Love With A Capital L

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

Like a Drip, Drip, Drip That’ll Never Stop — February 7, 2022

Like a Drip, Drip, Drip That’ll Never Stop

Well, I watched the new Disney animated film Encanto last weekend. I can’t say that I really wanted to, but the Angel did, and I very much like the Angel and she watches A LOT of superhero movies with me, so I watched Encanto. (Also, I usually cry while these new Disney/Pixar movies take me apart – let’s not even talk about Up or Inside Out.)

So anyway, it was very good. It wasn’t Frozen good, but it was very good. What I found exceptional was how open & honest it was about difficult emotions, struggles, image-making, expectations, inadequacy, and insecurity. I know, I know, these subjects are often there, but they’re hidden a little, like Easter eggs for parents, so when we’re crying, the kids aren’t sure exactly why.

In Encanto, there’s an older sister whose gift is physical strength. She sings a song called “Surface Pressure” that we need to talk about.

“I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous. I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is. I move mountains, I move churches. And I glow ’cause I know what my worth is. I don’t ask how hard the work is. Got a rough indestructible surface. Diamonds and platinum, I find ’em, I flatten ’em. I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanding.” This is the first verse and it’s as disingenuous as we are. It’s full of posturing. It’s full of the biggest mountain of lies. It’s you & me and everyone we see. Is Encanto a documentary?

It’s not, because she continues, “But Under the surface. I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus. Under the surface. Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”? Under the surface. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service. A flaw or a crack. The straw in the stack That breaks the camel’s back. What breaks the camel’s back? It’s Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa. Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’till you just go pop, whoa.” Wow, right? If I told you how many times I have felt exactly this way. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service? This was supposed to be a kids movie with singing and dancing about a house that’s alive. Drip, drip, drip.

Listen to these questions, through the song: “Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?…Who am I if I can’t carry it all?…I think about my purpose, can I somehow preserve this?…If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations, Would that free some room up for joy Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?…Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?”

Who am I? Am I more than my performance, more than these expectations? What if I can’t carry it all? I think about all of the men I know, the dads, husbands, threatening to buckle under all of this weight. (I know it’s the women, too, I just happen to relate to the men because I’m, you know, a man. I see the women. I see the pressure to be everything to everyone, gorgeous, fit, smart, independent, strong, funny, perfect moms and CEOs and lovers and yogis, to shoulder more and more responsibility, more and more stress, more and more and more.)

Of course it’s too much. This is a kids movie, so I think of the children in schools, saddled with the same amount of uncontrollable, overwhelming pressure. I picture the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, ever contracting to smush the heroes, but this isn’t a movie and R2-D2 isn’t going to stop it just in time. I think we have to stop this, to bring this hamster wheel to a screeching halt.

Who am I if I can’t carry it all? Maybe I was never supposed to carry it all in the first place. Maybe we weren’t supposed to run with the ball. Maybe what we think it “takes” was a red herring all along and it doesn’t and never did matter if we have it.

Encanto was very good, but it hit a little too close to home. I guess it needs to, right? Otherwise we will keep on ignoring the rising heat, like lobsters in a pot. It’s a good thing the songs were so catchy.

Not About Youth Sports — February 3, 2022

Not About Youth Sports

Last night my sons played and lost their high school basketball games. This has been a long season, with many more losses than wins. Everyone is discouraged, counting the days until the season mercifully ends. This will be next week, because even with the recent desire to expand until nearly every team makes playoffs, they won’t be one of ‘nearly every team.’ This house was quiet last night.

I was an athlete for much of my life; a life that revolved around baseball schedules through college. Now, you know the 46 year-old me, but 12, 15, 17, 22 year-old me was a raving lunatic with a savage temper and desperate need to win ballgames. If I didn’t, my depressed rage would steal the following days from me. I’d stew while replaying the game, pitch by pitch, analyzing something, anything I could’ve done to change the outcome.

And if there was one thing I’d change, it wouldn’t be the pains, the little injuries that remind me every morning that I threw tens (hundreds?) of thousands of pitches in my life. Instead, I would not have given those days away.

I would have still competed like my life depended on it (as if I had a choice in that), but then, win or lose, I would release the baggage and replace it with gratitude. Not everyone gets to play, not everyone can play, not everyone is allowed the privilege of sports. I did, I was. I was given a rare, beautiful gift. And like so many gifts, I used it to define me, something in which I could find and measure my value. If I lost, I didn’t just lose a game. I was a loser. Until the next one, where I might be redeemed.

