Love With A Capital L

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

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.

One Big Lump — December 6, 2019

One Big Lump

I have no idea what I’m going to talk about on December 22nd or December 24th. Now, this is sort of a big problem because December 24th is Christmas Eve, our faith community extended will be at the church, everyone will look so sharp and happy, an overwhelming amount of hugs will be given, and when the first set of worship music ends, I’ll stand up, whether or not I discover what will come out of my mouth.

This is only mildly disturbing, rather than panic inducing, for a few reasons. One, because it’s December 6th and I have a little time. (It’s unusual to not have at least a tiny seed to tend, but there is time.) Two, because God is faithful and I have no doubt He will provide.

Three… Well, it’s Three I want to talk about this morning.

Yesterday morning (while I should’ve been working), I had breakfast (pumpkin pancakes and 4 slices of the best bacon ever) with a very good friend. We talked about things that matter a lot, things that matter a little and things that don’t matter at all. And, to make it even better, in addition to the gift of his time, He paid.

Last night (while I should’ve been working), the 4 people who live in my house crowded onto the sofa around Samuel’s school computer for hours. For some reason, his phone couldn’t/wouldn’t connect to the big tv or the computer which could’ve projected onto the big tv, forcing us to climb on and over each other to see the photos and hear the stories of his band trip to Disney World.

This morning (while I should’ve been working), I woke up too early and worked out, breathing deeply in gratitude for the physical gifts I have been given.

Later (while I should’ve been working), I spoke to 2 other very good friends on the telephone (answering the modern question of “who actually talks on the telephone anymore?” with a surprising, “I guess I do”) about the Dallas Cowboys heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears last night, community, workers compensation, spiritual warfare, and whole life transformation.

Tomorrow (while I should be working), I’ll be at a contemplative retreat at 9 and then drive to Hamburg for 2 basketball games at 11 and 12.

And right now I’m writing this to you instead of working, sweating, chopping wood trying to unearth the main thread for this Christmas message in 2-parts (that can, of course, stand alone.) And as you can surely guess, the questions begin, whispering “What will they think?” “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if you’re not prepared?” And moving to the accusations: “You have always been lazy,” “You’re not enough for these beautiful people,” “You’ll let them all down.” To finally, “What if He doesn’t give you anything this time?”

It’s this last one that exposes the charade. This last one is so clearly, obviously a lie, and leads me to question the rest. What will they think…not good enough…not prepared…lazy…not good enough… What’s interesting is that right now, I don’t care. They are either true (which some of them probably are) or they’re not (which some of them definitely are), but it is Christmas.

You see, Christmas is about a baby, a Savior, a man, God. It’s not about my work, my trying/earning/justifying, my being good enough. It’s about the Gift. It’s about all of the gifts – and there are many.

Like, for instance, 3 friends, bacon, cell phones, and my very favorite one: The holy accident that my boy’s phone wouldn’t connect and instead of sitting all over the room, we were smushed into one big lump of family and the kind of boundless love that makes everything so wonderful.

“What if He doesn’t give me anything???” Baby, He already has, more than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of, and if I miss that, then I’ve totally missed the point – of Christmas, of grace, of Jesus, of me, of you, of life – and it doesn’t matter what I say.

Cold & Broken — November 22, 2019

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell — October 31, 2019

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell

I’m trying to add a rest day to my life. It’s an interesting thing, when I left my job to work from home, I also left a life neatly segmented into work/rest and on/off. My initial fear was that a childish impulse for laziness (my childish bend towards laziness, in fact) would rule and I would get nothing at all done. This fear was unfounded and instead, it’s opposite proved to be the real concern. Without the structure of time “on,” punching a time clock to be at work there could be no “off,” no rest, and that rest became the most damaging casualty of the move. Even when I wasn’t actively working on something, when I wasn’t productive, I was considering what I would do. Or worse, what I should be doing. That ‘should’ provided a wide-open door for the voices whispering the lies that have plagued me forever, convincing me that any time not working was idle, wasted, that I had not changed and my poor work ethic was letting everyone down, that I was a disappointment.

