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!

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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.

Posted by: tommybrennan | April 18, 2014

One Solitary Life

File_PassionMovie_EmptyCrossHere is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood.

While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat.

When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Twenty wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

Dr. James Allan Francis

Posted by: tommybrennan | April 12, 2014

Sympathy For The Devil

noah-serpentNote:   I was directed to this review about the Noah Movie.  The author, Dr. Brian Mattson, has a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. His insights are excellent, and very worth reading.

In Darren Aronofsky’s new star-gilt silver screen epic, Noah, Adam and Eve are luminescent and fleshless, right up until the moment they eat the forbidden fruit.

Such a notion isn’t found in the Bible, of course. This, among the multitude of Aronofsky’s other imaginative details like giant Lava Monsters, has caused many a reviewer’s head to be scratched. Conservative-minded evangelicals write off the film because of the “liberties” taken with the text of Genesis, while a more liberal-minded group stands in favor of cutting the director some slack. After all, we shouldn’t expect a professed atheist to have the same ideas of “respecting” sacred texts the way a Bible-believer would.

Both groups have missed the mark entirely. Aronofsky hasn’t “taken liberties” with anything.

The Bible is not his text.

In his defense, I suppose, the film wasn’t advertised as such. Nowhere is it said that this movie is an adaptation of Genesis. It was never advertised as “The Bible’s Noah,” or “The Biblical Story of Noah.” In our day and age we are so living in the leftover atmosphere of Christendom that when somebody says they want to do “Noah,” everybody assumes they mean a rendition of the Bible story. That isn’t what Aronofsky had in mind at all. I’m sure he was only too happy to let his studio go right on assuming that, since if they knew what he was really up to they never would have allowed him to make the movie.

Let’s go back to our luminescent first parents. I recognized the motif instantly as one common to the ancient religion of Gnosticism. Here’s a 2nd century A.D. description about what a sect called the Ophites believed:

“Adam and Eve formerly had light, luminous, and so to speak spiritual bodies, as they had been fashioned. But when they came here, the bodies became dark, fat, and idle.” –Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, I, 30.9

It occurred to me that a mystical tradition more closely related to Judaism, called Kabbalah (which the singer Madonna made popular a decade ago or so), surely would have held a similar view, since it is essentially a form of Jewish Gnosticism. I dusted off (No, really: I had to dust it) my copy of Adolphe Franck’s 19th century work, The Kabbalah, and quickly confirmed my suspicions:

“Before they were beguiled by the subtleness of the serpent, Adam and Eve were not only exempt from the need of a body, but did not even have a body—that is to say, they were not of the earth.”

Franck quotes from the Zohar, one of Kabbalah’s sacred texts:

“When our forefather Adam inhabited the Garden of Eden, he was clothed, as all are in heaven, with a garment made of the higher light. When he was driven from the Garden of Eden and was compelled to submit to the needs of this world, what happened? God, the Scriptures tell us, made Adam and his wife tunics of skin and clothed them; for before this they had tunics of light, of that higher light used in Eden…”

Obscure stuff, I know. But curiosity overtook me and I dove right down the rabbit hole.

I discovered what Darren Aronofsky’s first feature film was: Pi. Want to know its subject matter? Do you? Are you sure?

Kabbalah.

If you think that’s a coincidence, you may want a loved one to schedule you a brain scan.

Have I got your attention? Good.

The world of Aronofsky’s Noah is a thoroughly Gnostic one: a graded universe of “higher” and “lower.” The “spiritual” is good, and way, way, way “up there” where the ineffable, unspeaking god dwells, and the “material” is bad, and way, way down here where our spirits are encased in material flesh. This is not only true of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, but of fallen angels, who are explicitly depicted as being spirits trapped inside a material “body” of cooled molten lava.

