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Walkin’ Tall

The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Chuck Norris has been there. In that case the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears. ( David Susskind, The New York Times)

Chuck Norris invented water. (Isa 14:92 KJV)

Chuck Norris has never blinked in his life. Ever.

The temperature in Outer Southeast Portland: a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

I swing my rusted, Baby Blue 1995 Blazer into the lot, park, dismount. I notice mere mortals here and there scurrying about from shade to shade til they can disappear into air-conditioned safety.

I stop. The portal before me, beckoning, opens to the Amazing Wonderland of Starbucks Icy Beverages. Inside, a cool, refreshing, 67. But today, this day of all days, I’m in no hurry. I’m Walkin’ Tall. I’m Walkin’ Slow. I’m Walkin’ Baddasss.

As I enter, Chuck Norris, who has been sitting in a dark corner to escape the heat (sissy), quietly, unobtrusively, gets up from his chair and quickly exits by another door, shoulders hunched, attempting to hide from me. Intuitively, he knows that, today, he is no match for me and what’s tucked in the back pocket of my cutoffs, snugged against the perfect curve of my right butt cheek. He knows that his roundhouse kick is impotent against me today. I let him slink off in his humiliation, pretending not to recognize him, that simpering, drooling, mincing, little twit. (Yeah, you heard me. Back off!).

The barista, sensing just who I really am, grovels, imploring beseechingly, “Can I help you?”

Slowly, I reach down and back. The room is silent now, all eyes fixed on my lean, yet sumptuous, bun. Out comes the wallet, and from said wallet I carefully extract a blood (Red™) card. I flick it onto the counter. By now, you’ve probably guessed it: a Starbucks gift card worth five bucks. Yeah, you heard it right,  five bucks. I can’t be denied. I can buy any drink in the place. Nobody can stop me. Grande. Venti. It’s all within my grasp… except a Soy Strawberries ‘N Cream Frappuccino™ ($5.20, but no real man would buy a Soy Strawberries ‘N Cream Frappuccino™ anyways). “I’ll take an iced coffee, medium-sized, and no room for cream.”

“Sweetener?”

Sneeringly, “No thanks, man.”

Over his shoulder, “Iced Grande, no simple, no room, coffee.” Of course, I know the correct nomenclature and order of calling a drink (based on my two years working for Starbucks) but when you’re packin’ you calls ‘em the way you feels ’em.

“Need a receipt?”

No thanks, man, just a balance.”

“$46.50.”

In an instant I’m on the floor, face down, gasping and groveling, having taken five roundhouse kicks of generosity to the solar plexus. You see, the card was given to me by a friend in Seattle known for her generosity but who doesn’t make any more money than I do, which is not a lot. I was thinking $5 maybe, $10 outside tops. At any rate enough for a drink. But $50?

At that very moment Chuck Norris walks back in the door, glances down at me squirming on the tile and sits at his appointed table in the shadows. Silent. He knows.

Chastened, I get slowly to my feet, using my hands to climb up the side of the counter, steady myself and walk out the door a changed man, more humble now…grateful.

“Hey, Mister. Could you help me with enough for a cup of coffee?”

I survey him. This guy is, maybe, 10 years younger than I, skinny, dirty and disheveled with a good five-day growth of beard. Looks a bit parched.  “Sorry. I’d love to help out, but I just don’t have enough.”

I amble over to my rusted, Baby Blue 1995 Blazer. Mount up. Ride away…slow.

Assumed to Actual…Downer and I.

He’s completely ignoring me. I don’t exist. He won’t let me catch his eye. Old guy, sitting alone on the lawn. Yellow-brown stain down the right side of his whitish beard just below the corner of his mouth. Chewing tobacco. Wide brimmed hat and shades hiding his face. On purpose. Ratty pack within easy arm’s reach.

“ Awesome (crappy, cold, windy, are some other adjectives in my not scintillating arsenal) day, huh? Did you get enough to eat?” My conversational skills are minimal in uncomfortable situations and most situations are, for me, uncomfortable.

Barely perceptible nod that says, “Go away.”

“Good stuff, huh?”

Angry grunt in the affirmative.

“Hey, I’m glad you’re here,” now, with outstretched hand, “My name’s Ken.”

No reply or acknowledgment of the proffered handshake.

To him, I’m the man, worse yet, probably a Christian, therefore dangerous to his emotions, peace, property, body, spirit, freedom or a combination thereof. Best to stay away. Hide. Take what he needs, then go away.