Those voices are the absolute worst. We can talk about them more another time. What I want to talk about is the next step I’m taking on the journey towards health (all kinds; physical, emotional, spiritual, etc) and ultimately, peace.

So. Now I try to take a day off – No work, nothing to do with church or pastoral duties. Initially, I wasn’t going to go the gym, but as it turns out, I like that, it’s filling to me and allows me to eat a little more;)  Anyway, 2 weeks ago was the first and we talked about that here. I watched The Hateful 8 and started a book, Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Then, last week, I didn’t intentionally choose a film, so I ended up unintentionally staring at half-hour sitcoms and reality tv and not opening the Hornby book until the evening. I’m not one of those condescending snobs…well, actually I am, but not about mindless tv. I see their purpose and think the phrase “guilty pleasure” is ridiculous. We all like what we like and sometimes those things are food and sometimes they’re leeches, sucking our energy and motivation. The very same things can be positive and negative, depending on the day and moment.

On the Hateful 8 day, I was refreshed and bright. even though I didn’t too much like the movie, I was inspired by it’s scope and artistry. The following week, I was drained and depressed. The things we put into our body (into our eyes and ears and souls as well as our mouths) and when we put them in matter more than we recognize. And no one can tell us what and when. It takes attention/intention and a desire to live the kind of lives for which we have been created. That’s not easy and the hardest part is that it takes a long inward journey and willingness to meet ourselves in dark places, hold hands and lead us back into the light.

This week, I watched an ESPN documentary called Chuck & Tito, about 2 mixed martial arts fighters, and finished Funny Girl. I also watched the People’s Court. They were all awesome, (especially Funny Girl), you should find and experience all of them. And today, I feel like a million bucks.

It’s as if these works of art rub up against us and can either erode, wearing us down into hollow-eyed shells over time, or they can provide the impetus for growth, fulfillment and new life. It’s just up to us to decide which one it’ll be.

 

 

Hornby and Q.T. — October 17, 2019

Hornby and Q.T.

It’s easy to forget how much I love to read. And watch films. And write. All sorts of things, really. For some reason, I am often unwilling to make the time and energy commitment they require, but when I do – like today – I remember who I am, who I’d like to be, what I like to do.

There is a forgotten place called a library that lends actual, physical books FOR FREE and 3 weeks ago I borrowed one called Funny Girl, written by Nick Hornby. He wrote a book I’ve read a hundred times called High Fidelity that is My Very Favorite Book In The Whole World (narrowly edging Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut). And for 3 weeks, Funny Girl sat on a shelf in my dining room staring at me quietly judging, wondering why I hadn’t yet picked her up. Today, it’s pouring rain and I’ve decided to treat me a little better and take 1 day a week where I do no work (at least I try) and today is day 1, so I opened this book and began a new life.

I love to read, especially books written by Nick Hornby.

I also love Quentin Tarantino films. Today was also a day I curled up under an blanket and watched a movie I had been wanting to see, The Hateful Eight. I have 2 children who do not watch Rated-R movies, so that means I rarely watch Rated-R movies. Instead, we usually watch superhero movies – I love those, too, and have no problems watching them over and over – but I discovered years ago that I like movies where people wear regular clothes (not necessarily tights and capes) talk a lot and nothing much really has to happen for me to care. They used to be called ‘Independent’ films, and maybe they still are. Either way, I don’t make the time to see them.

I watched Hateful 8 because I love Tarantino films, or at least I think I do. I LOVED Pulp Fiction more than I can say, Kill Bill vol. 2 and Reservoir Dogs nearly as much, but most everything else has been, honestly, pretty disappointing. Hateful 8 was ok. The acting was great, the dialogue was, too, as expected. Maybe I don’t love Tarantino movies, maybe I just love 3 of them.

