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DC Grub 2011: Marcel’s and Restaurant Eve

Sunday night at Marcel’s….
To say that Marcel’s was “winner by default” for my Sunday evening meal sounds kind of negative. While it is true that the majority of high-end restaurants are not open on Sunday and Monday evenings, which put Marcel’s on a very short list of candidates, I did enough research to be genuinely enthusiastic about my meal there. Would it have won out if I were only in town Tue-Sat and my options were limitless? Who the hell knows. As fate would have it, Marcel’s is where I dined and I enjoyed the experience immensely.

Oh, no pictures! ZERO! I didn’t take any at Marcel’s and gave up after one at Eve because I just wanted to relax and enjoy the meals, plus, even though I would NEVER use a flash in the dining room I just didn’t feel like the vibe of the rooms supported that level of OCD tendencies. Like I said, I’m thankful for the obsessive photogs, the pictures I DO take totally suck, but I generally associate that driven-to-photograph-every-bite-nobody-at-the-table-touch-your-food-till-I-get-a-picture personality type with someone who does not get the real joy of eating, the deep lust aspect and the fun. Probably horrible in bed.

From start to finish, Marcel’s puts on one hell of a floor show. The room is a little bit dated, but in a good, velvety, comfy way, and is absolutely what your out of town relatives would refer to as “fancy SCHMANCY!”. It has that classic “water glass never drops below ¾ full” type of service, which can put some people off at first, but I think it’s a lot of fun. Seriously, once you’ve done it enough times to witness “rich people” who eat at these places weekly use the wrong fork, butcher French when ordering, spill their water, and a million other little things you get over any insecurity pretty quickly. The staff at these places…..are professionals. And by that I mean, they have witnessed just as much crazy shit and had to handle uncomfortable situations just like any other joint….don’t let the interior design and fancy waiter jackets fool you. Drunks are drunks, boors are boors, bitches are bitches….no matter what type of car got them there. Of course, you are privy to some fantastic conversations that give you some insight into the lives of the privileged….a lady at the table next to me went on, and on, and ooonnnnn about the devastating betrayal she felt when she found out her live-in nanny had been counting her trips to their liquor cabinet as part of her room and board. Don’t tell HER she doesn’t know what Vietnam was like.

And on the dance went throughout the evening….a constant flurry of smooth activity from the staff. And there is a cool echo effect at Marcel’s where you can hear everything going on at the water station from clear across the room. My main interaction was with Jess, the captain, and I did get to chat quite a bit with the Maitre ‘d Adnane. Oh, and the water kid. He earned his fucking money, let me tell you. Jess was just a great guy, a gentleman’s gentleman… formal as you’d want him to be, but very easy to switch into a more personable mode. I handed the menu back to him pretty quickly and basically said I’d take the chef’s 7 course tasting, whatever he and the chef enjoyed the most would work for me. Servers always seem to get a kick out of that, and when doing “balls-out” dining it’s my favorite way to go.

1st Amuse- Curried beef and mango chutney– good amount of spice for one bite

2nd Amuse- Mushroom Consommé– the greatest things about these dishes, as well as little palate cleansers, are the precious little cups, saucers and spoons. Good consommé…crazy insane perfect dice on the mushroom at the bottom of the cup.

1st Course- Gratin of Oysters, mussels, baby clams, cockles and trout roe….served atop tomato fondue with some broiled gruyere on top and crispy Parma ham. Phenomenal dish….so many different flavors and textures that it should NOT have worked….but it did. Hitting very close to the “gay jock hate crime of love” zone. No comparison really comes to mind other than to say “the craziest most deluxe version of clam chowder ever”, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

2nd Course- Lobster Papardelle with English peas, carrots, squash, garlic beurre blanc…this dish was an example of each individual ingredient showing its ultimate potential. Perfect pasta, firm vegetables, meltingly tender lobster, delicious sauce. I’d eat this regularly.

3rd Course- Big Eye Red Snapper over ratatouille with a Balsamic reduction- This was one of those “how in the hell do they get such a deep and crispy crust on one side yet keep the middle of the filet translucent, tender and moist?” dishes. Great piece of fish.

4th Course- Foie Gras over duck confit and a celery root puree, duck jus, marinated raspberries and grilled brioche…the puree and confit really brought something to it, adding texture and keeping it from being a generic sweet bread and jam presentation. One healthy dose of foie too, similar in doneness and texture to what you get from a whole roasted lobe.

5th Course- Bison Tenderloin with California wild rice, red wine reduction…This was a good dish, and a couple of the staff came over to say “oh, you got the bison!”, but being from the Midwest maybe I’m just spoiled for good grilled and roasted meats. I enjoyed the dish, but probably would have picked something different like the boudin blanc.

6th Course- Cheese… Roquefort, Chimay, St. Andres…blah blah blah…the chutney, candied nut and apple matchstick variety. Good cheeses, but I am now officially on the record with my feelings about this. I’m going to start inquiring about substitutions for this course….seriously, I’m pretty easy to get along with so I don’t think I’d be pushing it. Even just one bite of something else, it doesn’t have to be anything special.

7th Course- Chocolate Souffle…I know, cliché alert, big time. And while I am no expert, THIS WAS by far the best example I’ve been served. Old school, good crust of sugar up the sides….a hammer to the brain after all the richness I’d already enjoyed.

Overall, this was just a great, straightforward and delicious meal. I don’t think we have a place like THIS in Kansas City, with the old school formal service in such an ornate room where you interact regularly with a full range of staff, from the Maitre ‘d to the busboy. Everyone willing to bend over backwards to make sure your experience exceeds expectations. I would definitely go back. I go into these “water glass stays full” rooms with my radar in overdrive as far as picking up on little flaws and things to make sure the place really IS at the full-water-glass level instead of being one of just trying to project the image. The folks at Marcel’s are real professionals who leverage effective teamwork. Friendly, helpful, they treat you great, are very open about what they love on the menu, they know food….what a pleasant Sunday night.

Monday Night at Restaurant Eve…

“Best twenty dollars I’ve ever spent”, I said to the cab driver as he dropped me off at my hotel late that evening. It was kind of a pain in the ass to get from my first day of training near McPherson Square, back to the hotel to change, back down to the Foggy Bottom metro stop out to King Street, then down to Eve… the rain. So when I realized how cheap, compared to the same distance in KC, it was to just TAKE A FUCKING CAB between the hotel and the restaurant, I was kind of blown away.

I’ll just bottom-line Eve for you to get it out of the way….the Tasting Room was by far the comfiest, prettiest, most inviting room of the entire trip, probably up there with my top rooms ever. And the food was very, very good. But if I were to go back it would have to be some kind of special occasion with my wife, especially considering the price point and availability of great food in DC. No regrets, it was a great meal, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a special occasion-level restaurant in the area, but it lacked a certain “intangible” that kicks off in my gut telling me I have to get back there. THAT is what made Eve different from all of the other restaurants I visited.

Service- top notch. One or two millimeters below the full-water-glass level, but equally as enjoyable. Lots of younger staff there, happy to talk with you about the food. And Todd, I think that was his name….the wine/cocktail guy I spent a lot of time talking with, he rushed right over as soon as I mentioned to my server I wasn’t going to have wine and said if there were any non-alcoholic options I was onboard. He was VERY enthusiastic about putting together something for me, all he needed was a basic flavor profile I was going for…..more sour than sweet. He whipped up this housemade tonic/kaffir lime/citrus/secret ingredient concoction that kind of blew my mind it was so tasty. Later on I tried some of his housemade cola. This guy knows what in the hell he’s doing, and he’s cool as shit.

So the pretty room…you’d have to see it because I’m an idiot at describing interior design. It’s in an old house, and the tasting room has a very light wood floor, and these insanely high-backed wraparound booth seats. I was perched in one like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Most comfortable seating ever, and you’re all hidden back in there.

The meal started off with three little canapés….deviled egg w/caviar, salmon mousse and some sort of summer sausage/salami type of cured meat.

Amuse- Garlic and Turnip Veloute with onion and ham…a good little taste of soup.

Palate Cleanser- Kabocha Squash Sorbet and Fried Shallot…I don’t know why I loved this little taste of food so much, it was just a damn palate cleanser, but I did. Such a nice flavor and literally the cutest dish and spoon you have ever seen in your life. Don’t you wish I took a picture! Oh my GOD!

Sashimi of Big Eye Tuna with Preserved Meyer Lemon and Green Goddess Dressing– the quality of the tuna was great. It could have been about one or two degrees cooler, but still very, very tasty.

Terrine of La Belle Farm’s Foie Gras with Apple Pate de Fruit, Noble Tonic 5 and Toasted Brioche– I’m a spoiled shit when it comes to the amount of foie gras I’ve eaten, so you have to go to planet fucking Jupiter to get a blip on my radar. This was a good example, more like a torchon than a terrine though. And if it could have switched temperatures with the sashimi it would have been even better. Gorgeous presentation.

Butter Poached Maine Lobster with Ginger-Carrot Custard and Kumquats- Okay, this was a damn good dish. Nothing over the top, just perfectly done food….I need to butter poach me some lobster…as soon as I find a source in KC worth a crap.

Bacon Wrapped Chatham Bay Cod with Littleneck Clam Chowder– the clam chowder component was delicious, but it fell apart a little with the addition of the cod. Wrapped in the bacon, it was a little bit overdone and the amount of bacon really brought too much salt into the dish. And if I’M saying too much salt…..normal humans would definitely agree. Not a bad dish, it just didn’t seem to fit together very well.

Loin of Shenandoah Valley Lamb with Wild Mushroom-Bone Marrow Pain Perdu and Romanian Red Garlic– I’d probably eat wild mushroom bone marrow pain perdu at every meal for the rest of my life. It is even more awesome than it sounds. This was a great dish, with the exception of one REALLY big section of fat and sliver of tough connective tissue in the lamb. Not a deal-breaker, but again, worth mentioning.

Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads with Violet Carrots, Braised Mustard Greens and Ham Hock Vinaigrette– with this the meal was back on track with no signs of stopping….perfectly crisp and tender sweetbreads, firm carrots, a big quenelle of the braised-down-to-nothing greens….deeelicious. Fish and lamb were forgiven immediately.

Cheese Course- 4 Components-
-Madeleine with Virginia Pecan Pie
-Cashel Blue with Path Valley Sorghum Cake and Pumpkin Seed Butter
-Monocacy Silver with Sicilian Pistachios and Sour Cherry Filled Donut
-Petit Frere with Pickled Pearl Onions and Irish Bacon-Oyster Mushroom Roll

Now THESE people know how to do a cheese course! Hell, I’d show up just for the cheese course! Without question the closest anything of its kind has ever gotten to the “gay jock hate crime of love” mark. Each component just a bite or two. Great cheese accompanied by something that took actual thought and preparation. Bravo! One of the most memorable courses of the trip. And cute!

Amano Artisan Chocolate Smores– deconstructed smores, rich but not overkill.

“Blood Orange Shortcake”- I can’t remember the actual name, so that’s what I called it. Toasted meringue, spongecake, citrus, a juice to pour into the bowl completely disappears into the cake. Loved this dish, a good pick-me-up.

Again, fantastic service and great attention to detail. Little things like pre-heating the cream for your coffee and including a bit of shortbread on the side, holding the napkin outside the rim of your water glass to shield you from deadly droplets as it is refilled….a ton of other tiny, sometimes cutesy, details. Oh, and being DC, a town laden with those loud, alpha male douchebags who have no indoor voice, I got a little bit of a floor show courtesy of a douchebag behind me and his douchebag wife. It didn’t really both ME, but there was one very young couple next to them on an obviously important big date that I felt sorry for as the woman squawked “OH MY GOD, JERSEY BOYS IS WORTH DRIVING TO NYC FOR! THE DIM SUM BRUNCH AT CAFÉ ATLANTICO IS TO DIE FOR! WHY WOULD ANYONE BOTHER GETTING A SEAT AT MINIBAR!?!?!” Then throughout their meal they drank more wine and got more political and confrontational over issues like giving criminal hackers an opportunity to “work with the good guys” instead of going to jail….and various BORING AS LIVING FUCK topics like that. Funny to me as a lone diner, but yeah, some people just need killing.

So yeah, good meal, glad I went, but I do not know if and when it will make it back on the calendar during future visits.

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DC Grub 2011: Intro & Eola…

A couple of things before I get into the details of each of the restaurants: First, high end solo dining is awesome. Obviously, the best scenario would have been to have my wife with me so that we could enjoy it all together. BUT if she were with me, there’s no way we would have hit all of these restaurants…this adventure involved a little bit of money.  But as far as going solo, man it is great. In my experience, you are very, very well taken care of…..whether it’s because they feel sorry for the orphan, or because if you are there alone you are there for the food…whatever, no idea. Maybe it’s just me. Not to brag, but if you want the most a restaurant has to offer, I’m  a good dining companion for you. I research the living shit out of restaurants like these before I go, so usually I am familiar with the menu and I constantly engage the staff to discuss the food and various aspects of the service and restaurant itself. I am great at schmoozing….and it’s not fake, I am genuinely happy to be there and if you are good to me I’m your buddy. And I tip really well. So a three and a half hour meal by my lonesome is a hell of a good time. Plus, you get to listen to other conversations and hear things like “Have you had foie gras???  It is SOOOOOOOOO FRENCH!!”. Second, the no-booze thing…..I have this weird inferiority complex, like I’m robbing the restaurant by not ordering wine. So when I declined any cocktails or pairings, it was in an apologetic manner….kind of stupid I guess, because I quickly learned that nobody really cared. Sure, they would love to double your check, but ultimately they want you to have a great experience. Looking at other tables during all of my dinners I saw several folks who, for whatever reason, didn’t order booze. Sure, I miss having wine, but honestly, I just enjoy the food more now….no dulling of my mind and palate from downing a bottle or two. AAANNNNDDD….non-alcoholic drinks and various housemade colas and ginger ales abounded during my stay. No booze was no big deal, and like I said, I tip really, really well….kind of like when you use a gift certificate and you still tip on the original amount.  Part of my tip comes from the fact I just want to give a little extra to my server because I would have normally plunked another hundred bucks onto the bill at a minimum when I drank. Oh, if you are one of those people who subtract tax and alcohol before you figure a tip….please stop reading and go away. Seriously. I hate you.  You are a stupid, stingy fucker with no class and if you’re doing math to save a few dollars off of the hundreds you just dropped, I guarantee you are one of those entitled pain in the ass types who just lacks joy and basic social skills. Fuck off. You are a pariah with a completely flawed philosophy on life. Your spouses and children abhor you and plot against you behind your back.

So now that those pricks are gone, on to the goddamn wonderment….

DISCLAIMER: The following acts were performed by a professional. Do not attempt to recreate this itinerary without extensive research and prior experience.  I shit you not. Money aside, it was very intense. 

DISCLAIMER #2: I have given up on compiling exhaustive and consistent descriptions of dishes. I just jot down whatever hits me, I let go of that bizarre OCD thing.  I’m thankful for others who go to the lengths I used to, I love food porn, but the writing, the picture taking…bleh. I take pictures when it feels appropriate, and always after I get reassurance from a server that the chef and staff don’t think of it as completely douche-y.  But again, I’m not consistent and sometimes I just don’t feel like doing it. I’m there for peace, good conversations, and the food. The food blogger shit is way down on the priority list.

Saturday Night at Eola

Now this is a place I didn’t know existed until I mentioned my love of offal over on eGullet when I began planning this trip.  Initially, the menu sounded a little gimmicky, but the few reviews available were very positive. I actually moved my reservation for Restaurant Eve to Monday night in order to eat at Eola. Smart goddamn move on my part, let me tell you!  Chef Daniel Singhofen is going some amazingly tasty stuff! Wouldn’t it be annoying if I switched into exclamation mark mode when describing the food? WINNING!

So, nice walk-up former residence (I assume) just off of Dupont Circle…low lighting, clean and subtle room, comfy, cozy, lots of dark wood…a pleasant amount of the chill-factor.

As it is with most “faincy” restaurants, the service starts off pretty formal and evolves to suit you and your demeanor and attitude. I’m a guy who wants to have fun, enjoy good food, and be the easiest table the staff is going to have all night long. I put a very, very big premium on waitstaff who are emotionally invested in the restaurant and have real opinions on the food, and are enthusiastic about it. I was lucky on this trip, because I got that at every single restaurant.  Another common element was the sensitivity the staff had towards how you would like to pace the meal. I have a tiny stomach now, so I adjusted accordingly in order to let digestion happen and avoid the bariatric-sweats.

Quick note- there was no initial mention of a tasting menu option when my server presented me with the list of dishes. But as soon as I asked, we were off and running.

Deep Fried Pig’s Ear

The ears are brined, slow cooked, sliced and tempura fried, then served with a housemade tartar sauce. Deep fried lip smackity jaw gumming goodness.

Amuse Bouche- Confit of Pork heart with pecan– a “minerally and sweet” intro to the meal that let’s you know what you are in for.

Sous Vide Duck Egg with garlic broth and comte

This was the only dish I was iffy about, It was very tasty and rich, but maybe too subtle.  Either the broth needed a little oomph or it could have used more texture. 

Chicken fried pork tongue- pickled shallots, lentils, spiced apple puree

The brined tongue had more of a corned beef flavor and texture than tongue, and it was rock star good. This was definitely the “it may have sounded gimmicky at first, but this shit is for-real good” moment of the night. Damn,damn, damn good dish. And it was proof that the Chef Singhofen not only knew how to cook tongue, he knew how to do a proper, crispy, flaky chicken fry. Throughout the meal, whatever direction he took the ingredients, he always started with a very solid technical foundation and went from there. I really like this guy.

