Seeing Brent


I looked forward to a long Saturday afternoon of mass, class, and a talk with (Father) Brent, so I took 30 mgs of oxycodone and 900 mgs of Neurontin in the hope that I could quiet the pain enough to sleep. The pain persisted, but hallucinations of blossoming bouquets, flowery kimonos, and pullulating patterns of colors, provided a pleasant distraction. It is usually true that the more I want to sleep, the less I am able to sleep.

During our talk, three needy men came in separately. One asked Brent to jump-start his motorcycle battery, and the others consulted briefly, but I didn’t listen to what they said. I had taken enough food—for Brent and me—to feed several people, so I invited each of the men to eat with us, and one did. Along with caring for his 200-300 person congregation, Brent works with prisoners, Occupy Eugene, homeless campers, and maybe others (I learn new things about him all the time). Our talk went as well as expected, the following being some of the highlights in my own words and to the best of my understanding.

Brent opened by saying that my passion for religion is rare even among churchgoers, and that those who have it usually go to seminary.

I said that I didn’t know what to do with the questions that come up for me in catechism class because it seems inappropriate to ask for answers that I know don’t exist, but I feel untrue to myself if I remain silent. Besides, my feelings are sometimes too intense for me to trust myself to share them appropriately. He said he has no “conclusive answers,” about religion, and he made no suggestions about the class beyond saying that he wants me in it.

Brent regards Christianity and other religions as human attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible and express the inexpressible. His idea of a good church is a place where people share interests rather than answers.

He has never had what people refer to as a “personal experience of God,” and intercessory prayer makes no sense to him except as a morale builder, but after a few years in a Massachusetts’ monastery, he came to believe that those who devote their lives to prayer make the world a better place if only by virtue of the fact that other people are encouraged by their devotion.

I said that one my biggest problems with Christianity has always been that Jesus’ talk of loving your neighbor as yourself sets too high a standard, that I come nowhere near that standard, and that I have no plans to even attempt to come near it. Brent said that he hasn’t been terribly successful in that regard either, but he holds to the thought that nothing need be accomplished overnight.

By the time he went to seminary, Brent had been an officer in the Marine Corps and worked in big business. He wasn’t even a Christian when he experienced a desire to go to seminary, but he has gradually become what he does. What he does is to be a paid Christian, but he gives a lot more to the job than his salary covers. Whether he’s talking to one person or 200 people, Brent’s passion for the priesthood is evident.

He said that he wants to do everything he can to make me feel welcome at Resurrection, and then it was time for class. I participated circumspectly in a discussion of the creeds and the nature of the Trinity, and then we went to high mass. I’ve seen the sanctuary go from unpleasantly hot to unpleasingly cold during the months I’ve been at Resurrection, but yesterday was the first time that Brent asked me to pass inside the altar rail and read aloud from the Bible. I would have laughed if the reading had contained the verse about the fool saying in his heart that there is no God, but it didn’t. I loved being asked to read, though, and I loved everything else too.

9 comments:

Paula Kaye said...

I hope you got what you are searching for!

Stephen Hayes said...

It seems to me that you've exhausted the capabilities of religion. This fine man may have shared all he has to give, including the example he sets by practicing what he preaches.

Elephant's Child said...

Brent sounds like quite a man. And I love that your loved your experience with him and his chruch.

kylie said...

my thoughts as i read:
i have come to the conclusion that people who are not excited about religion are also not excited about Christ. I may judge too harshly.

Nobody of any true intelligence can be without doubt or question

I agree with nearly all of Brent's stated opinions and he actually walks the walk. Bravo

The bible is clear on the usefulness of intercessory prayer. i read a book on it, it made sense` to me, i cant quote specifics. (Thats a message for Brent cos i know it's irrelevant to you)

None of us love our neighbour as well as we might but the gold standard has been set so we can reach for it. there would be no point in an instruction to "love one another as much as you find possible"

i love this post, snow. it reassures me that there is living, valuable Christianity out there

Snowbrush said...

"This fine man may have shared all he has to give, including the example he sets by practicing what he preaches."

The main things that I get from him are feeling welcome, and seeing him as someone who takes the idea of living as Christ taught us a lot more seriously than, perhaps, anyone else I've known. How odd that his ideas would qualify him for hell in the eyes of so very many churches. I can even hear the verses they would quote to prove their case against him because I grew up hearing those verses over and over.

"i have come to the conclusion that people who are not excited about religion are also not excited about Christ."

I had never thought of that, and I think you must surely be right.

"I agree with nearly all of Brent's stated opinions...The bible is clear on the usefulness of intercessory prayer."

But, of course, you and he disagree about prayer, and it's surely among the top issues. Those who don't believe in it simply don't accept the Bible as error-free, and there's even a tradition going back to Luther, at least, of not even regarding all of the books of the canonized Bible as inspired (Luther objected to Revelations and James, if I recall correctly). I think it would make God look bad to help some people out--and not others--on the basis of prayer. To me, it would playing favorites and in an inexplicable way at that. Another problem with it is that even if God does answer some prayers, prayer clearly doesn't work anything like as well it was promised to work in the Bible. I, personally, have never known a single instance in which something was accomplished through prayer that might not have happened anyway, and I've never even known anyone to pray for something that might not have at least some chance of happening in the absence of prayer--changing the past, reversing Alzheimer's, or regrowing amputated limbs for example. All that said, I'm sure it's a great comfort to believe you can turn to God in time of crisis and trust God to do something to help, and I envy you that, if you're correct.

kylie said...

i agree with your reservations about prayer, was just saying that it has a theological basis. i often think that answers to prayer are in the mind of the person praying but i do it regardless. who knows what i might be achieving?

All Consuming said...

You know, I like Brent. I really do.

Snowbrush said...

"i agree with your reservations about prayer, was just saying that it has a theological basis."

I agree, but such things might mean more to you. During our talk, Brent said something to me about some thought I had not being heresy, and I laughingly said, "Like I worry about heresy. I passed beyond heresy long ago." He too laughed.

"i often think that answers to prayer are in the mind of the person praying but i do it regardless. who knows what i might be achieving?"

I spent so many years doing that without ever once feeling that a single one of my prayers was answered that I'm not even tempted. I so love the Gloria that I sing it a lot, but that's as far as I go. It's also true that I come from a praying part of the country, and I often found it exceedingly odd to hear people whose neighborhoods had been laid waste--and sometimes their neighbors killed--by a tornado or hurricane thank God "for his mercy" because their own prayers were answered and their own lives spared. Such statements are one of the main things that atheists ridicule about believers. They bother me a lot when I hear them in the Episcopal Church, but, thankfully, I've only heard one person at Resurrection talk about the power of prayer. It was one of the few times that I had to bite my lip.

"You know, I like Brent. I really do."

He and I are very different people, but I respect him. He has twice initiated him and me getting together to talk. You know me, I had rather write, but he's not into that. Steve said something about maybe I've gotten all I can get from Brent, and I think there might be some truth to that. After all, I know there are no answers, so all I really need is acceptance, and he has certainly given me that, although I think he can still be what might be called a good influence on me, one of my main problems with Christianity being the smug hypocrisy, something that he is utterly free of. I've watched him a lot, and noted that he is never argumentative, and never tries to talk anyone into, or out of, anything. As he has done with me, he accepts people as they are, which is something I could certainly stand to do more of, because I do have a tendency toward argument.

The Blog Fodder said...

"Brent regards Christianity and other religions as human attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible and express the inexpressible. His idea of a good church is a place where people share interests rather than answers."

I like that very much.