Love With A Capital L

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

Observations (On Cults) — June 3, 2020

Observations (On Cults)

…Or Observations (On Documentaries On Cults).

I think I’m finished watching documentaries on cults. The last several have been just  crushing, breaking my heart over and over. I’m much too sensitive, it’s honestly surprising that I’ve survived this long. I figured not to make it out of my teens, then for sure not seeing 30. Now, who knows? But it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable, like my heart is going to explode or actually literally break apart.

So, I might be done with them, but what I’ve learned is pretty valuable. You know the George Santayana saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Incidentally, this quote was on the wall of an outside sanctuary at Jonestown.)

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned that must not be forgotten:

* The story of each and every cult can’t be told without an understanding of our need to belong. We all ask, why? Why would they follow that guy, why would they do what they did, why would they poison the water, drink the Kool-Aid, kill the Congressman, whatever? Why? For the exact same reason we do so many of the things we do (good and bad): bully other kids at school, have sex, go out to eat, participate in violent hazing rituals, play sports, join a sorority, go to church, wear a Dallas Cowboys jersey, get married, everything I can think of. We all have a need to be with others that can be traced easily to the earliest men in the earliest accounts, “it is not good for man to be alone.” It is there, a hole in the deepest recesses of our souls. And it must be met, the only question is how. That’s why they/we follow.

*  Why do they start? A cult begins with a man’s (or much less often, a woman’s) desire/thirst for power, money, or sex (most times all 3.) This isn’t too surprising, either. I guess this is our way of being significant, of being remembered, of being our own god.

Now, a rule of thumb, so we don’t go on repeating the past. If you see a group that wears the same colors or uniforms worshipping a guy that says “be a part of my special club – the only real qualification is that you sleep with/marry me,” or kill those that don’t belong, or kill those who do (including you), no matter how cool the people or the uniforms are, that’s probably not the best idea. Can we agree on that?

(I recognize the “don’t kill those who don’t belong” rule can lead to pretty interesting conversations about the Bible’s Old Testament. And a blog might not be the best place for that. What I can safely say is that we’re not in the Old Testament anymore, and when Jesus said, “Don’t kill,” He meant it.)

One more. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you are a grown-up (kids don’t read anymore, they only play Fortnite and watch TikTok videos.) That’s important because we  choose where we will belong. If you do decide to say Yes to the guru who wants you to be his 97th wife, give him all of your money, and contaminate water supplies with beavers (actually happened!!!!), that is your prerogative. You are free to do that, if you really want to.

The part of the cult documentaries that drove me away is the predilection of these leaders to sleep with (i.e. abuse, rape) children. You see, you are allowed to do what you want, but these kids don’t get that choice and lines must be drawn. It’s where curiosity and novelty pierced my heart and I can no longer roll my eyes or call it entertainment. I can no longer abide. When the ‘least of these’ (I mean no disrespect, I just use a phrase that describe the oppressed, the forgotten, the discriminated against, the minimized, the squashed, the abused, the raped… in other words, all of us at some point) are violated simply because somebody thought he had that power while we stood idly by, watching… well, that’s an agreement I can no longer tolerate.

The Barkley — May 26, 2020

The Barkley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or will we take another step?

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

Panem & Pennsylvania — May 19, 2020

Panem & Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court — January 30, 2020

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court

My heart is broken about a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California that killed 9 people I don’t know. One of them is basketball player Kobe Bryant. Everything has been written about him, so I’m going to write some more.

He was an absolutely transcendent basketball player. He was intelligent, charismatic, caring, magnetic, generous. He was a great dad, husband, teammate, co-worker, and friend. He was also egotistic, jealous, selfish, a terrible teammate, a bad dad & husband. (I won’t talk about Colorado – the 3 that did were severely reprimanded by their employers and/or the public. I know we don’t talk about things like that. I know we don’t tell the truth.) People loved him. People hated him.

He was all of these things and much much more. He was human. We think athletes (and anyone above a certain level of fame) are superheroes, but instead they’re shockingly human. Sometimes, rarely, we will acknowledge this fact.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Marvel films are their willingness to dive into this duality. Tony Stark is Ironman! And a narcissist. He can save the world! A world that he, through his actions/creations, placed in danger in the first place.

We are complex and defy easy generalizations. Meredith Brooks (in a hit song I won’t name;) sings, “I’m a child, I’m a mother. I’m a sinner, I’m a saint.”