FBLT- bacon cured foie gras, truffled brioche, micro greens, madeira reduction

Probably the best dish of the night and without question the richest thing  I’ve ever eaten. Completely and utterly insane. When I say it was the richest thing I’ve ever eaten, I’m not fucking around. And it made me emotional. Fortunately for me, there were a handful of these moments during my whole trip, but this was the first instance…a “what the fuck” moment on steroids. So powerful that the only way I can describe it is to paint a picture….the feeling that hit me so strongly the image that came to mind was a college freshman jock still wearing his high school letter jacket like you see in one of those bad Oxygen movies who is gay but is in such deep and painful denial that he overcompensates with overt but awkward manliness until his first year in college when he has a Brokeback moment that goes horribly wrong….joyfully and blissfully locked in a forbidden embrace until the pain of his closeted existence boils over as self-loathing revulsion; and he reacts quickly and violently…so quickly that the joy has not completely left him, so he sobs as he rains blows down upon the object of his affection, tears streaming, snot bubbles the size of oranges…..letter jacket collar askew, soul torn open, lost, guilty, wide eyed and unable to process the moment……….I hated that sandwich…..I loved that sandwich so much….I could not bite it hard enough but I knew with each movement of my jaw our time together dwindled away…..why did it even have to be here?  Who thought this was a good idea?  Why does it make me feel so dirty? OK- so from here on instead of painting that picture over again when I get to one of those dishes I’ll just say something like “it was gay jock hate crime of love good” or something to that effect. If you’ve seen the episode of HBO’s “The Wire” where Chris beats that guy to death so badly it freaks Snoop out….throw some of that in there too. Just bam bam bam bam bam.

Pig Brain Tortellini

Again, sounds offal-trendy, but the pasta itself was absolutely perfect and the consistency of the brains made it a dish you could pass off as cheese filled.  Singhofen’s hand at homemade pasta is top notch, he knows what he is doing…I’d like to see his exploration in pastas in the same way his chicken-fry technique appeals to me.

Black Cod- sous vide with black olive paste, Carolina wild rice, cayenne glass

I’d had a ton of food already and been hammered with richness, so it took me a few moments to recover in order to enjoy this course. Totally delicious, the sous vide made it feel and taste like a perfectly cooked sweet scallop. Maybe the best texture of any fish dish I’ve had, and the black olive was prominent without being overpowering.  The more I ate, the more I liked it.  An intriguing combination of flavors I had not experienced before.

Lamb Croquette with arugula puree, barley and barley broth foam

 Very rich, a briney flavor to it, but I was told it had not been brined (and from various staff comments, Singhofen is as big a proponent of brining as Thomas Keller). Would make an incredible breakfast dish, or something you’d eat to comfort you while trapped indoors during a blizzard. 

Braised beef cheek with a red wine reduction and Anson Mill grits

What do you say about something like this? Sunday dinner good. Damn I love beef cheek. I do not know why it isn’t on more menus.

Cheese Course– I don’t actually remember what all was there, but pretty standard stuff. A nice small and manageable amount. I’m pretty much over the cheese course as a concept, with two very notable exceptions in upcoming reviews.

Orange Blossom Panna Cotta

My server told me that as he and the chef discussed the construction of my tasting menu, he knew I’d need something nice and light to finish off the meal. Excellent, excellent choice…..a nice few creamy citrusy bites to cleanse my palate and wake me back up.

Speaking of waking up….I am convinced that restaurants should do away with brewed coffee completely and make the switch to French press.  I roast my own coffee, so I’m a pretty tough customer to impress, and Eola does a good job and actually has a selection of coffees from which to choose. 

I’ll definitely go back to Eola, it was a wonderful experience and scratched the offal itch in a big way. The staff is all about the food and extremely willing to accommodate you in any manner as far as portion sizes and progression of the meal. Top notch, highly recommended.  What a wonderful start to my trip.

 Oh, I will at least MENTION the Nuevo Latino Dim Sum Brunch at Café Atlantico Dim…..not going to do a real review or post pictures. Not because it was bad, it just wasn’t a major component of the trip. Even though some of the dishes are classics from the minibar menu, it’s not even in the same galaxy as the minibar experience. Plus, cranking out such a huge number of the dishes and serving them to so many people at once interferes with the quality of the food and the service. Temperatures were a little off on some of the dishes, and in some cases a runner would drop off the food well before a server could come over and explain it.  At 35 bucks, plus the fact I don’t think they charged me for a couple of extra bites I asked for, it’s still a great deal. It’s just not at the minibar level, or even a regular dinner at Café Atlantico for that matter.  I’m still really loyal to the restaurant, and I’m sure I’ll always find a reason to visit when I’m in town, but maybe not the brunch.

Here’s what is on the chef’s menu right now…

Endive w/Queso Fresco Espuma, walnut and orange

Mango Oyster

Tuna Ceviche w/Coconut

Mango and Anchovy foam ravioli

Conch Fritter

Hot and Cold Foie Gras Soup

Potato with Vanilla and Caviar

Sauteed Mushrooms with 63 degree egg

Carne Asada

Pork Belly Confit with Passion Fruit Oil

Coconut Rice

Fried Egg with Black Bean and Pork

Pineapple Unagi

Pan Dulche

So more reviews to follow….there’s a lot to cover but I knew I had to break it all up.


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LIVE!!! From Washington D.C.!

Saturday, 09:30 AM, Somewhere over Indiana…..

And now for something completely different… of those stupid travelogues that I haven’t done in a long time. Good to mix things up, I know the religion stuff gets old…to YOU, I could bottle that angst and survive on it through an apocalypse. Oh, I LIVE for that shit. But here you go…..

                 First of all, I’m offering a full endorsement of Frontier Airlines.  They have comfy seats, it’s easy to upgrade your ticket so that you can check 2 bags for $25 and all that, BUT the thing I love most about Frontier is this: If you are not one of those douchebags who loves to hold up the aisle storing a goddamn carry-on that you have to shoe horn into the overhead bin, you can preboard.  If you are only carrying a personal item that fits under the seat, you can bypass the angry parade of lifting and squeezing and complaining. You can sit and watch it all unfold, which I guess is still almost as annoying.  People are unreal. They act like there is a chance of finding that one magical bin which reveals the rolling plains of Narnia…and that steamer sized trunk will be easily accommodated.  But so far, Frontier is ok by me. At least I can enjoy the remnants of my former favorite Midwest Air.

                So…headed back to DC.  Going for some training that the client asked for someone on the team to attend.  But the training is beside the point…and anyone who has attended these corporate process improvement or software courses that charge about a grand per day understands what I mean- the class is aimed at the dumbest fucker in the room.  The point of the class is to sell your company more classes, and unless you happen to be the dumbest fucker in the room, the actual content is usually very easy and if you were the one footing the bill instead of your employer it would be like setting a few thousand dollars on fire. I’ll get enough stuff to take back to work and give an overview, recommend some best practices….blah blah blah.  And my goal during this live-blog is to have those few sentences be the only ones that even mention training. Unless of course there are some real whackos or shenanigans to discuss.

                With the training being beside the point, the REAL point of this trip, which will not shock anyone who has read more than 2 sentences of my blog….is the motherfucking culinary madness. The last time I did a doozy like this was San Francisco several years ago. And thank you IBM for footing the bill for that trip where I got 2 weeks of training that I never used…meaning, free vacation in the Bay Area. I’m not out to screw my new company, they are pretty cool and I’ll actually use this knowledge.  But basically, I got lucky with DC, it could have been Dallas depending on the scheduling, so with travel and hotel paid for and a $75 per diem, I am taking this dining shit to the next level.  Sure, all per diems combined will cover about 1 ½ meals, but screw it…a trip like this only comes along ever few years.  Plus….NO WINE with my meals…so that makes the actual food practically free. And I love DC. It’s a cool town as far as the ability to get around easily, lots to see, and some top notch dining. The research has already been done, tables are all booked, I’ve done the appropriate amount of schmoozing to guarantee “lone diner VIP” status (it’s a real thing, as I am predicting you will see as the trip unfolds).  I go back home Thursday morning, so between now and then I’ll eat at: Eola, Nuevo Latino Dim Sum Brunch at Café Atlantico, Marcel’s, Restaurant Eve, Komi and Citronelle.  An aggressive schedule even by total addict standards, NOT for amateurs, but I’ll set them up and knock them down with grace.

                Of course it is noteworthy that this will be my first big solo trip to a fun town since I’ve been sober.  Holy shit, I’ve torn DC up in the past. You may have read the details before…..Rocket Bar….boy could I put the hurt on some bourbon. With all that in mind, I’ve got my AA group in Dupont Circle already picked out and plan to attend a noon meeting today after I go and drop off my bags at the hotel. I’m not too worried that I’d actually drink, but if you’re an alcoholic alone in a town like DC, going to various high end restaurants…you’re a dumbass if you don’t get to some meetings. Plus, it’s awesome to check out new groups and meet new people. Shit, already at 750 words and I haven’t even landed…..I’ll get back with you pricks later.

Saturday, 11:30 PM, Back at the Room…..

Oh, HA HA HA!  Most insanely stocked minibar I’ve ever seen in my life!  Oh the irony….but you’d already have to be drunk to dig in to that overpriced crap.  This has nothing to do with the minibar, but I’ve decided that I don’t like old hotels.  All that historical landmark crap aside, when I stay someplace I want more than 2 electrical outlets per room, faster elevators, a bigger shower, thicker walls and less overall creakiness.  And I want a staff that is accountable to some faceless corporation, so that I get some very prompt, fake-nice service. Had a great day after the rookie error of walking down to the Farragut West station and remembering too late it’s closed on the weekend. A ton of walking today, I’m pretty wiped, but some random thoughts…

Dupont Circle has an inordinate number of gay people and yuppies carrying yoga mats.

I am decidedly a warm/butter lobster roll guy after eating the cold/mayo version at Hank’s Oyster Bar.

I don’t know what the most popular degree programs are at GWU, but after wallking back and forth to the GWU Metro station, I yet to see a male student who looks like he could take a punch.

Overheard at dinner tonight- “Have you had foie gras?  It is SOOO French!”.

Speaking of dinner, Eola was fantastic….tempura fried pig ears, chicken fried pork tongue, pig brain tortellini, a bacon cured foie gras “FBLT”, braised beef cheek….that place is no joke. Obviously, I’ll be doing separate restaurant review posts at some point. That would be too much valid information for this post….this is the annoying one.

Tomorrow it’s the 8:30am meeting back up in gay yoga mat country, dim sum brunch at Cafe Atlantico, the Crime Museum, some other museum, and dinner at Marcel’s.

Sunday, 10:30 PM, Recovering from Dinner….

It’s funny how the timing in life can work out.  Today would have been my brother’s birthday. He’s been gone for a long time, and I’ve lived way more of my life without him than I did with him. I always take a couple of times each year to do something a little different…nothing dramatic, usually just something a little unordinary during the course of a day to remember. Today in DC was an unusually good day…on the plane ride out here I started thinking about the trip he and I took to New York the year he died. My perspective on travel, food and culture has changed considerably since I was twenty…back then I was a fledgling minister and we were at an age where we could be friends instead of combatants.  I had been out to New York once during my first year of college, and I don’t remember exactly what it was that prompted me to take him out there….but that was one hell of a trip. We hit all of the spots that Zagat recommended…real high level stuff. So it was funny to think back on some of that today, and honor it in my own quiet way. 

I have a couple of very strict rules that relate directly to that New York trip. First, whenever I go back out there the first place I eat anything, and this is with zero exception, is The Carnegie Deli. Is it touristy? Sure. Is it the BEST deli in New York? Probably not. But it was total magic to us kids, and I’ll never visit NYC without eating my first meal there. Second, whenever I eat dim sum I have to have sesame balls for dessert. Even if they are really horrible and have been sitting around. We had dim sum for the first time out there, and the thing with the sesame balls is that we got an order without knowing what they were like, and they were bad. Really bad. Bad enough to be extremely memorable. So that’s how I roll. I always get them even though I’m not crazy about them at all. 

So today I kind of channeled the New York trip as I went about my lone tourist day in DC.  After the 8:30 AA meeting in Dupont Circle I took the train down to the Crime and Punishment Museum for some out of towner goodness. And as if by divine intervention I was literally only one of maybe ten people in the entire museum. It was glorious, cheesy and fun. I can make it through ANY museum in thirty minutes, I do not like to linger and read all the damn exhibits, and the crime museum is made specifically for people like me with severe ADD.  Then, in a tribute to the first ever dim sum adventure I went over to Café Atlantico for their Nuevo Latino Dim Sum brunch….delicious, and no sesame balls.  Then more tourism over at the American History Museum….which was also really slow compared to the nightmarish toddler holocaust the Smithsonian can be on a beautiful day like today. 

Then a while ago I got back from dinner at Marcel’s.  With this being my brother’s birthday, I had to go one of two ways with dinner….extremely low-end or Zagat-y like Ben’s Chili Bowl, or someplace filled with rich people where I could pretend to be the turd in the punch bowl. When we took our trip we stayed at The Waldorf Astoria.  I have absolutely no idea why…it took all of the money we’d saved doing late night cleaning at a big downtown department store. I can be a little bit of a hoodrat now, but I’m English Bob compared to the level of culture I had at twenty….so there we were, staying at a hotel with people who thought of it like the Holiday Inn. So long story short, given the choice between pizza or Ben’s Chili Bowl….I went with the more delicious option.  Great time too, it’s always like my own personal inside joke whenever I do real high-end dining by myself and listen to people like the lady tonight who described what a horror it was to deal with the disillusionment involved with finding out your nanny was drinking your liquor because she considered it part of her room and board. I always think of my brother at times like that, so tonight it was especially funny. 

So that’s really it. It was a great day and I’m thankful to be at a place in life where I can appreciate it and write about it. Tomorrow I have to start my training class. Yay.   But hey, that’s the reason I’m here, and if my company weren’t footing the bill for airfare and hotel  I would never be able to do this obscene dining adventure.  More on all of the food later in the week or next week….it’s going to take a couple of separate posts to cover all of that. Some insanely good food so far though.

Oh man, the Oscars are on…..and I’m too lazy to cycle through the channels because I’m so used to having an info menu on my remote control….

Wednesday, 05:30 PM,  Getting ready for Citronelle…..

Well, this post has ended up taking a giant dump……I guess between all of the eating, documentation of the meals, and attending a class that actually keeps my attention all day long, I’ve just been one boring bastard. Oh well, the restaurant posts following this one will be good. There’s some great food in this town, and the “snoot factor” has pretty much been completely demythologized for me.  I’ve been treated like a king everywhere I’ve eaten, and I am REALLY looking forward to tonight’s dinner at Citronelle. In fact, I got a call from Cafe Atlantico this afternoon asking me if I wanted to eat at minibar tonight because they had one person cancel.  It was super nice of them to put me at the top of the waitlist, and I do want to get back to minibar, but Citronelle is arguably “the best DC has to offer”…so I’m banking on it being a meal worthy of skipping minibar. Plus, I just haven’t spent enough fucking money on food yet…so Citronelle it is….

Not much else to talk about….running into tons and tons of the DC douchebag/douchenozzle types.   So fucking annoying…that ex-fratboy alpha male horseshit….no sense of humor…no inside voice…why don’t they just stick to Buffalo Wild Wings or someplace like that. And the bad suits… 

Oh my, thirty minutes and I’m catching a cab to Georgetown…..these pricks better impress.


Filed under 16 Raised From Dead, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bariatric Surgery, Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, Blogroll, Christianity, culture, dating, Dead Raising Teams, Evangelical Christianity, Food, General Thoughts, Healing Herald, Healing Rooms, Health, Healthy Eating, howard stern, Jesus Culture, Recovery, religion, Religious Hypocrisy, School of Supernatural Ministry, Tent Revival, Teresopolis, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

To Touch The Hem of Bill Johnson’s Garment…

Man, I’ve been reading back through a lot of my old posts and I totally forgot I was supposed to do one where I spoofed the annoying restaurant photo takers by taking photos of the dumps I take AFTER eating an exquisite meal and posting THOSE along with the review. I’ll be back in DC starting next weekend, and you know how I roll when it comes to the dining….so this may happen, I “shit” you not! Get it? I’m a card.

I have been getting a LOT of new traffic here on the blog due to all of the buzz about the 16 people who WERE NOT RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD IN BRAZIL. I wish more of you would chime in with some pearls of wisdom about your beloved millionaire faith healer/coward, but it is good to know SOMEBODY is reading…I know the right tags to include for the Google searching and have added them accordingly. That’s what got me back in to some old posts.

So for the benefit of anyone who has favorited this blog and is praying for my salvation, or just whomever….WELCOME….but here is how this shit works:

I take too long between posts, and the content varies. Sometimes you get some gut-level honest talk from me about my battle with alcoholism- A Searching Moral Inventory. Or if you dig around (especially back to when I was still drunk as SHIT) you will find literal BONUS posts where I was just lit and rambling about how I’d rewrite a yogurt commercial- Bonus Post!.  And it’s a family affair…even my damn fundamentalist DOG chimes in… There IS Hope for the Unsaved! .

So this thing goes deep. It is my actual life and various thought processes with plenty of sarcasm and offensive imagery thrown in. If you’re a pentecostal well versed in “creative miracle” subculture jargon, you will be inflamed by my claims to be a person of true New Testament faith. If you’re some random hipster or friend of mine who just likes to see some rowdiness here, the faith thing will probably bug you too. Because I’m a pretty smart motherfucker (oh, and I cuss..a LOT), MENSA smart and clinging to something like a connection to an imaginary God via history’s most famous human sacrifice proves I’m a little defective. I recognize you people and these dynamics, but I do not give a shit about any of that…I write for the exercise of writing. I am practicing my communication. This is all for me, not an audience. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply grateful for the regular readers who “get it”, that means a lot to me. I just don’t really consider an audience or try to get more readers by focusing on one thing or getting schticky….I’m fine with being one more self-centered anonymous blog among a hundred million others.

