Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Dog & Pony Show — September 30, 2020

Dog & Pony Show

The Presidential debate was last night and an entire country watched with baited breath and open minds to two qualified, articulate men respectfully sharing their visions for this beautiful country and her people. They listened, conceded some points, and on the others, when they disagreed, were able to argue political philosophies clearly and coherently. And we all watched. Each side saw it’s supporters turn off their tv’s with more questions than answers, with the early hints of changing votes and ideologies. It was a celebration of democracy and open-minded discourse. It was awesome.

Um….

Yeah (sigh), it was the presidential debate last night.

None of that happened. Everybody saw what they wanted in that pointless dog & pony show.

I’m ordering Kanye 2020 t-shirts for my son and I today, not because I’m voting for Kanye West and his “Birthday party.” Just a sad commentary on the political landscape. I don’t think it’s too sad that a music legend is running for president. After all, the current president is a reality show star with no political experience, so why not? But it’s sad that the debate had only 2 people. There are other people running. Like, for instance, Kanye West. Or Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian party). Why are we only seeing 2? Why will the next president be 1 of these 2 choices?

I know, I know. I’m not that naive and clueless.

I’m just not sure I agree that the 2 party system based solely on ever-growing mountains of money is really working anymore. Maybe it never did. Oingo Boingo recorded a song in 1994 called ‘Insanity’ that included the lyric, “a million years of evolution, we get Danny Quayle.” Now it’s a million and 26 years, and we get these 2…

I’m ordering Kanye 2020/Birthday Party t-shirts not because I’m making a joke. (Riiight, it’s me. Who could argue after last night that I am the one making this election a joke?). Well, I’m making a little of a joke, the whole illustrate absurdity with absurdity concept. Birthday party!!! But mostly because I want something different. If I’m going to vote primarily from a negative posture, against something (which almost all of us are), I’m going to vote against this broken system. And for this country.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — September 24, 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the title of a film on Netflix. It doesn’t have anything to do with me thinking of ending anything, doesn’t have anything to do with me at all, except that I just finished watching it. Written and directed by Charlie Kauffman, the creator (writer and/or director) of gems like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my #2 favorite movie of all time), and Adaptation, among others, it goes without saying that it’s weird. Critics gave it an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes (a film review website) while audiences gave it a 48%. That sounds about right. I usually love films like this, that play with time, dialogue, narrative, and identity like they were blocks to be arranged and re-arranged, but I’m not sure I liked this one.

I’m not really sure that’s the point, though. Charlie Kauffman probably doesn’t care if you or I like his work. It’s polarizing, mostly you love it or hate it. I have a good friend who took my recommendation and watched Eternal Sunshine with his special lady and he credits it with effectively ending the relationship. It was their last date. He often thanks me for that (the end, not the recommendation, he considers it the worst movie he’s ever seen.)

I’m not recommending I’m Thinking of Ending Things. You can watch it or not, you already know if it’s your kind of film.

In Rob Bell’s new book, Everything Is Spiritual, he writes, “They were just four-minute songs, but they were teaching me how creation works. We didn’t have to wait to see what happened, we could create the happening.” This is what any and all works of art do to me, show me how creation works. Something is there/here that wasn’t before. Something that was impossible moments ago is not only possible, but realized.

These films that challenge, that take your accepted notions of how movies go and what they are capable of, and explode them are absolutely vital. You see, we are born with a sense of wonder and imagination and, over time, have that conditioned out of us until we protect “the way we’ve always done things” at all costs. Our perspective shrinks until we can only see what already is. Faith is wildly irresponsible because it involves hoping in what is not (yet.) 

The world around us is crumbling and 2020 has not been kind. But that can change the second we begin to believe it can, the second we start to understand that what we do here, now, today, (even the smallest act of love and gentleness and grace) can shape our tomorrows. That the way we behave toward our neighbors (in person or on Facebook) will impact strangers across generations.

The Scriptures say “All things are possible,” and I don’t always see that, if I’m honest. I don’t see how taking cookies to my friends affects a global pandemic or systemic racism or widespread violence or political corruption or countless other illustrations of human brokenness. But this tiny 2 hour movie about a guy with problems driving in a snowstorm with his girlfriend makes me think its true. Anything great isn’t about something so superficial as if I liked it, instead it’s about transformation. Has it moved me, even the smallest bit, away from desperation and cynicism and into a larger perspective? Has it cracked the shell I have so carefully molded out of the status quo? And will this new shift into the possibility of creation inform my relationships, day-to-day interactions, thoughts, and responses? 

