Posted by: tommybrennan | October 1, 2016

The Ideal Educated Person

The_Thinker_Musee_RodinThis is something I wrote back in 2010 when I was going back to school.  I still agree with this assessment.

I have decided to return to college and complete my degree.  This decision has been a long time in coming, and was ultimately inevitable.  I have always believed that I had made a mistake by not finishing my degree in Fine Arts that I had begun back in 1979, when the earth was still cooling, and dinosaurs ruled the earth.  Indeed, I have had a number of job opportunities and offers, only to be denied when the potential employer discovered I did not have any college degree.  This was something of a cyclical denial, and it could be asked:  Tom, can’t you take a hint?  Well, I have finally taken the hint, and have returned to the world of academia as I am concurrently running a Computer Aided Drafting business, raising a family, and engaging in a good deal of community and some political activism.  Talk about bad timing.   But, there is no time like the present to start the journey.  This all begs the question:  What does it mean to be educated?  How do you know when you have reached a minimal threshold of education or knowledge?  What should an educated person look like?  Or behave like?  Or think like?  We have all met the clichéd absent-minded professor, who is brilliant and book smart but can never find his keys.  Is that the ideal?  Or the stereotypical nerd, who completely lacks a social life but has memorized Pi to the 135th decimal place.  Is that the goal?  Let’s look at these questions.

But first, here’s a little background.  As I have begun this new venture, I sought out how to best complete my degree.  I had taken a few classes at several community colleges, including Jefferson Community College.  This route was going to take a while, but was certainly doable.  I ran into a charming and knowledgeable representative from Empire State College.  She explained the mission of the college, and the benefits for working adults.  This all sounded very appealing, and so after a good amount of research, I have decided to pursue my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business and Economic Development through Empire State College.

So far, so good.  But what does it mean to be a truly educated person, and not just another oaf with letters after his name?   I think in a sense the answer might be hinted at in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”.  The Scarecrow is lamenting that he has no brain, and sings and dances like a human ragdoll to the tune of “If I only had a brain”.  We all know this song, and perhaps sing it to ourselves after we make a particularly boneheaded mistake.  The Wizard, however, sees what the Scarecrow cannot see:  The Wizard saw that the Scarecrow had demonstrated tremendous insight, wisdom, and intelligence throughout his journey.  The Scarecrow’s lack was that he had no diploma.  Once he receives it, he recites the basis for the Pythagorean Theorem and exclaims “I’ve got a brain!”   I can relate to this episode, and am looking forward to the day that I receive my diploma, and recognize that I too “have a brain”.

We learn from this episode with the Scarecrow that we can possess a great deal of knowledge, intelligence and insight without a college degree.  We all know this, and we have Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Edison as evidence to buttress this argument.  However, this lack of a degree can work against a person in a very tangible way, and this lack can have a profound effect upon an otherwise well-educated person by causing them to doubt their ability, and thus short-circuit an otherwise brilliant mind and potential.  So, my first point about being an educated person is one of my own observations, and not really discussed in the assigned text.  Part of being educated is the actual completion of some level of formal instruction.  This produces a confidence that is simply not attainable in any other way, and part of being educated is believing that you are educated and worthy of being heard.  This confidence is like a superstructure that undergirds an educated person, and gives them boldness to debate and challenge people and ideas.  This is a very significant benefit of the completion of a degree or High School diploma.  So, one aspect of being an educated person is to have some level of formal education in the form of a degree or diploma.  However, this is not the whole picture.  As Edmund Pellegrino says in his essay Having a Degree and being Educated: “the degree you receive today is only a certification of exposure, not a guarantee of infection.  Some may have caught the virus of education, others only a mild case, and still others may be totally immune”.

Now we will consider some other observations found in the Orientation to College book.  This book was quite useful, and many of the essays were a delight to read and digest.  The purposes of college, the role of the liberal arts, culture, and work were all discussed via essays in a cursory fashion.

I found the chapter on the Role of the Liberal Arts in Education very interesting and thought provoking.  The basic premise of this chapter is that education is not simply the amassing and collection of technical knowledge and facts, but rather the process of studying a vast scope of information so that one learns how to think and reason in an informed, holistic manner.  In the words of Carey Brush’s essay “the power of liberal arts is not their content but in their stimulus to the student’s power of reason, judgment and imagination”.  Thus, the goal of studying the liberal arts is to enhance, deepen and broaden the student’s sphere of understanding and ability to think, reason, analyze and report (write).

The liberal arts have been advocated since Ancient Greece, and their content has evolved and expanded over time.  The liberal arts are understood today to include humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences.  Many students have voiced complaints over liberal arts courses that are unrelated to their major or concentration.  “How will studying Biology help me to be a better Architect?”  This sort of question is legitimate, and deserves a legitimate answer.  The goal of the liberal arts is to fill in gaps and inform the student of background information that gives a fuller perspective of the world he lives in.  It may be a true observation that no direct connection can be seen between Biology and Architecture, but there is a wealth of indirect connection, and that subtlety is part of the goal of a liberal education.  Perhaps the student will find himself designing a bridge and drawing upon the vertebral structure of the human spine as his inspiration for trusses and support.  This innovation is completely dependent upon the Biology class, but the student may never consciously make the connection.  This type of connection is the ultimate goal of the liberal arts, informing and expanding the mind in directions it may not want to go in.  As Mr. Dooley observed:  “It makes no difference what you teach a boy, so long as he doesn’t like it “.   The liberal arts are an indispensable component of an ideal education.

I would like to conclude by considering another essay.  In the purposes of Liberal Education, Henry Rosovsky reasons that there are Five Standards that can be used to determine whether or not a person is liberally educated:

  1. Think and write clearly and effectively
  2. Critical appreciation of the ways we gain knowledge. Must have an informed acquaintance with math, physical and biological science, forms of analysis, literature, and artistic achievements
  3. An educated person must possess a global perspective, not provincial.
  4. Experience in thinking about moral and ethical problems
  5. Depth in some field of knowledge. Major or concentration

I will use this same list as a framework for an ideal education.

