Love With A Capital L

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

Ain’t The Same — November 18, 2020

Ain’t The Same

Jasper Mall is a documentary on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty unremarkable, actually. It chronicles the decline of a mall in the American south and nicely weaves in the death of a store, a young relationship, and a man. It was slow, melancholy and predictable. (The irony can’t be ignored that it’s playing on precisely the monolith that is murdering malls like this one)

It finished 5 minutes ago and, if I am completely honest, I am much more broken hearted than it deserves. But you understand my heart isn’t broken from this mall or this relationship, instead it’s a mourning for my own youth, my own mall, my own relationships. I spent so much time at the local mall, well spent with my best friends doing nothing at all except being together and learning each other and ourselves. I miss those guys, those seats in front of the Bavarian pretzel, the ice hockey table, and cassettes (which would later morph into cds).

I miss those guys the most. Cassettes were wildly overrated.

I often get nostalgia for details. For instance, no 15 year old boy will ever know the overwhelming fear of sitting by the phone mustering the courage to call the girl, and when/if he finally does, it might be busy (!!!) or (infinitely worse) answered by HER DAD!!! Now, he’ll text at 2am. A student like me will never cut classes to wait outside of the record store to buy the new release of his favorite band, speed home, and spend the day in bed with the liner notes. A new release the record store dude will already have pulled and waiting at the counter. Now we stream it a track at a time and forget it.

There was a lot that wasn’t great, too. My rose colored glasses are tinted, not opaque.

But the thing is, when things change, any change, even wonderful ones, hidden in the gooey center is loss that must be mourned. My oldest boy is very nearly able to beat me when we wrestle. I’d never tell him, but it’ll be such a cool celebration when he does. But he’s no longer the boy who slept on my chest and that I carried through stores. He won’t ever be that small again. I could cry for days when I consider how much I miss that tiny baby. AND I love the young man he is now. Things change. We often don’t get to choose what we carry with us, the best we can do is be fully present as they are happening.

The Security/Maintenance/Cleaning man in the movie says, as the last line of the movie about the domino game that has lost a player, “It just ain’t the same.” No kidding. Maybe we spend too much time looking at yesterday or tomorrow at the expense of today. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking, but we probably thought malls and high school friends and ice hockey tables would last forever, right? And we thought hugs and meals together were so commonplace, we were too busy checking our phones to notice them for the divine gifts they were. Maybe a totally average film is just the reminder we need from time to time to jolt us into our lives here and now.

Azkaban — November 10, 2020

Azkaban

A guy I used to work with once cornered me and began a shockingly intense and impassioned attack on the Harry Potter book series. He railed against the magical and, as he saw it, demonic framework of the story, that it was impossible for a Christian to read and enjoy the books. As a Christian who very much enjoyed the books, I asked if he had read them, actually read them. As you can guess, his answer was an indignant “NO! I would NEVER read such a thing!” Then how could you have such a strong opinion based solely on something somebody said? He shook his finger while he scolded me and stormed away.

I tell you this story for 2 reasons.

First, I like to make this space about what kind of pop culture art I am consuming. These works of art are usually documentaries, but I haven’t taken the time to watch much of anything, much less the documentary on the Nxivm cult I have been wanting to catch. Instead, what I do watch is football and whatever my family wants to watch on weekend evenings, which is the Harry Potter series. I had read all of the books, but had not seen all of the movies until Saturday.

Second, that guy was wrong.

Maybe you know that I’m a pastor of a church. But maybe you don’t. I am. AND I love the Harry Potter series. Demonic witchcraft and wizardry was the category box for that guy. I see so much more, but the problem is, if you choose to see the much more, then it doesn’t fit very neatly into any box at all. We like boxes. We like things we understand. The world is all too often chaotic and messy, which makes us frightened and anxious, so we are constantly trying to make sense of anything at all. General myopia can shrink what we experience into bite size pieces that are not too threatening, giving us the illusion of control.

The story uses magic as the context, but it’s really a story about these characters and worth and calling and loyalty and and and. And by the way, the first recorded people to bring gifts to honor and adore Jesus Christ were magicians. But this is good and evil and courage and purpose and selflessness and and and. This is ultimately a story, a series of books & movies about love.

I think building all kinds of walls to keep the scary things out more often end up keeping us in. These walls become prisons, like our own personal Azkaban. We’re building boxes to reinforce our need for control, our need to understand, to have the answers, to eliminate mystery and the unknown. The boxes we’re building are essentially altars to ourselves, and as far as things that run counter to God, idolatry is number 1 with a bullet.

Maybe I don’t have to have all of the answers. Maybe being sure isn’t the point. Maybe that’s what faith is, right?