I don’t think my boys find their worth in final scores, as I did. There is a healthy competition where we taste the joy of giving all we have in pursuit of a goal. I want them to care. I want them to pour themselves out, run until they are absolutely spent. It’s wonderful to play with the gifts we have been given, right? But they do sometimes forget to be thankful, and a precious evening together, with us and with their teammates, is lost.

I guess we all do that in certain areas of our lives, this isn’t exclusive to sports. She says no and we decide we’re unloveable. We don’t get the promotion and we’re despondent, overflowing with inadequacy. The shot doesn’t go in so we’re crushed, deciding to never shoot again. And the next thing you know, it’s days later and all we’ve done is spend them on a downward spiral of overreaction and the automatic negative thoughts that are, sadly, so familiar to so many of us.

These weeks, days, hours, moments are too valuable to squander with that sort of weight. I want my boys to run up and down, shoot with confidence, do hard things, try, risk, soak up the process, see how fast and far they are capable of going, do all with integrity, humility, passion (and yes, I want them to win, but that’s a very very distant last) and not get so bogged down with insecurity and lies.

Actually, I want that for all of us.

Chocolate Bunnies — January 28, 2022

Chocolate Bunnies

Around Easter, there are these big chocolate bunnies that look amazing, you break into the packaging, take a bite and only then realize that chocolate rabbit is only a chocolate shell. You expect a thick, rich block of yummy deliciousness but they’re completely hollow inside. Still tasty but ultimately empty.

This morning, about 20 minutes ago, I finished The Queen Of Versailles, a documentary on Amazon Prime by Lauren Greenfield (I wrote a previous post about her doc Generation Wealth). This Lauren Greenfield is a genius. Anyway, it’s about an obscenely wealthy time-share businessman, his success, family and their lives. It’s also about an obscenely wealthy time-share businessman losing everything. The Queen of the title is his wife, Jackie. I finished it this morning because when I started it days ago, I had to turn it off a half-way through believing it was simply a garden variety picture of grotesque excess and sometimes that sort of superficiality just doesn’t go down smoothly. I persevered mostly because of Lauren Greenfield, and as the crash was beginnings, I was interested in how each of them (he, she, too many children, employees, etc) would respond to the economic catastrophe.

I loved Jackie, a little surprisingly. She appeared to handle everything with class and grace, leaned into her marriage and family. She gave money (that was increasingly disappearing) to a high school friend who was facing foreclosure. She began a thrift store to support & serve her community. She showed herself a beautifully devoted, faithful wife to a man who was moving in the polar opposite direction in every way. I appreciated her more and more, even as she continued her Botox wearing a ridiculous fur coat in the kitchen complaining about not being able to afford a watch.

The businessman who was so magnanimous, so self-satisfied, so arrogant as the film started unraveled quickly. In a heartbreaking moment, he said, “Nothing makes me happy anymore.”

I posted yesterday on image-making. I often post on my love of Catfish. This is certainly a there, isn’t it?

You know, in seminary, as I started to study the Bible and write a million papers, I was knocked down by a BIG theme I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t believed in God for (what is now) half of my life because I saw it as a hypocritical exercise in superficial masquerade. Christians looked the same, perfectly behaved with perfect teeth and hair. Maybe I still see it that way, but the Bible sure isn’t. The Big Theme was, on every page, honesty. Nothing was left out, people argued, raged, lied, doubted, celebrated, danced, had sex, fought, sang, made the worst decisions, despaired, hoped, and loved. It was everything about being human, it was everything about the movies and art that I loved most, real and genuine.

But a lot of us (and lots of parts of us) are like chocolate bunnies. We construct elaborate “realities” based on very little, shells with hollow insides. When did we decide we were nothing more than what we had, or that who we actually were just wasn’t enough? When did we decide to focus on the exterior while just behind the door was either unknown or in various states of disrepair.

When COVID forced us to stay home, I wondered what we’d find. Without any images to convey, would we find our homes and families a sweet sacred space? Or would we be forced to face the emptiness? It’s hard to tell, we still had images to convey on social media.

Nothing made this guy happy, in a house full of his children, and a wife who brought dinner to his office and was harshly sent away without the kiss she asked for. What he could have found was a wife who truly didn’t care about his money, loved him for him, and a healthy family who desperately needed his affection and resilience to steer them through a storm. He could have showed them how to get back up and stand. He could have held hands on long walks and danced to loud music in a downsized kitchen. He could have done anything else. He chose to only find his value in his assets and net worth, chose to find a person who only loved himself for his money.

