Love With A Capital L

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

Answers — September 14, 2019

Answers

Yesterday I received a text message that said, “Is this Chad Slabach?” What a strange, interesting text – it could be anyone, about anything, and begs so many questions. Who is this? How did you get my number, and why? It’s like a big open door leading to who knows where. How exciting! 

So, I couldn’t do what I always do when I don’t recognize a number and ignore it (there are soooo many telemarketing garbage calls). This person knew my name, which immediately placed them in a different, more personal, category than the callers who don’t know my name but have an urgent message from a random electric provider regarding my Wells Fargo account (which I don’t have) or my nonexistent Medicare eligibility. I replied with a quick “Who are you?” 

As it turns out, it was a friend from high school.

A few things about that. I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone from high school because I hated most everything about high school and decided years ago that I would leave it behind. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I wish a little that I hadn’t made that decision. There are a handful of people with whom I would quite like to see again, and this text message came from one of them. I later told her that she was “a very good friend to me,” and that’s 100% true. In that sea of dark isolation, far more Lord Of The Flies than Acts 2, she was always a wonderfully kind, loving ray of light.

How did she get my number? Because she read my book and I put it in there!!!! So many exclamation points, because everything about that sentence is astonishing. She read my book! How did she even know about it to seek it out and order it? As fate would have it, Facebook told her about the Bridge and Chronicles, Nehemiah and Other Books Nobody Reads. How it knew to tell her – I don’t have my own account, I use my wife’s – I have no idea. Facebook, with their fancy algorithm, probably knows more about me than I do.

So, she read it, and I put my phone number in so I could continue a conversation with whoever was reading it on just how much Jesus loves us. She didn’t know if it was really my number, and if wouldn’t have been if I had taken the smart advice I was given, but Bob Goff included his number in his book Love Does, and if it’s good enough for him, it would be for me, too. I didn’t exactly anticipate my book going all over the world, either, to where I would be getting calls at all hours of the night, asking about this Jesus and His amazing love.      

And here she was, texting, asking if it was me.

I coached a legion baseball team in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and while I was doing it, I met the kind of young man who makes you stop questioning, for a second, why you’re coaching in the first place. He was cool, quirky, and had a trouble-making reputation. That year wasn’t too awesome, but he was, and when I think of him, I hope he has a great life. I hope he is happy and full of peace. 

I tell you this because last night at the high school football game – my sweet boy Samuel plays the trombone in the marching band – I saw this not-so-young-anymore man with his wife. I met his lovely wife and we all spoke for a few minutes about his 4 daughters, how he coaches their sports and the problem with travel sports. He does have a great life and is happy, peaceful.

I think most of our prayers are mostly our hearts aching for connection. We’re made for each other, made for relationship, and the reason our desires for money or things or position can’t ever satisfy our holy longings is because they don’t breathe and smile and hold our hands. 

I’ll sometimes pray for circumstances to change, illnesses or pain to stop, but when I see my wife or you and we sit together and you say “me too” or nothing at all, I can breathe again. I can see the light through the cracks. I realize that I was praying for you all along. Maybe God’s “plans to prosper [us]…plans to give [us] a hope and a future” are not big bank accounts and comfy chairs at all. Maybe they’re each other. 

Maybe these Kelly’s and Nate’s are answers to prayers we haven’t the vision to ask. They are the perfect miracles, gifts from a God Who hasn’t forgotten, Who knows exactly what we need.    

Ariana Grande — September 4, 2019

Ariana Grande

A looooooong time ago in what only feels like a distant galaxy, MTV played music videos. The Buggles and their beautiful warning, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was the first of many, a doorway to a surprising new world of possibility. “Thriller,” “Take On Me,” and “Buddy Holly” were the best high concept short films, and shone brightly among the mindless concert footage and tour clips. Now, there are no videos. There is Catfish, Ridiculousness, Challenge, Teen Mom, and the unholy sequels of the Hills and Jersey Shore. Maybe there’s more, who knows? The only music is the 8 seconds in and out of break and to soundtrack long pensive drives.

