Love With A Capital L

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

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.

Rhinos — March 5, 2020

Rhinos

My boys are home from school with the flu. It is not too serious, but enough to lay around for several days and watch tv. We binged 2 seasons of Scooby Doo Mystery, Inc – 48 episodes of a very interesting take on the gang and their relationships. Now that I think about it, it was an interesting take on our relationships (with ourselves and each other), really.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. I have spent quite a bit of time visiting the doctor’s office and different pharmacies, searching for someone who cares. (I believe my doctor and the staff there care as if they are family, the aforementioned search only concerning local pharmacies.) It took 2 maddening, fever-and-cough filled days to find one who would fill my prescription…

Now. A bit about Rhinos, and then we’ll tie these clouds together. A rhinoceros is enormous and can run upward of 3o miles/hour. The problem (and it’s a problem as enormous as they are) is that same rhino can only see around 15 – 30 feet.

The reason we’re talking characteristics of rhinos is because we are a culture of rhinoceroses. They are us, we are them. We run and run, as fast as we can, with very little vision. The only goal is movement, progress, chopping wood, with little to no regard for the world around us or even ourselves, if it extends past the right now.

And then the flu suddenly stops us, and we lose our bearings. What are we if we are not productive? Who am I if I am not running, covering ground? What kind of daddy am I if I can not protect them, keep them safe and healthy, and when they’re not, if I can not procure a simple prescription?

We do, that’s what we are. Our value, in this country, is based nearly exclusively on our speed, busy-ness, number of social media “friends” and “likes,” how much we push, climb, and how easy we make it appear. What if I don’t post this week? What if I am not making BIG GAINZ? What if I’m tired? What if I’m not in control? Then what? Am I what the voices in my head say, “lazy,” “inadequate,” “weak?”

This is EXACTLY what Scooby Doo was about (barely beneath the villains in monster masks.) The beginning of season 2 found our heroes fractured and questioning their place, their worth, their essence. They were asking the same question we are, who were they if they could not solve the mystery? Who was Fred without Daphne (or without traps)? Who was Velma if she couldn’t figure it out, using reason and her giant brain? Who were Shaggy and Scooby and what were they for, really?

It was brilliant! All of these things come together, and the big takeaway is… Well, I don’t know. (How anticlimactic is that? I pastor a church, can you even imagine how frustrating it is to listen to me ask all of these questions, week after week, and so rarely answer them????) I’m probably a terrible life coach. But Shaggy’s path was different from Fred’s and Velma’s, you know? How can I honestly answer? Maybe the answer is to stop running for me and it’s to start running for my son? Maybe it’s solitude today and community tonight? Maybe it’s another mystery or maybe it’s time for a break from being meddling kids.

I guess what I do know that’s true for all of us is that the real problem isn’t running so fast, or solving mysteries, or being horrible pharmacists. It is a lack of vision, a lack of awareness, a lack of intention, and it is especially when that lack leads us to the conclusion that our worth is only found in our output.

— February 28, 2020

Here is a too personal story. I often need to re-focus on Rest (mostly at the gym) because it disappears so easily. The voices in my head kick up in noisy violence screaming that if I take the day off & sleep in, I will gain ALL of the weight I have lost, lose ALL of the strength I have gained, and instead of rebuilding my mind and body while I allow me to recover, I will spend today shopping for new, much larger clothes because mine have become shrink wrap overnight. Before you even say it, I know that this is ridiculous nonsense with absolutely no bearing on reality. That it is the exact opposite of reality. That it is an avalanche of lies. I know this, but old habits die very hard and I usually end up working out anyway.

These lies are also tied to other, deeper seeded untruths like “I am lazy,” “I am undisciplined,” “I have no self-control,” “I never follow through with anything,” so to prove them wrong, I end up working out to chase those demons away. However, the things I do to chase the demons actually reinforces their existence. As I work out, I perpetuate this myth and its pseudo-solutions, giving the loop the energy to continue.

Now. At this point, I can see my participation in the violence I inflict upon myself, so I begin the tearing down of my very essence, “stupid…flawed…hypocrite,” and on and on. The clouds grow thicker and the darkness gets heavier, and my thoughts twist into tornadoes until I can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the gym last week, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. This happens, and is manageable, but the condition of my spirit is the thing that is alarming to me.

My friend Rick (who is awesome, and wonderfully odd) came in, walked right to me, and asked if I was ok. He referred to my wounded aura (see what I mean? Strange) and asked again.

In the outside world, when we ask, most of the time we don’t mean it, we just use all greetings as synonymous for “hello” and keep walking. Any answer is useless and an honest answer is worse: aggressively counter cultural, obstinate, rebellious.

I told him the truth. He had heard much of this battle before, but this time he brought up how this circle used to be, used to feel, used to carry on, and how much it used to steal from me. Then he said, “So I guess this is Congratulations!” with a huge smile as he shook my hand.

And he’s right. These episodes don’t last long, aren’t even constant – more like bring dunked in a swimming pool instead of drowning on the bottom. I am much quicker to say what my buddy Jason says, “That is a lie. So what’s the opposite of that?” I might hear the words “stupid” and “hypocrite” in my head, but I don’t receive them anymore, like I did years ago.

This journey of faith includes some shocking leaps and heartbreaking falls, but mostly is a long-play, where our growth is lived out in baby steps and 2 forward and 1 back. Today probably doesn’t feel vastly different from yesterday, or last week, but if you would meet the you from 10 years ago, you would hopefully roll your eyes and shake your head at all the things you wish you had known then. You might not even recognize you, your beliefs, your values, your hands or feet.

This is why we need each other, why we need Ricks in our lives, right? To call us back when we lose our way. To pull those tornadoes in our head apart, exposing the venomous deception. To congratulate us when we have mistaken our trial as failure. To ask if we’re ok and wait for an answer, even one that is true. To point out that we are New Creations, even if it takes a while to forget all of the habits we’ve held closely (as if the habits were who we were) for so long. To remind us where we are going and how remarkably far we’ve come.

Congratulations, indeed.

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.