Love With A Capital L

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

The Angel Has A Scar — May 4, 2021

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Shirkers — April 29, 2021

Shirkers

“There are movers. There are shakers. And there are shirkers.” That’s the very catchy tag line for the Sandi Tan documentary Shirkers that I watched today.

This is a different circumstance because all of the many colored blocks that populate the calendar on my phone had to be erased, leaving me with oodles of free time. Free time that has been suggested/issued/commanded by the PA Department of Health. In the DoH phone call to check on my symptoms (none) and/or exposure (constant), they kindly asked me if I would be complying with the quarantine order and I thought that was a nice gesture. I guess they can’t make me, per se, but I do love you a lot, so I’m on lockdown.

(I don’t want to talk about COVID or quarantine guidelines & regulations. Also, because everyone is home, I can’t talk about Father Yod and the Source Family doc I began that is inappropriate for young viewers. Soon, soon.)

Now. Shirkers. It’s a pretty great documentary but I don’t think I would’ve liked the movie it’s based on at all. The film is from Singapore and at least 5 times too art school pretentious for me.

Mostly, we have our imaginations squeezed out of us by the time we make it to middle school, replaced with standardized tests and the overwhelming stress of future success hanging in the form of grade point averages. We have “what could be” beaten into “it is what it is,” “why not” into just “not.” Shirkers was founded on the idea that something new is not only possible, but here in their heads screaming to be expressed.

I don’t care if I would’ve liked the film. I want to live in a world where art exists that I find horrible or offensive, because that means I cold love it, too. You can’t love the middle of the road. You can’t love white bread. I value the risks of dreaming of a new day, where yesterday isn’t necessarily today. It might be, but it’s up to us to decide if it will be. If we sand off all the edges, all we’re left with is circles rolling in and out of our souls and lives, never making an impact.

Bad art (I’m not saying Shirkers was bad art. The truth is that I don’t know, nobody knows, some charlatan stole and trashed the audio files) is essential to forward motion. The line between compete unwatchability and the best thing you’ve ever seen is thin and blurry at best, invisible at worst. I’d like to totally ignore that line and listen to the creative impulse in each of our heads & hearts and follow that, instead. Of course, maybe it’s destined for the rubbish heap, but what if it’s not? As it says on so many inspirational plates and blocks of wood, “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

Rise of Skywalker — April 23, 2021

Rise of Skywalker

I wrote this last year, before the world stopped, and for some reason never posted it. It’s still true.

I saw Star Wars and I liked it. Of course I liked it. I am the target market. If a marketer’s intended demographic had a face, it would be my face.

From around 5 to 12 or 13, nothing mattered more than Luke Skywalker, Jedi knights, empires and rebellions. 24 year-old me cried at the opening crawl of episode 1…on a date. As I write this now, it’s less embarrassing than it was then – the happy ending is that the date was with the Angel, and she still married me.

The 2 externals in my life that mattered the most were Star Wars and, later, Morrissey.

In High Fidelity, the author Nick Hornby asks the question if we find the things we find because we are the way we are, or if the things we find mold us into the way we are. Which comes first?

Did I love Morrissey because I was super-sensitive and leaned towards loneliness and melancholy? Or did those songs push me in that direction?

I suppose it doesn’t matter now. No matter how I got there, I did and now I’m the sort that cries at movies and paintings and, well, everything. It’s probably a combination. If I was the captain of the football team, maybe Morrissey would’ve sounded sad and whiny and I would’ve tended more to Led Zeppelin IV or Nickelback. If I was a 5 year old girl, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to fight and liberate the princess and the galaxy (in that order) with a laser sword and space ship so badly.

Sometimes it feels like the road has been mapped out perfectly all along, that we found the people and things that made sense and gave us some context for our lives at EXACTLY the right time. So perfectly, in fact, that it can make us question if we have any free will at all or if we’re just puppets in a theater having our strings pulled by giant fingers in the sky. Then other times, it all seems so random and confusing, with no narrative or plot, like we’re bumper cars driven by toddlers.

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes (and this is likely no surprise, I imagine it leaks into everything I write and say.) It holds all of this confusion, the duality of an authentic life lived with eyes half closed (or half open;), with both hands. The Writer asks questions without expecting answers, is comfortable being lost without needing a detailed map home. A life that holds everything “temporary” (a better translation than “meaningless” – it’s not meaningless, not at all, only temporary) lightly, wanting to understand but willing to abide in the uncertainty, content to eat and drink with the people we love.