Admittedly, they make pretty nifty movie characters, but they’re also notorious in Gnostic speculation. Gnostics call them Archons, lesser divine beings or angels who aid “The Creator” in forming the visible universe. And Kabbalah has a pantheon of angelic beings of its own all up and down the ladder of “divine being.” And fallen angels are never totally fallen in this brand of mysticism. To quote the Zohar again, a central Kabbalah text: “All things of which this world consists, the spirit as well as the body, will return to the principle and the root from which they came.” Funny. That’s exactly what happens to Aronofsky’s Lava Monsters. They redeem themselves, shed their outer material skin, and fly back to the heavens. Incidentally, I noticed that in the film, as the family is traveling through a desolate wasteland, Shem asks his father: “Is this a Zohar mine?” Yep. That’s the name of Kabbalah’s sacred text.

The entire movie is, figuratively, a “Zohar” mine.

If there was any doubt about these “Watchers,” Aronofsky gives several of them names: Semyaza, Magog, and Rameel. They’re all well-known demons in the Jewish mystical tradition, not only in Kabbalah but also in the book of 1 Enoch.

What!? Demons are redeemed? Adolphe Franck explains the cosmology of Kabbalah: “Nothing is absolutely bad; nothing is accursed forever—not even the archangel of evil or the venomous beast, as he is sometimes called. There will come a time when he will recover his name and his angelic nature.”

Okay. That’s weird. But, hey, everybody in the film seems to worship “The Creator,” right? Surely it’s got that in its favor!

Except that when Gnostics speak about “The Creator” they are not talking about God. Oh, here in an affluent world living off the fruits of Christendom the term “Creator” generally denotes the true and living God. But here’s a little “Gnosticism 101” for you: the Creator of the material world is an ignorant, arrogant, jealous, exclusive, violent, low-level, bastard son of a low level deity. He’s responsible for creating the “unspiritual” world of flesh and matter, and he himself is so ignorant of the spiritual world he fancies himself the “only God” and demands absolute obedience. They generally call him “Yahweh.” Or other names, too (Ialdabaoth, for example).

This Creator tries to keep Adam and Eve from the true knowledge of the divine and, when they disobey, flies into a rage and boots them from the garden.

In other words, in case you’re losing the plot here: The serpent was right all along. This “god,” “The Creator,” whom they are worshiping is withholding something from them that the serpent will provide: divinity itself.

The world of Gnostic mysticism is bewildering with a myriad of varieties. But, generally speaking, they hold in common that the serpent is “Sophia,” “Mother,” or “Wisdom.” The serpent represents the true divine, and the claims of “The Creator” are false.

So is the serpent a major character in the film?

Let’s go back to the movie. The action opens when Lamech is about to bless his son, Noah. Lamech, rather strangely for a patriarch of a family that follows God, takes out a sacred relic, the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden. He wraps it around his arm, stretches out his hand to touch his son—except, just then, a band of marauders interrupts them and the ceremony isn’t completed. Lamech gets killed, and the “villain” of the film, Tubal-Cain, steals the snakeskin. Noah, in other words, doesn’t get whatever benefit the serpent’s skin was to bestow.

The skin doesn’t light up magically on Tubal-Cain’s arm, so apparently he doesn’t get “enlightened,” either. And that’s why everybody in the film, including protagonist and antagonist, Noah and Tubal-Cain, is worshiping “The Creator.” They are all deluded. Let me clear something up here: lots of reviewers expressed some bewilderment over the fact there aren’t any likable characters and that they all seem to be worshiping the same God. Tubal-Cain and his clan are wicked and evil and, as it turns out, Noah’s pretty bad himself when he abandons Ham’s girlfriend and almost slays two newborn children. Some thought this was some kind of profound commentary on how there’s evil in all of us. Here’s an excerpt from the Zohar, the sacred text of Kabbalah:

“Two beings [Adam and Nachash—the Serpent] had intercourse with Eve [the Second woman], and she conceived from both and bore two children. Each followed one of the male parents, and their spirits parted, one to this side and one to the other, and similarly their characters. On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial — good wine mixed with bad.”

Sound familiar? Yes. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, to the “T.”

Anyway, everybody is worshiping the evil deity. Who wants to destroy everybody. (By the way, in Kabbalah many worlds have already been created and destroyed.) Both Tubal-Cain and Noah have identical scenes, looking into the heavens and asking, “Why won’t you speak to me?” “The Creator” has abandoned them all because he intends to kill them all.

