Love With A Capital L

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

The Slovenian Flute Maker — September 18, 2020

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when you hear “Good Enough” by Sarah McLachlan, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too. 

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

Culture of Outrage — September 16, 2020

Culture of Outrage

Nowhere has been safe from 2020. In my small, idyllic town, we have had one unwelcome disruption after another. Recently, it was discovered that the elementary school is being swallowed by the earth (if the guesses are to be believed) and the administration KNEW it and inexplicably covered up (if the opinions on Facebook are to be believed).

I don’t have any idea if the ground is crumbling underneath the building and if eventually there will be a giant hole where the building now stands. No one does. But that doesn’t stop the trolls on social media from screaming and pointing fingers.

We’re all just one small step from losing our minds.

My very good friend calls it a culture of outrage. (She may have read it somewhere – and she may have even told me where, but I don’t remember so I’m happy to just attribute the wisdom to her.) We are constantly looking for offense. And if offense works like everything else, what we look for, we will find.

There is a school parents group on Facebook where parents wildly throw accusations and unfounded theories that are easily refuted, but the truth doesn’t seem too important so the same wild accusations are given the same weight and repeated and recycled. I wonder what we’re teaching our children. No, I know what we’re teaching our children, I just don’t like it.

The fabric of humanity is being stretched, threatening to tear us all apart. The isolation keeps us locked inside the stories we are telling ourselves, no matter how fantastical, and locked away from each other.

Then, this week a news report was released of absolutely unspeakable horror in this tiny, “perfect” town. Now, what will we do when faced with a new story? Will we come together or drift further apart? Will we hold each other in grief, or rip each other’s hearts out in anger and outrage? As in the lyrics of a Rise Against song, will we come alive or come undone?

If pre-COVID history is any indication, this community (with very few exceptions) will connect and find comfort together. However, we are no longer in a pre-COVID world, so it’s possible we’ll be thirsty for blood and revenge and most of all, blame. I hope we come alive, hope we remember that we are all a shared humanity and that the outrage subsides and is replaced by care and love. Instead of holding our opinions and rage, I hope we start holding each other again.

9 Years — September 9, 2020

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in another space I write, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Wrong. — September 2, 2020

Wrong.

When the Fight Club movie was released, Lisa Schwartzbaum (critic for Entertainment Weekly) gave it a D. In the current issue, she reflected on that grade and said she hasn’t reconsidered, that all reviews are confined to a certain time period and should stay that way. Like, for instance, we cannot consider ‘80’s comedies through a 2020 lens. There will be socially problematic characters, jokes, plot lines and countless else that just doesn’t hold up. It has to be viewed as part of a complicated amalgam of context.

I think Citizen Kane is grossly overrated. I know exactly what Rosebud is and wish I didn’t, wish I didn’t spend the time watching wondering what the big deal was. However, it must have been awesome once.

Anyway, maybe Lisa Schwartzbaum had a point then, though I cannot imagine what it was, and surely would change that review today with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom. Maybe she wouldn’t, either, maybe she’d just continue to be wrong.

The point is, we change. Society changes. Our perspective changes. This is a given, right? Of course. Could you picture how much you would dislike the 18 year-old you if you ran into you at a party? I would at least feel very sorry for that very opinionated, misguided, insecure kid. And then I would be equally grateful that I’m not that kid, that I was open enough to change my deeply held positions on almost everything.

I think we’re probably all that way, which makes it all the more perplexing why we’re all so violently defending our current dogmas as if we have arrived at the apex of our own evolution. Doesn’t wisdom carry with it a level of experience and, with it, humility that we might not know everything about everything? Doesn’t it require that we hold with a looser grip?

I’m not mad at Lisa Schwartzbaum. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, and I totally understand her desire not to amend her review. Who we were is who we were, not who we are, unless we haven’t learned anything, unless we stayed stubbornly planted in the mindset of our youth, unless we haven’t grown, unless we haven’t changed. And I can’t think of anything more depressing than that.

Army of Consumers — August 28, 2020

Army of Consumers

There were several people lining the Main Street of my town this morning painting buildings on canvases. We have a cool town square with an old theater, a college, and many small businesses – it’s a perfect place to paint and a better place to live. I like it here.

Anyway, immediately following these artists at work, on the outdoor chairs in front of the coffee shop were 2 kids, maybe 10 or 11 years old, both gazing at phone screens inches from their faces.

Sadly, I’m becoming an old man shaking my head about “these kids today.” I never wanted to be that guy, sweating through the crust on my face shouting from the porch to “Get off my lawn!!!” And yet here I am… I guess every person since the beginning of time swore they weren’t going to be their parents and then woke up one day with ear hair, wrinkly eyes and unreasonably strong opinions on underwear and weather.

Now that I have shamefully admitted to this condition, I can embrace it. It certainly looks like “these kids today” (like my own) are satisfied to consume, so what happens when there are no more producers? What happens when the painters are gone? What happens when the filmmakers are replaced by TikTok-ers?

