Love With A Capital L

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

The Barkley — May 26, 2020

The Barkley

You know I love to watch documentaries… I may need forgiveness in a minute, my neighbor just flooded the street with the sweet smell of burning tires and my headache is beginning and stomach turning and maybe the fumes will cause all kinds of nonsense. No, I don’t know why they do the things they do, I just know they do. I don’t have to know why. If you come by any night between 9-11pm, they’re outside revving various engines and you can ask them yourself.

Anyway, I love documentaries, right? I saw one Friday that was my very favorite. It’s called The Barkley Marathons and details a roughly 130 mile ultra marathon through the mountains of Tennessee. Most years, people don’t finish. Since its inception, 13 people have finished. It’s called a race, but that implies competition and the only competition is against the course and against the voices in your own head that tell you to stop, you can’t do it.

I have 3 quotes I wrote down to talk about with you.

The Barkley was created to “Give people the opportunity to really find out something about themselves.” What would I find out about myself in 130 miles that I wouldn’t otherwise? Everything. We do planks in this house and they always end with my face inches from Samuel’s, saying, “you can do this, your body can do this, it’s only your mind telling you you can’t, and that isn’t true, it’s lying to you. I KNOW you can.” And then he does, goes longer than he thought was possible for his screaming muscles, and he finds out that the limits he thought he had minutes ago aren’t actually his limits at all.

“You never know how much you can do until you try to do more.” I think we’re conditioned to seek comfort, so when that desire is threatened, we stop. It’s called our Comfort Zone, and it’s so much more dangerous than bears and mountain lions and my neighbors. Our soft cozy couches encourage complacency, and complacent isn’t where we were called to be. (Contentment is. They are different, and we should maybe talk about that some time.) We are called to grow and growth requires discomfort. Growth requires us to try something new, something we hadn’t done, something at which we might fail (gasp!).

What is that old cliche? The only way you can not fail is to never try anything new. The only way you can never miss the last shot is to never take it.

Growth requires us to risk. Because maybe we can. This Barkley Marathon is like everything else – nobody could do it until somebody did. It was impossible until it wasn’t. No one could run a sub-4 minute mile, but then when Bannister did, many others followed.

I don’t know if we’re afraid to fail or afraid to succeed (probably both), I just know we’re afraid.

So these people start the race and it’s hot or it rains. They have no idea where to go, there’s no map and the route changes every year. The creator, Lazarus, says, “So many things aren’t going to be the way you planned it,” and that sounds EXACTLY like this year, 2020. Well, it sounds like every year, to be honest.

And when we face these uncertainties, these disruptions, then what do we do? Do we hold tighter to our plans? Grasp even angrier for some form of control? Do we quit? Do we hide?

Or will we take another step?

I married a couple Saturday and, every wedding I officiate, I reflect on the tremendous risk they’re taking. Saying “I do” to another and saying “I do” to this ridiculous marathon is so similar. We don’t know where it’s going, and when it goes there, will I be enough, can I do it??? It’s the same as saying “I do” to Jesus and “I do” to our lives. Maybe we can’t do it today, maybe not tomorrow, but we have to ask, we have to try. It’s the greatest moment of a wedding, that space between my question and their answer. I saw the significance of the choice in their eyes, and I knew they understood what it meant to look straight up a mountain face they did not know for sure they could climb. And we all celebrated like crazy when they said they would find out

Panem & Pennsylvania — May 19, 2020

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

If we make a list of what’s noble, pure, lovely, of all the good things we’ve seen people do, every little thing we can remember…I wonder how much that could impact mornings and the way we see our noisy neighbors and our shady politicians. I wonder how much that could impact our lives, and in that, how much that would impact our world.

Camp. — May 15, 2020

Camp.

This morning I watched Camp Hollywood, a documentary on the Highland Gardens hotel, providing the backdrop for actors trying to “make it” in an industry that is mostly indifferent. The ocean doesn’t care if you sink or swim and neither does Hollywood. For every name you know, there are millions and millions you don’t.