The ability to write clearly and effectively is named first, and I think that is appropriate.  I sense that we are now living in an age in which there has been an exaltation of the image (movies, television, computers) and a humiliation of the written and spoken word.  This is a disturbing trend, and portends trouble.  If the present generation of college students graduate without the ability to transmit their ideas and views clearly, then their education has failed them in the most primary of areas.  I specify the present generation because they have been the first generation subjected to this major cultural shift toward images and away from the word.  They are on the cutting edge of this societal evolution, and it is not their fault.  They will, however, bear the burden of this diminished capacity to communicate.  One of my professors once observed:  “If you can’t write well, you will work for someone who can write well”.  I have found this maxim to be reliably true.

The second point is the essential classic liberal education model, but more forcefully stated.  The truly educated person should have a critical appreciation for the ways we gain knowledge; such as scientific experimentation, techniques for analyzing the trends of modern society, the classic literary and artistic achievements and their impacts, and the major religious and philosophical concept of mankind.  I would specifically state that a basic understanding of such diverse topics as biology, geometry, astronomy, classic Greek and Roman literature, music theory, and world history are integral to being fully educated.

It is critical that the truly educated person be aware of the entire world and time in which he lives.  It is of the utmost importance that people shed their own provincial/parochial/redneck isolation, and seek to see the world from outside their own viewpoint and historical timeframe.  This is a very lofty goal, and I do not say that a person should discard their core values.  Rather, he must realign his values to conform to the global stage that is most surely the new domain of the truly educated.

The ideal education should unquestionably at least touch on the issue of moral and ethical problems.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that new technology and innovation has brought with it a new set of moral dilemmas that were previously unknown.  New technology such as stem cell research and cloning have forced the scientist into a new domain in which he must grapple with the questions of how far should man go in the pursuit of cloning humans.  On the health care front, insurance companies and physicians are wrestling with the problem of who will have access to new, expensive life saving technology.  If the choice has to be made between two patients, who gets the procedure, and who is left to die.  The ideally educated person will be well suited to at least have a frame of reference for this discussion.

Finally, it is of great importance that an education equip a person with one core competency that will serve them as a centering point for the entire catalog of knowledge that he possesses.  We have all met people that are a jack of all trades, and a master of none.  I think that we would all be better served if we were a jack of all trades and a master of ONE.  This will provide a livelihood, the most basic service of an education, but also provide a unique perspective through which the world is viewed.  The result would be a true renaissance man, but with the ability to pay the bills.  This novel yet functional model is one aspect of the ideally educated person.

I also believe that an ideal education is not complete without a great deal of experience outside of the classroom.  It is not possible to learn how to build a fire, wrestle, or get to a job on time in a classroom.  It is critical that a person experience real life, as it is in his community, to be fully educated.  There can be a real danger in a completely academic pursuit being mistaken for a complete education.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The goal of education and college is not to create a pampered class of the detached smarty-pants, but to develop a person completely and with a nod to real life.  There is no way to gain this experience than to get outside the classroom and live it.

It can be observed that my ideal of an educated person is dependent upon several factors.  The first being the actual completion of a degree or diploma.  This completion will provide the student with a sense of confidence and academic belonging that is critical to the entire thinking and reasoning process.  The basic elements of a classical liberal education need to be present.  This will produce a well-rounded and balanced person that is able to approach many given issues with grace, insight, and competence.  Also, the complete education needs to adhere to the minimum five standards of writing ability, acquaintance with the methods of gaining knowledge, global perspective, moral questioning, and a major or concentration of knowledge.  Lastly, the ideal education needs to include a generous dose of real life non-classroom experience.  My own experience has taught me that this is sometimes the most powerful and effective teacher of all.  These elements will provide a healthy and balanced education, and will present, in the end, The Ideal Educated Person

Posted by: tommybrennan | June 10, 2016

Gordie Howe – More than a Hockey Player

23774_gordie-howeI am sitting here trying to process the death of my hero, Gordie Howe.  I don’t use the term “hero” lightly, especially when it comes to sport figures.  Howe is the lone exception to this rule, and I make no apology for naming him such.  He meant so much more to me than his role as a right wing for the Detroit Red Wings, and I am just now coming to grips with all his life meant to me.

I was born in Detroit in 1961, and was raised there until my dad moved us out to Southfield in 1965.  I have known Gordie Howe’s name from the moment I was born, and there has never been another man’s name that has so consistently earned my respect.  This was surely due in part to the fact that my father was a big hockey fan, and was thoroughly impressed with the strength, skill, and power that was packaged in the Wings number nine.  I had several uncles that never held back in their praise for Howe, and these were men who weren’t easily given to compliments.   My Uncle Denny was an old school guy, tough as they come.  All of his sons played hockey, and he would often speak in profanity laced reverence about the greatness of Gordie Howe.  So, all of my male authorities spoke highly of Howe.  Truth be told, I don’t think I ever heard even one negative comment about him in my entire life.  As I reflect on this, it is truly remarkable, and unique.

The local sportscasters would always pick out the flaws and shortcomings of the Lions, Tigers, Pistons or other Red Wings.  But Howe always seemed to get a pass.  This might be due to the fact that they were terrified to face him if they were critical, but I think they were genuinely in awe of this man, whose character and humility off the ice matched, and even surpassed his achievements on the ice.