Over the coming weeks he’ll thaw under the quiet repetition of the above conversation. I’ll soon know that his name is Downer. It’ll be months before I know the why of that moniker.

Then one Sunday, or at a chance meeting at Daywatch or on the street, he will greet me with an overlarge smile, eyes wide with recognition and respect, body language and speech exaggerated. Firm, pumping handshake. Trying to impress. He may call me “Pastor Ken” though I’ve never even hinted at a pastoral role or office of any kind. Sometimes this progress of relationship will show itself over a long period of time in miniscule, subtle cues that have to be watched for; sometimes it erupts into view without any warning that I can discern.

I’m still the man, but safer now. Still the man, but worth impressing now.

But over time, (it could be years) we’ll meet; hug. Equals now. Barriers down, role-playing gone away, stereotypes disolved by time spent together, and mutual respect. Friends, at last, to fail or succeed without shame between us. Knowing us two…mostly fail. Sometimes forward.

The Real Deal

An achieved or actual relationship requires a mutual input of energy, from the inner selves of the participants, into the “communal pot”. It is typically more fluid, less role or stereotype driven, than an assumed relationship. Hierarchy, if that existed in the beginning, flattens over time. Growth of intimacy occurs in a slow, non-linear manner. It deepens with time spent together.

PS Sex may or may not be involved, unless you are a Christian. In which case sex should never, ever be involved except for procreation purposes and even then should be kept to minimum. Certainly never enjoyed.

Assumed Relationship

An assumed relationship, for this discussion, is relatively shallow, often new, probably hierarchical and usually based upon stereotypes or roles with clearly understood parameters. This is the most common type of relationship between individuals or groups of differing social/economic classes It can be mutual but, more commonly, it’s one sided. It can be opened up for the participation of others. It can be expressed as a demand. It can be a plea.

Here’s how: invitation…”Hi, I’m Pastor Ken. Thanks for your desire to participate in our lay ministry team. Welcome!” (I’m the pastor. You’re the “lay” (not pastor) person.) Our roles, and relationship, are known and settled at the outset. You are invited into a specific structure.

Demand…boss/employee, instructor/student, parent/child, god/follower, witnesser/witnesee; power or information flow mostly one direction. Mutuality is minimal.

Old school male-as-head-of-household is an unhealthy form of the demand type assumed relationship.

Plea…”Can I have your autograph?” “Say, can I call you sometime?” Two requests never made to me.

Love at first sight is an example of assumed relationship that can be mutual…or not.

Assumed relationships are not necessarily unhealthy. Since they’re essentially a from of  shorthand, they can serve a useful purpose. Any task oriented effort, for example, is speeded along and simplified by them.

Mistaking an assumed relationship for a more intimate form of relationship is asking for pain…lots of it. Most of us (i.e. me) seem to really enjoy pain. Awesome.

Two Types of Relationships

An assumed relationship (one based on stereotypes or even guesses) is impossible to compare with an achieved, or actual relationship because the one isn’t much of a relationship. At least, not in the sense of more or less intimate connection. Many (or most) of us don’t, in a given “relationship”, have the capacity to discern the difference. That is certainly me, but I’m studying to figure the whole thing out.

As a game or exercise, try to figure out where your “relationship” with some other individuals (people, god, family members, coworkers, fellow church members, etc.) falls on the assumed/actual spectrum. It’s enlightening.

More tomorrow…

It’s Upside Down

I suppose I could continue the charade a bit longer but I’m tiring of it and I suspect that you are to. So, what does corporate negligence have to do with loving people? What’s the big deal about Larry Reynolds and his ticket for stepping into the street? How does all of this impinge on the spread of the Gospel?

I would say that these things cut to the core of the spread of the Gospel and cut to the core of us as potential gospel spreaders.

If you and I don’t know what is really going on in our country and around the world, if we don’t know who we are looking at and who we are talking to in any given situation, then the chances of our succeeding, by that I mean making contact, genuine contact with other human beings is almost nil.

Let me give you an example: a typical scenario for a guy like my friend Larry or one of my other friends living outdoors in almost any American city goes like this: do a petty crime as serious or less serious than stepping one foot into the streets take a dollar bill from the hand of a generous citizen. Get a ticket ($250 fine). Be given a court date, usually by mail. If you don’t have an address or any place to pick up your mail guess what happens? You miss your court date and a bench warrant is issued not for the crime but for failure to show.  The original tickets may not be punishable by a jail sentence but failure to show is. That’s the tactic the court system uses make our fellow citizens who have no address feel unwelcome. Keep in mind that the police are always on the alert to harass and ticket citizens who are visibly homeless (i.e. large backpack, dirty or ragged clothes, dirty hands, etc.).

