Love With A Capital L

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

All I Want For Christmas — December 13, 2019

All I Want For Christmas

The second I heard Lady Gaga’s first album – actually, probably the first time I heard ‘Paparazzi’ – I figured that she was not the empty record company vessel she appeared to be. Of course, the songs were amazing, perfectly written and packaged pop explosions, but the interesting part to me was that embedded inside an album about becoming rich and famous, there were lyrics that dismantled the very goal it espoused. My theory was that she was wooing us just to pull the rug from under us all, exposing the vacuousness of the entire system of chasing dollar bills and Kardashian fame.

I figured she was different, the anti-Mariah Carey, anti-Britney Spears.

I am right about Lady Gaga, she hasn’t yet “come out” as running an elaborate ruse to show us ourselves and the absurdity of temporal, temporary pursuits, but I am right. As you can see in A Star Is Born and the Joanne album, her entire career trajectory is the revelation of a real-life artist, an endangered species of sorts.

What I may not be right about is that she is the anti-Mariah Carey.

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, there’s an interview to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Now, 2 things. First, 25 years?!!!?. Can it really be 25 years??? And 2, we hear it on an endless loop at this time of year and you either love it or you pretend to hate it. (Sometimes, art snobs like us rage against popular things because they’re lowest common denominator drivel, edges sanded to appeal to everyone, and moving no one. Or because we like to look like the coolest kids at the party.) The public reactions are polarizing, but the actual feelings aren’t: Everyone loves this song, because it’s perfect.

So, I read this interview and it’s sharp, funny, entertaining and informative. The best interviews (and interviewers) force us to ask, “have we been wrong about this person all along?” Maybe I was. Seared into my head is her embarrassing TRL appearance (and Her embarrassing Cribs episode and embarrassing New Years Eve performance and and and) that showed her, um, in a less than flattering light. Who knows what she actually is?

Who knows who any of the people we see on tv actually are? Once, we all wanted Bill Cosby to be our dad because of his sweaters, The Cosby Show and Jell-O commercials.

We are seeing carefully crafted images.

How I can definitively say I’m right about Gaga is because I’m that kind of arrogant when it comes to music and artistic expression. But I don’t know, really. Maybe there’s a guy that looks like me in his living room that is writing the subtle cutting lyrics and designing meat dresses, pulling strings and planting Easter eggs for us to find.

This is important (and bigger than records and Christmas songs) because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about who I am, who you are, who we are. Are we living authentic, fulfilling lives or are we simply actors, building personas that shift depending on who we are performing for?

And perhaps more importantly, are we making inferences on those we see and meet based on those images? I don’t have the visceral hatred for the word ‘judgment’ that I’m told to, because I don’t think it’s always such a terrible thing. Sometimes, toxic people are toxic people and should not be allowed to hurt us over and over and over, no matter how many times we are scolded, commanded, “Don’t judge me.” But our perceptions should probably be held loosely, able to be changed, because who knows? Maybe she was going through some things. Maybe she has grown since she was 25. Maybe she is still figuring out who she is. Maybe she is exactly who she is on TRL or the interview. Most likely, she’s both and neither. Just like me.

The truth of who we are, stripped of all of the expectations and pretenses, is both messier and so much better than we could ever imagine. It’s those edges and colors and quirks that make life so great. If I promise to be real, and you promise to be real, we can see each other for who we are, fall in love with each other’s everything (even when that everything includes the things that drive us crazy), then Christmas will become what Christmas was actually meant to be when it was about a baby that would rescue us all. And if it can be for 1 day, it can be more and more, and it can be everyday.

Ok. We’ve spent too much time here, reading, when this time could be much better spent listening to that song, and living Love.

One Big Lump — December 6, 2019

One Big Lump

I have no idea what I’m going to talk about on December 22nd or December 24th. Now, this is sort of a big problem because December 24th is Christmas Eve, our faith community extended will be at the church, everyone will look so sharp and happy, an overwhelming amount of hugs will be given, and when the first set of worship music ends, I’ll stand up, whether or not I discover what will come out of my mouth.

This is only mildly disturbing, rather than panic inducing, for a few reasons. One, because it’s December 6th and I have a little time. (It’s unusual to not have at least a tiny seed to tend, but there is time.) Two, because God is faithful and I have no doubt He will provide.

Three… Well, it’s Three I want to talk about this morning.

Yesterday morning (while I should’ve been working), I had breakfast (pumpkin pancakes and 4 slices of the best bacon ever) with a very good friend. We talked about things that matter a lot, things that matter a little and things that don’t matter at all. And, to make it even better, in addition to the gift of his time, He paid.

Last night (while I should’ve been working), the 4 people who live in my house crowded onto the sofa around Samuel’s school computer for hours. For some reason, his phone couldn’t/wouldn’t connect to the big tv or the computer which could’ve projected onto the big tv, forcing us to climb on and over each other to see the photos and hear the stories of his band trip to Disney World.

This morning (while I should’ve been working), I woke up too early and worked out, breathing deeply in gratitude for the physical gifts I have been given.

