When my wife and I bought our house, we knew that we were getting a fixer-upper. What we did not know was that prior to our moving in, the previous owner had generously “fixed up” the house with the help of “Crackhead & Sons” (or perhaps more accurately where I live, “Methhead & Sons”) construction company. Naturally, the “improvements,” if they could even be called that, they installed tended to be more of a problem than just returning to the way things originally were, so a major part of making improvement has involved extensive demolition work (something which I fortunately have experience with).
Last week when working on the fireplace (which the previous owners generously decided to “improve” by filling it with only partially-mixed- yes, still in powdered form- cement and then building it up with cinderblocks, flooring tile, and wood- yes, where one would burn a fire- framing), my wife and I noticed that underneath the cheap laminate flooring there appeared to be real hard wood. This is not the new, modern hardwood sold at stores, but the actual 100% long, solid boards used in construction pre-1900. Sure enough, I began another project of pulling up the pergo board and discovered that with the exception of the bathroom and the kitchen (which we were told from the previous owners were added on much later), the entire floor was hard wood. Not only that, but the floors had never been finished or stained before.
However, there was also an interesting problem. That is, the previous owner again, courtesy of C & S Construction, decided to paint all of the floors except for one small room with several layers of thick, disgusting paint. When C & S Construction came through the second time, instead of cleaning the painted floor, they simply dripped gobs of sticky, gooey white paint all over the floor and then just tried to hide the job, and it was like this for the entire house.
I have never done floor work before, and so I spent last week reading about how to work on floors, especially older ones. I also began experimenting with, as time permitted, different ways of stripping the vile paint and disgusting white gobs from the floor. When I got off of work Friday morning, I started using paint thinner to clean up the white mess…which took me all day for one room, and with considerable scrubbing. It was very frustrating, and what made it worse was the fact that the paint was so thick that the chemicals barely touched the paint. Since using chemicals, with the exception of stripping the gooey blobs (which it did do, but took a long time), I knew that I would have to rent a floor stripper and use it.
Now I had read about many people destroying their hardwood floors with a floor stripped, but I did not have that problem at all. My issue was slightly more complicated, and that was figuring out what grit to use and not hitting nail heads in even in the slightest way (they cannot even be flush with the flooring, but rather sunk into the wood). If not you will know, because they will violently rip the sandpaper off, waste money, waste time putting new belts on, create a mess on the floor, and make such a spectacle with the machine that you would think there was a serious problem until the paper is finally off (it is an older machine). Since the closest store where I could get the proper paper is a drive from where I live, you can’t just make a 5 minute run to Home Depot or Lowes (the closest is about 25 minutes), and not only that, but where I live everything closes early, unless you are willing to go even further, and even then, “late” is 10 PM.
It was 2 AM this morning and I finished with the floor stripper. My last belt for the hand belt sander broke, and at that point I had it. The floor is almost completely done, except for about 2 to 4 more hours of belt and hand sanding, due to areas the floor stripper could not reach. However, I still have two more large rooms I have to do, and while I know better now what to do and what not to do, the fact is my house was covered in paint dust and sawdust, I smell, my arms are very sore (the paint was so thick one had to actually bear down on the stripper in order to get it off), I am out of belts, I have spent WAY more money than I would like to, and it is just outright frustrating (not to mention the other issues I ran into, which naturally occur with any construction project). Ultimately, in the end, the floors will look nice and it will be a job well done, but right now I am about as happy as working on these floors as I would be getting a root canal.
While laying down this morning by a pile of junk between cleaning and being half asleep, I saw an article online about Catholic priest from Lebanon, Fr. Majdi Alawi, a former Muslim himself, who has converted directly at least 20 Muslims to the Faith. Most of his work is done in secret, and recently, he baptized a whole family from the oil-rich Muslim nation of Qatar into the Faith:
Father Majdi Alawi, who was himself raised a Muslim before converting to Christianity and becoming a priest, is urging caution about publishing images of newly baptized Lebanese.
After photos of a Qatari family accepting the sacrament of Baptism in the Church were secretly smuggled out and revealed, Father Majdi called our Arabic editorial team, asking to publish a statement urging the faithful not to publish pictures or names of Muslims converting to Christianity, for fear of their lives.
Majdi Alawi, known in Lebanon as “the living saint,” feeds the hungry, helps thousands of poor and traveled many times to Rome to help the homeless of its streets. (source)
Having spent many years working with Islam and Muslims, something that you come to know and accept is that Muslims are very long and hard when it comes to acknowledging that Islam is wrong, and especially when it comes to embracing any form of Christianity. From my experiences and those of other, barring cases of miraculous mass conversion, which in recent times I have only seen in any quantity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly West Africa, one can expect that 1 to 10% of Muslims in any given group will actually listen to what you have to say, and therefore have a possibility of embracing the Faith. The other 90% or higher are either apathetic to or openly resist anything at all having to do with the Faith, so much that even speaking about it is a general, positive manner can be dangerous.
The danger aspect of working with Islam and Muslims cannot be understated. In the words of St. Juan de Ribera, the great 16th and 17th century missionary to the Spanish moriscos, Islam is the direct way into the fires of hell, it does not even merit the name of being called a religion. Working with Islam to oppose its ends is dangerous to your physical and spiritual health. It will affect how you think, your relationship with others, as well as that of those around you. It is a great way to lose friends and get yourself uninvited from parties, and make yourself a target for ridicule and scorn. This danger becomes amplified when living or near areas that are Muslim majority.