(So that was the setup/intro ramble I usually do before really connecting with the title or general subject of the post. In this instance I made the title something semi-Christian sounding, opened with the whole shit-picture thing to throw you off, gave you enough “maybe he’s a good guy” and “maybe he’s a lunatic/loser” info via the links to be non-committal one way or the other…it’s representative of a see-saw method of writing that attempts to bring out a love it or hate it response. And I obviously AM writing for my imaginary audience, COMPLETELY, despite what I claim above…which you would discover for yourself if you keep reading and then you could decide if you think I’m just full of shit, or just flawed ENOUGH to be barely interesting.)

Sooooo….going back through some of the old posts that new readers have been checking out did prompt me to do a little reflecting and wonder exactly what has gotten me to a point in my life where I’m picking one little lie out of a mountain of lies, that faith healers like Bill Johnson, Benny Hinn, etc. tell people in order to promote themselves and make tons and tons of tax-free cash for their empires. And I use the term “lie” on purpose because they lie, whether by omission of the whole story or their complete inability and unwillingness to have one single solitary “miracle” validated by an independent source. I am calling them liars, I am calling them false prophets, I am calling them cowards, so if that bothers you please know it does not get any easier on them from this point forward. They get rich on miracles that are never proven. They make money off of the emotion created by everyone agreeing to pretend that a miracle has taken place. I think that about covers my stance, and yes, I know you have some cousin whose eye grew back, or their flat feet got healed, or the sugar diabetes went away….MAYBE you do, I have no idea, but probably, in the cold light of day, that thing you describe didn’t actually happen. I’m not here to say that miracles CANNOT happen. I believe in the same God that you do. I am here to say THIS- men like Bill Johnson are the moneychangers Jesus threw from the temple. And if you can stand behind someone like Mr. Johnson and make fun of someone like lukewarm ol’ Dave Ramsey, I am speaking to you and you specifically when I say you are a hypocritical fucking moron. They both take money from the same gullible fanbase. One just proclaims something flashier than the other. Have I ever witnessed a true miracle with my own eyes? No. Did I spend half my life repeating stories about modern day miracles as if they were true because someone told me they were true, even though I had no way of knowing? Yes.

And it is a combination of personality, twisted theology, and the ability to get people talking about miracles that never happened as though they did, that makes Bill Johnson the ultimate direct-marketing pyramid scam evangelist. Please keep in mind as I write this, despite all of the awesomely cool and hardcore named organizations like his School of Supernatural Ministry, NightStrike Evangelism, and his Dead Raising Teams….in the entire history of his ministry, among many claims of people literally being raised from the dead, there has not been one single solitary independently confirmed case where a human being was literally stone cold, rigor mortis dead and brought back to life. Oh there are TONS of stories and eyewitness testimonies (all from people connected directly to Bethel or their anonymous sources), but when the stories come under the slightest scrutiny they fall apart. But good old Bill, the smooth talking conman that he is, can simply chalk that all up to things like the liberal media and non-believers NEVER having enough evidence to convince them….so why even try? Why take time away from doing all these MIRACLES!?!?!? Watch him in interviews or videos, this is one smug prick. But the sweet thing is….if you get involved with Bethel, you get to do some incredibly cool shit! No lie, you can even join a dead raising team that goes to accident and crash sites to try and raise the victims! I can’t make this stuff up! But nobody is in this for the hype or the glory! No sir, just humble servants of Christ up in heeah!

And that is the basis for the pyramid scheme named Bethel Church in Redding California…one guy who can claim some miracles that can never be validated, gets a few other people invested in this little organization. They tithe, the building can get a little larger, the music a little better….must be God’s doing, right? All of those people get some more people to come see the miracles that can never, even one time, be verified, they get caught up in the hyper-emotion, they tithe, and on it goes. The growing size of the ministry and the stories of miracles are proof enough to people that this whole thing is 100% valid….and they are intensely invested and defensive of this organization. The theology that they are taught draws a very big line between THEM and the SECULAR/NON-MIRACLE BELIEVING world, so they are also insulated and isolated to some degree. They create their own language and culture…not realizing what complete and total patronizing douchebags they come across as to those they say they want to save. They are emotionally fed by Bill Johnson and intenseley admiring and loyal to him. Invested in the ministry, invested in the culture, invested in the teachings of celebrity evangelist Bill Johnson….but not invested in an actual belief and relationship with God, because that isn’t radical enough. Or impressive. Even THAT critical piece of the process is learned secondhand because it’s more about making your testimony sound good than actually having one. Getting that testimony out there….making it marketable….making it remarkable (remarkable, that is, to people who already think and speak exactly the same way you do). And what is more remarkable than a miracle? More specifically, what is more remarkable than a miracle involving sixteen flood victims being raised from the dead in Brazil? Now, I have no idea what was going through the minds of people like Claudia Kornaros or Lynne Wimmer when this hoax was cooked up, or Bethel staff like testimony writer Pam Spinosi who defended the crap out of this story on Bethel’s website….I can only guess since not one single person will come forward with anything other than super-correct sounding “statements” from Bethel and Healing Herald. So much has come forward to debunk this thing that it is actually funny people are still defending it….but I mean, they don’t defend it because they really think it happened. They defend it because nobody outside of the organization is worthy of questioning Bethel or Bill Johnson. Because in order understand all of this or to ask questions you already have to think like they do and believe like they do….and if you believe and think like they do, you know not to go asking too many questions because it shows a HUGE lack of faith and dedication on your part. Yooouuuu didn’t really think all of these miracles and wonders were meant to minister to a lost and dying world, did you? You big silly!

This Bethel place is one onion you cannot start peeling back. Seriously. It all goes back to the pyramid scheme. You might peel off that first layer of Bethel groupies…but the farther into the center you get, the more desperate people are to defend a complete and total lie. Aallll the way out to all points of the pyramid, people are willing to say “that article was fake”. You go in a little deeper and the story is that the article was fake but the story was true. A little farther in, the story was true but nobody can come forward because they are in danger. A little farther in and you’ve got folks like Claudia and her famous “anonymous sources”….and for whatever reason the powers that be consider these folks infallible. You don’t get much farther in than that because nobody can explain why anyone was in danger, and nobody can address ANY direct questions about the story itself. Oh, and they are treating the Brazilian missionaries who are actually IN the disaster zone like idiots….it is pathetic. Emails and phone calls go unanswered and the plan becomes to just let this thing go away (buuuuttttt, it’s not, this is still the honeymoon phase, trust me). Fortunately for Bill he has people who can write the statements for him, all he has to do is come off like a patronizing asshole on his Facebook page in his one mention of this debacle. It’s good to be at the top of the pyramid! Other than that you’ve got the released statement Bethel uses as the basis to never talk about this again, and of course you’ve got the doofus patrol over at Healing Herald who are playing martyr for being some of the only people to stand behind the gutless, yet infallible, unnamed source…despite the fact that this story is a COMPLETE AND TOTAL LIE CREATED BY MINISTRY STUDENTS IN ORDER TO COMPETE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER COOL SOUNDING BUT FALSE STORIES COMING OUT OF BETHEL. It is hilarious, and also sad, to see Bethel and Healing Herald’s Facebook pages all but shut down with the constant questions about this hoax. Hilarious because you know it’s just grinding on them, and sad because you have people who actually live in Brazil and mean well (people very unlike ME) getting completely ignored. But maybe the saddest thing, and you can see it on Bethel’s Facebook page right now, is some guy asking people to believe with him for a “creative miracle” or for the funds to get some medical treatment….to which one girl answers “Set up a paypal account and ask everyone for a dollar”. And she’s dead serious. You teach your people well, Mr. Johnson.

Down at the core of this whole thing, you’ve got people who are genuinely pissed that anyone would waste their time harping on this issue and “judging your brethren” or “causing division”. These are the idiots who jump your ass and completely abuse scripture, never speaking about Bethel’s lying directly, just everything that is wrong with you. Well, you know what causes division? A huge ministry advertising a lie and then standing behind that lie because they know there are enough idiots like you out there who will swallow every word they say because you have invested so much of your life in THEM….not in the God you claim you love.

Can anybody name me a couple of millionaire preachers who God ever called away from making that kind of money in a huge ministry, in order to do something smaller and humbler? Anybody besides the guys like Ted Haggard or Todd Bentley who lie and lie and lie and lie before FINALLY getting busted enough to just go away? Once you get the money and popularity, for some strange reason God ALWAYS wants you to hang on to that. And once you start raising people from the dead, well, you can only keep doing bigger and better things, whether God is involved or he’s not. Guys like Bill Johnson, they use misdirection and omission and they create dependency on their organization for membership and loyalty to it….but they make it sound good. Are there a ton of good Christian people at Bethel? Of COURSE there are, but they exist despite charlatans like Bill, not because of him. Am I coming across as too harsh? Too bad. Guys like him and the bozos at Healing Herald (where you can claim ANYTHING as a miracle and they will post it…several folks are in the process of proving that fact right now, or maybe they already have…or at least that’s what I’ve heard) just come across as so patronizing and scummy….politically, they are safe in saying the newspaper article is fake, but then all they’ll say is they stand behind their source, who says the miracles themselves happen. And then they offer up nothing else….which is infuriating, but also smart….they don’t say WHY they believe their source, because that would raise more questions. They don’t NAME their source, so they are showing loyalty and grace. They share in everyone’s pain in all of this, so they get martyr points. Then, all they have to do is sit back and let this whole thing die down….and either people will get tired of talking about it or some other “independent source” will come forward and provide about the same amount of proof as is required, that would be ZERO, and then case closed….the pyramid is safe again.

Here is my pledge to you all- I’m NOT going to keep torturing my friends with these longwinded diatribes about something they could give less of a shit about. In fact, your loyalty will be rewarded with some old school “LIVE! From DC!” writings beginning next weekend.

As for the liars and defenders of liars at Bethel and Healing Herald…up to this point I’ve played pretty nice because the ONE good thing I’ve gotten out of all of this is the knowledge that there really are some godly people who care about Brazil….and unfortunately you are not them. Some of them have had to get back to their ministries, as they should, the rest you can just keep writing off as rabblerousers on Facebook. Even though I speak nicely to them, I respect them, and have nothing but good to say about them….do not confuse me with them, and don’t let my coarse language or attitude in any way be associated with them. They are way better people than me. What you need to do is stop going halfway with this and admit that this entire story is a hoax, not just the newspaper article. If not, it’s going to be a year from now and this story is STILL going to dog you. If you live for that kind of annoyance, so be it. And Healing Herald….if I were you I’d seriously take a closer look at your sources when new stuff is posted to your Facebook or published on your site. Seriously. As in, even since this Brazil story broke….because there may have already been some shenanigans at your expense. Or so I’ve heard. Oh, and guys, don’t take any of this as I’m sailing off into the sunset….I’m just not going to take up my blog space with it unless there are big developments. You absolutely have my full attention on YOUR blogs and websites. It takes like fifteen seconds to just give this thing a beating.


Filed under 16 Raised From Dead, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bariatric Surgery, Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, Blogroll, Christianity, Claudia Kornaros, culture, dating, Dead Raising Teams, Evangelical Christianity, Food, General Thoughts, Healing Herald, Healing Rooms, Health, Healthy Eating, howard stern, Jesus Culture, Lynne Wimmer, Pam Spinosi, Recovery, religion, Religious Hypocrisy, School of Supernatural Ministry, Tent Revival, Teresopolis, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

16 Flood Victims Raised from Dead in Brazil!!! (DEBUNKED)

***********Update  07/29/2011*********

Let me just say prior to the rest of the update- the following is 100%, absolute proof that Bill Johnson is a liar whose first priority is to protect his own image.  Bill Johnson himself stated on more than one occasion that HE and/or members of his organization had PERSONALLY SPOKEN TO the people who performed the Brazil resurrections, but could offer no more explanation for reasons they would not share.  Bill Johnson is on record, on HIS OWN FACEBOOK PAGE stating this, and as you will see below….he is absolutely, positively a liar.  If you hate him, if you love him, read on…because no matter how you feel about him, you cannot say he handled this story with any level of honesty or integrity. 

(I preface everything with that partially because it is irrefutable, but also because it will get people to “refute it” by saying…..”Well, what PROOF do YOU have that the email is REAL?!?!?!”   Or, “pretty convenient isn’t it that Bill went and deleted all the comments you are saying he posted!  Where is YOUR PROOF!?!?”…because those are the types of things that people who worship liars instead of God tell themselves in order to sleep at night. And hey, works for Bill, you idiots just paid for him to take a three month vacation in Hawaii that he justified with his usual brand of horribly inaccurate theology.)

Sooo…for anyone who continues to follow this, the story has been officially recanted by the very people who began this whole debacle. I’ll post the text from the full email below, but long story short, the “nurse” who went with the imaginary team to Brazil and performed the imaginary resurrections, was….GASP!!!!!….making the whole thing up!  It only took six months for the braintrust who swore and swore and swore, and defended, and watched this whole thing turn into a circus, to realize their friend was an insane liar.  Now, that is the story they are telling….I would bet anything on this planet that Claudia and David are lying about many, if not ALL, of the details.  They have known this was total BS for quite some time so they got their story straight once even more video came out proving these resurrections never could have happened.  How do I know this?  Same gut instinct that literally called every single twist and turn in this story since it was first posted, with zero error.  The simplest answer is usually the truth, and the simplest answer HERE isn’t that a single person created an elaborate ruse that fooled so many people for so many months.  This is simply a way for those two to deflect blame so they can get on with their lives, play the victims, boo-hoo for a bit and keep going Bethel-wild.  Do I have proof?  No. But before you hammer me too hard for calling them massive lying liars, make sure you weren’t one of the idiots who needed a lot LESS proof to believe sixteen people were raised from the dead despite the fact that Bethel-friendly missionaries visited the impacted area and talked to residents and officials and came to the conclusion that this was one huge hoax.

I think this whole thing is symptomatic of the addiction that followers of Bethel, IHOP, Vineyard, etc. have to the fantastical.  For the most part, the American contingent is hugely self-serving and they have more in common with a political party than a Christian movement.  To doubt the resurrections when they were first reported was nearly heresy, as was asking for proof or questioning the character of the insanely hypocritical garbage-speaking egomaniac Bill Johnson.  Even if THIS instance wasn’t true, a million other reports (of which, ZERO have ever been verified) of miracles WERE true, so this was a one-off, yada yada yada….long story short, what was the BIG DEAL if this specific one wasn’t true?  To cast doubt on Bethel and Bill Johnson is to question an idol that people have invested far, far too much time, money and emotion into to ever let it be tarnished.  If you don’t believe me, try this….go over to any of Bill or Bethel’s Facebooks and see how long any question about this retraction lasts on their wall. Not only will they delete it, they will block you from ever posting there again.  I dare you to prove me wrong.  It was mighty big of Healing Herald to post a tiny retraction buried way down on the website and not allow any comments or questions to be posted.  Not nearly as bad as Bill, but the Healing Herald people truly are self-serving assholes.  The only thing that gets more time an energy than the “ministry” of posting hundreds of miracle claims that cannot possibly be validated (giving them plausible deniability), is the time and energy that goes into making sure the actual truth never, ever sees the light of day….and if it does, it is controlled with the same kind of spin-tactics as any political movement.  They equate “truth” with whatever continues to make them and Bethel look good, and they work backwards from that assumption.  Then you trickle all the way down to the jobless, prosperity doctrine mouthbreathers like the dude who says he actually SPOKE TO the Brazil team leader and VERIFIED that the miracles happened…..  .  You seriously need to read this asshole’s writing….he is the ultimate case of what can happen to you when you become so insulated in self-serving, hypocritical heresy that reality totally disappears.  First, (and I’m sure he’ll end up either deleting the comment on his most recent post OR saying HE was a victim just like Claudia and David) this dude shot down all doubters by saying that he literally met the Brazilian team leader.  Humongous, absolute, LIE. No such person even exists.  Second, he has no real job outside of begging money for missions trips, but his obsession with money over Christ or anything else is proven by the fact that he talks about it most of all…dude has every dollar for every day accounted for and how God granted it to him…including the time he had zero money but felt God would want him to take a date to an extremely expensive restaurant. And sure enough, he had enough money by the end of the day and instead of doing anything responsible like paying rent so he didn’t dick his roommate over AGAIN and force THEM to pay the whole thing, he went on a date!  But that’s okay, because this is all God doing it!  Not having a job, begging for money and then squandering that money is at the heart of Bethel theology!  I kid you not, and this guy is just one out of a million “I wanna be famous…for JESUS!” assholes who forsake all that is even remotely Christian in order to follow Bill Johnson.  And every one of them has at least four places where you can send them cash. 

Anyway, couldn’t just post the following suspicious-sounding retraction without taking the opportunity to talk some smack….totally true, 100% accurate smack, but smack the same. Oh, and for any of you who think I’m heartless in my approach since these fine people finally came forward….too little too late.  They’ve hidden like roaches since this whole thing blew up, letting other people take the heat for them and fight their battle, and after all of that they take the same cockroach way out.  Oh, they want the truth out there….as long as it in no way inconveniences them or costs them anything.  They know that Papa Bill and Bethel have enough egg on their face to guarantee they won’t let a word of this be uttered on their websites or in their building. 

Friends and loved ones,

You are free to send the body of this email to anyone you’d like. In fact, we encourage you to send it to everyone who may have been previously informed about this story because we want the truth to be released. We simply ask that our email addresses remain confidential (which you can accomplish by copying everything below this paragraph and pasting into a new message). Please do NOT forward this email because our email addresses will remain in the header.

Back in January, we released a story about a nurse friend of ours who was part of a team that traveled to Brazil on a medical missions trip and raised 16 people from the dead. At the time, we had every reason to believe the story was true because (like many of you) we are actively involved in a culture where the supernatural activities of God are a normal part of everyday life. Furthermore, we had been her pastors in San Francisco for over 10 years, had begun to interact over Facebook with other members of “the team”, and asked some of her other friends and pastors in SF for character references (which simply seemed like a wise thing to do given the nature of the story).
In releasing the story, we had every intention of bringing glory to God while protecting the anonymity of the team (who, we were told, were fearful that their medical licenses would be jeopardized should their names be associated with such a fantastic miracle story). It all made sense to us at the time. We are still going to protect the identity of our nurse friend (however, now for very different reasons…read on).