The problem is when we compartmentalize each other, needing them to be just one thing in service of our own comfort. Why can’t we acknowledge that Kobe was deeply flawed? It doesn’t lessen the tremendous loss. In the interviews following his death, one thing that stood out is that he was quite open about his faults. He was seemingly the only one who was comfortable with the truth. (That’s where change happens; there’s a reason step 1 in recovery is first. Honest evaluation is vital. As long as we continue to hide, we can’t change OR affect people who can be inspired by the entire arc of the story.) Other celebrities have lists of “things we don’t talk about,” and run from press conferences or questions that touch on those less than proud moments, decisions and characteristics we all have. This is called hypocrisy in the Bible. We are called not to pretend…and in the same way, not judge each other. This becomes much more possible when we don’t neeeeeed them to be just one thing, when we can accept and hopefully move to love them as they are.

On the People’s Court yesterday, a defendant was funny and engaging, very likable. He was also recently released for 13 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He had trouble making a living to support himself and his new wife because he couldn’t get hired. He also lost the case, and was friendly and deprecating to Doug in the hallway.

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish Colorado didn’t happen, I really wish it didn’t happen to that woman, but that it did doesn’t make his life less inspiring. He, and the woman, and the guy on the People’s Court, my neighbor, and all of my friends, and me…we have lots of facets, lots of texture and depth. Like diamonds. Another song (this one from Rise Against) goes, “We are far from perfect, we’re perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken. But we are *** works of art.” Kobe was a work of art. So was his daughter. And the other 7 I hadn’t heard of. And so are we.

[I’m having a difficult time “Publishing” this… The point is that our only real disservice to each other is to believe that our beauty is somehow tied to our perfection. This is a bar none of us can reach, setting us all up for either failure or more and more hypocrisy and dishonest pretending. I do not mean to minimize the damage done to any victim..I do not mean to say everything is ok. It isn’t…Maybe I’ll be sorry I post this. Maybe someone will misunderstand my heart and think when I call Kobe inspiring, that I am de-valuing another. I don’t mean to, I’m truly sorry if I did. All of this is messy. And I guess what I think, why I’m going to post this, is that I think the messiness is important. I think the only way things change is when all of this is dragged into the light and we stop hiding everything, stop avoiding the mess, and start to look at each other as we are, not some idealized versions of ourselves, and start to pull down the walls that keep us from loving ourselves and each other.]

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — January 9, 2020

Let’s Dance To Joy Division

The days off this week were sort of forced. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

I watched the first 2 Iliza Shlesinger comedy specials (War Paint and Freezing Hot) and the first episode of the Witcher, all of which were excellent. The Iliza’s give a lot of hope for her career, because each special is better than the last. Usually in art (music especially), a whole life informs the debut, and it’s personal and deep, then the follow up is rushed and sadly lacking the immediacy of what made the debut so compelling. Iliza is sharper as she goes, the material is new (not just a greatest hit collection with a few new tracks.)

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (the current Superman, at least for now) and carries an unreasonable amount of armor, swords, moral ambiguity and violence: all things I really love.

I’m listening to Matchbox Twenty, “Our Song,” right now. I’ve always thought they were wholly underrated and under appreciated, and I would be willing to fight you about that.

Then there is this song called “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” by the Wombats. As much as it hurts me to say, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe if I did, I would be a little embarrassed to mention them. Not as embarrassed as I would’ve been when I was 20 and that sort of thing mattered more.

(By the way, “Our Song” has ended and “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson is on now. If you do nothing else, please listen to this. It’s everything.)

So, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” is a catchy pop song that sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes. This world doesn’t make any sense, sometimes, and it’s scary and feels random and mean, so let’s just have a nice meal, enjoy ourselves and move our hips a little. War, earthquakes, whole countries on fire, hunger, violence (when I say I love violence, it goes without saying that it’s in Netflix documentaries and not in real life, right???), what are we supposed to do? It all feels so big, what can we do?

Well, we can’t fix it today, or tomorrow, or next week. I might suggest we are part of a generation that believes we can’t fix it on a macro, or governmental, level. However, I do believe we can fix it. Or better yet, I believe it’s not meaningless to try. We have to try, or why would we ever get out of bed?