But whether I liked it or not seems besides the point. The point is that these 2 small-ish acts acted as mirrors, and the person I saw was familiar and awfully welcome. Great art (or not-so-great art or even bad art) is completely inspiring, shows me a world where anything is possible – where I am possible.

I do so much absently, passively. Hateful 8 wasn’t great, but it was anything but background noise. It demanded my attention, my engagement, my presence. When I get a moment, I usually choose a mindless sitcom or reality show to check out for a minute, which turns into 2 or 3, leaving me glassy-eyed and stuck. Of course, this is not a rant against the evils of sitcoms or reality tv, but at least for me, they do not give life, never encourage me to grow or evolve.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” While I can binge watch my days away, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I could read instead. Or watch something that asks something of me. Do something that gives life instead of takes.

Today is a very good day, maybe I could have more of these.

My Speedo — September 25, 2019

My Speedo

This is going to be a very personal, difficult post to write…but I’m going to write it anyway. Maybe I’m just like ‘the kids’ today, where all of life is meant to be online, where it didn’t happen if it’s not on social media. It’s a logical extension of a movement that truly began in Madonna’s illuminating (and completely insufferable) documentary Truth or Dare, where Warren Beatty says, after Madonna refuses to talk to her doctor off-camera: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Or maybe I just want to be honest with my life. If I’m going to write a blog where we relate authentically, why would I hold such a meaningful piece of me back? (I want it to be that 2nd one. I don’t want to be Madonna or a Kardashian, so let’s all just agree and say it’s the 2nd and go from there, ok?)  

I started in the sand at Rehoboth beach: As I lay here in my Speedo, I remember all of the time I spent fully dressed – self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d wear t-shirts in community pools, lakes, oceans…if I’d even go at all. Usually, I would lie about some made-up excuse and decline invitations. My body wasn’t perfect, lumpy where it should be flat and flat where it should have curves. [Who was it that decided what my body “should” look like? Who knows?]

How many times? How much did I miss?

I wouldn’t dig holes and make castles with my boys – something they absolutely LOVE to do (again, who knows why? The point is, they do) – because of how I would fold and my skin would roll. So they dug alone, and I watched from under layers of clothes and the chair extended enough to not scrunch my belly too much, sweaty and uncomfortable.

And for what? Why why why why why?????

Because THEY might think…um, what might they think?

That I wasn’t a professional athlete, bodybuilder or Abercrombie & Fitch model? That they might think I was just a person who is a child of the Living God, who leads a full life, loves his wife and children, works, writes, reads, eats great meals, likes jeans with a little stretch, and has no idea what his body fat percentage is or what his biceps measure?  

That’s ok, because that’s precisely what I am. (Except for the biceps measurement – I know that.)

How much time and energy have I spent distracted, wishing I were someone else, with someone else’s waistline or skin or paycheck or wit or whatever, while another beautiful moment of my life passed right on by. The number on a scale or letter(s) on a shirt taking precedence to the people and the places around me. What a crushing tragedy!

How much of my life have I not been present?

I’m finishing on my sofa in Cleona: So. I’ve been coming along with this, finding some deliverance from the stern body image monster whispering in my ear, until Angel decides to post a few pictures on Facebook. She shows me first, because she’s kind and respectful and the sweetest  woman this planet has ever known, and there it is…In the middle of a handful of perfectly lovely photos, there I am in, kind of sideways, more than kind of unflattering. You know how you sometimes see a picture of you and you ask, “do I really look like that?” The answer is always yes, and unflattering or not, this one is me, too. I wanted to un-check the box, but instead I handed her phone back and smiled, “They’re great!” Because they really, really are.

And I guess it’s small insignificant acts like those that are the things that really change us. We step out one tiny step further than we’ve ever gone, then there’s a brand new line waaaaay up there that’s scary and intimidating and we think, ok, we did this, but could never do THAT. Then we do, except it’s now just a small step because we’ve taken 100 microscopic tiptoes before this. Then another. And another.

