Barroom Sketches


7/06/17 12:38 p.m.

The bar is shadowy with the ambiance from the natural light pouring through the windows. The wine color of the couches and chairs at the front of the store create a sense of tranquility with the brown linoleum as an afterthought. I’m not feeling well today. In fact, I am sick. This happens frequently in the summer because I overheat easily. I’m fine during the winter and often walk about in shorts. Yesterday it was ninety degrees with the humidity at fifty-six percent. I was sweaty and squishy as I walked down Mass Ave to start my four hour volunteer shift. The manager and the assistant manager kept the front door open which canceled any effect the air conditioner had on the store–except the back room. I was miserable, then my thinking began to lapse, and finally my stomach began to sour. During my four hour shift, I swallowed a full gallon of water, but I barely urinated. It got bad, and I could barely function. I still can’t. I have to work today at the cigar bar, and because of my slow movements and nausea, I opted to sit at the register, drink water, and read.

There are many who are probably like this so I know I’m not alone when I say my patiences goes out the door when I’m sick. I barely suffer fools as it is when I’m well, but right now it is difficult to keep my sharp tongue behind my teeth. 

In walks the first customer. He has a white beard, t-shirt, and shorts. I look up to say hello and return to my book. Most people when they come in at this time are on break, know what cigars they want, get them, and leave. After a few seconds, I noticed the man is lingering near the humidor supplies. “Can I help you find anything?”

“Do you guys have smaller humidor packs?

“The only small ones I know are up here.” I pick up a jar containing small blue and white packs. “How long do those last?”

“About three days.”

“That’s too short. I’m going on a trip.”

“Ok.”

“I have this little humidor,” he points the small, black rectangular cases, “and I need a smaller pack than what you have. I need something for at least a week.”

“Ok.” I don’t know why he’s repeating himself. I understand what he wants, but we don’t have what he wants, and saying so again won’t change the situation. He goes for the bigger packs anyway. He hands me his card. “Would you like a receipt?”

“No, thanks.” He scribbles his name and slides the paper to me. “Thank you.” He walks away, and I start to feel at ease, but that feeling is interrupted as he stands with the door open letting in the hot air. “Oh, wait! I forgot! Do you have any fluid?” I thought he meant butane fluid when I asked, “For your lighter?”

“No. For my humidor.”

“The only packs I know about are those small circular packs in front of you.”

“What?”

“Jesus.” I muttered as walked over to show him. As I come closer he pulls out a medium sized can, and holds it up, “This is what I meant.”

“Ok.”

“Do you have a bigger can?”

“What we have out here is all that we have. I am in not in charge of the ordering. The manager does that, and he does not communicate to me regularly regarding his orders.”

“You’re killing me.” I roll my eyes and mutter again, “That’s life.” I had my fill of his incessant bitching, and wanted him to buy something or leave. He buys the medium sized can and mentions, “You know, the manager is a friend of mine.” His tone implies that he, a grown man with a white beard, will tell on me. Whatever. I shrug. “Ok.” I hand him his card and receipt, say thank you, and he finally leaves. This behavior is generally par for the course. I work in a money burb full of people with a country drawl. They have firm opinions on urban life, but have never lived outside their well manicured, white picket Trump loving bubble who think the world will end if they don’t have immediate access for convenient methods to, literally, burn their money on cigars.

Yeah, I’m sick, but that has nothing to do with my low opinion of affluent, white, suburban people who will throw a tantrum if their balls aren’t properly fondled. Today, I don’t have the energy to hide my contempt with “Sirs” and “Maams,” or wishing a good a day on soft bellied, middle aged brats.

1:13 p.m.

Then there is the owner, and he has been the owner for two and a half years. This place has changed hands so many times I will get questions regarding the previous owner who died. The owner rarely comes into the bar, and does not contribute in the day to day business of the bar. I don’t know much about him other than the negative things the manager has said. My impression of the owner is he is a tall, broad shouldered country boy with a shaved head, small white goatee with a low Kentucky accent going on forever down the Ohio River. He spends almost all his time in the main store in another suburb twenty minutes northwest of this store. Talking with him is a painful process, and I leave the conversation feeling like all my teeth have been pulled.

The owner will do all his paperwork on his computer from the main store. He will call, and have one of us plug the computer in the phone jack so he can remote. When this happens the phone will ring, but we don’t answer so the computer will connect. The “call” is a one time thing, but today multiple rings came after the first ring I ignored. I answer both times, and the last time I was irritated. “Hello?” On the other end is the owner, “Hey, dude, I told you not to pick up the phone.” I soak my words with sarcasm, “I know that, but, in the past, the phone only rings once and not successive times.”

“Ok. Whateve. I’ll do it later.” The problem could be solved immediately. I offered the solution. “No. I’ll do it later.” Not my store, not my problem, and I don’t get paid enough to care. Besides, it’s not like I want to work in this place all my life slinging tobacco and alcohol while treated with condescension by the patrons.

3:15 p.m.