I met Gordie Howe twice, when I was in my early teens.  Both of these times were at the Olympia, and happened after a game. He had retired, but was still working in the front office for the Norris family, and would always be hanging around the rink.  This was during the interim between his first (!)NHL retirement and his beginning career with the WHA’s Houston Aeros.  He was standing in a hall on each occasion, having a conversation with some other Olympia person.  He was talking, and signing autographs to an ever moving line of fans.  I had heard later that he never left an autograph line early, and always signed every last one.  I handed my program to him, and he signed it while still talking with his colleague.  I was too shy to say anything, but he gave me a wink, and it meant everything to me.  I had mattered to him, the biggest, strongest, most respected man in my world.  And it happened again a year later.  Same story.  These autographs were taped ceremoniously on the wall of the room I shared with my brother, and we both prized these above anything else in our home.  Of all my life’s disappointments, misplacing those autographs ranks at the top.

We lived less than a mile away from Gordie Howe’s home in Lathrup Village.  We somehow learned where he lived, and would “get lost” on our way back home from church at St. Bede’s, just so we could have a chance at a Gordie sighting.  We were not disappointed.  We saw him several times out in the yard.  I remember passing his house one time and seeing him without a shirt on.  The guy was just all muscle and very intimidating.  To realize that he could beat the snot out of anybody, and yet was so kind to children and anyone else had a deep impact on me.  I have since heard that true power is best expressed as “strength contained”, and is well exemplified in a Saint Bernard.  Gentle of nature, but fully capable of outmatching any opponent in size, speed, ferocity and strength.  That was Howe, but in human form.  Just ask Lou Fontinato, the New York Ranger who sought to establish his reputation as the NHL’s toughest player at the expense of Howe.  Bad idea.  Real bad.  The results were educational and frightening.  Lou went after Howe behind the net on a goalmouth scramble.  Howe ducked a sucker punch, seized Fontinato in a death grip and proceeded to pound his face hard, fast, and continuously.  So much so, that a teammate who was on the ice said that it sounded like someone chopping wood.  The victim’s nose was shifted halfway toward his ear, and he looked like he had met the business end of a jack hammer.  Which he had.  Thus humbled, his tough guy persona was left in tatters.  Few followed Fontinato’s Folly.

As I fast forward to my later teen years, when I had a new interest in girls, rock & roll and trendy herbal amusements, there was one consistent theme in my life, and that was respect for Gordie Howe.   I recall several occasions when my decidedly non-jock accomplices were talking about whatever we would discuss between bong hits, and the subject somehow turned to Howe.   I would wax eloquently about his skills, toughness, and kindness, and there would be a silent nodding of the heads and appreciative cursing in respectful assent.  There was no other athlete, politician, business leader or even Golden Retriever that could ever bring so many diverse people together in clear agreement.  Such was the powerful influence that Gordie Howe had on my life.

So now, I must face life without Gordie Howe in it, and I unexpectedly feel a cold draft behind me, as there is a massive, gaping hole left by this one man who meant so much to me, but even more so to the entire Detroit community.  He was that rarest of treasure, the warrior poet, who was completely vicious and uncompromising, but kind and gentle off the battlefield.  And we all saw him for who he was.  This was also a gift.

Perhaps my opinion of Howe is shaped by my own childhood, as my own father was largely absent as I was growing up.  A young man needs a male role model, somebody he can look up to, and believe that virtue and strength are within his own reach, if he will but make the choice and pay the price.  I now, for the first time, realize that Gordie was that man in my life.  Though he wasn’t my own father, uncle or teacher, he had an influence on me that was both profound and positive.  And I hold on to a strange and unexpected hope that someday I will see him again.   And when I do, he will wink and say, “Hell of a great job you did out there Tommy”.

Thanks for everything, Gordie.

Posted by: tommybrennan | May 20, 2016

Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep

Standing at GraveI know where I was at 7:30 AM on Thursday, June 21, 1984.  I was a Unit Secretary, starting my shift on 6 North at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak Michigan.  It was a pretty typical morning.  I had taken report from the night shift Secretary, and was going through the charts that the Orthopedic Doctors had left after their morning rounds.  This, along with the usual clamor of patients being prepped for OR, the phone ringing constantly, as well as directing escorts, phlebotomists and pharmacy techs to the correct patients.  I had just turned 23.

There is only one reason this morning stands out, and that is one particular phone call that came in on the west bank of phones.  It was for me.  This was highly unusual, as nobody ever called me at work.  I would make any calls that I needed to make from the payphones in the lobby.  Anyway, I picked up the phone.

Hello?  It was a nurse from 5 South, the cancer floor.   I had met this nurse before, and her voice was familiar.  Yet, this morning, she sounded tense.  Nervous and rigid, she matter of factly reported that my mother had expired.  Expired.  So clinical.  So correct.  So brutal.  I thanked her for the call, and told her I would be right down.  My mother was only 54.

Stunned and lost, I stood up in a fog.  My fellow Secretaries had noticed that I had received a personal call on the floor phones, which was not supposed to happen.  They were looking at me and one of them noticed my shaken state.  It was if I had heard a sound that was too loud, and hadn’t yet recovered from the blast.  She asked who it was.  “That was 5 South.  My mom just died”.   There was a brief outpouring of concern and grief that was real, and I knew these people cared about me.  Not really paying attention to them, there was only one thing to do.  Go to my Mom.  Say goodbye.  Perform last rites.  Dutiful and stoic son to the end, I would see her off.

I took the stairs down one flight, and walked through the Central Tower to the South Tower.  I stopped at the nurses’ station, and was met by the nurse.  She took me down the hall to see my mom.  I walked in the room and saw her amongst the hospital bedding. Light, thin and bald, her body was empty.  The vigorous, light-hearted, joyful Ginny wasn’t there.  The soft flesh shell that once held her was all that remained, and it looked nothing like the mother I had known for 23 years.

