Love With A Capital L

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

Catfish, pt ???: First 40 — August 18, 2021

Catfish, pt ???: First 40

The new episodes of Catfish air on Tuesdays, so almost the entire day is devoted to old episodes. (The one sad, lonely exception is Teen Mom 2 the hour before the premiere. Sigh.) I watch while I eat my breakfast and tend to my rabbit HoneyBunny. Though I didn’t personally name her, I really love it because at least once every day, I say “I love you HoneyBunny,” like Tim Roth’s character does in Pulp Fiction. Anyway. The episode this morning was a bit of an anomaly. The Catfish had been to jail and out because the Catfishing turned into criminality. Simply lying on dating profiles and direct messaging isn’t against the law, but extortion is. Nev & Max traveled several airplanes and one long drive through snow covered roads so far north to a town that may or may not be on maps in hopes of an interview. Of course, they got one – it is a TV show and reality isn’t exactly real like we know it to be. So as they left that depressing house, Nev said, “One thing I’ve learned from all these years of Catfish is that there are no monsters at the end of the line.”

I love the show, have been watching it for so long, I guess it’s only natural that this would have informed so much of my perspective. Episode after episode, for 40 minutes I think the person they’re chasing is just horrible, a nightmarish villain looking for no more than to be a wrecking ball in some poor sucker’s life. And then for the final 20, I realize I’ve been wrong. They’re just sad or lonely or damaged. (Now sometimes, they are pretty awful, but it’s so unusual, it’s a perfect example of the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule.’)

And then last night I sat down to watch the Netflix documentary on the Malice At The Palace – a riot at a basketball game in Detroit where NBA players jumped into the stands and fans stormed the court to exchange punches and injury. I’m a sports guy so I was very familiar with this unfortunate incident, and very familiar with the immature, violent ‘thug’ athlete storyline. The players were 100% wrong, referred to as wild animals, and the fans were victims, innocent bystanders, targets of uncontrolled rage. This easy narrative turned out to be what we could have all figured out is total garbage.

It’s the 100/0 mentality, or what we can from now on call the First 40 Syndrome, where we operate as if the whole truth is contained in the first 40 minutes of Catfish, before the inconvenient reveal that we share more in common than we’d like to acknowledge. We neeeeed the players to be all wrong, to be space aliens – anything other than strict division between us and them would prove that we are closer to the edge than we can handle.

In the book of Joshua (a book about us/them if there ever was one), as Joshua is fighting anyone different than himself, he comes face to face with someone new. In ch. 5, v. 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

This is what we’re all asking, everyday, online, in our cars, the supermarket and on the news, right?

“Are you on my side, or theirs?” “Who is all right and who is all wrong?”

And get this, in a shocking twist, that man (who is revealed as the “commander of the army of the LORD”) standing with a drawn sword says…

“Yours, of course.”

That’s what we expect, what we need. And it’s certainly what Joshua expected. But this man says, “Neither.”Are you on my side or theirs? Yes. Which is it? Both. Neither. Who is right and wrong? Both. Neither.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe we’re operating with a limited visibility, as if 2/3, or the First 40, of the show is all there is.

Joshua then asks a different, infinitely better, question, “What message does God have for me, His servant?”

And I can’t help but feel that the profound, heartbreaking reply is the same for us today: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing [whether it’s the northern edges of the earth, a stadium in Michigan, whether it’s Annville or Afghanistan] is holy.”

Blind Spots — July 20, 2021

Blind Spots

We all have blind spots, right? That is something we can all agree on. I know that sounds like I’m an insane person. I’m not, as far as I can tell. (But would I know if I was?) I live and breathe, so it’s as obvious to me as everybody else that we can’t all agree on anything, except maybe that ‘we’ are 100% right and ‘they’ are 100% wrong. And that we’re hyper-sensitive, which makes us easily offendable.

Anyway, blind spots.

2 quick, great examples of this: I see people extinguish their cigarettes just before they enter the gym. On the one hand, they’re very conscious of building a healthy lifestyle, and on the other, they’re tearing it down. And Saturday mornings I go to a convenience store and buy an energy drink (again, for someone who is concerned with taking care of themselves, perhaps energy drinks aren’t the best. But wait, it gets worse…), careful to choose the option with NO SUGAR. Then I go to the donut shop because Saturday is donut day. Maybe having a “donut day” isn’t the worst, but the no sugar/sugar dichotomy invites questions of consistency.

