met, to live a lifestyle we have learned from the world-- and to do everything ourselves, to show ourselves to be independent.
He isn't here to help us carry our yoke. Rather, he is offering to trade us ours with his own.
Let's lay down our yoke and focus on Jesus'.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

July 20, Part 1

I think I may have learned about the source of my stress.

This last week I met with a spiritual director.  I met with her because the doctors keep giving me medication that doesn't really solve my depression issues, the psychologist I met helped a little, but he only knows how to make people normal, not to make them survive being a radical Christian, which is what I want.

I have a huge question as to whether it is possible to maintain being a radical Christian over decades. Jesus is to be our example, but he died after three and a half years (or so) of ministry, Paul was depressed and possibly paranoid after a couple decades of ministry, and most radical Christians have a short life span.  Well, except for Menno Simons and a few others.  Dorothy Day.  Mother Teresa. Hmmm. Anyway, it's a tough life, and it's tough to endure for a long time.

So how does it get done?  And why am I having such a hard time?  I can't ask doctors to give me answers here.  So, on to a spiritual director.

She didn't have a lot to say.  Mostly listened.  Which I guess is good.  And I was concerned, before I met her, that she would be a Teresa of Avila type, who would command and tell me everything I'm doing is wrong.  Nope, just the opposite.  She is the listening, gentle kind.  Which is good, I need some of that.

So she listened to my life and asked some questions and then it was command time.  She told me what to do.  "It sounds like you never get any rest.  There are people around all the time and you are always concerned about them and so you never have any time for yourself.  If you aren't yourself, then God has no one to connect to.  So this is what I want you to do: Find a room in a church where you can go and no one will disturb you.  You can get the tea you like and just sit in silence.  You can read, you can sleep, but don't worry about praying or any other spiritual discipline.  Just rest and get some time by yourself."

Whoa.  That was like a bombshell, especially after I thought about it for a while.  My problem is not just that I need to rest, but that I need to rest from people.

This makes sense, on a superficial level.  I am an introvert, and so if I am going to really get rest, I need to rest without others around.  Communicating and connecting wears me out and I won't get rest unless I'm not doing that.

But she pointed out something I didn't note before: Even if people are milling about in my area, or if I'm connecting with people on the internet, or if I'm meditating about my work, I'm still interacting with people.  Not physically, but in my head.  I am constantly thinking about what others are thinking or concerned about and how I can help them with that.  I am concerned about attitudes and interactions and all that every day all day unless I'm asleep.  It's my job and I do it all the time.  When I'm at church, I'm thinking about the people around there, including those who are in the park, or the city officials or churches who aren't even there at the time.  When I'm at home, I'm thinking about all 13 members of the household.  When I'm on Facebook, I'm thinking about what they think about the post I write.  Right now I'm thinking about the non-existent audience of this diary and what you are thinking about what I'm writing, even if you may be decades away.

That's not a bad thing.  I want to think about others-- that's love.  I want to think about how I can care for them, even if they are decades away.  Honestly, I'm pretty good at it.  It is a powerful spiritual discipline to make guesses about people's attitudes and to be about 90 percent right.  Not too bad.

And it is destroying me.

Why is going to a Trappist monastery so healing to me?  Because for the couple few days I'm there, I have no one to think about, few expectations to meet, no attitudes to help adjust, no one to care for-- not even me, because my food, sleep and spiritual needs are relegated.  I just have to fit into a pattern that is already there.

I have even wanted people to move into our family time because that helped me to remain peaceful and gentle with my family, because someone is watching, taking note.  I remember reading that influential Romans considered their open lives to be a community service.  They would have open windows so that anyone passing by or waiting to see them would see how they lived on a normal basis, so they would be an example to the community.  I wanted to be the same, to have my life as an open book, to provide a possible example of Christ-living to the community.

Okay, but now I know that it is killing me, and it is actually self-destroying for me.  In my mind, there are always people there, even if there aren't physically, and I am performing for them, acting in a way that would be beneficial for them.  But this very acting-for-others cannot be sustained because it is wearing me out, thus I snap like a trapped turtle.

