Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Lenten Miscellany

OK, by way of setting the scene for the story I'm about to tell, I need to tell you that, in our community, we have a small 'brotherhood' of celibate men, who function as a kind of 'monastic order'. Their 'unencumbered-ness' frees them to do all kinds of, um, radical service that those of us of a more married persuasion could simply never hope to do. They are, pretty much without exception, great guys, and a great blessing to the life of our community (Jen wants all of our sons to at least spend some time living with the 'brotherhood'; even if they never embrace the brotherhood life as their own, she thinks it will make them better husbands; always thinking ahead, my wife).

Now, 2F, with her Child Development training, is much intrigued by the Myers-Briggs personality index (and heck, who isn't?) (although I get a little impatient with some of the M-B 'true believers' who want to put people into little 'boxes'; but I digress), with its 'four dichotomies' of Introvert/Extrovert, Sensing/iNtuitive, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. She has identified herself as ENFP (I'm INTP, for what it's worth; I think Jen is ESTJ, which is pretty close to my polar opposite; which might explain why we form such a good team - between the two of us, we've got pretty much all the bases covered).

2F has a friend - a young man, who is in the early stages of investigating a commitment to the 'brotherhood' I mentioned above (and thus, he is absolutely a friend and a brother to her; not, at least at this point, a potential suitor). The two of them share an interest in Myers-Briggs, as well as being of the same type - ENFP. The two of them were talking recently, and the young man mentioned that, as he spent more time around the 'brotherhood' guys, he perceived a subtle shift in his personality, to more of an ENFJ type.

"Oh," said 2F, "I would mourn the loss of your P-ness."

(*awkward silence*)

(*really REALLY awkward silence*)

"Good grief," he finally replied, as 2F turned 29 shades of mortified red, "I'm only talking about a subtle shift in my personality; I'm not surrendering my manhood. . ."


And now for something completely different (and aren't you glad it is?). . .

In our house, we have three toilets (OK, are you still sure you're happy about the change of topic?). Two of them are of the newer, government-mandated low-volume type (and the third is in the farthest corner of the basement, so it's not real convenient of access; especially if the, uh, need is particularly urgent) (and honestly? What the heck is the government's 'compelling interest' in the size of my toilet tank? I've given some (not at all serious) thought to starting a smuggling business running black-market toilets from Canada; but I digress. . .).

Of the two 'low-volume' cans we have in our house, one is a newer design that is actually pretty effective at accomplishing its task. The other one, however. . . not so much. In that bathroom, a second flush is not at all unusual, and the plunger, which is kept ready right next to the tank, is a well-used item.

Recently, that toilet had a particularly, um, stubborn clog. One which didn't readily respond to the application of the plunger. Time and time again, I plunged away at the bottom of the bowl, and the water line didn't budge. So I plunged more vigorously, which did lower the line a little bit, but that was because I was plunging so aggressively that the water was splashing onto the floor (and I was in my sock-feet; which just made the whole experience that much more, uh, 'special').

I got Jen to call around to see if anyone we knew had a plumbing 'snake' we could borrow, because this clog was simply not gonna budge. Finally, when she was on her third or fourth phone call, I heard the telltale gurgle, followed by the 'swoosh' of the water draining out of the bowl. Hallelujah. I went to wash my hands, and I saw this result of my very dedicated and vigorous plunging:

And I wondered if I should show it to my priest, in case my cause for sainthood ever comes up. The Wounds of Christ, and all that. . . (Or, you know, maybe I'm just showing you, on my handy pocket map of Michigan, where I live. . .)

And then I thought of some of the, uh, 'colorful' words I had uttered in the course of acquiring said wounds. And I thought about the investigator from the Vatican (whatever it is that they call him) going over the paperwork, wondering to himself, 'he got the Wounds of Christ from plunging a toilet?' . . .

So yeah, OK. . . probably not. . .


This bit should probably be a separate post, but I'm kinda lazy that way. . .


Jen and I spent four days last week in Detroit, on a kind of mini-mission-trip, right here in our home state. It is certainly no secret that Detroit has been in a bad way for the past 50 years and more. I am just old enough to remember when Detroit was a vibrant, bustling city (our family lived in the Detroit suburbs for all but one of my first seven years), but even by the 60s, the downhill trend was getting noticeable (especially after the riot in '67), and by the 70s, the bottom had fallen out.