I loved music videos and I’m really sorry they’re nearly extinct. Only nearly, because I can still see an hour of them every day on the Planet Fitness corporate channel on the informational (time, temperature, local advertisements, promotions, etc) tv’s.

Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” though fairly old, is still on a pretty tight rotation, which means I see it 3 or 4 times a week. The song isn’t great but it’s not terrible – better now that I know most of the words and can sing along.

“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles. Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble. Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines. Buy myself all of my favorite things (yeah)…My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah). I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah)”

I recognize that there’s something absurd about a man like me singing these words, but just because I have no idea what it means to have a neck that is flossin’ or a gloss that is ‘poppin’ doesn’t mean mine isn’t, right?

Anyway. (What’s next isn’t new or earth-shattering, but it is worthy of our attention and lament.)

MTV was invented as a vehicle to move product – like a big, shiny bulletin board of advertisements. The difference (and I can’t pinpoint when it happened…probably Madonna, I suppose) is that the product was the music: albums, singles, t-shirts, concert tickets, posters. Now, Ariana Grande’s songs (we can’t even talk about albums, NOBODY but me buys albums anymore) are not the point at all. As far as I can tell, the video for “7 Rings” is an ad for an internet porn site. It’s not a commercial for a song, it’s a commercial for only 1 aspect of Ariana Grande, her sexuality.

I’m not here to say what she’s doing is wrong, or why she’s doing them is wrong (or even if there’s even such a thing as right & wrong in pop superstardom.) She’s an adult. What I am here to say is that I believe that Ariana Grande is a smart, strong, funny, unbelievably talented woman, a daughter, sister, who has opinions on politics and spirituality, who loves her parents, grandparents, is loyal and generous to the friends she had before she was famous, still mourns the breakup of her marriage, laughs too loudly sometimes  and in places she might not talk about openly is insecure and feels totally inadequate. I believe these things about her because I believe these things about everyone.

When she is reduced (as she is in the video) to only the 1 part of herself that is deemed important to people like me and you, it minimizes her AND it minimizes us – as if we are only capable of the most obvious, least nuanced understanding of another human being. No one is just one thing. We are each the most wonderful mosaics. When we categorize another based on just one part of their humanity – whether it is race, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, whether they are left-handed, or whether or not they are ‘hot’  – it wrongly implies that that isolated superficial label is all we are. As I watched “7 Rings,” I wondered if/when she is no longer what music executives brand ‘sexy,’ will her talent still be valuable? Would she still be beautiful?

I mostly like to listen to songwriters and read magazines and bios and liner notes because I’ve always care about who is making the music; who they are, where they come from and what they are all about. They are more than pictures, more than notes, more than songs and certainly more than genitalia.

I know, it’s probably an old-fashioned notion and there probably isn’t much room to bring this up without being branded something or other. And maybe I am that something or other. Maybe. But I am absolutely, positively much more.

 

 

 

 

Trolls — August 23, 2019

Trolls

My 2 sons and I saw the movie Trolls Tuesday morning at the local theater. Now, I recognize that Trolls is not the most masculine movie – sort of makes Frozen look like Raging Bull – but there we were, just 3 guys deep in the story of Princess Polly and Justin Timberlake. JT says in the movie that his grandma says he has the voice of an angel and as it turns out, she was fantastically right. In the emotional climax, he sings the awesome Cyndi Lauper ballad True Colors. My heart stopped and I wept – not because I cry at everything, I do, but this time it was because that was the ONLY response. It was an uplifting fairy tale of the power of happiness and friendship full of great (if a bit inconsequential) songs and pastel colors.

As we walked out of the darkness, we agreed. It was fine.

Now, to discuss Trolls is to actually discuss Toy Story. Not 4, which is in theaters now, but the first time we saw Woody and Buzz, when the landscape shifted and Trolls would never be good enough again.