I don’t know exactly what this film was about, but I am an inch closer to knowing what I am about & a mile closer to you, and those 2 make it a tremendous success.

Dilemma — September 22, 2020

Dilemma

I am in the middle of The Social Dilemma, another deeply disturbing Netflix documentary on the manipulation of each and every one of us by our devices, or to be more accurate, by our social media. Our devices are simply plastic rectangles, not villainous beings bent on our destruction. I guess social media isn’t exactly bent on our destruction, either, it/they just want our thoughts, money and behavior. Our destruction wouldn’t further those goals.

However, it might depend on what your idea of destruction is.

The dilemma for me is easy to spot, Amazon Prime Music Unlimited releases a “My Discovery Mix” every Monday based on a similar personal information algorithm that knows me (or at least the virtual “me” if there’s a difference) and what I will like. I don’t know these songs and have usually never heard of these artists. As a long-time music snob, that pains me to say, but the truth is that this dastardly algorithm is mostly always right, I DO like it and my life is better with these songs in it.

Last night I looked up Kanye 2020 t-shirts and am absolutely positive that when I open Facebook today to see if anyone “liked” the video I posted yesterday, thus validating my worth and value as a human being, I’ll see ads for Kanye and his political “Birthday Party.” Maybe I’ll order from one of those ads. I don’t even have to search anymore, the advertisers will bring the options to me from now on.

I have a degree in marketing and advertising. The point is to convince the consumer that he/she/we are lacking something, that he/she/we are incomplete without this cleaning product, pair of jeans, or newest vegan hamburger. THE POINT is to affirm our deepest fear, that we are not enough. So we buy their widget in great faith and discover we are still missing something vital to our lives. The cycle repeats endlessly, keeping everyone in business. The industry of self-destruction.

So, am I cool to be used, my strings pulled like a mindless marionette, in exchange for the convenience of Kanye 2020 t-shirts and new songs? I’m going to make my family watch this film because they have been born into the matrix and have some decisions to make. Maybe they’ll continue on the path of progress, but they’ll have to mindfully choose to do so with all of the information. If my spouse is abusive, I can stay or I can go, but all of our cards have to be on the table. There will be no more feigning surprise and outrage.

Yes, Facebook is selling us. “If you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.” We can decide if that price is too high for the benefit, but we can no longer pretend to be unwitting marks.

I love to see pictures of my family and cat memes and People Are Awesome compilations. I love to hate the comment threads on our local school district’s parents group page. Maybe that’s enough. Who knows? But I’ll decide. Or maybe I just think I’ll be deciding and will instead be walking the path Mark Zuckerberg has paved for me. I wonder if I even know the difference anymore.

But I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe it has a happy ending.

The Slovenian Flute Maker — September 18, 2020

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when you hear “Good Enough” by Sarah McLachlan, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too. 

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

Culture of Outrage — September 16, 2020

Culture of Outrage

Nowhere has been safe from 2020. In my small, idyllic town, we have had one unwelcome disruption after another. Recently, it was discovered that the elementary school is being swallowed by the earth (if the guesses are to be believed) and the administration KNEW it and inexplicably covered up (if the opinions on Facebook are to be believed).

I don’t have any idea if the ground is crumbling underneath the building and if eventually there will be a giant hole where the building now stands. No one does. But that doesn’t stop the trolls on social media from screaming and pointing fingers.

We’re all just one small step from losing our minds.

My very good friend calls it a culture of outrage. (She may have read it somewhere – and she may have even told me where, but I don’t remember so I’m happy to just attribute the wisdom to her.) We are constantly looking for offense. And if offense works like everything else, what we look for, we will find.

There is a school parents group on Facebook where parents wildly throw accusations and unfounded theories that are easily refuted, but the truth doesn’t seem too important so the same wild accusations are given the same weight and repeated and recycled. I wonder what we’re teaching our children. No, I know what we’re teaching our children, I just don’t like it.

The fabric of humanity is being stretched, threatening to tear us all apart. The isolation keeps us locked inside the stories we are telling ourselves, no matter how fantastical, and locked away from each other.

Then, this week a news report was released of absolutely unspeakable horror in this tiny, “perfect” town. Now, what will we do when faced with a new story? Will we come together or drift further apart? Will we hold each other in grief, or rip each other’s hearts out in anger and outrage? As in the lyrics of a Rise Against song, will we come alive or come undone?