It’s broken, structurally. Everyone knows this. The whole system is corrupt, rotted from the inside, but not without hope. We can easily forget the system is made of people, it’s not faceless and nameless, it’s just people who are broken, corrupt, sad, empty, who are overwhelmed with inadequacy and insecurity, and when those people can be replaced with people who are loved, accepted, belong to a family of humanity that knows no walls or division, people who rediscover their worth and value, then the system can be one that breathes kindness, care, compassion.

It’s quite a reclamation project, a long play, isn’t it? But it’ll work, and the longer we wait to love somebody (eventually everybody), the longer it’ll take. We can start today, we can do something, anything. Write a check, volunteer, vote, pray AND hold hands, kiss softly and slowly, eat with someone, listen, laugh, and move your hips a little.

Year End — December 20, 2019

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.

All I Want For Christmas — December 13, 2019

All I Want For Christmas

The second I heard Lady Gaga’s first album – actually, probably the first time I heard ‘Paparazzi’ – I figured that she was not the empty record company vessel she appeared to be. Of course, the songs were amazing, perfectly written and packaged pop explosions, but the interesting part to me was that embedded inside an album about becoming rich and famous, there were lyrics that dismantled the very goal it espoused. My theory was that she was wooing us just to pull the rug from under us all, exposing the vacuousness of the entire system of chasing dollar bills and Kardashian fame.

I figured she was different, the anti-Mariah Carey, anti-Britney Spears.

I am right about Lady Gaga, she hasn’t yet “come out” as running an elaborate ruse to show us ourselves and the absurdity of temporal, temporary pursuits, but I am right. As you can see in A Star Is Born and the Joanne album, her entire career trajectory is the revelation of a real-life artist, an endangered species of sorts.

What I may not be right about is that she is the anti-Mariah Carey.

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, there’s an interview to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Now, 2 things. First, 25 years?!!!?. Can it really be 25 years??? And 2, we hear it on an endless loop at this time of year and you either love it or you pretend to hate it. (Sometimes, art snobs like us rage against popular things because they’re lowest common denominator drivel, edges sanded to appeal to everyone, and moving no one. Or because we like to look like the coolest kids at the party.) The public reactions are polarizing, but the actual feelings aren’t: Everyone loves this song, because it’s perfect.

So, I read this interview and it’s sharp, funny, entertaining and informative. The best interviews (and interviewers) force us to ask, “have we been wrong about this person all along?” Maybe I was. Seared into my head is her embarrassing TRL appearance (and Her embarrassing Cribs episode and embarrassing New Years Eve performance and and and) that showed her, um, in a less than flattering light. Who knows what she actually is?

Who knows who any of the people we see on tv actually are? Once, we all wanted Bill Cosby to be our dad because of his sweaters, The Cosby Show and Jell-O commercials.

We are seeing carefully crafted images.

How I can definitively say I’m right about Gaga is because I’m that kind of arrogant when it comes to music and artistic expression. But I don’t know, really. Maybe there’s a guy that looks like me in his living room that is writing the subtle cutting lyrics and designing meat dresses, pulling strings and planting Easter eggs for us to find.

This is important (and bigger than records and Christmas songs) because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about who I am, who you are, who we are. Are we living authentic, fulfilling lives or are we simply actors, building personas that shift depending on who we are performing for?

And perhaps more importantly, are we making inferences on those we see and meet based on those images? I don’t have the visceral hatred for the word ‘judgment’ that I’m told to, because I don’t think it’s always such a terrible thing. Sometimes, toxic people are toxic people and should not be allowed to hurt us over and over and over, no matter how many times we are scolded, commanded, “Don’t judge me.” But our perceptions should probably be held loosely, able to be changed, because who knows? Maybe she was going through some things. Maybe she has grown since she was 25. Maybe she is still figuring out who she is. Maybe she is exactly who she is on TRL or the interview. Most likely, she’s both and neither. Just like me.

The truth of who we are, stripped of all of the expectations and pretenses, is both messier and so much better than we could ever imagine. It’s those edges and colors and quirks that make life so great. If I promise to be real, and you promise to be real, we can see each other for who we are, fall in love with each other’s everything (even when that everything includes the things that drive us crazy), then Christmas will become what Christmas was actually meant to be when it was about a baby that would rescue us all. And if it can be for 1 day, it can be more and more, and it can be everyday.

Ok. We’ve spent too much time here, reading, when this time could be much better spent listening to that song, and living Love.