Part of our time there included a tour of the city, along with a historical account of how things got to where they are now. I won't bore you with the details, but I will say that one of our tour guides said (very insightfully I thought) that it essentially boiled down to a loss of natural human community - people became disconnected from their neighbors - and what you see is basically what you get when people stop giving a shit.

I think a detailed account of what-all we did would get pretty tedious. I'll mention that we spent the largest part of our time doing cleaning and painting on a couple houses in the process of being restored. But the things that will stick in my mind are mostly an impressionistic hodge-podge of seemingly random, disconnected vignettes. In no particular order. . .

- When we arrived, before we even knew where we'd be sleeping, or unloaded our bags from the car, we were taken to work with a gutsy little nun, who takes sack lunches to homeless folks ("put lots of peanut butter on the sandwiches," she told us; "this is probably the only meal most of these folks will have today."). She'd just drive up to a vacant lot, or abandoned house, and honk the horn on her minivan, and half-a-dozen folks would appear, almost eerily, out of the shadows. They would invariably smile and be happy to see Sister, and greet her 'helpers' (ie, us) cheerily. Some would ask us to pray for them for some need or other; many inquired after Sister's well-being, which made me smile - they were the homeless ones, after all. One time, we drove up to a vacant block - all the houses on the block had been torn down - with only a pile of junk in the middle of the block; sister tooted her horn, and three people appeared out of the pile of junk.

- We visited a bakery which functions as a kind-of 'bridge' for ex-cons to make their way into 'regular life' - keeping a schedule, showing up on time for work, being responsible, stuff like that - usually for the first time in their life. We met a man who had spent a few years in prison, who told us a harrowing story of miraculous survival of taking multiple point-blank gunshots which, in the fullness of time, led him to the conviction that what he'd been doing wasn't working, and maybe he ought to get to know the Author of his miracle a little better. He also made some really excellent oatmeal-raisin cookies.

- We met an energetic, visionary young pastor who, if there were twenty others like him, might yet revive Detroit in my lifetime.

- We saw one of the 'best' neighborhoods in the city - maybe three blocks by eight blocks of homes which, were they not in Detroit, would be worth well over a million dollars. And we drove along the street which separated that neighborhood from the vacant lots and burned-out houses on the next block. And all the 'nice' houses had eight-foot privacy fences at the back edge of their yards, so they wouldn't have to look at (or think about?) the poverty next door. . .

- The site of old Tiger Stadium was just a half-mile or so up the street from where we spent quite a bit of our time, so we passed by it a few times (if you knew what you were looking for, it flashed by in the Eminem Chrysler commercial that aired during the Super Bowl). The stadium is completely gone now; all that remains is a section of ornate fencing along what used to be the first-base line, and the center-field flagpole. It was just incredibly sad to me that the stadium where Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline played, where Sparky Anderson managed, and Ernie Harwell broadcast their games, where the Tigers played in nine World Series, and won four, is just another dirt-covered vacant block in Detroit now; yet another instance of nobody giving enough of a shit to do anything more. . .

- We also spent a bit of time on our tour at the old Michigan Central train station. In its day, it was one of the most beautiful train stations in the country. When it closed 23 years ago, it took six months for it to be reduced to a massive standing testimony of urban blight. First the outlaw scrappers came in and pulled all the copper and iron pipes out of the building, as well as the marble. The vandals followed, breaking all the windows (it just seemed gratuitous that all the windows were broken, all the way up to the 20th floor) and covering the interior with grafitti. Then the homeless squatters moved in, and burned out what was left of the interior (it's hard for me to blame them much; mainly, they were just trying to keep warm in the winter, burning whatever they could find at hand). So now you've got a huge burned-out hulk with 20 stories of broken windows, visible from pretty much anywhere in the city. Terribly, terribly sad. . .

- We walked through the Heidelberg Project, a famous bit of delightfully bizarre 'trash art' encompassing a full city block. . .

- We spent half a day working at the Capuchin soup kitchen founded by Fr. Solanus Casey, including attending an AA meeting with some of the most brutally-honest people I have ever encountered. . .


