Thursday, September 26, 2019

An open letter to my former church, Christian Assembly:

An open letter to my former church, Christian Assembly:

I've been sitting here for a while, trying to come up with the best way to write this.  But it's hard, because I'm angry.  I feel betrayed.  And I feel like I've been made a fool.  Because I believed that the people at the church that I attended for the better part of 30 years were good people.  But they're all talk.

Pastors love to talk.  And they love to invite you to coffee.  To talk.

They talk about Jesus and love and being part of a family.  But family are the people who are there when you really need them.  Family return your calls.  Family show up.  Family isn't perfect, but you can at least see them trying.

Like I said, I was at Christian Assembly for the better part of 30 years.  I've tithed, volunteered with the kids, led small groups, been a mentor and more.  So when pastor Matt Price said he'd call me and didn't, that hurt.  When he said he'd show up somewhere and didn't, that bothered me.  And when he did that repeatedly ... then I just give up on him.

I had a friend who had come to Christian Assembly sporadically, but was part of the community.  When she bravely kicked her abusive husband out, several of us rallied around our friend, who was now a single mom.  But when the husband turned stalker, we didn't know what to do.  So we turned to the church.  Gave letters to co-lead pastors Mark Pickerel and Tom Hughes, explaining the situation and asking for help.  Did they even get back to us?  Nope.

I have another friend who has been at Christian Assembly longer than me.  She and her husband have served the skid row ministry and as ushers and in lots of other ways.  Recently, my friend's husband began having an extended manic episode.  My friend, suddenly unable to pay her rent, had to move out of her apartment in just a couple of days.  At the same time, her husband was committed to a mental hospital.  And at the same time, she had medical issues that put her in the hospital for over a week.  I emailed pastor Ralph Delgado, pretty much begging for help - a truck or two, people to help and a place to store their stuff.  He emailed back confirming the need, but then I didn't hear anything else from him.

So, pastors of Christian Assembly, if you're not going to return people's calls and emails, and you're not going to help a single mother scared out of her wits, and you're not going to help church members who are in the hospital ... then what are you good for?

Seriously.  I mean, I understand you can't help everybody.  On some level, you have to pick and choose.  But if you're not going to help lifelong members when they're begging for your help, or even get back to them, then what kind of church are you?

Shame on you.  Pull your heads out of your asses.

Sincerely,

Matt Brennan

P.S. Please don't call me now.  I'm done with you.  If you want to make it up to me, change your ways.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What's Something Interesting About You?

I recently came across a suggestion in some article about getting to know people.  It said that rather than asking people what they do for a living, ask them, 'What's something interesting about you?'  And I gotta tell you, it works.  There's something about putting it that way that not only gets people to open up, but feel like they can let their freak flag fly.

One example is a perfectly normal seeming woman with a husband and two kids.  Her answer is that she likes to take mushrooms and go on psychedelic trips.  She does it about four times per year.  And while she admits that 90% of her trips are bad ones, she believes it puts her in touch with the supernatural realm, and she's convinced herself that the thoughts in her head are not herself.

Another responded that she likes to get to the root of things.  Follow up questions revealed that she believes that everything we do can be traced energies inside of us: wood energy, water energy, earth energy and a couple of others that she couldn't remember.  I tried to delve deeper, asking if these 'energies' represented philosophies or supernatural entities or what, but apparently 'getting to the root of things' did not include understanding what she herself was talking about.

And a third gave me these interesting tidbits.  First, he calls himself a cybergoth, and is perturbed that the police won't let him wear a full-face rubber gas mask in public (because people will think there is a terrorist attack taking place).  Second, he is a furry, one whose fetish is to dress up like an animal to have sex. 

I've asked this question five times, and those are the answers I've received.  Sure, a couple of people just gave the standard answer about what they do for work.  But three out of five led to some pretty interesting stuff.

So there you have it.  What's something interesting about you?  How would you answer the question?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Nature of my Doubts

I've had two underlying premises to my faith in God since High School.  First, the universe, as far as we can tell and according to its own laws, should not exist.  Something can not come from nothing, and yet something exists.  Therefore, there must be something more ... something outside of nature ... something supernatural.  Second, there was a man who, according to eyewitness testimony, died and came back to life.  Because this man, Jesus, would appear to have more insight into the supernatural than anyone else, and proved it, I believe his claims.

