Thursday, June 4, 2020

Losing Our Humanity

I haven't posted anything on social media about George Floyd and all of the surrounding issues.  And I haven't gone out and protested.  Because I don't believe those methods will effect real change in the world today.  I suppose it's debatable, and if you do, then go for it.  I wish you well.

But it seems to me that this is a problem that requires a personal touch.  I'm all for changing the laws if  you can show me a law that you think will help.  I think the Innocence Project does great work and people should give them money.  And we all need to vote our conscience.  But racism is never going to be voted or regulated out of existence.  I believe people change when shown truth and love.  And I'm not seeing that.

What I see is people dehumanizing each other.  The cops that killed George Floyd, whether due to racism or simply a lack of care, had stopped thinking of him as a human being.  The cops who tear-gassed the peaceful crowds ahead of Trump's photo-op weren't thinking of those people as their fellow human beings.  The looters aren't considering how they're hurting real people.  And the people yelling at and criticizing each other on Facebook aren't stopping to think about how they themselves would like to be talked to.

We're treating each other as ... other.  As less than.  But that person with a different opinion than yours (who may very well be wrong) deserves to be treated better.  They deserve to be treated as a child of God.

We're all doing it, me included.  Probably the lockdown has exacerbated this, as we're all shut away from each other.  But it's been going on and getting worse and worse. 

I've said this before and I believe it to be true: the little things are the big things.  I believe the small acts of kindness have a greater effect in the world than we realize.  A kind word at the right time.  Standing still and listening to someone you find annoying.  An encouraging smile.  Or just holding your tongue.  And then, when appropriate and it's been earned, speaking the truth in love. 

So that's what I'm going to keep trying to do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Turning Point

I was at a friend’s house for dinner when my life changed forever.  My friend has a wife and three young boys, all of whom are lovely, I’m sure.  But I saw something that night that shook me to my core. 

One of the kids had been playing with his food.  And by playing, I mean wrestling it into bits with his stubby, sticky fingers and stuffing some of it in his mouth.  Some of these bits dropped along the way, some made it into his gaping maw, then somehow flew back out and some he sucked in, blew back out and then gently placed back on his plate.  All of it was drenched with drool and little bits of chewed up corn and mucus and who knows what else.  And yet, when he was full, my friend grabbed the food off of his plate and put it in his own mouth.

I wanted to puke.

If you’re a parent, you probably think this is no big deal.  You probably do it all the time and poo-poo any notions of grossness from those outside of the parental circle.  But I gotta tell ya – that shit is nasty.

And that is the night that I realized that I no longer wanted to be a parent.  Yes, as an unmarried man in my 40’s, I’d already been thinking through the likelihood that parenthood was just not going to happen for me.  Which was a bummer.  I’ve always wanted kids.  In fact, I viewed having children as the greatest adventure that life had to offer.  I still think that.  But I don’t want kids anymore.

I think you need to fall into parenthood before you’re able to see it clearly.  I’m sure younger people have some ideas about the late nights and the spitting up and the poop and the worrying and all the rest.  But they don’t see it clearly.  They’re not in the thick of it.  And if you’ve got baby brain, you’re probably going to focus more on the positives, the cooing and the cuteness and all of that crap.  Those who are already parents feed these delusions, as they realize that misery loves company, and they pitch parenthood like car salesmen trying to meet their end-of-the-month quotas.

But, like I said, I was in my 40’s, and I’m not as emotionally swayed as some people.  And here’s the thing – I kinda like being a bachelor.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to find the right woman.  I love being in a relationship.  But, if I’m honest, I have become a bit set in my ways.  A bit self-centered.  A bit of a curmudgeon, even.  And it has become increasingly clear to me that a baby will throw your entire life into upheaval.  With no end.

Just to be clear, that phrase was not ‘with no end in sight’.  It’s ‘with no end’.

I know there are positives.  I’m not going to list them here, and you don’t need to tell me.  And when I was younger, that math made sense.  I was willing to lose the sleep and be grossed out and stay up all night worrying and all the rest. 

But now?  I like to get a good night’s sleep.  I like taking naps.  I like leaving the house with hands that are not carrying strollers and diaper bags.  I like swearing whenever the fuck I want.  I like sitting on my ass watching TV or playing video games.  I like not being interrupted 16,000 times a day.  I like not having to lug 60lbs. of tired toddler from place to place.  I like doing whatever I want whenever I want.  I like not having anyone depend on me.  And I like eating food that has not been in someone else’s mouth.

So that night was the nail in the coffin.  That night, I looked at my friend and his lovely, lovely family and realized I was over it.  From then on, I was able to embrace my bachelorhood and enjoy it more fully.  And I have my friend’s gross kids to thank for that.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Ruined by Gilligan's Island

Oh, Gilligan's Island - that wonderful show!  But it planted little bombs in my head that go off all of the time when I watch other shows.

For example, if I'm watching a show with doctors, I remember the soap opera dream that Gilligan had with young Doctor Young and old Doctor Young.  You'd be surprised how often medical shows have a Doctor Young in them.

If I'm watching any version of Hamlet, I'm remembering the castaways' production of Hamlet, staged to make Harold Hecuba jealous: "Hamlet, Hamlet!  Do be a man, let rotten enough alone!"

But the most insidious is the murder mystery episode.  As each castaway reveals that they had a motive to murder Randolph Blake (he embezzled from Mr. Howell, stole authorship of a scientific paper from the Professor, cheated on Ginger and bankrupted Mary Ann's parents), Gilligan shouts out, "He did it!  He did it!" or "She did it!  She did it!"

And that's what pops into my head every time I watch a murder mystery.  First suspect: 'He did it!  He did it!'  Second suspect: 'She did it!  She did it!'  Familiar character actor as a guest star?  'He did it!  He did it!'

Oh, Gilligan's Island - you will always be with me.  And don't get me started on The Brady Bunch ...

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.


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.