Sunday, 25 November 2012

Devil's Advocate

 I'm told that centuries ago the Catholic Church created a new job description or concept, in an attempt at balance, knowing that zealous people are pretty much defined by closed-mindedly, blindly moving forward under the assumption that they are right and that there is no merit in any other view or method.  They knew a thing or two about "missing things" and if you want someone with a unique skill in missing things (including, frequently, The Point), you want a zealot.
  The new job was called "Devil's Advocate."  Advocate as in "lawyer."  Because they wanted there to be two sides pondered in any important matter.  And without the devil's advocating going on, there was generally just one side of all the coins in their purse.  They didn't want a court case with only one lawyer.
  I have found there is a huge benefit to not simply ploughing blindly forward, fuelled by confidence that I (or my cultural training) am, of course, right.  Playing devil's advocate is a great tool.
  What's the main thing the devil (or his advocate) is likely to say?  "Yea, hath God (really) said?"  This is a simple one.  We need to be asked "Did God actually say that, at all, at any point, on purpose, it being His own idea to say it to us and not our making it up?"  Even in the Garden, Eve was misquoting Him. This was a bad start to something that didn't end well for her.
  So, when we have the intellectual integrity to ask and honestly answer that question (Did God actually say that, in so many words, in all of the things He's recorded as having said in the bible?), it helps.  Mostly, we would answer:
-No.  I can't, I guess, find anywhere He said that or anything close to it.  Not in so many words.  In fact, some verses could be taken to make a case for the opposite, and I'm not scared to look at them without simply trying to get rid of them so I can think what I want.  It appears He didn't say that.  If, therefore, I am living just as if He did say that, I might still be doing something good, or well-intentioned, but best to tone down the closed-mindedness a bit.  Might also be good to be open to learn more on this subject, even if it isn't simply going to validate the view I already have.
-Yes.  I can find a bit where He specifically said this, and it appears to apply still, across centuries and cultures and the different understandings and relationship He has had (covenants and so on) with the different kinds of people.
-Kinda, maybe.  If I take a bunch of bits of various different bits of scripture, read between the lines without projecting my own personal expectations and situation and agendas upon the exercise, think about what I would call principles, I can imagine that He intends me to interpret Him as having this particular position on a matter.  Given allowances made for who I am and what year it is, and my not being one of God's Chosen People, the Jewish Nation and all.  Once again, time to tone down that closed-minded confidence and be willing to at least entertain the idea that others might interpret things differently, and that they might have something of value to offer one.

A growing creature needs to be open to change.  If you want to grow or develop, you can't insist upon not changing.  A closed off, hermetically-sealed doctrine vault is suspicious.  It is suspicious because we are not politicians.  We aren't trying to get judged based on our claims, but on our actual results.  When our results are not stellar (and, in fairness, when it comes to enriching and enlightening young people and their lives, 'we' aren't even doing terribly well with 'our' own children, not in any way that lasts much into their 20s, statistically) it isn't good enough to simply blame the people we have failed to reach and attract and enlighten.  Just judging them (to be unbelieving, incorrigible, unheeding, unrepentant, unenlightened, unwhatever) doesn't let us off the hook for being closed, unattractive, easily dismissed and trite and facile-sounding.  If we've got anything good, it should be hard for them to sum us up, dismiss us, and feel they know exactly what we're selling, and that they don't need it.  They should need to talk to us or read up themselves in order to feel they actually have any kind of handle on what we claim we've got.

Devil's Advocate: Are we just people who decide God told us to do whatever we thought we should do anyway in the first place?  Because that's what Bill thinks.  Is Bill right?  Ever?  Do we have anything offer because an endless infomercial for a product which doesn't actual exist, let alone work?  Do we live in a land of make-believe and let's pretend?  Just to provide ourselves with "comfort"?  Is believing in Jesus like believing in Santa?  Is our religion an opiate for us?  That's what Karl thinks.  Is Karl right?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


(in which a tendency to cut the labels out of items of clothing is explained)

Sensitive (Skin?)
"Sensitive" is one of those words.  Women are often found bemoaning that men aren't sensitive enough, they don't feel.  And by this, they don't mean that men's feelings aren't easily hurt enough, nor that they need to have more trouble taking criticism, nor that they shouldn't be able to handle regular toothpaste and soap.
  In my very one-sided, cynical-making experience, women have often said that men in general aren't sensitive enough (while complaining about men) and men have in turn often said that women are too sensitive (as part of complaining about women right back).
  Leads one to conclude that there are two main intended meanings for the word.  One involves frailty, and the other awareness.
  No one wants to be frail.  (No one wants to be unaware, either.)

Some Geese Are More Sensitive Than Others
  I've been reading about a personality trait lately, labelled "Highly Sensitive Person."  Elaine Aron was perhaps the first person to take all kinds of disparate, commonly held professional opinions about various psychological and sociological phenomenon, and put them together to come up with something.  A label with which to classify a whole kind of person.
  Obviously, if you have a typical group of people (or other creatures), you will find that there is wide difference among them, as to how aware they are.  So, if you take a herd of antelope, or a shoal of fish, or flock of geese, there are going to be the easy lunches, the ones which are very easy to sneak up on.  These not-terribly-sensitive/aware individuals are also generally the most relaxed and carefree.  Not easily spooked. Not overcome by the cares of the world. Because they aren't actually paying much (of anything) very much attention at all, nor are they expecting anything, really, to go wrong at any point.  These "easy lunch" folks (with people, we might call them "sheep" or "naive") comprise perhaps a bit less than a quarter of the herd they are part of.  Many predators find them quite yummy.
  As is so often the case, the "normal" or usual bunch falls between this extreme and the other end of the awareness spectrum, and comprises perhaps sixty percent of the group as a whole.  So what is the other extreme?  The first goose to take flight at the approach of a predator, at sudden noise or movement.  The nervous ones, perhaps.  The ones who live in expectancy that bad things may well happen.  They are not probably as happy, not probably as laid back.  They are not the first pick of the dating pool.  But they are definitely the hardest to sneak up on.  They're the first to know when something's wrong.
  Elaine Aron suggests that research into this kind of thing points toward this difference not being mere personality, nurture or inclination.  It's actually a natural aptitude.  It's a physical makeup thing.  Right down to nerves and brain cells, this flighty bunch of geese is wired to take in far more of what's going on around them, to process far more visual, auditory, social and other sensory input. In fact, when more typical representatives of these individual's group can easily "turn off" their paying of attention to what's going on, their scanning around to see if everything's okay, these flightly, hypersensitive/aware guys have a much harder time, and seem to have to continue to take in, process and record an overwhelming amount of information.

Like Daredevil, With The Heightened Awareness, Over Here...
  With humans, when you have a crowded party, a business conference (or even, one would expect, a church service or bible conference), you see these three kinds of people doing their things.  You have people who are clearly oblivious to most of what's going on in a room, you have those in the middle, and you have people who are "on" all the time, picking up who's angry with whom, where disagreements are about to or have just occured, who likes whom, sudden subtle changes in overall mood, movements of individuals from one part of the room to another part, perhaps switching up group allegiance.  If someone has a new hairdo, or leaves the room and returns, having changed pants, this superaware kind of partygoer notices right away. These flighty geese really can't turn this off, and can often tire out quickly, and not be able to relax in a crowded room.  They may want to go off alone, or to take one or two people off so they can socialize, but not have to be in the middle of so much stuff to unceasingly process.
  As a child, I was made to attend church five times a week, with extra bible conference weekends and "special meetings" too.  A real problem for me was I couldn't not listen.  I had to record the wording, the body language, the tones of voice, the pauses, the odd personal traits and quirks I have been criticized for mentioning on this blog.  And I then had to remember most of it.  For the rest of my life.  You give me the name of any preacher or church guy I had to listen to a lot, and I can not only instantly play in my head a video with sound, of him speaking, even if he's now long dead, I could write you a sermon in his style, using his language, with a "mockery" knob going from zero to eleven. Because I was like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. It was like my eyes were pried open, my head stabilized, and all of those sermons pouring in my ears endlessly until whoever was speaking decided enough was enough.  I am stuck with those memories today. And they're not vague memories.  And an awful lot of those guys were clearly just talking to fill time.  Or to promote the continuance of the status quo.  But I had to sit there and sift, parse and crossreference them anyway.
  In normal conversations, usually it's like the iceberg oft-alluded to in aid of making the point that much is going on below the surface.  Well, you can see below the surface.  The iceberg is looming down there below you and you can see it if you're looking for the iceberg, and don't like to pretend it's just floating there atop the waves.
  When people are talking, they often play very coy, coming out of the conversation thinking they "spared" the other people by not fully saying the depth or breadth or detail of their thoughts and feelings about topics addressed there.  But they hinted.  They trailed off mid-sentence.  They gave body language cues.  Their wording often spent as much time not quite saying things as it did saying things outright. It's like they didn't draw a dog, they just drew an elaborate picture of a backyard, with a dog house, dog dish, dog toys and then left a clearly dog-shaped patch of white paper untouched by their crayons, but with green grass scribbled in right around it everywhere that wasn't dog.

Did You Know: You Can See Erect Nipples Through A Thin Blouse
  Thing is, you can see all of that.  You can hear what's almost being said.  You can read the opinions like you can see erect nipples through a thin blouse.  It's polite to pretend that, of course, no one can see them, but there they are, plain as day, rudely staring at you.  ("Hey nipples!  My nipples are down here!")
  So these opinions, the ones that are being only partly put out there, coyly half-covered, sentences trailed off, meaningful eye contact given, body language eloquent, all of this adds up to these opinions being communicated in ways that a transcript of what was merely put into words won't quite pick up.
  And the least clueful segment of any group is going to say "But she didn't actually say that" or "Well, I'm not saying that, exactly..." They are going to demand that everyone live as if no one suspects that icebergs have more below the surface.  "Why do you need to try to read stuff into everything?" they will complain.  "Sometimes it's just simple. Why do you have to always try to make things so complicated?" they will moan.  But their counterparts across the awareness divide wonder why they always have to try to make everything so simple.