Add up all these tickets and failures to show and you have a sizable stint in jail staring you in the face. Maybe it’s best just to leave town. That is, in fact, exactly what the cities hope you will do.

Selling an ounce of marijuana is a class C. felony. If you are caught and convicted and sent to prison you will likely carry that felony on your record for the rest of your life. It does not matter the circumstances surrounding the sale you will struggle to find work and it will be nearly impossible to find housing for the rest of your life.

Sell toxic mortgages to millions of people, throwing them into financial chaos and bankruptcy and you will receive a bail out and be able to party with your friends to the tune of $500,000.00 million per party. Instead of jail time you will receive a multi-million-dollar bonus.

Try to get here a mortgage loan modified… Good luck! I’ve got first-hand experience with this one.

I’ve got an opinion here. I know you’re shocked! Here it is: the low-level, street drug dealer and the high-level Wall Street toxic asset dealer are the same person. The consequences of their crime on their victims will be vastly different. The toxic asset dealer will ruin the far more lives than the street dealer. Our legal system will punish the ones selling drugs and bail out and give bonuses to the other.

We have been trained to despise the poor, the petty criminal, those without addresses, women involved in prostitution and so on and so on. We have been trained also to lionize greedy rapaciousness on the part of the uber wealthy calling it “capitalism”.

Oddly enough, we Christians have bought into this upside down system. Tragic but true.

When we head to the streets to help “the poor” and “homeless” we carry this upside down thinking pattern with us. Most all of us who spend our time helping those left out of the plenty of this land actually despise those who we are helping. We would never admit it to ourselves or anyone else. We’re probably not even conscious of it. But we really think of them as idiot children who cannot survive without the greatness of our ministrations. We typically do not see “the least of these” as our equal or better. We are the teachers.

Two beautiful friends

Stepping 1 foot onto the street (impeding traffic) if you are homeless… Fine $250. If you don’t have the money, one day of community service.

Allowing 34 deaths (Toyota) as a result of reduced quality control standards and hiding a known defect while more people died… Fine less than one day’s profit.

Sitting in the wrong place on the sidewalk in downtown Portland, Oregon if you are homeless… Fine $240 if you don’t have the money, one day of community service.

Allowing the deaths of 29 men (West Virginia mine explosion April 2010) due to lax safety standards in violation of the law… Maybe a few hundred thousand dollars, no jail time.

Sleeping outdoors anywhere in Portland Oregon if you are homeless… Fine $250. If you don’t have the money one day of community service.

Fouling the waters and land of several states with oil due to violating safety standards and kill eleven people …Reduce your daily profits to forty-four million…temporarily.

Two legal systems…one for the top, another for the bottom.

BP…A Modest Proposal

BP (formerly British petroleum) had just a bit of a woopsie in April of this year. Explosion. 11 dead. The fire. And a teeny, tiny, little leak coming up from the ocean floor.

BP has been known as a caring, safety conscious company for years. Less than 50 deaths (well, maybe not many more than 50) since 1996. Less than 1000 injuries during that same span. So why has OSHA been jumping all over them? Did you know that they had to pay more than $20,000 in fines for that small, insignificant number of deaths and injuries? How are they supposed to make a profit (which, after all, is God’s purpose for them) when they are being hampered by safety regulations on all sides?

Pres. Obama has been dissing them for a slow response a to minor (19,000 barrels a day) leak. Greeners are whining about dead shorebirds, their normal blah, blah, blah. Fisherman, without anything better to do, are complaining just because their fishery has been shut down. The greedy tourism industry of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast is clamoring for some sort of compensation. And then the people, who live on the ocean, a bunch of lazy no good louts, are raising a ruckus as well. What’s a company to do?

Some stats: BP made $66 million per day in the first quarter of 2010. The cost per day of cleanup of these few drops of oil is about $22 million a day, leaving BP with only $44 million per day in profits. Isn’t that cutting things a little slam for these good folks? What kind of message is being sent to the oil industry when one of their own is required to clean up their own mess? Chilling effect, I’m thinking.