Star Wars wasn’t perfect, but in a world that has much much much more than enough pain and suffering to go around, it was beautiful. Morrissey is, too. I don’t care how they got to me, I’m just so thankful they did.

A Robbery — April 15, 2021

A Robbery

2 days ago I started a limited documentary series on Netflix called This Is A Robbery about a never-solved art heist. Every time I see the word heist now, I involuntarily think of the time heist from Avengers Endgame. (for this reason, I’m going to use the word as much as I can) This doc is not like Endgame. The other thing is that we know from the opening moments that the 1991 heist hasn’t been solved. The Angel can’t stand things like that, with no resolution. I don’t mind because so much of life doesn’t have nice tidy endings and we have to be ok with strings left untied.

The interesting thing about this series (and this heist) for me, was an outrage far outweighing the mild annoyance I feel at garden variety heists of institutions like banks or corporations.

A personal robbery is a different animal altogether. Taking another’s anything violently rips away any safety and security previously felt. It’s a deeply personal, psychological violation that can, and often does, haunt forever.

Obviously, I understand that there are human beings and trauma involved in banks and corporations, I’m just telling you that the sadness I felt when these one-of-a-kind paintings and artifacts were stolen and never recovered was far deeper than the loss of a 100 dollar bill. Or a zillion 100 dollar bills.

It felt like the violation was one of humanity, of culture, of society, of beauty, of creativity. Like the heist was picking the pocket of the Divine. This feeling was unavoidable to me as the filmmakers showed 1 particular painting over and over: Rembrandt’s The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee.

It’s a cool Bible story of God’s peace in the middle of an overwhelming storm. I’ve always loved the story and I like it even more now. The painting is stunning, and now no one will ever see the original again.

That’s horrible for a lot of reasons. When Rembrandt’s talent and passion (gifted from that same Christ) to craft this work of art (inspired by that same Christ) and loved by so many people (created in that same Christ) was lifted, so were all of those blessings. For God so loved us all that He gave us that masterpiece, through that artist. Art, especially great art, is a window of the Garden of Eden, where the first humans were made from love in the wildly creative image of God. Work like this shows us our intention and possibility, which is written into our souls. Work like this teaches us to dream, to imagine, to hope. Work like this shows us the beauty inherent in each of us in ways that a green piece of paper cannot.

That beauty is of course still there, heist or not. It’s just heartbreaking that a magnificent illustration of it was callously cut from frames and is now left to rot in some warehouse where it can no longer bear witness to our own striking brilliance.

Kong — April 8, 2021

Kong

Last weekend I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong.

First thing to know about me, while you might think it’s just the kind of movie I’d like, it’s not. There are roughly 2,500 movies in existence with King Kong and/or Godzilla in the title, I haven’t liked one. This wasn’t an exception. My sons loved it, so I said I did, too. I want them to like mostly everything, to not become one of those insufferable snobs who thinks it’s cool to hate. I used to be that guy. I’d tell them (and anyone else who would listen to me self-righteously pontificate) about dialogue and plot holes and blah blah blah and they’d feel silly for loving it and who wins in that? No one. I don’t believe in “guilty pleasures,” either. We can like anything we like and there’s absolutely no guilt in that. Unless it’s that song “Watermelon Sugar,” by that boy that I think used to be in One Direction. Anything else, have fun, man. Life is heavy a lot of the time, if monsters pro wrestling each other is your deal, this is your movie, enjoy!!!

That’s my review of the movie itself, but I’m writing this to tell you how much I LOVED going to the theater to see Godzilla vs Kong. I was overjoyed to buy tickets and popcorn and sit in a mostly empty deafening theater with other actual flesh-and-blood human beings having an experience together.

COVID stole a lot of things from us, and to take them back inch by inch is wonderfully satisfying. Our friends have been on screens and telephones, hugs are virtual, smiles have been obscured by masks. Theaters have been closed. There has been so much loss in these past 13 months, a monster movie in the theater is hardly the most important, but sometimes it’s the little things we might consider trivial at another time that perfectly capture the pain or the hope in any situation.

One time a flood destroyed my home and all of my things and that was horrible, but it was months later when I had a wedding to attend and realized I didn’t have dress socks that broke me into a million pieces. I wept loudly, bitterly in my truck along the highway. Dress socks were hardly the most valuable thing we lost, but as symbols go, it was priceless.