Listening to two men discussing business for the hospital where they work. They don’t mention a name because I am there and I might here something I shouldn’t. Something that might be bad PR. Through the blue haze of cigar smoke, I hear words like “fiscal year,” “strategizing,” and “take home profitability.” One of the financial obstacles they’re facing is adolescent psychiatric issues because there is no pay out for the hospital, and most of those adolescent patients are on HIP. Because of HIP (Healthy Indiana Plan–local socialized medicine) the hospital will only get seventeen cents on the dollar. The hospital is also facing drug related issues from patients who mostly used meth or heroin, and the intense vetting they go through before they get treatment. The one on the right works on the financial board, and is a family man. He criteria for what patients are treated–if they are treated–and how they are treated is determined by his ability to keep his big house, his kids attending upscale schools, and smoking cigars. His friend on the left is a doctor operating under a similar paradigm. But socialized medicine is evil. Cue in the eye roll.

Not everyone that comes in are like the four impression I have written. Some people are relaxed and easy going. I make the effort to go case by case, but it is difficult when surrounded by many people who need to unclench, and, let’s be honest, more times than not I need to unclench too.

Social Experiment

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When I studied Celtic Christianity, I came across something humorous about the ancient Christian Celts who wanted to make a pilgrimage to Rome. The expression was a limerick informing the pilgrim that if they wanted to find God in Rome they had better take God with them. Granted, this limerick was a critical jibe at how Rome corrupted Christianity, and how the Roman system covered God in the customs of state, but there is something spiritual in the criticism. Recently, I came across a meme on a Buddhist site I follow expressing to the wanderer they will experience Zen in the monastery if they bring Zen with them. Generally speaking, many external things in this world are neither good nor evil, but become whatever we bring to the situation. Things like social media are neutral, but become monsters as we, in the privacy of our phones and laptops, unload all the things we mask in public.

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That being said there are people who respect the overwhelming power of social media, and use the medium to further something good. One of my friends is a pastor at church on Indy’s near west side. The area he serves in is a poor area filled with desperation and self-medication through substance abuse. There have been times when he has received phone calls in the middle of the night from a scared kid who is alone in their home because their parents are God knows where and their sibling in the other room is shooting up heroin. After calling the police to take the kid out of a bad situation, my friend will go over to the house, check on the sibling, and keep the kid company until the police arrive. As a pastor he believes in the power of the gospel, but that power doesn’t come from an insightful exegesis or a brilliant hermeneutic. The power of the gospel, in his view, lies in the action of the Christian responding to hopelessness in their corner of the world. Jesus, as God incarnate, came to bring light to the world—especially the darkest parts and how he expressed that depended on the situation. My friend attempts to live up to that example through his life outside of the church and on social media.

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In the last year, Facebook came up with a new thing called Facebook Live providing a forum for people to speak their stories with tone and nuance instead of a blank text. There is nothing wrong with text per se, but the meaning behind the words lie in our facial expressions and how we say our words. Facebook Live is a great medium, and I finally used it for the first time this week to address gender and sexuality issues. Participating in Facebook Live grants a position to influence our culture for better or for worse. My pastor friend uses Facebook Live once or twice a week to address his concerns over what he sees in the news, the behavior of many Christians, and what he is doing in his ministry. He doesn’t preach, but he does tell those of us who follow him, who profess to be Christians, what it means to be Jesus in our community. Little things like our attitude and a misspoken word can have life-long damaging effects on people we meet. Believing in Jesus and going to church is not limited to our eternal hope, but has a lasting effect. Jesus’ resurrection was God initiating the process of “his” kingdom integrating in our world. What we Christians do on earth lays the foundation for the life giving new thing God will bring about at the arrival of Jesus. Yes, being kind and helping those in need are good things, but they are not temporary and they are not limited to the here and now. My friend uses his voice on social media to encourage his fellow Christians in the work of God, and hope to those who do not believe or have lost faith from being burned by the church.

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What my friend does is a good example of how to use social media, but most people, myself included, go to the darker side of social media and become the bullies who broke us. In the middle of the night, in that wistful moment where sleep is interrupted by a second’s consciousness, a thought rang throughout my head calling the monks to meditation: social media has become a dumping ground for all my insecurities. Specifically, Facebook, because my posts on Instagram and Twitter involve moments I catch throughout the day—mostly trees, flowers, and my cats. Ever since I went through the betrayal of my friends and fiancé (at the time) from my church, I went on an intellectual rampage. I returned to school so I could earn my degree in religion and philosophy, and to use my education in my war against Christianity. I exhausted question after question in class, pulling no punches, and offending a few Christian classmates. By the time I received my degree the frequency of my antagonistic outbursts had lessened, but the wounds never really healed. Whenever I posted something sarcastic about the institution of Christianity, I did so with the ulterior motive of picking a fight with my religious friends who were erudite. Why? When I returned to Indy, and faced those who had hurt me and heard their arguments, I realized how small they were. I never thought that this is the way of most people, but I roared and bellowed, and I had a song in my heart as I publicly embarrassed them. I had become the thing I hated. I had become the thing that hurt me. I had a point to prove. Unconsciously, I overcompensated for my insecurities rather than face them and hurt other people in addition to the ones who wounded me.