Late last week, we discovered some troubling information about her that casts a huge shadow of doubt over the Brazil dead raising story and everything she’s shared with us since we met her 12 years ago. This news came as a shock to us and to our friends in San Francisco who thought they knew her well. Essentially she has been lying to us about a great many things (her job, her credentials, her travels and missions work, her association with prominent world leaders, etc). She created fake Facebook profiles for all the members of “the Brazil team” and was personally managing them (fake check ins, wall posts, photoshopped pics and other pics downloaded from the internet and fake stories written about them). She had given each “person” a different role on “the team” and distinct personalities and managed them so well that they came to life for us. For months we have been interacting daily with many members of the team over email and FB (encouraging them, praying for them, giving them prophetic words), thinking all along that they were unique individuals with whom we had become very close. The deception was elaborate, and we’ve been deeply wounded by this revelation. Earlier this week, all those profiles were deactivated/disabled at the same time (presumably by her).

We have amassed a great deal of evidence that we’ve made available to Bethel Church leaders since our nurse friend had personally met with several of them and since Bethel’s name was linked to the original story. We also released this evidence to a small group of friends from San Francisco who are in the best position to help her. We are NOT planning to release this information to the general public as it would only serve to defame our friend, and that is not our intention.

Why has she done this? we aren’t completely sure. We think it’s in response to a painful break up she experienced last Christmas or possibly something much deeper.

We’ve confronted her in love with the guidance of a licensed Christian psychologist and assembled a small team of her close friends in SF to support and encourage her to receive professional help. Unfortunately, at this time, she’s not admitting to any lies/deception, and she’s cut us off. We still love her very much, want to see her whole, and continue to reach out to her. Given her current condition and need for healing, we will not be releasing her name. There was so much controversy regarding the initial release of the story that revealing her name would draw attention that would undermine every effort to see her whole. We hope someday, when she’s ready, that she will choose to take responsibility for her actions and publicly apologize.

Please accept our humblest apologies for our involvement in this story. We are so deeply sorry for the people that have been led astray or hurt. We have learned a very valuable lesson……Believe in the supernatural, trust your friends, but still do adequate due diligence (i.e. fact checking) when a story seems too good to be true.

We believe in a great God who does amazing miracles, even if this one was a fabrication.


David and Claudia

***********Update 03/15/2011**********

For anyone who is still following the story or looking for updates, one of the many blogs to initially report this is now claiming in their comments section that this story is absolutely true, and that the leader of the team who went to Brazil (despite the fact that the possibility of any foreign teams being in the area at that time has been completely debunked by Brazilian officials) was just at Bethel. Well, isn’t it weird how only people who are closely tied to Bethel have the honor of knowing who these powerful, magical people are who performed the greatest miracle in modern history…..and are too lacking in integrity and honesty to come forward with a shred of proof or testimony? “Trust us, this really happened?”. Yeah, you degenerates are really following the example of Christ….seriously how do you even sleep at night knowing how deeply in denial you have to be to continue defending lies just to satisfy your own misdirected pride?

Anyway, here is one more person who PROMISES they know a person who was THERE to witness the miracle….and even though their identify or the details cannot be discussed, they know that the source is solid!

Really! I Swear The Miracle Happened!

The claim is down in the comments, but I’ll copy it here for the inevitable time when the comment is deleted once it starts to see some traffic and people ask too many questions…

“Alright, I’ve looked into it – the story is totally true, the leader of the team was at Bethel this last week. The article however has been formally de-bunked, and the link you provided makes that quite clear. The fake article was created by an interpreter, and his motives aren’t exactly clear. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it was his attempt at a creative expression for memories sake, but it was definitely not supposed to be presented as a real article, and somewhere along the line it got presented as that. I’ve removed the article’s contents from my post. The story, as it’s presented, is acurate. Thank you for your concern.”

The Brazil resurrections aside….have any of the “resurrections” claimed by Bethel been independently verified? I’m not talking about the friends of friends of cousins giving a testimony, or the myriad YouTube video testimonies from unknown people, or the words of someone who was way over in some foreign country, or the reports from the Dead Raising Teams who “resurrected” someone who happened to be having a heart attack in a restaurant and never really died….I’m talking about this- someone stone cold, rigor mortis dead for hours, resurrected through prayer. Pronounced dead by a doctor hours earlier, indpependently verified with any sort of medical record….and then brought back to life? You see, that is why all of these supposed miracle stories fall apart and only serve people who are already willing to believe them…..REAL miracles do not require a leap of faith to believe they happened, and they don’t require you to already be deep in the bosom of a charlatan like Bill Johnson….by their very nature they speak for themselves.
***********Update 02/07/2011**********

I’ll be writing another post soon since this one is pretty much a jumble of information now…..but long story short as things stand now- Bill Johnson and Bethel church have admitted that the newspaper article with the story about the resurrections in Brazil is a hoax. Sadly, despite an amazing amount of evidence to the contrary, provided by missionaries on the ground in Brazil, they are sticking to the lie that the story is REAL….BUT the identities of those involved must be protected for their own safety.  Go back and review some of the blog links below for the forensic details, but basically….Bill Johnson is an amazing liar, and his ministry students and staff that created the fake article and have now run and hidden, and are depending on the good graces of the people in Brazil they have hurt not to out them to the world.   Claudia and team jumped out of their rabbit holes long enough to delete their Facebook accounts and tell people they had “no honor” for including their names in their blog posts…but then they just ran away. What wonderful examples of Christian love and truth…..but I guess it could be worse, they could be the Bethel ministry students who got drunk, let their friend fall off a cliff, and then let him lie crippled for six hours before calling for help a couple of years ago….because they didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking the “no drinking clause” in their contract.

Again, will follow this up with another blog post, but there are plenty of people who aren’t going to ever let this just go away.  It will continue to be like Chinese Water Torture…the question “but why do you still claim the resurrections happen?” is easy to copy and paste over, and over, and over. The arrogance and hypocrisy of “Christians” like Bill Johnson who rely on the co-dependency of their followers in order to ignore huge lies like this one…is just unreal.  They apologize for putting out a fake article, but stick to the lie that the story in the fake article DID happen, NEVER, EVER, NOT ONE TIME acknowledge the tragedy in Brazil and call for prayer, and then treat people who expect an explanation like faithless idiots….including those who are doing actual relief work in Brazil and are witnessing the impact of this massive lie.  Hundreds dead, thousands homeless, entire neighborhoods destroyed….but I guess the important thing here is that Bethel’s image remains intact so that they can sell more books to people who think that faith means never having to question whatever is spoken by leaders at Bethel.  Oh, and jam to some Jesus Culture!  WHEEE!!!

There’s still discussion going on at the following Facebook locations for Bethel, Healing Herald, and Bill Johnson.  A lot gets deleted, but the Bill-worship and misplaced anger at the Brazilians who want an answer is entertaining, and also extremely sad, to watch-

Much of what Bethel and the people directly involved with the hoax have stated online has been either edited or deleted, but thanks to wonders like Google Cache and Google Reader, little gems continue to pop up, like Bethel’s insistence that the story is still true:

From testimony writer Pam, who still firmly stands behind the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, but refuses to answer any questions…
“This testimony was sent to us by someone we know and trust and it was given to her by someone she knows and trusts. I cannot answer any more e-mails requesting more information. The medical people involved wish to remain private. I have removed the attached article that seems to bother so many of the readers. However, I do believe that all the details are correct and factual or I would not have posted this testimony. Thank you for your understanding.”

(Side note- it has been confirmed by missionaries in the area, medical personnel, relief workers and government officials that NO foreign medical team of any kind was EVER onsite.)

Oh, and you can read the very lawyerly and non-commital statement that FINALLY came out of Bethel….basically they say the miracles really happened but the story was false, and they are sorry and no matter what they find out in their “investigation” of the matter they will never, ever speak of this again.  Partially because Bill Johnson is on record in a podcast and on his Facebook stating the miracles happened….but the doctors who witnessed it could lose their jobs if their names came out…so do you REALLY think there is any chance of him coming clean?

*********************end of update**********************************

First, if you would like to read a forensic account of this entire thing that is handled with far more patience and grace than I could ever muster, this is pretty fantastic-

I wanted to throw my hat into the ring so that Google has one more blog linking to this story.  In short, there is a completely unsubstantiated report of 16 people being raised from the dead by a Christian missions team in Brazil last week.  There’s a photo of the front page of a Brazilian newspaper that in no way matches the actual newspaper….the website for the newspaper makes no mention of the story….there are no names associated with the story whatsoever. Basically it is 100% hearsay but it has people going wild with joy.

It’s important that I posted this right now, because this story will be dead  soon….never to be resurrected.  When REAL questions are asked of those who insist it is true, they are met with misdirection, masked hostility, “oh it figures that a non-believer doesn’t get this”, mentions of anti-Christian bias in the media, scripture quotations, and last but not least……”well I know someone PERSONALLY who was raised from the dead, so I know this can happen!”.  What you get is everything except any real explanation of the story….there is no proof.  There is no proof because these stories are usually only meant to be seen by those who are ready to believe anything that comes from someone who already thinks like they do…..when an outsider gets ahold of it, they get defensive, then they go silent, and the story that was never substantiated becomes an urban legend that will be referred to in sermons for generations to come.

Do I believe miracles can happen? Sure.  Why am I hurriedly focusing on this one example?  I’ve been obsessed with it since last night, and I wanted to give you at least a peek into a culture with which I am all to familiar.  Here are a couple of the better sources…..  (link is dead as of the evening of 01/24/2011…shortly after evidence of the REAL newspaper article for that day came to light….what a wonderful and responsible ministry!  When caught in a lie….just sweep it under the rug!

If anyone can find anything….any name, picture, documentation, article, news footage….just one single thing that validates this story, here is the place to do it.  I know people will see this post, because basically the ONLY places you can find a reference for this tale is on blogs via Google.

More on this later, sorry for such a quick and cheap post, but this cultural phenonemon fascinates me. People who are so specifically socialized into one way of thinking that they are willing to accept anything at face value as long as it matches up with what they already believe…..and any skepticism is met with a retreat back to the hive, where they can immediately be reassured that they are right (even if the story they report to be true is a lie).  Whether this specific story is true doesn’t really matter to them, because when met with doubt they can always point to ANOTHER instance where it DEFINITELY happened, or throw out a scriptural reference that proves it CAN happen.  

Anyway, I’ll be back once the Theraflu is out of my system….all is well in the household, and I have more than enough on my mind to hand out some more four thousand word rambles…..

*************UPDATE 01/24/2011***********

Clearly I’m overly obsessed with this story, and for whatever reason have a laser-like focus on one in a million similar tales that constantly creep across the blogs. The more I dig into the website of Bethel Church that I have linked above, the more I understand it….hocus-pocus culture for hocus pocus believers with attention deficit disorder. When you are hawking prosperity doctrine books that claim “supernatural and prophetic” methods on the front page of your website…..I don’t really need to read any further. And THIS site is where the aforementioned miracle was reported…..and actually, the ONLY site as of this writing.

Right now, the only sites that are repeating this story are those that are pretty closely aligned with Bethel-style culture, and to sum things up- it is clear that people are ready to believe ANYTHING that is reported from a familiar source despite any shred of evidence, and when any doubts are raised they are ready to believe it even MORE.


One anonymous source reports this testimony on Bethel’s website.

As related blogs begin to copy and paste it, a .pdf of a newspaper page reporting this story suddenly appears. The authenticity is sketchy at best, it is not in line with how the real Teresopolis paper is formatted, and there is no mention of this story on the newspaper’s website despite the fact that they have links to prior stories for the past several months.

Someone from one of the blogs supposedly emails a pastor at Bethel, who confirms not that the story is true, but that they trust the person who reported it. BUUUUUUTTTT…for reasons unknown the person wants their identity protected.

Similarly, alleged communications from people still in the field report that the only way they were able to provide as much information as they have has been with the promise that no identities of those resurrected, nor the identities of any doctors, nurses, organizations or facilities were named in the retelling of the story.

I’ll compile a “best of” list of whacked-out retorts later, but people who are defending this story pretty much admit that even if THIS story ends up not being true, there is no denying that more and more of these types of miracles are happening these days and THAT fact can’t be disputed (because they can either cite some book or a friend of a friend or distant cousin who knows one of these stories is true).

So basically, if you’re like me and are calling bullshit on this story, it’s because your heart is hard and there would be no convincing you even if you saw it for yourself!  Because, and I quote, IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IT WHEN YOU HEAR IT, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT! The secular anti-Christian media is so biased they would never report this through their channels, etc, etc, etc……to doubt this story is to doubt God, and if you can’t trust a believer to be telling the truth about this, who can you trust?

And yes, that is the kind of insane logic with which I am all too familiar….I was that guy once upon a time.

I’m not going to keep rambling about this or do an old school tear-down like I would have a couple of year ago. I just have a simple question.  And disclaimer alert, it is based on the fact that my basic belief is of the generic Judeo-Christian variety, and as someone gullible enough to believe a spaghetti monster may very well have at least kicked off the big bang….I say, sure- if God felt like raising some people from the dead, he could do it. And I would not be rude enough afterwards to question what was so special about those 16 people vs. the 584 that were left to rot.

With all of that said, my question is this- who or what was the reporting of this (still unfounded) miracle really meant to serve?

At face value it looks like it was never really meant to see the light of day, and was meant to serve as a basic little shot in the arm for those who would never question its authenticity.  Then for whatever reason, out of a gazillion similar stories, it got out on the blogs and did not even pass a simple smoke test.

The only people who were meant to get anything from this story are the people who need it the least. They are the folks already so tightly insulated within this belief and its full-body-cast culture, that they hear similar things every single day. They already believe, are already seeing miracles…they are basically God’s Delta Force. BUT for whatever reason, a miracle so massive in its implication, that if proven with even the most basic evidence….one doctor, one photo, a family member, any first hand account whatsoever, could shake the foundations of even the crankiest agnostic….is purposefully and willingly being hidden from view by the very people who could provide evidence. How selfish of a hypocrite do you have to be to do that? And why?

In my opinion, it is because evangelical/charismatic/pentecostal/fundamentalist culture has safeguards in place to make sure it remains a closed culture. Jesus said “come unto me”….and that’s basically the whole story. Love God with all your heart, your neighbor as yourself. The End. What we have here is a modern church that will totally agree with that statement, but as soon as you DO believe it, and you want to remain (happily) in THEIR church….there is a WHOLE lot of shit you’re going to have to just take for granted as being true if you want to climb the ranks of the sanctified. It’s a process of enculturation and socialization that becomes so specific yet so complicated that all reality begins to be processed through that filter. The biggies are simple….stuff like porn, drinking and being gay are obviously OUT. But once one reaches a level of scriptural sophistication and comparative sanctification…you know, able to eat at the cool kid’s table…then THAT is where all ties with the regular world are, at worst severed completely, and at best turned in to one of those beaded curtains so that they can stick their head out and give plenty of unsolicited, condescending, and often just plain hurtful platitudes. Their lives basically become a game of philosophizing with other likeminded believers over the finer points of scripture as they pertain to exactly what things in this modern world are TOO secular…. you know, stuff like “are you really a Christian if you watch movies like ‘The Hangover’?”.  The guy who says NO, well HE is the alpha Christian right then….so everyone tries to be more like him, even if they have to pretend or make stuff up. Secretly they hate his ass. What they don’t realize is THAT dude has the first anniversary edition of The Hangover on Blu-Ray.

So anyway, why can’t the miracle of the resurrected 16 flood victims be shared with any authenticity beyond those who are going to believe it no matter what….

It’s basically this- in order for you to be able to rejoice in this story, you already have to be as deeply invested in the culture as the person or people who are reporting it as the truth.

It’s kind of a continuum….starting with:

Person A (they are reporting the miracle)

Person A encounters Person B (who has not heard about this miracle)

Person B’s reaction can be anything from hugs of joy to punching person A in the mouth, and for every one of those reactions, Person A (you know, the HANGOVER IS BAD guy) has a fitting response that never, EVER budges one millimeter from their little comfort zone. Person B, upon hearing the news, might call for high-fives all around….”YOU HEAR STORIES LIKE THIS EVERY DAY BUDDY, THESE ARE DEFINITELY THE END TIMES THIS TIME!!!”.  Then the reactions begin to gravitate out farther, from statements like “How wonderful this is if it’s confirmed!” to “You mean there is no first hand account?” all the way to “BUUUULLLLSHHEEEEIIIIIIITTTT!!!!”.  The farther out the reaction goes, the more defensive and earnest person A has to become….because at this point they are way too invested in this thing. Bring the internet into the picture, and the farther out the reaction goes, the more people there are to throw into the argument….and then it’s all about coalition protection, and at the end of it all the MOST you will get the Hangover guy to concede is “Even if this isn’t totally proven, this sort of thing is happening all the time, all over the place!”.  As if by magic, God loves to use blatant lies for his glory! Then the stories of the cousins, Benny Hinn’s books, etc., begin, and the culture remains closed…..because unless you already believed the story as much as Person A, you aren’t going to get any type of confirmation or proof beyond what already fits within the safe confines of their distinct language and culture. If you don’t already think and believe like they do, poor you, you don’t really count. What a shame.

That’s how it plays out pretty much every time, and pretty much every time, the story itself gets totally lost and becomes irrelevent. Those who believe already believe, and those who don’t believe (the people who could benefit the MOST) would have to swallow every particle of the culture in order to be invested enough to be able to believe it.

So again, who is the testimony really meant for?  Pentecostals claim to want to be like that first century church….but in all of my education and research I can’t find any examples of simple belief and service being so full of complications and intrigue as this most recent report of an alleged miracle. Corporate Megastructures in the shape of gigantic churches are constructed, television channels, radio stations and websites are integrated into society. People have never worked harder to take advantage of the technology available to them in order to get the word out, BUT when anyone asks for simple confirmation via one of these mediums, it’s “WHOOOAAAA Buddy, whoaa, whoaaa, whoaa… are going to have to suspend your level of disbelief in order to understand why this miracle has happened!”.