Noah had been given a vision of the coming deluge. He’s drowning, but sees animals floating to the surface to the safety of the ark. No indication whatsoever is given that Noah is to be saved; Noah conspicuously makes that part up during an awkward moment explaining things to his family. He is sinking while the animals, “the innocent,” are rising. “The Creator” who gives Noah his vision wants all the humans dead.

Many reviewers thought Noah’s change into a homicidal maniac on the ark, wanting to kill his son’s two newborn daughters, was a weird plot twist. It isn’t weird at all. In the Director’s view, Noah is worshiping a false, homicidal maniac of a god. The more faithful and “godly” Noah becomes, the more homicidal he becomes. He is becoming every bit the “image of god” that the “evil” guy who keeps talking about the “image of god,” Tubal-Cain, is.

But Noah fails “The Creator.” He cannot wipe out all life like his god wants him to do. “When I looked at those two girls, my heart was filled with nothing but love,” he says. Noah now has something “The Creator” doesn’t. Love. And Mercy. But where did he get it? And why now?

In the immediately preceding scene Noah killed Tubal-Cain and recovered the snakeskin relic: “Sophia,” “Wisdom,” the true light of the divine. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Okay, I’m almost done. The rainbows don’t come at the end because God makes a covenant with Noah. The rainbows appear when Noah sobers up and embraces the serpent. He wraps the skin around his arm, and blesses his family. It is not God that commissions them to now multiply and fill the earth, but Noah, in the first person, “I,” wearing the serpent talisman. (Oh, and by the way, it’s not accidental that the rainbows are all circular. The circle of the “One,” the Ein Sof, in Kabbalah, is the sign of monism.)

Notice this thematic change: Noah was in a drunken stupor the scene before. Now he is sober and “enlightened.” Filmmakers never do that by accident.

He’s transcended and outgrown that homicidal, jealous deity.

Let me issue a couple of caveats to all this: Gnostic speculation is a diverse thing. Some groups appear radically “dualist,” where “The Creator” really is a different “god” altogether. Others are more “monist,” where God exists in a series of descending emanations. Others have it that the lower deity “grows” and “matures” and himself ascends the “ladder” or “chain” of being to higher heights. Noah probably fits a little in each category. It’s hard to tell. My other caveat is this: there is no doubt a ton of Kabbalist imagery, quotations, and themes in this movie that I couldn’t pick up in a single sitting. For example, since Kabbalah takes its flights of fancy generally based on Hebrew letters and numbers, I did notice that the “Watchers” appeared to be deliberately shaped like Hebrew letters. But you could not pay me to go see this movie again so I could further drill into the Zohar mine to see what I could find. (On a purely cinematic viewpoint, I found most of it unbearably boring.)

What I can say on one viewing is this:

Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.

So let me tell you what the real scandal in all of this is.

It isn’t that he made a film that departed from the biblical story. It isn’t that disappointed and overheated Christian critics had expectations set too high.

The scandal is this: of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie (for whatever reasons: “it’s a conversation starter,” “at least Hollywood is doing something on the Bible,” etc.), and all of the Christian leaders who panned it for “not following the Bible”…

Not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.

I believe Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: “You are so ignorant that I can put Noah (granted, it’s Russell Crowe!) up on the big screen and portray him literally as the ‘seed of the Serpent’ and you all will watch my studio’s screening and endorse it.”

He’s having quite the laugh. And shame on everyone who bought it.

And what a Gnostic experiment! In Gnosticism, only the “elite” are “in the know” and have the secret knowledge. Everybody else are dupes and ignorant fools. The “event” of this movie is intended to illustrate the Gnostic premise. We are dupes and fools. Would Christendom awake, please?

In response, I have one simple suggestion:

Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.

Because it’s the 2nd century all over again.

Postscript

Some readers may think I’m being hard on people for not noticing the Gnosticism at the heart of this film. I am not expecting rank-and-file viewers to notice these things. I would expect exactly what we’ve seen: head-scratching confusion. I’ve got a whole different standard for Christian leaders: college and seminary professors, pastors, and Ph.Ds. If a serpent skin wrapped around the arm of a godly Bible character doesn’t set off any alarms… I don’t know what to say.