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Alexander Dumas in Count of Monte Cristo argued against vengeance of any kind because, no matter how calculated, an innocent is caught up in the mix and swallowed by our demons. I know I’m not the only one who treats social media as a psychological vomitorium, and I’ve observed similar patterns from people across the social, political, religious, and philosophical spectrum. With the illusion of anonymity we have unleashed all of our weaknesses, wounds, betrayals, etc. on to the world via our devices. Through these immaterial signals we create a hideous material world where our ignoble tweets can instigate a nuclear war (Donald Trump), or cause someone to lose their job because someone wrote or posted something that went against our arbitrary values. I think the monster is out of control, but I also think the monster can be subdued if we stop feeding it. I know there are people who have quit social media because they were tired of the negativity, but their removal did not change their hearts or the issues they still carry. Social media isn’t a terrible thing, but what makes it terrible is what we bring with each click and clack on our keyboards. The solution can be found in mindfulness and breathing before we sit down and scroll through our feed. We don’t have to obey our mind, and 99% of the time what our minds bring us is bullshit. Let the thought inhale and react, and let it dissipate without it finding life in our text or speech.

It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity

Portland-Oregon

It’s hot, but heat is relative to where you live—and heat varies depending on the region. When I complain of the heat, I am speaking  as one who lives in Central Indiana next to the White River. What makes the heat unbearable to me is the humidity. Ninety degrees  isn’t just ninety degrees, but an additional twenty to thirty degrees from a towel soaked in hot water placed on my head, wrapped around my face, and covering my body. This effect produces an oily, squishy feeling in every crease of my body—sloshing and spattering  with every movement I make at work or walking to my shift as a volunteer. What I inhale stays in my nose caking and becoming gelatinous. The experience is complete misery. So you can imagine the relief I felt walking around Portland, OR in the summer.

In Portland, OR ninety degrees is hot, but the temperature is simply ninety degrees. Don’t misunderstand , I still felt discomfort, but one of the beautiful things about Portland in the summer is the Pacific Ocean. I assumed living next to the Willamette River would have the same effect as living next to the White River in Indiana, but such was not the case to my surprise. When I talked to some of the people at the Shambhala Center they told me the Pacific Ocean—only an hour away—knocked out the humidity in Portland. Though the sun beat upon my head and arms, and the streets toasted the soles of my feet through my rope sandals, I wasn’t a slimy, oily mess. While Ronnie and I waited for the bus at 52nd & Gladstone we chit chatted with a woman who told us that day was the hottest Portland had been in decades.  I chuckled and motioned my hand downwards, “Oh, honey, I don’t mean to one up you, but I’m from Indianapolis, and we have to deal with the weight of humidity in addition to the heat. Compared to what I am used to, this is lovely.” We laughed and talked more. When we got on the bus, we breathed easier because of the air conditioning. Ronnie and I took off our rucksacks, sat down, and gave our knees and backs some much needed rest until our next stop.

Warren Central

Bullying has had the same effect on me. I know, it’s surprising that someone who is 6”8, and has always been a head taller than his classmates, was the object of bullying. Beginning in elementary school, I was expected to always act older by the teachers because I looked like I was twelve when I was eight. How many eight year olds do you know that are 5”6? That was a terrible inconvenience, but nothing compared to the treatment I received in high school when I skyrocketed to 6”4. Because of my size, I should have played football, but I loathe any organized sport, and wanted nothing to do with such things. I preferred going to shows, reading, and getting my hands on any punk rock or hardcore. Aside from the condescension and resentment teachers gave me, the students took it upon myself to come after me and make my life a living hell. Beating on a giant improved street credibility, and would have meant something had I wanted to fight back. I’m not fighter. I’m not really hardcore. By the strictest, current, arbitrary definition, I am not masculine—though I tried to be to the derisive amusement of my classmates. Things became worse when, in American Lit, we read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I began to be taunted as Lenny, and treated as stupid—even my teachers joined in with the ridicule. There was no safe space for me to go to. At home, I faced scorn from my great grandmother and my great aunt, resentment from my mother because I was a mistake, and my father’s fist when he lost his temper. At church, I was expected to take everything that was dealt to me, and when I spoke up, I was threatened by one of the pastor’s sons. In response, I shut down whatever emotion remained, and retreated into my mind.

Horizon Christian Fellowship

In my mind, I could tear apart books, devour the knowledge, and defend myself. I learned from the best at home, and I had no lines other than my personal survival. I became the intellectual equivalent of a little man going into the gym and going to BJJ classes because he has a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove. Nothing to prove to the people in his life, but to the demons that remained long after home, school, and church vanished. Unfortunately, how that translates into the present is something volatile, something destructive, and set on a hair trigger. But that is not with everything. Nowadays, it’s only limited to Christianity.

When I returned to school, I went into religious studies so I could have the academic equivalent of brass knuckles to break the jaw of any Christian who felt justified in attacking me or people in my life. During my academic career, I realized I was right to reject the religion that had been presented to me, and that should have been a turning point in letting go. It wasn’t. Because I had greater intellectual resources, I publicly shamed the bullies and backed them into a corner where they responded with ad homiem attacks or they were humiliated into silence.  When one person used their brand of Christianity to insult a friend of mine, I jumped in and educated them on their doctrinal history, and citing sources while I pointed out the errors of their stance. I ended with, “Before you make another comment could you please do some further research into Church history and theology so as to spare yourself some embarrassment? Thanks.” I write this to my shame.