I am trapped by others, constantly.  I can't function because I am surrounded, and all I do is respond and so I am never me.  The only me is a few days a year at a monastery. That is the real me.  The rest of me is pressed in by the walls of the exceptions and needs of others, even if they never mention them openly.

Again, I don't think it is horrible, but it is wearing on me.  I know Jesus felt the pressure of this because he woke up early to pray, to be himself, because it was the only time he had.  But I will fall asleep if I follow that specific example because I am so worn.  People tell me to meditate and I say, "You mean sleep?"  Because at this point anything that I do without adrenaline pumping is going to put me to sleep.  I can barely watch a movie anymore, let alone read a book or listen to music without crashing.

So I'm arranging a room, as to her suggestion, and we'll see what happens when I find out who I really am.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Week of July 7 2015, part III

I've got a real problem.  People are complimenting me much too highly.  When people hear about all that I do, or get a notion of it, then I am overly praised.  It took me a long time to get used to everyone who comes to the church to thank me, even if I had little to do with what they were thanking me for.  I didn't cook the meal, or serve it or even clean their dishes, but they were thanking me for it anyway.

But I figure that they need to thank someone.  It's for their own well being and health to be grateful, so even if they are thanking the wrong person, I can act as a stand-in for that person and try to pass it on later, if I remember.

But there are people who certainly give me too much credit.  This week, when someone found out that I had eight formerly homeless people in my house, they said, "You are amazing!"  But I'm not.  I'm human and weak and other people remind me of that, recognizing that I screw up.  Another person once quoted, "When I think about What Would Jesus Do, I just consider what would Steve do, and I find that it's close enough."

Wow, really?

I am a far distance from Jesus.  As much as I would like to be like Him, I will never be able to catch up. And I am an unworthy model compared to Him.  Here's some differences:

1. I'm ready to give up every day.
I know that Jesus was willing to surrender the cup, but that was just one night.  Generally he was gung ho about pursuing God's will, no holds barred.  He went the whole distance, and I am whining about quitting.  I haven't given up yet, but I feel so ready to.

2. I am a major screw up
I yell at people and act unloving every day.  I pray for love and teach about love and peacemaking, but I am a far distance from Jesus' ability to remain loving and caring.  I am just not dependent on the Holy Spirit enough to be an example of love.

3. I am not living in faith as Jesus
Jesus was able to feed thousands with two fish and a few loaves of bread.  I work hard to get thousands of pounds of food to feed the same number of people, but I don't rely on God to provide as Jesus did.  Yes, I depend on Him to pay my bills and to heal my ailments and to care for my family, but it is nothing compared to Jesus' dependence every minute to heal the needy.

4. I am not as pure as Jesus
I struggle with pornography, I struggle with my thoughts.  I know Jesus had temptations and he had impure thoughts.  But he didn't act on them as I, giving into my weakness.

5. I don't pray as Jesus
Jesus knew that he needed to have intimate time with the Father each day.  He knew that prayer was the most essential time of day, and he sacrificed his sleep so he could hang out with the Father, which was his strength.  I'm too like the disciples, ready to sleep instead of having a relationship with the Father.  I am worn by the work, and I sleep instead of meditate or listen.  I pray as I can, the Lord's prayer and other prayers, but that's not the same as seeking the Father.

So please, don't follow me.  Follow Jesus.  He's the right one.  I might have some benefits, but I'm only a shadow of the Real Thing.  

Week of July 7, 2015, part 2

This week I went to the doctor twice, talking about my depression.  Perhaps you've read about it before if you've read my blogs.  Constant tiredness, feeling overwhelmed, dizzy spells, gastro-intestinal disorder, occasional nausea and irritation at irrational sources.  My mind is constantly blaming my work, and I expressed that to my doctor.

"Everyday I'm thinking that I'd be just fine if I'd quit.  But when I slowed down for a few months this year, there is no indication that I'd feel better.  Honestly, I'd not felt worse for a long time than when I stopped working for a couple weeks."

"You were probably going through adrenal withdrawal, which is just another form of addiction withdrawal."