I knew innately that I needed to do something.  Say something.  Pray something.  Perform some ritual.  I knelt by her bed, took her cool hand in mine, and thanked her for all that she had done.  I asked my Father in Heaven to receive her, and thanked Him for giving me such a wonderful mom.  I told them both I would miss her.  Well.  Goodbye.  I will see you again, but not sure when.  I stood up, my head clearer, but numb.  I called my sisters and my brother and told them what had happened.  They were devastated.  I also called my father, her ex-husband.  That was pretty weird.  Throughout all of this, I didn’t shed a tear.

The remainder of the day was a blur.  We contacted Desmond Funeral Home in Troy, and started the process of planning a funeral.  My uncle Jim was with us, and helped us pick out a casket, remembrance cards, and whatever else you do for funerals.  I remember we picked out a yellow casket, as it was her favorite color.  It’s funny how you don’t think about costs much when you lose somebody so close.

There was a day of visitation, Friday.  The Funeral home was packed with people that had loved my mom, known her and were so grieved that she had died so young.  Many of my friends came, and were so very kind and supportive.  My aunts and uncles were all there, and there was much joy at seeing each other in the midst of such a tragic loss.  I had numerous people take me aside and tell me that she had been their favorite aunt, co-worker, neighbor, friend.  She was dear to many, and it brought a lot of comfort to see her remembered so fondly.  My father was there, even though he was not well regarded by my aunts.  (That is putting it very mildly).  I appreciated the courage he showed to face all of them and be there with us.  it meant a great deal to me in that place.

There was one other incident that I will always remember.  We drove home after the visitation, and were heading into the house when our neighbor, Mr. Duncan saw us.  He walked over to us, his trademark cigar in hand.  He asked how my mom was.  We told him, “Well Mr. Duncan, she died yesterday”.  His face fell.  He was genuinely shocked, and the weight of this hit him.  “Son of a Bitch!” was all he said.  Of all things that were spoken that day, I think Mr. Duncan nailed it.  He said what needed to be said, and I will always remember him for his heartfelt response.  He expressed so perfectly how we all felt, and it was cathartic. We got through that day, and all that was left was the funeral.

The funeral was the next day, a Saturday.  My siblings and I were escorted into a black limousine at the funeral home that beautiful sunny morning, and we all drove to St. Bede’s, our family’s church.  The service was a typical Catholic service, except for two elements that were added. My mother had requested that a poem be read at her funeral, and my aunts made sure that happened.  It was “Do not stand at my grave and weep”.  My father told me later that this was particularly jarring, as he had requested it at his funeral.  The other element was a hymn that I had requested:  Holy, Holy, Holy.  It was not unknown in Catholic churches, but it wasn’t common.  It was wonderful to be able to sing this song of praise to my Father in the midst of such sorrow.  All of our family was there, and many, many friends.  Much to my delight, Julie Miner was there, who I would later marry.

From the church, we drove to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  She would be buried with her parents, who for some reason had purchased three plots instead of just two.  I knew this cemetery, as we had visited my grandfather’s grave throughout the years.  We walked to the gravesite, left the casket there, said some prayers, and got back in the limousine.  Still, not a tear was shed by me.

We had some kind of a luncheon, but I don’t remember much of that.  I do remember being back home that afternoon.  It had gotten overcast, and I was in the garage, working on something.  I had my portable stereo with me in the garage, and I was listening to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  It was my favorite piece of music at that time.  As I was doing whatever busywork  I was involved with, Saturday Night Waltz began to play.  A soft, slow, simple and sweet waltz.  I thought about my mother, who had loved to dance.  All of the Saturday Nights she had to miss because of the divorce.  How she had to raise five children on her own.  How she never complained.  How I had heard her dial my father’s number on our rotary phone repeatedly on many nights, and weeping as she never got an answer.  How she had made me proud to be Irish, and would sing show tunes and ditties.  All of this came flooding into me, and the dam was opened.  I sobbed my heart out.  I wept out the sorrow, bitterness, and loss that had been pent up since 7:30 on Thursday, but went back much further than that.  My mother had died.  I would never see her again.  The one person that would always be in my corner was gone, and there was simply no replacing her.  My heart was broken.

I have visited my mother’s grave many times since that day.  And every time I go, I do the same thing.  I stop at the flower shop across the street from the cemetery.  I buy flowers, an Irish flag, and a marker that says “Mother”.  I have blatantly disobeyed the poem at her funeral, and I have stood at her grave and wept.  She is worth it to me.  I will gladly allow myself to be heartbroken and emotional at the remembrance of her life that was cut off much too young.

My Uncle Denny said at the Funeral Home: “You’ve got to bite grief off and chew it”.  Each of us processes grief differently, and it hits us all at different speeds.  Allow yourself to take it as it comes.   Don’t put expectations on yourself.  And remember the one you loved.  Honor them. Live a life that would make them happy and proud.  Your story goes on, and they are part of it.  So, in that sense, do not stand at the grave and weep.  Throw yourself into what remains of your life, and make it count.







Posted by: tommybrennan | March 21, 2016

Music or Missions?

keith-green_LGI read this back in 1982, as I was seeking God’s face regarding what to do with my bass.  It was a powerful and clear message about what Christian Music should really be all about, and more importantly, what living for Jesus is all about.  I found it to be helpful and challenging, not just in the area of music, but in all areas of ministry.  I came across this tract today, and thought that many of my brothers and sisters in music would be blessed by Keith Green’s perspective.  For him who has ears to hear….

Today, so many people ask me if I can tell them how they can start or enter into a music ministry. At concerts I get countless questions about this, and I also get lots of letters and even some long-distance phone calls from many people who feel they are only “called” into the music “ministry” One day I began to ask myself why so few have ever asked me how to become a missionary, or even a local street preacher, or how to disciple a new believer. It seems everyone would prefer the “bright lights” of what they think a music ministry would be, rather than the mud and obscurity of the mission field, or the streets of the ghetto, or even the true spiritual sweetness of just being a nobody whom the Lord uses mightily in small “everyday” ways.