“There will always be doubters, no matter HOW much proof you have”….. and that is absolutely true. So are the miracles only there for the entertainment and edification of the believers?  Is that the way Jesus, the apostles and the first century church operated? 

Lastly, I really believe that this story, as it stands now, is either the ultimate example of selfishness or the the ultimate example of pride. Selfishness because someone is out there who supposedly has the proof, but they remain silent despite what it could mean to non-believers. Or pride, because those who are pushing this tale know that it is not true, and they are too prideful to admit they are wrong.  When in doubt, protect the organization….protect the culture, no matter how badly it goes against the most fundamental basics of the great commission. Be ashamed, be very ashamed….unless you can either come clean that you are using stories of miracles for your own agenda, or you can provide something more than the horribly lacking evidence being scattered on the web.

I know, I know, I’m way too sermon-y lately and as long winded as always……sobriety has ruined me!  Oh well, I’m great at entertaining myself.

Seriously though, I’m going to keep following this story because SUPPOSEDLY there are people trying to confirm with the Brazilian newspaper whether they ran it.

*****update, not long after the first update******

Well, this didn’t take long-


The actual O Diario article for the 16th compared to the one from Healing Herald, and also a link to what looks like a pretty perturbed Brazilian article taking issue with the aforementioned website.  Unless of course, this very rational sounding person who actually lives in Brazil, speaks Portuguese, has what seems to be a faith based website, and has the resources to disprove this story is wasting their time adding to the conspiracy against the faithful.

And OF COURSE, the original story has been removed from the site, and the wonderful folks at Healing Herald who provided everyone with the fake .pdf are blocking all comments to their site, and not responding on Facebook.  I have an email out to both, and will post any responses here.

THIS ladies and gentleman, is why I obsess over these little things……these megafaith megachurch megalomaniacs act in every way just like any other political machine…..when confronted with their own lies they either make a fancy spin on it, or they bury it.


Filed under 16 Raised From Dead, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Assemblies of God, Bariatric Surgery, Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, Blogroll, brightness rising, Christianity, Claudia Kornaros, culture, dasparling, dating, david andrew sparling, Dead Raising Teams, Evangelical Christianity, Food, General Thoughts, Healing Herald, Healing Rooms, Health, Healthy Eating, howard stern, International House of Prayer, Jesus Culture, loaded language, Lynne Wimmer, Masters Commission, Pam Spinosi, Recovery, religion, Religious Hypocrisy, School of Supernatural Creativity, School of Supernatural Ministry, Tent Revival, Teresopolis, Vineyard Church, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

The Amends Dinner…


This is kind of a weird month. On one hand, life and work are going well and the holidays haven’t brought with them any unnecessary stress. Our trip back to see my in-laws in Richmond was great, the travel went smoothly, and things are peaceful around the homestead. A very distinct counterpoint to the holiday peace is a sudden influx of death-related events. Thankully, unlike the insane losses in 2009, none of these are immediate family members. I already shared about one…my friend from my wild teen years who went nuts and killed 2 people during my senior year in high school…he died in prison earlier this year and I wrote a post about it a couple of months ago. I managed to find out how he died via info I got from a family friend more recently. Basically, as I may or may not have mentioned in the previous post, as a lifer he managed to climb to the top of the ladder in the state pen’s faction of the Aryan Brotherhood, and one of the benefits was having an unwilling concubine bunked with him. Apparently he was sexually abusing/raping this guy for a period of time before the fellow got transferred to another cell. After his transfer he bided his time, got a job in the cafeteria, and eventually got the opportunity to poison my old cohort. Real HBO Oz series shit there…..poisoned him to death. No BS, that’s the real story. Honestly, I didn’t have any kind of emotional reaction when I heard it, I mean, the only reason I ever checked the Kansas prisoner database was to make sure he never left prison. And in the end, he never did. A violent end to a wasted, violent life. Roll credits.

Then last week I was checking out a cigar bulletin board I used to obsessively frequent for years. I was really, really into cigars for a long time, and to some degree I still am. Real cigar smokers are generally pretty cool and generous people, so I made a lot of online friends and once or twice every year I’d drive or fly somewhere to get together with a bunch of them for some high-end partying. There was one notoriously hilarious guy named Bobby from New Jersey who was pretty much the life of the party every time…..the guy who would make you regret going back to your hotel room at 5am because of the legendary antics that would surely take place right after you left. Jersey guy, gold chains, shiny shirts….connoisseur of fine booze, cigars, “skoon-gee-lee” salad, and an Italian delicacy known as Gordina that I have yet to find anywhere besides from his mother’s kitchen. So a few years have passed since the biggest, most insane parties out on the east coast….where we basically took over a couple of floors of a hotel and the hosts would literally rent out the sports bar for us for the whole weekend….and the main forum where we all used to hang online has turned to shit due to the usual moderator problems. I’ll pass by from time to time to see who still posts in the newly sanitized version of what was once a great online community, and it’s generally depressing, boring, and annoying because the new “community leaders” are the ones who cried to the mods until all of the bad men like my buddy Bobby and many others began to disappear. I mean, when you know what a Photoshop genius a guy like Bobby is, common sense dictates you don’t put stupid pictures of yourself on the site….and if you do, don’t go crying to the mods when the inevitable cock-growing-out-of-your-chin-at-your-daughter’s-graduation pic shows up. So anyway, no mystery where this is headed….I logged on last week to find out Bobby had just died from a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bam. And that was that. Not my closest confidant, not a family member, but definitely someone everyone I know has heard stories about, as well as one of the few people I’ve ever met who could truly, genuinely, make me laugh out loud at will. His legend was larger than life. And then he was just gone.

Then, following shortly on the heels of the news Bobby had died, came the third story in a series that has to represent some kind of Dickens Christmas Carol-level psychic lesson I’m supposed to be learning. I don’t want to be an egomaniac and think that it all has to have some grandiose meaning for ME, but at the same time I want to glean whatever wisdom I can from each situation and learn from it because, HOPEFULLY, these scenarios won’t continue to play out every damn year. Anyway, I was sitting in the Saturday 8am AA meeting at my hall, which is still one of my favorite weekly events, and sure as hell…..I got some news that was more distressing in many ways than the other two events. When you are in the program, as old-timers will always confirm, you meet people who go back out drinking and wind up dead pretty quickly. Since I started AA, I know of one girl I never met who had just died when I joined. Then last year there was a girl who I’d sat in some meetings with, my wife actually attended her first step during an open meeting, and she sat at our table during last year’s anniversary party. I didn’t know her well at all, she seemed like a sweet kid who really struggled with her sobriety, and while it’s only speculation that alcohol was involved, she wrapped a car around a bridge pylon coming home from a bar in the middle of the night earlier this year. But until this week I never had anyone “I knew” go back out and die. So we were going around the table sharing, and someone mentioned something about “losing Rick” this week….and the way the people who knew about it talked, this was obviously one of the Rick’s with whom I was familiar. His picture was on the bulletin board, and I hadn’t noticed it when I came so I didn’t want to be rude in the middle of the meeting and go up to confirm who it was. In my mind I was really hoping it wasn’t the Rick I was thinking of……a really nice, deep thinking fifty-something guy I’d sat in a million noon meetings with while I was unemployed. He’d obviously been in and out of the program several times from the way he talked, but he seemed really, really solid in his program. Unfortunately, when I went to look at the picture it was the same Rick. In addition, once I found out what had happened to him it was even more depressing because I remembered talking to my wife and to people at work a few days prior about “another idiot on the news who decided to try and cross the highway at I-29 and Barry Road and got killed”. Rick was the guy. Went back out, and never came back.

So where is the meaning in all of this? How does it relate to ME, here in the center of the universe? Who the hell knows. People die. Some in ways they have no control over, and some after they completely lose control. All I really know to do in all of this is try to learn what I can when I can and just live in a manner where I am someone whom I can stand to be around.

There is something very centering and reassuring about having a program that weaves itself in and around all of the good and all of the bad aspects of your life. Reading a lot of comments from a Sanjay Gupta CNN article on “Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality”, I’m reminded that many people who have no real connection to AA or actual knowledge of the program think of this reassurance as a “crutch” or “replacing one addiction for another”…..”being too weak minded to just quit, so you join a cult instead”….it’s pretty amazing what you find out about modern society when you read comments from a major blog. All I know is this- I am living a life now that requires me to take a constant personal inventory, and with the help of this program I face the negative aspects in a manner that allows me to grow while changing what I can, and experience the same kind of growth by living with what I can’t. A big part of this inventory requires you to take ownership of the consequences surrounding the people, places and things you negatively impacted with your addiction. I’ve been sober almost 18 months, and I am just now at Step 9….some people go faster, some go slower…I’m thankful to have a sponsor that has pretty much let me go at a pace that allows for a lot of growth without becoming stagnant. The long road to step 5 allowed me to have a “real” life-changing experience when I completed it, so I have approached steps 8 and 9 in the same manner. As I was going through my life thinking of people who had been affected by my addiction, the list never got too long once I understood this wasn’t about compiling every damn instance of stepping on a guy’s foot in a bar…..this is a list of people and situations that “make you pause”. If it bothers you at all, or you have to question whether it should be on the list….it probably belongs on the list. As someone who was more than willing to destroy himself in solitude, I really didn’t carve a swath of destruction that resulted in broken lives, arrests, or any of the really big cliché’s you think of when you think of an out of control drinker. What I did was brutalize a few close friendships with the narrow minded, living-in-a-glass-house selfishness that comes with addiction. I made people who love me the most worry about me, and my level of self-absorption and selfishness kept them from doing anything but managing the situation through denial. While I was a funny drunk and jovial character to people outside my closest circle, I used the fact that “people love me” as an excuse to steamroll over everyone nearest to me. I made people crazy with worry, I took my frustration and self-hatred out on some by burning bridges, and I was generally completely unavailable. The family events and gatherings of friends that were not centered around alcohol were all negotiable in my mind….there was always an excuse to miss a birthday, a holiday, or anything that required me to think that it might really mean a lot to someone just to have me be there. Those are the things that kill you, and you can’t get them back. But what you can do is own it and be willing to make it right. Step 9.

Okay, this is called “the amends dinner”, so I guess I should talk about that. It was bugging me that I hadn’t had a “real” dinner at my house in a while. And by “real” I mean the kind where I drive myself insane for two weeks ahead of time.  Having some old friends over sounded like fun this time of year, so I went into the wayback machine and picked people who have known me for a long time and have been there during some of the major stages of my life, from ministry to the porn kingdom, to today. No sense in rehashing the amends portion, it would kind of defeat the purpose of doing it to some degree and would mean nothing to anyone besides the parties involved. In this case, both relationships were witness to lots, and lots and TONS of instances where the booze and assorted favors brought out the most hilarious and the most grievous parts of my personality. So hey, now that we’re all grown up and married, on our own solid paths, let’s break bread and share some laughs…..

When I was in Richmond with my wife for Thanksgiving, a friend of ours mentioned seeing a recipe for “bacon jam” on the internet. So of course, the first thing I did when I got back to KC was look it up.  It was pretty much the first thing I put on the menu, and since I know people will want it, here’s the recipe- .  It is insane, and delicious, and as necessary for life as we know it as it sounds. Bacon Jam…you cook a pound of bacon, onions, garlic, spices, coffee, maple syrup, brown sugar, and other goodness down to less than a cup of “jam”.  It isn’t just the deliciousness that gets you, it’s the fact that you wonder HOW IN THE HELL you hadn’t heard of it before, and at that point the real danger begins……the sheer number of practical applications starts to boggle the mind and turn everything upside down. Bacon Jam. It is the shit.  It is why we love food.  Sooo….I had to think of the perfect thing to pair it with, because it’s way too rich and potent to just sit there eating it by the spoonful.  Last year I saw a recipe for herb and cheddar poppers in Bon Appetit that I’ve been wanting to try.  I hate to bake, and they are kind of involved, so it took a major dinner to prompt me to make them.  They really aren’t hard to make….it’s buttermilk biscuit dough with plenty of frozen butter grated into it, then you flatten it out into a square, cover 2/3 of the square with a mixture of cheddar and freshly minced herbs, tri-fold it onto itself, flatten it back out into a big square, and repeat the process a total of 4 times. Once it’s flattened back out, you cut the biscuits into bite sized squares and bake them. Whammo- the perfect foil for the bacon jam. In short, people lost their damn minds. If I haven’t mentioned it yet…..bacon jam. If you don’t make it, I think Homeland Security should investigate you.

Quick shot of the biscuits and jam….

Keeping in line with the pork fat goodness, for the appetizer I decided to try Thomas Keller’s Pork Belly Confit recipe.  It’s a big time involvement, but pretty easy, and insanely cheap for such an impressive dish.  You just take a big hunk of raw skin-on pork belly, brine it for about ten hours in an herb and honey-heavy mixture, bake it for about six hours at 200 degrees submerged in lard. Yeah, don’t back up and read that again…..I said submerged in lard….that’s how you do it or it wouldn’t be “confit”.  Once it’s falling apart tender, you take it out, let it come to around room temperature, cover it with plastic and weight it, then put it in the fridge until it’s a big solid block. When you’re ready to cook it, you cut it out of the lard, slice off the skin, cut it into squares (or thick bacon-ish slices like I did below) and then saute over low heat until it’s good and crisp. Pair it with some texture, some sour, some sweet, bitter, etc…..stuff to lift the fatty richness, because it is A) insanely fatty, and B) paralyzingly rich.  I thought I may have gone too far out of the box choosing this recipe, but once again, people lost their damn minds. 

Paired with various flavors to make you forget you are basically eating crispy seared pork fat…

For the main course, I had this awesome Wagyu beef brisket in my freezer just waiting for an appropriate occasion, so I did it “two ways”.  I took the point of the brisket and slow smoked it for about 13 hours for burnt ends, and then I took the flat and braised it in a mixture of tomato, aromatics and root beer for about 7 hours and used the braising liquid as a base for the sauce. It was accompanied with simple roasted asparagus with good balsamic, and panko breaded and sauteed chive risotto cakes.  This was a good dish, but I was way happier with the burnt ends than the root beer braised flat……but it’s probably because it is just stupid to try and put ANYTHING up against good burnt ends…..

I totally forgot to take a picture, but my wife did a great dessert called Hummingbird Cake, that has a lot of elements you find in a good spice cake and carrot cake. Bananas and pineapple in the batter, and it has a cream cheese frosting. Very good, and in keeping with the over the top food coma theme….

So here we are back to the holidays. Lots of change in 2010, and most of it very positive. Strong marriage, employment, great friendships, new hobbies, and an ever-growing life perspective thanks to the tenets of AA.  I’ve tried to stop over-thinking all of the good and the bad….normally I’d try and put myself at the center of all of it.  But this is just life. It keeps going whether you are onboard with it or not, so the wise choice is to grab onto the good stuff while you can and know it will eventually return when you are facing the bad.  I don’t want this to sound morbid, but most of us aren’t going to be remembered for that much once we’re gone, outside of the lives we’ve impacted and the people we’ve known.  And outside of stumbling onto unexpected money, fame, fortune and cures for cancer, if we don’t leverage “the right now”, we’ll miss out on life while we are waiting for the unattainable cool shit that we THINK will justify our existence.  As I work through step 9, taking credit for all of the bullshit is a big part of taking action. And there isn’t really any way to correctly think of amends in terms of getting it over with and going back to normal….for me, I want people to know this is just a small part of a bigger journey, and that as I take ownership I’m willing to do what it takes to make it right. Saying I’m sorry is great, but without a big shift in thought patterns and priorities, there really is no point. That’s what makes the program tough at times, and what makes it necessary to keep going to meetings and “working it’.  It sounds simplistic and to many very cult-like, but as those who know me can attest to, I’m still basically the person I’ve always been…just more responsible and much calmer.  I will always howl with laughter at some pretty sick shit….like the poster I saw online last night with Anne Frank’s smiling face in the middle and the caption “I love Doritos, but they are SO LOUD!”.  But my juvenile sense of humor aside, when I was in church I never found the kind of day to day peace and calm I’ve found in the program.  Part of that my fault I’m sure, but mostly I believe that fundamentalism trades reflection and improvement of self with hyper-emotionalism and a philosophy of fear-based works and competition. Sure, I meet plenty of dry drunks in AA, but it doesn’t come close to the number of “Christians” I’ve known who profess great faith and works but do not have the ability to grow past their own fear, anger, resentment, unforgiveness and greed. Getting “washed in the blood of Jesus” can be one huge cop-out if the core of someone’s behavior doesn’t continue to change and grow in a tangible, conscious manner.  When something I’ve done “gives me pause” (which is at the core of steps 8 and 9), I don’t want to be someone who looks to the sky and begs for forgiveness and help to change, I want to be someone who takes the most direct and practical action to fix the issue and use THAT process as the connection to my spirituality. 

And with that I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, solstice, all the Jew-stuff, you know the drill. Here’s to a happy and fruitful 2011 for all of us. 



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Two Birds With One Stone for Chaz….

Ok, my answer to a comment from my last post was running so long that I said the heck with it…..I’m too lazy to post lately so this will have to suffice.   I know you’ll all be shocked, it’s more church vs. AA rambling…

Chaz, thanks for the thoughtful post. Dammit man, you are so much nicer than me!  I could go on and on forever about this subject because it’s such an easy and obvious target.  My new word… “sanctionimosity” comes to mind, pomposity, a grating level of piety….and I do agree that it can pop up in AA just as easily as church.  I have a certain level of guilt when it comes to avoiding business and group conscious meetings at my hall, but man…I spent so much of my life dealing with the negative side of the politics in church and it’s all the same thing. Plus, my education in organizational psychology would be more of a millstone around my neck, a total distraction…personalities and group dynamics would be too much of an issue. I know my limitations.