Moby Dick

I can spin this into a noble reason of triumph over ignorance and heresy, but the truth of the matter is, and I hate to admit it, I still hate Christianity for the wounds I have received in its name. I have become Ishmael crippled and blinded by an irrational desire to hunt down Moby Dick, and slay that whale for taking my leg. We all know how that story ends. The ship is obliterated, and all but the narrator of the story have perished. Is it worth killing myself over a machine that has been operating since the mid-4th century? I would say, no. I do get some kind of juicy pleasure when I write and name names, or when I intellectually stick it to people from churches that hurt me. But I get no justice. Vengeance feels good like a shot of rye whiskey, but offers no balance. My desire for revenge has turned me into those bullies who made my life a living hell. I’m continuing the cycle while destroying myself in the process.

Nietzsche said, “In order to fight the monsters you must act like the monster, but be careful to not become the monster—you stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back into you.” I had become the monster. The abyss had filled me, and I didn’t even realize it. I’ve studied Buddhist meditation, and I’ve been to counseling, but more work needs to be done. I have tasted the ocean air and felt the freedom of peace of other people who go about their lives avoiding conflict and embracing compassion, but I can barely breathe through this soaked towel and my vision is clouded—I see men as trees walking. I want that freedom, though, and I want that peace and I want to feel compassion. I want to care. There is much to unlearn and to learn. In no way do I blame my current psychological struggles on my family, high school, or the church. At some point we make a choice, and the consequences are our own, but sometimes we need help with our learning process. Sometimes we need to be shown how to unwrap the towel so we can see our path. The heat is never the problem. It’s the humidity, and sometimes we need to make that move away from our present climate to feel the world as is without the masks and filters feeding our insecurities.

An Imitation of Maturity


It’s early. Well, early for me. Thursday through Saturday, I work at the cigar bar. Thursday and Friday, I open the bar arriving at 9:45, but Ronnie has to be at work, twenty minutes south of the bar, at eight ‘o’ clock. For both our convenience, I opt to hang out at a bagel shop two doors down from the bar to read, and write as I am doing at the moment. On Thursdays and Fridays, I get up to work out by doing thirty minutes of cardio followed by six sets of planks–three sets of thirty seconds and three sets of twenty seconds. Afterwards, I shower, get dressed, and make breakfast and lunch for both of us. At 6:45 we’re out the door because it takes thirty minutes to drive to my place of work, and gives Ronnie time to get to her work.

It’s 7:35, and I already feel spent. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything to exert a tremendous amount of energy. I do know the color scheme of the shop isn’t helping. The floor is peppered gray and dark gray tile, part of the ceiling is a dull white and the other part is a mustard yellow, and the walls are part olive green and a red similar to that of a red grapefruit. Not the most pleasant of colors in the morning, and the demographic is mostly white, Evangelical Christian, Republican, affluent, and entitled. The coffee is subpar, but the sandwiches are decent–you can taste the effort the shop puts in to be like Einstein Bagels. I am of the opinion this is so because a Jewish name would not fare well in this suburb like it does downtown or in Broad Ripple. But that is my own judgment based on stereotypes that were given to me and I forged growing up on the east side. To escape my judgmental mind, I put in my ear buds, crank up my Coltrane playlist consisting of five albums, and I read.


This morning’s read is a revisiting of Imitation of Christ by the twelfth century–I think–Dutch monk, Thomas A’Kempis. If you’re not a Christian this is a great work on what it means to be a Christian, and what is expected by anyone who claims to follow Jesus. If you are a Christian, you will read this book and hold your faith cheap. I know I do, and I’ve read the book twice–now going on my third. When I am asked if I am a Christian, I squirm because I know I’m a poor example. I have a judgmental mind, I am often times arrogant, and condescending especially if I think a person has it coming, I am bitter, and often times hot headed. Granted, I am in a constant process, I pray for the help and grace to let these negative things in my mind wash over, but I slip and fall. The one saving factor about my struggle is I get back on my feet to try again. There are better examples of the Christian faith, but, at this moment, I am not one of them.

I base this transparency on the first two chapters. Seven pages. The sentence structure, and the word choice are simple enough for a child to read, but what A’Kempis says, though, are like weights on the soul dragging it to the floor gasping and writhing for forgiveness. This guilt and self-loathing are not from God but from the realization I am not worthy of the name of Christian. Granted, I pray, and invite God into those areas to heal whatever it is that triggers me into a negative mindset. I’m speaking of my own wounds, of course, but we all have then, and that guilt and self-loathing? That comes from our inability to forgive ourselves. We are already forgiven, and we’re only impressing ourselves with our incessant self-flaggelation while God, I think, couldn’t care less. 

“What doth it avail thee to discource profoundly on the Trinity if thou be void of humility, and consequently, displeasing to the Trinity?”

“If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it profit thee without the love of God and His grace?”

Those two quotes are half a page from the first chapter, “Of the Imitation of Christ, and the Contempt of All the Vanities of the World,” and it took me less than thirty seconds to read. Thirty seconds. Barely a page in, and I’m already wondering if I’ve ever been truly a Christian. Nevermind my judgment on the bastards who hurt me and the churches who condoned their behavior, but I’m looking at myself considering my own reaction and susequent behavior. Before I start casting that judgment on others, I need to start with myself. With all the violence in the churches and the violence coming from the churches, I need to look at my own heart. Otherwise, the cycle will never break.