Before 1995, kids movies were paper thin, superficial, helpless princesses and as subtle and nuanced as a falling anvil. The parents took their children and waited for the end credits to roll. That is, until Pixar introduced us to full, complex characters who had journeys that mirrored our own. Since then, instead of pandering to children with parents held hostage, our minds and hearts are now engaged the same way live-action films could, but rarely do. Think about the first 15 minutes of Up, Bing Bong and Sadness in Inside Out, and every second of Wall-E. They embrace our souls as we are immersed into computer-generated worlds that are more authentic, more true, than photographs of our own.

Trolls, pre-1995, is pretty great. Now it’s simply ok. Fine. We may sing the songs again (except for that steaming piece of garbage, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” That one will not be welcome in my house) but we won’t remember the names or the plot. It’s just not good enough anymore.

An assignment in a college 20th Century world class required us to write some sort of essay. I don’t remember what the actual topic was because I didn’t follow the directions at all. I wrote my own paper on, I think, a talk given by Henry Rollins. As the professor, John Synodinos (a beautiful man who was perfectly suited to be an educator), passed our graded papers back to us, he held mine up and said, “This one,” and paused. I expected to be eviscerated for my rebellion, but he lit up and said, “His name is Chad Slabach, remember that name. He is a writer.”

I will never forget that day, that feeling. It was the first time I was actually seen in school. It was a fresh word, spoken to a young man full of “potential” (is there a more hurtful label??) who didn’t “apply” himself. I was never good enough of what everyone wanted me to be, always disappointing. I was nice. Fine.

John Synodinos held my fractured psyche in his hands and spoke a different truth. With his acceptance and affirmation, opened my eyes, and the lies I believed about myself would never be good enough anymore. My life was fundamentally changed.

Could it be that I was more than just fine? Maybe I needed less acquiescence and more expectation. Less shuffling and more soaring.

There are moments where the walls we’ve constructed that limit us are exposed and we start to believe that what we’ve settled for is beneath us, right? It’s not like we cross a threshold and crawl out of a cocoon completely new, the old habits die hard, never quietly. Trolls still gets green-lit and a gigantic budget, but we begin to see that those old clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I see that familiar look in someone’s eyes, I pray for that Synodinos moment for them, pray that I can be one who can help to give it to them. I pray for that crack in the old paradigm that will bring the whole thing crashing down and the imagination that has lain dormant for so long can escape.

Hm. Actually, now that I think about it, Branch (JT) is a prisoner of his own perceived narrative that keeps him gray, grouchy, and small. He needs his own Synodinos (Princess Poppy) to show him the way out, that there IS a way out… Well, maybe Trolls is better than I thought.

Salvador Dalí, pt 2 — August 20, 2019

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net  if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí on bridgefaithcommunity.com if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that.

Steven Patrick Morrissey — June 26, 2019

Steven Patrick Morrissey

Late last week, my sister tagged me in a Facebook post that advertised a Morrissey concert near Philadelphia, roughly an hour from my house.

She tagged me because her my brother-in-law would never go, he can’t stand Morrissey, hates his voice like fingernails on a chalkboard. He’s wrong, and it calls into question every other opinion he holds. She also tagged me because Morrissey has been my favorite singer since I was 13. You know how, when people are asked what they listen to, they usually think for a minute and say, “oh, well, everything really?” Or pause when they’re asked what they’re favorite song is? I never pause, because I don’t have to think. I say, “Morrissey/the Smiths” (the Smiths are the Very Important Band Morrissey fronted for a time in the ‘80’s) or “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” as if I’ve been waiting for someone to ask. Then they either nod, impressed, or confess that they have no idea who Morrissey is. 

It is no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. I’ve had a 30 year relationship with him and the songs/albums that have provided the soundtrack for EVERY SINGLE significant moment of my life; celebrations, heartbreaks, joy, pain, times when I was broken and times when I was whole. I listened to Louder Than Bombs (‘Unloveable’ on repeat) on my way home from an ex-girlfriend’s apartment after we had separated. I listened to Bona Drag on my way to and from my high school graduation. I knocked off school every time a new album was released – in fact, when World Peace Is None Of Your Business was released in 2014, I woke up at 3am to download it so I could have it for the gym at 4 and work later that day. If CDs and New Release days were still a thing, I imagine I would’ve knocked off of work that day, too. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” was my wedding song, played right in the middle of the ceremony, for all of us to hear about “double-decker bus” crashes and the pleasure and privilege of dying “by your side.” 