Long story short… for a culture that could benefit from so many of the traditions and organizational aspects of AA, the evangelical world is completely closed to change. Being a pastor is an easy career move disguised as a calling (much of the time, not always), and the level of control and guilt used to keep order is mind boggling. As you mention, true personal growth and change is glossed over in lieu of how to act, how to fit in, go through the motions….it’s more of a process of socialization than spiritual growth. All of my ego and sarcasm aside, it’s all about the lack of humility and honesty. Chances are, a dickhead who is washed clean of his sins is still a total dickhead, and the “discipleship” that takes place after his salvation goes back to the socialization.  And the absolute same can be said for AA….newcomer comes in, quits drinking, gets ecstatic about it…but he doesn’t put in the work, and he disappears.  Keyword: WORK. If it doesn’t feel like a job and it doesn’t take daily reflection and initiative, you aren’t doing it right.  In church, unless you’re “feeling the spirit” you aren’t on track, so the emotion that comes along with “feeling the spirit” is manufactured when it isn’t present. 

False humility is a cornerstone of the mega-church world.  It’s an ego-fest.  There is talk of humility in reference to the greatness of God, but the spirit of the whole thing is arrogance…like the guy who is fasting for ten days and can’t shut up about how he’s fasting for ten days.  And I have all of those tendencies in me to an exponential degree, no question.  What I do to keep it in check is work the program…I have to recognize it, accept it, be willing to change it, and take action.  There is no ecstatic “WASHED IN THE BLOOD!!!!” moment, but there is a kind of serenity and peace I can’t really even communicate. Everybody wants it fast….they want to be washed of their sins and then run with it a million miles an hour….and evangelical Christianity is right there to make it happen.  Then once you’re saved, it’s a sign of failure, weakness and lack of faith when you’re not “on fire”….and the abuse of scripture  to back all of that up is unforgivable.

Anyway, like I said, I can ramble myself into an egomaniacal rampage……but for me, right now, today, where I’m at at this moment with the program is- amends. I’ve worked the steps, grown in faith, found countless moments of serenity, faced my defects of character, became willing to change them, and with God’s help and am now at a point where I have the courage to make real amends to those I have wronged.  The easy ones, the scary ones I hate to think about, total honesty with myself in order to even contemplate it. My burning bush moment on how to accomplish this came to me as I was driving home from golf today. In my experience with the pentecostal world, there was never an avenue for that…it was more about “look how much I believe in Jesus, you should too!” instead of spiritual growth based on honesty and the acceptance of your humanity. There isn’t anything “grand” about this thing, no chance for car salesmanship, it’s real work and so simple that it’s threatening. Growing up, AA was always described as “pure secular humanism”, and at its core it really is about knowledge of SELF.  But what people don’t realize is unless you are giving back you aren’t working the program.  Your power comes from surrendering instead of sharpening your skills at being on the offensive, and the whole world isn’t our goal…it’s all about one person at a time.

In church you get a lot of credit for the things you do. Accolades are a big part of the culture, and so is getting into various “inner circles” depending on the size of the church.  AA takes more of a monastic approach, and if you get bent out of shape because you don’t get credit for something, someone is going to put you in check.  The Anonymity part of AA is something I truly love. To some degree I can see how it’s viewed as a “clique”…but it’s a clique you get into because you have completely fucked up your life.  I talk to people in every meeting who are probably “kind of a big deal” out in their little part of the world, but that shit is left at the door. And what is said in meetings stays in the meetings.  A prolific author or world renowned brain surgeon might show up early to vacuum or clean a toilet, and the sponsor who has most influenced them and helped them could be a Wal Mart greeter.  I love that. It’s so simple and strips away the caste-system dynamic found in most organizations. Real diversity and equality, things are broken down to their simplest state. Long story short, church folks can’t come to AA unless they are alcoholics, but there are so many positive things about the program that could be implemented in church.  I said all of this other stuff just to say that. As it stands now, this trend of evangelical Christianity peppered with the tenets of Manifest Destiny is simply not sustainable for a long period of time.  The logical conclusion of what the politically conscious evangelicals are after is exactly what pissed Jesus off enough to violently throw the money changers out of the temple. To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy: If you’re a born again Christian who rejoiced when the Republicans took back the House, you might be someone Jesus would boot out of the temple.

So anyway, this is my lazy post…..a response to Chaz’s comment that I’m using as a way to not feel horrible that I don’t post as much as I used to.  Honestly, I’m just in a great place right now.  I’m working, playing golf, working the program, hanging out with my wife, and I do a LOT of introspective work that would be even more boring and Jerry-centric to read than what I’ve been spewing lately.  I’ll feel very good that I’ve actually posted something prior to leaving for Thanksgiving with my wife and her family in Richmond, Virginia.

First trip on a plane since I got sober……and I hate to fly, a fact that has been chronicled on here more than once I’m sure.  I’ll have an emergency Trazodone on me in case I get too freaked out, but I will not have my usual quart bag full of mini-bottles of bourbon to dump on top of the four or five Manhattans I already drank in the terminal, in addition to however many drinks I can get the flight attendant to sell me before cutting me off.  If nothing else, flying will be a shitload simpler without micromanaging THAT monster. I did get that book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man to read on the plane….I just can’t get myself to read very often. Grad school cured me of any desire to ever read another book, but so far I’m liking this one.  Reminds me of a period of my life that you’d only ever hear me talk about in the safety of a meeting.

Off to make dinner (scallop and fresh asparagus risotto with sauteed brussel sprouts), and contemplate how to put my plan for amends into action.

Everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m still here. For better or worse I’m never going to stop showing up here and typing something out. It’s a permanent part of my life, but I let my life dictate when I pop in and what I write.  It’s never going to be as insane as it once was, but it’s also never going to be  gratuitous.  Quality over quantity and progress instead of perfection.


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Be Fond Of The Lord…

All of my past church experiences aside, I really don’t have anything against going to church. I’ll go to church, I’m not afraid of it, it doesn’t freak me out, but I generally don’t want to associate with the type of churchgoers who measure your spirituality by your church attendance in the same way people judge your patriotism by whether or not you belt out the national anthem at whatever redneck professional sporting event is plaguing the community that day. In short, after years of hemming and hawing and trying to think of a way to put it nicely, I just tell anyone who asks about my church attendance….”my only real requirement other than a very basic new testament message is that it’s not a church where people raise their hands”. In my extensive experience, you weed out a vast majority of the dipshits and spectacle seekers that way. People who truly believe that the founding fathers meant for us to have a Christian government, or who think the earth is only 6,000 years old, or that prosperity doctrine is legitimate theology, or that Jesus probably would have been a Republican….. all of those people go to churches where your raise your hands. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about….a sure sign that you and your church are balls-out sold-out and radical for Jesus with particular attention paid to the 2nd chapter of Acts and all things Holy Ghost, is when people raise their hands when they sing, praise, worship, pray, etc. If you’re reading this and you’re someone who loves to raise your hands in church, I’m not singling you out, do your thing…I’m just saying that in my life of experience with evangelical/pentecostal culture, this show of emotion is generally pretty fleeting and shallow and is used more often than not as a tool to “set us apart” from believers who aren’t quite as dedicated to Christ. It’s just not as fun and exciting (or entertaining) to be Presbyterian or Methodist. Even though there is zero correlation between the highly emotional, er, I mean spiritual, outpouring that goes on in evangelical churches and any significant rise in attendance over the past ten or so years in comparison to all of those “dead” churches, it surely is the way Jesus meant for us to be worshipping. The praise teams, prayer teams, those cool plexiglass boxes around the drumsets, those cool plexiglass pulpits and wireless microphones, monster schvantz sized sound systems complete with multimedia presentations where the resident dude who knows Powerpoint flashes the song lyrics for you…..low volume, high volume, slow tempo, fast tempo, build up, slow down, build waayyy up, then slow down fast……yes, I can see that the teary eyes and raised hands have absolutely NOTHING to do with emotional manipulation and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that the Holy Trinity loves to rock the house. Then you do a miniature version of the same thing prior to the offering (bigger if there’s a 2nd offering going to an evangelist or visiting missionary) as well as the altar call…..repeat that every week and insist that even though your overall attendance isn’t really any higher than it was 20 years ago, this is REVIVAL!

Now, I’m NOT saying that if you’re “saved”, that the whole thing is bullshit and it was some emotional lie. I’m saying that I believe salvation and faith are real things, but that everything that goes along with the hand raising can bring with it a very easy escape from thoughtful and meaningful growth. I spent half my life filtering all of my experience through that pentecostal holy ghost filter, and it never gave me a chance to experience or practice real faith. Faith meant you didn’t have to think too much or question anything, because there was always some preacher who was generally ill equipped to make a living in the real world ready to give you the simplest answers to life’s biggest questions. And to question him was to “touch God’s anointed”…a major no-no. Once I got a different perspective that proved to me that there was life outside of that safe charismatic cocoon, at first it turned me into an animal. Many people think that “Bible college can ruin your relationship with Christ”, but that attitude does nothing but reinforce the laziness in thought and spirituality for the person who says it. If I didn’t experience a paradigm shift that completely destroyed my worldview and forced me to rebuild it over time, I don’t think I could have experienced real faith vs. the “take my word for it” type of faith that is a cornerstone of evangelical philosophy. It took a while for me to resolve the worldview I was born into and still hold on to the basic tenets of my faith…and while I realize that makes me lost, or a backslider, or lukewarm in the eyes of the charismatic emotion chasers, I’m happy to be in a place where I prefer the wisdom that comes with my quieter no-hand-raising growth versus the fast food culture revelations that raise the roofs of the mulitimedia and demographic savvy temples where it’s purely a numbers game. I had to go through a period of anger, and zero faith, in order to learn about faith. That’s pretty much at the core of being an “unsaved loved one”… in the eyes of the hand-raisers I’m damaged goods, and while my views are generally politely tolerated there is always this patronizing tinge of hope that “I’ll come back around” and get back on that Holy-Ghost-Upper-Room Train. But when I see what has become of the church today, with the inbreeding of politics and religion, and the tendency to create a definition of faith that has been shaped in response to pop culture issues, I’m happy to have taken the beatings to get where I am today instead of choosing such an easy path that is built on a completely contrived and non-scriptural theory that faith can be built from the perceived martyrdom and victimization that comes from “standing up for your beliefs” in today’s world. All of those dramatic trappings are attractive….they make for good sermons, they are topical and get customers in the door. And while I can’t write off an entire sub-culture for that one hugely misdirected tendency, it’s a false, false, false direction to take because it has absolutely nothing to do with real faith. It has more to do with socialization, how to react to the secular world…”club building”…than it does with getting someone on a path where they can honestly and internally grow in their faith.

As human beings, I truly believe it is in our nature to seek the easier “happy path” based on the worldview in which we grew up. You take that emotional tie to whatever that belief system is and you run with it….filtering the world and your experience within it through that system and that system only. I’m not attaching morals and right and wrong to it at this point…I’m just saying it is what it is. You want to stay within that worldview because anything pushing you to go outside of it causes fear and uncertainty, and part of staying safely where you are at involves linking yourself with those who have that same view. I know I’m making this too retard-level, but I like to keep things as simple as possible and go from there. When it comes to evangelical/charismatic/pentecostal, whatever you want to name it, culture…people get it. They get the fact that you are saying a belief in Jesus is mutually exclusive, therefore it is the one and only way to get to heaven. That’s your happy path. And with modern communication, it comes through loud and clear, and your every thought as you filter modern society through it is pretty well understood….mainly because you have constructed a re-branded version of everything that already exists in the name of this belief…from action films to exercise programs. But here’s the rub…with very few exceptions, nobody outside of this narrow, specific worldview gives a shit. And they shouldn’t because the point of reference you are providing totally sucks. And instead of heaping their disdain upon your shoulders like a martyr, and finding ways to subvert the system and make this a nation “under God”, or in some profoundly perverted way actually believe that your warnings of hell constitutes witnessing…take some time to learn about your relation to your own faith before you expect ANYONE to listen to you long enough to question THEIR happy path worldview. You are asking a hell of a lot from people, but you are too wrapped up in yourself to think about it….even your “selflessness” comes across like it’s just for show.

What I’m saying is- You can school me on the scriptural proof of why Obamacare is evil, go to every length to prove to me that the founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation, but you can’t tell me about the most basic kernel of your faith in an unscripted (meaning NOT “testimony style!”), honest way. I can poke your belly and have you regurgitate a million scriptures for a million different answers, but your intent rings false because you make it all sound like some kind of contest where the objective is to simply wear someone down….which makes it all about you and your ego. The plain truth is what makes you YOU is what you do when nobody is watching…and the more you rattle on the more you reveal about that person…and it makes your dishonesty way easier to see, and the belief you are trying to sell becomes more and more unattractive. Finding faith is finding that honest person, that true, bare bones, defective person that you are, accepting it and going from there. But the easy, hand-waving faith says don’t do that…and you go and hide in your dramatic and spectacular misunderstood version of grace with people who will never challenge you. When you hit the altar, shed some tears, and become that brand-new-washed-in-the-blood-hand-raising person, you miss out on a lot if you don’t build your faith based on its relation to your shortcomings and how you constantly have to craft yourself as a human being to live up to that high standard WITHOUT becoming so perfect that you’re unwilling to admit you are still deeply flawed. That is real growth, and it doesn’t happen quickly. It’s not loud, or a spectacle, and it goes completely against the tendency to take the easy, bright and shiny path strewn with every manner of Christ-branded entertainment or pseudo-intellectual pursuit. It doesn’t make for exciting traveling evangelist sermon material, but it does get to the root of why the current manifestation of the church is failing miserably. When you get to the guts of what your faith really means, it will change the way you live and the way you communicate with others. Modern Christianity has severely over-complicated things, when it all really is as simple as John 3:16 and the great commission. When the most stripped down, pre-school version of your faith becomes profound in its simplicity, then someone might give a shit about whatever it is you have to say about it. Or maybe they won’t. And that’s okay. Just stop judging your level of spiritual victory by all of the things you do to entertain, placate, impress or out-do the people who already think exactly like you do.

I guess a lot of this rambling thought comes from the fascination with the hatred of AA I grew up hearing from the pulpit, and the irony that AA helped me get to a point where I can resolve my faith. But church isn’t AA and AA isn’t church…and the whole “it’s secular humanism because they’ll let you make a door knob your higher power” comes from a place of incredible ignorance. Church desires control over a person, AA does not. BUT left to their own devices, if a person works the program correctly they will generally come back to a point where, if they started life with a Christian worldview, much of the time it will come back to them. But it doesn’t always happen, and AA isn’t going to force it to happen….AA is about dealing with the spiritual aspects of overcoming alcohol without being specific. And that’s the problem the church always had with it…despite the glaringly obvious fact that if “their” program was truly effective their numbers would grow exponentially…but they don’t. It’s loosely organized, doesn’t weigh-in to outside social or political issues, there are no appointed leaders…but a whole lot of people are getting better because of it. And people like me are able to intelligently and thoughtfully come to terms with that “higher power”. And of course, saying you are an alcoholic and will always be an alcoholic cuts right at the heart of what it means to be “saved and sanctified”…even though all of the baggage and issues that created the alcoholic still exists under the surface no matter how “sanctified” a person is. There is a whole lot of pride and too much needless work involved in “looking good in front of company”, which makes it easier not to talk about some things, ignore and deny others completely, and focus maintaining an attractive spectacle.

Anyway, just some of what I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m not saying it’s the gospel, or you’re an idiot for not buying into it, but I don’t go to church where people raise their hands. And that cuts out a lot of churches, so I thought it was at least worth explaining myself. I’ve been wanting to write about my take on the much bally-hoo’d November elections, but this came up first. You just see a lot of “people of faith” showing their true colors with all of the political angst of late…without realizing they are the money-changers who should be beaten over the head. Sooooo…it’s fall again, I’m three years out from surgery and need to lose more weight, the farmers markets are about to close and it may be too cold for golf soon….so we’ll see how this all goes.


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Ain’t It Good To Be A Gangster…

Last month was my big one-year anniversary celebration at my home group. Prior to that I did my speech back at the hospital, but as I mentioned before, that was a totally different animal. Your one-year speech for your fellow AA’ers is more of a…drinkalogue. You get to tell your story and use the majority of the allotted one hour meeting time limit. I had three other people celebrating with me, all with several years of sobriety, and they all told me the same thing…”first year people take a long time,don’t worry about it”. Obviously, I’m no stranger to public speaking, and I have my methods down when it comes to limiting my time, building a crescendo, working the crowd, etc. I just didn’t realize how much crap I had to pack in there, and I think I took around thirty five minutes. But it was a good thirty five minutes…I know how to work it.

The overall theme of an anniversary speech is “what we were like then, what happened, and what we are like now”. For newbies, there is more of a focus on “what we were like and what happened”, because although you get to know people and you share a lot around the tables, only a handful of people know “your story”. Well, it was sometimes raucously hilarious, sometimes sad, and generally well received as I launched into my journey that began with my uncle getting me high when I was about three, to me standing in a puddle of my own shit in my kitchen at 40. On the surface you have the bizarre dichotomy of a one-time pentecostal minister turned porno dealer turned IT schmoe….but below that there is a ton of interwoven activity and intrigue that can only be shared anonymously in the hall. I know I’m “anonymous” here, but some things can be more damaging than others when committed to the printed word. But trust me, as some details were revealed I got a healthy amount of “street cred” from some of the folks in the program who have spent more time on the periphery of the law than others. My wife and I joke that, when it comes to many of the ladies down at the hall, I must be the embodiment (on the AA scale) of the love child of George Clooney and Brad Pitt….that is to say, I was spared the majority of the darker repercussions of addiction…I got out sooner than many. And all joking aside, I am grateful for that fact every single day of my life. But hey, here’s me, got a job, a house, a car, nice skin, nice teeth, an education, no criminal record…..I’m fuckin’ English Bob. So when I got into some of the real meat of “what we were like then”, it underscored the facts that A) I am incredibly lucky to be alive, and B) boy do I ever belong in this program.

