Love With A Capital L

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

Senior Night — January 31, 2023

Senior Night

Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.

This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success in that. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe… but the result hardly matters.

Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.

I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And a hundred million more questions.

If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.

We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.

I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was faaaaar out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.

I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.

So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.

There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.

I (heart) the Dallas Cowboys — January 23, 2023

I (heart) the Dallas Cowboys

I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan for longer than I can remember, since probably before kindergarten. My father had few other interests and I was his boy, so loving sports was a requisite in my home. You choose your teams wisely and think you’ll stay with them forever, like your first best friend or first kiss. Best friends came and went, girlfriends passed though, but the Dallas Cowboys moved in and have forever lived rent free in my head & heart. Now I’m 47 and not 4, no longer call them “us,” but last night when they lost again in the playoffs, I was shocked by how disappointed I was.

I have come to believe fandom is an irrational insanity. What other arena would you continue to patronize and, in the worst cases, identify with a product that’s quality varies this wildly. If you only bought Dawn dish detergent, then it changed formulas and no longer cleaned your dishes, you’d find a new detergent. If you really loved Chipotle, how many cold, rotten burritos would it take before you stopped going? Would you still stand in lines because you had a good one 30 years ago? How many stale, crushed bags of Doritos would you buy before you found some new chips? How many times does Lucy have to pull the football, sending you flying through the air, before you stop having her hold???? In fact, if you had 30 unbroken years of losses with your spouse…

I left DirecTV, with extreme prejudice, paying the early cancellation fee, after 1 long year of terrible service. With the Cowboys, 1 long year sounds like a dreamlike utopia.

I used to ride or die with the Detroit Tigers baseball team, and if you’d ask me, I’d still tell you they’re my favorite team, but it doesn’t affect my life at all. I have no idea how many wins they had last year or who their current shortstop or manager is.

I understand children chaining themselves to a team, because to a kid, everything and anything is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. But leaving that behind, with the rest of the grade-school trends and fashions, sounds like the right way for an adult to behave.

And yet. When Dak Prescott threw a 6 years pass in the middle of the field deep in their own territory as time expired, my heart broke again. I don’t know why. I don’t know Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott. I don’t think Jerry Jones would be a particularly nice person – but maybe he is. That’s the point, how would I know? I’ve never met him. Why does my Sunday evening (and Monday morning) have anything to do with the fibula of Tony Pollard?

When I was 4, I loved the big beautiful star. That’s why I chose the Dallas Cowboys. When people ask me why, that’s the honest answer. Danny White and the star. But a logo is hardly a reason to handcuff myself for the rest of my life to a perpetually good (that’s what makes it so heart-breaking – that every year, we think “maybe this is the year,” like a legion of Neanderthals) professional football franchise.

Maybe I’m done. But I’m not.

Maybe I’ll pick a new team, or better yet, no team. Maybe I’ll just watch the games as a completely impartial party, enjoying the athleticism and the game. But I won’t.

It’s not loyalty, either, like other broken people say. It’s a masochistic disorder. But it’s my masochistic disorder. It’s our masochistic disorder.

But next year will totally be our year.

High School Basketball — January 18, 2023

High School Basketball

Earlier this week, I attended a high school basketball game and utterly lost my mind. I was embarrassed, my mother would have been mortified, everyone was looking at me in my head. It was just awful.

Now, I am very well aware of the woeful state of sports officiating. We all think it can’t get worse and then, of course, it does. It’s sort of a disorder where I can’t learn, and that means I am continually surprised. I imagine that that referees/umpires gather after games, heads down, disappointed, wondering if and how they can approach a passable level of competency. But I know some of them personally, and their posture is one of arrogant defiance, so that imagining I do is simply that, a dream with no basis in reality. Maybe they are great men, great dads, husbands, community leaders – in fact, I’d go so far as to say probably they are. They spend so much of their time in high school gyms and fields in service of these student-athletes, and that is no small feat.

It’s a pretty thankless job. Like in most things, we notice the bad and ignore the good. We scream in righteous indignation when the food is cold or the cashier is rude, and otherwise stay silent. In addition, with sports, the officials are dealing with delusional could-have-been’s living vicariously at the top of their lungs. They deserve our respect and kindness.

And in that thankless job, most officials are very, very bad. Both things can be true, and in this case, both things are. I spend most of our time post-game unpacking with my boys excusing the referees/umpires, reminding them they are human beings, how hard the job is and to remember that blame wasn’t helpful in Genesis 3 and it isn’t now.