Dr. Brian Mattson

http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil

Posted by: tommybrennan | April 4, 2014

Not Your Father’s Noah

NoahThe movie Noah (directed, produced, and written by Darren Aronofsky) has been the source of a great deal of controversy. I saw the movie last night, and now I understand why.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I had read many reviews about the movie.  Some praised the movie as a great example of film making, and some questioned the motives, storyline and overall message.  Since it was creating such a ruckus, I decided to see it for myself.

This decision in itself was met with a great deal of resistance from friends of mine.  I am not a film student, nor do I enjoy controversy.  I do consider myself to be a Christian apologist, and this film addresses something that I have a stake in:  The Bible.  I am very concerned about how our culture views the Bible, and the God of the Bible.  I determined that I needed to understand what was being said in this movie so I can give a thoughtful response.  There are those who do not see this as being a legitimate reason to see this film, and on this issue, we will have to remain in disagreement.

There is really just one problem with this movie, but this problem permeates the entire story.  It is not based on the Noah of the Bible.  Aronofky’s Noah is a composite of many influences.  I picked up elements from Genesis, Greek Mythology,  the Transformer movies, Apocalypse Now, and Star Wars (List is not exhaustive).  The movie would have been better if it had a different title.  Perhaps Ha-On (Noah backwards).  If this movie were offered without involving a connection to Genesis, it would still not be what I would call a good movie, but it would make more sense to me.  This is a classic example of a movie that is not as good as the trailer.

I will start by saying that the film is dark, strange, disturbing and contradictory.  There are so many bizarre and ill-fitting elements, that it almost seemed like a “Greatest Hits” album of film making conventions.

On a purely aesthetic level, I have to say that the acting is not very convincing.  The characters are held captive by a strange and contradictory story, and the conviction needed to sell this plot is lacking.  It felt like I was watching the Phantom Menace or something, and the movie would need to be saved by the special effects.

Another minor, aesthetic issue is the clothing, which  is distinctly modern/post apocalyptic in style. The robes of old Hollywood Bible movies are gone, and replaced by trousers and tunics that have more than a little designer influence.  The costumes are the first clue that this isn’t going to follow convention or historical accuracy.   They look cool, very much like something out of the Matrix or a Star Wars outpost planet, but it seems out of place, and an effort to update what doesn’t need to be updated.

The “Watchers” are introduced as fallen angels that have been cursed.  They are now Transformer Ents constructed of solid rock.  Their inclusion in the story might have been okay as a passing curiosity, but the entire plot and Noah’s survival are completely dependent on these fabrications. Indeed, they are a massive plot manipulation that the story depends upon, and there is more than a whiff of Deus Ex Machina going on here.  They actually are the primary builders of the Ark, they protect Noah and his family from thousands of rampaging wild men, and it is revealed that they were cursed for trying to help man, in the manner of Prometheus.  The Watchers are so integral to this movie, an uninformed person would be shocked to learn that there is no such creature found in the book of Genesis.

The main enemy, Tubal Cain, is revealed to be the worst of mankind.  He is a king, a carnivore, a cannibal, and a killer.  He cries out to the Creator, but is not answered (God is mean, it is His fault Tubal Cain is messed up).  He believes that man was given dominion over the beasts of the field, and over the earth, and he is to subdue it.  (And so does God – Genesis  1:28)  He believes in the ability of man to do anything, and thinks that man can do great things because he is created in the Creator’s image.  The only thing I could think of when I saw Tubal Cain, was that here was the ultimate evil in Aronofsky’s mind:  a corporate CEO who uses the resources of the earth to build cars and TVs for a profit, kills animals for McNuggets, and thinks that man should build great structures like the Freedom Tower.  He probably even opposes Affordable Health Care.  The Consummate Republican.  Oh, the Horror……

The worst thing about this movie is the portrayal of the Creator.  He is all powerful, but distant.  He is unconcerned with the suffering of people.  He demands much but gives nothing.  Any good that is done comes at the efforts of Methusaleh, Noah or his family.   The Creator just wants to use Noah to build a big boat to save the animals, the ultimate good.