In the book High Fidelity, Rob asks if we find the music or if the music finds us – if the songs change us or we are the kind of people who can be changed by the songs. It probably doesn’t matter if I was hypersensitive and dramatic and that’s why Morrissey appealed to me so deeply, or if his lyrics/voice led me to be hypersensitive and dramatic. I am hypersensitive and dramatic and I love him like he’s a member of my family, and if I were to ever meet him, I would thank him for being who he was to me.

I almost met him once. He was playing a show at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and I got there at 8am to stand in line so I could press myself against the stage for the show. Around 5-ish, I think, there was rumor that he was there, but there had been many such rumors during that day, and the line was looong by then and I couldn’t trust its validity. Of course, he was there and signed everything as he spoke with the fans who found him… 

I saw him twice in concert. The first was the Electric Factory show when I was 18 and the second was with my special lady (and first son, who was safely tucked inside her stomach, listening and I imagine thoroughly enjoying himself and judging us to be The Coolest Parents in America.)     

We use the word love for everything. I love my car, these shorts, pizza, my sister, and my nephew Nathan who just graduated from high school (who incidentally, sadly agrees with his dad about Morrissey), but I don’t love them all the same. If I were to list the things I love, Morrissey would be above ALL things that aren’t people. I love him more than pizza and baseball (both in the top 10) combined, no matter how many regrettable things he says or how many shameless cash-grab greatest hit/b-side collections/deluxe editions he releases. I don’t like the new album, but at this point, it’s irrelevant. He’s family, and I don’t like or agree with everything every person I love does or says. That’s part of growing up. In college, too many relationships ended because they didn’t like Morrissey enough. I’m different now.

I don’t care anymore if you like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ though I suspect if you don’t understand why I do, you may not like me that much. 

I’m not going to the Morrissey show with my sister, even if he was playing in the high school in my town, because I don’t go to shows anymore period. It is no longer my scene. (Well, maybe I would go if it was in the high school in my town…) And I’m not buying the new California Son album – bad covers albums aren’t my scene anymore, either. 

The music found me when I was 13 through a family I worked with at the PA Renaissance Faire from the Philippines (one was named Mark, another named Jay and another was a gorgeous girl who had what looked like a stencil of a leaf on her tongue), and I’m a different person now. I’ve seen so many things come and go, graduated high school and college (twice), fell in love with Jesus, got married, buried my dad, had 2 children. So, so many changes, but one thing that never changes is Morrissey. 

I have no idea why I wrote this. There’s really no point, but I guess love letters don’t really have to have a point. The love IS the point. 

So Trish, thanks for asking, but I think I’ll pass.       

Graduation 2 — June 20, 2019

Graduation 2

My youngest nephew graduated from high school last night. The plan was for this gigantic school to hold this ceremony at 6pm outside, but the rain appeared to have other plans. The forecast was for 90% chance of rain, and as of 4 o’clock, it was still pouring down. At 5, as we drove in, the sun began to peek from behind dark clouds and the drops slowed, then stopped. They began at 5:30, just in case, and ended just before 7, when we hurried to our cars as the rain began again. There was a 2 hour window or calm, clear skies for our celebration. A gift from God to my nephew and his classmates.

Now, last week I wrote a post on graduations, sadness and celebration, presence and attention, so I won’t do that again. What I will talk about is bleachers and space.

We sat in the metal bleachers, crammed in like sardines, and when we should’ve been thinking about the moments we’ve spent with Nathan and the man he’s becoming and how significant this moment is, we were instead thinking about the heat and sweaty forearms and being careful not to shove our knees into the backs of the grandparents in front of us.

It’s easy to underestimate how important those small details are, like the music in the background or the temperature.

When the Bridge moved into our current building, we were buried under an avalanche of sound problems. Then, once they were fixed, we enjoyed about a year of quiet before the heating system attacked. It is impossible to underestimate how disruptive a deafening shriek of feedback can be, or how distracting a 90 degree sanctuary is.