Are You Highly Sensitive, You Execrable Asshole?
So this book has an interesting questionaire designed to identify people who may be overcome by certain things and not know why.  It askes questions like:
-do you cut the labels out of clothing because you don't like them touching your skin?
-do you like to go off where it is silent and dark to think?
-when you are in a crowded room, do you look for exits as soon as you enter?
-when you are in groups, do you find people to speak to singly, and enjoy going off with them to speak one-to-one or maybe at most a threesome?
-do you over-react to caffeine and alcohol, until you get used to a routine intake of them?
-do you have trouble with sudden, unpredictable changes to your life, your living or working area, or your weekly schedule?
-do you wake easily in the night?
-is there an awful lot going on in your head at all times?
-are you apt to spend a great deal of time, alone in your head, on non-physical things like reading, writing, creating music, philosophizing, thinking and religion?
-when you have to show someone how to do something, are you more than usually able to put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they don't yet know?
-are you more than normally impervious to painkillers, including numbing injections at the dentist?
-do you put a pillow over your head or wear ear plugs or a sleeping mask or the like to try to get a good sleep?
-do other people's moods affect you quickly and deeply?
-do you have a sense of how to make other people more comfortable in a room?  Do you notice if they're cold?  (once again, nipples are a dead giveaway that you should offer them a sweater)
-do you have a strong aversion to a number of sensory stimulus, such as bright light, loud noises, specific strong smells, varieties of coarse fabric?
-do you startle easily?
-do you tickle easily?
-as far as other people touching you, is unexpected physical contact always a shock to you, and when someone is touching you fondly, does a very little go a very long way?
-do you enjoy/are you annoyed by subtle differences in the taste and texture of different kinds or servings of food?
-are there things you simply cannot eat or drink because of their smell, taste or texture?
-do you hate other people trying to in any way direct your decision-making/actions?
-do you try harder than most people to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things?
-do things like being hungry or sleepy or horny make it almost impossible for you to think normally?
-do you structure your life so as to avoid confusion, random stuff and out of control situations?

Stuff like that.  Kinda guilty on all counts.The only things in her list that I didn't relate to was sensitivity to cold (with me it's heat which completely disrupts my body's ability to function) and avoidance of violence in TV and movies (I love The Walking Dead.  Mostly because I've never seen a single violent scene in something like that and believed it.  I can see the pixels in the CG blood.)

Monday, 19 November 2012


  This weekend was quite a bit different from the other one.  (the one the blog entry about which has about 450 page views)  This weekend I went to an event I've heard tell of for years, and have now seen.  My friend Michael's got friends with a timeshare cabin in the Catskills in New York State, not far from Woodstock.  They have a weekend of pizza and beer and guitar jamming.
  After school I took a brief nap and then drove down, passing the usual time at the border talking about "Yeah!  It IS odd that a local felon would have my exact birth date including year, and the same first and last name!"  Got there in the wee hours and pretty much nonstop guitar jamming went on all weekend.  I am an indifferent guitarist, and there was no drummer there, and the bass player took naps at times, so I did a whole lot of drumming and some bass playing too.  I got a lot better.  It was pretty interesting.
  It was a not terribly little cabin, made of stone and wood, facing across the road from a winding river with a rocky bed, at the foot of some majestic hills, and forest everywhere.  We looked at YouTube to see the flooding during Hurricane Irene, which had, of course, abated by this weekend, but which had been pretty damaging to a lot of the neighborhood.
  It was a guys weekend, which sort of thing I almost never go to, but this was one for my sort of guys.  It wasn't about football or hockey, and everyone could figure out their own damn computers.  Talking into the wee hours of the night about philosophy, music and politics went completely unpunished.  I was awoken one morning by an acoustic jam with piano, banjo, guitar and voice doing "You're Cheatin' Heart."
  It was a long commute back home to be ready to teach children first thing in the morning, but I did it.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Assorted Things I said on Facebook About Depression

  A key to me dealing with depression was to have music which expressed how I felt. And I didn't feel like things were solved, so music that presented problems as solved didn't work. I needed music that expressed how I was feeling. Made me feel less alone, and was emotionally cathartic. Music that was hopeful or cheery made me want to kill myself.
  "Should" messages in religious songs were the worst. "We should feel happy." "We should feel grateful." It is truly staggering how many hymns used to be about how we should feel and be. Now they just claim those feelings, or try to evoke them.
[in response to a report of a perky Christian self help book worsening someone's depression:]
this is very typical. I go through life with low grade minor depression. It's natural. Books of that kind do not work, but I do have my life worked out to minimize the effects of it. People actually get very upset when the sorts of pep talk books, songs, t-shirts, axioms and tissue paper thin philosophies that can redirect the mood of a more shallow-mooded person completely fail to have that effect on the rest of us.
One view is that a certain amount of depression is a sensitive, logical reaction to the actual world. Jesus himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
[in response to someone basically saying "If you don't need meds, then it's not depression, but is just a bit of the blues"] that almost sounds contradictory. I see the line you're drawing, but I don't think it's so simple as saying that, if you can cope with your depression without pharmaceuticals, then it's not really depression, but merely a bit of melancholy, only the blues.
   I believe I have/am something worthy of the name depression. It might not on a monthly basis be anything like as debilitating and dangerous as severe depression, but it's the real deal. There is, of course, the depression that makes it quite impossible to work, or deal with others, or even live life.    Then there is the kind which just makes that difficult, and makes it important to make wise choices and set up a lifestyle which is healthy, all things considered. It's like diabetics who need insulin shots, and ones who simply need to avoid eating much sugar.
  I am the latter. Songs, people, activities and worship services with way too much "sugar?" With kind of an uncomprehending enforced chipperness? With an unconscious censoring out of anything complicated or problematic or dark? Really bad for me. (And that to a degree I have to take quite seriously.) I'm not interested in heavy drinking, but I suspect that if that appealed to me, it would be the worst of choices.
  The nuts and bolts (to wave guardedly at the OP) are that I need to make sure of certain things, like that there are people in my week. (I have to make sure I don't spend all of my time alone, or all of my time working.) I have to connect to individual people who aren't all going to judge and reject me roughly. I have to eat food. And I have to avoid crowd situations which make one feel "alone in the crowd" every bit as much as I have to avoid too much solitude. Going to Montreal conference? Very tough. Dangerous, actually. Especially on the one year anniversary of a girl I knew hanging herself/on my birthday weekend. Because holidays and other occasions which mandate successfully being joyful are tough. The suicide rate at Christmas is high. That's because people feel like, if they fail to be happy at Christmas, when you have to be happy, and "should" be able to be happy, then they might as well give up entirely.
  So it's a tossup whether it's more unhealthy to throw yourself into a setting where you can expect that some rejection could conceivably be tossed in one's face, or to spend a depressing weekend alone.    But throwing myself into the Montreal conference, where I expected to feel a bit cut out of the Brethren reproductive pool from my youth upward, and "beating it" unmedicated, and connecting to those many amazing people, who were accepting and who effortlessly negated the Death People, was just about what the doctor ordered, though it sure did take it out of me. (I call them Death People because they prefer me to go away and be dead to them, and in the past this wholesale rejection of me as a life form tempted me to want to go there literally, as I hadn't learned how to live outside my cultural system, yet retain some sense of who I was, and what I was doing.  Remove a person roughly from their context, like yanking a flower from its pot, and that person needs a new context or s/he will wither up and die.)
   I can say unequivocally that my homelife and meeting life growing up were extremely unhealthy for someone like me. And meds weren't going to fix that all by themselves. I was perhaps foolhardy never to try any. Suicide was a thing and I have known too many people, even ones experimenting with new meds, who took their own lives. Religion was very, very often an extremely unhelpful part of their lives leading up to those decisions. A grinning face saying "Jesus is the Answer!" didn't seem to be the answer. Something made them think suicide was, anyway.  And I can't support that view at all.
  Of course I was expected to take the blame in my youth for finding our spiritual setting depressing, and was expected to accept that if my culture made me want to be dead, and gave me no place or way to live, given who God made me to be, that the resultant depression was further proof that I was sick, and that the system wasn't. It would always have been me, and not the system, that needed to change on a fundamental(ist) level.  Nor was my case taken as evidence that the system had no tools for dealing with dissatisfied customers who still really needed help. I have come to accept that the system, as manifested locally, as experienced by many of us, simply isn't at all healthy for everyone, especially to particularly spiritual open and aware people, especially to people who "mean" it and have no skills in faking it, especially to people who are sensitive and reactive to what's going on around them spiritually.  Some people walk into a crowded room and all the desperate and unhappy people remain invisible to them, hidden in that crowd. Others can't ignore the various pockets of misery that are always in a room of that kind, and need to address or deal with or talk about them in some way, to be able to handle the situation.  I am that last one.
  Having almost 390 people view the resultant blog about my Montreal conference experience, with only a few poking me where it hurts, was very vulnerable also. Tough in the sense that it put a huge strain on my ability to "see straight" and live out my week afterward. My sleep was hugely disrupted.  But ultimately it is something I am proud of. An ordeal. Facing the dragon.
  Humour has always helped me. Dark humour. Satire. And that hasn't been cool with quite a few. We aren't to see anything darkly funny in, for example, the divisions. By that I mean we aren't to use humour to deal with our feelings regarding them.  That's a tool we are to put away and never use.
  An environment permeated with hypocrisy, duplicitousness, divisiveness and mean-spirited competitive piety in an church can depression, for sure.  We know in high schools that kids getting bullied, harassed and ostracized/alienated can cause profound, even fatal depression. Obviously that kind of treatment in church circles (often from people with "titles") can have the same result.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Iron Sharpeneth Iron

  The old testament took place back when they didn't even have steel. In fact, some of the swords mentioned might even have been bronze.  No steel, in a culture of circumcision. (Stewart Francis: "Hey, ladies...I wasn't circumcised; I was circumnavigated!") 
  One verse I really like is "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
  You know what a big problem of mine always is?  I am very hardened.  Maybe was hard to begin with, and got even more hardened, jaded and so on, through my experiences, especially with people operating in groups, and with anything relating to women, and with religion in particular.  So groups of religious women being unkind to me?  I am hardened right up for that.  People say I'm bitter.  I think I'm calloused, hardened, and scarred over.  I think the question to ask is "What about my experience did that to me?" And also "Should you be blaming me for that?"

