Love With A Capital L

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

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.

What I Care About This Week — April 14, 2020

What I Care About This Week

I’m calling this post, What I Care About This Week, because it’s essentially a warning that it’s going to be pretty self-indulgent and an acknowledgment that you may not care at all what I care about, and permission to move along. Of course, it’s not going to be what I care about the most this week, like my wife or my sons or the Resurrection or the pandemic and its many many impacts. It’s only the artwork that is marking the time so beautifully.

1. On Easter Sunday, there were 2 sermons posted by 2 fantastically gifted communicators; Rob Bell on Instagram Live and Hank Fortener on Zoom. I find the sermon, when done well, to be one of the most vital, inspiring, electric art forms. It’s immediate and totally necessary. You know how when you hear a band or singer and you think, if there wasn’t an audience or an admission charge or 1 cent to be made, they would still HAVE TO get it out? There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “if [the people] are quiet, the stones will cry out.” That’s what a sermon is, or can be.

2. Tiger King. It’s not particularly encouraging or positive, doesn’t point to anything bigger or call us up into a new level of enlightenment. People are strange and quirky and hilarious and sad and desperate and always looking for community. Mostly, I like to be a little informed on cultural explosions.

3. Speaking of community and oddness – but this time in a wonderful manner: Comic-Con IV: A Fan’s Hope. Morgan Spurlock directed this sweet chronicle of 6 (each hopeful in different ways) in a sea of thousands. We are all looking for happy endings, meaning, to love what we do and who we are, but we are especially looking for each other. It’s perfect when we find it.

4. My cell phone. My wife and I might have the Coronavirus (she’s been tested, we are waiting for the results) and my phone is a constant reminder that she is (that we are) loved and cared for.

I know that we, as human beings, can be awfully nasty and hurtful, but we are also the absolute best part of being here and alive. It’s becoming more and more clear that all great art brings us together – in shared emotions, experiences, or just to wonder out loud why a person would ever decide that he will be interviewed without a shirt on (?!!?). As it turns out, I just learned that he simply wanted to display his vast array of awesome tattoos. As much as we ask “why,” I think it’s far more important to have someone next to us, holding our hands, when we ask.

The Politics Of Pandemics — April 6, 2020

The Politics Of Pandemics

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has upended every aspect of our world and our lives. The worst-case scenario of 100,000 deaths in this country alone was floated last week, prior to new stay-at-home orders and new recommendations to wear masks anytime we leave our homes. By the time I post this, it’s entirely possible that the numbers and regulations will have changed. So much about this virus is unknown and, in a world that worships knowledge and control, the utter lack of knowledge and control might be the biggest attack on our way of life.

Now. Smoking-related deaths number almost 500,000/year, obesity kills over 300,000/year, and nearly 100,000 due to alcohol. Almost a million Americans die from these big three, and they are advertised everywhere as a privilege, a right, a reward. Why are they not seen as, at the very least, equally destructive pandemics? As killers? Why are we confined to our homes, isolated, for COVID-19, while alcohol (a substance that takes the same amount of lives every year, not to mention the broken marriages, families, relationships, and lives it leaves behind) is considered a life-sustaining enterprise and sold in grocery stores???

(I understand the dangers of the horror of withdrawal that necessitate the ‘life-sustaining’ designation, but I also understand many illegal drugs carry the same danger…Should drug-dealers be considered ‘life-sustaining?’ I know I know, I’m told they’re different, but it’s really only different because 1 is illegal and the other isn’t, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.)

Of course I have an agenda with alcohol and the entire system of self-destruction that willfully turns their head while they line their pockets. It’s filthy and offensive to allow cigarettes and alcohol in every convenience store while regulating the time and reason we are allowed to come out of our homes, because for heaven’s sakes, we all need to be protected and cared for!!! The hypocrisy is stunning and revolting. Maybe we would all be back at work and school and sporting events and concerts if this virus had the same public relations/lobbyists, the same deep pockets as tobacco and alcohol.

Now, I am not at all advocating for the stay-at-home order to be lifted and we go back to business as usual. I’ll stay here for as long as they tell me to and wear my mask to pick up my milk and toilet paper. But maybe we should stop pretending our motives are selfless and altruistic, a nation of loving big brothers who care only for our collective well-being, and instead call it all what it is: business.

Confusing — March 25, 2020

Confusing

I’m quite certain I have nothing new to say on this Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis and global lockdown. Wash your hands, stay inside, hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer, you know, the usual things. Stay away from all people (pets are ok, I think… but what I know for sure about pets is that, according to PETA, the term ‘pet’ is derogatory and must be replaced with ‘animal companion’ immediately).