Last year, during this same weekend when my other nephew graduated, I wrote a post about hot HIIT yoga. This year, my torturous sister treated me to another class of hers; this time, plain old boiling hot yoga. It was hotter this time, like the surface of the sun, but the movements and workout just as uncomfortable. The music was loud and perfectly mixed, the instructor’s voice constant and encouraging – 2 huge details that allowed us to endure.

[2 things about the instructor, Mona (who looks exactly like you think she would.) Before the class, she said to me, “If you can’t do the movements or go on, just stay in the room,” which is terrific advice for a life of growth and becoming. Then, during the class, we were twisted like pretzels and my muscles were threatening to be torn from my bones, and I felt her hands on my hips, gently, firmly, nudging me even further in the direction I could not go. Except that I could go further. I may have whimpered or cried a little, but sometimes it takes someone to ‘help’ us stretch.]       

My sister’s house is comfortable and her dog is amazing, The Best Dog On Earth, and she had lots of food on the counter. 

It’s these small details of our lives that make our lives. These ‘small’ details make obstacles and trials manageable or unconquerable monsters. That make relationships new and fresh or misery. That make workouts challenging and fun or boring boxes on our “things I have to do” lists. They’re the difference between existing and living. 

It’s the reason the Bible spends so much time and so many words on what we can mistake as irrelevant minutiae. These details are the bricks upon which we build our world. 

Chuck Palahniuk writes, in 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.”

What we build could be anything. We should probably pay attention to these little rocks.

Graduation — June 8, 2019

Graduation

Today my youngest son will graduate from 6th grade and move on from the elementary school into junior high. I’ll just let that sit for a second and allow the weight of that statement to wash over me.

My oldest son is moving out of junior high into the high school, as well.

I have no children in elementary school.

Yesterday they were sleeping on my chest, or nursing, or needing a diaper change. Last night I was spoon-feeding them from a jar. And this morning, Samuel (the soon to be 9th grader) drove his shoulder into my belly (probably breaking 3 ribs,) lifting me off my feet and into the couch.

I can no longer throw him over my head and into the air, drawing the concerned gasp from their mom. As long as we’re at it, she is now “mom” exclusively, no longer “mommy.” It would be the sweetest song to hear the word “daddy” again. I tried to throw Samuel over my head like I used to at the pool last week and I’m pretty sure I tore several muscles in my back. 

I have no children in elementary school. 

[Now it’s 2 days later and the graduation is over. Summer vacation has begun!]

Yesterday, during the music/photo montage at graduation,  I had absolutely no hope of holding back tears as I saw that sweet 1st grade boy smiling and running and laughing. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to, either.

Elisha (the graduate) is growing into a really wonderful human being, I love who he is and watching him become who he will be is overwhelming. He is kind (mostly;) and polite and self-assured and grounded and hilarious and has moves on a basketball court that only show me how old and slow I’m getting. He’s so handsome and lovely it would break your heart. He gets the haircut and wears whatever he wants – which only the most stylish can/will do – and sings out loud. He reads, tells jokes he makes up, can run like a deer and would rather eat nails than let you win. At anything. He’s not always nice and he’s not always concerned with your feelings; He has rough edges, which only makes me like him more. 

The boy that he was is gone and isn’t coming back, and that fact must be mourned, an offering of salty tears. But the young man that he is becoming, and the man that he will become, are worthy of euphoric celebration, also an offering of salty tears. Both of these are 100% true.

My heart works exactly as it should. In that graduation, I was fully present, engaged, feeling all of the emotions of this beautiful gift of life. I am so, so thankful. How could I not weep?? Why would I hold anything in? 

2 of my favorite people in the world gave birth to twins this week. All four of them are unbelievably lucky and blessed. And I know the tears they will cry as the pictures of babies in car seats will transform into teenagers in the drivers seat, the cribs into graduations, and the loss and the hope and the mourning and dancing and the times for weeping and laughing and the times for tearing down and building. And I wish them everything. I hope nothing more for them than that they are there for all of it and hold nothing in.