Love With A Capital L

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

More On Releasing Everything — February 14, 2020

More On Releasing Everything

I might call this The Tension of Trying (and Failing) to Know What To Release.

What I have been being taught for the last 44 years and that I am beginning to actually learn is that I (or you or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Tony Robbins or anybody) has practically zero real influence on anyone else. You might think you see something that is not, um, let’s use the parlance of the day and say: “living my best life,” and want something different, better for me.

Now, let’s for a minute say that you’re right. Let’s put aside all of the ways we try to fix or fit each other into the boxes that make us comfortable without a clue as to what might be good or healthy or desirable for the other, ok? You’re right, the thing you see IS in fact causing me to not live my best life. Now what? In all likelihood, I don’t care. Not even a little.

Nearly without exception, we gravitate to the people and ideas with which we agree. This is why Fox News, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher exist and have such wide audiences. Not a soul on the right watches Maher and no leftist would be caught dead listening to Limbaugh. The things that make the deepest impressions are those that we already believe shared in a fresh manner, with clever words and phrases.

People will do what people will do. I will change only if and when I am good and ready to change, or when God stops me on the road to Damascus and transforms me. We don’t change each other. Then why we do this dance of buying the delusion that we can “speak into” another’s life? Of course it’s pride, like everything else, but whose?

Is it yours, for thinking it is your place to point me down the right path? For thinking you know the right path? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a little self-righteous?

Or is it mine, for not listening to what may be wisdom? For not being open to new (often opposing and wildly uncomfortable) ideas and concepts? For protecting my current paradigm against all foreign attack?

Both. So now what?

First and foremost, I guess we focus on becoming the kind of people who listen to the externals, sifting the wisdom from the agenda-driven narcissism, and evaluating it honestly. And we release the rest. We don’t just throw Sgt. Pepper’s in the garbage because it doesn’t sound like Help! We look for the truth and adopt it. We aren’t really supposed to dig deep ruts to plant our feet and stay the same forever. We shed the constricting old skins, instead wearing coverings of perpetual growth.

But as far as getting our observations, advice or best intentions all over anyone else? As far as asking them to focus on that same growth? We probably release that.

But isn’t it natural and, yes, loving to want lives of peace and joy for others? What if your experience might be valuable? What if you have a heart that beats for others and you are well aware that the biggest blind spot is our own mirror? What if you simply want to help?

I don’t know. This is the “tension” of the title. On a cynical day, I’d say nobody cares what you think. On an optimistic day – which I believe is accurate – that mantra changes to almost nobody cares what you think. If we are becoming the people who listen and grow, how else would we be exposed to fresh new perspectives that change our own? Maybe we have to try, at some point. But what about all of the relationship wreckage that will surely litter our lives?

What about that??? Is it worth it?

See? Tension. We are asked to hold most things with 2 hands, rarely is anything purely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. No matter how much we want a guidebook that will enter data and receive the correct answer.

Sometimes sure, it is worth it. Others, no way. And sometimes the yes and no are for precisely the same reason: because the relationship is that important.

Maybe this is why my lesson on Release is taking soooooooo long.

Release — February 12, 2020

Release

Every New Years, I reflect on the year that has passed and choose a word that will be my focus for the coming year. This year I decided on Release. Again.

3 of the last 5 years, I’ve chosen Release. Release expectations. Release my need to control outcomes. Release my need to control others responses. Release my grip on the universe and the way I think everyone should be and what everyone should do and how everything should go. Release my addiction to “Should.” Each of those 3 years identified a different specific aspect of release. It’s like the word love; it could and does mean so many things, so many different facets of the same 4 letters. I love my sweaters and I love peanut butter cups and I love my wife, but I don’t love them all in the same way. Probably shouldn’t be the same word at all, but sadly it is.

So, I’m giving my attention to this new version of Release and, to be honest, it’s going pretty well.

This is sort of what happened this week.

(Let’s call my friend Thanos) Thanos ran into a circumstance that is causing him a great deal of pain and suffering, 2 words that sound the same but aren’t even close. Pain is the thing, suffering is our response to the thing. Pain is unavoidable, suffering might not be. Depending on your perspective, maybe Thanos caused himself the pain or maybe he didn’t. Either way, he’s hurting.