Obviously, I love the blog format – it’s immediate and timely, perfect pictures and commentary of our rapidly changing culture. But will the things we create here last longer than a cycle? I wrote one called Echo 2 weeks ago that I was very pleased with, posted on both of my sites (!!), and it was well-received for a few days…and not read since. Will people be reading our heads & hearts in a year? In a month? Next week? Will the middle-schoolers in 2053 still be reading To Kill A Mockingbird and The Outsiders?

I know it’s not like no one under 25 is writing, it’s just an exaggeration. I’m just wondering out loud how much of an exaggeration it is. We wanted to write the Next Great Novel, now my boys and their friends want to be the next YouTube Fortnite sensation or Influencer (which is a legitimate thing to aspire to.) Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they just want to watch the next YouTube Fortnite sensation or be influenced.

I don’t know what that means for the poets and performers, but maybe COVID has already gutted that community anyway. Maybe it’ll be ok, just different. This is probably what our grandparents said when The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, isn’t it? On some level we all think the things we like are better than their replacement, and I should just chill out about it.

I just wish that kid I saw would’ve been painting, too.

Drama — August 23, 2020

Drama

Last weekend, I was scheduled to officiate a wedding for a couple I’ve never met. There is a website called Thumbtack where you can search for people who do certain things, like officiate your wedding, and you can find me there. Like they did. I have done this sort of work before and it has turned out beautifully. Sharing such a sacred space is a unique, cool way to create framework for a relationship. This isn’t surprising. Keanu Reeves said as much in Speed. (Or something similar. I don’t exactly know, he’ll always be Johnny Utah to me.)

Anyway. The wedding was Saturday and Friday night I got a text that said I was no longer needed. I know! What?!!?? Family drama was cited as the reason the ceremony was (I assume) cancelled. Family drama? I understand family drama, but this is a level I simply cannot fathom.

Could you imagine a mother or an uncle or cousin causing such a fuss that would necessitate the entire wedding be abandoned? It’s a horrific thought, but the truth is that you can imagine, right?

As the quarantine began, we heard of a “new normal,” and I wondered what that would be. Would it be a positive change, where we slow down, eat dinner together and appreciate each other? Would our priorities be realigned? Would our lives and, by extension, our planet notice a marked change as evidence of a new depth of care?

The answers to those questions, as it turned out, are no. There is a new normal, but it’s not the one I was hoping for. The time alone with our thoughts, emotions, social media accounts and our own 4 walls instead convinced us that we were the only ones whose thoughts, emotions, social media accounts and 4 walls mattered. We reinforced our boxes of us & them with vibranium. We decided we are right in every situation, and this decision must be defended at all costs, using any and all means necessary.

Of course if I don’t like the seating assignment or venue or color of the bridesmaid’s dresses, the wedding absolutely cannot go on. Of course. You say it’s “not about me,” but that’s where you’re wrong. Everything is. This is the new normal: my normal.

Yes, you’re right. This discouragement isn’t my true north. I think it’s what they call illustrating the absurd with absurdity. And though this seismic shift is obvious, I don’t think it’s permanent. Not at all. Once we return to actual contact and connection, we’ll realize that this whole us & them paradigm is a delusion – it’s all just us. Don’t get me wrong, family drama will still happen as long as there are families, but the drama will end in childish petulance at tables strategically spaced instead of demolition.

This garbage is over whenever we say it is. Hopefully it’s soon.

Unplanned — August 17, 2020

Unplanned

Last night was the reception for a wedding that I officiated in April. The couple were gorgeous and totally present. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, they are distant and preoccupied, hoping the families don’t fight and the food is hot. Wedding planning usually garners more time than marriage planning, so with that much of a commitment, it’s no surprise that who sits where gets the biggest piece of the pie and leaves only table scraps for the actual vows.

Not with these two, though. They are very well aware how extraordinary it is to have found each other, lovers, partners, friends. I dearly hope they don’t take each other for granted when the excitement of the day gets exchanged for the routine of the everyday like most of us do.

Anyway, I gave the prayer before the meal. In it, I said, “Today and on that day in April, nothing was how it was supposed to be, how it was planned, but it was just THE BEST,” or something like that. And then I paused. Maybe my silence was perceived as dramatic, but I was just thinking about how that’s absolutely true. Not just for their wedding, but probably for their marriage. Almost nothing will go how it’s supposed to, how it’s planned.

Maybe that’s the key to marriage. Maybe that’s the key to life. To ease our grip on the wheel a little. To not be more married to our calendars than we are to each other. To let things be what they are.

We plan, we prepare, then we allow the thing to breathe instead of choking it to death with our white knuckles. How many times have we completely missed the most significant moments of our lives by trying to shoehorn them into our expectations? Too many, right?

We had their wedding in her parents backyard, only immediate family (maybe 15 of us) and me, and to tell you the truth, I probably had the virus. I had been sick with a fever for days and days only getting out of bed to put on my suit and tie. But that horrible disruption may have been the greatest blessing of their lives. We were mercifully freed from ALL of the distractions (except for my mask;), and had no reason at all to be there (no food, no guests, no favors or centerpieces) other than for a man and woman to say “I do” to each other.