Now the thing for Jen and me is to figure out what to do with this experience. If all we do is fly in for four days of do-gooding, then fly back out, and that's the extent of it, that would strike me as really lame, and a massive missing of the point. Something more seems to be called out from us, some deeper degree of human solidarity. The folks we worked with became, in whatever limited degree, our friends, and friendships (at least mine) are not meant for four-days-and-out. We need to figure out some way to be 'with' our friends in Detroit, in some kind of ongoing way. And as I sit here, I really don't know quite what form that will end up taking; but I'm pretty sure it won't be nothing at all. . .

(As a postscript, I'll mention that our program was run by Youthworks Detroit. If any of you are just itching for an opportunity to do some mission-type work in Detroit, or even just want to make a contribution to their work, give 'em a look; I'm sure they'd love to hear from you. . .)


  1. Your right hand is sorely underworked

  2. well said my friend...

    Steve H.

  3. I've figured out Bloggers problem - this post showed up in my reader last week. I don't know why? The same thing happened to me with your Michigan post. Showed up in my reader weeks before you actually published it!

    Missions trip sounds good! We have the same issue with one of our potties. Not pretty, but I've never gotten a wound of Christ from it, thankfully.

  4. Trooper - I don't know if it's underworked, but it sure is sore!

    Steve - Thank you, my friend.

    (For my 'regulars', I should introduce Steve as one of my fellow-missionaries. . .)

    Bijoux - That's probably my fault; when I include a photo in a post, I'll briefly 'pre-publish' it, in order to check how the photo fits on the actual blog-page.

    The mission trip was most excellent.

    And anyone who can pass thru life with no wounds from their toilet can count themselves fortunate indeed. . . ;)

  5. the loss of p-ness. hilarious

    the wounds of christ from plunging a toilet....somehow for the father of 8 it seems fitting.

    the mission trip...i have so much i want to say but the one part that sticks with me is the concern the homeless had for sister. after my experience working with squatters for a year i am not the least bit surprised. i was continually humbled by the concern people had for my husband and me. i have a couple of that people care about those who care about them, plain and simple. two, that when someone is a lifeline they are valued highly and their welfare is a concern because if they are no longer well enough to show their care in practical ways, who will? that is not in the least bit to suggest a mercenary quality to the concern expressed for sister, if anything perhaps a deeper gratitude than you and i can conceive. just a thought.

    and loss of community and people not giving a shit....yeah, and ain't no plunger that can dislodge that clog.

  6. Lime - I was hoping that you'd stop by for this one. . .

    The poor girl was utterly mortified (but for all that, she sure seemed to enjoy telling the story on herself)

    I hadn't made the connection between Fatherhood and the Wounds, but I think you're right - there's an underlying appropriateness to it, isn't there?

    As to the gratitude of the homeless (and most of the folks we met would probably more truly be called squatters - they were living in abandoned houses, albeit without water, electricity, or any other services) - what you say rings very true. There was real affection there, not some mercenary sucking-up (which isn't to say that all we saw was sweetness and light, either).

    What's really stunning to me is how fast it all happened - within my own life, Detroit was a pretty vibrant, dynamic city. To think that it took less than 50 years to get from there to here, just makes my head spin. . .

  7. "I would mourn the loss of your P-ness."

    Big BIG :-) whenever women say stuff like that. They being female and all, they don't always grasp the double entendre as immediately as we brutish males do. And there is little more satisfying and grin-inducing than watching their faces when you explain it to them :-)

  8. I think 2F understood what she'd said about two milliseconds after it left her mouth; her brain just didn't process the sounds (and their full implications) along with the idea, ahead of time. By her account, her eyes got real big and she clapped her hand over her mouth. . .

    And who you callin' 'brutish'?


  9. Some powerful photos of Detroit "from the inside" at - if you didn't actually see inside places like the train station, this is seriously worth a look.

    Also, RE the 2F story, I'm sure you know that particular young man also happens to be a gifted pianist...let's hope the brothers don't take THAT away from him.

  10. Ah, thanks for stopping by, PM. And thanks for the link.

    The young man is a pianist? That's kinda like winning the lottery, isn't it?