Godzilla and Kong ushered in a new mindset for me, for us, that pointed to a reality outside of quarantines and pandemics. It illuminated a hope that we would be together again, that we would connect, that we would hold each other’s hands in our own, that we would be human again.

And as far as experiences go, I can’t imagine one better than Godzilla vs Kong.

Last Blockbuster — April 2, 2021

Last Blockbuster

I’ve been so nostalgic lately. Many of the documentaries I’ve watched and are now recommended for me by whatever AI algorithm know this well. Shopping malls, toy stores, 80’s movies and tv shows populate all of my home screens. The latest was The Last Blockbuster, a tidy history lesson on the rise and subsequent fall of video stores. There’s just 1 Blockbuster left in existence, teetering on the edge of extinction.

Now, why would anybody go to a physical store to rent a movie anymore? Maybe a better question is, why would anybody go to a physical store for anything anymore?

I do think there’s an answer for this better question. But first…

There was a record store in my town that I went to at the very least once a week. It was regularly busted for illegal drug sales, but that’s not why I went. I was/am not an illegal drug guy, except for that one time. I went for the records which turned into cassettes which turned into compact discs (of which we said on more than 100 occasions, “how could there be a new format that’s better than this??”) This one day I walked through the door, bell ringing, and the record store guy Joe (who incidentally fronted a local band that was super cool) stopped me 2 steps inside and said he had a disc for me. I asked what it was and he didn’t tell me, just said it was for me. I paid and left immediately.

Exactly like romantic set-ups, you can find out a lot about yourself by how others see you. If you had set me up with the Angel, I would know you see me as the perfect man, handsome and awesome in every way;) Conversely, if you had arranged a blind date for me with a mountain troll, I would figure you see me in a light that isn’t quite so complimentary.

How did this fellow see me? What was this album that was “for me” and would I see it the same way? It was the Smoking Popes Born To Quit and it remains one of my favorite records of all time.

It’s entirely possible the algorithm would have recommended Born To Quit, but the algorithm isn’t the singer in a band. The algorithm doesn’t know my sister or what I look like, doesn’t know that I shave my head, love kisses, hugs and Three’s Company, like you do. The truth is, it doesn’t care, either. It only cares if I buy something or if I can be used as a product to sell to advertisers.

Blockbuster and malls have something Amazon don’t, and can’t: Joe the lead singer of the Neverminds. And me – I was a record store guy, too, and a very very good one. It doesn’t have a bench outside where I would skip my college classes and sit anxiously until they’d open the steel gate and FINALLY let me in on New Release Tuesday. It doesn’t have another person standing in front of the Smiths section for me to talk to. It doesn’t have anyone to talk to, ever.

Sure, they’re not perfect. Record store guys aren’t all Joe, sometimes they’re awful and mean and don’t have the slightest clue what they’re talking about. Sometimes the mall isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes the movie you want isn’t there, sometimes the store is closed, sometimes late fees, sometimes sometimes sometimes. Of course they’re not perfect, but neither am I. You know, these retail stores are a lot like people; messy, temperamental, quirky. They aren’t ever exactly what we expect. But maybe it’s the imperfections, the individuality, the personality, the heart, that make them so great. Just like us.

How To — March 23, 2021

How To

Several years ago, I was working full-time delivering medical equipment, pastoring a new local church, a full-time husband & daddy, and working far more than full-time discovering and becoming who I was/am. Even though I loved all of it, individually, I was teetering on the precipice of a complete breakdown nearly every moment of every day. The illustration that makes sense is of trying to fit a gallon of water into a shot glass.

Eventually, I scaled back the medical delivery to part-time (while still juggling the unholy on call responsibilities, which years later, cause me to shudder. No kidding. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the nightmare of thinking my phone is ringing.) which helped a little, though not as much as was necessary. My life was still a gallon and I was still a shot glass.

Many of my friends have greater capacities than mine, like a tumbler or a Big Gulp. The Angel does, too. Maybe you do. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about this. We all are created differently, different gifts, talents, passions, and different capacities.

It’s entirely probable that my capacity was reduced by the sheer number of should’s inside, like ice cubes filling a glass before one drop of liquid could find room. Wildly important should’s like responsibilities in providing for this family, safety, security, and on and on…then stepping outside, less important should’s like ‘what will people think?!??’ When you devote so much energy and space to the negative loops of b.s. in your head, it leaves very little for elements like purpose, meaning, and life. I needed a push, either out of the boat or back into the cabin, straddling both was tearing me apart.