10% More — November 6, 2020

10% More

Last week I told you about this leather bound notebook, a gift from my sister that I wrote quotes I find or ideas or things you say or do that I want to remember. Here’s one that’s very early in the book that might be particularly appropriate, here & now. Actually, it’s probably particularly appropriate whenever now is and wherever here is. It was originally said by a man named Hank Fortener.

Here it is: “How much is enough? The truth is…enough is enough, either now or never.”

I heard a statistic once that when people were asked how much income was enough, and the most common answer (from ALL income levels) was 10% more. Then, we could pay our bills and put some into savings and give to those charities we want and have a little left over to go out to the movies or to eat every now and again. Then, we would have enough. No matter how much we make, we think 10% more would be enough. We are always wrong, because then we neeeeeed another 10% more. It is never enough. If we meet somebody. If we get married. If we have a child. Or another. Or once they start going on the potty. Or going to school. Or once I get that job, that position. Or when I get that cleaner, that shampoo, those jeans. Or when we can retire…THEN, it will be different, better. THEN, we will have enough.

But it isn’t.

I don’t know when we learned that contentment is only found in more, but it simply isn’t true. If we are lacking now, right now, wherever we are, we will always lack. If we don’t appreciate what we have, the blessings, the people, the things, then we will never appreciate what we have, and any blessings, people, or things we receive/experience will pale in comparison to the next, the more that’s just around the bend.

Contentment is different from complacency.

Complacency is the mistaken belief that we are finished. That what we are at this moment is all we’ll ever be. That there’s no more to learn, discover. That we’re done growing. That (get ready for it….) it is what it is. Complacency has its roots in despair.

Contentment is security in our identity, confidence in our standing in the universe, stillness in our existence. We are content, peaceful, loved, and we belong here. We are on a journey and there’s joy and loss and fear and celebration and suffering at each step, but we continue to take the steps because there’s something going on here and we want to see what it is, but the journey itself is amazing and we don’t want to miss any part of this step, this moment, this snapshot of our lives in motion. The plant is beautiful today, it’ll grown into something very different tomorrow, but today, where it is right now is wonderful.

Complacency is a hideous lie. Contentment is awesome.

If we can’t (or won’t) dance today, what makes us think we’ll know how tomorrow, when the song changes? If we can’t (or won’t) enjoy that kiss, hug, or touch today, why would we assume tomorrow will magically bring a different response? No matter where we go, we are still there. The grass is never greener on the other side. The scenery might transform, but we’ll still interpret it through the same eyes.

So, what is it that we are waiting for?

My boy has been attending school 3 days/week at home (Tuesdays and Thursdays have been in person). Today is the last day. Monday he’ll go back full time. I’ll miss him more than he knows. I have absolutely LOVED him being at home with me. But Monday he’ll go because he must, and that’ll be ok, because we had this time, because we have today, and it is very, very good.

Amy — October 24, 2020

Amy

I have some thoughts on Amy, the tragic documentary on the life and death of Amy Winehouse that I watched yesterday.

First, maybe it didn’t have to end this way. 1. At a rehabilitation facility, when her husband and 2 others were mocking her song “Rehab,” saying she’d have to change it. (The lyrics were, “they try to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”) They pushed like mean middle school kids, and she quietly answered, “I like it here,” clearly embarrassed. 2. Her bodyguard said, towards the end of her life, “She just wanted someone to say no.” I’m angry that she felt she couldn’t.

This amazing talent had an eating disorder and a wide number of addictions, and because of her lovely gift, she was forced (by everyone from record executives to her own fame-thirsty father) to live these disorders and addictions in public. The disorders and addictions that became punch lines on late night tv, “news” programs, and countless conversations by people like me. People exactly like me, as it turns out. I remember laughing at her issues and meltdowns, too, as if she were a singing, dancing machine and not a human being.

We all knew she would die early, and of course she would pass at 27, like so many other tortured souls. Now, she’s gone and only her memory and the music remains. I love the music, but as I get older, wiser and softer (something thought impossible), I wish I would have never heard “Back To Black,” “Rehab,” or my favorite, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” and she would still be here instead. I wish we would not have kept shoving her on stage and cashing checks at the expense of her life. I wish making and offering her beautiful art would not have such a high cost, that she could’ve walked down the street without assault, or gone to an island without her dad bringing a camera crew.

But I did, she’s not, we do, and it does. And did we learn anything at all from this celebrity sacrifice? Maybe. Probably not. She’s gone and there will be more. I wonder what and who it will take to shock us back into sanity. Amy (the documentary and the person) was one of the saddest masterpieces I have ever seen.