The Bible talks about judgment and hypocrisy often. Hypocrisy is closely linked to stage acting, when we are one thing in one place and a different thing in another. The point is that we are who we are all the time, that there’s no image-making, no pretense. Bringing all of who we are under the same umbrella. Another way to say this is consistency. My dad was an alcoholic and I never ever knew which dad I was going to find, sober and awesome or drunk and awful. This isn’t exactly hypocrisy, but perfectly illustrates the importance of consistency inside and out.

As far as judgment, it’s possible that when we are extra judgy towards others, we are instead advertising our own hypocrisy and glaring inconsistencies. And when we talk about judgment and hypocrisy, social media is their breeding ground.

I’m convinced the reason we have absolutely no idea who is telling the truth in politics is because political discourse is rooted in sand, bereft of the anchors of principle, self-awareness, and consistency.

Now. This COVID crisis has drawn battle lines from the beginning: masks, quarantines, vaccines, on and on. And just like everything else, if you disagree with me, you are uninformed and/or ignorant and/or heartless. It is utterly impossible that you would be intelligent, well-read, compassionate AND come to a different conclusion.

For many years, there has been a certain debate among us that has the core of “it’s my body, and you can’t tell me what to do with my body.” One side says yes I can, especially when it comes to protecting others, and the other says no. And now there’s a vaccine with the same core, but what’s interesting is that the sides have crossed the aisle and taken each other’s talking points. And no matter what position we choose, there are exceptions that make this totally natural for a smart, thinking person.

We could talk about this all day, but my point is that maybe the Bible is right about judgment. Maybe we shouldn’t do it at all. Maybe our easy snap generalizations and categories don’t fit because they were never supposed to. We’re complex and nuanced, full of a wide range of experiences. And sure, Facebook is a wonderful place to spew vitriol, but maybe more violence towards each other just isn’t helping.

We feel the disconnect between each other, our communities, our environment, and ourselves. Of course we do.

There’s a song by Todd Snider called “The Ballad of The Kingsmen,” and it ends “Now brothers and sisters I am only one guy. And I don’t even know the words to that song Louie, Louie.” Today is heavy here, for me, and I don’t know much about anything, but maybe it’s not all that surprising that we’re separated when we’ve built concrete walls where bridges are supposed to be.

I’m really tired of being separated.

The Angel Has A Scar — May 4, 2021

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Rise of Skywalker — April 23, 2021

Rise of Skywalker

I wrote this last year, before the world stopped, and for some reason never posted it. It’s still true.

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.

Bears — January 19, 2021

Bears

Last weekend I finished Beartown, a novel written by my new favorite person in the world, Fredrik Backman. It’s difficult to know if you need to post about everything, and you probably shouldn’t, but I can’t seem to tell the difference and we’re friends, so here we go.

Here’s something to know about me: I love depth, complex themes, ambiguity, and don’t mind violence (mostly, I’ll explain in a second) or salty language at all in art. Fight Club and Pulp Fiction are my favorite movies. I’ve relatively recently started drawing lines at sex on screen and that’s simply because I squarely believe it’s not for me. We can talk about that another time, because it’s too big and complicated to drive by. But the violence I mind very much is of the sexual type. I cannot stomach rape or assault in any case or any context. There is a scene in 300 where a person manipulates, coerces someone else’s wife into a nauseating act and now I can never watch that movie (which I liked a lot) ever again. I barely got through it once. With my growing intolerance for this sort of plot device, I’m noticing that it is not an unusual subject in films I now have to avoid.

A possible exception: Carey Mulligan stars in a new film called Promising Young Woman, where she avenges the rape of her best friend and from there goes on to exact retribution on any similar feeling male she happens to find. At least I think it’s about that, and if it is, I’m in. I’m concerned that the initial act would be too much and that there would be a moral at the end where she gets punished. I don’t want her to be punished.

This is the thing about Beartown, the central points the story revolves around are a hockey game and the rape of a 15 year old girl. Once I realized the latter was coming, I cringed and contemplated leaving it unfinished. He’s such a masterful writer, I continued. I still don’t know if I’m sorry that I did.