The next thing you know some government bureaucrats will be making regulations, and worse yet, and forcing them on these poor, good folks. As we all know the best regulation, especially for large corporations, is self-regulation. Certainly Toyota, AIG, Goldman Sachs, and that mine owner way back east have proven that. They didn’t achieve their current success by obeying a bunch of regulations. No sirree. Not for them.

A Modest proposal: let’s take the fines paid by the real lawbreakers, the real threat to America, the real cause of our current moral decay, and if they’re not stopped, the downfall of all that is good and right and holy in Western society; you know who I’m talking about and I won’t mention Larry Reynolds name, those people who step one foot into the street to get a dollar bill handed to them by some misguided do-gooder in a truck (probably a foreign model). Let’s take the fines and give them to BP.

And I’m sure the CEOs and other executives of these corporations are feeling a little bit blue right now because of the unfair assaults against their collective integrity. Let’s increase the fines on the real criminals (see my Modest Proposal of last Friday), charter a plane or two for these CEOs and send them off to a really fun party at an exotic resort somewhere so they can recharge and get back at it.

You with me?

Feds Crucify Massey Energy Co.

Apr 5, 2010 … MONTCOAL, W.Va. — Rescuers held out slim hope Tuesday that four missing coal miners might have survived when a mine repeatedly cited for…

The Massey Energy Co. has been fined more than $382,000 in the last year for methane gas level violations and other safety problems. How is a guy supposed to make a living with the federal regulators breathing down his neck every friggen’ day? Pardon my French, but I’m steamed. Sure, 29 people died in early April. Too bad, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Do you know just how much money safe mine operations cost their owners? Too much. That’s how much.

I suppose the feds will stick the owner with another multi-thousand dollar fine. That’s what they do, meddle and fine, meddle and fine. When will it ever end?

It’s almost like the crucifixion…

US Gov. Unfairly Attacks Toyota

Apr 19, 2010 … Toyota agreed to pay a fine of nearly $16.4 million to settle a complaint that it failed to tell regulators of potentially dangerous defects…the defects included, but were not limited to, the gas pedal problems that have killed about 35 people, the skidding out of control problems and a myriad of other safety issues. A paltry 9,000,000 plus unsafe vehicles.

Apparently some do-gooders at the US Department of Transportation seemed to think that Toyota should be producing safe vehicles. What an absolutely, unconscionably, absurd assumption! Toyota is in the business of making profit and this fine as cutting a huge swath through the latest crop of profit they are now growing or, should I say, attempting to grow. They make $18-$25 million a day in profit. That is their business. And now they have to cough up $16.4 million of that hard-earned profit. Almost 1 day’s worth!

Failure? I think not...just a glitch.

Toyota’s crime? Lowering quality and safety standards to increase profit. Profit is their business and Uncle Sam (or should I say, Big Brother?) is robbing them of their due. What gives? It’s a travesty, a miscarriage of justice, proof that federal regulators are running amuck.

I am shaking with rage, choking with rage, purple with rage (actually, to be more accurate, pinkish-bluish-purpleish purple with rage). I am sitting down to write my congressman even as we speak.

Are you with me?

PS Larry Reynolds was fined one day’s effort for stepping one foot into the street…Toyota was fined almost one day’s profit for trying to make a profit. Fair? I think not!

Crime in Beaverton, Oregon…A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal:

Hear ye. Hear ye. Let it henceforth be known that the city of Beaverton, Oregon, a city of fine, upstanding, God fearing, American folk will no longer tolerate flagrant violations of righteousness and moral rectitude.

From this day forward the crime of stepping one foot into the street while panhandling shall be punishable, upon first offense, by a fine of not less than $250,000 and five years in prison. Upon second offense let the fine be increased to $1,000,000, life in prison without parole, and let the offending foot be severed from the leg of the wrongdoer and caused to be hung from a lamppost within 25 feet of the scene of the crime to let all know that Beaverton, Oregon, a city of fine, righteous, upstanding folk will not tolerate such behavior.

Let mothers be encouraged to bring their children by and point out that severed foot to said children as a warning as to what surely will happen to them if they were to plummet to such depths of degradation and subhuman behavior.

Oh yeah, and let it be known that Beaverton Oregon will not tolerate within its city limits the presence of those who have fallen upon hard times and now are reduced to living outdoors. We know it’s their fault.

There you have it. I think we’ve struck that fine balance between judgment and mercy. Don’t you?

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