I understand the crushing fear of not being able to provide. When we were homeless after a flood washed away everything we owned, I couldn’t sleep, had a constant jackhammer of a headache, sickening anxiety, wanted nothing more than to run and hide. I understand the pressure of provision.

But we do have choices. We do have questions to answer about who we really are. Are we chocolate bunnies, fake profiles, P&L statements, nameplates, corner offices, the brand of jeans we wear? Or are we something else, something much better that doesn’t fade or disappear? Sure we crack, sometimes we break, but then what? When it rains, are we the sort that erodes or that sings at the top of our lungs?

I want to be one who sings, but I don’t want to sing alone. I want to be a part of an army of millions and millions of singers, dancers, artists, and lovers who are tired of chocolate bunnies.

Fueled By An Image Of Me — January 27, 2022

Fueled By An Image Of Me

There’s a fantastic line in the song ‘Disillusion’ by Badly Drawn Boy on The Hour of Bewilderbeast album: “Seems you created your own illusion fueled by an image of me.” I wrote it down several months ago in a draft here to remember. Right about that time a person re-entered my life and this lyric was oddly appropriate, as she was operating on outdated information. It seemed she had created her own illusion fueled by an image of me that was no longer me, probably was never me, but an image that would make it impossible to move forward.

And that happens, right? There are people who decide who you are based on who you were or what you do or what they are or what they do or what they heard. It is frustrating and sad. I’m not sure if the image was one I couldn’t live up to, or if the image was too low and created a watching/waiting situation, where any hint would prove the image “true,” even if it isn’t. Either way, it was a straitjacket from which I couldn’t escape and the relationship imploded soon enough. A good thing, to be sure.

The post, then, was supposed to be about others placing images and illusions and expectations on our shoulders that make it nearly impossible to transcend. But lately it’s transmogrified into the impossibly transcended images, illusions & expectations we heap on our own heads. Cages built with our own hands. Boxes we’ve constructed and tightly locked and at the same time, hold the keys to our own emancipation.

I don’t care very much about what this draft was supposed to be. The amount of control I have over what others think, what images others hold, is, in the very best case scenario, zero. So yes, frustrating and sad, but pointless to spend much time or energy trying to manage. Yet we do, and that’s where our own carefully crafted images come into play.

Who does he/she need me to be? But it’s not just that simple, is it? Who does he/she need me to be here, now, in this situation? Or how about now, in this one? It’s a sliding scale that never stops sliding. That is true oppression, yoked to an ever changing target, shape-shifting with the day and moment, until we are totally lost.

I spent too much time searching for me as I was also searching for the idea of “me” that would please every single person on earth. Once I got away from “me” for a little while, I could consider who this other me was. It is a long process. Oh baby, it’s a long process. But it does happen, in glimpses and flashes. Hard, absolutely necessary work. The world doesn’t need more superficiality or inauthentic facades. The world needs more you’s and me’s and waaaaay less “you’s” and “me’s.” So maybe we could let these things float away like balloons into the sky and show up, completely present and completely us. I bet we will find us to be wonderful.

Color-Fullness — January 21, 2022

Color-Fullness

Yesterday, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here.

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal.

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with.

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about.

Anyway, the reason racism is so stupid is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

The Joy of Overthinking — January 14, 2022

The Joy of Overthinking

I’m sick AGAIN!!!!!! You know, I moved out of my parent’s house (and our cat, of whom I was allergic) when I was 23 and for the next 20th years, I can count on one hand the number of times I had a cold/flu/sinus infection/earache/whatever. Sometimes headaches were a problem, but never ever sick. But now, since the pandemic began (I have had COVID more than 1 time, but like most of us, who could possibly know how many more?) I have been some level of ill, always a little under the weather. There have been weeks that I begin to feel tip top, but they are soon replaced by more of congestion and fatigue.

What I do is look up “Why am I always sick!!!!!!” Google tells me to stop drinking so much alcohol and quit smoking. Ok, no problem, I don’t do either of those. Then I should exercise (I do nearly every day), wash my hands (obviously, I’m not an animal), sleep (I usually get 7 hours a night, maybe not all of it is great sleep, but I’m in bed with my eyes closed), and eat well (I could probably do better here, but it’s not like I’m a garbage can).

It doesn’t take long to get to the worst-case scenario articles, where I clearly have a disease, condition, or alien parasite.