A reviewer named Naphiah on IMDb writes “this movie is really a love poem to each of our own lives.” I didn’t see it that way… It looked like a slice of life where once-hopefuls drown their despair in loads of alcohol and chain-smoked cigarettes. It was a depressing film, honestly; interesting, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say the actors enjoyed it, either. They arrived with huge dreams and a life savings that doesn’t last long enough. (The filmmaker, a stand-up comedian, had a plan and enough money to stay for 2 months, instead leaving after 20 and $87,000 in credit card debt.)

I have 2 thoughts.

It is actually about community, (as I’m finding most things are), about finding belonging, acceptance, a tribe. These people travel from Canada, usually, and form fast relationships as they face the struggle of auditions, finding celebration and far more often, rejection, together. We all know rejection goes down much smoother with another who understands. From a certain perspective, all of these documentaries are really about The Church. This would be obvious if only the local church knew how to hold the complexity of real life without cliche, knew how to hold depression and pain without scrambling to ignore it to preserve carefully crafted hairstyles and images. The Church could/must fill these holes (but without the destructive escape into substance abuse.) We could learn volumes about the words of Jesus through a Netflix (or in this case, Amazon Prime) curriculum.

Now, the other. Does the fact that they are rejected make them failures? What if they don’t book the role or the pilot isn’t picked up? What if they have to move home? Have they lost?

Naphiah also says, “the director captures…the real success of following one’s dreams. Each participant is therefore, already a success.” (I guess I found her review more inspiring than the movie.) Maybe she’s right. Probably she’s right. We can live sweet, contented lives with a “No,” but may never sleep again nursing a “what if?” These people took their shots, which is more than the majority of us do. Of course, it’s hard and it’ll take years to pay off the debt (and detox from the vodka and nicotine avalanche), but how will you ever really know unless you try?

I guess this is actually a film about courage and imagination, which is what my favorite parts of the Bible are about, which is what my favorite parts of sports and books and stories are about, which is what my favorite parts of life are about.

An Undeniable Truth — May 9, 2020

An Undeniable Truth

I just love documentary films. Right now, I am a few episodes into something called ‘Wild Wild Country.’

(On an article called “The 6 Best Documentaries About Cults To Watch On Netflix,” the subtitle was, “What to binge when you’ve finished ‘Wild Wild Country.’” And as I’ve never watched ‘Wild Wild Country,’ that was clearly the next choice. Now, is it weird that the artificial intelligence algorithm recommended an article about cults to me? I wonder what about my previous online history would suggest that cults would be my deal… Anyway, it’s not important to think about that too much; these algorithms are surprisingly on the nose. I would totally be interested in cult docs. So I’m a few episodes deep into ‘Wild Wild Country.’)

It’s about Bhagwan Rajneesh (who is called Osho, I don’t know why) and his gigantic group of followers. They began in India and moved to Oregon, outside of a tiny town called Antelope, and built a town called Rajneeshpuram. Eventually, it’s going to morph into something awful, but I’m not there yet. So far, it’s just setting the scene for that something awful.

I posted months ago about one called ‘Holy Hell’ that was absolutely fascinating. This is not that different. These cults are primarily about community. The members who are interviewed today, decades after the implosions, are still visibly moved, teary-eyed over their paradise lost.

People come in droves to find belonging and family, they give up everything for this pursuit. And they find it. They do. When these films/series begin, it’s easy to see the attraction. Now you ask “Why would they become a part of this????” But when you hear them reflect on their stories, you don’t ask anymore, you know why.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve learned our core virtues are independence and self-reliance. We worship the legend of the solitary hero. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Asking for help is a sign of weakness that isn’t easily transgressed. We suffer in silence, thank you, and please mind your own business about it.

We tell stories about how we were in a big mess, how we were hurting, how we were depressed, how we were at rock bottom – NEVER how we are hurting or at rock bottom – because these stories are actually ones of our incredible capability. It appears and sounds like vulnerability, but is actually the opposite.

We believe we don’t need anyone.