So why was I crazy the other night? Sometimes bad calls are just bad calls: missed a strike, called a player safe, stepped on an end line, missed a travel. But sometimes, poor officials can lose control and put all of the players in danger of injury. It is no longer wins and losses, the issue is safety. The visiting team wasn’t very skilled so their game plan was much like the ‘80’s Pistons, MMA instead of basketball. I asked for fouls on both teams, tighten everything up, just something, anything, to protect the teams from each other and themselves.

When I wrote that I had lost my mind, that wasn’t entirely accurate. I hadn’t lost control, and certainly not everyone could even hear my comments. But I was embarrassed. Now what to do with that?

In the past, the old tapes would have ran rampant through my head, telling me how ridiculous I am, how I am one of those parents, how I’m a quick-tempered rage monster and I always would be. Those things aren’t true. I’m none of those things. As a teenager, there were holes in my bedroom walls because I didn’t know how to process my fear, hurt, and inadequacy. I am not a teenager anymore, and now I can understand me and my heart. I am not overwhelmed with my own lack of worth anymore. What I am is a work in progress, but what I also am is new. Both of those things can be true, and in this case, both things are. Those old tapes do not apply, they are obsolete. Those statements of identity no longer describe me.

I am grateful. The self-loathing is mostly gone, taking my crippling inadequacy and insecurities with it. The tapes are quieter and quieter, sometimes I can’t even hear them at all. The cool thing about growth is that if we keep our eyes open, there are teachers on every corner, even high school basketball games and incompetent officials to show us how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

Best Of Me — January 11, 2023

Best Of Me

You already know what kind of films I like, but those are not the films that the Angel watches. To paraphrase something I read somewhere, if our cultural interests met at a party, they would not get along, would probably get into some sort of violent exchange. She likes love stories, of the rom-com genre, with or without the com. It’s the rom that stirs her. There was a time when her tastes would have been a dealbreaker, thankfully that time has past. Nick Hornby said maybe it doesn’t matter what you like, but what you are like, and that’s absolutely true.

Anyway, she’s quite sick lately, and yesterday we watched a movie called Best Of Me, based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. I didn’t really like it, but I like her very very much, so we watched it and cried together at the end.

This post is a little uncomfortable to write. You see, for most of my life, I have subscribed to the idea that great art comes from heartbreak. That nothing worthwhile comes from happiness or satisfaction. Blood On The Tracks, the Smiths, heartbreak, loss, painful revelation; those things are deep and heavy, authentic and honest. Losing My Religion was awesome, Shiny Happy People sucked.

In my line of work, I mostly deal with steaming heaps of relationship wreckage. I walk alongside and hold hands with broken hearts and spirits, that’s what I do and if I could compartmentalize or not invest so much of me, it wouldn’t hurt so much. But I can’t. I am a carrier, so every now and again, I fall apart out loud. (I recognize that’s not the most macho thing to say, maybe I’m not the most macho man. Whatever.) I see emotions, I feel energy every time I want into a room. You don’t have to tell me, I know. And that is who I am, and I’d have it no other way – I walk in & stay.

And I also often pretend that I am not deliriously happy, joyful, grateful and content in my home. These dumb tapes in my head that tell me those are shallow and superficial, there since junior high, squeal and hiss. But those tapes/beliefs are hopelessly defective. I talk, write, think so much about presence, not missing anything, living honest lives. That usually means the lows, because of our tendency to hide them, shoving them in the closets of our public Insta-image, lying that “everything is fine, great, couldn’t be better.” But it works both ways. To only give voice to the painful bass notes is equally disingenuous and leaves no room for the melody.

I looked at my wife through red, watery eyes and felt 2 distinct realities. A, I love this Angel as we are, and will for the rest of my life. We are full and totally recognize the blessings we have inexplicably been given. And 2, so many do not. So many live lives of sadness, emptiness, and meaninglessness. I have been in both spaces, probably more often in the second. But neither is superficial, neither is more valid or genuine than the other. Why would I not easily give voice to everything, ups, downs, celebrations, tears, Pulp Fiction AND Best of Me?