What you already know is that I am a man who is driven by growth and becoming more of who I have been created to be, and this sort of mindset brings with it a certain amount of reflection. But the thing about that reflection is knowing where the ‘certain amount’ is, when does healthy self-examination become obsession or at the very least overreaction?

When a basketball player misses a shot, it doesn’t necessarily mean she should quit the team, totally rework her shot, or even was an ill-advised shot. Sometimes it just means she missed. No more and no less. If I slip and fall, it might not mean I have awful balance, or need new shoes or have an inner-ear disturbance – maybe I just fell.

Now. It might mean she should quit, or that I need to see a doctor about my ears, right? Healthy reflection. But maybe there’s no why. Maybe there isn’t an answer. Maybe it just happened.

Maybe I have an alien parasite, or maybe I just got COVID and it messed up my immune system for a while. Or maybe neither. Maybe I just have been unlucky and been around some walking germ farms. Patience and perspective are underrated and can be really hard to practice.

Maybe I didn’t do anything wrong and just need to relax and give myself and my mind and my internet search bar a break.

Saying Yes — January 8, 2022

Saying Yes

For the first 40some-ish years of my life, I had a pattern, It was an unhealthy pattern, but it was a pattern nonetheless. So, life would get big & heavy and as it would threaten to crush me under it’s vicious paws, I would fully, completely check out. If you would happen to call me (and later, text me), I wouldn’t call you back. I wouldn’t respond at all. If we had plans, I would break them. I’d listen to tons and tons of Morrissey songs. Life was lived squarely from a NO posture, deep in the dark. The suicidal thoughts (that seems weird to write so nonchalantly, but since I wrote about it a little in my book, it is a little easier, and since I’m not that guy anymore, it’s a lot easier. I’m not him, but I do love him, which is much more than I could ever say then) came with the darkness. That darkness was so total and my desperation so loud, I truly believed it might never be light again and if it wouldn’t be light, then… you get the point.

Anyway. Then my faith in the darkness was replaced with faith in Jesus, and with it, the suggestions of suicide were replaced with (what was at first a flimsy) hope. That’s more awesome than I can tell you, but my pattern continued.

Now, 2 things. There is a good book called Yes Man by Danny Wallace, and a less good movie adaptation with Jim Carrey. The premise is that a guy just says yes to every single thing that comes in his direction. That’s first. Then surprisingly, George Costanza is second. In an perfect episode of Seinfeld, George discovers that, “It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s all been wrong.” Later, Jerry says, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” So he does the opposite and it’s hilarious, but it got me thinking. This pattern has not served me well. It is not who I want to be and it’s not what the who I want to be would do.

Here, on the post I wrote for New Years, I stated that it was a good year. What made it a good year? So many bad things happened, wheels fell off, bones/relationships/lives were broken, hope and people were lost. Last week, we set a new record for numbers of COVID cases. By most objective measures, it was not a good year. What made it good in my perspective?

If every instinct I have ever had about checking out, about isolating myself, about disappearing, has been wrong, then the opposite would have to be right. (Incidentally, the instinct I had about listening to tins and tons of Morrissey happens to be right, in all situations, so that stayed.) So I hesitantly, slowly started reaching out. If when young children get scared, they climb into their parents bed, maybe I should begin to do the same, I reasoned, metaphorically speaking.

I called you, said I was afraid or overwhelmed or angry or frustrated or confused or lost in darkness. I kept the meetings I had scheduled. (I now schedule meetings, phone calls, texts with friends & family. Of course, it feels sort of impersonal, but it’s actually the polar opposite. I decide what is the most important and carve it into my daily/weekly/monthly planner. You write the most important checks first. If we just wait until we think of it or have the time, it’ll be months and months and that conversation will start with “I’m sorry it’s been so long…”) I said yes. I showed up all the time, no matter if I felt like it. You were more important than my feelings right now. I was more important than my feelings right now.

And guess what? In a wonderful twist of fate, my relationships grew in quantity AND quality. I knew and was known, loved and was loved. I opened all parts of me to you (whoever you are) and you were really lovely, trustworthy, and careful.

I teach the Bible and say, “we were never meant to do this alone,” referencing the book of Genesis, always feeling like a humongous hypocrite, mostly because I was a humongous hypocrite. But as my life began to shift into alignment, the doctrine I believed in my head made the wide treacherous leap to my heart, I could see cracks in the oppressive darkness. Cracks where beautifully blinding light could enter.