Far Away — October 21, 2020

Far Away

“All we are is all we made” is a line from a song by Breaking Benjamin called “Far Away.” I don’t exactly know what it’s about, some comments I read say it’s about the rapture, religion, and/or God. Maybe. You know, some songs sound very obviously about one thing to later find out that’s not what the songwriter had in mind at all. I just watched a short form documentary on Netflix (called Song Exploder) about “Losing My Religion,” by R.E.M. and I didn’t really know what the song meant then and any of the guesses I did have turned out to be totally wrong. The good thing is that, with very few exceptions, I have learned to a. release these artists from the weight of my expectations, and b. release my need to know everything about every band I liked to be super cool and impress you. No one was ever all that impressed anyway. All that to say I don’t really care why the band’s name is Breaking Benjamin (is anyone named Benjamin? Who knows?) or why they wrote that song.

“Far Away” might have been written with the rapture or casserole or artificial intelligence in mind, but when I heard the line “all we are is all we made,” I knew that it would mean a great deal to me and that it would soon appear in this space. I heard it on a very good friend’s phone and ran for the nearest pen and index card so I wouldn’t forget.

Our lives are the structures created from many, many individual bricks stacked by many, many individual choices. That structure doesn’t exist by accident, it’s the sum total of each of these bricks. If we use a certain brick, we can’t expect them to magically transform into something different, like logs or steel or straw. If I wake up in a cornfield, there is a better than average chance that I planted corn.

In January of this year, 3 months before the world are to a screeching halt, this space was going to be a year-long exploration of the small, seemingly insignificant decisions and details that become these bricks that become us. Of course 2020 had other plans, but now, with this song, I wonder if it isn’t time to point ourselves back in that direction. Maybe it’s exactly what we need. Maybe after months and months of disruption/invitation, it’s time to re-evaluate what is happening, what needed to go and what needed to stay, and what kinds of people we’ll be and what we need to plant to grow those people.

The lyric asks us, if all we are is all we made, what have we made? And what are we making? The state of everything has illustrated that our passivity, our sleepwalking hasn’t served us very well. This is all going to take attention and intention. I so often refer to the final page of the Chuck Palahniuk book Choke:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight. And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos. What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

This time truly feels like “nowhere in the middle of the night…in the ruins,” and that’s either terrifying or wonderfully exciting. Maybe both. Yes, both. It’s a good thing we are here to do this together.

The Spectacular Us — October 15, 2020

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

To Show Up — October 12, 2020

To Show Up

I suppose, like so much else, this story begins with my dad. When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be the opposite of everything he was…but that was when I was a child. Now that I am a man, it’s easy to see him clearly, as he was, as a complete human being with talents, passions, dreams. Sure he had his share of flaws, but also many strengths. I love him, have always loved him.

That is all true, I have made peace, but that doesn’t change the damage that has been done. For instance, our house was built on an ever-shifting foundation. He was wildly inconsistent. This comes pretty standard with alcoholism, but the unreliability created an environment of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety.

If you ask me, (and I understand no one has), the reason our culture is so riddled with anxiety and stress is for the same reasons. We are all so unpredictable, our values and beliefs sway in the breeze, commitment and stability are relics of the past. How can we find peace if every time we close our eyes, the furniture is moved, and when we wake, the room is unrecognizable? It’s a world of “who knows?” where truth is public opinion and public opinion is fluid.

Anyway. Though my father was home every night, it was impossible to know which version of him would show up (in mind & spirit, as well as physically) at any moment. I saw this and the devastation it causes. For exactly this reason, a primary value of mine is to be a safe, consistent presence to those around me. That when I walk into any room, nobody holds their breath in apprehension like we did.

This makes relationships hard for me. I heard someone say about the Enneagram once that #1’s (‘perfectionists,’ to over-simplify things) can be hard on others, and expect much, but it is nothing compared to how hard they are on themselves, a mere fraction of what they expect of themselves. This is mostly true in my experience. When my actions don’t match my intentions, I am my own very worst critic.

Where this is going, the “story” of the first sentence, is that I am awfully sensitive of how people show up, or more importantly, if they show up at all. Philip Seymour Hoffman says to Julianne Moore in the Hunger Games, “people don’t always show up the way you want them to.” That is also mostly true, but it can be the most wonderfully breathtaking surprise, as well. Allowing others to be who they are, quirky and awesome, has been one of the greatest lessons (and now pleasures) of my life. But they have to show up, first. He could’ve stopped half way in, “people don’t always show up.”

I have trouble with deep friendships because I get “stood up” so often. This is of course, physically, but emotional and spiritual, too. How many times has someone sat across a table for a meal with their phone on the table, preoccupied and distant, distracted. They are there, but they are not at all there.

Now. I don’t have a point, this is more of a mournful exploration. Maybe my expectations are too high (I’ve been told that), but I can’t seem to agree, no matter how hard I try. Is it really such a high expectation that I am where I say I’ll be, do what I say I’ll do, and that I am simply me all the time? And that I expect the same of you? Really?

Dog & Pony Show — September 30, 2020

Dog & Pony Show

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

Um….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dilemma — September 22, 2020

Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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