Are You Willing?

My answer to their question is almost always the same. “Are you willing to never play music again? Are you willing to be a nothing? Are you willing to go anywhere and do anything for Christ? Are you willing to stay right where you are and let the Lord do great things through you, though no one may seem to notice at all?” They all seem to answer each of these questions with a quick “yes!” But I really doubt if they know what their answer entails.

Star Struck

My dearest family in Jesus…why are we so star struck? Why do we idolize Christian singers and speakers? We go from glorifying musicians in the world, to glorifying Christian musicians. It’s all idolatry! Can’t you see that? It’s true that there are many men and women of God who are greatly anointed to call down the Spirit of God on His people and the unsaved. But Satan is getting a great victory as we seem to worship these ministers on tapes and records, and clamor to get their autographs in churches and concert halls from coast to coast.

Can’t you see that you are hurting these ministers? They try desperately to tell you that they don’t deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more. You’re smothering them, making it almost impossible for them to see that it’s really Jesus. They keep telling themselves that, but you keep telling them it’s really them, crushing their humility and grieving the Spirit that is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.

Ultimately, what we idolize we ourselves desire to become, sometimes with our whole heart. So a lot of people who want to become just like their favorite Gospel singer or minister, seek after it with the same fervor that the Lord demands we seek after Him! And again, we insult the Spirit of Grace and try to make a place for ourselves, rather than a place for Jesus.

A Thankless Job

How come no one idolizes or praises the missionaries who give up everything and live in poverty, endangering their lives and families with every danger that the “American dream” has almost completely eliminated? How come no one lifts up and exalts the ghetto and prison ministers who can never take up an offering, because if they did they would either laugh or cry at what they’d receive?

How come?

Because (1) we’re taught from very early on that comfort is our goal and security… and (2) that we should always seek for a lot of people to like us. Who lives less comfortably and has had less friends and supporters than the selfless missionaries who have suffered untimely, premature deaths trying to conquer souls and nations for the whole glory of God? Do you really believe we’re living in the very last times? Then why do you spend more money on Gospel records and concerts than you give to organizations that feed the poor, or to missionaries out in the field?

There are ministries all over the world where “penniless” people are being saved and transformed. They are broken people who have promise and qualities, but just need someone to bring them God’s light during the times when their lives seem so completely hopeless.

I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into Godly jealousy (Romans 11:11) or to sell out more completely to Jesus!

Quit trying to make “gods” out of music ministers, and quit desiring to become like them. The Lord commands you, “Deny yourself take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). My piano is not my cross, it is my tool. I’d never play it again if God would show me a more effective tool in my life for proclaiming His Gospel.[God gives us each our own unique tools. But we may never use them if we become more interested in someone else’s. Seek God, ask Him for His plan for ministry (true, God glorifying ministry) in your life.]


To finish, let me say that the only music minister to whom the Lord will say, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant,” is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only worthy One has to be a minister’s most important goal!

Let’s all repent of the idolatry in our hearts and our desires for a comfortable, rewarding life when, really, the Bible tells us we are just passing through as strangers and pilgrims in this world (Hebrews 11:13), for our reward is in heaven. Let’s not forget that our due service to the Lord is “… not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”(Phil. 1:29).

Amen. Let us die graciously together and endure to the end like brave soldiers who give their lives, without hesitation, for our noble and glorious King of Light.

– Keith Green, 1980


Posted by: tommybrennan | January 1, 2016

A New Start

Background with blank canvas on wooden table

He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done.

“Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.”

I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted, And gave him a new one all unspotted.

And into his tired heart I cried, “Do better now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a trembling heart, the day was done.

“Have you a new day for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.”

He took my day, all soiled and blotted, and gave me a new one all unspotted.

And into my tired heart he cried, “Do better now, my child.”

God Only Made One You.  Go And Be The Best You Can Be.

Happy 2016!

Posted by: tommybrennan | December 9, 2015

Please God, Let me live again.

392023_10150614564819046_677229045_11876209_1319717744_n   Please God, Let me live again.

These immortal, piercing words are from the soul of George Bailey in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  As we enter into this holiday season, there are many who walk among us who are suffering greatly.  They wear a mask, of course.  They have to look like they have it all together.  I know few people who are willing to display their abject brokenness on their sleeve for all to see:  “I am an addict”.  “My husband is having an affair”.  “I broke my marriage vows”.  “I bankrupted my company”.  “I destroyed a friendship”.  “I was molested”.  “I am considering suicide”.  Nobody wants to hear about it.  Keep up the happy face until….

Until what?  Until the pain, torment and confusion take their awful toll on a once innocent life.  Pushed and stuffed into a corner, we finally have had enough, and we must react.  We are past responding, and are now simply reacting.  We crack.  We lose it.  We break down.  We break others.  We ultimately become self loathing and self destructive.  Until….

Until what?  Until the primal scream of a pent up prayer breaks forth from the innermost part of our being: “Please God, Let me live again!”  We love the story of Scrooge, because he was this man as well.  Forced to see himself as he really was, he repented and pleaded with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to allow him to “sponge away the writing on this stone” – his own epitaph.  Please God.  Let me live again.

This Christmas season carries a holiness and a fearfulness like the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come.  Confronted by yet another year with no change in ourselves, we stop looking in, stop looking out, and start looking up.  Where can I go, but to the Lord?  This season also carries the wonderful joy of the Spirit of Christmas Present.  Bounty, Friends, Hope, New Beginning.  The sheer and absolute and stunningly naked power of the simplicity of an answered prayer.  To know, not guess, that the High and Lofty One Who Inhabits Eternity has heard you.  Has heard YOU!  And has bowed down to the earth in Holy, unspeakable, unasked-for condescension.   Why?  Because He loves you.   Isn’t this what Linus told Charlie Brown?  That’s what Christmas is all about?