As per usual, the first paragraph or two of my ramblings are but a lead-in to what I’m really going to talk about. This being no exception, I will say that the mystical timing and graphic subject matter of my one-year anniversary was not lost on me when I got some news about an old friend last week. And as per usual, I will mention that in my blog, unless I am OBVIOUSLY writing bullshit, I’m really telling the truth. And the truth here is…. when I look back on my life there are two very distinct, dangerous, and graphic events that have taken place that, at their worst would have killed me, and at their best would have altered the path of my life to a degree that, if I did live this long, I probably would not be able to vote, buy firearms, or get hired for any type of reputable job that required any level of real responsibility. Somehow in both instances, I ended up getting Door #3…a free pass with fair to moderate lifelong psychic trauma.

As far as the trip in the wayback machine….when I was a youngster in high school I had to make a conscious choice between either being the fat kid who did the nerdy crap he really wanted to do like theatre and D&D and suffer through five years of torture at the hands of the other kids….OR I could go the 80’s metal route, get into drinking, drugs, firearms and explosives and be the fat kid you didn’t fuck with. That’s the path I chose. And it was one awesome fucking path. And I will add here that if went to a “real” high school in Wyandotte County vs. the college prep magnet arts and science school I attended, the tough kid thing would have lasted for about a week before I got the shit beaten out of me enough times to go back to Chess Club or whatever nerd paradise awaited me. As I am in all things that interest me, I was an overachiever. And it was the mid-80’s….a different world than it is now. The shit that my Napoleonic partner in crime and I pulled would absolutely be considered “domestic terrorism” by today’s standards. Looking back some of it is just hilarious, but also chilling when I realize that it’s a miracle I have my eyesight and both hands. We researched, built and field-tested every item we could from every old military survival manual we could get our hands on at gun shows….we knew how to make napalm, we could construct working silencers that fit onto the barrels of the homemade guns we manufactured…but we didn’t have to mess with homemade guns that often because his family was from the hills of Virginia and they stockpiled guns WAY before it was the “cool” militia-style thing to do. In short, we blew shit up and burned shit down, and funded our hijinx by manufacturing and selling ultra-explosive M-80’s (we had our own recipe for the flash powder, and we would triple sift it with loving care for that bigger “bang”) as well as bigger, badder versions that used PVC pipe instead of the cardboard casings.

My buddy had a 1970 Camaro with all of the hot-rod crap in it….the four barrels, fiberglass hood…I’m not a car guy so I won’t keep talking about it and sounding stupid, but I’m telling you, this car was badass, and had we not been the equivalent of Lardass from the movie Stand By Me, and Ratso Rizzo, all of the accoutrements of white trash bad-assdom would have gotten us laid to the point where the free clinic had penicillion on stand-by for us 24X7. BUT if we were getting laid all of the time we would not have been able to perfect such fine weapons of mass destruction.

I think he was one year older than me. Both of us had pretty insane reputations at school, and I really cannot paint a picture of how gloriously low-rent our classic 80’s existences were on the weekends…we were bad kids who hung out with people older and much scarier. Drinking red grape malt duck and smoking Thai stick while flying down the road in the camaro, Ted Nugent’s “Great White Buffalo” in the tapedeck, on our way to the drive-in to get even more fucked up and at some point during the evening I can practically guarantee a firearm would be discharged and everyone would scatter. We’d go hang at the lake or at one of the many parks where our kind congregated….on the badass scale in THIS group of people, with the “always shirtless but wearing jeans” guys being the alpha-males, we were somewhere in the middle of the pack, but only because the we knew about a hundred ways to blow you up. In the grand scheme of things we were pussies. So we had to be extra crazy. But at the end of the day, when we were back at his grandmother’s house where I spent practically every weekend, we were still kids…wondering about the deeper mysteries of the opposite sex as we strained to see further into the cleavage of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

I don’t remember exactly when, but one day I met his older cousin. If I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, he was probably about 21 or 22. At that age he was already on his second marriage. His first wife had died of a brain tumor, and the son they had together died from some type of sudden infant death syndrome. His wife when I knew him was a couple of years younger than him and they got married after she got pregnant and had twin daughters. He and I hit it off pretty quickly. I was old for my age, and while I was a drinking and drugging hellraiser I wasn’t one of the average idiots from the neighborhood. At first we got together so he could teach me how to play guitar, but eventually we built a friendship as strong as is possible with the age difference. Now I should say, as far as the crazy scale goes, he was the type of guy who could round up about three of the shirtless alpha male ‘dotte dwellers and systematically cut them in half. “Normal” fun for me and his younger cousin was driving up and down a main street in KC shooting out the windows of brand new cars in several of the local car dealerships, torching an abandoned car, or putting a half-stick of dynamite in a mailbox…and Tim scared the living shit out of us on many levels. He was just the kind of redneck crazy you didn’t want to cross. BUT if he was your buddy, you could count on his rage to keep you perfectly safe in any number of questionable circumstances. So as he and I became better friends and spent more time together, I spent less time with his cousin….something he took to heart since it was HIS cousin, but on many levels the kid just wasn’t right. Sure, I was an arch-criminal for my age, but he was the type of kid who would hurt animals, and he lacked a level of maturity that would allow anyone to take him seriously. I knew how to clean up and act right….he didn’t have that switch to flip. So Tim and I were like peas and carrots…soon I ended up spending pretty much every weekend at his place, and one evening the rising tension with his diminutive cousin came to a head and the kid basically wrote us both off after his parents had to step in. I’m leaving out a lot, but trust me, I’ve got about five million stories from back then, each one more awesome than the next.

Oh here’s one I can’t leave out…. the thing that really “sold” Tim on how cool I was is pretty funny. As pure white trash and rednecks, we took revenge seriously. Long story short, an old family friend was making life hard for his wife and so he wanted to fire a warning shot over their bow. So we whipped up a simple baby food jar bomb and were going to drive by their house and toss it in their front yard in the middle of the night. Big boom, but as long as nobody was standing near it there was no real danger of death or damage. Well I shit you not, this was a family affair…..he drove this huge white Mercury of some kind, and it was me, him, his cousin, his wife and 2 daughters and at least one other person I can’t remember. I know, the kid thing. Weird, isn’t it? The logic was sound though….it was his wife being victimized so she deserved to come and see this, and coming up with the money for a sitter or explaining the NEED for a sitter at 2am weren’t options. So I’m in the back seat ready to witness an awesome explosion, but because I had a window seat and the house was coming up on my side, I was the lucky one who got to throw the bomb. I’d done this kind of thing a million times by that point, so I wasn’t worried about it, but I’d also done it enough times to know just how difficult it is to time your throw from a moving vehicle if you were planning on getting close to any kind of target. I had no target other than the huge front yard, but being nervous to make a good impression on “new people” I threw it a second too soon and the damn thing rolled right under a car in the driveway. There was stunned silence as we slowed down a block up to watch it go off, and more stunned silence after it went off…underneath a vehicle. It’s not like the movies, cars don’t just burst into balls of flames, but I promise you this….that car wasn’t going anywhere ever again unless it was hooked to the back of a tow truck. The stunned silence soon turned to laughter and pats on the back as we high-tailed it out of there….everyone thought I had done it on purpose, and they were incredibly impressed. I played along, and began getting very close to people who would greatly alter the course of my life. I realize this is some real criminal behavior to be putting into words, but I feel okay with that because I was way underage at the time and nothing can really come of it, and for a much bigger reason that will become obvious soon enough.

Ironically, with all of the crazy shit that we did, in the big scheme of things, Tim ended up being a calming force for me, and I got into a HELL of a lot less trouble because of him. I guarantee it. He’d actually get me to go to church, threaten to kick the shit out of me if he even suspected I was doing hard drugs, and spending time with his wife and daughters had to be better for me than the riff-raff I was used to with his cousin. I was a decent enough person, I was just deep into the role I decided to take early in my adolescent career. And most of the time, he was just an everyday guy, but his emotional and mental makeup had sustained grave injury way before I ever met him. We were good buddies for a couple of years.

He never called me the night he ended up going to jail forever. I was the closest thing he had to a best friend, but I heard from another friend of mine he said he “couldn’t get Jerry involved in this”. In the weeks leading up to it, he was having more trouble in his marriage, and they were planning on getting divorced. He was getting more and more agitated and distant, and by that point in time I was a high school senior and I was spending less time with him and more with my high school friends. We were getting ready to graduate and go to college, and we spent a lot of time in the local library, fucking around and pretending to study. One night when another good friend who knew Tim came to pick me up he told me about a phone call he had gotten from him. He was planning on doing something to his wife and another friend of mine who was living with them who he suspected of her messing around with….and that was the thing in which he said he could not get me involved. But his young cousin, who had forsaken us two years before, was eager to get back into Tim’s good graces by taking him over to the house where he was going to do whatever it was he was going to do. Obviously, in hindsight, we had enough information to call the police…..but we were kids, and we knew what MIGHT happen to THEM would definitely happen to US if he got wind of our involvement….that’s just the way it was. Plus, as crazy as he was, he talked a ton of shit, so the chances of anything really happening was slim. We called over to the house to talk to his wife for a while, and everything sounded totally normal. We breathed a sigh of relief and went about our evening in the library.

When I got up the next morning for school, I went through the usual routine…turned on the TV to watch Good Morning America, and when it came to the top of the hour and they broke away for local news, there was Tim’s house with the coroner’s van parked in front, two gurneys being wheeled out to it. I should say it’s what “looked like” Tim’s house….there were several tortured hours of not being sure since no names were being released, so I went to school like everything was normal. I think I got to third or fourth hour before the guy I was calling at the tv station would confirm the victims were Tim’s wife and another friend of mine, and at some point they called me to the office when my dad showed up to pick me up after hearing what had happened. It must have been an hour or so after we talked to her, but apparently Tim came home when she was on the phone with another friend and killed them both. I heard rumors about how vicious it was, but they weren’t confirmed until years later when I went to see him the single time I ever visited.

There’s the bad reputation you get being the insane, violent pyromaniac metalhead….you work for that one and you craft it lovingly and proudly. Then there’s the bad reputation even you don’t want anything to do with when your best friend butchers two people with whom you are close. So that was a bad time. Two funerals, and figuring out what, if anything, to do about his cousin who drove him over there to do it and went around bragging about it after escaping charges by testifying against him. I was never friends with him again, and from what I understand his life was never good….he would pull shit like get some scumbags he knew to go to his grandparents house and rob it, splitting the money and goods with him. I’d hear stuff through the grapevine, but my dad called me about five or six years ago to tell me he saw his name in the obituaries. It ended up he had some really rare type of arthritis…his parents had to put him in a nursing home where he eventually died from it. I went to his wake to pay respects to his family, but didn’t even recognize him when I saw him. The disease had his head bent completely down against his shoulder. A bad end to a wasted life.

So Tim went to prison for life, and I went to therapy, then to college for one year, then ministry…..all of that has been chronicled in here at some point. I think it was about 1992…five years after he went in that I finally decided I’d go and visit him. I probably would have before that, but it wasn’t until I ran into his mom at church and she got my name on his visitor list that I was able to do it. To make a long story short, my visit with him started with him asking if I went to the funerals. When I said yes, he asked “were they open casket?”. When I told him they were, he said “I guess I didn’t do a good enough job”. Most of that two or three hours were spent listening to the graphic details of exactly how he butchered my friends and how long it took, the people he had hurt or even killed in prison, and the people he was going to kill when he got out. I wasn’t on the list. But his cousin was, and nature ironically beat him to that punch. I knew in my heart there was no way he was going to leave prison, and after speaking to him I hoped that was true. He had gone completely insane, and from the stories I’ve heard and people I’ve talked to, he made a hell of a reputation for himself up in the “lifer’s club”. For the next twenty three years I was living some of the biggest ups and downs in my life he sat somewhere in a Supermax in southern Kansas and then finally in Lansing State Penitentiary.

The version of this story that folks heard at my home group was, needless to say, abbreviated. Hell, even this version is abbreviated. But it was strange to share something that has always been one of the biggest terrible events of my life, and revisit that “permanent psychic trauma” that I mentioned earlier. For whatever reason I avoided injury, imprisonment and even death during that phase of my life. I have managed to piece together quite a patchwork of varying experiences, but those days of my youth come back to me often…whether I’m telling the story about catching myself on fire making napalm for the hundredth time, or suddenly remembering I hadn’t checked up on Tim in a long time. My one year speech really got the old stories rattling in my brain, so last week I did what I generally remember to do once or twice every year….I went out to the Kansas Offender’s Registry to make sure Tim was still in prison. That’s the permanent psychic damage at its best…to this day I know that if he got out of jail I’d have to be ready to shoot him if he tracked me down, thinking he could either get something from me for old times sake or in some bizarre world, stay with me. Not logical, but I guess it’s a carryover from that insane time. There is a surprising amount of information on the Kansas website…I’ve always been able to see where and when he’s been transferred between facilities, how many times he’s been put in the separate housing unit for assaulting a guard or another inmate….lots of stuff. But mainly I’ve always just made sure he’s never leaving prison and is never up for parole. When I looked at his status on the website last week, it had been changed to one word- deceased. He died at the end of March of this year, and how he died is maybe the one thing they don’t list out in detail.

So I can talk about a lot of the things we used to do as kids. We raised some hell that would have the media outlets lining up to speak with us through the thick glass these days. I can talk about them because I was a minor when they happened, and now I can talk about them because I am now the only person who was around to see any of it who is still alive. That’s a strange feeling….a very dark and inadvertent “tontine”…with me as the final keeper of all of those crazy memories. A different sort of nostalgia that makes me even more thankful for what I have and the people who are in my life now….I have a million reasons to be grateful for what things are like now, chief of which is that I lived through what it was like then.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bariatric Surgery, Blogroll, Christianity, culture, dating, Evangelical Christianity, Food, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, howard stern, Recovery, religion, Tent Revival, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

One Year In…A Case for A.A.


So the one year sobriety birthday came and went without any great fanfare or epiphanies, which is exactly what one year of meetings and twelve-stepping should prepare you for. No sudden wisdom, no mariachi bands, no parades, no great rewards for finally learning to live your life like a normal human being…it was just Monday. Not only that, I was home sick from work. It was one unremarkable day.  Unremarkable enough for me to sit and contemplate how easy it would be to take a drink…nothing new, nothing grand; just the knowledge that the meetings never stop, you will never be normal, you will always have to work your ass off for this…so what is the point of all of this work?  Why not just say fuck it and go after some pointless fun? 

Now, I didn’t sit there contemplating all of that shit, I’m just saying it was unremarkable enough of a day IF I wanted to do that.  I was actually pretty happy and content with where I’m at, and had some good reflective chuckles about how differently AA’ers talk to you about your anniversaries than sober people.  Don’t get me wrong, a year is great, I’m grateful beyond words to have this and everything it has given me, but when it comes down to it…yay, hooray, you aren’t drinking until you shit yourself or re-enacting the most gaunt and spasmodic moments of Leaving Las Vegas.  And THAT realization and the comfort you have with it ONLY comes from working the program and relying upon the support that comes with it. It’s kind of like doing a masters program for a year with the sole purpose of FINALLY comprehending a single thought such as “keep coming back, it works if you work it”.  If you are looking for soulful illumination and intellectual profundities beyond that…you seriously need to let go of some shit because you are setting yourself up for epic failure.

I won’t do my home group one-year speech until August 6, but last week I had the opportunity to do something that I think was far more critical, which is actually going to be the focus of this post.  On Thursday I went back to speak to about twenty people and their families in the outpatient treatment program, back at the hospital where I did my stint last year. I invested a lot of time and emotion into that program, because I really wanted to turn things around, so I’ve spent a lot of time since then wondering “what will I say when I go back for my one year coin?”. The focus of my daydreams on that speech changed dramatically over the past twelve months; going from “yay me!” in the beginning, to the “if you aren’t already working a program by the time you graduate from IOP, you are in grave danger” theme that dominated Thursday night. So this is going to be a write-up of all of THAT…probably long as hell by the time I get done, but I really think it will be one of the only things of TRUE value I’ve managed to contribute to this blog…

When I was in the five week intensive outpatient treatment program last year (after my stay in detox), I do remember different people coming up to speak to us and get their six month coins.  I don’t remember hearing any one-year speakers, but plenty who had six months…funny how that works.  I probably wasn’t alone in the fact that I kind of felt sorry for them…they all had AA in common, and I figured they they must have lacked the initiative or the magic that I was feeling this early in my sobriety if they were still needing something like AA after six months. They were totally stuck. Looking back, this was just a simple sign of the greatest delusion shared by all addicts….the thing that many say is much deadlier than the drugs or alcohol…what ends up killing us is our “terminal uniqueness”.  Or as I also refer to it- the “Unicorn Syndrome”. It’s easy for us to believe the science of treatment….the meds, the schedule, the group sessions, everything about the neuroscience of the disease….but when it comes to AA, we think “whooaaa….WHHOOAAAAAA!…they are taking this shit too far….that cannot be for me”.  Each of us believes there is something in our intellect, our physiology or our sheer drive and determination that makes us unique enough to figure out an easier, softer path.  We ignore the scientific fact, proven by decades of research, that we have a 90% chance of relapse (usually within 6 months) if we are not in a regular program after we first get sober.  Even Russian roulette has better odds.  We’re the Unicorn. The one who FINALLY gets this recovery thing in a way that does not require the tedium of a lifelong program centered on the indisputable FACT that we have a disease that will kill us unless we are able to find a way to abstain 100% from all mood altering substances. 