It is clear that the Creator (not God), is going to destroy all life due to man’s violence to the earth.  This seems to be consistent with the Bible’s account, until you get deeper into Aronofsky’s story.  It is clear that the Creator in the movie is upset that man has hurt the planet.  The violence of men toward each other is mentioned, but the greater evil of man is his poor stewardship of the earth’s resources.  There is a strong theme of environmentalism being the Creator’s main concern.

Noah is convinced that he is charged with saving all of the animals, but that man needs to become extinct after the flood destroys all life on earth.  He is convinced that man is the ultimate evil.  This begs the question, why did the Creator bother to use Noah, and not just use the Watchers to build the Ark?  Kill all of mankind, and get it over with.  Noah is a pawn in the hands of a very awful God in this story.

Instead, He instructs Noah to build the Ark, but then appears to stop talking to him, leaving him to guess what the will of the Creator might be.  Or worse, the Will involves killing his own granddaughters, thus assuring the extinction of the human race.  It is the mercy of Noah, not God, that saves his granddaughters.  He says “I am sorry, I cannot do this” to the Creator’s demand that he kill his offspring.  And here is the theme:   Man is merciful, God is bent on death.  Make no mistake, this movie assumes that God is cruel, powerful, and bloodthirsty.   The ultimate Bully.

The best part of the movie is toward the end, when Noah speaks to his daughter in law, Ila, the mother of his grandchildren.  She tells him that the Creator left the decision of whether to kill his granddaughters up to Noah.  The fact that Noah didn’t, proves that there is good in man, and the Creator was right to spare Noah and his family.  This is a small scrap of redemption, but it comes in contradiction to everything else that is presented in the movie.  Though it was the best part, and the denouement of the movie, it doesn’t fit.  It seems disjointed and comes off like it is pasted on.

If there was any one thing that I came away from Noah with, it was a profound appreciation for the original account of Noah in the Bible.  I am grateful to God for his Mercy toward Noah, and his continued covenant with man that I am reminded of with every rainbow.

I will conclude by saying that I do not recommend this movie.  Perhaps it might be worth catching on Netflix or TV, but it doesn’t merit a full box office admission.

(If you want to read the story of Noah as presented in the Bible, you can find it in Genesis, chapters six through nine.)

Posted by: tommybrennan | March 16, 2014

Death, Resurrection and Disney

Resurrected In the canon of Disney heroes and heroines, there is a full spectrum of personalities, ethnicities, and settings.  There seems to be a singular ideal for both the male and female physiques, but that is another question for another day. 

The issue at hand is the remarkably persistent plot that is introduced in so many Disney films.  That is, the death and resurrection of a hero figure.  Surprised?  Read on.

Now we all know that Disney is not a Christian company, and it can hardly be argued that they have any other ethic aside from making a profit.  The Walt Disney corporation is distinctly secular, and has always been secular.  This is not debatable.  Any depictions of religion are only inserted if they are necessary to move the plot along, and then they move hastily on to the real action.

So where are these death and resurrections seen in Disney films?  As we look at them, you will see them clearly.  (CAUTION : SPOILER ALERT)

1.  Beauty and the Beast:   Here, we have the beautiful Belle, who is at first repulsed by the Beast.  The Beast bungles every effort to win her affections, and the story looks hopeless.  In a wonderful Disneyesque turn, the Beast is counseled by his now living household appliances that he needs to win her with love and courtesy.  He puts this advice to marvelous success, and Belle falls for him.

Everything is looking rosy, until Belle discovers her father is in peril.  The Beast, now transformed by a heart of love, allows her to leave, thus sealing his own fate to be a hideous creature for eternity.  Belle leaves, The Beast’s heart is broken, and Gaston shows up with his hoard of useful peasants (complete with ignorance and pitchforks).  The Beast, though stronger and able to dismember Gaston, instead shows mercy to the handsome, muscular doofus.  Gaston repays the mercy by stabbing the Beast in the back.