Great art comes from truth, and truth is found everywhere, if we only have eyes to see and the courage to be vulnerable in what we see and experience. Lives of presence and weight require 2 hands (to hold seemingly conflicting emotions/realities) and soft hearts that work exactly the way they’re designed. We rise and fall, dance and crumble, laugh and wail, honestly, without judgment or outdated, misguided valuations, and we do this all together.

And I suppose Shiny Happy People isn’t that bad.

The Hanggi Quote — January 4, 2023

The Hanggi Quote

Kristin Hanggi wrote in a mass email I received today: How I create is a way I demonstrate self-love to myself.

This is the new year and a time that requires some examination, where and I and where do I want to go? Am I careful with you? Am I careful with me? What sort of energy am I releasing into the world? Maybe not so obviously, all of these questions are connected. If I am not careful with you, the energy I emit is a drain on us all, which will take me nowhere I’d like to go. I’d be actively impacting the world around me in a negative fashion.

Now, the only difficult question, from which I’ve historically turned my head, is if I’m careful with me. My focus points for the year address this deficiency. I never considered the connections until I read that we aren’t truly capable of caring for others without caring for ourselves. See, I used to think the crushing expectations I place on my own shoulders are are only for me. I used to think that if caring for you comes at the expense of my own well-being, that is an acceptable cost.

I’ve been wrong about that perspective. Expectations are expectations, and emptiness is always communicated. If I’m struggling to breathe, how can I help you breathe? If I’m smushed under the weight of my own burdens, how can I help to carry yours?

So I’m paying attention to the way I speak to me as an act of love. I’m watching my mouth when I talk about me as an act of love. And now, reading that Hanggi quote, I’m examining my spirit as I write this, considering the past effects on my heart anytime I build. Maybe I only think I need time away (that I call “down time”) – and maybe I’ve been wrong about that, too.

There’s no question time away from some things is valuable, we all need rest days, sometimes rest weeks, but what are those things? What if I’ve been taking the time away from the very things that give to me, that act as an infusion of life? Do I really need time down from that? If creation is an act of self-love, is down time choosing not to love?

It’s just a small sentence in a daily email that I very often quickly, mindlessly skim, but it asks so many important questions. And it’s entirely possible that the answer to the question “Do I really need time down from that?” is yes. Maybe we need time down from even the most wonderful, most energizing, things. But how will we know if we don’t ask???

A Christmas Life — December 27, 2022

A Christmas Life

I am the pastor of a small church in town. You might not know this because this space (lovewithacapitall.com) has been a separate room where I can talk about Morrissey (mostly) and other art and artists I like. At least as separate as I can be. The things we discuss here, we also discuss there – After all, I do write it, and the best, most authentic art comes from the most authentic parts of us. If I were to pretend I didn’t love Morrissey songs and Fight Club and superheroes, that would be to abandon certain important, meaningful parts of me. How can we connect on any sort of deep level while one of us is hiding or holding parts of him/her-self back and pretending to be something else,something we think the other wants us to be? Dishonesty and image making drive me insane. So, there (in the church virtual room), these cultural touchpoints relate explicitly to God and the complicated journey of faith. Here, not necessarily as explicitly, but they do relate.

Anyway, this particular faith community began in my living room, when the church to which I belonged closed its doors. That means I speak every Sunday, and each talk should probably contain one point the people who give their most valuable possession, their time, can use, just in case they don’t hear anything else. It’s shocking, but the truth is that not everyone present is hanging on each word I say. Gasp! On Saturday night, Christmas Eve, this ‘takeaway’ was that we don’t only celebrate Christmas once a year, but that we live Christmas lives.

What does that mean? What does a Christmas life look like? Maybe I should’ve given a bit more thought to that, it sounded like a pretty good phrase at the time, and maybe I did an adequate job at conveying the idea. Often times, we are having conversations in our heads & hearts, and very little has to be said to affect us in profound ways. For instance, let’s say you were feeling that you wanted to learn to play the guitar, then a character in the book you’re reading is a guitar player, then you’re listening to Howard Stern and he’s interviewing Slash, and then you come to a church service and I happen to be talking about Abraham and Campbell’s Heroes’ Journey and say, “Maybe you’re thinking of taking a new step…” And that’s all it takes. I don’t have to be eloquent or clear at all, it’s enough and your spirit and what I call God will do the rest.