“If thou shouldst see another openly sin, or commit some heinous crime, yet thou oughtst not to esteem thyself better: because thou knowest not how long thou mayest remain in a good state. We are all frail: but see thou think no one more frail than thyself.” 

SMACK! Right at the end of the second chapter, and right between my eyes. This book is rough and should not be taken lightly. The first two chapters rebukes the judgment I expressed about my current environmet. I don’t have to like it, but I don’t have to be such a dick in how I communicate my dislike. This is why I think an Imitation of Christ is a worthy read, and a must read for anyone who is a Christian or wants to understand what it means to be a Christian. The Christian life written by A’Kempis is not the Christian life I heard from the pulpit. What I heard from various pulpits is we’re guaranteed a comfortable life because we follow Jesus. A’Kempis’ Christian life is certainly not comfortable or happy. This impression I have coincides with what C.S. Lewis said about the Christian life, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” I certainly don’t feel comfortable, but my discomfort is not enough to walk away from Christianity. As much as I have tried to ditch God and distance myself from the terrible religious practices of Christianity, I find myself drawn back to Jesus. I can’t shame him. Of course, my Calvanist friends are just giddy, but I am drawn to Jesus because I accept, by faith, that he is God in the flesh. A God who eats and drinks with us–even going so far as to provide more wine after people have already drank too much–is a God not caught up in religion, but redemption. This God can save us from ourselves, and I want to follow that God. Reading Imitation of Christ is painful, but so is growing up.

Forgiveness on the Horizon

Blue Like Jazz Book

Last night, I watched “Blue Like Jazz”—a film adaptation of Donald Miller’s book with the same name directed by Steve Taylor. I’ve read Blue Like Jazz quite a few times, and I can say it’s nothing like the book, but in a good way. “Blue Like Jazz” tells the story of Donald Miller’s move from his home in Texas to Reed College in Portland, OR, and the journey of faith he found himself taking. The movie focuses on the Miller’s external journey while the book is the internal process of unpacking an anxiety ridden, inconsistent belief in Jesus. I think the movie well done. The difference between the book and the movie is explained in Donald Miller’s other book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Steve Taylor brought in Miller to consult. When Miller told Taylor there were some events in his movie that didn’t happen, Taylor told him, “I know, but I want to get to the heart of your book and tell your story.” The first time I saw this film, I immediately connected it with my own journey—especially in the Donald Miller character’s confession of spending his first year at Reed College trying to ditch God. He had a traumatic experience at his church, and wanted nothing to do with the people in his church, Christianity in general, and God. I also saw the constant theme of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” album through the character of Miller’s father who says “Life is like jazz—it never resolves.” His father passes on Coltrane to him, and then Miller finds “A Love Supreme” in the vinyl collection of his friend, Penny.

Blue Like Jazz Film

In the first few scenes, Donald Miller realizes the youth pastor at his church is cheating on his wife with Miller’s mom. Miller is enraged, vandalizes the youth pastor’s car before he speeds off to Portland. Miller’s anger is stirred again when his mother calls him to say she’s pregnant with the youth pastor’s baby. When the youth pastor gets on the phone, Miller shouts at the youth pastor calling him an asshole and a hypocrite. The youth pastor’s arrogance is unfazed as he tells Miller that Reed has improved his vocabulary. At this point, Miller hangs up, gather’s his church things, and goes to the church across the street. His phone is ringing on his way to the church. His mother is calling back, but Miller is done. In the middle of the sermon, before the pastor and the congregation, Miller dumps the church objects on the floor and tells everyone he is finished with Christianity. On his way out, Miller throws his ringing phone into the holy water. I probably would have done the same thing, but I would have said a few choice words to the youth pastor for his comment on my vocabulary, “Fuck you! You cheated on your wife and got my mom pregnant, and you’re going to judge me?! Look to the fucking plank in your own goddamned eye, asshole!” There is some anger and hurt still in me, but this particular scene hit home because I dealt with a pastor in a similar manner at Horizon Christian Fellowship.

Horizon Christian Fellowship

Horizon Christian Fellowship is a church that came out of Calvary Chapel started by the late Chuck Smith in Costa Mesa California during the Jesus movement of the 1970s. The church holds to the cult of personality where the word of the pastor, in this case Bill Goodrich, is the word of God, and the other pastors repeat the same litany of submission pointing the people to the head of the church. The church loathes culture and holds to a mixed hermeneutic that takes the bible literally, but with the literalism that came out of the American frontier in the 1830s during the Second Great Awakening. Calvary Chapel caters to the affluent middle class, and Horizon is no different. The church resembles a compound on the northeast tip of Indianapolis and borders on the wealthy suburb, Geist. That is most of the demographic of the church with some people coming from the North and East side. The church is predominantly white, and what I observed, willfully unread and ignorant. During one service, I sat behind a woman who said to her husband who said she hoped the rapture came before the tribulation because she didn’t want to go through torture and beheading. I rolled my eyes. For her and much of the church, they don’t want a faith that will cost them anything, but a faith that will get them all the cool toys if they say the right words to daddy.