Smeared With Cake
  So, all through my life, bowls of lime Jello, slices of angel food cake and handfulls of mashed potatoes have decided to take me on.  To tell me what's wrong with me.  To tell me "What YOU need..." and so on.  I feel like an axe blade with cake smeared down it.  When I go into rooms filled with Christians, I almost always feel like an axe about to be attacked by a room full of eggs.  They may hurl themselves at me at any moment.
  Now, just like anyone, I desperately need, on a daily basis, people who can, in modern parlance, 'call me on my shit.'  I need that.  But usually, most people aren't reaching me with any attempts to do that.  So, I can blog and go on Facebook, and share my experiences, frustrations, observations and little stupid epiphanies, but most of the time, I do not get met with something that will sharpen me.  I get complaints that I am sharp or hard, accusations of being a blade of bitterness, complaints that I am not smooth enough when they want to hear smooth things, whining about "why aren't you nice like Jesus was?" and that kind of stuff that, although heart-felt, really isn't doing the trick. It doesn't reach me.  And like anyone else, I need to get reached.  And I'm a very hardened person, like so many others.  I don't need people to decide that my edges ought to beaten out of shape with a big rock.  That doesn't make me whet at all.
  All through my life, people have decided that I am critical, negative, judgmental or whatever, and have decided that the best way to 'reach' me about that, is to do it back.  To criticize, character assassinate, lie and judge me for it.  To be blind to my positive comments, feelings or roles, and dismiss me as mainly harmful. This hasn't reached me. 

  Every now and then someone has hugged me instead of argued with me.  I can't deal with that.  They win.  Every now and then someone had done the same thing verbally.  They have said something nice, without a "but" after it, without a Nerf barb in it, to try to poke me with. Just acceptance.  I can't deal with that either.  It's positive, you see.  It's nice. It's love.  Not rejection.  I don't know about that stuff.  I can't deal with it. I have almost zero experience. It reaches me. It challenges me.  Slimy, onslaughts of trite scripture quoting and saccharine, folksy axiom sharing?  Inspiring verses photoshopped onto inspiring pictures of inspiring sunsets, mountains and kittens?  Wholly unmoved.
  And every now and then someone who quite clearly isn't just being mean, who has no obvious antagonistic agenda, gives me some criticism or "negative feedback".  And I have to take that.  Because I know they're not just being mean.  Their view is pointy and refined and unsquishy.  It has been fully formed, it holds together, it stands up, and it won't dry up in a week's time and just smell bad and be crusty. I have to respect it. 
   I need that more than anything, and maybe more than anyone.  I mean, I think I know my own faults.  I am not fond of myself.  I am not optimistic about my chances of succeeding at anything.  I am hope-handicapped and trust-challenged.   I can say "this is what I think, and this is who I am" but I cannot then do anything but prepare to be judged, criticized and ostracized.  I may not be queer, but I'm here, and I'm saying "get used to it" with no hope anyone will, or if they do, knowing we're never going to hang out or anything.  And people will warn people to avoid me.

   So when I went to Montreal to face down people I was raised to take terribly seriously, and against my upbringing, was going to try to be funny but fair and insightful about the whole thing, and not flee or cry or anything, nor rip people right up in public, and try to be whimsical rather than horrible on the blog, no matter what I felt, or what my overreaction to past crap was.  Well, I did what I could.  It was hard.
  Several people I know, who weren't there, said supportive stuff.  They 'get' me, and were nice about my blog.  That's nice.  Gives courage.  Makes me feel no longer alone, and not crazy to do what I do.  Doesn't make me need to be a better person or writer or Christian necessarily, but it's important.
  One person deleted her Facebook account and didn't tell me if she was hurt or mad or what.  That upset me, because I worried about her and what went on after I left, but it didn't actually reach me with anything to chew on.  The assumption that I won't listen, and that I always think I'm right, and that I'm incorrigible, so you won't share what you thought with me?  Doesn't reach me.  Isn't hard enough.  Weak, in fact.  (but you can always muster the courage and contact later, once you've gathered yourself.  That makes it just a tactical withdrawal to gather forces, and not cowardice)
  But being soft and warm and gooey is fantastic if you're going to hug me.  Less so when you're trying to attack me.  If you are going to attack me, be firm, controlled, hard, unassailable, quick, but well-grounded.  Do not flail wildly.  With a strand of cooked spaghetti.  And if you are going to hug me, I won't be able to handle that, but to make me feel something like that, you can't be just as hard as I am.  (that sounds bad.  Never mind about that image).  Be soft and warm if you're going to hug.  And don't try to combine the two a lot.  Don't be soft and warm and hug me so you can get the knife between my ribs.  That's been done on many, many occasions.  It's a big part of the reason that hugs freak me out.

What Reaches Me?
  You know what REALLY reached me?  Someone who didn't mind putting his actual name commented on my blog and told me something I could use.  (How cynical do you think it makes me that only people "outside" that system will ever put their names on their criticisms (or support of me?) But a now-outside guy did, even though his dad was a huge player in the 1991 division and most blog readers would know this and may have polarized opinions about it all and might perhaps be dismissive.  And how impressed was I to see that name there? That guy's views on divisions are bound to be more interesting than any of the rest of ours.  And how bad does he make all the other people look?  All the "free" people who are scared to really let anyone know who they are?  Who want me to take faceless criticism (or anonymous hugs) without even owning up to who they are?  And the ones who left our meeting and are all "Free" now, but are terrified anyone might read anything they think or feel, and yet still want me to know that my blog is crucial to their finding what they themselves actually believe, think and feel, deep down?  How seriously am I go to take their protestations of liberty?) 

  Rodney Allan says that Christians think about these church divisions all the time, but not about reconciling to each other.  I thought about that one.  My deal right now is to ignore the church divisions and go meet people anyway.  I've been at that for some time.  I haven't found church people to be good at straying outside those lines, yet, though.  But point taken.  That guy (Rodney Allan) made a good point that made me think.

Strong Words From A Strong Man
  And someone named J put some strong words about being "over" my blog, (go read them if you want his actual wording) and I adjusted my blog to try to show I understood what he'd said.  He felt I missed the good there.  Of course I did.  I'm stupid about good.  Always.  Also, I was so maxed out on "fight or flight or spite" adrenaline, that I couldn't feel what many of them were feeling.  I couldn't feel the high, the buzz, the groupness, the oneness, the acceptance, the mountaintop experience.  I'm sure it is real.  I could see it in people's postures.  They could hardly sit up on their chairs they were so high.  But no, I couldn't feel it at all.  
  I believe J is a dude, and I believe he is a firm, sturdy, brick wall of a man.  I think I know who he is really, but he has never given me that as a fact. (some digging got me an admission, and it wasn't who I thought, nor is he ready to be known, so I'm not telling)  But it's hard enough to reach me and make me think and feel things, and he did it.  I need that so badly.  He didn't slime me and smile and be passive aggressive. He said he was over me and called me racist.  I understood him.  
  Of course, with the psyche I have, I had to read his entry again to remember if he said anything nice.  He did.  He said he liked me, also.  I'm every bit as bad at noticing people saying nice things about me as the "satisfied with the Brethren" readers of this blog are at seeing if I put positive things in it.  I ran his comments through "Gender Guesser" and he came up a solid "male" reading.  I changed my blog slightly.  I doubt enough to please him.  But I was reached.  And I got him to admit who he was.  And he re-read my blog and found he'd missed almost every good or positive thing in it.  Just like I would have done.

  And someone named M put a comment.  This was the first comment by someone who was there which let me know that maybe I hadn't burned all bridges.  Maybe some people saw some fun and some truth and some worth in what I wrote, had some fun with it, but also (having proven a sense of perspective, and the sense of humour that so often is evidence of that) saw that I missed good stuff.  
  Of course I did.  The old "think of someone besides yourself.  So maybe you were worn out and done for the day, and not ready to listen to Teutonic Peter-bashing, but maybe it was exactly what someone else needed" message I probably needed. (my words. Go read her words to see her own word choice.  I'm imagining she's a her, though Gender Guesser isn't conclusive. It amuses me to do so (imagine this person).  I'm imagining she'd be warm and nice to hug.  But that she'd have some sisterly words about what I might have missed, too.  
  My best guess is her name really starts with an H.  Maybe some of the stuff that didn't do much for me did stuff for other people? Of course. But it didn't do anything for me, so I don't find it in me to care much.  One other person claimed it did something for them, but declined to explain, so I can hardly say or think much about that claim at this point either.