I really love weddings, except for the ones I don’t, but if I’m honest, this was one of my very favorites. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the lovely gift we were given. These 2 reminded me, reminded all of us, that things don’t have to be perfect to be perfect. I hope I don’t forget.

A guy at the gym — August 13, 2020

A guy at the gym

I go to the gym everyday. This isn’t a source of pride, it’s actually just the opposite. It’s an admission of my lack of discipline. I don’t take rest days, even though I know how important they are and would really like to take one here and there. It’s interesting how something healthy can transform so quickly, so quietly into a negative. I’m smart about the workouts themselves. I don’t train body parts on consecutive days, so I stay relatively strong and energetic, focused and grateful. The problem is with my spirit. Where my body is moving forward, for me working out every day subtly reinforces the belief that I am what I can do, what I look like, what I can lift, what I can accomplish, the number on a scale or plates on a bar. It may be arriving at the right house using the wrong road. Or using the right road and the wrong house. One of those.

That’s enough of that. AND I took yesterday off from the gym so that problem has pretty much been solved. (That’s how it works, right?)

There’s this guy at the gym who doesn’t re-rack the weights from the bar or clean the equipment when he’s finished (IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!!!!) I know! He leaves the bar loaded with sweat, germs, and weights like a monster.

Seriously? Seriously. So, I’m judging him as a monster and this morning had the opportunity to parent him a little. “Are you still working over there?” I asked. “Yes.” “Then why don’t you come with me and I’ll help you take those weights off.” He mumbled and shuffled over like a scolded child. I was the Hero of the Gym, keeping the world safe for everyone from the rude, selfish and disrespectful.

Except for afterwards in the locker room he says, “Goodbye,” (the 2nd time we’ve spoken) and asked me about my supersets and day splits. Now, I know he’s not been lifting weights too long, evidenced by his poor form and lack of any discernible plan, but I must have failed to remember somewhere along the way that he was just a guy in the gym.

I’m a man who reads the Bible and today I ended up in Matthew 9:36 “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” My Bible, which is apparently an older version of this one, says “their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help.”

Isn’t that quite the picture of our environment right now? Our problems are all so great (all different, but we’re all feeling something huge on our hearts and shoulders) and we don’t know where to go for help. And then we turn around, our practical amnesia kicks in and we forget that so is everybody else. The vast majority aren’t monsters, just other human beings in a mess with no idea what to do or where to go for help.

Jesus had compassion on them, on us, on me, and maybe I could do the same.

Echo — August 11, 2020

Echo

This post is about another documentary AND it’s about creativity AND Jesus AND should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need, For guitars and drums and desperate poetry. And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

Kurt Cobain — August 8, 2020

Kurt Cobain

I am feeling better, the darkness is lifting, so I could finally get back to depressing Netflix (or in this case, Amazon Prime) documentaries without tearing at the seams of my mental health. Saturday, it was Soaked In Bleach, an account of the death of Kurt Cobain.

2 things about this. 1. I didn’t sleep Friday night, so I watched this in the middle of the night while 2 wild cats in my driveway screamed and moaned. It was an awful, but somehow perfectly fitting soundtrack.

And 2. I told my oldest son about this film. He has “Come As You Are” as his ringtone because it’s the music of the best scene in Captain Marvel, and this beautiful boy of mine (who has been hearing about Nirvana and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Nevermind since he was in the womb), flesh of my flesh, asks me, “Who’s he? Is he a singer?” I am the worst father in America.

So. The voice of my generation committed suicide in 1994, or at least that’s what we were told. This documentary cast doubt on that, instead exposing many of the whispered rumors we heard that it might’ve had more to do with his wife, Courtney Love, a broken marriage and mountains of money. And maybe it did. Maybe she was involved, maybe it was a gross miscarriage of justice. There is certainly more to the story than an addict and a shotgun. One thing that hasn’t changed is what he meant to me. Maybe because of that, I should be more outraged than I am.

What I do want to talk about, and what I’ll explain to my sweet boy after he listens to the entire Nirvana oeuvre, is that honesty matters.

In the Filthy Epstein doc, Bill Clinton denied that he was ever on the disgusting island, when he surely was. Now, maybe he didn’t ever partake in the sex trade that was going on, but if he didn’t, why would he lie? It’s the muddy waters of his character that make me very suspicious.

In the same fashion, probably Courtney Love didn’t murder her husband. But why the mountain of lies that surround her? Her deception make me very suspicious.

The lies about phone calls and island trips themselves obviously don’t directly correlate to sexual abuse and murder, but in real life, it doesn’t take evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to cast shadows and destroy trust. If she doesn’t come home and says she’s with her friend…but she’s not…that doesn’t mean she’s with him. But it sure doesn’t help, and that sort of disruption can take years and years to repair.

Life and relationships are hard enough. Every day can be very difficult and take such a toll, we simply don’t have the reservoir of energy to spend repairing a misstep of dishonesty. That’s what I’ll tell my boys. But they’re not great listeners yet, and I suppose if I had the choice, I’d rather they hear that little bit about lies than the lyrics to “Drain You.”