And on social distancing, (I mean “physical distancing,” which is now the appropriate term to use), Dr Arthur Caplan says, “Do your best to socially distance. Maybe don’t sleep in the same bed? Minimize sexual contact. Don’t share toothbrushes. Try to use separate things. You don’t want to be hugging and kissing. You always want to use good hygiene in terms of sneezing and coughing and still doing the hand washing thing frequently. You want to clean surfaces frequently. You might not want to share the same forks and knives unless you’re really sure they’ve been washed thoroughly. That kind of thing. You can have a discussion about how you would divide up your living space – but if they won’t go along, get away.”

This space in time asks so many more questions than it answers. Maybe this is no different than any other time, maybe all times are confusing as we’re living them. But we ask anyway, as if we’ll get answers.

Is this virus actually brand new? If so, like some report, why are other outlets reporting that it has been here for months, at least? Why is it transmitted only in the air and then also on surfaces and then in the air and then both again? Why are beer distributors and gun shops life-sustaining? Why do we care so much about this particular virus while alcohol-related deaths will faaaar surpass all COVID-19 in the time it takes to write this? Is it really just public relations? Maybe viruses should have as capable marketers as wines and lite beers? How long will I have to stay home? Minimize sexual contact? No hugs and kisses? How did these politicians get elected? Where is the stimulus and unemployment money coming from? Why does my mother-in-law use “u” and “r” instead of “you are?” Do I have enough toilet paper? Can I actually flush “flushable” wipes? If no, why are they called “flushable” wipes? If yes, why did my waste company send an auto-call telling me not to? Is “pet” really a derogatory term? What does PETA do? And the biggest question I have today: WHO IS SHARING TOOTHBRUSHES????

It’ll be over eventually, and there will be more questions.

Will we have learned anything at all? Will we force change in the system that we can so easily see has been exposed? Will this be a reset, an opportunity to build something new out of the ashes of this crash? Or will we simply go right back to the way it was before, like we always do?

I hope, at the very least, that we keep washing our hands and that the monsters who share toothbrushes will stop.

Both Hands — March 18, 2020

Both Hands

We are all quarantined (except for those on the beaches in Florida, I suppose.) The schools are closed, most businesses are affected, and it is causing a great deal of tension. We are not a society of people who take very kindly being told we can not. It seems like an infringement, an act of violence, even if the thing being taken away is undesirable or harmful.

This virus could kill us, or those close to us. But I wanna go to the mall or the movies or ANYWHERE!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or heard that we’d want nothing more than to check out for a minute, stay home, lower the volume on the world and take a nap. Now we have to, and we are losing our collective mind about it.

But that’s people, it’s who we are.

I don’t really want to write about that, what I do want to write about is the truth of feeling, talking, living, fully engaged, able to see and hold wide ranges of emotions. A philosophy of “Both Hands.”

The virus is horrible. People are in pain, suffering and, in some cases, dying. The wide reaching state of emergency is heaping stress and anxiety upon countless more. How will we make it? How will we pay the rent, the bills, the groceries? What will we do??? Some of us are alone and lonely, the quarantine emphasizing our heartbreaking isolation.

At the same time, the quiet is lovely. The time at home, with my wife, my boys, is like water healing every broken or cracked part of me. The house is full of laughter and smooches, and this is a season where we would never have found this unhurried time to spend together. We play games, watch movies, music is always playing and we’re eating healthy around the dinner table. I called my mom yesterday, a gift I’ve neglected due to the demands of every day.

I am more thankful than I can express for the time. And I pray for it to end. This is the paradox of a life in between.

I sometimes get the blessing and honor of officiating funerals and nowhere is this more pronounced than in that thick space. We are sad and our hearts are aching…and we are hopeful for the promises of Jesus and grateful for the time we spent with the person we mourn. It’s a “both, and” situation, not “either, or.”

The problem is, we hide, we pretend, we try to fit an image we’ve decided is fitting, important, or spiritual. This masquerade requires us to eliminate one of our hands in the service of the great lie. We decide it is not Christian to weep, to ask why, to allow our sadness room to breathe, so instead we plaster on a smile and recite our practiced platitudes. And we suppress our pain and encourage others to do the same, which only results in super secret wounds that never heal. The only way is through.

Yes, this is the worst. It’s also the best. Sometimes in the very same moment. I have a good friend who says, “How can hell be any worse?” And I answer, “How can Heaven be any better?” We’re both right. And we’re both wrong. This is our prayer, it can only be offered from our open, honest hearts.