If you have read anything here before, you’ve probably heard me write about destroying the walls that separate the imaginary divisions of us and them. We’re all just us. I’m empathetic to a fault, can see every side of every move, which makes me very non-judgy, forgiving and accepting. But I just wrote 2 paragraphs earlier that “I don’t want her to be punished.” I want this revenge fantasy to be consequence-free.

Now, of course it’s not. The best friend will endure consequences forever, will probably always be afraid of the dark. But the violators (I recognize that violators are not all male, but the proportions are so skewed, that’s what we’re concerned with) should absolutely face Carey Mulligan’s brand of justice. They should suffer consequences, too, in addition to the hell of being the kind of someone who would steal from another like that.

Now. Last time I wrote that I could be a CIA executioner or capitol rioter. We’re all us, isn’t that what I said? But here, there’s got to be a line here, right? I guess we all have blind spots. This is mine. Maybe I’m not as non-judgy, forgiving, and accepting as I thought.

Where is that line supposed to be, where we can start to scream for justice? In the Psalms, (in the Holy Bible!), writers asked God to bash the babies of their enemies on rocks, among lots of other awful things. Does that mean I can, too? Is that a holy position to take, this bashing on rocks?

I know, I know. It doesn’t mean I can, and it is most certainly not a holy position just because it’s in a holy book. And apparently, as far as I can tell, that line isn’t ideally supposed to be anywhere in our hearts. (That is not to be confused with political/social justice. Sometimes animals… um… sometimes we belong in cages.) I think it’s in that beautiful holy book because we need to acknowledge & examine each honest human emotion. If we are always hiding our trash in basements or corners, we can’t ever take it out.

The reason racism, sexism, nationalism, and any other -ism persists is because we’re too busy pretending there isn’t a monster under the bed. Who knows why my stomach turns at this particular atrocity more than others (that’s probably for a psychologist to figure out), but it does. Sure, it makes me want to do all sorts of things that would land me in prison, but it does make me want to act and as the oft repeated (and oft ignored) Edmund Burke quote goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

So. I want to throw up every time any woman is dishonored and something is violently taken that should only be carefully given. I want to completely rework the system in their mercy and favor. I also want to castrate with rusty pliers those that would do the taking. And I also hope & pray to one day (maybe not today, but one day) love the perpetrators like I do the victims. All of these things can be true, and maybe all of these things are holy.

The Spectacular Us — October 15, 2020

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

A guy at the gym — August 13, 2020

A guy at the gym

I go to the gym everyday. This isn’t a source of pride, it’s actually just the opposite. It’s an admission of my lack of discipline. I don’t take rest days, even though I know how important they are and would really like to take one here and there. It’s interesting how something healthy can transform so quickly, so quietly into a negative. I’m smart about the workouts themselves. I don’t train body parts on consecutive days, so I stay relatively strong and energetic, focused and grateful. The problem is with my spirit. Where my body is moving forward, for me working out every day subtly reinforces the belief that I am what I can do, what I look like, what I can lift, what I can accomplish, the number on a scale or plates on a bar. It may be arriving at the right house using the wrong road. Or using the right road and the wrong house. One of those.

That’s enough of that. AND I took yesterday off from the gym so that problem has pretty much been solved. (That’s how it works, right?)

There’s this guy at the gym who doesn’t re-rack the weights from the bar or clean the equipment when he’s finished (IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!!!!) I know! He leaves the bar loaded with sweat, germs, and weights like a monster.

Seriously? Seriously. So, I’m judging him as a monster and this morning had the opportunity to parent him a little. “Are you still working over there?” I asked. “Yes.” “Then why don’t you come with me and I’ll help you take those weights off.” He mumbled and shuffled over like a scolded child. I was the Hero of the Gym, keeping the world safe for everyone from the rude, selfish and disrespectful.

Except for afterwards in the locker room he says, “Goodbye,” (the 2nd time we’ve spoken) and asked me about my supersets and day splits. Now, I know he’s not been lifting weights too long, evidenced by his poor form and lack of any discernible plan, but I must have failed to remember somewhere along the way that he was just a guy in the gym.

I’m a man who reads the Bible and today I ended up in Matthew 9:36 “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” My Bible, which is apparently an older version of this one, says “their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help.”