Darkness still comes (I have a condition) but it’s never total because you’re there. Who would’ve guessed? Well, probably a lot of people could have guessed. I build bridges, but now I do something else. The walls of the cells we create that mark the boundaries of our lives that keep us sick need to come down, we each need to smash our own to pieces, so now I carry a big, heavy sledgehammer to lend to let the light, and life, in. It hurts, it’s terrifying, and it’s sooo worth it.

Looking Around — January 4, 2022

Looking Around

Today I watched Don’t Look Up, a film on Netflix. I had already planned to watch since the trailer premiered, it looked fantastic and I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio should probably be officially classified as a national treasure. Then, last week, a Very Great Friend texted me that I just HAD to watch this movie as soon as possible so we could discuss it. This friend is deeply trusted – the last time I got a text exactly like this was for Into The Spider-Verse, and we all know how that one turned out.

It’s about a comet (referred to as a “Planet Killer” by one of the characters) and it’s path towards the Earth. I’ll try to not tell you how it turns out, but I make no promises.

Sunday night a different Very Great Friend’s mother passed away suddenly, without any warning. They had shared a wonderful Christmas a week earlier. No warning. Yesterday another Very Great Friend’s uncle passed, and the day before we received word that a young husband/dad was declining in the hospital. These last 2 years (maybe it’s the last 2 ,000 or 200,000 years, and I just haven’t been paying attention quite as closely as I am right now) have been an endless painful parade of suffering and loss.

How does this relate to some Netflix original? What does this have to do with a Hollywood produced 2 hours of political propaganda? (I’m only a little kidding about that propaganda jab – it is, but it’s quite a bit more than that.) What does this have to do with comets and yet another amazing Meryl Streep performance and a yet another slimy Jonah Hill character? And what does any of this have to do with Christmas Eve and the book of Genesis? Turns out a lot.

The end of the film has a small group of people sitting around a table talking about gratitude, enjoying a meal together, and the line, “We really did have everything, didn’t we?” This was after 6 months of forgetting/ignoring what exactly they had, chasing all sorts of different threads around and around. It’s strikingly similar to a Bible verse, practically a paraphrase of the passage in Genesis. Jacob wakes from a dream and says, “God was here all along, and I was unaware.” And I missed it. We usually don’t know when our mothers or uncles will be gone, the last time we shared was usually unremarkable, spent distracted, or in the worst cases, fighting. We say, “if I had known, I wouldn’t have missed it, I wouldn’t have gone to sleep. I would have….” (That is what the Christmas message was about this year; A baby was born and the people then & now missed it, they/we were unaware.)

The best scene of the movie was 7 people sitting around a table, some of them family, in the sense that they were husbands & wives, sons & daughters, and the rest of them the sort of family that isn’t born, it’s made. They look different, with wildly varied experiences and perspectives, but they held hands in prayer and love. It was the best part of the movie but it’s also the best part of life, having each other to hold our hands, to love and be loved.

I’ve been thinking about a lot this New Year, what has been lost and as variants rise dramatically, what will be lost. A few weeks ago I concluded that the last year was a good one, mostly because my table was also full of both types of family. Maybe the biggest thing COVID stole was our families, our tables. And maybe the true cost was our awareness of our right here and right now, our gratitude, our attention, our experience of these divine moments. We’ll take them for granted, like we do everything else, and eventually have to say, mournfully, “I just didn’t know.”

I know that I very often write about this, but I can’t think of anything else we can do that is more important than to remind each other that we are loved, we are here now, and we are together.

Spider-Man — December 22, 2021

Spider-Man

No Way Home, the 3rd in the Marvel/Sony Spider-Man trilogy, was released last week, broke records, and thrilled me more than I can tell you. I’m going to write about it a little and try not to give any spoilers.

I had a tough time getting tickets for our family and the theater was jammed. The atmosphere was electric, the buzz in the air reminded us all of what it felt like to be sharing experiences. Netflix is awesome but it really can’t do that. Streaming Hawkeye on Disney+ in the living room simply isn’t the same as a theater full of human beings. Nobody wears superhero suits in my house anymore, but they did at the movies.

I don’t know why they wear masks and dress up like characters, seems odd to me. But here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t matter if I understand. I am me and that guy (or girl) is that guy (or girl) and we are different. What I think we’ve forgotten over the last 2 years of quarantine and isolation is that different is a very good thing. We might disagree on cosplay but we all love Spider-Man.

(As you know, I am a spiritual person and that’s one of the coolest parts about the Church and the local church. We can be different, disagree on a great many issues, but we all love Jesus.)