I went to Horizon Christian Fellowship between 1996 and 1998 because I had many friends who went there—friends from my old punk rock crew. I found the church fun at first. I liked that the pastor went verse by verse, and explained how the bible “interprets itself.” But the church had a dark side to it that I saw first-hand and experienced myself. If people didn’t put the right toe on the right doctrinal line they were ostracized, and if they were in any kind of sin they were barred with gossip. For the most part this was true, but if a person were in Bill Goodrich’s good graces they could do whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted without any consequences.

Billy Brandle was one such individual. He was an associate pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship who liked to go to different places with a maxi mouse speaking to passers-by “If you were to die tonight where would you go?” I found him to be condescending, judgmental, and a horse’s ass to people, including myself, who were struggling with their faith or questioning it—he was also an adulterer, and an unapologetic one, I might add. Brandle had been caught cheating on his wife four times. Not only did his wife keep taking him back, but Bill Goodrich never told him to step down from his position as pastor. The adultery part never bothered me per se. Cheating happens because there is an issue in the relationship that has not been dealt with, and it sucks when it happens regardless of the reason. There were clearly issues within his marriage, but what bothered me is that he could cheat on his wife knowing it was wrong, but still have enough temerity to pass judgment on me and others in the church. Brandle lived in a glass house constantly throwing rocks because he believed Goodrich’s word protected him from any blowback.

One Tuesday evening, I attended a weekly service put on by the worship leader, John David Webster. He called it Koinonia from the Greek meaning “communion.” The meeting was in a small room, maybe 750 sq feet, filled with people who wanted to worship John David Webster, er, I mean, Jesus. He had to have a PA system so the whole room would turn into a concert hall, and, as one who dated and eventually married, Bill Goodrich’s daughter, Webster could do whatever he pleased. The worship was highly emotional with voices and hands raised till shoulders were popped out of their sockets, and words were broken by sobs. I’ve never been one to express my emotions, and being in the same room flooded with tears and whimpers makes me uncomfortable—I don’t know how to relate to that. I have always had a capacity for the intellectual, and I found the expression of faith too flimsy and too capricious. I found myself going into Reformed Christianity because the Calvinists employed rational thought and faith simultaneously. At the time I needed something that was concrete, and I thought Reformed Christianity was the way to go.

People talk, and because I lived with a few guys from the church including John David Webster, people whispered about my new found Calvinism. I didn’t help the situation any. Two of my roommates were going in a similar theological direction, and we browbeat our other roommates with our superior intellect and high end words written by dead white guys from England and Germany. The leadership in particular did not like this at all. Reformed Christianity is dialectally opposed to the Christianity expressed by Calvary Chapel, and is met with hostility. During such events the church’s leadership would make a surprise visit, and this particular evening it was Billy Brandle. During the hour long session of repeating a chorus with sways and moans, I stood there with a couple friends talking. Billy decided to interrupt us, and told me, “You’re not worshipping God enough.” I looked at him in the eye as I cocked my head, “Really? You want to judge me? You want to go down that road with me?” Billy’s eyes widened and his mouth was slightly parted. I looked him up and down with a smirk and returned to my conversation as he walked away dumbfounded.

This is why I loathe religious bullies of any stripe, and this is why I often slip on my informal and formal education like brass knuckles to crack the proverbial jaw of bullies. Yes, I agree, to an extent, they have it coming, but there are better, loving ways to offer a rebuke. My behavior and attitude reveals an old bitterness from an old wound festering instead of healing. As I write this, I still feel the pangs of those painful experiences at Horizon Christian Fellowship, and the memories are almost twenty years old. That’s a long time to be holding on to a wound, and the memory may not even be that accurate. These memories are based on my interpretation of events, and over time, different spins and embellishments are added to keep the bitterness nice and juicy. The bitterness has no place and infects my future relationships, and the first step of healing begins with a willingness to forgive, and to move away from that old anger that keeps me and Billy Brandle limited to a specific period of time.

John Coltrane

The  1998 Billy Brandle should have paid more attention keeping his dick in his pants and remembering his vows to his wife—who is still with him—instead of what level of emotion I should be expressing to Jesus in public worship. The 2017 Billy Brandle? I don’t know. I’ve a friend who is still friends with him, and tells me that Billy is a different person who takes his walk with God seriously nowadays. I don’t know about that either, but I do know it’s unfair for me to confine him to my past experience. We never stay the same. We’re either getting better or we’re getting worse, but we are by no means stagnant. This impermanence makes forgiveness simultaneously possible and difficult. Forgiveness frees us from the past, and frees us from living our past versions of ourselves. Forgiveness also frees the people in our lives to grow as we grow, and to have the faith that something larger than ourselves is at work in us constantly reshaping us and healing our wounds. We are all in process, and for me to condemn a man and a church who hurt me and insulted me twenty years ago is to deny the grace of God in their lives as well as my own. There is no resolution, only note changes, and if we follow the improvisations of the spirit the song will rise with Coltrane as we touch the face of God.