On an initial note, what this priest is doing is heroic. Yes, Lebanon has a long-history of Maronite Christianity (fun fact: the Maronites, a Syro-Armenian people, never split from either the Catholic or the Orthodox, and so traditionally were considered part of both). However, thanks to emigration and Western Foreign policies, Islam has grown significantly in that nation. Yet at the same time too, there is another phenomenon going on that is not being reported, and that is how these Muslims are turning towards the Catholic Faith in mass. In Lebanon, according to a friend I have who is closely involved with Lebanese affairs (and is a Maronite himself), the churches each week at mass are full- with Muslims. They do not receive communion, but rather stay and simply observe, drawn to the Mass by nothing less than the power of God touching them. For those who have worked with Middle Eastern Christians, regardless of denomination, this is particularly interesting, since the divisions which separate Christians and Muslims are not just religious, but also racial and even cultural, and both sides are to blame for being equally uncharitable towards each other and creating problems where there need not be.
I look at the work of this priest, how so much is done in secret, and how he also manages to do extensive work feeding the homeless and running a parish. Christians and Muslims alike refer to him as a living saint because of his work. Now I do not know the man, if all the article says about him is true, this person is somebody very special who is doing difficult work in a hard situation.
Working with Islam and Muslims reminds me of stripping that paint from my floor. In order to get to the good beautiful wood and give in the nice walnut stain that I have picked out, I have had to spend a long time and considerable amounts of energy ripping, scraping, tearing, and investing time and money into what feels like a fruitless waste of a weekend. However, underneath is something truly good awaiting to be discovered-a diamond in the rough.
St. Paul writes of Christians as being treasures in clay jars, earthen vessels whom God has chosen to be His own if we choose Him. This comes at a cost, and part of that involves death to the self and choosing- and living- a new life based on divine revelation. Part of this process involves, like working on the wood, stripping away- with brutal efforts- the problematic self and one’s own sins. This becomes more amplified when dealing with Islam, since if one understands that Islam is indeed demonic, then this whole process becomes very difficult- sort of like my floors this weekend. We are told this is all worth it, that self-sacrifice for others, the love until it hurts, the persistence to the very end, and complete self-giving is a defining characteristic of a Christian. It is easier in the case of people who are at least somewhat likeable. Yet Muslims? These are some of the most detestable, dislikeable groups of people in human history, and still they have to be loved, prayed for, and worked on as much as is possible in spite of their many, real, and hard obstructions to receiving salvation.
Obviously, everything I say is said in the context of mercy and justice. I am not saying that we need not fight against Muslims when they are violent. To the contrary, this is necessary and good because mercy without justice is not mercy, but licensiousness, and it is a grave sin. What I am saying is that parpt of the struggle against evil is often times very difficult, but it is not for you, me, or anybody else to choose what vocations we are called to, nor it is for us to determine solely by our own efforts what we face- we get what we get. It is for us to follow God’s will as he calls us to love others in our particular context.
Remember the parable of the laborers in the field. Some came early, some came later, some did not come until the last hour, but God gave them all an equal share, and when questioned, God answered that it was His blessings and he could dispose of them as he wished, and if He chose to be generous, that was His choice and we are not to question it.
I didn’t choose my floors. I also didn’t choose my house- at the risk of sounding like certain prosperity gospel televanglists, it was a blessing given to us, and one which we did not deserve but are grateful for it. Sure, I am very frustrated with the condition of the floors I have to work with, but it is not for me to argue, but to be happy for the good things that Provience has blessed me with and do the best I can with what I have.
The same is with Islam, or many other facets of life. So long as the striving is done in charity and truth for the sake of love- which I remind you, includes equally the offer of mercy as well as the establishment and execution of justice and the hands of faithful Christians- then it is not for you, me, or anybody else to continually fuss, argue, and complain about what could be. Things are what they are for reasons beyond our control. The Muslims are invading Western Europe for reasons that built up for many years, and while they are to a great extend beyond our control, what we do about it is in our control. The same can be said about the rise of homosexuality, the political situation in the US, and many more, and not to dismiss individual responsibility for past actions, the past is dead- what matters is the now because that determines the tomorrow.
I have just gone to mass, and I am now going to get in my car, take the 45 minute drive to the nearest major chain hardware store, and get some belts for sanding, and while I am doing it I am going to be grateful for the good, the bad, and ugly- in my house and in the world today- and thank God that I am alive and was chosen for this time to have the chance to do something great about it in the context I live, even though things may be very frustrating and it seems like I am garnishing few results, even though I know the end result will be great, just like this priest in Lebanon working uphill against a torrent of Islamic sewage for the sake of the Gospel. For while I am working to make my earthly house great, Fr. Alawi and many more others who are in difficult situations are working to make beautiful the only home which really matters, being God’s house, and the only treasure which matters, which is contained in earthen vessels, ready for eternal life, even if it is a taxing, troubling, tiring job and it feels like no progress is being made, for ultimately all that matters is what God wants.
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