My son will tell you he likes this time, likes being at home, likes not being around people (except Angel and I and sometimes Samuel). He doesn’t, though. He’s increasingly restless, aimless and grouchy. He doesn’t know this is because he has been created for community, because being alone is “not good,” and the other 3 who live in this house are simply not enough for months and months. He calls it “out of sorts.” Yesterday, he was on a Zoom call with 3 of his buddies for a birthday, and it doesn’t take the smartest man in the world to see the “sorts” he’s out of, that he’s missing, is them.

I think he’s like most of us. We’ve believed we’re islands and that we can do it (whatever it is) ourselves and we fill our lives up with anything to distract us from the fact that we are wrong. These cults abuse and manipulate in so many ways, but they always leave us with one undeniable truth. Maybe their power and attraction lies in our stubborn denial of that truth, leaving us empty, wanting and open to the lure of the group.

And if I am grateful to COVID-19, it’s because this virus is showing us, in vivid color, what we have been missing.

A Severed Leg — May 4, 2020

A Severed Leg

I watched a documentary this morning called “Finders Keepers,” about a guy who had his left leg amputated, wanted to keep it, and when he got the entire appendage (skin, muscles, tendons, etc), he kept it in a smoker grill in a storage unit. He didn’t pay for that storage unit, so the contents were auctioned and the one who bought the grill unknowingly got the leg, too. Surprise! Then, when he discovered he had a human leg as well as a grill, he wouldn’t give the leg back, turning everything into a legal battle/circus sideshow.

Those are the facts of the case, and as I watched the story unfold (and wrote that last paragraph), nothing about any of it makes any sense. It’s like it’s a coded language where each word makes sense by itself, but together, they’re totally incomprehensible.

I’m not going to give any more away – in case you wanted to watch – but every action of both of the players in the tragedy were motivated by severely broken relationships with their deceased fathers. They were essentially marionettes, each movement the result of strings someone pulled years and years ago.

One has become an addict & an alcoholic, at one point homeless under a bridge. He became the kind of person who keeps his own severed leg as a tangible reminder of his dad. The other was a mean, nasty, fame-obsessed monster who would not return a HUMAN LEG. They both left busted families & relationships in their wake. I can’t say either was particularly likable. I was of course rooting for the leg to go back to the one to whom it was previously attached, but not because he was the “hero” of the story. Just because it was his leg and people should probably retain legal ownership of their own limbs.

I am drawn to these super-weird stories, not to point and laugh like they’re freak shows, but instead because they are simply human. Their circumstances are extraordinary, but not too much. They both wanted only to be noticed, good enough to measure up in their father’s eyes. How many of us would say the same thing? How many have been marionettes ourselves, reacting to behavior we endured?

Incidentally, I find the same connection in the Bible. The stories and people are not so different, we are not as evolved as we pretend. It is in that connection that I find overwhelming beauty, in that shared experience that I find hope. I wish everyone would watch these odd films because, in them, we can find sledgehammers to tear down the imaginary walls that divide us. We can use those hammers to dismantle the us/them fallacy and the images we so carefully curate that weigh us down with expectation and the unattainable notion of perfection. And then once the walls are down, we can finally walk each other home.

The Problem With The Maze Runner — April 29, 2020

The Problem With The Maze Runner

Over the last 3 nights, we watched the Maze Runner trilogy and I loved it. Before you act on those words and run out and watch it, there are 2 important characteristics you need to understand. First, I am, after all, the target market and fish-in-a-barrel for that sort of science fiction. 2nd, I am mostly able to find pleasure in anything, so that means I like everything…

…within reason. I’m not a fool. I’ve seen movies, heard songs that are obviously garbage. It’s not too interesting to talk about those because, at some point, you end up dismantling someone’s labor of love. To commit fully to a work of art, any work of art, takes an unbelievable amount of heart, time, energy, and vulnerability and it is disrespectful to the gift to disparage it on subjectivity. Of course, some aren’t art at all. Instead, they are simple cash grabs or empty scratching for attention or fame. We are free to disparage those. (As long as we can tell the difference, right?)

That last paragraph is not what is on my mind.

What is on my mind is the context of the Maze Runner, and the current state of things that fractured the escapism movies provide and pushed me to ask if things will be the same ever again?