I know a Christmas life doesn’t mean we spend money like wild animals buying things we don’t need and don’t really want in the first place, things we have to return or exchange. It doesn’t mean we buy landscaping and put it inside (though I guess it could mean that for you). It doesn’t mean we gain weight as if we’re preparing to hibernate for months (like I do). It doesn’t mean we make habits of superficial small talk with distant relatives (unless we actually care for them and the talk gets bigger and less superficial.)

It’s always easier to define what we are not, or who we don’t want to be, or what we don’t want to do, than it is to say Yes. But negative postures don’t change our lives. Wanting to not become my dad never got me closer to who I wanted to become, to who Chad was once the block of stone had been chipped away. What would it reveal? I wouldn’t be a groundhog or 10 million other things, but what would I be underneath it all? That’s the coolest thing about opening your eyes, what you’ll see.

So, here’s what I came up with. A Christmas life is one of imagination. It takes a very open mind that dreams to consider a story of a God coming as a baby to a 13 year old girl in a barn, and what it could all mean. It takes imagination to hope for something new, for a fresh word. A Christmas life hopes. We hope for more than we see, that I can be more, that you can be more, that it isn’t what it is, that we’re not simply what we’ve always been, that we can change our world. A Christmas life is relational. We ask, listen, think the best, hold each other, kiss, put our phones down and pay attention to the fantastic blessings in front of us. We have more friends than “friends.” Mostly a Christmas life loves. We love our people, our animals, our neighborhoods, our country, our planet. But we do not love these things at the expense of other neighborhoods, countries, or planets. We love those, too. We are awake and aware, looking for people to love and ways to love them that they understand and receive. A Christmas life does not miss sacred moments, and a Christmas life realizes that they are all sacred moments if we are intentionally present.

I wonder if all of that came across in my message. Who knows? I wonder if all of that comes across in my life. I think, to that thought, what a Christmas life would say is, “if it didn’t yesterday, it sure will today.”

(One more thing. You know, I know almost nothing about promotion or reaching more eyes for this blog. And what I do know, I shy away from, for several reasons. But it’s going to be a new year. Promotion doesn’t have to be to feed my ego and/or brag about numbers, it could totally be about connection and circles that overlap.So, I would love to know you’re there, so maybe we could dream together and talk about what A Christmas Life means to you, and maybe we could do what we can to usher in a new world. Just a thought.)

The Joy of Christmas — December 19, 2022

The Joy of Christmas

Another documentary I watched during my brief bout with COVID was Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed. There might be quite a bit to say about the betrayal & greed parts, his shady business partners, but I have almost no interest in saying them. I’ll write next time about Ghislaine Maxwell, and similarly, I won’t spend a great deal of time detailing her many crimes, legal and otherwise.

Bob Ross was a painter on TV, teaching us all to be painters. I didn’t paint at all. I’d say it’s because I have next to no talent with a brush, Bob Ross would disagree. He believed we all could paint, and while you watched his Joy of Painting (a necessary addition to the “Joy of” craze of the time, along with the Joy of Sex and of Cooking), you would, too.

He made it look easy. So easy, in fact, that we’d all buy canvases and palettes and give it a whirl. I guess most of those who are truly gifted at anything make their talent look accessible. Slash is the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and during his solos, I distinctly remember thinking that I could totally shred like that. I can play the guitar a little bit, but not like Slash. It turns out that it’s much harder than it looks. Especially so with Bob Ross. His landscapes seemed to require almost nothing to create, as if they were already there, only needing someone (anyone) to sweep away the outer layer and reveal them.

What Bob Ross wanted to do, more than anything, is to bring some beauty into the world. Or open our eyes to the beauty that already exists that we are all too distracted or busy or self-obsessed or broken or asleep to notice.

Christmas Day is Sunday.

[My youngest son loves Christmas music. I don’t know how it happened, the music that happens in this house is usually my choice and I NEVER listen to Christmas music. But he thinks the month of December is for carols and covers of old Christmas songs. As it turns out, he’s right and over the past few years has converted me. Yesterday I made a playlist of my favorites like Oi To The World and Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) and especially Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). I have 13 versions of the latter on this playlist, and that seems just right.]

Too distracted or busy or self-obsessed or broken or asleep is as good a way as any to describe us all during the season. I’d also add too wrapped up in our to-do, to-buy lists. It’s over-commercialized and crass in it’s excess. But because a word has been hi-jacked doesn’t mean it can’t be reclaimed.