The Beast sees Belle one last time, gives up the ghost and all hope is lost.  Except all those kids in the theatre need a happy ending.  The Beast is resurrected in a stirring, spectacular, tear jerking whirlwind of a scene.  Light beams shoot out of his feet, fingers and face.  He is transformed from a hideous creature to what he really is:  a Prince.  The Son of a King.  Belle is now completely taken by the comeliness of this one she loved, now manifested in his true beauty.  The Bridegroom takes the Bride, there is a wedding feast, and they all live happily ever after

2.  Tangled:  Here we have Rapunzel, oppressed and trapped (though unwittingly) by her supposed mother, who is really just a narcissistic Disney Evil Queen.   She is kept captive, and her life is one of small scope, confined to a tower, threatened with great sorry, and misery, and danger if she ever leaves.  She stays.

Through a hilarious and wildly entertaining story, she is rescued by Flynn Rider, and is within reach of her rightful parents: The King and Queen of the realm.  The Evil Mother intervenes in her near happiness, and confines her in the tower again.  Flynn shows up to rescue Rapunzel, because he really, really loves her.  He disregards the danger.  He is stabbed in the back (are we seeing a pattern here?) by the Evil Mother.  Rapunzel promises to stay with Evil Mom, if she can only heal Flynn’s wound with her hair, which conveniently has magical power to provide youth and healing.

Dying, Flynn then cuts Rapunzel’s hair, thus sealing Rapunzel’s freedom, but his own death.  Evil Mother dies due to the loss of her fountain of youth (the hair).  Flynn dies, and Rapunzel is free, but heartbroken.  She sheds a tear, which also carries the power of healing.  Flynn is resurrected in a scene reminiscent of the Beast, light beams shooting out if his wound, his skin becomes rosy and pale, and the music swells with the beautiful and wonderful reunion.  They Bridegroom takes the Bride, there is a wedding feast, and they all live happily ever after.

3.  Frozen:  Here we have a bit of a twist.  Two sisters are Princesses (what else?).  They have a great life together, until it is discovered that the older sister (Elsa)has magical power that freezes everything she touches.  She hides this secret with gloves.  She is eventually outed, and lives in self-imposed exile, preferring solitude to hurting others.  Her sister Anna, seeks her out, hoping to restore their relationship. 

The icy curse can only be broken by the manifestation of true love.  We are now all expecting a handsome prince to provide the kiss and break the spell, but here, Disney provides a surprise.  The younger sister, Anna, shields Elsa from a fatal blow, and is turned to ice.  Elsa’s icy, lonely heart is broken, and she embraces Anna.  Anna is thawed from her frozen state, and is resurrected to her rightful place as a Princess.  She falls in love with Kristoff, and they live happily ever after.

So, what can we learn from all of this?  I haven’t done an exhaustive study on Disney resurrections, but have just pulled down these examples like so much low hanging fruit.  These are obvious death and resurrection tales.  Without question.  And all of these movies have been box office smash successes.  Why?  I think we can find a clue by looking at another death and resurrection.

In the Bible, Jesus is presented as the Son of a King (God). He is therefore a Prince.  He appears to bring a Bride (Princess) to Himself, and be married to her forever.  This Bride is the complete collection of all people who will ever take Him as their Friend and Savior.  He is betrayed by a friend (stabbed in the back), and condemned to death by evil men.  He dies to save other people, who are powerless to save themselves.  He gives up His freedom, and status as a Prince, to rescue and restore others to a state of sons and daughters (His brothers and sisters) of his Father, the King.  His death is real, and He is mourned.  On the third day, He is resurrected.  I am sure that the Disney scenes in Beauty, Tangled, and Frozen give us some inkling of what the resurrection of the Son of God was like on that beautiful Spring morning 2,000 years ago.

So why does Disney use and reuse the death and resurrection theme?  I believe it is because it is written in our souls that this has already happened, and we desperately want to believe that it is true.  But since the Bible’s account seems to be too good to be true, we turn to stories, and tales that hint at the love of God.  These stories get so very close, and they are artistically beautiful, and stunning works of art, but they omit the very heart of the issue.

God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (live happily ever after).

Happy Easter Season!

Your Brother Tom

Posted by: tommybrennan | February 27, 2014

Ted Talks – The Great Porn Experiment

I found this Ted Talk  to be enlightening, alarming, sobering, and important to hear.  This is how internet pornography affects young men.
Ted Talks - The Great Porn Experiment

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