Isn’t that quite the picture of our environment right now? Our problems are all so great (all different, but we’re all feeling something huge on our hearts and shoulders) and we don’t know where to go for help. And then we turn around, our practical amnesia kicks in and we forget that so is everybody else. The vast majority aren’t monsters, just other human beings in a mess with no idea what to do or where to go for help.

Jesus had compassion on them, on us, on me, and maybe I could do the same.

The Fling — August 1, 2020

The Fling

On Saturday mornings, I attend a contemplative retreat. Long periods of silence and meditation aren’t everyone’s bag, but they are certainly mine. The pace and noise of life very easily prove overstimulating and leave me exhausted and empty, to check out for even an hour on Saturday mornings are like water in the desert.

This week was no different, but it is a seemingly throwaway comment made early during the hello’s and how are you’s that I wanted to talk about today. The woman, Susan, quoted a tv show called Northern Exposure: “It’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself.”

I never watched the show, don’t remember the context she provided, and honestly couldn’t care less about either. The quote is absolutely perfect and vital to our every moment of every day, no matter if the show was great or terrible, no matter what they were flinging or why.

I might amend it slightly, to say “it’s not the thing you fling or where it goes (if it goes anywhere at all), it’s the fling itself.”

If I write this post for the likes or comments, with an eye towards potential advertisers and income… well, so many things will happen. I’ll probably, on some level, conscious or not, begin to tailor it to reach the most eyeballs. It will cease to be 100% honest, because authenticity is usually packaged with sharp edges. I will drift into what I think you want to read instead of who I am, carefully crafting the image of taste-making, (insert popular characteristic I can pretend to possess here), supercool famous blog rock star. I will shoehorn the “thing to fling” into the popular trend.

And if I don’t get enough response, then what? I’ll quit or I’ll put on some new clothes and opinions and try again to fit the current to achieve an imaginary idea of success. Either way, it’s superficial and fake. It’s what we used to call, back in the day, “selling out” and the internet is lousy with it.

As you may or may not know, I am the pastor of a small church and as far as I can tell, the Bible is (among other things) a library of books connected by the Art of Subtraction. We subtract all of the ways we invent to manufacture an image – in the Scriptures, it’s called hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is meant to describe actors on a stage, bending themselves into a role to be what the audience wants them to be. Except in this case, our lives are the stage and we bend ourselves so much and so often that we forget who the person is under the mask. It’s a focus on the ends, the responses, the rewards, instead of the life-giving passion and fulfillment that only comes from stripping the expectations until we are left with exactly who we have been created to be. We subtract all of the extraneous layers until we are left with the genuine true us.

Now, maybe that includes gigantic paychecks from YouTube and fame beyond your wildest dreams. Maybe I’ll be driving a fleet of Rolls Royce’s by next summer due to an avalanche of social media adoration. Maybe I’ll be the next darling of Instagram or TikTok. But if that pseudo-success includes any hint of pretense or masquerade, it’s going to feel hollow and leave us wanting more and more, trying to fill the hole that all of our different costumes can’t plug.

It’s the fling, the process, the naked transparency of being exactly who we are and doing exactly what we’ve been made to do (whatever the thing to fling or where it is flung), that tears down walls of division and builds something new, inspiring, significant and undeniably awesome.

The fling is what builds a beautiful life.

Family — July 8, 2020

Family

We need to talk about The Family on Netflix. It’s about a super-secret Christian organization that may or may not be pulling all of the strings in America. Full disclosure: I’m only 2 episodes in (out of 5), maybe by episode 4 or 5 I will no longer use the phrase “may or may not be pulling the strings.” That appears to be the way it’s going. The music is ominous and in my experience, it’s not usually very awesome anytime anything is super-secret. But I don’t know that yet.

So far, it’s a group of boys hanging out together having Bible studies and playing football, men having clandestine meetings with politicians and world leaders, and women who say things like, “the men spend all their time serving others, who is serving them?” Maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’s even ok to have frat house-ish buildings with tax-exempt religious status, too.

But politicians seem to historically have pretty much trouble with infidelity, and this super-secret Family rationalizes these indiscretions with a shoulder shrug and a questionable reading of the story of David & Bathsheba: an “oh well, when you’re chosen by God, these missteps don’t matter much.” And then the bright lights go away, politicians keep their offices and their club memberships. And maybe that is how it should be. Forgiveness is a vital tenet of the faith, right? We all fall, right? These politicians get caught, (then, ONLY then, always after they get caught) are sorry, have a community in place around them to help pick up the pieces of their lives and re-dedicate themselves to their wives, children and constituents. Is that cool? Redemption in real time?