"So you're saying that I was just withdrawing from my drug addiction?"

"Yes, and that is overwork."

"Well, at least I know what it feels like.  Like being horribly sick, but there's nothing you can do to reduce the feeling."

But the issue that was most concerning is my longing to die. "Not anything slow and lingering, though.  More like a stroke, or perhaps a heart attack that will keep you in the hospital for a while."

"Wait, so you fantasize about having a stroke?"

"All the time."

"You know, that if you think about it, you will probably have one."

"That'll be great, bring it on."

"Wouldn't you rather feel healthy?"

"I don't know.  I haven't for a long time and I don't really remember what that feels like."

"Shouldn't you work more on your health than on your work?"

"No.  We live in a world where we could help everyone that needs help, if everyone pitched in.  As it is, only a handful of people are helping those in need and so we who do this work are worn to the bone, stripped and squeezed out like a rag and tossed aside.  If those people didn't exist, then the world would collapse under the weight of it's own selfishness."

"But doesn't God tell you to work on your own health?  Doesn't he say, 'God helps those who help themselves.?"

"No, that's Benjamin Franklin, whom I don't take as a model of ethical superiority.  Jesus said that if we are to live an ethical life, we are to take up the cross, to lay our lives down for our friends, to give up on ourselves so that others might live.  That's my model, a guy who hung on a cross to show us how we should best live."

"So you want to die?"

"Absolutely.  Right now, it looks like the only way I can get some rest."

"So the only way you'd abdicate your overwhelming responsibility is by being completely unable to function?"

"Right.  I won't stop my work myself.  God has to take it away from me."

"What about getting someone to help?"

"That's what I've been working on, especially over the last three months.  I've trained more than 80 people, but only one couple volunteered to support, and she ended up having a heart attack and so was unable to continue.  That's what happens to everyone, either they become sick or they decide that it isn't work for them."

"But you are heading down that same path right now.  You could die at any moment."

"I understand.  Anytime God wants to give me a break, I'll take it.  In the meantime, I'll keep working, for it is my cross to bear."

"How long have you had thoughts like this?"

"I think about the pleasure of dying every day, and that's been the case for years.  Mind you, I don't think about suicide.  I never have, not even once.  But I do think about God taking me out like Elijah.  Elijah was a man whose work from God had been too difficult for a single human being.   So he begged for God to take him out, to kill him.  God said that he had three more tasks and then he was done.  It took a little while for him to do these tasks, but after he was finished, God took him to Himself on a chariot of fire.  That seems like a pretty good way to end depression, if you ask me."

"What if you could feel healthy enough to work for twenty more years or forty?"

"So I'd be working when I was 90?  I don't know.  I'd have to see how I was feeling then."

And then we talked about treatment.

July 12, 2015 Part 1

Just saw Dave the Cook this morning.  Such a great guy.  I always enjoy my time with him, because we can joke and take ourselves not so seriously.  One time we had a "joke-off", where we told each other clean humor back and forth, until we ran out.  I ran out first, after an hour.  He said he could've kept going for 48 hours and I believe him.

It wasn't long after that he swore he would never come to the church again.  Yeah, he was pretty pissed off at me.

He came to the church a couple years ago, during our overnight shelters.  He had lived out in the woods, strung out on dope and drinking himself to death.  After his doctors gave him a short time to live, he quit drinking and using and he remained clean, but he gradually drifted back to alcohol.  In the meantime, he began to cook once a week for us.  At first it was a day shelter, and then he cooked for our work day, providing a great... GREAT meal for the homeless who volunteered an hour or more.  He used to be a professional cook, and you could tell.  He could take the variety of ingredients we had from various sources and turn it into something amazing to smell and taste.

We had adventures together.  He was with Styx and I when my car got rear-ended at the end of last year, and he had to go to the hospital because of a back injury. It took some effort to get him back into my (newly-purchased) vehicle, because he was nervous about driving.  Not with me (after all, I was completely stopped when I was hit), but just being in traffic.  He has a tenancy to run from situations he's afraid of.