Then the book How To Be Here, written by Rob Bell, was released. How To Be Here was about quitting your job delivering medical equipment and taking your shot at all of those things that make you feel alive. Among other things, of course.

“Your Ikigai is your reason for being. If you’re like a lot of people, the moment the words path and vocation and calling come into the conversation, let alone a new word like Ikigai, a thousand questions come to mind. Questions about paychecks and responsibility and passion and what you wish you could do if only you didn’t have those bills to pay.”

Maybe the book wasn’t about medical equipment delivery at all, but as I picked it up to reread it today, it sure sounds like it. Books can be like anything, tied to a certain time or event. Like how if you’re a certain age, it’s impossible to hear “Stairway To Heaven” without thinking of school dances full of butterflies and self-consciousness. This book is a very good friend who walked into my life when I was in desperate need like a hurricane, gently rested both hands on my back, whispered in my ear that I could, and then shoved me into a brand new life.

Hardly anything has been easy in the transition, but it has been awesome and I just wanted to thank Rob Bell and my very good friend How To Be Here.

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

There is a documentary on Netflix called “How To Fix A Drug Scandal.” Like all Netflix documentaries, it’s great – well made and endlessly fascinating. It’s about 2 women in 2 different Massachusetts drug labs who, in different ways, cheated the system and cost thousands (thousands!!!) of people their freedom. Now, maybe those people were guilty and maybe they weren’t, but they certainly were treated unfairly by a group of federal & state employees concerned with ease, comfortability and their own positions of power. It was gross. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

There is something important I learned in it, though, that I do wish to talk about.

I lost a buddy to a drug addiction last month, and it was heartbreaking. Addiction is heartbreaking. 1 of the women tasked with testing the drugs seized in arrests turned out to be a very serious drug addict herself. She was an over-achiever throughout school, valedictorian of her high school class, extraordinary athlete, college degree, great job. At that great job, she became a user. How did that happen? I used to think drug addicts looked a certain way or followed a certain template, but I was wrong. They look just like me.

I know 2 attorneys that are awesome. Outside of the 2 of them, I have to admit that attorneys have historically held a poor reputation in my head. It’s not a reputation that is set in stone or anything, but nonetheless poor. The narrative had gone that defense attorneys are the morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, who will do and say anything. I know that’s harsh, but this opinion has sadly been reinforced over years of perceived example. The defense attorneys in this doc may actually be morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, but as they explained their call, it sounded noble and beautiful. Their behavior sure was noble and beautiful. By the end, I wanted to become a defense attorney. I wonder if those years of “perceived example” were just that, perceptions based on easy generalizations and lazy cliche.

This reminds me of the story of Jonah in the Bible. All of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys, aren’t, and the characters who are not, are. It’s jarring and confusing. The prosecutors are elected officials who should be wearing white hats while keeping us safe from the villains. Except, they’re the ones unfairly meting out a perverted mis-representation of “justice” to those unlucky enough to cross their desks. It becomes more and more difficult to know who is trustworthy. And as that ground shifts, our anxiety grows.

I guess I have usually wanted to understand which end is up, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them,’ who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The problem is, as we discover, there is no us and them, just us. I could be the prosecutors or the drug addicts. Another problem is that an honest faith journey includes an endless process of watching ideas (set in stone, absolutely figured out and under control) that we believed, no, that we knew, spectacularly annihilated. Those idea that are exposed as much too small and fit into very inadequate boxes.

It seems to me that we’re made (and when I say we, I mean all things) for expansion and these boxes we create out of our fears lead to contraction, where it’s not only the boxes that are tiny and restricting, it’s our lives. We’re faced with a choice, hold on with white knuckles to a fading paradigm or release it to become something closer to truth.

It’s nice, being wrong so often. I don’t really need boxes anyway.

Forged Religion — March 4, 2021

Forged Religion

There is a new Netflix documentary called…well, I don’t know what it’s called. Give me a second. It’s called Murder Among the Mormons and it’s about old, cool, found documents, LDS church history, pipe bombs and ultimately deception.

While it all occurred during my life, I didn’t remember any of it and it played like drama and twisted and surprised me at every revelation. I loved every minute of it, though that’s pretty awful to say that about any murder anywhere. What does that say about me? I mean I loved the series. Is that better? Maybe only a little, but I really don’t want to talk about the questionable ethics of death as entertainment.