Naked, But Not In A Fun Way
  When I write a blog, I told someone in Facebook chat today, the fact that people can take what is basically me, in text form, all naked and stuff, and poke at it roughly with a critical finger, makes me feel what they might feel when I blog about them. Not the sexiest of nakeds at all. Very clinical.  Like a digital exam, actually.  Takes a lot out of me.  I may sound glib, but I am exposing myself to an unbearable amount of what I've already had too much of in my life.  And I'm not someone who has it in him to hope for acceptance, or to have that acceptance be communicated to me, and me understand it and feel it. 
  So if people at the other end of the blog feel a little violated, I get that. I really do.  I always felt ashamed when I blogged, but also like I was sort of supposed to, not for the sake of people blogged about, certainly (they're fine, as far as I can tell, having a nice warm place to worship God, in out of the cold, unlike so many of us), and not for me, certainly, but for others.
  Because they're out there in droves, and they contact me.  And they get stuff out of it.  They claim to be free, but hide behind anonymity and say things like "yes!" and "Amen!" and "You have no idea how important I think it is for people to read something like this!"  and "you can't know how many good and bad memories this brings back.  I laughed and cried so much" and "you must never let anyone/anything stop you from writing!"  You'd swear one group of people was reading a nasty smear campaign, and another one was reading a manual on how to explore Christian freedom from religious persecution and bondage.  And it's neither, of course.

Retiring From Drop-in Visits?
  That being said, the idea of dropping in on Christian groups and blogging about them amusingly is something I got from this book, which I recommend, if you want to know about how various huge American churches are.  And I think I might be "done" with it.  Probably too soon to say.  I know there are groups of "Mystery Worshippers" who do what Mystery Shoppers do (drop in unannounced to a church, and then fill out an online evaluation form for people to check in a database while churchshopping).  But I'm not really in that for the long haul.  For me it was very personal.
  Since I was put out, every two, then every five years, then even less frequently, I have been dropping in to see if I could connect to anyone at the place that doesn't want me. To see if the local people, who I grew up with, cared.  They do not.  They just really, really don't.  Many are no longer able to even remember who I am, let alone that I needed to be put out one time in the 1990s, and that they did it.  Time to let them all die, and let the dead bury their own dead.  It won't be long now.
  There isn't any hope that I can see in trying to reconnect to locals.  Even the ones who left. Boy did they leave.  In 1991.  Proudly.  Things are SO much better now, they tell me, over beer at Pizza Hut, then when my sister wants a pic, they hide the beer so no one in their terribly new, free, magical Vineyard Freedom Reformed Charismatic church will see evidence that they had a beer one time.  Christian liberty.  Christ died for it.
  But there are always individuals.  Usually it helps if they are fresh faces from "our" group.  Ones not as jaded as I, without the entangled family and assembly histories.  And they just may be able to connect with me without either of us getting hurt, nor us finding it the most pointless, random, boring-seeming thing ever, with time having moved on and us having no reason to connect, and not seeing a glimmer of anything Christian in our reunion. Nothing but fear of reputations being sullied, despite their purported light-years-long ecclesiastical side-step away from the assembly we both grew up knowing.
  For me, job #1 (not Job 1) is seeing if I can connect with any Christians out there at all.  Will anyone forgive me for not going to their church, or having gone to it, not having liked it?  That rules out almost everyone.  They don't seem to forgive that.  But I need people.  'Cause I need to be called on my shit.  By folks who aren't just trying to get a big rock and smash the edges of my discernment blunt and twisted.  And I want to hang out.  Pizza.  Movies.  Guitar.  All of that.  Maybe beer.

  It is Tuesday.  I need to go out to meet some atheists/agnostics in a pub.  It used to be to meet Christians from a specific church that I was meeting there when I went.  But no one really seemed to want to talk about the bible or being a Christian or God or anything very much, near as I could tell, when they used to come.  And they had trouble getting very many people to come.  They mostly just talked about their church being so awesome and exciting, and about dangers like Harry Potter, or about making hard and fast, black and white scriptural judgments on pressing, relevant matters such as polygamy.
  I didn't used to connect very well, or fit in, or behave very well when it was church Christians I was hanging with.  Now that they've all gone home to personally repopulate the earth with Christian human beings unsullied by the creeping evil that is Harry Potter, there is just me and some people who don't really believe in God, talking about being human, and forgiveness, and growth, and living life and trying to make sense of everything.  And it's nicer.
  I'd like to say I can absolutely imagine mixing those two groups together and seeing iron sharpen iron, but I absolutely can't.  I'd like to say I met Christians with sharp, keen minds, who can have uncondescending conversations with atheists and actually demonstrate the ability to see the worth in the atheists' arguments, the nobility in their struggle to Figure Things Out, to grant points where it's only fair to grant them, and to agree with them on all kinds of things.  I'd like to say that.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Upstaged in Montréal!

 [Brethren People: I'm not seeking to ridicule you.  I'm trying to like you.  Many of you make it impossible to do anything but like you a lot.]

Shunning In Practice
To understand the following at all, you have to understand how shunning works.  In many religious groups, including the Plymouth Brethren, Amish, Mennonites and Mormons, you can get into trouble (not following rules, not obeying church leaders), and you are excommunicated.  Our Brethren culture works like this: you're only supposed to be kicked out temporarily, to see the error of your ways, and then they are supposed to "restore" you.  1 Corinthians has Paul chiding them for not kicking out a motherf... well, for not dealing ecclesiastically with a member who was having it off with his father's wife.  One likes to imagine it wasn't his biological mother, but just his father's second wife.  Dunno, though.  Anyway, Paul writes "put you out from among yourselves that wicked person."  He doesn't say they can put him away "from the Lord's Table" or anything like that.  Just "from among yourselves."  2 Corinthians, by contrast, has Paul chiding them for never letting him retake his place among them.  Forgiveness.  Supposedly part of the whole Christian thing. (it's easily evaded, of course.  If you just continue to judge the unforgiven person "unrepentant," then it's his or her fault, and you never have to demonstrate the actual depth of your own ability to forgive.)  But in 2 Corinthians, Paul writes "Ye which are spiritual, restore such a one."  "Lest he be overcome with overmuch sorrow," he says.  I can tell you that after sorrow can come snarkiness.  Sarcasm, even.  That just might have overcome me. 
  I have often heard brethren groups claim that they are so lacking in strong leadership, in spiritual people, that they can't do restoration (or shepherding, which is supposed to be offered, gratis, before that).  I have never heard a group claim that these lacks make them unable, though to kick people out left and right.  (mostly left)  Makes me suspect things as to which takes more spirituality.
  So here I am, literally kicked out like a mofo, but I'm out for life.  'Till death do us part to an even greater degree than we are already parted," apparently.

Montreal Bible Conference
  When I was a kid, and a younger, less overcome with overmuch sarcasm man, I used to go to Montreal to meet all the other Plymouth Brethren people from all over the place.  Montreal would get people from all over the States and Canada, and sometimes beyond that.  It was a place to go be with people like you.  To fit in more than you did at school.  Girls were there, too.  If memory serves, I believe crowds approached two thousand people some years.  All I know is they had to fit everyone in a really huge high school gymnasium, and they didn't, really.  The high school was called Riverdale High School, just like in Archie.
  So, lately I've been ignoring the lines of division that have subdivided and resubdivided our Plymouth Brethren groups around here and have been just showing up and saying hi to people.  It was suggested, perhaps half jokingly, on Facebook, that I show up this year at the Montreal Conference.  
  Now, I grew up knowing how this works, as to bible conferences: if you're excommunicated/out of fellowship, you can come to the Conference alright, but you don't get given a place to sleep, nor meals.  Everyone else either gets a hotel room, or a room at some church person's house.  And meals are catered. The people who are "out" just have to duck out for food, and get a room themselves, or not stay for both days.
  I remember getting all high and post-conference buzzy, feeling warm and tingly for a day or two, and being told there about "the mountaintop experience" and how this didn't last and how once we went back into the daily day to day of The World, it would not be as good. But I can tell you that who you are and where you are in life has everything to do with how nice you think something like that is. If you're there with your girlfriend or wife or husband or kids, overdosing on the natural endorphins created by that human experience, mixing with others who are (more or less) like you, it's a very affirming experience. I remember.

That Was Then, This Is Now
But it was going to be a totally different experience to go now.  I wasn't going to be a happy camper.  I wasn't bringing my wife, nor my kids to play with other kids.  I don't have those Brethren accessories, largely because I was purposely cut out of the Brethren dating pool by power folk.  Forbidden to attend young people's and so on.  And I'm a negative bastard.
  But people wanted me to go.  No doubt hoping I'd have the time of my life.  Would see how nice everyone was.  Would learn things in the meetings.  Would reconnect with God in some way that had been lacking.  Would feel the magic. No doubt they'd regret this, once they saw how negative I can be about things that please those people who can kinda make "groups" work for them, more or less.
   But I thought it was maybe a silly idea to go.  Didn't know.  Emboldened by the suggestion, and various people chipping in online and saying "Yeah!" I emailed the webmistress listed on the website for the event (of course there was no website back when I went, and the web mistress was just a well-dressed young party girl who happened to be the daughter of my mother's foster brother.  So I emailed her.)
  No response from her, so I emailed again a week later.  I had expected no answer would be the tactic.  I was clear about having been excommunicated, but wondered if I could come anyway, maybe only for one meeting in the afternoon.  This time the email got shunted to hubby, who I also remembered, and he eventually surprised me by answering quite civilly, to tell me that, yes, I would not be offered meals or a place to sleep, but that they couldn't stop me from coming, if I was determined to do so.  Very business-like.  
  Quite unlike any of the dealings and correspondence I am accustomed to from the "gathered saints."  My friend Mark calls it "sliming."  (there will be an example given at the end of this missive for those unclear on the concept) You have an interaction with them, and come out feeling like they disagreed, but somehow they really  haven't committed as to what or how or why, and you feel strongly disapproved of, and judged, but oddly, you remain fairly unclear about exactly what or how or why, and you generally feel like you need a shower. This email was an entirely better interaction.  They wouldn't feed me or house me, but they were being polite and upfront about it all.
  Then, like an afterthought, a couple of days later, another email from hubby arrived.  It said that, upon talking to older people, it was felt it was "better" if I didn't come.  As usual, it was about "You aren't invited if you're shunned, and if your church won't unshun you, that's not really our problem, nor do we make allowances for things like that."
  So, I went online and said the whole thing was "off," if it had ever really been on.  Got some annoyed comments saying "Don't lie down and take that!  Stick it to the Man!" and suchlike, from a surprising cross-section of other varieties of Brethren people, so I kinda did a sweepstakes/email in contest: the first person who was actually going to show up there, who sent me an invite, would get to meet me there.  I really didn't expect anyone to answer.  That very day, I got one phone call and a PM on Facebook, both inviting me to come.  "I guess now I'll have to go" I thought. "Hmmm."
   I've been really noting lately that I don't deal well emotionally with crowds, or traffic, or crowded rooms, or meetings, or random people saying random stuff to me, or any of that.  Fills me up to the eyeballs with adrenaline and a desperate desire to leave immediately.  Also makes me negative about and to people who already want to dismiss me as bitter.  Burns bridges.  Oops.  Brown trousers time.