[And for my whole life, I would walk with him, helping to carry this weight. Actually, the truth is probably closer to “I would walk with him, carrying this weight.” I didn’t see me as helping at all. I needed to “fix it,” self-impose a responsibility that wasn’t really mine. I wanted him to change his behavior, switch the path he was on, something. I mostly just wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. I saw this as love. I believe this came (comes) from a beautiful place, but as this information entered my wounded heart and was processed through the gauntlet constructed from the automatic lies that screamed “not enough” unless I was able to rescue him, it became a twisted idol of my own arrogance and self-importance. Interestingly, that superhero complex was always twisted once again because I could not be the rescuer – I was never meant to be, no one is – reinforcing the message that I was “not enough.” By trying to save the world, and failing, I kept living into a circle of despair and self-loathing. The flaw in my design was that I was measuring my own worth and value to an unattainable ideal. Which I needed to release. See?]

Back to this week. Previously, I would lose sleep, begin a crushing headache and be consumed by a need to ease Thanos’ pain, trying to prove something to someone. This week, I still walked along, still offered my prayers and time spent listening, perhaps offering potential solutions – but all of this with no strings attached. I guess what I did was love (in the highest definition of the word) Thanos. Just love him. The story was not mine. The burden wasn’t mine to carry alone – I could come alongside, be a brother and friend, and we could do this together. I didn’t need to selfishly make it about me, I could honor him, allow his to learn his lesson, walk his path.

It still hurts, it’s still uncomfortable, but that’s because I love Thanos, not because I’m trying to be somebody’s idea of enough. I can just love, and that’s always enough.

The Fear — February 5, 2020

The Fear

My sons were very young when I first began to explain the cliche, “follow the money.” Probably, if you were to listen to my wife, much too young. Maybe, but they are quick to ask the question (often, the only important question) and that answer usually frames the story into very easily understood pieces.

For instance, I watched a Netflix documentary on some sketchy food practices and spent most of it in awe, having my mind blown by the corruption and hypocrisy in the. It was only in the last 10ish minutes where the filmmaker played his hand, M. Night Shyamalan-style, and the whole doc turned out to be nothing more than a long-form commercial for vegan-ism (Big Vegan;). It was a disingenuous twist, exactly the sort he spent the entire film exposing in the evil animal product villains. It didn’t discount or minimize the truth he found or the impact of the truth, it simply displayed that, under different circumstances and different opportunities, he would have been working for the other side exposing the vegan propaganda.

My boys and I found no shortage of examples that were easy to find and see in professional sports – why would I narrow that to ‘professional?’ Collegiate athletics, high school, sheesh, even youth sports are rotten to the core. Anywhere there is money, of any amount, there will be leverage and abuse.

It was with great hesitation that I selected the series Broken and began with episode 1 and the plastic/recycling/petroleum industry. Then, episode 2 focused on cheap, disposable furniture, IKEA, and the environment. Obviously, this is all crushing and leaves little hope for the future. I used to see the Biblical story of Noah as one where an angry God wildly overreacts and nearly destroys all creation. And why? Because they had fallen so far, broken things so badly, nothing could ever go back to the garden where everything was “good.” I didn’t like that story then, but now, I can understand.

Which brings us to the Iowa Caucus… I don’t know why we can’t count votes. The short answer is that of course we can. The longer, more complicated answer is that we can’t only when we don’t want to, when we don’t like the outcome. I don’t know why we don’t want the outcome yet. I probably don’t want to know.

This is painted with such a broad brush, and everybody knows the American political system needs a Great Flood and a brand new start. We need a reset, an absolute zero. No one and nothing resembling this 2 party catastrophe can remain.

I don’t want to watch Broken anymore. Or the news (The dog and pony impeachment show is likely over by now, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.) Or sports. Or any more Netflix documentaries. Or voting “results.” But I will. You see, I am pretty thick like that. I don’t think it’s over, this beautiful story of us, and at some point, instead of being dismantled by all of this self-inflicted damage, we will find what has been lost and blow it all up, keep the pieces that matter, and build something fresh and new and hopeful and more fitting to our call. It’s coming. Maybe not tomorrow, probably not tomorrow. But it is coming.

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court — January 30, 2020

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court

My heart is broken about a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California that killed 9 people I don’t know. One of them is basketball player Kobe Bryant. Everything has been written about him, so I’m going to write some more.