So there are weirdos in costumes and I am totally normal. (That’s a joke. Ha.) We’re all different, but there was a moment, maybe several moments, where none of that mattered at all. We completely lost our collective minds and gasped or cheered or yelled or cried tears of joy or anything. Together.

I get pretty emotional at Christmas. I mean, more than usual. When I saw Into The Spider-Verse, I remember thinking, “this changes everything.” In that animated film, we were forced to confront our ideas of what is possible in a movie. In the context of Christmas, COVID variants, division, anger, riots, and school shootings, this Spider-Man also can change everything. No Way Home gives us the opportunity to confront our ideas of what is possible in our communities, this world, in society, in us.

I don’t know if we’ll take that opportunity, and answer that invitation. I hope we do. I hope we remember who we are and who we can be. I hope we can discover that our differences are actually wonderful and can bring us closer through curiosity, interest & openness.

If I’m totally honest, I do know. Of course we’ll open that door. I’m relentlessly hopeful and it has served me very well. Yes, I get my heart broken and am disappointed from time to time (ok, lots of times) but my trust, belief, faith and love gets rewarded even more spectacularly, much more often. I am one of those who goes in to Spider-Man expecting it to be great…and sometimes, like this one, it’s better than that.

Perfect — December 17, 2021

Perfect

In my last post, about youth basketball, I wrote: “Incidentally, what keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. I tried to encourage risk, value failure, while celebrating each win. I never withheld my affection or punished a loss, always gave a soft place to land, always threw my arms around him no matter the game/test result. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe nothing.”

(I wonder how long I can call them “youth” sports. They are in high school, they are teenagers. They are still youths, but when does that stop and I can safely just call this “sports?” The summer after graduation? College?)

Anyway. While thinking about that paragraph, well… Have you ever been to the eye doctor? You know when you’re sitting behind that Clockwork Orange-esque device and it’s clicking and the letters either come into focus or quickly blur? This paragraph was the click where the G’s and Q’s become striking in their clarity.

What keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. What keeps me up at night is what I may have done wrong. What keeps me up at night is what I may not have done perfectly and how, ultimately, everything everywhere that happens is mine to control. I wonder where he would’ve possibly gotten the notion that he had to be perfect.

I know where this unhealthy perspective comes from, at least for me. I wanted to get it right, be awesome, because only then could I justify my worth. I hesitate to write the next sentence because my mom reads this, but the truth is that I always came after my dad’s addictions. I desperately wanted to be first, and when I was pitching well, or if I went 3 for 4 and drove in 3 runs, I was. I know he didn’t intend any of this, didn’t try to build an insecure little boy with this mountain of inadequacy to unwind. Like all of us (except for the sociopaths, of which I’m convinced there are very very few), he did his best and I loved him to the moon.

But all of life became a proving ground for my right to be here, where I had to be awesome to find a seat at the table. I had to be the best everything, ball player, funniest, coolest, whatever, which turned me into a big fat pleaser who wasn’t particularly any of those things, except an actor who would contort into any shape you wanted me to be.

Maybe you don’t believe in God or Jesus or faith or anything at all, (and that’s cool, we’re all on different paths), but as I began to fall in love with Jesus, I began to discover that my worth wasn’t tied to my performance at all. That I was good enough, loved, that I belonged as I was, as I am. Of course, this wasn’t overnight. That was 23 years, half of my life, ago, and I’m still writing sentences like the one earlier.

But here’s the cool thing. I was totally honest as I wrote that paragraph this week, and that honesty allowed the click. The boy I used to be was mistaken about his worth. He was depressed and unsure of himself and I’d really like to wrap him up in my arms and let him cry. The problem then was so little of my behavior was authentic, so much was a show, image making and fake. That dishonesty keep me fumbling in the dark for years and years.

Maybe nobody will ever read this, but it’s all true. I overshare because I’m through hiding, everything is dragged into the light and exposed. Of course it’s sometimes scary, but when it is, I know it’s absolutely necessary. I could go on forever and ever about awakening to the man that I’ve been able to meet, vital baby step by vital baby step, but it’s times like these where I can face truth without shame and (here’s the best part) give me a break.

I have responsibility, but not control. Maybe I’ve modeled an unhealthy posture, but I can also model steps towards something brand new. Nothing’s set in stone, today isn’t just yesterday, part 2, we can unwind. He’s a beautiful boy with a lot of weight on his shoulders that I’m vary familiar with. This family (the one that lives in this house that shares my name as well as the entire circle surrounding our lives) is a wonderfully safe place to test the ground. And then to jump.