So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid or ashamed to let this prayer be your heart’s cry.

Please God.  Let me live again.

He is waiting for someone to ask Him.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: tommybrennan | January 30, 2015

Chad Smith Still Owes Me Fifty Bucks

chad-smith-5I have had a very unusual path in my musical life.  I have played with an amazingly diverse collection of musicians and groups, and some of these experiences are almost not believable.  Nevertheless, they really happened.  Today, I will relate the story of how I played several parties with Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and Will Farrell drum off champion), in the summer of 1979.  And how he conveniently forgot to pay me for the Southfield Swim Club gig.

It was the summer of 1977, in suburban Detroit that I started playing bass.  I was fifteen.  I bought a Fender Jazz Bass copy with a tiny amp from Rick Bogani for $40 before school let out for the summer.  I proceeded to play every day, practice every day, and in short, became completely obsessed with everything that had to do with the bass.  I would sit in my brother’s bedroom when he was gone, and play along with records.  This involved playing along until I got lost, stopping my playing, setting my bass down, lifting the stylus gently from the record, repositioning it, and playing the phrase again.  I did this hundreds, if not thousands of times.  I would watch local bands, and bands on TV, and watch the bass players’ hands.  This was harder than you might imagine, as bass players almost never got any camera coverage (John Paul Jones – see what I mean?).  I am pretty sure I was insufferable to my friends, but they put up with my one track mind.  Anyways, this is how I learned to play bass.  I have never had a bass lesson in my life.

By the time I was a senior at Groves High School (with an impressive GPA of 2.34), I had hit a growth spurt, lost my baby fat, got contact lenses, bought some Levi’s bell bottoms, and grown my hair out.  By now, I was also a very capable bass player, and to my utter surprise and delight, I began to be invited to play with various groups.

The bands’ names were almost all works of genius:  Toads on Parade, Musical Dystrophy, Refuse, the Fizbin Blues Band, and some unnamed collections of guys jamming to have fun or make a few dollars.  My association with Chad Smith fell into the last unnamed category.

Before I proceed, I need to tell you about one of the musicians we all aspired to play with.  Scott Porter was pretty much the local guitar legend.  He had long curly hair, played lead guitar, had a Marshall stack (I think), and all the girls went nuts for him. He was also a genuinely nice guy.  At least to me.  I always liked Scott, and was never enamored over him like some of the other local bass players.  I considered his guitar playing to be the real litmus test , which was quite good, but not really any better than the lads I was playing with.  I was also not too crazy about the music his band played, which was more hard rock and heavy metal.  I perceived this as a great weakness.   I was into the right kind of music.  Blues based rock.  Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter,  Clapton, the Stones.  You get the picture.  So, an alliance with Scott Porter looked pretty unlikely.

I was jamming at a party one Friday night, and Scott was there.  During our first break he finds me and tells me how great we sounded.  Typical polite musician banter, I thought.  But then he says, “No, man, I mean you sound REALLY good”.   Me: “Well, hey, you know. Thanks man”.  Then he tells me that he needs a bass player for a gig that he and Chad were going to play, and he really wanted me.  Didn’t see that one coming.  I was kind of flustered.  And I realized that I really didn’t want to play a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock, and I was already playing practically every weekend that summer, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  So, I said, “Yeah, man”.  (We all said “man” a lot back then).  “Sounds great.   But I really don’t want to do it if we don’t play some blues, you know, like me and Ricky do”.  Scott:  “Oh, man, I WANT to do that stuff, man!  That’s why I want you to play!”.  Me: “Man! Sounds great! Let’s do it!”   There was most likely a lot more colorful language in the exchange, but that is the basis of the communication.

So, next thing I know, I am in Scott’s basement with Chad, and we are practicing for our first gig together.  Chad was an excellent drummer.  Crazy energy, very fast and very precise, and he could drive the songs.  He was fun to jam with.  I remember that Chad was really into My Sharona by the Knack that summer, but we couldn’t play it because we only had one guitarist – Scott.  Also, I think it was a bit too New Wave for us.  The other song he wanted to do was a song written by Willie Dixon and covered by Pat Travers:  Boom Boom.  (Out Go the Lights).  This was a total blues rock tune, and I was impressed that he wanted to do it.  So we practiced it, got it down, and it was one of my favorite tunes I did with Chad and Scott.  We practiced a bunch of other tunes, until we had enough for a couple sets.

Our first gig together was at a gorgeous home out in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  It was a house party.  There was an in-ground pool, and we set up next to it.  It was a lot of fun, and they loved us.  My bass (a black on black beautiful 1976 Fender Jazz Bass) went missing after the gig.  I had no idea what happened to it.  I made a number of frantic calls the next day, and found out that a girl had taken it because she wanted to meet the band members.  I went over and picked up my bass from her house the next day without incident.  Oh, the life of a Rock Star.

The next gig we did was somewhere out in Southfield.  Another house party, and we played in the garage.  Some of my bandmates from Toads on Parade and The Fizbin Blues Band showed up, and they thought we sounded great.  I can’t remember for sure, but I think we did I Wants to be Loved by Muddy Waters.  This was one of the songs I insisted we do with most of my bands.  I sometimes did the lead vocals, but there is no way to sound like Muddy Waters, so you have to make it your own.  Anyway, again, it was a lot of fun, and we had a very appreciative audience.

The last time I played with Chad, it was at the Southfield Swim Club.  We were going to get paid real money for this gig.  $150.  Split three ways, that meant I was going to make $50. We played outside, next to the pool again, and we had a great response from the crowd.  They were mostly Swim Club kids, and they were pretty star struck.  I have never really been able to understand why musicians have such an appeal.  I mean, we were just some long-haired guys that played mostly 3 chord songs.  Oh well.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the attention.  And looking back at it, we had a lot of energy, and were actually quite good.