If pre-COVID history is any indication, this community (with very few exceptions) will connect and find comfort together. However, we are no longer in a pre-COVID world, so it’s possible we’ll be thirsty for blood and revenge and most of all, blame. I hope we come alive, hope we remember that we are all a shared humanity and that the outrage subsides and is replaced by care and love. Instead of holding our opinions and rage, I hope we start holding each other again.

9 Years — September 9, 2020

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in another space I write, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Wrong. — September 2, 2020

Wrong.

When the Fight Club movie was released, Lisa Schwartzbaum (critic for Entertainment Weekly) gave it a D. In the current issue, she reflected on that grade and said she hasn’t reconsidered, that all reviews are confined to a certain time period and should stay that way. Like, for instance, we cannot consider ‘80’s comedies through a 2020 lens. There will be socially problematic characters, jokes, plot lines and countless else that just doesn’t hold up. It has to be viewed as part of a complicated amalgam of context.

I think Citizen Kane is grossly overrated. I know exactly what Rosebud is and wish I didn’t, wish I didn’t spend the time watching wondering what the big deal was. However, it must have been awesome once.

Anyway, maybe Lisa Schwartzbaum had a point then, though I cannot imagine what it was, and surely would change that review today with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom. Maybe she wouldn’t, either, maybe she’d just continue to be wrong.

The point is, we change. Society changes. Our perspective changes. This is a given, right? Of course. Could you picture how much you would dislike the 18 year-old you if you ran into you at a party? I would at least feel very sorry for that very opinionated, misguided, insecure kid. And then I would be equally grateful that I’m not that kid, that I was open enough to change my deeply held positions on almost everything.

I think we’re probably all that way, which makes it all the more perplexing why we’re all so violently defending our current dogmas as if we have arrived at the apex of our own evolution. Doesn’t wisdom carry with it a level of experience and, with it, humility that we might not know everything about everything? Doesn’t it require that we hold with a looser grip?

I’m not mad at Lisa Schwartzbaum. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, and I totally understand her desire not to amend her review. Who we were is who we were, not who we are, unless we haven’t learned anything, unless we stayed stubbornly planted in the mindset of our youth, unless we haven’t grown, unless we haven’t changed. And I can’t think of anything more depressing than that.

Army of Consumers — August 28, 2020

Army of Consumers

There were several people lining the Main Street of my town this morning painting buildings on canvases. We have a cool town square with an old theater, a college, and many small businesses – it’s a perfect place to paint and a better place to live. I like it here.

Anyway, immediately following these artists at work, on the outdoor chairs in front of the coffee shop were 2 kids, maybe 10 or 11 years old, both gazing at phone screens inches from their faces.

Sadly, I’m becoming an old man shaking my head about “these kids today.” I never wanted to be that guy, sweating through the crust on my face shouting from the porch to “Get off my lawn!!!” And yet here I am… I guess every person since the beginning of time swore they weren’t going to be their parents and then woke up one day with ear hair, wrinkly eyes and unreasonably strong opinions on underwear and weather.

Now that I have shamefully admitted to this condition, I can embrace it. It certainly looks like “these kids today” (like my own) are satisfied to consume, so what happens when there are no more producers? What happens when the painters are gone? What happens when the filmmakers are replaced by TikTok-ers?

Obviously, I love the blog format – it’s immediate and timely, perfect pictures and commentary of our rapidly changing culture. But will the things we create here last longer than a cycle? I wrote one called Echo 2 weeks ago that I was very pleased with, posted on both of my sites (!!), and it was well-received for a few days…and not read since. Will people be reading our heads & hearts in a year? In a month? Next week? Will the middle-schoolers in 2053 still be reading To Kill A Mockingbird and The Outsiders?

I know it’s not like no one under 25 is writing, it’s just an exaggeration. I’m just wondering out loud how much of an exaggeration it is. We wanted to write the Next Great Novel, now my boys and their friends want to be the next YouTube Fortnite sensation or Influencer (which is a legitimate thing to aspire to.) Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they just want to watch the next YouTube Fortnite sensation or be influenced.

I don’t know what that means for the poets and performers, but maybe COVID has already gutted that community anyway. Maybe it’ll be ok, just different. This is probably what our grandparents said when The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, isn’t it? On some level we all think the things we like are better than their replacement, and I should just chill out about it.