He started living in an abandoned house just down the street from our community house.  He was able to get some electricity and began being a host to a few of the local homeless, offering them meals and they offered him alcohol.  Most of the time everything was okay, but one Thanksgiving one of the local gals had drunk a bit too much and took Dave's campfire turkey and the fixings, and upended it all in the dirt and threatened to beat Dave up.  He doesn't take too well to that kind of behavior and made sure that she was excluded from his presence.

Another day, he collapsed on a sidewalk, and one of our housemates saw him.  They called 911 and got him to the local hospital.  The doctor told him that he had a seizure and if he was going to live any longer, he had to stop the drinking.  So he stopped.  For a couple weeks.  Then, gradually, he climbed back off the wagon.

Eventually, his house was torn down in the ever-present gentrification in our neighborhood, so he moved back out to East County.  He would hang out near the church, cook once a week, volunteer on other days and drink the rest of the time, both on and off the church property.

About a month ago, someone had taken his bags, I retrieved them for him, and he met me in my office.  He thanked me for his bags and, shaking, he said he was leaving the church and wasn't coming back. "You have a lot of nice ideals, but they don't really work in real life." That someone was selling drugs and running a prostitution ring inside the church, and he wouldn't be a party to it anymore.  I said that one person's word isn't enough to kick someone out, and that I needed proof.  "I'll get you proof," he said in anger.  I asked him if he had said this to others.  He affirmed that he had told others, many others.  At this, I lashed out at him, telling him that this was the kind of rumor that would destroy the church and he took his bags and walked out.

Today I saw him again at our local store.  Or, more precisely, he saw me, and called me over.  He was clean shaven with nicely cut hair.  He looked really straight, more straight than I'd ever seen him.
"I was so pissed off at you.  For a week I was ready to meet you in front of your house and beat you up.  I was so pissed off that I decided to get sober, contact JOIN and get my own place.  So I did.  Then I was ready to buy you a bunch of flowers and put them on your van.

"I kept looking for God at the bottom of that can, and all I found was foam.  I kept drinking the foam to find him, but he was never there.  I denied that God even existed, and now I know that he was there all the time, I was just looking in the wrong place.  I need to thank you because you provided the opportunity for me to get clean from drugs two years ago, and now you provided the way for me to get sober by pissing me off so much that I had to find a new community to live with."

Then he shook my hand.

"Thanks for all you've done for me.  Mind you, what I said was the truth, and I'll prove it to you."

"You know that it is my job to help bad, suffering people and give them an opportunity to change."

"Well, it worked for me."

He's been sober for 30 days, is now in an apartment with "so much plastic I don't know what to do with it all.  TV, DVD player, CD player and a freezer full of food and cooking utensils."  He's been going to an NA meeting every morning for weeks.  "I don't need AA.  I'm done with alcohol."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Week of June 29, part 1

My head is just spinning with difficulties and problems.  Rumors are going around that one of our leadership are selling drugs on the property which I am *almost* sure aren't true, and don't have any way to prove one way or the other.

On the one hand, I do surprise visits on occasion, and nothing like that is going on.  On the other hand, there are suspicious stuff going on and I know that especially on the first of the month (when people who receive money from the state get it) half the folks are wasted.  But where do they get their drugs?  Do they get it on the property?

This has been a problem on the property and among the leadership all the time.  Yes, sometimes we catch people using drugs in the bathroom, and we ask them to leave (with a lecture).  Others are rumored to sell drugs on the property, but we've only caught one person doing that.  But we keep our eyes open.

I went to the day shelter stressed on the first of July, knowing that it was the selling day.  I was exhausted, but also aware of what's going on.  Then the Spirit struck me and I realized, if God wants me to find out about this, then He'll let me know, or let me see it.  My place is not to judge or to spy people out like a cop.  My place is to offer mercy, no matter what others do.  If we catch someone, fine, in the meantime, we just have to make a determination: is a leader bringing peace, or are they bringing chaos?

As long as I see the intent and action of peace, then I don't need to worry about the rest.  God will judge those who oppress the vulnerable.  Not my place.

This allows my mind to be awash with peace and freedom.