And before we know it, this is our life and there we are, living it. 

Ariana Grande — September 4, 2019

Ariana Grande

A looooooong time ago in what only feels like a distant galaxy, MTV played music videos. The Buggles and their beautiful warning, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was the first of many, a doorway to a surprising new world of possibility. “Thriller,” “Take On Me,” and “Buddy Holly” were the best high concept short films, and shone brightly among the mindless concert footage and tour clips. Now, there are no videos. There is Catfish, Ridiculousness, Challenge, Teen Mom, and the unholy sequels of the Hills and Jersey Shore. Maybe there’s more, who knows? The only music is the 8 seconds in and out of break and to soundtrack long pensive drives.

I loved music videos and I’m really sorry they’re nearly extinct. Only nearly, because I can still see an hour of them every day on the Planet Fitness corporate channel on the informational (time, temperature, local advertisements, promotions, etc) tv’s.

Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” though fairly old, is still on a pretty tight rotation, which means I see it 3 or 4 times a week. The song isn’t great but it’s not terrible – better now that I know most of the words and can sing along.

“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles. Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble. Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines. Buy myself all of my favorite things (yeah)…My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah). I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah)”

I recognize that there’s something absurd about a man like me singing these words, but just because I have no idea what it means to have a neck that is flossin’ or a gloss that is ‘poppin’ doesn’t mean mine isn’t, right?

Anyway. (What’s next isn’t new or earth-shattering, but it is worthy of our attention and lament.)

MTV was invented as a vehicle to move product – like a big, shiny bulletin board of advertisements. The difference (and I can’t pinpoint when it happened…probably Madonna, I suppose) is that the product was the music: albums, singles, t-shirts, concert tickets, posters. Now, Ariana Grande’s songs (we can’t even talk about albums, NOBODY but me buys albums anymore) are not the point at all. As far as I can tell, the video for “7 Rings” is an ad for an internet porn site. It’s not a commercial for a song, it’s a commercial for only 1 aspect of Ariana Grande, her sexuality.

I’m not here to say what she’s doing is wrong, or why she’s doing them is wrong (or even if there’s even such a thing as right & wrong in pop superstardom.) She’s an adult. What I am here to say is that I believe that Ariana Grande is a smart, strong, funny, unbelievably talented woman, a daughter, sister, who has opinions on politics and spirituality, who loves her parents, grandparents, is loyal and generous to the friends she had before she was famous, still mourns the breakup of her marriage, laughs too loudly sometimes  and in places she might not talk about openly is insecure and feels totally inadequate. I believe these things about her because I believe these things about everyone.

When she is reduced (as she is in the video) to only the 1 part of herself that is deemed important to people like me and you, it minimizes her AND it minimizes us – as if we are only capable of the most obvious, least nuanced understanding of another human being. No one is just one thing. We are each the most wonderful mosaics. When we categorize another based on just one part of their humanity – whether it is race, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, whether they are left-handed, or whether or not they are ‘hot’  – it wrongly implies that that isolated superficial label is all we are. As I watched “7 Rings,” I wondered if/when she is no longer what music executives brand ‘sexy,’ will her talent still be valuable? Would she still be beautiful?

I mostly like to listen to songwriters and read magazines and bios and liner notes because I’ve always care about who is making the music; who they are, where they come from and what they are all about. They are more than pictures, more than notes, more than songs and certainly more than genitalia.

I know, it’s probably an old-fashioned notion and there probably isn’t much room to bring this up without being branded something or other. And maybe I am that something or other. Maybe. But I am absolutely, positively much more.