Sounds like a pretty good basis for my beliefs, doesn't it?  And yet, I do still have doubts.  They are, though, perhaps different than most people's doubts.  I believe there is a God.  I believe that those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved.  So what's the problem?

The question I ask myself is this: Do I believe strongly enough?  Or am I just fooling myself?

If Jesus is Lord, then to what degree should that change my behavior?  If Jesus is my Lord, then why do I find myself doing what I can easily describe as the bare minimum?

I'm not talking about works.  I know that we're saved by grace.  But James says that faith without works is dead.  So it is reasonable to examine my life and my works to determine if there really is a healthy faith there.  And I find myself lacking.  And why is that?  Not for lack of belief that God is real.  I'm simply not that motivated by that information.  Yes I pray and I host a Bible study and I visit a guy in prison.  But do I read my Bible every day?  Nope.  Hardly ever.  Do I reach out to the homeless or the oppressed?  Nah.  Don't care that much. 

If I don't have a faith that motivates me to do more than I do, then what good is it?  And is it real?  Or are there people who know the truth, but it doesn't set them free? 

And I don't just wonder about myself.  I wonder about most of the Christians in America.  It seems like we're all asleep, soothed into oblivion by our relative wealth and creature comforts.

Is it possible that there are far fewer real Christians than we tend to assume?  That there are those few saints who really accept the Lordship of Jesus and live lives that prove it, and the rest of us are just locked in a circle of semi-belief, no real, tangible difference between us and the people that we think are not saved?  If the atheists and the Muslims and the Rotary Club all do more good works than we do, then with what evidence shall we attempt to convince ourselves that we are saved? 

"You say you believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that - and shudder."

This is the nature of my doubts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

I'm Not Nice to Stupid People

I've been trying out this new board game group.  And last night, I was an ass.

There was this guy.  Nice, friendly guy.  There were only a few of us when I got there.  And he asked if a couple of us wanted to play a game.  I have now learned that my response should not have been 'Yes'.  It should have been, 'Do you know the rules and can you explain it?'

You can probably guess the answer to my questions.  No and no.

After I said yes, he spent several minutes reading the rules, explaining some, reading some more, repeat.  It was excruciating.  And I'd met a woman as I was coming in and learned she was there for the first time, so I wanted to be welcoming and friendly.  But he was kinda holding us hostage at this point, and we couldn't really talk and get to know each other, because he kept interrupting with partial rules. 

Finally, she excused herself to take a smoke break (she didn't come back).  I offered to read the rules and he gave them to me.  But he kept talking to me.  I politely explained that I couldn't read the rules and listen to him.  Then he suggested we play a game he already knew.  Ugh.  Why didn't you start with that?

But it only got worse.  He may have known the rules, but he could not explain them.  He kept contradicting himself.  I'd ask for a clarification and he'd give a clear answer, then reverse himself thirty seconds later.  And he started the game before the rules were clear.

Finally, after he'd reversed his position on the rules one more time, I'd had enough.  I put my head in my hands for a moment, then got up from the table.  I said, "I'm done." and walked away.

There's a thing that I do where I  try to be nice but end up losing my temper.  I'll know that there's a problem, but I'll refrain or try to help and tell myself that maybe it will work out, and it will build up and build up until I've had enough.  And then I'm just done.

It's not because I want to win.  I really just want a good game and usually only get upset about not winning if I can see that I didn't play as well as I think I can.  I think I just have a very low tolerance for stupid people. 

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think this is OK.  I went back to the guy a few minutes later and apologized for walking away.  But it's frustrating, because I don't know what I should have done differently.  I don't mean at the moment when I walked away, because I'd lost it by then.  But before then, how could I have processed it differently?  I mean, I politely asked clarifying questions and tried to be patient and good-natured.  What else is there?  And he'd already driven one person away and had ruined the game we were playing.