Actually Doing It
  So today I got up, hopped out of the shower (I didn't actually sleep in there, but it sounded like that earlier in this sentence, didn't it?) bought overpriced gas from a stupendously malodourous gas attendant (actually, what's the job title for the "insert your card.  Here is your receipt" guy who doesn't dispense gas?) to avoid buying even more overpriced gas in Montreal, and headed for Quebec.
  I had lunch on the way, and despite the very street I needed to take being closed for construction, still found my way right there without getting lost once. I always get lost every time I drive in Montreal.  I also always see cowboy driving of the most aggressive stripe.  This time was no exception.  My favourite is the old "I'ma cross four lanes in one go without signalling, with cars everywhere."
  I parked my car in a shopping mall in front of a Burger King and walked a couple of blocks to the place.   Standing right in the very doorway itself was the hubby I'd exchanged emails with, with his last one being the one saying it would "better" if I didn't come.  
  "Is he waiting to tell me I can't come in?" my paranoia asked.  I walked in and went straight to him, shook his hand (my plan was, anyone who refused to shake my hand was going to have my rejected hand raised in an offered high five.  If they didn't go for that, I was going to invite them to pull my finger.) and he needed to ask who I was.  I remembered him from twenty years ago, told him who I was, who his father and brother were and he said he didn't remember me.  He had a nametag.  Many people did, but I wasn't registered, so people had to ask me.
  Hubby (let's call him Tipper McJimminy) started by saying "We're really glad to have you here..."
  (really?! said my paranoia to me, thwarted.  What's the second half of this sentence going to be, though? it rallied.)
  "...but we hope you're not here to...push issues."
  "I'm not here to push issues," I said.  "I'm just here to say hi to people.  Hi."
  "Well that's good.  So long as you're not going to push issues, then we're really glad you came."
  Happy happy. Joy joy.  So in I went.

In The Mouth Of Madness
  I was soon elbow to elbow with people in a room packed with a seething mass of complete strangers, most of whom were dressed even better than I was.  My adrenaline had been at a fever pitch all the way to Montreal, and it quickly started to max out.  Could I even stay in that space?  People knew what they were doing and they were going around doing it and paying me no mind whatsoever.  Handsome, affluent, successful and corporate-looking young men proudly caressed their beautiful Plymouth Brethren wives, while the wives in turn proudly caressed their beautiful Plymouth Brethren babies.  (that last was never a Saturday morning cartoon in the 80s, but could well have been.  Nickelodeon's Plymouth Brethren Babies.  Think about the toys you could sell of that...)
  I forgot how the girls all seemed to be able to pull off that magic trick: they all seemed to look like a million bucks, with white teeth and glossy falls of heart-breakingly sensuous hair, nice shoes and all.  But the thing is, they were pulling this off, but still weren't breaking any one of a huge number of unwritten Plymouth Brethren social rules that constrain them, if they don't want to viewed as whoring it up a bit, given that setting.  Their heads had to be covered during the meetings (I saw one girl I used to go to church with walk in late, with her hand over her head until she got to her seat and could put on her hat).  Many had an easily pursable tam or mantilla (Spanish lace veil/doily thing over their hair), but the ones who really cared showed up with all kinds of fashionable hats.  Funky 60s looking things Janis Joplin might have worn.  Jackie O pillboxes.  Flapper cloches.  They couldn't show cleavage, of course, nor leg much above the knee.  They couldn't wear trousers of any kind, so no leggings or Lulu Lemon yoga pants.  Makeup and jewellery had to be so tasteful as to be subliminal.  But they did it.  And they shone.  How could I not have a soft spot for them?  The guys mostly just looked fit, wearing nice jeans and shirts, with tidy haircuts. As in days of yore.
  I was totally freaked out, though.  It was just like going to a wedding I hadn't been invited to and standing awkwardly around.  I went to lean on one wall.  Then another.  All the rooms were named after Greek gods.  I didn't even know which one was for the meetings.  Apollo?
  When I'm in a  crowded room, the first thing I do is stand or sit with my back pretty much against a wall so I can survey the whole room and not get blindsided, dry-gulched or otherwise ambushed, for instance by an irate gunslinger or sheriff's marshal.
  Then the sister of one of my best friends walked by.  I hadn't expected to see her there.  She thinks I'm kinda okay, but we're not close.  In characteristic fashion (she loves to toy with social situations and people's expectations) she had a bit of fun for anyone looking, and did me a solid also.  Though we're not really on a handshaking or back patting level (we're more on a respectful headbob level), she stepped in, grabbed me by both shoulders in an undeniable grip, embraced me heartily to her bosom and kissed me on both cheeks.  This didn't help me stay cool, but I got what she was doing and was very thankful.  Contact made.  Ice shattered.  She invaded my personal space all up good.  For effect.  (I will call her Rose BurgerKing to amuse myself.)  Then we were done, and didn't talk to each other again after that.
  Then I found her kids, who are older teens and young adults, so I went and talked to them a little bit.  Then the girl who suggested I come, the guy who phoned me and the other guy who'd PMed me, all found me and said hi, we agreed that I looked shorter and older than I do on Facebook, and then everyone had to go.  Kids and things.  And the first meeting of the afternoon was about to start, and they'd marked their seats with their bibles and hymnbooks, and I hadn't yet staked out a claim.

A Business Conference For The Elves of Lothlorien
The picture here is the venue advertising the room we were using for our meeting.  Not quite like a high school gym, like back in the day.  No, now it looked just like this. (With the tables all removed and the chairs in an "audience" formation.  But still, you know, like a business conference for the elves of Lothlorien.  Thom York would have found fake plastic trees anywhere he cared to look. No green plastic watering cans that I could locate, though.)
   I sat down in the back of the room with Daniel, the eldest of the BurgerKing lads, who is always kind and helpful.
  At first, looking out over the crowd was like looking at a Christmas tree with the lights out.  (being Plymouth Brethren, I never had a Christmas tree, but I've seen them.  They're fake plastic trees, usually.)  
  Suddenly, like the Christmas lights coming on, randomly over the tree, one by one, the strangers started transforming into Brethren people I grew up with, and instantly aged twenty years.  People I went to high school with.  People who'd excommunicated me.  I tracked all the "who married who" and relatives and kids and stuff. Some seemed gnarled and twisted and greyed on the inside, by the erosion of the winds of brethren time.
  And a guy went up to speak for an hour.  In order for you to really understand what happened next, I have to flash back to 1998.

Flashback to 1998
  I'm sitting in Sven the City Planner's living room with the other two guys he's got with him.  They are quizzing me about whether I feel that, like the Jews, Christians must keep the Jewish law.  They want to know if I'm "clear about this matter" they say.  Am I clear about if we're under the law?  Not the bits about pork, but the parts they call the Mosaic Law, after Moses. 
  Christians are divided between people (like me) who believe that the New Testament presents Christianity as a whole new deal, and that although the Old Testament is terribly useful, we don't use it to become kinda "Jews with a Christ upgrade."  Other Christians believe that you get saved from Hell through Christ, but you get into Heaven by obedience/just saying no to fun stuff.  They say you go to Calvary to escape Hell, and to Sinai to get into Heaven.  These guys badgering me aren't happy unless you kinda say both and neither.
  So, Sven is quizzing the crap out of me.  I'm on fire, laying out my case.  He's spewing nonsense about "the old nature" and I'm asking him if he can still make his points about what Paul wrote, only using the same terminology that Paul did.  Shouldn't be hard, right?  For instance, Sven says we have to always fight the "old nature" and keep it under control each and every day, or we sin and lose our practical relationship with God.  So we're kinda under the law. It is our schoolmaster.  For our entire lives. Because none of us is perfect, right?  I don't think I'm perfect, do I?
  I point out that Paul says "the old man" rather than the old nature, and what he says is that we (that old man/person) have "died" with Christ, and are no longer under the law, which law bound Jews before the work of Christ only, and gentiles never, and that Paul clearly writes that we are to "reckon the old man dead."  Like, move on.  It's dealt with.  To try to add to a finished work is an insult.  Like me adding a solo and some new verses to songs on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  No reason to be lawless, but no reason to get out the yarmulke either.  No reason, either, to make up a list of Christian churchy laws/rules/guidelines that no self-respecting Jew would dream of trying to keep.  The imagery is that we have been reborn (born again) and have a new life to live, unchained by the faults of the old one, and destined to grow beyond its limitations.
  Sven says we have to reckon the old man dead, while always, ALLways remembering that he is very, VERY much alive, and that we have to fight him. Every day. This is the Christian life.  This is what Christ died to achieve for us.  We have to fight the flesh, the old nature.
  "With what?  The flesh?  With that mythic old nature?  With the old man's best efforts?" I want to know.
  Sven doesn't know how to answer that, so he repeats himself.
  I respond, "You realize that we can't simultaneously 'reckon' (consider, view) the old man to be dead, yet also 'always remember that he's very, very much alive'?
  I get accused of trying to use 'man's reason' to plumb the depths of the ineffable wisdom of God.  I want to tell them all to eff off.   They tell me firmly that it is irresponsible to tell anyone, especially young people, that Christians don't need to try to keep the Old Testament law, because then they will just sin. Like, drink alcohol and go to movies and stuff.  They are to live as under it.  It is their schoolmaster, even though they aren't Jews.  Being Plymouth Brethren is more like being Vulcan than Jewish, in my experience.  And Nimoy is Jewish.
  The meeting is then pretend-wrapped up, and suddenly, on a cue, a purloined copy of my parody Sunday School paper is brought out as a pretend afterthought, with Sven and the other dude pretending not to have known about it when it is brandished triumphantly by the third dude, just when they were pretending to be done.  It takes less than two minutes before the two supposedly unaware brothers are quoting bits of it from memory.
It gets stupider from there and I'm out on my ear before you can say "heretic."  There is no restoring such a one as I.