 

 

 

 

Trolls — August 23, 2019

Trolls

My 2 sons and I saw the movie Trolls Tuesday morning at the local theater. Now, I recognize that Trolls is not the most masculine movie – sort of makes Frozen look like Raging Bull – but there we were, just 3 guys deep in the story of Princess Polly and Justin Timberlake. JT says in the movie that his grandma says he has the voice of an angel and as it turns out, she was fantastically right. In the emotional climax, he sings the awesome Cyndi Lauper ballad True Colors. My heart stopped and I wept – not because I cry at everything, I do, but this time it was because that was the ONLY response. It was an uplifting fairy tale of the power of happiness and friendship full of great (if a bit inconsequential) songs and pastel colors.

As we walked out of the darkness, we agreed. It was fine.

Now, to discuss Trolls is to actually discuss Toy Story. Not 4, which is in theaters now, but the first time we saw Woody and Buzz, when the landscape shifted and Trolls would never be good enough again.

Before 1995, kids movies were paper thin, superficial, helpless princesses and as subtle and nuanced as a falling anvil. The parents took their children and waited for the end credits to roll. That is, until Pixar introduced us to full, complex characters who had journeys that mirrored our own. Since then, instead of pandering to children with parents held hostage, our minds and hearts are now engaged the same way live-action films could, but rarely do. Think about the first 15 minutes of Up, Bing Bong and Sadness in Inside Out, and every second of Wall-E. They embrace our souls as we are immersed into computer-generated worlds that are more authentic, more true, than photographs of our own.

Trolls, pre-1995, is pretty great. Now it’s simply ok. Fine. We may sing the songs again (except for that steaming piece of garbage, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” That one will not be welcome in my house) but we won’t remember the names or the plot. It’s just not good enough anymore.

An assignment in a college 20th Century world class required us to write some sort of essay. I don’t remember what the actual topic was because I didn’t follow the directions at all. I wrote my own paper on, I think, a talk given by Henry Rollins. As the professor, John Synodinos (a beautiful man who was perfectly suited to be an educator), passed our graded papers back to us, he held mine up and said, “This one,” and paused. I expected to be eviscerated for my rebellion, but he lit up and said, “His name is Chad Slabach, remember that name. He is a writer.”

I will never forget that day, that feeling. It was the first time I was actually seen in school. It was a fresh word, spoken to a young man full of “potential” (is there a more hurtful label??) who didn’t “apply” himself. I was never good enough of what everyone wanted me to be, always disappointing. I was nice. Fine.

John Synodinos held my fractured psyche in his hands and spoke a different truth. With his acceptance and affirmation, opened my eyes, and the lies I believed about myself would never be good enough anymore. My life was fundamentally changed.

Could it be that I was more than just fine? Maybe I needed less acquiescence and more expectation. Less shuffling and more soaring.

There are moments where the walls we’ve constructed that limit us are exposed and we start to believe that what we’ve settled for is beneath us, right? It’s not like we cross a threshold and crawl out of a cocoon completely new, the old habits die hard, never quietly. Trolls still gets green-lit and a gigantic budget, but we begin to see that those old clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I see that familiar look in someone’s eyes, I pray for that Synodinos moment for them, pray that I can be one who can help to give it to them. I pray for that crack in the old paradigm that will bring the whole thing crashing down and the imagination that has lain dormant for so long can escape.

Hm. Actually, now that I think about it, Branch (JT) is a prisoner of his own perceived narrative that keeps him gray, grouchy, and small. He needs his own Synodinos (Princess Poppy) to show him the way out, that there IS a way out… Well, maybe Trolls is better than I thought.

Steven Patrick Morrissey — June 26, 2019

Steven Patrick Morrissey

Late last week, my sister tagged me in a Facebook post that advertised a Morrissey concert near Philadelphia, roughly an hour from my house.

