Love With A Capital L

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

Panem & Pennsylvania — May 19, 2020

Panem & Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp. — May 15, 2020

Camp.

This morning I watched Camp Hollywood, a documentary on the Highland Gardens hotel, providing the backdrop for actors trying to “make it” in an industry that is mostly indifferent. The ocean doesn’t care if you sink or swim and neither does Hollywood. For every name you know, there are millions and millions you don’t.

A reviewer named Naphiah on IMDb writes “this movie is really a love poem to each of our own lives.” I didn’t see it that way… It looked like a slice of life where once-hopefuls drown their despair in loads of alcohol and chain-smoked cigarettes. It was a depressing film, honestly; interesting, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say the actors enjoyed it, either. They arrived with huge dreams and a life savings that doesn’t last long enough. (The filmmaker, a stand-up comedian, had a plan and enough money to stay for 2 months, instead leaving after 20 and $87,000 in credit card debt.)

I have 2 thoughts.

It is actually about community, (as I’m finding most things are), about finding belonging, acceptance, a tribe. These people travel from Canada, usually, and form fast relationships as they face the struggle of auditions, finding celebration and far more often, rejection, together. We all know rejection goes down much smoother with another who understands. From a certain perspective, all of these documentaries are really about The Church. This would be obvious if only the local church knew how to hold the complexity of real life without cliche, knew how to hold depression and pain without scrambling to ignore it to preserve carefully crafted hairstyles and images. The Church could/must fill these holes (but without the destructive escape into substance abuse.) We could learn volumes about the words of Jesus through a Netflix (or in this case, Amazon Prime) curriculum.

Now, the other. Does the fact that they are rejected make them failures? What if they don’t book the role or the pilot isn’t picked up? What if they have to move home? Have they lost?

Naphiah also says, “the director captures…the real success of following one’s dreams. Each participant is therefore, already a success.” (I guess I found her review more inspiring than the movie.) Maybe she’s right. Probably she’s right. We can live sweet, contented lives with a “No,” but may never sleep again nursing a “what if?” These people took their shots, which is more than the majority of us do. Of course, it’s hard and it’ll take years to pay off the debt (and detox from the vodka and nicotine avalanche), but how will you ever really know unless you try?

I guess this is actually a film about courage and imagination, which is what my favorite parts of the Bible are about, which is what my favorite parts of sports and books and stories are about, which is what my favorite parts of life are about.

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.

Pneumonia — April 21, 2020

Pneumonia

This week, I had a chest x-ray tell me that I have pneumonia.

This year has been a very, VERY difficult year in this house, as far as staying healthy goes. We’ve all been sick several times, for weeks at a time – maybe they’re different viruses or infections or whatever or maybe they’re all the same one that simply won’t leave, like bad dinner guests. We’ve been yawning, cleaning up, putting the kids to bed while they still just sit in the living room on the sofa for hours, long past the point where we first began to wonder why they’re staying so long.

I’ve been watching Netflix and professional wrestling documentaries until the unthinkable happened yesterday: I don’t want to watch one more minute of ANYTHING. I turned off the 1 o’clock People’s Court 10 minutes early, before the verdict in the last case!

Yes, of course, Cheer is uplifting and awesome. So is every episode of The Dark Side Of The Ring. And so is Bumblebee. And The Toys/Movies That Made Us is always dependably perfect. The Bulls doc on ESPN called The Last Dance started last night and that’s great, too. As far as being quarantined with pneumonia goes, it’s not the worst time.

I’m lucky. The people in my faith community text or call me every day several times to ask about my wife and I, it’s super cool to see a church be The Church, well suited for, to paraphrase Mike Tyson, a global punch in the face. I’m starting to think I’m not, quite as much. You see, I’m frustrated and angry and impatient right now. I haven’t kissed my wife in weeks and, in addition to how nice it is to kiss someone, I read last week on a blog of the many, many benefits (physical as well as psychological) of a simple smooch.

I can be lucky AND madder than a wampus cat in a rainstorm. (I just learned that sweet expression, which has now become my favorite EVER, through a google search – I needed something that I wouldn’t have to censor and all I can think of are expressions I would have to censor.) I can be thankful. I can love Jesus more than anything. AND I can be frustrated with Him and ask Him at the top of my lungs, “Why?!!!???” Maybe there isn’t a why. Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

Probably, what does matter is that I keep asking, keep seeking, keep listening, keep talking, keep walking together in relationship, authentically. There are parts of the Bible I don’t understand, but one of the parts I absolutely do states (in Hosea, a book almost no one reads), in no uncertain terms, “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” What that means is that God doesn’t want my pretend faith, me going through empty motions trying to “get it right.” Instead, He wants my honest everything.

And sometimes my everything is messy, honestly.

What I Care About This Week — April 14, 2020

What I Care About This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rise of Skywalker — January 22, 2020

Rise of Skywalker

I saw Star Wars and I liked it. Of course I liked it. I am the target market. If a marketer’s intended demographic had a face, it would be my face.

From around 5 to 12 or 13, nothing mattered more than Luke Skywalker, Jedi knights, empires and rebellions. 24 year-old me cried at the opening crawl of episode 1…on a date. As I write this now, it’s less embarrassing than it was then – the happy ending is that the date was with the Angel, and she still married me.

The 2 externals in my life that mattered the most were Star Wars and, later, Morrissey.

In High Fidelity, the author Nick Hornby asks the question if we find the things we find because we are the way we are, or if the things we find mold us into the way we are. Which comes first?

Did I love Morrissey because I was super-sensitive and leaned towards loneliness and melancholy? Or did those songs push me in that direction?

I suppose it doesn’t matter now. No matter how I got there, I did and now I’m the sort that cries at movies and paintings and, well, everything. It’s probably a combination. If I was the captain of the football team, maybe Morrissey would’ve sounded sad and whiny and I would’ve tended more to Led Zeppelin IV or Nickelback. If I was a 5 year old girl, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to fight and liberate the princess and the galaxy (in that order) with a laser sword and space ship so badly.

Sometimes it feels like the road has been mapped out perfectly all along, that we found the people and things that made sense and gave us some context for our lives at EXACTLY the right time. So perfectly, in fact, that it can make us question if we have any free will at all or if we’re just puppets in a theater having our strings pulled by giant fingers in the sky. Then other times, it all seems so random and confusing, with no narrative or plot, like we’re bumper cars driven by toddlers.

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes (and this is likely no surprise, I imagine it leaks into everything I write and say.) It holds all of this confusion, the duality of an authentic life lived with eyes half closed (or half open;), with both hands. The Writer asks questions without expecting answers, is comfortable being lost without needing a detailed map home. A life that holds everything “temporary” (a better translation than “meaningless” – it’s not meaningless, not at all, only temporary) lightly, wanting to understand but willing to abide in the uncertainty, content to eat and drink with the people we love.

Star Wars wasn’t perfect, but in a world that has much much much more than enough pain and suffering to go around, it was beautiful. Morrissey is, too. I don’t care how they got to me, I’m just so thankful they did.

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.