Going to Church

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These last two weeks have been a tiring blur. I started my new job at a cigar bar, and I had to work every day except for Sunday. I had no time to recoup and reboot my brain. The last two Sundays were packed with busy activity as Ronnie and I went out looking for more things for the new apartment, or she had to work on a Sunday which meant, I had only three hours of sleep. Wednesdays, I didn’t work at the cigar bar because of my volunteer work at a fair trade store downtown. The reason for the workload was for training. There may be a time when I have to run a shift myself, and I will need to know how to make food on our tiny grill, or make different cocktails. Our grill is small because we are not that kind of a bar where people can fill up on fried food and beer, but, by list of priorities of our customers, we sell a large variety of quality cigars in various sizes, beer, whisky, gin, and rum. When you walk in twenty feet to your left there is a room, a humidor, that takes up half the space of the bar displaying all our cigars. At the back of the bar is a small selection of scotch, bourbon, rye whiskey, Japanese made whiskey, gin, rum, five levers for locally brewed draft beer, and behind the counter there is an assortment of canned and bottle beers that include domestics. The regulars that come in mostly get cigars, but they will also get a beer, a whiskey, a cocktail, coffee, or tea if they’re staying for a while.

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This past Saturday we were slow. All our regulars mentioned they would be at a friend’s home grilling and drinking beer to remember another friend of theirs, who was also a regular, who died three weeks ago from alcohol related issues. There were a few people coming in throughout the night to pick up cigars. Aside from those people we had two who were new to our bar come in for a beer and some pizza, and one regular. Around 6:30 two new guys walked in, and the most vocal of the two asked me for help finding a specific cigar. He couldn’t remember the name of the brand, but the style. The cigar was a Churchill, and had a small green wrapper. That sounded like an Arturo Fuente, and I took him to the Arturo’s, but we were out of the Churchills—the only cigars we had close to that length and gauge was a Hemingway. He thanked me for my help, and said he would look around some more. I went out and sat by the register to be ready for a sale.

He and his friend found a few cigars he liked, and he decided on the Hemingway style cigar. He noticed a tray on our counter with three different sized holes and a lever on the side. “What is that?”
“That’s a cutter for cigars.”
“Really?! I could cut one of these cigars, and sit at one of the tables and smoke.”
“You can. That’s what a lot of our regulars do. They come in, find their cigar, have a drink, save their cigar wrapper, smoke, and cash out when they’re ready to leave.” He looked over the room filled with wine red chairs and couches, but stopped at the large round table surrounded by tall rolling chairs—the kind you see in a CEO’s office. That’s the table many of our regulars will go to, and it’s also the table where people will make new friends—at least a friend for the night. Everyone is welcomed at the table. Most of the topics revolve around home life and work, but will occasionally shift to politics. Most of the time their conversations are about fishing and camping and how they have to sweat and work away the day before they can get some time away in nature. People new to the bar will ask if they can sit at one of the empty chairs, and the regulars will pause their conversation and insist the new people to join. That night one regular sat at the table who was there the night before. After I clocked out, I joined him and two of my friends for an after work cigar and scotch. The cigar I had was a Rocky Patel which paired quite well with a Highland single malt.

When the night is slow, my coworker and I will sit near the customers so if they need a drink we are able to immediately fill their glasses—sometimes we’re included in their conversations while other times I scribble away in my notebook. The new customers decided to include us into their conversation when one of them asked about a nearby church, Kingsway Christian Church. “Do you know what kind of church it is? Are they a cult? That’s what I heard.”
“Nah, they’re Evangelical.” Across the table his friend asked, “Oh, Evangelical like Jimmy Swaggart?”
“No. One of my roomates’ mom worked as a secretary for their school. They’re non-denominational and their ‘theology,’” I did air quotes with my hands, “Came out of the American frontier in the 1830s during the Second Great Awakening. They’re quite conservative.”
“You seem to know a lot about religion.”
“I had to because of my father wouldn’t permit us to blindly accept what came from the pulpit. Informally I’ve spent the last twenty years reading the bible something like fourteen times, that I can remember, reading the church fathers, studying church history, learning Hebrew and Greek so I could be prepared to defend myself in a debate with my father. I went back to school and earned my degree in Literature and Religion where I studied the evolution of Christianity in America from the 1600s til now. I know what I said sounds over the top, but that is the length I went to intellectually defend myself at home.” After I finished, I lit up a small cigar I had just bought, and after I blew out a large puff of smoke, one of the guys looked at me, “So, is there a book that can simplify everything there is about the bible?” I puffed again, and as the smoke drifted towards the ceiling and the whirring ventilator, I answered, “There are couple verses in the bible summarizing everything.” I paraphrased Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the words of Jesus, “Love God and love other people. Kindness is the only thing that matters. That’s why I don’t care what people believe in just so long as their belief doesn’t make them dicks. Being kind to one another is difficult enough without the added expectations of dogma.”