I don't have an answer to this.  It just bugs me so much when people are both stupid and un-self-aware.  It's like an unforgivable sin to me.  I think because I believe people, on some level, choose to be oblivious.  But I'm certainly not helping by losing my cool.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

How to Have a Cat in a Small Apartment

When I acquired my second-hand cat, Bagheera (she came with that name), I was concerned that the limited space in my apartment would be a problem, especially in the smell department.  Because I've been to the homes of people with cats and been overwhelmed by the smell.  I was told that if you clean the litter box frequently, then it is not a problem, but I needed to see for myself, and therefore kept the receipt for my cat and took full advantage of the probationary period.

Happily, I can report zero smell outside of the bathroom (where the litter box is) and very little smell even in there.  I thought I would report how I do it, as a service to those considering a cat, or possibly to those who already have one.


The first kitty litter I tried was some name brand, but honestly inferior.  I'd get puffs of dust rising into the air when I scooped.  Um ... ewww?  So, I researched and found Dr. Elsey's.  First, it's the same or cheaper than most other brands ($18.47 for a 40lb. bag).  Second, no dust!  None!  Third, it clumps like a son-of-a-bitch.  I generally scoop daily unless I forget.  And I was cleaning weekly at first, but not with this stuff.  It does such an amazing job of clumping that there's hardly anything to clean.  There are some tiny bits of fecal matter that occasionally escape its grasp, so I still clean the box about once a month.  And ya know what?  No smell.  Even in the bathroom, you only smell something if kitty has gone recently.  Which is the same as with humans, so I can't complain.


The Litter Champ is like a diaper genie (I'm told - never changed diapers and never will, 'cuz I don't have a baby).  It has a double lid, so you scoop your little bundles of joy inside and it traps the smell in there.  I change the bag every few weeks.  And it has a foot pedal, which makes it much better than the Litter Genie that Petco sells, which only has a pull handle.  How dumb!


I came across this beauty after being driven crazy by all of the kitty litter on the floor.  See, cats like to dig and kick around in their litter boxes, and that sends litter spraying out onto the floor.  You can get a litter box with a door, but some cats don't like that and, besides, the cat will still track litter out with their paws.  Introducing the Litter Trapper Mat.  It's got a porous honeycombed surface that allows the kitty litter to fall through, but not bother your feet when you step on it.  And it's some plastic/rubber/something, so it's easy to clean.  No more kitty litter all over the floor.  Awesome.


Kitty did try scratching the furniture when I first got her, but I kept sticking this in front of her wherever she was scratching, and she got the idea.  Mine is actually super frayed now, so I'll need a new one soon, because she loves scratching.


Cats need to be played with and they love laser pointers.  'Nuff said.  Except there is more to say.  Whaaat?  This sucker is rechargeable!  And it has three kinds of lights, so you always know where there's a flashlight too.

And finally, while not strictly necessary, I do recommend writing Haikus about your cat:

Catku

Purring pussy cat
Perfect products, pleasant pad
Perhaps we will play


Monday, April 15, 2019

Rhetorical Appropriation

There's a trick you can use in poetry or prose that's all around us, but I don't know what it's called, so I'm going to name it: Appropriation.  It's when you take a word or phrase that's already out there, and repurpose it in your own work.  Kacey Musgraves does this in pretty much every song: 'You and your high horse', 'You're my velvet Elvis', and my personal favorite, 'You can have your space, cowboy'.  Sometimes it's overt, and sometimes it's sneaky.

And often it's punny.  If I were writing an expose on Richard Finch, co-founder of KC and the Sunshine Band, I could title it 'A Bird in the Band', because his last name is finch and it sounds like 'a bird in the hand'.  But I digress ...

As I was driving to an inspection this morning, I was thinking about appropriation, and I made up this poem, and I thought it would be fun to dissect it:

He was the one who got away.
But don't cry, baby, don't cry.
You know he never meant to stay.
'Cuz butterflies just flutter by.

First, there's some of the usual culprits:

Rhyming: Away and stay, cry and by.

Alliteration: was and one, he and who, meant and to and stay, know and never.

Assonance: but and 'cuz and was and one, never and meant.

Then there's a diacope, which is a word sandwich: don't cry, baby, don't cry.