The lights on my neighbors house are lovely, my tree is awesome. We play music and sing along loudly as we decorate this house with ornaments and nativity sets and cards from close friends. We buy gifts for each other that none of us need because we want to express in this tiny, arbitrary way how much we care for them. And we really, really do. The Baby Please Come Home version by U2 is overwhelming. The whole season is built on The Baby That Changed Everything, and not Amazon, which is too easy to forget. But just because a holiday has been hi-jacked doesn’t mean it can’t be reclaimed, right?

So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll spend the time together, you and me, sharing our stories and our hearts, making the moments as significant and awesome as we are. Bob Ross was right, his idea was to create beauty with paint, but I was struck by the fact that his real artwork was his life and spirit. And so it is with us. We can wake up and create whatever we want, let’s just make it as spectacular is it should be, as that Baby deserves.

Plumb Lines — December 15, 2022

Plumb Lines

As we race towards the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, it is my practice to reflect on where I’ve come from and look to where I’m going. I pick a focus word or 2 and make a plan to move forward (in pencil). There have been times when what is in front of me is intimidating in its scope, like staring at a smooth, slick wall stretching up into the clouds. Where do I even start?

If you’ve ever watched the show Hoarders, as the houses fall into such a state of disrepair, the people fall into a state of apathy. The work is so vast, it’s hard to see any way out. They have no idea how to clean what used to be their home but is now just a storage space for dirty dishes, trash, and junk. There is no end in sight, no light at the end of a massive tunnel.

A life can feel exactly the same. I remember many times, for seasons or years, where my soul was one of those houses. There were behaviors that didn’t serve me well, destructive habits, the worst tape loops playing in my head, self-sabotage, all buried under an avalanche of unhealthy perspectives. The task, cleaning me up, creating new pathways, was so enormous, I ended the next year with, at best, the same work ahead as the previous.

What I so clearly see now is that the answer is the same for the houses as my life, put a few dishes in the sink today. Then a few more tomorrow. In the Bible, the exiled Jewish people return home and work begins to rebuild the temple. The old temple that had been razed was so grand, fantastically ornate and glorious, how could they ever possibly rebuild that one? The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zech. 4:10)

There is a Japanese concept called kaisen, where continuous small, almost imperceptible changes compound, leaving the company, or process, drastically transformed.

I think this is what Zechariah is talking about, kaisen, or small beginnings. Set a plumb line – in this case, set our eyes on God and His vision for the temple, or our lives, families, communities, nations. This plumb line stays static, not swaying to meet the popular, convenient, or comfortable, and we begin to build with that as our guide. One block at a time. One dish. One moment. One lie in the tape loops that screamed in my ears. Just one. One step. We don’t need to know when the tunnel ends, or even where it will lead. We have a plumb line, and that plumb line is trustworthy and certain.

I know one step seems insignificant. We want to lose 100lbs by working out for 7 hours a day every day, but the next time that works will be the first, and we end up doing nothing. If we eat a bag of Oreos every day, maybe instead of eating none, we eat a bag minus one today. Or we do 1 pushup. Or read 1 verse.

We set the plumb line, don’t despise the small beginnings, and know that Our God, Our Creator, rejoices to see the work begin. Then, the next year, we look back and barely recognize the person who began the work. We are increasingly new. We can see our bed and sleep in it without risk of suffocating under all of the ways we harm ourselves.

There is an old adage, an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Maybe this year, we start taking bites.

Into Darkness — December 11, 2022

Into Darkness

I have the COVID. It’s nothing serious, just a cold, really. Though I’m feeling better, my chest remains tight and probably will for the next few days & weeks. I’m violating my own HIPAA rights to tell you this because the week on the couch has allowed me to watch too much tv, and you know, tv for me usually means documentaries, and the way I feel about these docs ends up in words here.

I watched some of Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness, on Netflix, about a serial killer (or serial killers) in New York in the ‘70’s and beyond. David Berkowitz is widely regarded as the only “Son of Sam,” but there’s evidence to suggest that there are many more, centered around a satanic cult and a church called The Process. It’s super creepy and disturbing and I do not recommend it at all.

I said it was about serial killings, but it’s not entirely. It’s more about a guy named Maury Terry, a journalist who got wrapped up and dragged underwater by this case and obsessively chasing unexplored leads to the truth. Did he find that truth? Who knows? I guess he’s probably right, (that it was more than 1 person), but at what cost? You could probably count his life as another one taken by the Son(s) of Sam.