We talked more throughout the night. They were professional truck drivers who had been all over the country, and we exchanged terrifying road stories. After three and half hours and four Scotches, the two men cashed out so they could go home. They bought more cigars and some empty boxes for the road, and we talked more. They really liked this bar, and they loved the atmosphere. The cigar bar is not a bar where people go to listen to live or loud music and overstimulated with flashing lights and a cacophony of different conversations. Comparatively speaking, we’re low key, and, I would argue, high class. There is a reverent ambiance, and people take their seats as if they were at church. Instead of being preached at, the customers can pull up a chair by themselves or sit with others while puffing away at their cigars until they regain their center. There is real community and friendship here, and Saturday night there was a real sense of church as we all talked about our different religious experiences, and how we have applied what we have learned to be good people—or, at the very least to be better than we were they day before. We’re all walking down similar paths, and when those paths cross we can get a glimpse of God in the other when they speak of grace in their own journey. By any other name, that’s church.

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Solitary Confinement? Yes, Please!

(For kicks and giggles, I decided to blog from my phone before work 😊👍)

I have heard people use “introversion” as a way to describe a loner, but that is a glib portrayal, and, I would suggest, made by an extrovert. Introversion, like extraversion, boils down to chemistry. How your brain is wired, and how it reboots determines your personality. I am stepping into unfamiliar territory with only a few scientific articles I’ve read, and the insight I have gained through meditation. Meaning, I am most likely incorrect or way out in left field with my assertion. 

My friends who are introverts require more alone time than me, but we share a similar love of staying put once we come home from work. I don’t know how they are when they don’t get their time to decompress and recharge, but I know how I am when I don’t get that time.

I started my new job this past week as a bartender in a cigar bar in a western suburb of Indianapolis. The person who runs the bar had everyone quit on him, and he was looking for full time or part time workers so he didn’t have to work open to close seven days a week. A mutual friend told me about the bar, and suggested I look into it. I’ve been looking for work the last six monts, so I told him I would give his friend a call. This friend has known me for over a decade, he knows my personality, and he knows where I’ll be a good fit. He told me the manager and I would get along, and the regulars are all about relaxing and smoking their cigars–some of them are baby boomers who hate Trump. 

When I went to the place to apply, I knew I was in over my head. I know next to nothing about cigars except that you light them with a match to keep the flavor. I know a little bit about alcohol, but only single malt scotches. The position requires me to make cocktails, but that didn’t bother me. I’m quite adept in any culinary setting, and I can make drinks by following the instructions. When I didn’t hear from him for a few days, I assumed he found someone who was a better fit. No worries. I went back to my writing and putting out my resumes.

Ten days later the manager calls me, and asked me what I’m looking for. I told him I was looking for something part time. He asked me what days I could work, and I told him I need Wednesdays off because of my volunteer work, and I need Sundays off so I can spend time with Ronnie. If he gave me the position, Sundays would be the only day we would have off together. I also told him I could only work til five ‘o’ clock Monday through Friday. Ronnie and I only have one car between us, and she currently works on the Southwest side. Because we are moving downtown, I had be focusing on finding work there. Indianapolis has a mediocre mass transit system that is slowly improving, but it is good if you live downtown. The manager agreed to my scheduling needs, and I started last Monday.

When you walk into the bar the ceiling is black tile, and, except for a few rugs, the floor is brown linoleum resembling hard wood. To the left that there is a long humidor featuring a variety of cigars, from a variety of companies, and with a variety of sizes. The air in the humidor, as in the bar area, is filled with the earthy smell of dried tobacco, but the lounge area also includes the faint smell of cigar smoke–like incense in a Buddhist or Christian monastery lifting up the prayers of the community. In the front of the room are wine colored couches and chairs, and towards the back is a round table surrounded by the big, black leather chairs fitted for the movers and shakers of business. People get their cigars and smoke their day chased with coffee, or sometimes beer. 

The regulars are friendly people with robust, smiling personalities. The energy they bring when they meet up with the other regulars is quite soothing, but it’s still people energy that taxes me.

This is my second week of training, and I’ve worked almost every day because my manager wants to make sure I am familiar enough with the food and drink menu before he leaves me to myself. Not to mention, more hours means more money in the bank for food, bills, and rent. I haven’t had any real time to myself since Friday. Saturday, I closed with a co-worker, and didn’t get home until 2:30 in the morning. I finally crashed at 3:30, and woke up at 6:38 to prepare Ronnie’s coffee, breakfast, and lunch. I took her to work, went to MoJoe’s to write and read, went to mass at St. Mary’s, went home to gather the laptop, go to Starbucks to write, and picked up Ronnie from work. I crashed at 7:30 that evening, and woke up to do it again.

This morning, as we were getting ready, Ronnie noticed how irritable I was. “Walk me through your thoughts–why are you so annoyed?” I thought about it, “I don’t know.” I went on to tell her how I won’t have a day off until Sunday before I go to my permanent part time schedule. She understood immediately that I’ve had no time to decompress. She offered to leave me to myself in the evenings, but her presence doesn’t drain me. Because she worked Sunday, she is off Friday. “How about I take you to work Friday so you can spend the morning in deep meditation and relaxation. It’s not much, but it should help.” Sounds good to me.

That’s the issue with introversion and how I live my life with my chemistry. If don’t get time to decompress and recharge, I am no good to anyone, especially myself. I filter every circumstance through my rattled brain, and I become miserable. I try to keep the misery to myself–moreso when I’m at work. If I don’t get the necessary reboot, I won’t be able to function at even the most rudimentary level.

Thankfully, my training is temporary, and I’m doing my little bits with mindfulness and tea to keep me steady in the moment.