The basis for the film was a virus. The protagonist was a pandemic, in a way. The virus was the domino that began the snowball rolling and moved every step of the story forward, inspired every action taken by each of the characters.

I LOVE 12 Monkeys, too, and the Matrix (and countless others dealing with the idea of apocalypse) but I wonder if I would watch it the same way today, or ever again.

Now, I don’t think COVID-19 is going to be the “Flare” creating a legion of zombie-like “Cranks,” that kills indiscriminately and leaves the planet a hollow shell. But the possibility is certainly more real than it was on New Years Day. I see people wearing masks in these movies and yesterday at the grocery store.

It adds to the confusion and fear that we have no idea if what we are being told is true, on any level. Every piece of information contradicts the one before and, as in political discourse, we have to decide who is telling the truth and this usually leaves us believing none. I have no idea how one can still identify with either party. And we grow more and more confused as more misinformation spreads like wildfire.

And I wonder if that’s how the breakdown starts. I think probably this pandemic started years and years ago, when all of the deception and mis-/dis-trust began. It pulled and pulled at our very humanity, we began to see each other as enemies instead of brothers and sisters. As We began to see only “us” and “them.” And probably the first time the Flare started, some didn’t believe, thought they were being manipulated and lied to – because they had been lied to so many times before! – and instead of fighting the virus, they fought each other until the virus turned each party’s world into the same wasteland.

The Maze Runner was a nice trilogy, I liked it a lot. But I don’t want to wear masks every time I leave the house. Again, I don’t think COVID-19 is the “Flare,” but I do think the seeds being sown right now (and in the ‘60’s, and yesterday and tomorrow and next year) could be the same seeds, unless you and I rip that disgusting field up and start planting something new and beautiful.

Pneumonia — April 21, 2020

Pneumonia

This week, I had a chest x-ray tell me that I have pneumonia.

This year has been a very, VERY difficult year in this house, as far as staying healthy goes. We’ve all been sick several times, for weeks at a time – maybe they’re different viruses or infections or whatever or maybe they’re all the same one that simply won’t leave, like bad dinner guests. We’ve been yawning, cleaning up, putting the kids to bed while they still just sit in the living room on the sofa for hours, long past the point where we first began to wonder why they’re staying so long.

I’ve been watching Netflix and professional wrestling documentaries until the unthinkable happened yesterday: I don’t want to watch one more minute of ANYTHING. I turned off the 1 o’clock People’s Court 10 minutes early, before the verdict in the last case!

Yes, of course, Cheer is uplifting and awesome. So is every episode of The Dark Side Of The Ring. And so is Bumblebee. And The Toys/Movies That Made Us is always dependably perfect. The Bulls doc on ESPN called The Last Dance started last night and that’s great, too. As far as being quarantined with pneumonia goes, it’s not the worst time.

I’m lucky. The people in my faith community text or call me every day several times to ask about my wife and I, it’s super cool to see a church be The Church, well suited for, to paraphrase Mike Tyson, a global punch in the face. I’m starting to think I’m not, quite as much. You see, I’m frustrated and angry and impatient right now. I haven’t kissed my wife in weeks and, in addition to how nice it is to kiss someone, I read last week on a blog of the many, many benefits (physical as well as psychological) of a simple smooch.

I can be lucky AND madder than a wampus cat in a rainstorm. (I just learned that sweet expression, which has now become my favorite EVER, through a google search – I needed something that I wouldn’t have to censor and all I can think of are expressions I would have to censor.) I can be thankful. I can love Jesus more than anything. AND I can be frustrated with Him and ask Him at the top of my lungs, “Why?!!!???” Maybe there isn’t a why. Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

Probably, what does matter is that I keep asking, keep seeking, keep listening, keep talking, keep walking together in relationship, authentically. There are parts of the Bible I don’t understand, but one of the parts I absolutely do states (in Hosea, a book almost no one reads), in no uncertain terms, “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” What that means is that God doesn’t want my pretend faith, me going through empty motions trying to “get it right.” Instead, He wants my honest everything.

And sometimes my everything is messy, honestly.