Later (while I should’ve been working), I spoke to 2 other very good friends on the telephone (answering the modern question of “who actually talks on the telephone anymore?” with a surprising, “I guess I do”) about the Dallas Cowboys heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears last night, community, workers compensation, spiritual warfare, and whole life transformation.

Tomorrow (while I should be working), I’ll be at a contemplative retreat at 9 and then drive to Hamburg for 2 basketball games at 11 and 12.

And right now I’m writing this to you instead of working, sweating, chopping wood trying to unearth the main thread for this Christmas message in 2-parts (that can, of course, stand alone.) And as you can surely guess, the questions begin, whispering “What will they think?” “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if you’re not prepared?” And moving to the accusations: “You have always been lazy,” “You’re not enough for these beautiful people,” “You’ll let them all down.” To finally, “What if He doesn’t give you anything this time?”

It’s this last one that exposes the charade. This last one is so clearly, obviously a lie, and leads me to question the rest. What will they think…not good enough…not prepared…lazy…not good enough… What’s interesting is that right now, I don’t care. They are either true (which some of them probably are) or they’re not (which some of them definitely are), but it is Christmas.

You see, Christmas is about a baby, a Savior, a man, God. It’s not about my work, my trying/earning/justifying, my being good enough. It’s about the Gift. It’s about all of the gifts – and there are many.

Like, for instance, 3 friends, bacon, cell phones, and my very favorite one: The holy accident that my boy’s phone wouldn’t connect and instead of sitting all over the room, we were smushed into one big lump of family and the kind of boundless love that makes everything so wonderful.

“What if He doesn’t give me anything???” Baby, He already has, more than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of, and if I miss that, then I’ve totally missed the point – of Christmas, of grace, of Jesus, of me, of you, of life – and it doesn’t matter what I say.

Bikram — December 4, 2019

Bikram

This morning I watched a new Netflix documentary (a new-ish practice for me that is becoming more and more treasured) called Bikram:Yogi, Guru, Predator.

Now, I was about to preface my comments on misused power, sexual violence and manipulation with some wish-washy disclaimer like: I quite like yoga, some days in the right condition and state of mind, I might even say I could love it, and it has absolutely transformed my sister’s life in all sorts of positive ways… but I’m not going to do that. It implies that yoga and monsters are linked and yoga must be exonerated, that any comments I make about this evil are also somehow commentary on yoga, but that’s simply not true. Monsters can be found in every corner of society. Yoga happens to be the vehicle Bikram used to wreak his havoc, but it could have been a big corporation, an elementary school, semi-professional sports, or religion.

Truly, though, yoga has changed my sister’s life and she’s way better since she’s stretchy like Silly Putty.

This doc was strikingly similar to the one I watched several weeks ago called Holy Hell, where another monster leveraged his position and influence to damage those who would follow him. Also, it’s just like most of the cases on the People’s Court, where the vast majority detail a person’s attempts to get something back from someone they never should have lent whatever to in the first place, and when the judge repeats the facts out loud (a tactic of mine when I speak to my kids) and asks, “Why would you do that? What did you think would happen?” Or something like that.

And these documentaries, in the interviews that take place long after the abuse, ask much the same question. It’s a question we ask when we watch the films. How could these strong, intelligent, capable women and men not see what we can see in the first 5 minutes?

I recognize we are not in the situation, being squashed and frightened, and we also have the benefit of hindsight and of course, previews and descriptions, but moving the man you’ve only just met into your apartment and adding him to your cell phone plan has never been very wise, right? And being berated by an openly misogynistic man in a 900 degree room for thousands of dollars might not be, either.

…But I’ve made plenty of decisions I can’t explain afterwards, too.

(I also recognize that I’m walking a fine line, here. When someone asks questions, calling some decisions poor, it can sound judgmental and give the impression that the responsibility is being shifted from the monster to the victim. That is not my intention. Bikram did what he did to people who trusted him, people who DID NOT deserve the horrific treatment they received – no one deserves to be abused. No one. I am also not equating the hell they endured with cell phone plans, it’s like calling a broken arm and a scratch the same. But they are injuries. It’s relative, right? Maybe to the woman with a broken heart being hassled by creditors, they are very similar. Maybe the scratch is deep and infected and will not heal the way your broken bone can. Asking isn’t judgment, some decisions aren’t great – we’re adults, we can talk about different circumstances, draw lines here that would not apply there, acknowledge levels of grey. I’m about to infer that they chose to stay in an unhealthy environment because they were attempting to fill a most basic need of ours, but in another post, on another day, I might infer that they stayed because they were brainwashed and de-valued and told (and believed) the lie that they had no future and no hope without this monster, these classes, this path. This whole paragraph is because these topics need to be discussed, evil must be stopped, we have to be free to speak out, and I don’t want to fight you, I want us to fight him and the kind of systemic sickness that allows him to exist.)

So, how could they and why would they? For the same reason most of us make our mistakes – because we’re seeking a group where we can belong. Because we want to fit in and have a family that accepts us. Because we want some purpose and be loved well.

And to get it, we’ll ignore all sorts of warnings.