I just wish that kid I saw would’ve been painting, too.

Drama — August 23, 2020

Drama

Last weekend, I was scheduled to officiate a wedding for a couple I’ve never met. There is a website called Thumbtack where you can search for people who do certain things, like officiate your wedding, and you can find me there. Like they did. I have done this sort of work before and it has turned out beautifully. Sharing such a sacred space is a unique, cool way to create framework for a relationship. This isn’t surprising. Keanu Reeves said as much in Speed. (Or something similar. I don’t exactly know, he’ll always be Johnny Utah to me.)

Anyway. The wedding was Saturday and Friday night I got a text that said I was no longer needed. I know! What?!!?? Family drama was cited as the reason the ceremony was (I assume) cancelled. Family drama? I understand family drama, but this is a level I simply cannot fathom.

Could you imagine a mother or an uncle or cousin causing such a fuss that would necessitate the entire wedding be abandoned? It’s a horrific thought, but the truth is that you can imagine, right?

As the quarantine began, we heard of a “new normal,” and I wondered what that would be. Would it be a positive change, where we slow down, eat dinner together and appreciate each other? Would our priorities be realigned? Would our lives and, by extension, our planet notice a marked change as evidence of a new depth of care?

The answers to those questions, as it turned out, are no. There is a new normal, but it’s not the one I was hoping for. The time alone with our thoughts, emotions, social media accounts and our own 4 walls instead convinced us that we were the only ones whose thoughts, emotions, social media accounts and 4 walls mattered. We reinforced our boxes of us & them with vibranium. We decided we are right in every situation, and this decision must be defended at all costs, using any and all means necessary.

Of course if I don’t like the seating assignment or venue or color of the bridesmaid’s dresses, the wedding absolutely cannot go on. Of course. You say it’s “not about me,” but that’s where you’re wrong. Everything is. This is the new normal: my normal.

Yes, you’re right. This discouragement isn’t my true north. I think it’s what they call illustrating the absurd with absurdity. And though this seismic shift is obvious, I don’t think it’s permanent. Not at all. Once we return to actual contact and connection, we’ll realize that this whole us & them paradigm is a delusion – it’s all just us. Don’t get me wrong, family drama will still happen as long as there are families, but the drama will end in childish petulance at tables strategically spaced instead of demolition.

This garbage is over whenever we say it is. Hopefully it’s soon.

Unplanned — August 17, 2020

Unplanned

Last night was the reception for a wedding that I officiated in April. The couple were gorgeous and totally present. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, they are distant and preoccupied, hoping the families don’t fight and the food is hot. Wedding planning usually garners more time than marriage planning, so with that much of a commitment, it’s no surprise that who sits where gets the biggest piece of the pie and leaves only table scraps for the actual vows.

Not with these two, though. They are very well aware how extraordinary it is to have found each other, lovers, partners, friends. I dearly hope they don’t take each other for granted when the excitement of the day gets exchanged for the routine of the everyday like most of us do.

Anyway, I gave the prayer before the meal. In it, I said, “Today and on that day in April, nothing was how it was supposed to be, how it was planned, but it was just THE BEST,” or something like that. And then I paused. Maybe my silence was perceived as dramatic, but I was just thinking about how that’s absolutely true. Not just for their wedding, but probably for their marriage. Almost nothing will go how it’s supposed to, how it’s planned.

Maybe that’s the key to marriage. Maybe that’s the key to life. To ease our grip on the wheel a little. To not be more married to our calendars than we are to each other. To let things be what they are.

We plan, we prepare, then we allow the thing to breathe instead of choking it to death with our white knuckles. How many times have we completely missed the most significant moments of our lives by trying to shoehorn them into our expectations? Too many, right?

We had their wedding in her parents backyard, only immediate family (maybe 15 of us) and me, and to tell you the truth, I probably had the virus. I had been sick with a fever for days and days only getting out of bed to put on my suit and tie. But that horrible disruption may have been the greatest blessing of their lives. We were mercifully freed from ALL of the distractions (except for my mask;), and had no reason at all to be there (no food, no guests, no favors or centerpieces) other than for a man and woman to say “I do” to each other.

I really love weddings, except for the ones I don’t, but if I’m honest, this was one of my very favorites. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the lovely gift we were given. These 2 reminded me, reminded all of us, that things don’t have to be perfect to be perfect. I hope I don’t forget.