 But back to the 2012 Montreal Bible Conference I went to. (see how I shifted verb tenses again after that flashback?  My creative writing class was annoyed by an assignment in which I made them do just that.  Back to the present, after talking about the past in present tense.  Past tense for the present now.  Here we go.) 
  I sat in the chair, focusing on the speaker, who I didn't know.  He was odd for Brethren.  Actually, he had all the hallmarks of regular pastors at churches which aren't brethren at all.  He had the stubble-head, the tentative, soft, almost effeminate voice and beseeching eyes, the kind correcting of names of absent people like John Piper and Ray Comfort (wait, this Brethren guy not only peeks over the fence at non-Brethren preachers, but references them aloud like everyone's heard of them?  They might not like that...).  And he was bringing out actual doctrine.  Here.  You can listen to his talk by following this link.  Like, theology.  Not just a huge steaming pile of "How privileged we should feel to be us being here, feeling honoured to be blessed and privileged to be us, being here, with others of us."  Not just happy burbling. Not just big scoops full of the group selling itself to itself.  Ideas.
  And before he'd barely gotten started, I realized he was giving the very same talk to the crowd that I gave to Sven and the two other guys in 1998.  Christians don't have to become Jews.  We aren't under the law.  The law isn't what makes us Christians.  We aren't started out on it, with it as schoolmaster, and then slowly graduated to the Christ upgrade.  Because we've never been under it before, as Gentiles, and we aren't now, nor should we act as if we are.  We aren't doing something bad if we don't preach it as 95% of what we call the gospel, leaving 5% for what we call grace.  We are dead to the law, and again, as gentiles, weren't ever under it, nor will we be.  
  It was insane.  The very thing I had been lectured for in 1998, being told it was irresponsible to tell anyone that, was getting taught here to this huge crowd, including all three guys who told me not to teach it.  I looked to my right, and Sven had come in late and had sat down, right in my line of sight, more or less at my three.  It was surreal. I'd forgotten he sometimes wears a bolo string tie.  With a short-sleeved dress shirt. (note: I'm being neutral and reportive here, and not negative.  Unless you yourself disapprove of his sartorial choices, in which case, you're being negative and not me, you negative bastard, you.)
  The only thing I didn't feel was this guy's typical comment that eating the fruit in the garden "gave man a conscience which knew right from wrong."  I thought "You've talked about the limits of the Old Testament Law.   Its limits are that it addresses only what was right, and what was wrong, under law.  Ethics.  God and the relationship we now occupy transcend mere questions of ethical behaviour, of morality.  To deal with God is to deal with the essence, the source and inspiration of goodness itself, not merely "right."  And there is stuff that's worse than unethical, worse than "wrong"  There is evil. 
  If man had eaten of a fruit from "the tree of being able to tell right from wrong," rather than one that gave knowledge of actual good and evil, he would now lack the capacity to move beyond the ethical considerations of the law.  He wouldn't be able to grasp God any more than anyone under Law, because God is more than what is addressed by the Law, more than about right and wrong and  ethical behaviour.  He isn't just right.  He's goodness itself, which we know and can recognize, thanks to knowing good and knowing evil.  We don't merely know that God is right if we know Him at all. 
  So, I was counting how often he said "right" and "wrong."  Over and over and over.  That's how we brethren think.  We build our thoughts almost entirely out of them.  They underlie most conversations.  Everything's about there being only two choices: one right, and one wrong.  In these stupid divisions. One right side, and one wrong side.  Very limiting.  You're not able to grasp the scope of the bible, if you do that.  Especially the stuff Paul wrote."  So, it's wrong, right?  (kidding)
  The talk wound to a close, with me worrying throughout about one person's kid which was perpetually being mothersmothered to keep it docile and silent during this gripping hour-long kid's show, and was repeatedly, miserable as any living creature I have ever seen, carried out of the room by whichever parent's turn it was, for whatever invisible, silent offence it had allegedly committed, to get a stern talking-to and who knows what else outside the room, and then brought back in, looking at me on the way by with eyes like an open wound.  There was a kids' meeting next meeting.  This kid wasn't at it.  Probably too "bad."  No doubt if they keep this up they need not fear their kid will ever turn into anyone like me one day.  They might just be creating the angriest of young men, with years of therapy in store, overcome with overmuch snark and spite.
   The man finished.  Everyone stood up for the half hour intermission.  I asked "Who was that masked man?" and found out who the speaker had been. The son-in-law of Sven the City Planner.  Wha---?
  But it turns out he's a missionary.  Missionaries are allowed to do anything they want.  They have ecclesiastical immunity. They're in different continents giving up the western lifestyle, at least somewhat.  Or taking it with them.  So they can read up on John Piper and disagree with him and stuff.  But some don't like that kind of thing. 

  As I stood with my back not quite touching the back wall of Lothlorien Business Retreat, I got a confusing mix of punches on the arm and warm smiles from quite a few, and coldly averted eyes from others.  One managed a coldly averted smile after a pointed glance at my hair.
  One girl came up and introduced herself.  I have called her sister the made up name "Bethany McBrethreney" on the Internet to try to give some futile, token anonymity because of what association with me costs people like her.  But her sister, it turned out, is actually, really named Bethany.  She came up and said "I'm _____'s sister Bethany.  Bethany McBrethreney."  Like, the real one.  Funny.  When I'm writing, I pretty much just call all Brethren girls Bethany.  Except the ones who are called that for real, which is half of them, it seems.
  Hearing my little Internet scribblings show up in the lips of strangers in real life always gives me a start.  Another girl came up, carrying what was no doubt her child.  She said "I'm so glad you're not here to eat our babies" (something I once jokingly wrote that Brethren people seemed to fear. I forget when I wrote that.  I forgot that I'd written it, until she said it, like an echo of my typing).  Then she said "stoppitstoppit!" just like I'd written on this blog last week.  Gave me a real start, again.  Made me feel awkward, but appreciated. I make her laugh.  That's something, right?
  Then another girl walked by with her kids.  I had last seen her in the 90s.  She has pretty eyes.  She beamed at me and whispered "Don't put me in your blog!"  I told her I certainly wouldn't dream of it.
  An older guy who went to teacher's college with my dad came over and we had a great talk about teaching history, as if we were buddies already.  I love how that goes.  Different century, but same job, same problems, same stuff, so you just start in talking and it's a shortcut to relating really fast, identifying and liking one another too.
  The seemingly endless foot traffic continued, a mix of (literally) childbearing people smiling warmly on the way by, with other people pointedly looking past me  (the more I'd grown up with them, the more likely they were to not acknowledge me, and to look gnarled and gnomeified by the winds of brethrenhood, their eyes glassy and asymmetrical, their posture skewed).
  The next meeting was due to begin.  It was going to be a doozy.  An hour and a half, no break, of upprofessional speakers speaking, stretching the time I was going to spend sitting in a chair listening that afternoon, to just under two hundred minutes between lunch and supper.
  Right before it began, the "stoppitstoppit!" girl who was glad I wasn't going to eat her babies, ran up and actually handed me a glass of water at my chair.  "At least you can DRINK with us!" she said, referring to the fact that I wasn't going to be allowed to eat with them.  I was quite overwhelmed.  The multicoloured accent light beside my foot on the floor lit the glass of water up like if I looked in it, it might show me the Scouring of the Shire.  I imagined I was backlit by it, like Galadriel.
  I wasn't really feeling up to sitting for the rest of the afternoon in this room, with my adrenaline having lowered from complete panic to "be ready for imminent peril."  Neither was the kid who was sitting two people to the left of me.  He was playing the same iPhone game the kids in my classes are always on.  For the entire first meeting about Christians not needing to try to keep the law.  He would play it all through this next one too, stopping only when there was a hymn for us to sing. The singing was excellent.  Like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but happier.  Happy Brethren singing is rare.  It was nice. I thought I caught Bethany McBrethreney on her phone during a hymn, but it turned out she seems to have a hymnbook app?