So, the day after this last gig, I remembered that we were supposed to get paid.  I called Scott and he told me that Chad had been the one that had been paid.  So, I called Chad.  I left a message with his mom.  No call back.  No $50.  I wasn’t really too worried about the money.  I played because I loved to play, and most of the gigs back then paid us in beer.  This was new.  I never played with Chad again, and I don’t think our paths crossed from that day until now.

So, I never called him back and forgot about it.  Until a friend of mine told me in 1998 that Chad Smith was the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I was skeptical, but then I looked it up, and sure enough, there was the Chad Smith I had jammed with back in the day.  Older, but it was Chad.  I was tickled to be able to say that I had played with this guy before he got famous with RHCP and playing at the Super Bowl and all that.  And then I remembered the $50.  What a great story!  Nobody is going to believe me, I thought.

So, that’s the story.  Chad Smith, drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, still owes me $50 for the Southfield Swim Club gig we played in the summer of 1979 with Scott Porter.

Chad, if you read this, congratulations on your wild success!  It was great to jam with you, and I remember those days fondly.  And about the money, I won’t even charge interest.  But, hey, I am sure you can afford to mail me that $50 check.

I’ll let you all know if and when I hear from Chad.  It would be pretty fun if I do hear something.


Posted by: tommybrennan | January 27, 2015

God is the First and the Last

OzymandiasGod is always first, and God will surely be last.

To say this is not to draw God downward into the stream of time and involve Him in the flux and flow of the world. He stands above His own creation and outside of time; but for the convenience of His creatures, who are children of time, He makes free use of time words when referring to Himself. So He says that He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last. Man in the plan of God has been granted considerable say; but never is he permitted to utter the first word nor the last. That is the prerogative of the Deity, and one which He will never surrender to His creatures.

Man has no say about the time or the place of his birth; God determines that without consulting the man himself. One day the little man finds himself in consciousness and accepts the fact that he is. There his volitional life begins. Before that he had nothing to say about anything. After that he struts and boasts and utters his defiant proclamations of individual freedom, and encouraged by the sound of his own voice he may declare his independence of God and call himself an “atheist” or an “agnostic.” Have your fun, little man; you are only chattering in the interim between first and last; you had no voice at the first and you will have none at the last. God reserves the right to take up at the last where He began at the first, and you are in the hands of God whether you will or not.

This knowledge should humble us and encourage us, too. It should humble us when we remember how frail we are, how utterly dependent upon God; and it should encourage us to know that when everything else has passed we may still have God no less surely than before.

Adam became a living soul, but that becoming was not of his own volition. It was God who willed it and who executed His will in making Adam a living man. God was there first. And when Adam sinned and wrecked his whole life God was there still. Adam did not know it perhaps, but his whole future peace lay in this – that God was there after he had sinned. The God who was there at Adam’s beginning remained there at his ending. God was there last.

It would be great wisdom for us to begin to live in the light of this wonderful and terrible truth: God is the first and the last.

The remembrance of this could save nations from many tragic and bloody decisions. Were notes written by statesmen against the background of such knowledge they might be less inflammatory, less arrogant; and were kings and dictators to think soberly of this great truth they might walk more softly and speak less like gods. For after all they are not really important and the sphere of their freedom is constricted more than they dream.

Shelley tells of the traveler who saw in the desert two vast and trunkless legs of stone, and near them half-buried in the sand lay a shattered face with a “wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.” On the pedestal where once the proud image had stood were engraven these words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” And, says the poet, “Nothing else remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Shelley was right except for one thing: Something else did remain. It was God. He had been there first to look in gentle pity upon the mad king who could boast so shamelessly in the shadow of the tomb; and He was there when the winds of heaven blew down the statue and by the swirling sands covered with a mantle of pity the evidence of human decay.

God was there last.

from The Root of the Righteous by A. W. Tozer

Posted by: tommybrennan | October 7, 2014

North Country Amnesia

cold-house(Ed. Note:  Despite the content of this post, I greatly appreciate the raw savage beauty of Northern New York Winters.  The stars are absolutely incredible, and the glories of the extreme cold up here are truly a sight to behold.  However, 150 days is enough to try anyone’s patience.  This is for those who understand what a cold winter is, and how those of us in this fraternity deal with the reality of a long winter.  Those who live for winter will not be able to relate to this at all.)

When you live in a northern US climate, you have to have some pretty advanced coping skills to deal with a winter that can last five months or longer.  Here where I live, in the beautiful Thousand Islands area of New York, we employ a technique that I call North Country Amnesia.

Now, this may sound intimidating, and complex, but it is really pretty simple, and it is done by many of us without even thinking about it.

Basically, when it is beautiful here, we simply forget the insane, long cold winter, and enjoy the marvelous spring, summer and fall.  We awaken from North Country Amnesia right around now, (mid October to early November), and assent to the reality of the calendar.  Winter is on its way, it will not delay, and we are right in the path of another cold, seemingly endless, bleak winter.  We resign ourselves to the inevitable.

As I sit here, I have just enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather since late April.  We have seen stretches of weather that are breathtaking, particularly if you have the chance to enjoy the day on a boat on the St. Lawrence River.  The Indians called this area “The Garden of the Great Spirit”, and I can certainly attest to the accuracy of this description.

As I look outside, the first real non-summer weather has arrived, and I am blessed by the first stages of autumn color.  The reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and even purples and pinks are starting to blaze forth out of the forests, woods, and Adirondacks.  The change of seasons is very pronounced here, and we are privileged to see the same landscape in four very diverse changes of clothing.