He was an absolutely transcendent basketball player. He was intelligent, charismatic, caring, magnetic, generous. He was a great dad, husband, teammate, co-worker, and friend. He was also egotistic, jealous, selfish, a terrible teammate, a bad dad & husband. (I won’t talk about Colorado – the 3 that did were severely reprimanded by their employers and/or the public. I know we don’t talk about things like that. I know we don’t tell the truth.) People loved him. People hated him.

He was all of these things and much much more. He was human. We think athletes (and anyone above a certain level of fame) are superheroes, but instead they’re shockingly human. Sometimes, rarely, we will acknowledge this fact.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Marvel films are their willingness to dive into this duality. Tony Stark is Ironman! And a narcissist. He can save the world! A world that he, through his actions/creations, placed in danger in the first place.

We are complex and defy easy generalizations. Meredith Brooks (in a hit song I won’t name;) sings, “I’m a child, I’m a mother. I’m a sinner, I’m a saint.”

The problem is when we compartmentalize each other, needing them to be just one thing in service of our own comfort. Why can’t we acknowledge that Kobe was deeply flawed? It doesn’t lessen the tremendous loss. In the interviews following his death, one thing that stood out is that he was quite open about his faults. He was seemingly the only one who was comfortable with the truth. (That’s where change happens; there’s a reason step 1 in recovery is first. Honest evaluation is vital. As long as we continue to hide, we can’t change OR affect people who can be inspired by the entire arc of the story.) Other celebrities have lists of “things we don’t talk about,” and run from press conferences or questions that touch on those less than proud moments, decisions and characteristics we all have. This is called hypocrisy in the Bible. We are called not to pretend…and in the same way, not judge each other. This becomes much more possible when we don’t neeeeeed them to be just one thing, when we can accept and hopefully move to love them as they are.

On the People’s Court yesterday, a defendant was funny and engaging, very likable. He was also recently released for 13 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He had trouble making a living to support himself and his new wife because he couldn’t get hired. He also lost the case, and was friendly and deprecating to Doug in the hallway.

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish Colorado didn’t happen, I really wish it didn’t happen to that woman, but that it did doesn’t make his life less inspiring. He, and the woman, and the guy on the People’s Court, my neighbor, and all of my friends, and me…we have lots of facets, lots of texture and depth. Like diamonds. Another song (this one from Rise Against) goes, “We are far from perfect, we’re perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken. But we are *** works of art.” Kobe was a work of art. So was his daughter. And the other 7 I hadn’t heard of. And so are we.

[I’m having a difficult time “Publishing” this… The point is that our only real disservice to each other is to believe that our beauty is somehow tied to our perfection. This is a bar none of us can reach, setting us all up for either failure or more and more hypocrisy and dishonest pretending. I do not mean to minimize the damage done to any victim..I do not mean to say everything is ok. It isn’t…Maybe I’ll be sorry I post this. Maybe someone will misunderstand my heart and think when I call Kobe inspiring, that I am de-valuing another. I don’t mean to, I’m truly sorry if I did. All of this is messy. And I guess what I think, why I’m going to post this, is that I think the messiness is important. I think the only way things change is when all of this is dragged into the light and we stop hiding everything, stop avoiding the mess, and start to look at each other as we are, not some idealized versions of ourselves, and start to pull down the walls that keep us from loving ourselves and each other.]

Rise of Skywalker — January 22, 2020

Rise of Skywalker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews — January 16, 2020

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews

We’ll start with Depeche Mode being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and my first instinct is to say: It’s about time. How did this oversight happen? Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, The Crickets, Comets, Green Day, and on and on – we are not now debating whether or not these bands deserve to be in the HOF, but how could Radiohead possibly gain entry before Depeche Mode???

My first instinct is to say ‘it’s about time,’ but I’m trying not to focus so much on incompetence and, instead, only feel gratitude, overjoyed that a band that has meant a great deal to me has gotten the appreciation and acknowledgment they have very well earned. Listen to “Lie To Me” and “Everything Counts” and tell me I’m wrong.

I really loved Nine Inch Nails for a little in high school so I’m happy about that, too.

Whoever this super-special club of voters is (of which I would love to somehow be a part), they get my approval for these 2, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, AND refusing acceptance to horrible college jam-band Dave Matthews Band. Exclusivity is paramount in the perception of a Hall of Fame, and if DMB is allowed inside, then what’s next? Rusted Root? Spin Doctors? Or worse, Blues Traveler!!!