  This 1.5 hour meeting was one that is called a "Ministry As The Lord May Lead" meeting.  This means no one picks who is going to talk, or a topic or anything like that.  It's a surprise.  There is a limit of three guys, max, getting to talk.  Hymns can be sung between.  You supposedly never know what's going to happen.  Usually it's just the typical "how thankful we should be to be us.  We thank thee, Oh Lord, that we are not like unto other Christians, for instance, Lutherans.  And Catholics...what's up with THEM?!" stuff.  But sometimes someone has a bee in his bonnet and goes off on a tangent.  I'd half-jokingly put on Facebook that I'd "go to the ministry as the Lord may lead, to see if He does."  You be the judge:
  As soon as it was open season on speaking, an older guy I am familiar with bolted up out of his seat and went to the front like it was a bit of a race.  He started in and it was pretty interesting.  Like me, he is sick of people, it sounded like, who go on and on about us (how unworthy we are to be as blessed as we are to be thankful to be us) and then clearly can't talk about God for more than two sentences without mentioning us immediately.  I said this online once and was told that any belief that humans can understand or relate to God in any way apart from relating Him to ourselves is some bad "istic" or other.That wasn't what I thought I was doing, but whatever.  Tried to be pragmat(ist)ic.
  But this guy was cosmic.  Literally.  Not talking about us and how grateful and blessed and privileged we should feel, and willing to remember what we're supposed to remember (to be grateful).  No, he was talking about the Big Bang or whatever.  The Start of Everything.  The physical and the spiritual and the soulful.  Everything getting made, and in what order and why.  Human existence.  Life after death and transcendence.  "This guy sounds virtually Eastern" I thought.  "How's he getting away with this?!  Do brethren people sit and take this kind of thing nowadays?  It's not just about them.  It's awesome.  What happened?"
  The girl I call Bethany McBrethreney (not her sister Bethany) was in and out of the room quite often.  She was all aflutter.  Her hair was so shiny that her black mantilla lacked the necessary friction to stay atop her glossy dark hair.  But she was in, she was out, her coat was on, her coat was off, her mantilla was slipping and sliding... Why was she leaving the room?  Could she staple her mantilla onto her head? I didn't know if kids were involved (in rooms of those kinds, girls are always all pitching random women's kids in and out of the room like footballs all the time).  Her boyfriend sat there, reassuring and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.  Probably exactly the kind of man she could be happy with.
  I found out later one reason she was so jittery.  That guy who preached first?  Her friend's dad.  With the cool, cosmic "Never mind about us and our gratitude / ingratitude, our wretchedness / blessedness, what about God and what He does?" message?  That guy, like me, is excommunicated.  Kicked out.  I'm not even sure he was supposed to come out today.  I wouldn't expect they'd let him eat with them.  And he totally.  Went up.  And preached at them.  At their thing.  From their pulpit, there in Lothlorien Conference Centre. I felt wholly upstaged.
  One of the fun things about being me (there are less than you think) is that, after being sick of being the boring, lonely Christian person at work who has no fun and doesn't allow himself any but the nerdiest of pleasures, whenever I go out to a Brethren thing, I am Charles Manson. I am clearly going to have to be warned not to start shit.  I am told it would be "better" if I'm not there.  Any girl who is seen talking to me is going to report afterward that she got a series of friendly "warnings" not to talk to me.  I will eat her faith for breakfast.  I can't count the people who've told me they've been "warned" to stop talking to/listening to me.  The last couple to go to a regular, non-Brethren group, leaving behind the Ottawa Brethren church they'd attended previously?  My fault, apparently.  Not that I even talked to them before they left.  I am apostasy incarnate.  And I am loose on the Internet, children. Lock the doors.  Get out the Hannibal Lecter mask and restraints.
  And this guy goes up and does something I positively would not have had the jam to contemplate.  Perspex, accent-lit pulpit?  Jacked.  Problem is, now his kids and friends will have to deal with the no doubt horrifying, tempest in a teapot, social and ecclesiastical repercussions of what may well have been self-indulgence.  Still, it was the trippiest talk today, and I loved it.  He was so sincere.  He got emotional about time and space.  And he wasn't correcting any absent persons, nor being smug, nor making propaganda, nor making cat's cradles out of bible verses.  A week later, mp3s of these talks would be put up, as I have linked here.  And the cosmic talk?  Not uploaded.  Bastards...

Because I LOVE to Count Things...
  Then a guy I didn't know got up. Here is a link to what I heard, right here.  The kid two people to my left continued his endless iPhone game.  The fake plastic trees held their posts, with the lights and glitter and perpetual pinkitude of themselves.  This new speaker guy mentioned that he wasn't good at speaking English, and it turned out that he really wasn't.  He looked possibly German, but I was having trouble placing his accent.  It was hard enough to work out what he was saying, but I was terribly curious to know what country he was from.  I started trying accents on him like a little girl trying paper clothes on paper dolls.  Sweden and Denmark didn't seem to stick, but I wasn't completely sure if he was German or wasn't.  I got distracted for far too long imagining he was from Transylvania and was himself, in fact, a vampire.  Perhaps even a puppet vampire.  I waited for him to count things or say numbers.  The accent almost fit.  But when he said "Germany" and was too German to say it right in English (Chyerminny) I had that question answered for me.
  He was doing Peter bashing. I hate Peter bashing. It's a great way to fill a time slot, though.  You just take the disciple/apostle Peter, and you read any story about him, and then you point out all of his mistakes, from attitude, to thinking, to clear lack of impulse control. Must have been ADHD, this guy.  The key to the kingdom? Seriously?  Probably lost it.  What a maroon.  You can rhetorically ask people to admit, if they're honest, that they are often like Peter.  Just as silly.  Just as clued out. (just as passionate?) But, the passage of scripture this guy read was the one where Peter walks on water with Jesus.  Yeah.  Pretty silly.  What a spiritual lightweight.  WALKING ON WATER!  Here's the thing: I think that German guy should walk on water, even just three or four steps, himself, before he disses Peter's supermarine performance. He did inform us all that we can't valk on vater.  It doesn't vork.  But he was here to pump us up, so I continued listening.
  I didn't like what he did next, either.  To my knowledge, Peter would go on to do far more miraculous things in the New Testament than ski-less waterskiing.  Healing the sick and casting out demons and things, just by people touching his t-shirt and stuff.  But he [it's horrible that when we hear a German accent, some of us sit there racistly thinking "Hitler, Hitler, Hitler" the whole time a man's public speaking from a raised platform] was stressing that Jesus was making Peter walk on the water like a remote-controlled puppet to teach him a lesson about arrogance, or something like that.  "Don't worry, I got ya.  Whoops!  Now I don't, because you worried and doubted and stuff!  Ha!  Fooled you. I've got you after all! Just trying your faith!  Which sucks, by the way.  Future people will laugh at it.  John, quick, write this down..."  
  As far as I know, Jesus was always berating his disciples for not being able to do things exactly like the crazy things he himself was doing. He was sending them off to cities without him, demanding that they do the stuff he did.  And they often did that stuff, apparently.  So Peter believes he can walk on water like Jesus is doing, because Jesus has been teaching "If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains" and demanding "Why couldn't you handle this demonaic?"  Jesus has been teaching this SO hard, and all of a sudden that message is reduced to "Jesus was magic. What was Peter thinking? Peter wasn't magic.  And neither are we."  
  Anyway, that's what I thought during that sermon.  It wasn't too bad, though.  Apart from imagining he was a vampire, and Adolf Hitler, and thinking he was trivializing what Jesus was teaching and living and doing, I think my thoughts about that guy were remarkably positive. It is possible I was getting sick of sitting there.

Word Association
  The last guy did something I also don't like (having logged five meetings a week since pretty much birth, and being cursed with an inability to zone out or otherwise not listen, I have a real annoyance with many of the tropes of how people "take part" in these meetings.  Here is that guy, doing the talk I heard, right here. )  It goes like this: you take anything there are a number of in the bible.  Hills.  Sheep.  Staves.  Gates.  Fences. Whatever.  Today it was towers.  There weren't just two, either.  You cross-reference (ha.  see what I did there?) the occurrences of these with whatever verses they first make you think of.  Like random word association.  You say "It says here that it was a GREAT rock.  Now this leads us to ponder our Lord, surely the GREATEST rock of all! Let us turn to a scripture which says God is great!"   You can find a rock or a tree or a fence somewhere in the Old Testament and then tell everyone what snippet of scripture it reminds you, personally, of, like the original author was up to all of that from the beginning.  So, a great tower: God is great.  The tower of the furnace: Hardship and toil.  God is with us in hardship and toil. The tower by the sheep gate: God is our shepherd.  The Hanged Man and The Four of Wands... (no, wait. I'm just making that last one up. He didn't make that part up. I did.) But it always sounds terribly made up to me when people do it.  But then I'm a critical bastard with thoughts, but am never allowed to speak except on the Internet.
  Now three guys had spoken.  One hadn't been supposed to, and so maybe that wasn't supposed to count, so a fourth guy just read a passage from scripture without getting up and preaching, or the magic "three" would be broken ("let the prophets speak, two or three, and the rest judge."  I guess I take that last job too seriously.  If I ever wanted to teach or speak to any group of Christians, I would absolutely have to jump up uninvited like Professor Cosmic did today).  The fourth guy read about the Tower of Babel, and how God confused the languages of the earth.
  Then, with more singing, the meeting was over, and it was time for the shared common meal I wasn't allowed to attend.  So, a guy stood up to say a prayer of thanks about the meal that I wasn't welcome to, and looking around at a more-than-usually ethnically diverse group (we'd imported some minority Brethren from other continents, which is actually pretty cool, as diversity has hardly been a strong suit of ours in the past) and said that, before he prayed, and especially in light of God confusing the languages, he wanted to say this: "Languages? What about CONTINENTS? We have brethren from many continents here with us today.  North America, SOUTH America, Europe, Asia, Africa... Welcome to the Body of Christ!"
  (ummmm...)  Old Testament one-upped.  And verily God confused the continents.
  Then he prayed a prayer of us being thankful to be us and being here to be thankful, and afterward people started filing out.