 I know the twelve step thing seems too simple, it is boring and sounds like total mouth-breather retard level bullshit.  It really is pretty stupid when you stop to think about it, because there is no way it should be successful for anyone besides the types of losers who sit in those meetings and yack ad nauseum about their eleventeen broken marriages and batallions of estranged children.  I’m an ex-minister who used to have such a hatred of all things higher-powery that when Timothy McVeigh blew up that building my first thought was “I wish he’d parked that truck in front of a church on Sunday morning”….so this generic twelve step shit should definitely not work for me.  But it does work.  And how I know that is I haven’t had a drink or drug in over a year.  So I know it works, and I know that the chances of you being pissed off just reading this if you’re currently struggling in that dysfunctional dance are very high.  If it’s too much for you to handle, go find the easier softer way to get a year under your belt…just try not to kill yourself or anyone else before you end up at your next bottom. They never, ever, ever get any better the more of them you have.  If you want to be successful with a program like AA all you really need to know are these five things:

 #1Don’t worry about the God shit.  I know, you’re an agnostic or an atheist, or you are just so sick of organized religion and what it has done to you, the world, or both, that you fall under the category of “found the easiest loophole to prove I’m too unique for this program”.  When I first started, all my higher power consisted of was my newfound ability to actually have the smallest inkling of concern for another addict or alcoholic because I knew how they felt and I wanted them to get better. It’s no more complicated than that….but you don’t even have to have THAT. Honestly, the higher power thing in no way matters at this point, but if you’ve got an idea of what yours is….bonus.

#2- Don’t worry about the steps. It will be a little while before they really matter.  The most important thing to remember is the ONLY requirement is the desire to stop drinking/using.  If you want to quit, and you are willing to go to any length to achieve it, at some point you’re going to engage with the steps.  But I know, right now the steps sound ridiculous, generic, too involved, insurmountable, etc.  You’re going to need to make things a lot simpler for yourself, and right now that starts with one thing…do you really want to quit? Maybe you just don’t want to quit yet…that’s a pretty natural reaction.

 #3- AA vs. NA vs. CA and on and on…. if it has “anonymous” after it, it’s all basically the same program. Alcohol is only mentioned in the first step, so whether you’re drinking, smoking foils or chewing oxy’s…you are covered.  I realize, especially at first, that you want to be around people with the same problem…but after you’re in the program for a while that matters less and less. The thing about AA is that it has infinitely more meeting times and locations…and it is critical that you get to meetings regularly.  The easiest excuse in the world is “the only Narcotics Anonymous meeting within 25 miles of my home..and it meets at noon when I’m at work”.  Long story short…bullshit excuse.  Go to an AA meeting. And if they happen to be in the extreme EXTREME minority of “old timey” AA’ers who tell people to stick to alcohol-talk only…just say you’re an alcoholic. Trust me. It’s all the same program, your issue is not unique enough for you to skip out due to the EXTREMELY UNLIKELY CHANCE that it is even going to come up.  Yes, it sucks to constantly go to meetings…some are miraculously lifechanging, some are just so-so, but once I’ve gotten off my ass and made it to one I have not regretted it….not one single time.  How hard did you work to get fucked up and stay fucked up?  Enough said.

 #4- 90 in 90, Temporary Sponsors, The Crazy Old Men, etc….. There are several generations worth of urban folktales surrounding AA culture… you have to go to 90 meetings in 90 days, don’t leave your first meeting without having a temporary sponsor, the crazy old men just waiting for you to mention drugs in an AA meeting so they can yell at you…the list of things people use to talk themselves out of meetings is endless, and most are not based in reality. If I got hung up on 90 in 90, the first meeting I missed would have been my excuse to drink.  You don’t really need a temporary sponsor….at your first meeting you’ll get a card with a lot of phone numbers on it….use them. Seriously. And sure, you’ll run in to crazy old men from time to time….this is a club where ruining your life was pretty much the standard before you joined…the lunatics are easy to spot. What you want to do is “stick with the winners”. They are also easy to spot, and one of them will make a good permanent sponsor.

 #5- Stop Googling AA Statistics…yes, there are programs out there other than AA, and way more people fail in AA than remain sober in the long term. That’s just the nature of the disease….if it wasn’t, recovery wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar business.  Drunks and addicts are the most egomaniacal and selfish people on the planet, and they are, ironically, also the most self-loathing and self conscious.  They have a disease that feeds their ego by telling them either it’s not really a disease, or that they can learn to use responsibly….and in today’s culture of Dr. Phil’s and self-help sound bites, there are a million different programs willing to take your time and money and get you to believe your ego. You are too unique for what AA has to offer you. The label of “alcoholic” is too extreme and demeaning, and preaching a lifetime of abstinence is unrealistic. It is not in our nature to live the rest of our lives at odds with what our addiction keeps telling us…it takes a level of maintenance that forces us to live that life at odds with our ego. STOPPING THE BEHAVIOR is the easiest thing in the world…you make it past that initial detox and you’re on your way.  It’s living sober that’s the issue.  And there isn’t any easy way to do it other than one day at a time.

 Basically, if one year has taught me one thing, it’s that you need to keep things as simple as possible. If you are just finishing an inpatient/outpatient program, the work that you do right now determines your success a year from now. And the work that you are doing needs to focus on a couple of things-

 BRUTAL HONESTY– honesty is a pretty new concept for most of us, and it starts with the question….do you really want to quit? Are you really done? Or, do you have some more field research to complete before you make that decision? You don’t have to tell me or anyone else, that’s a question you have to ask yourself…and chances are good that you’ve never even let yourself be that brutally honest in your own head. When you no longer have fantastical substance-driven delusions to bullshit yourself with, the type of honesty you are stuck with is scary as hell.  And you either do whatever it takes to escape it, or you do whatever it takes to deal with it. There’s really not a door #3 here.

RECOVERY IS REAL WORK– that’s basically the whole story. It’s like having another job in addition to everything else you do in your life. It requires maintenance for you to be successful…because you are just as susceptible to relapse after twenty years of sobriety as you were at one year. Just ask any of the people who go back out after five, ten, even twenty or thirty years of being sober….the one thing they have in common is that they quit working the program. This job never stops. And no, it’s not fair. It’s life. And living that life in sobriety, without that immediate chemical escape, is too much for your brain to comprehend…so you keep it simple.  This is the genesis of that AA cliche “one day at a time”.

 Upon entering the program you will discover very quickly that AA is nothing like it is portrayed in the movies or on TV (with very few exceptions)…not every meeting is a speaker meeting, people don’t just sit around talking about how much they used to drink and exchange battle stories …when you first start going, chances are good you have no idea what in the bloody hell people are even talking about.  But don’t let that make you feel self-conscious. Just say whatever you’re thinking, or say nothing at all. Not a big deal either way. We expect to hear some disjointed tales of excess from you, but short of your story including selling dirty bombs to Al Quaeda to support your black market organ harvesting empire and white slave trade…which were all sparked by your addiction to meth that started at the age of 18 months…whatever you have to say isn’t even going to peg our radar. We are exactly like you, we know how it all feels.

I guess this is the point at which I interject “The Matrix” references….  When I talk to newly sober people and recognize the resistance, disbelief and disinterest in their faces when talking about AA, the only thing I can compare it to is “taking the red pill” in The Matrix.  The initial relief and sudden rush of wisdom and reflective thought that comes with sobriety can bring with it a false, and dangerous, sense of self-confidence.  In reality, the journey hasn’t even begun. The psychological and spiritual changes needed in order to successfully live sober are so vastly different from anything experienced up to that point in a person’s life that the only way to begin that journey is just to shut up, put the ego and pre-conceived notions to the side and take the red pill. Go to meetings. Go until they start to make sense….until elements of “how it works” starts to filter in and crack the surface of your brain. Trust me, I realize the absurdity of this, because your brain is doing exactly what it should be doing this early in sobriety….you aren’t close to being in control of it yet….the moments of euphoria, anger, fear, resentment and emptiness that come and go are all part of your brain healing itself. It takes a while for the red pill to wake you up from the dream…and hopefully in a year you’ll be sharing with a group in some treatment center thinking to yourself…”holy shit…they really have no idea they are living in The Matrix”.

 Speaking of movies…and the brain….they say it takes six months to two years for your brain to heal.  Now, this “healing” has absolutely nothing to do with finally understanding the science of the super-collider, or counting toothpicks like you were Rainman.  It isn’t about intellect or problem solving skills. The healing that takes place is far more subtle and has everything to do with your brain’s “LET’S GO FAST! GO! GO! GO! GOTTA HAVE FUN! CAN’T GET BORED!” switch finally shutting off long enough for you to just be alive in the moment without it driving you crazy. Your brain is conditioned to only be satisfied with the neuron-bending highs and lows that come with substance abuse…and just because you stop the behavior doesn’t mean your brain is done doing that.  This is where “your triggers” live.

Again, I’m a movie guy, my life basically consists of one long string of movie quotes and references, so naturally the next comparison I draw for people has to do with the actual act of going to the movies.  That’s what your path to recovery is like….it’s like going to AMC Theatres. 

 The “Pre-Previews”

 These days when you go to the movies, there is a whole show that goes on before they even begin the previews. It goes on while you are settling in and there is all kinds of info on whatever horrible new pop sensation just got their start on American Idol, and behind the scenes on the set of whatever new tv crime drama Coke is sponsoring…..and this goes on until the lights go down for the previews.  Well, if you are doing a stint in inpatient or working your way through an outpatient program, this is where you are at. You’re in the pre-previews. Meds are adjusting, the fog is beginning to lift a little bit, your swings of emotion are at least identifiable and you are able to verbalize them without totally breaking down or acting out. It’s at this stage where you probably fit into one of three categories….unless of course you’re A UNICORN, like we ALL ARE….your existential angst is too big to fit into these paltry constraints OR you’ve been through like six different rehab programs prior to this (which for some reason makes everyone look to you as “the expert” in the group), and you can recite some lesson you got from a process group that trumps my meager offering…..anyway……these are the big 3 in my experience…

#1- HAPPY!… You are just relieved to still be alive and you are going to take this sobriety thing and run with it.  You’re experiencing the pink clouds, you have a new lease on life, you’re doing all of the homework they tell you to do and you aren’t missing a group. You’ve got a decent support system in place, and are ready to rock and fucking roll.  When your case manager asks if you’re already attending meetings, you probably answer something like “I’m sure thinking about it!”…because so far, so good.  You are amazed at the fact that you aren’t really experiencing any craving…even when you went with friends to one of your old stomping grounds to shoot pool.  And when you made it through that okay, maybe you thought it would be nice if you were their designated driver going forward….you were sober now and cravings weren’t bothering you…so it would be nice to give back and make sure they were safe.  You’re happy, which 99% of the time also makes you completely insane and oblivious to reality. If you’re already so healed you’re thinking about “how to be around alcohol”, you are definitely in the pre-preview.  I give you shit because I was a lot like this…. a 100% relapse guarantee unless you are working a program before the previews begin. 

 #2- PISSED!…  Maybe you’re that atheist or agnostic I mentioned…the angry ex-Catholic from a long, long line of hypocritical religious alcoholics. Or not. But you’re still pissed. You’re dealing with personal wreckage…people who are pissed that your recovery is “all about YOU” after you spent so much time making a huge mess that was also “all about YOU”.  A cop, a judge, a wife….maybe someone forced you into treatment and you resent it, and maybe your loss of control over your own life means  that all you have to look forward to after graduation is still being accountable to one of THOSE fuckers.  The  pink cloud people are idiots, you’d be happy just to feel like your skin fit. Complete abstinence is bullshit, maybe it shows just as much weakness as complete loss of control. You don’t know what you need in order to make it past the pre-previews, but you are pretty sure none of the shit up to this point has been it. Just being around people is annoying, and the prospect of HAVING to go to meetings so that the meeting leader can sign  your little slip to prove you were there is incomprehensibly soul-sucking. These and a million other  things…you’re the quiet guy with the crossed arms that generally doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to say. A huge paradigm shift is needed in order to avoid either living as a dry drunk, or experiencing massive relapse….to be honest, I don’t know which would be more painful.

#3- SCARED!… You have no idea where you are going from here, and craving is a huge issue. Your entire support system up until this point may have consisted of nothing but other drunks or addicts, so there aren’t many people to lean on, or the home you are returning to is not a sober one. You’ve been here half a dozen times, and go through periods of numbness followed by extreme anxiety.  I know this will sound crazy, but fear is a great motivator…as far as long term sobriety I’d put my money on you over the happy or pissed off folks any day.

 Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list, but in my experience these are the common themes during the “pre-previews”.  A cheesy illustration perhaps, but I’m telling you…this is where you start getting your ass to meetings.

 “The Previews”

 The previews are basically…..the first six months after treatment.  I know that sounds pretty shitty because six months is a long time, and if you’re putting in the kind of work that is needed, it can feel even longer. Essentially, this is where you are picking up the pieces. You are learning how to navigate the world. You’re getting the pats on the back, or you’re learning how to deal with the angry people whose lives you disrupted. Trust of others begins coming back, as does trust in yourself if you remain sober. However positive or negative it is, your financial forecast and job situation normalizes…that is to say, you’re learning how to live with it. If you started going to meetings when you should have, the weird old men have stopped seeming so weird, and the literature and meeting formats are making more sense. You’re getting to know people, they’re getting to know you, and you either have, or are close to getting, a sponsor. You feel like you belong, and sometimes it’s just a relief to have a place like that. Because sobriety is just weird….it takes a while for those triggers to settle down, and even after they do they always find a way to pop back up to remind you that you have a disease. Nothing is ever really “fixed”, but it is manageable.

  “Your Feature Film”

 Life finally gets underway. The pats on the back are gone, the wary employer has chilled out, people have either moved on or started trusting you. No parades, no streamers….the realization comes that life is just life and you either live it sober, or you don’t. And there isn’t any great magic either way…it’s totally your decision.  This moment is why you started going to meetings when you did….back when you were happy, angry or scared. If you didn’t put in the work, this is the moment where things seem so back to normal that total abstinence doesn’t make nearly as much sense. Your life is strong enough now to handle the occasional party, the wine with dinner, etc. There is now enough distance between you and the pain that brought you to treatment, that the tenets of a twelve step program sound as ridiculous and as unnecessary as they ever did. You are strong enough to do what no alcoholic or addict has ever done before…you can do it in moderation. 

 And that’s the way it goes and the way it has always gone. You either find a way to work on your sobriety, or you don’t stay sober.  I know, there is the possibility that you are the unicorn, after all….it’s only 90% of the people who fail at this….who is to say you aren’t in the lucky 10%. SOMEBODY has to be.

 It’s when you come to a year after first swallowing that red pill that you realize how much danger you were in when you left treatment, and how going to a meeting the very first night you left inpatient may very well have been the smartest decision of your life.  Because THAT decision gave you everything that you have now.

  Yes, I’m a smartass, I’m sarcastic, and I take great liberties when it comes to sounding like I’ve got my shit together and poking fun at the people who are still living in The Matrix. I talk that way to you, because we’re the same person. The first time I ever really connected with someone in AA was one night during my inpatient stay. We had groups all day and night, and in the evening some AA or NA group would bring a meeting up to the hospital. They were usually what you picture when you think of a 12-stepper, kind of off-kilter, all religiousy, some low-bottom stories. Then one night these two ladies from a meeting held in a Jewish Temple in a very affluent part of town came to see us. We’re still in detox, so we’re in pretty rough shape….the little hospital footies, unshaven, I was all broken out in hives from not having liquor in two days. These middle aged ladies come in…perfect hair, makeup, perfume…clothing and jewelry worth more than all of the cars I’d owned up to that point in my life.  I immediately wanted to punch them in the throat for being condescending assholes, coming in like that to do us some fucking favor. And of course, when they began to tell their stories it broke me into about a hundred pieces. They knew what this hell was like. The self-hatred and shame. The fear. The lying. All of the things that bring you to a state of what we call “icomprehensible demoralization”. That was a turning point for me. It got me to meetings, and while I can’t say with the type of scientific exactitude required by the disbelieving Matrix-dwellers to assure them that meetings are the end-all be-all answer to this conundrum….I CAN say that I’ve gone to a lot of meetings in the past year, and it has been the only year of my life since about the age of 15 where I have not taken one drink or one drug.  

 I’m not here telling you all of this to sell you Amway or Jesus…I know this is a lot to hear and you’re going to do with it whatever you want. I understand that. You and me are the same.  All I can tell you is that a little over a year ago I stood in my kitchen and somehow had enough clarity in the middle of an epic life-ending bender to make the decision to just give up and ask for help. With help, I stopped drinking, started going to meetings,and began doing exactly what people with a hell of a lot of sobriety told me to do. At one point during “The Previews”, I decided all I really wanted, all I honestly and truly asked for out of life was just to be some average schmoe…..a job, a house, my wife, living peacefully in anonymity, with the ability to just sit still and be okay with that. In my heart, that was really what I wanted my life to be. I’m not a huge “big book thumper”…I like to read some of the literature, but not always. However, on pages 83 and 84, it lists out The Promises…”if we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through…”, etc.  Like absolutely everyone I talk to who has worked the program, these promises….for whatever reason, are real.  I have the best job of my life, an awesome wife, I grow tomatoes, play golf and am one hell of a home chef. I go to meetings, I lead meetings, and I love getting up crazy early on the weekend to get my day started. Not only are the promises real, they generally give you even more than you were hoping for.

This doesn’t mean life is just awesome all of the time….life still happens and it can suck. But with the program comes the support and strength to make it through all of that, to learn from it, and to use elements of it to help others. At some point as you work the steps, sobriety becomes your new reality, and the gifts you get from it help you to protect it at all costs. Most of all, you learn how to be quiet and just be in the moment….at peace. No nagging fear, no guilt, no trying to remember what you did the night before or the regret that comes when you do. A new freedom, a new happiness…no running from responsibility or micro-managing the lies.

 I don’t have any magical closing words of wisdom that will finally get you to run to the altar like a repentent sinner….this isn’t as complicated or dramatic as that.  All I can tell you is that if you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get it, it is going to take work. But you don’t have to do it alone, and all you have to do to achieve it is keep coming back.

 And with that I’ll pass.

Content Copyright 2008


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