What I do want to talk about (there may or may not be spoilers here) is how lies and secrecy wreck everything. The LDS church followed a practice of suppressing any information that might contradict the gold plates of church history and doctrine, which brought to mind the words of the wise turtle Oogway (in King Fu Panda), “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” By trying so hard to squash inconvenient truth (whether it is actually truth or not) to protect a faith system so fragile, the result is the exact opposite. If the foundations of our lives can be destroyed by a letter about a magical white salamander, then maybe the foundation deserves to be ground into dust and reconsidered.

Religious systems are an interesting creation. We erect walls and then fight and kill over their position, protecting our power and status and mountains of money. What starts as an beautiful expression of love and worship towards God morphs into a massive altar to our own abilities and desires. No wonder we all run from the whole sordid mess, throw the baby out with the bathwater, and struggle to build new walls of purpose and meaning without faith. Religion isn’t Yahweh, the LDS isn’t Jesus, and we are not and have never been gods. Once we can figure that out, we can loosen our grip on our doctrines and trust the Truth of God to be bigger and more resilient than some guy in a hidden room inventing pretend letters, diaries and origins. In other words, trust God to be God, even without our arrogant ‘protection.’

Superheroes, etc. — March 1, 2021

Superheroes, etc.

We’ve seen 8 episodes of Wandavision now. What once was confusing and gimmicky is now clear and focused, the gimmick has faded into a deep character-driven exploration of grief. We all knew this, probably, but the genre hasn’t historically been a space for deep character-driven anything. At least that’s what we all have been led to believe. To say you’re a superhero guy implies you’re stunted emotionally and especially socially, living in your parents basement wishing for a girl who likes action figures and cosplay as much as you do.

Aside on cosplay: The last time I participated in anything that could be called cosplay was when I was 8, with a lightsaber and bathrobe or a towel safety-pinned around my neck. Good times, man. But if that’s what your deal is, I’m down with that. I don’t live in my parents basement, either. I am married with 2 kids, and haven’t played with action figures since high school. I loved it then and would probably love it still. I don’t think I’m stunted in any way. I wouldn’t, though, would I?

But I really love superhero movies and would sign a petition to classify them as films, nowadays every bit as nuanced and layered as any random indie film nobody sees and is critically adored. They just use a different delivery device. Peanut butter is still peanut butter if it’s on celery or an apple or a cracker or a chocolate bar. Courage, fear, friendship, kindness, and love are real if they’re in your town or Hogwart’s.

This has taken a while to come to grips for me, as a fairly insufferable snob with negative opinions on popularity. If everyone likes it, I figure it’s like white bread or McDonald’s hamburgers; nothing to love but nothing to hate, inoffensive, safe, produced for mass consumption. But Endgame raked in 2 billion dollars and everybody saw it and screamed with joy when Captain America held Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor). It’s hard for me to understand that sometimes everyone likes something because it’s actually very good.

While we’re talking about that hammer, when Thor regained it and woke up to the idea that he could still be “worthy,” who didn’t understand? Who hasn’t felt the inadequacy of “Am I good enough?” Even the god of thunder feels like me and you. This is the sort of arc that takes half a dozen movies to move from sickening arrogance to heartbreaking insecurity. Have any of your friends fallen apart because the image they wrongly based their entire value on turned out to be pretense? If I am not what I do, what I can produce, then what am I? Of course, it’s as true and relatably human in a cubicle or corner office as it is in the last son of Krypton.

We live in a culture that needs it NOW, spoon-fed with a tidy conclusion – and that was always perceived as the realm of superhero stories. Our hero would vanquish the villain as the credits rolled. Infinity War ended with half of all living creatures reduced to dust and we had to wait a year for any other resolution. That first story in the Marvel universe took 23 (!!) films. That’s why it mattered soo much and was sooo devastating when Tony Stark made the sacrifice he did.

Wandavision took 4 episodes before anything happened that even considered making sense of the sitcoms from different decades. Many of us checked out, but those who stayed are now being rewarded with a richly imagined psychological drama. Vision says at one point, “what is grief but love persevered?” Of course, I cried then. So did you and everybody else because Wanda is now our sister, dealing with the kind of loss and suffering that breaks us into a million pieces. Does the fact that the lovely her life is dead somehow hurt less if she can fly? The decision to do this on a weekly tv show tied into and through the previous films allows us to truly know her story, and as it turns out, it’s ours.

I could write forever about Rocket and his loneliness or the Quill/Yondu father-son dynamic or Gamora wrestling with the sins of her own father or Natasha wrestling with her past and if she’s done too much and gone too far to ever return… but I won’t. You already know.