  Bethany McBrethreney asked if anyone had invited me out for supper, thinking someone might have.  No one had, which was okay with me.  I was just going to go home. If I wanted, I could have invited anyone out to supper myself. I had money. I had a car.  I could have done that.  But I wasn't being arsed with it.  
  The girl wanted to see to it, though.  She sure didn't want me to be able to write here that I had to go home with an empty stomach, and that not one just person would eat with me.  She's like that.  Sticks up for anyone who's getting the dirty end of the stick.  So she told me to hold on.  She was all over the place, dealing with who knows what all, and I talked to a few more people.  One of the three guys who interrogated me about my views on being under Jewish Law or not, and then kicked me out of Ottawa, came over, thinking he scented a non-Christian to perhaps preach to.  You see, he'd forgotten who I was.  And then he had a problem: he really wanted to have me stay to hear the preaching after supper, and I told him I had to go, as I wasn't welcome at the meal. Quite a pickle. I guess if I'd ducked out, grabbed a bite, and then come back for the gospel meeting, I would have been the "least saved" person there. A veritable coup, in making it feel less pointless.
  Also, a guy my age who I used to know back in the day stopped to chat.  I remembered staying up late in his basement, as he bemoaned the gorgeous girls of his church who needed to be "spoken to" because the way they dressed made the young men "suffer."  He did that thing where, when I referred to the divisions, and my ecclesiastical peripatetics of late, in answer to his series of queries, he then quietly and stubbornly disagreed repeatedly, without wanting to say what he disagreed with, nor what he thought instead.  Fascinating to see.  And he wasn't walking away, either.  Listened.  Said things like "But, still..." and then something else like "Well, I really think, though..." and would then stop, as if he'd refuted something. Just the starts of sentences, left as if they'd voiced his disagreement.  The System Works.  If something's broken, it's you.
  I then got talking to a really cool kinda granola/spiritual pacifistic guy who helped my sister out of a jam one time, who lent me his recording gear way back in the day before I'd had a chance to try any gear out yet.  I told him if I ever recorded anything and put it on the 'net, that it was clearly his fault.  He laughed.  
  We were having a very nice chat, and there was a guy I grew up with (a couple of years older than me) lurking.  He was pawing through some large bible cases that were on sale at the book table beside us.  But lurking.  For a while.  I couldn't tell if he was hoping to be included in our converesation, or was just eavesdropping (in retrospect, I suspect the latter), and so I called over to him "Hey, Lennie McSteinbeck!"  He had to ask who I was, though.  I almost remembered his wife's name too, even though she wasn't with him.  I was thinking of her sister.  Then we had one of those weird conversations where again, a lot of what he said sounded vaguely accusatory, but wasn't followed up.  Mark might have said he was "sliming" me.
  So, he asked me if I'd enjoyed the ministry we'd been fortunate to sit under that afternoon. This is polite, innocuous Brethren small-talk that I screw up.  I forgot my Ottawa Valley Brethren manners entirely and didn't just say "Yes.  It is a most blessed time for us, who should just feel so very thankful to be us and to be here, being us and being blessed and thankful, under the sound of the Word" or some such.  I didn't say that.  I said "I was really into what Tim said about Christians not being under law, and his points about how grace works.  You know? A rebuttal to the "saved by grace, blessed by works" guys, who think God switches modes like that, in dealing with us."
  "I don't need someone to take an hour to tell me I am saved by the grace of God" he said in flat tones, with an odd smile and a glint in his eye.  He's someone who looks you directly in the eye without moving or blinking, for the entire conversation.  I peered intently at him several times to see if he wavered, but he doesn't. He'd been staring at me during the meetings, too.
  "I thought what Tim said was amazing" I said. "Weirdly, it was exactly what I was told not to think or say, back in the day."
  "I don't LIKE to argue" he replied, with an intent stare.
  "*I* do!" I replied with a huge smile, carefully not saying "YES you DO!"
  I told him arguing was one of my favourite things in the whole world.
  He told me about his son, who is like me, but who he refuses to argue with.  He implied how wise it is to refuse to argue with him.  I asked him if the relationship with his son was improving as his son grew into adolescence, and he got  blanker.  To commiserate, I then told him about a kid I teach who is no doubt his son's age, and who argues all the time when I'm trying to teach.  I told him how every time I tell that kid to start or stop doing anything in class, he always argues. I tell him not to waste my time arguing, and he always responds to "Don't argue" with "I'm not arguing."  It can go on and on like that.  "Quit it."  "But I'm not arguing, though.  I'm stating my opinion."  "Well, don't do that.  Get work done."  "I am getting work done.  And I'm stating my opinion.  I'm not arguing."
  Lennie kept up the blankathon, unblinkingly, and never looked outside of my pupils for a moment.  He stood too close. He gave no expression.  His delivery was flat.  I wondered how many other people in the room were perhaps heavily medicated.
    He told me "I work with a Seventh Day Adventist, so I take great comfort in that verse in 2 Peter that was quoted twice today."  And then he stared into my pupils and waited for me to demonstrate that I knew that verse.
  I didn't try to quote it at him, even when he'd clearly given me a trial period in which to do so, so he quoted it at me.    
  "So, you like that verse?" I asked.
  "I find it comforting."
  "With the Seventh Day Adventist?"
  "To disagree with him, you mean?" I asked.
  "To present to him," he replied.
  "So as to disagree with him and provide evidence that he is wrong?" I continued to press. (I hate people who are doing something and refuse to admit what they're doing, like that means they're not responsible for doing it.)
  "Your words, not mine," he said blankly, still giving my pupils the once-over from very close.
  "So, you'd perhaps word it, 'to present him with scripture, to give him something to consider'?" I asked.
  "Perhaps," he said, recognizing his own turn of phrase, but not wanting to admit to anything much.
  He then asked if I'd like to come eat with him in the dining room, and I reminded him that I was out of fellowship (excommunicated) and not welcome to do so. 
   "Out of fellowship?  From Who or What?" he asked.  
  Normally I would applaud that spirit, but all I said was "I was told I was not welcome to eat here, so I'm not going to mess with that."  
  "Well, I just feel that we are to remain in fellowship with God. So, the first thing we have to do is try to get back in fellowship with Him. I had a sister who needed to do that. I was able to tell her that and help her with it."
  "I think I have maintained fellowship with Him, throughout my life, actually" I said, too confidently for his liking.
  "But I really feel that the scripture tells us to we have to deal with our assemblies," he said, still staring into my pupils.  
  (Suggesting my continued state of excommunication was something I'd been neglecting taking care of?)  I asked what he meant.  
  He evaded.  Then he said "I just really feel the scriptures instruct us to be at peace with our assemblies."  I asked what he meant and he evaded.  I asked him how to get at peace, given our assemblies.  I asked if he meant me.  He wouldn't commit to any of that.  
  He said "I don't know what your situation is, and I don't need to know.  Better I don't, but I feel that we are responsible before God. We will all give an account one day.  The elders.  Us.  They will be called to give account one day.  They certainly will.  But we have to worry about us..."
  I asked "So, if I told the elders I was wrong, and apologized for what I'd done, would that probably be a good start?  Kinda what you're talking about?" (because of course I did both of those things.  The year I was kicked out.  But I didn't tell him that.)
  "I said I don't know your situation and I won't speak about that.   I feel though, that the scripture is very clear."
  He himself wasn't being clear about what exactly it was very clear about, I felt.
  And then he invited me out for pizza.  The conversation was getting weirder and weirder, I thought, with an 80% chance of weirdness later, and no doubt some kind of lecture that wouldn't admit to being a lecture, so though I had to really hand it to him for not blindly shunning and ignoring me, and instead coming over when summoned and talking to me and all, I told him Bethany McBrethreney seemed to be trying to arrange some of the younger people taking me out to eat, as I wasn't allowed to eat there, and that I didn't know what she had planned, nor did I want to be rude. Back in the day, the cool young folk often didn't want to eat with everyone else, so carefully picked some kind of fun Montreal restaurant to go out and eat at, sometimes arriving back a bit late, a bit inebriated, or a bit not at all.

Showdown At Burger King! (a false heading)
  I took my leave of Lennie, went over to Bethany and friends, set to leave with them all (she'd been waiting for me to be done talking to the guy). I apologized for keeping them waiting and told her patient, stalwart boyfriend "Sorry about that.  It was starting to be like wrestling a wet pillow over there."
  "I have never done that," he said patiently and flatly, perhaps somewhat with the air of a sensible man talking to a crazy person.
  And then they all vamoosed upstairs to the dining room and I realized that they were all going to eat up there, and that Bethany McBrethreney was going to take one for the team, and forswear their happy company, just to make sure I didn't have to not eat, or eat alone.  This was putting her out far too much, I thought. Cumbered about with much serving, I told her.  There is a time to go have fun.
  We went up the street, and I ate in the Burger King where my car was parked while she watched and then when we were walking out to my car, right on cue, a bunch of young Plymouth Brethren girls walked up from somewhere and stopped dead and stared at us. Maybe they'd been buying crack, all three of them.  I wasn't sure exactly what being seen going out to eat with evil old me would further do to McBrethreney's already interesting reputation, and here were a cloud of young witnesses of uncertain character, who might well do or say anything to anyone.  
  I panicked and told them "I am just a homeless person of no account.  Never mind me!" and walked off, the veracity of my pronouncement being perhaps somewhat undercut by the car, the alarm of which I then disarmed with the remote.
  Bethany followed me, asked if I'd be interested in Neil Young's autograph in case she could get one because she might be able to, and I said that would be supercool (because it would, right?) and left, stopping only to eat a blueberry muffin at Tim Horton's near Oka, where some cute native women were.  They all had Lulu Lemon yoga pants.  I used my only French of the day when the counter girl, pretty much bilingual, didn't know "blueberry" (as in "muffin") so I casually told her "bluets" to clarify, which told her what she needed to know.
 And then I wrote this, aware that some will think I am mocking everyone and hating everything and in return not liking me for that.  It seems I am unable to be anything but grateful to be here being myself being grateful.  Don't hate me because I'm ironical.  But hate me if you need to.  Let me be your monster.