And finally, appropriation.  There are three here.  The one in the first line, 'the one who got away', is just using a familiar line.  The one in the last line, 'butterflies just flutter by', is more fun, because it's taking a familiar kids' rhyme and imbuing it with new meaning, something like 'beautiful people are flaky and don't stay'.  The third one is the sneaky one: cry, baby.  It's taking the word crybaby and breaking it in two, so that the meaning shifts, but it's still there.  I think it's fun that the sentence says 'don't cry', but the word 'crybaby' is right there, kind of accusatory.

A couple of other interesting notes: 

 - I came up with the second line first, and built the rest around it.

 - I went back and forth between using 'he' or 'she', but settled on 'he' because it gave me one more alliteration.

 - The third line was originally something like 'You know he had to go away'.  I was trying to think of another appropriation, so there'd be one on each line, but when I came up with 'he never meant to stay', I liked the emotional punch and that it infers that she should have known better.

 - You may also notice that the first three lines have the same rhythm and the fourth one doesn't.  That's on purpose.  I feel it gives it a little kick.  Your're reading something that's emotionally upsetting and the rhythm falters at the same time.  There's a similar trick in movies where they'll jump to an angle that doesn't quite feel right at the same time that they want you to feel like something is wrong or painful.

So there you have it.  Anatomy of a poem I made up in my head while driving.  Hope you like it.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

I don't want to go to church

I don't want to go to church anymore.  Which is to say that I want to go, but I'm having a problem with it.  An old problem that has reared its ugly head again.

A few years back, I started feeling more and more fragile at church.  I think it started when I was doing Kid's Church - something about seeing all of the happy kids and families really shook me and made be break down in tears.  So I stopped doing Kids Church.  But that same feeling started creeping into the main service with me.  If I had someone to sit with, I was fine.  But if not, the smallest thing could set me off, and I'd exit during the worship time and drive home.

I took a break for a while, not going to church.  And then my friend Christine suggested we be church buddies.  That was great.  I had someone to sit with and I was emotionally fine.  But then she stopped going.  I tried to keep going on my own, but when you feel like crying in the middle of service, it's not fun.  I took to always sitting on the aisle, because I wanted to be able to make a break for it.

Then one day I was sitting there and a woman entering the aisle in front of me stopped and lectured me, saying, "I like to move to the middle of the pew, so that people don't have to get by me."  Well, fuck you, lady!  You don't know why I'm sitting here on the aisle!  I got up and left and never went back.

It so happened that my friend Adam invited me to check out his new church.  Which I did, and soon the two of us were going to our new church together.  And I had someone to sit with again.  Adam is a busy guy, though, so soon he was off to other parts of the country or the world, leaving me to sit alone.  But I was OK, because I'd joined a small group and made new friends and even if I didn't sit with someone, I often saw and interacted with people I knew.  So the fragility stayed away.  For a year and three months.  Until last week.

I was talking to a woman I know, who is a greeter, outside.  And wanting to be friendly, I turned to the other greeter and put out my hand and introduced myself.  The other greeter just stared at me, then said, "We've met!"  She didn't tell me her name or laugh it off.  She just looked at me like I was a loser.

I didn't know what else to do, so I finished my conversation with my friend and went inside and sat down.  But that feeling was back.  After the first song, I got up and left.  I walked to my car, where I sat for 10 minutes, emotionally stuck.  I thought about talking to the woman who made me feel bad, but I felt too vulnerable.  So I drove home.

This week, I went to church again, but that feeling was there, starting on the drive over.  What if that woman was there?  Would I say something to her or ignore her or what?  She wasn't there, so I just went and sat down.  But I didn't want to be there.  I wanted to leave.

I feel like a failure.  I feel like a loser, who can't handle the smallest slight, and had to run home.  But normally I can.  I think I'm relatively thick-skinned most of the time.  But this thing at church ... I know it's not rational, but I don't know what to do about it.  I honestly just want to stop going.

So, here I am.  I know it would help to have a church buddy, but I can't ask someone, because then it would feel like they're doing it out of pity, and that would not work for me emotionally, either.  Same thing if you read this and then offer.  I wish I knew what the root was and could deal with that somehow, but I don't.  So I don't know what to do.