I don’t know that I have a point here. I’m just sitting here thinking about decisions and communities and acceptance and love. Probably, the risk is worth it. We get our hearts broken from time to time (too many times, if you ask me) but it’s necessary. This drive for connection ends with lots of dead ends and wreckage, but when we find the real thing, the relationship we have been created for, it’s also what puts us back together.

Cold & Broken — November 22, 2019

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

(Day to) Week Off — November 15, 2019

(Day to) Week Off

This week took a different sort of turn for me. I had plans that I was forced to abandon, as I got sick. This happens when the weather truly changes and sweaters and jackets aren’t only fashion. This week, I was fortunate enough to have few scheduled responsibilities this week and could crawl under a blanket and take NyQuil and naps.

What is usually a problem for me is actual (physical, emotional, spiritual) rest – as we have been walking through in this space. I know that not everything is fit to be posted , and certainly not everything is interesting enough for you to give such a valuable currency as time. But rest seems to me to be a universal pursuit, especially in a culture that worships at the altar of productivity above all else. It’s funny when I hear that we are no longer a religious society…we are, only the God/god has changed.

So, I took my “day off” and made it a “week off,” give or take an hour or 2 or 7 or 8.

I didn’t read at all that I can remember, besides email and social media posts. I’m writing another book, and I didn’t open the document once. I wrote one blog post before this one about the band Rise Against and the Bible. I picked my kids up from school, made dinner, did dishes and watched the People’s Court and Netflix documentaries.

One of the documentaries was called Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond about the making of Man On The Moon, which is the 1999 film about Andy Kauffman that starred Jim Carrey. Man On The Moon is a pretty good movie, but Jim & Andy is outstanding, utterly transfixing. It’s odd and unnerving to watch someone disappear so thoroughly into their work – the doc became a meditation on image and identity, which is endlessly fascinating.

But there is a scene where Jim Carrey, who serves as the narrator/commentator, recalls his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was told, “That’s great, this could really turn into something,” and now, with the benefit of experience and wisdom, said, “No, this is something.” I wonder how many times we miss the now waiting for it to “really turn into something.”

How many of us have had a date and immediately began to look for the future in the other? Or skipped words, sentences, and pages to get to the end of the book? Looked to next week, when this over-scheduled and demanding one is over and we can get back to our lives?

Each night, against my warnings, my kids pray, “Please let school go fast tomorrow.” What they don’t know is that it will, it does, it is going much too fast and they are in danger of absolutely missing it. I wonder how much I have missed, how much I still miss. How many awesome experiences I’ve looked past, hoping it could really turn into something, when it already was?

I’ll be healthy next week and off of this couch and back into the hamster wheel.

…Unless I don’t get back into the wheel.

On The Way —

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?

Old Baby — November 7, 2019

Old Baby

Yesterday was my day off and I want to tell you about an awfully strange special I watched on Netflix. I love stand up comedy, always have, so that category often draws my attention. Maria Bamford, quirky and super-weird, is one of my favorites, and I found a special from 2017 called Old Baby. Now, technically, it was a stand-up routine, but it was delivered to different audiences in awkward, surprising places. It began with her performing in front of a mirror, alone. Then, in front of 4 people on a city bench. Then 1 guy on a couch. Then in a small crowded library room, a dinner party type-setting, a bowling alley, and you get the point. It was jarring and very uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing. She wasn’t interacting with the audience, simply sharing her routine as if she were on a stage in front (which she was, in the last vignette.)

15 minutes in, I was so disturbed by the format, I moved to turn it off, which is exactly what I did with the first one I picked, a Nikki Glazer special called Bangin.’ She began her show with a graphic 15 minute (at least) talk on a sexual act that broke the ONLY rule of comedy: be funny! I am with you for any and all topics, virtually unoffendable, UNLESS it is not funny. In that case, I am out. There are too many awesome things to do and experience. Like Old Baby.

The biggest difference in 15 or 20 year old me and 44 year old me is that I would have loudly proclaimed her special unwatchable. If you liked it, then I would judge you as embarrassingly wrong (only half jokingly.) Now, I’ve mellowed quite a bit and am capable of seeing that it’s possible, if unlikely, that even if I don’t like it, someone else might. So, if Nikki Glazer is your deal, I suppose that’s cool. She is not mine.

Anyway, I didn’t turn Old Baby off. You see, I want art that makes me uncomfortable, that moves me, that has edges that would keep, say, my wife, away. I’m writing other posts about honesty and music and I hate Mariah Carey’s song ‘Emotions’ because it’s built to be so innocuous, so bland and safe, that it would sell a bazillion copies, which of course it did. I sometimes forget that I want honesty and innovation, want to be challenged, want more than mass-produced efficiency.

Old Baby was perfect. It might not have been the best stand-up routine I have ever seen, might not have even been her best. But here’s the thing, after Old Baby I put on (for the millionth time) Richard Pryor’s 1979 concert, which probably IS the best stand-up routine ever, and laughed out loud over and over and over. But the artist/work I have been thinking and talking about from the second it ended, and now posting about, is the genius of Maria Bamford and her 2017 special Old Baby, and that’s the point.