I also said I watched “some” of it. I used to be someone who, once I started something (book, album, movie, etc) would have to finish it. I no longer feel that way. When the doc turned down the dark paths of the occult, animal sacrifice, and snuff films, I skipped episodes 2 & 3, and watched the last.

If you eat nothing but Oreos, you will feel heavy, lethargic, and sick. In much the same way, the media we listen to and watch will affect our soul and spirit. This is good and bad. If we listen to positive messages, we begin to feel hopeful and optimistic. If we watch documentaries on the Son of Sam, we start to feel like there are bugs crawling under our skin and we can see the world outside through darkened lenses. This guy, Maury Terry, devoted his entire life to this quest, and I couldn’t take 4 hours before I needed to cleanse my mind.

Of course, we say it has no effect, but that’s like saying marketing and advertising have no effect. Those ridiculous beliefs come from a place of dangerous arrogance and lead to the McDonald’s drive-through eating McRib sandwiches without ever wondering why. The why is because what goes in matters. If pornography is something I enjoy, isn’t it likely the way I see sex and women will reflect those images? How about if I make a point to follow the “upworthy” Instagram page, a sort of a news site for beautiful things, might that change how I see the people around me?

What do we listen to? Watch? What do we eat? All of these things matter. Will we descend into darkness or keep our heads up in the clouds? This decision isn’t a magical way to avoid pain or sadness or depression or anything. Those things happen, they’re an integral part of life, we can’t wish them away. But we do get to choose how to interpret them. We get to pick the lenses through which we see the world.

We can skip 2 episodes or we can read the article and skip it all. We can turn it off and go outside. What feeds us? What inspires us? Maybe we could do more of those things. Maybe this kind of documentary does inspire some of us. The point is that we are intentional about it, that we are awake to the energy swirling around, and inside, of us and that we begin to pay attention to just how much of a say we actually get. And maybe, just for today, we spend a little less time descending and a few minutes more looking up?

Ruth Ryan — November 30, 2022

Ruth Ryan

I took a short break from cult documentaries to watch the Netflix documentary on major league pitcher Nolan Ryan, Facing Nolan. If you were a ballplayer around that time, as I was, it would have been impossible to not love Nolan Ryan. He was the ultimate strikeout pitcher – the defensive flip side of the home run hitter – who threw a million miles an hour and had the confidence of all great strikeout pitchers. My very favorite moments in baseball were when a fastball pitcher faced a fastball hitter and both were absolutely positive that they were better. The pitcher threw fastballs, the hitter swung as hard as he could at those fastballs, and that’s how we figured things out. I was a pitcher who threw hard enough, so Nolan Ryan was a hero of mine.

The documentary was great (if unremarkable on it’s own) and brought back truckloads of memories. Sports, like songs, are time machines, precisely transporting us to who we were when we first experienced them. I remembered my dad, my room, the posters on the wall, my Swatch phone, my Nintendo, my bad haircuts and pegged acid-washed jeans, like I was there again.

Titled Facing Nolan, it would be understandable if you guessed Nolan Ryan was the subject, but you would be wrong, like I was. The real hero was Ruth Ryan, Nolan’s wife. 15 year-old me looked up to Nolan, but 47 year-old me sees Ruth as being the one we could emulate. I only cared about Nolan because he had freakish athletic gifts and an unparalleled work ethic, I never thought about if he was faithful to his wife, honest, a good friend or dad. It doesn’t matter anymore to me if someone is famous because they led the league in strikeouts (well, it doesn’t matter much;). I know now that it matters much more if we are rich in character and love, measuring our lives by the people around us.

The myth of the self-made man is make-believe, a fallacy dreamed up in marketers and filmmakers minds to sell products. They know very well, as long as we try to fill ourselves with stuff (experiences, cars, money, sneakers, etc) as islands, we can never be satisfied, so we will continue to buy and buy, moving on to the Next Big Thing to quench our insatiable thirst for more.

Nolan could be a hall of famer (he is) and have all the records (he does), but what if he got that predictable call from the Hall of Fame in an empty room with no one to celebrate with or to call? We can build more and bigger buildings to hold all of our countless possessions and have nothing at all.

Nolan was my hero then, but for the wrong reasons. His house was a home and his life was full of people to love, and who loved him. That was the real significance of his life, and all of our lives. I just don’t want to wake up some day and find out that I wasted my days trying to hold things instead of hands.