The next season (winter) will feature a monochromatic palette for close to five months. White, grey, and black will be the primary hues that we will see, and this will be accompanied by temperatures that often drop to -30 Fahrenheit.  I have actually felt the snot freeze in my head.  I have done the boiling water trick, where I took a boiling pot of water and threw it outside.  It turned to snow and fell to the ground, transformed by the incredible, unflinching cold that gripped our village. This is a trick typically displayed on YouTube by scientists at the Amundsen Scott station at the South Pole, or Inuit above the Arctic Circle.  I can do it on my front porch.  This tells me that I live in a place of great extremes.   I have often observed that living here is like living on two different planets.  A Green and Blue Eden, and an uninhabited White Dwarf.

The cold can be so violent that to stand in it for more than a few minutes with the wrong coat will result in hypothermia.  Frostbite if you don’t have the sense to get in out of it.  I have heard booms in my attic as the cold caused rafters to contract violently.

To leave the house requires complete insulation from head to toe, not unlike an astronaut.  I refer to our mudroom as the Airlock in the winter, as it is the point of preparation to depart our protected atmosphere, that allows us mammals to survive in these hostile conditions.

Now, I am aware that many among us live for the cold.  They are ice fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, and skiers. I am not one of these. So, I don’t look forward to the cold.  And so, I have adapted the same technique of many of those in my community.  I don’t think about winter all spring, summer or fall.  This is North Country Amnesia.  It  is an amazingly effective tool. The most intelligent among us employ the technique, and thus preserve sanity during the long cold winter, so we don’t wear ourselves out worrying about the horrific cold that starts to kick in as early as late October.

Indeed, we carry on as if we live in a virtual Utopia, never allowing ourselves to ponder what the place looks like in January or February:  Tundra, worthy of a National Geographic special about Emperor Penguins or Polar Bears.

I have often been struck by the very real single-color environment winter reveals here. The greens of summer are long forgotten. The brilliantly colored flowers and birds of spring are a distant memory.  The glorious reds, yellows and russets of fall are gone.  All that I can see is a blanket of white that meets a gray sky, with black leafless trees punctuating the scene here and there.  And the sun is only up for about 15 minutes.

Okay, I am exaggerating about the sunlight, but you get the picture. One must have some real adaptation skills, and I am proud to say that I employ North Country Amnesia with great success.  As a matter of fact, I am getting ready to step out of North Country Amnesia as we are settling into the fall season here.  I will face the reality of the cold, forbidding winter, and live in survival mode for the next few months, bracing against the cold, shoveling mountains of snow, paying exorbitant prices for propane, shuddering as I stand at the gasoline pump in the howling dark.  Starting my car ½ an hour early so it will be warm, staring at the telephone poles to guide me on the highway during a whiteout, thawing my car door lock with a propane torch.

But hey, I really do enjoy the Christmas season, and we almost always get a White Christmas.         (Coping Skill Bonus:  Looking at the Bright Side…..)







Posted by: tommybrennan | June 23, 2014

The Woman in the Sundress

sundress-2013I have watched the erosion of manners and courtesy between men and women my whole life.    I remember when I was a child, how men would hold a door open for a woman, offer their seat in a waiting room, or stop to change a tire for a woman.  This whole chivalry thing has really faded from the American landscape.  I regret its passing.    I found hope in a most unexpected place however.   Wal Mart’s Garden Department.

I was shopping at Wal Mart about two years ago.  Yes, I shop at Wal Mart, and I am not ashamed.   It was a hot day, and the store was crowded.  As I was moving through the Garden Department looking for a decent bird feeder, something caught my eye.  It was  a woman in a sundress.   I immediately noticed her.   Now, my wife was with me, so this wasn’t some lustful ogling I was doing.  I noticed because she was the only woman that was wearing a dress.  Every other woman was wearing shorts.  The shorts were often tight, and real short.  The tops were mostly tight and low cut or both, and yet, in this veritable meat market of womanly assets on display, I noticed this woman in a sundress.  And I noticed her in a different manner than I noticed the other women.  This woman’s bearing caused me to respect her.  She was not a knockout, or drop dead gorgeous.  She was simply an average looking woman in a sundress.  It made me think:  why does she stand out from the crowd?   I turned to Julie and I said, “you see that woman in a sun dress?   If she has a flat tire on the way home, she won’t be changing it.”  Julie wasn’t sure what I meant, so I explained:

Men love to look at women.  This is nothing new.  When a woman dresses in a sensual way, leaving nothing to the imagination, we notice.    Big Time.  If  a woman is looking to get a man’s attention, this will absolutely work.  The kind of attention she is getting, however,  is not the kind of attention I want my daughter or my wife getting from men.  I know what men are like, and I know how men think.  A woman who is dressed to score a direct hit on a man’s sensory apparatus will not draw men who are  eager to discuss the virtues of Mother Theresa and her Sisters of Mercy in Calcutta.  Ladies, you know it.   Don’t fool yourselves.

The woman who was dressed in the sundress drew attention, but it was a completely different kind of attention.   She was  being noticed for her appearance, but there was a respect that went along with the attention.   She looked feminine, and perhaps, by extension, somewhat refined, and yes, perhaps vulnerable.   I cannot fully explain this phenomenon, but when a man sees a woman that exudes femininity, it makes him want to exude masculinity.   I don’t mean the “hey baby, let’s breed” aspect of masculinity, but something more noble.   He wants to open the door for her,  he wants to get her attention.   He also wants to (dare I say it) protect the damsel in distress.   It is something hard-wired into the male psyche to want to be a woman’s hero.    When a woman wears a dress, it brings out something of that protective element in a man.  As I told my wife, that lady in the sun dress will not be changing any flat tires today.

Ladies, let me give you some advice.   Dress to appeal to this higher element in men.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the higher level of male attention you get.  It will be tempered with a respect that you will really like.   Give it a shot.  You have nothing to lose.

Except the opportunity to change your own tires.

P.S.  This is not intended as a “you should only wear a dress and pants are evil” post.  I am making a cultural observation about how smart women can avoid doing auto repair.

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