You know, it’s a strange thing, this blog posting. It’s awfully arrogant to assume that my opinions (facts) on bands and movies or anything else might be a little bit interesting to anyone but me, isn’t it? Why would you care what I think of Dave Matthews? I know I like to read others thoughts on art and culture, but I’m just some man in Pennsylvania who has an iPad and a WordPress account. Who knows about that, but I do know about the value of telling our stories. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and honesty does exactly the same thing listening to “Blasphemous Rumours” on vinyl does; makes us feel less alone, like we’re not lost in a world that doesn’t see, know, or care. That there might be someone, somewhere who is feeling the same things we are is unbelievably comforting and a step or 1,000 on the road to knocking down the walls we’ve decided separate us and seeing each other as, simply, human.

Here’s something else I want to tell you: Yesterday is my usual day off, right? (I say usual, but it’s not at all the norm yet. The relationship with unproductive time is complicated, but rest is vital to being a healthy person, so I’m walking that way.) I didn’t take it. I decided to end my commitment to The Witcher after episode 4, and this week has drifted without any replacement. I wrote a lot, visited some good friends, baked a cake, worked out, started reading 2 new books, listened to a ton of new songs, watched youth sports, and served as taxi driver for the neighborhood. Great week. But I did not take my “day off.”

And that is ok. I had a terrific week, inspired and engaged. The point of the rest day is to break from all of the expectations and voices telling (screaming at) me what I SHOULD be doing. What if I begin a new practice to escape that cage and it becomes just another expectation, another should, another example where I have failed, more guilt and shame?

It’s still a cage.

My resolution (not a New Years resolution – more like a whole life resolution) is to be a little kinder to me, give me a break from time to time. So yes, I did not have my “day off” this week…and that’s fine.

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — January 9, 2020

Let’s Dance To Joy Division

The days off this week were sort of forced. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

I watched the first 2 Iliza Shlesinger comedy specials (War Paint and Freezing Hot) and the first episode of the Witcher, all of which were excellent. The Iliza’s give a lot of hope for her career, because each special is better than the last. Usually in art (music especially), a whole life informs the debut, and it’s personal and deep, then the follow up is rushed and sadly lacking the immediacy of what made the debut so compelling. Iliza is sharper as she goes, the material is new (not just a greatest hit collection with a few new tracks.)

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (the current Superman, at least for now) and carries an unreasonable amount of armor, swords, moral ambiguity and violence: all things I really love.

I’m listening to Matchbox Twenty, “Our Song,” right now. I’ve always thought they were wholly underrated and under appreciated, and I would be willing to fight you about that.

Then there is this song called “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” by the Wombats. As much as it hurts me to say, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe if I did, I would be a little embarrassed to mention them. Not as embarrassed as I would’ve been when I was 20 and that sort of thing mattered more.

(By the way, “Our Song” has ended and “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson is on now. If you do nothing else, please listen to this. It’s everything.)

So, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” is a catchy pop song that sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes. This world doesn’t make any sense, sometimes, and it’s scary and feels random and mean, so let’s just have a nice meal, enjoy ourselves and move our hips a little. War, earthquakes, whole countries on fire, hunger, violence (when I say I love violence, it goes without saying that it’s in Netflix documentaries and not in real life, right???), what are we supposed to do? It all feels so big, what can we do?

Well, we can’t fix it today, or tomorrow, or next week. I might suggest we are part of a generation that believes we can’t fix it on a macro, or governmental, level. However, I do believe we can fix it. Or better yet, I believe it’s not meaningless to try. We have to try, or why would we ever get out of bed?

It’s broken, structurally. Everyone knows this. The whole system is corrupt, rotted from the inside, but not without hope. We can easily forget the system is made of people, it’s not faceless and nameless, it’s just people who are broken, corrupt, sad, empty, who are overwhelmed with inadequacy and insecurity, and when those people can be replaced with people who are loved, accepted, belong to a family of humanity that knows no walls or division, people who rediscover their worth and value, then the system can be one that breathes kindness, care, compassion.

It’s quite a reclamation project, a long play, isn’t it? But it’ll work, and the longer we wait to love somebody (eventually everybody), the longer it’ll take. We can start today, we can do something, anything. Write a check, volunteer, vote, pray AND hold hands, kiss softly and slowly, eat with someone, listen, laugh, and move your hips a little.