She tagged me because her my brother-in-law would never go, he can’t stand Morrissey, hates his voice like fingernails on a chalkboard. He’s wrong, and it calls into question every other opinion he holds. She also tagged me because Morrissey has been my favorite singer since I was 13. You know how, when people are asked what they listen to, they usually think for a minute and say, “oh, well, everything really?” Or pause when they’re asked what they’re favorite song is? I never pause, because I don’t have to think. I say, “Morrissey/the Smiths” (the Smiths are the Very Important Band Morrissey fronted for a time in the ‘80’s) or “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” as if I’ve been waiting for someone to ask. Then they either nod, impressed, or confess that they have no idea who Morrissey is. 

It is no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. I’ve had a 30 year relationship with him and the songs/albums that have provided the soundtrack for EVERY SINGLE significant moment of my life; celebrations, heartbreaks, joy, pain, times when I was broken and times when I was whole. I listened to Louder Than Bombs (‘Unloveable’ on repeat) on my way home from an ex-girlfriend’s apartment after we had separated. I listened to Bona Drag on my way to and from my high school graduation. I knocked off school every time a new album was released – in fact, when World Peace Is None Of Your Business was released in 2014, I woke up at 3am to download it so I could have it for the gym at 4 and work later that day. If CDs and New Release days were still a thing, I imagine I would’ve knocked off of work that day, too. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” was my wedding song, played right in the middle of the ceremony, for all of us to hear about “double-decker bus” crashes and the pleasure and privilege of dying “by your side.” 

In the book High Fidelity, Rob asks if we find the music or if the music finds us – if the songs change us or we are the kind of people who can be changed by the songs. It probably doesn’t matter if I was hypersensitive and dramatic and that’s why Morrissey appealed to me so deeply, or if his lyrics/voice led me to be hypersensitive and dramatic. I am hypersensitive and dramatic and I love him like he’s a member of my family, and if I were to ever meet him, I would thank him for being who he was to me.

I almost met him once. He was playing a show at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and I got there at 8am to stand in line so I could press myself against the stage for the show. Around 5-ish, I think, there was rumor that he was there, but there had been many such rumors during that day, and the line was looong by then and I couldn’t trust its validity. Of course, he was there and signed everything as he spoke with the fans who found him… 

I saw him twice in concert. The first was the Electric Factory show when I was 18 and the second was with my special lady (and first son, who was safely tucked inside her stomach, listening and I imagine thoroughly enjoying himself and judging us to be The Coolest Parents in America.)     

We use the word love for everything. I love my car, these shorts, pizza, my sister, and my nephew Nathan who just graduated from high school (who incidentally, sadly agrees with his dad about Morrissey), but I don’t love them all the same. If I were to list the things I love, Morrissey would be above ALL things that aren’t people. I love him more than pizza and baseball (both in the top 10) combined, no matter how many regrettable things he says or how many shameless cash-grab greatest hit/b-side collections/deluxe editions he releases. I don’t like the new album, but at this point, it’s irrelevant. He’s family, and I don’t like or agree with everything every person I love does or says. That’s part of growing up. In college, too many relationships ended because they didn’t like Morrissey enough. I’m different now.

I don’t care anymore if you like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ though I suspect if you don’t understand why I do, you may not like me that much. 

I’m not going to the Morrissey show with my sister, even if he was playing in the high school in my town, because I don’t go to shows anymore period. It is no longer my scene. (Well, maybe I would go if it was in the high school in my town…) And I’m not buying the new California Son album – bad covers albums aren’t my scene anymore, either. 

The music found me when I was 13 through a family I worked with at the PA Renaissance Faire from the Philippines (one was named Mark, another named Jay and another was a gorgeous girl who had what looked like a stencil of a leaf on her tongue), and I’m a different person now. I’ve seen so many things come and go, graduated high school and college (twice), fell in love with Jesus, got married, buried my dad, had 2 children. So, so many changes, but one thing that never changes is Morrissey. 

I have no idea why I wrote this. There’s really no point, but I guess love letters don’t really have to have a point. The love IS the point. 

So Trish, thanks for asking, but I think I’ll pass.