I suppose it depends on where you stand how you tell (or interpret) the story.

For the first 22 years of my life, I hated God and Christians. I would have heard this story as one of pure corruption. The “Family’ of swine are grossly manipulating a nation of marks, using Bible verses to achieve and increase their money and power. It would make me want to throw up all over their frat-houses and twisted insincere ‘apologies.’

Then I fell in love with Jesus and for the last 8 years, have been a pastor of a local church. Now, I hear this story and…

Well, if I am honest, I hear it exactly the same. However, the big difference is that now I can hear that there might be another side of the story. I can watch 2 episodes and think that though I don’t personally know John Ensign (former Senator from Nevada, whose repaired marriage ended in divorce after he resigned from his seat), he might not be a high character guy.  But if he is in fact a swine, maybe they all aren’t. Maybe some are just young guys looking for meaning and a space where they can support the leaders of our country, love the people who live here, and play football in Washington DC grass.

When you gain or lose weight, it’s slow and over time, totally unnoticeable until someone you haven’t seen for a while reacts, right? It’s that way with spiritual growth. We don’t really feel like we’re moving all that much, still make mistakes, still raise our voices to our children, get heated when we’re cut off in traffic. But it’s less often. And there’s less and less time between when we act like idiots and when we know we’ve acted like idiots. Watching this documentary, I can recognize that I am different. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’m far less inclined to pretend that I do, and that’s really something.

Both Hands — June 17, 2020

Both Hands

Both Hands is a terrific song by Ani DiFranco. It’s also what I’m calling this post. I should probably call it 2 Hands Theology, but if you’re reading this, maybe you’ll check that song out as you’re reading this (or after you read this, the two are unrelated as far as I can tell – the song is about a last night of passion and this post is about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Hmm. Maybe they are related…I’ll try to tie these 2 clouds together at the end.)

So. The new 30 For 30 ESPN documentary is about the great home run race of 1998. These 2 behemoths hit homeruns at a rate we hadn’t seen before, breaking all records and “saving baseball.” Later, we’d acknowledge the fact that was hiding in plain sight all along: that they were juiced out of their minds. Of course we knew. Everybody knew. But we agreed to act shocked and disgusted later if anybody pointed out this heaving musclebound mammoth in the middle of the room. A few years later, Barry Bonds would return from the offseason with 30 extra pounds of muscle and a hat sized 25% bigger than last year and break that homerun record.

Now, I really couldn’t care less about the discussion of performance enhancing drugs and statistics and halls of fame. We were happy then to pretend, so maybe the asterisk belongs in our homes and not next to Bonds’ 73. Whatever.

What I care about is how our lives and the surrounding circumstances are rarely strictly black and white. We pretend they are, too. We have such frustration with the complexity of reality, of authenticity.

We loved the home run race. They were just really great guys playing the game they loved for us. (Probably not.)

Then, they were “outed” as “cheaters.” Sosa lied to Congress and pretended he couldn’t speak English. They were monsters. (Also probably not.)

Instead, I would be willing to bet they are human beings, just like me and you. Maybe under the weight of expectation and dollars, I would make the same decision.

I pastor a small church in a small town and all through the old Testament, we read the story of the Israelites, “God’s chosen people.” The narrative is a roller coaster, where they make all the mistakes, call out and are rescued, then make all the mistakes again until they call out and are rescued again, then make all the mistakes again and on and on, ad nauseam. We read that and say “Those people,” while shaking our heads. King David is “a man after God’s own heart,” AND a guy who slept with his buddy’s wife and when she was pregnant, had him killed. There are examples on nearly every page of the Bible of things that don’t fit. Our palms get sweaty because of the unresolved nature, the inability to generalize. What do we do when our boxes absolutely don’t apply?

Barry Bonds is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen, narrowly beating Roger Clemens for that imaginary honor. Both were, by all accounts, humongous donkeys to everyone they viewed as less than them. All of that is true. I had posters of Clemens on my wall growing up. (I also had posters of Morrissey. On one side was toxic masculinity and on the other, its antithesis.)

The danger of judgment is that judgment is usually based on only one aspect of our personality or behavior. McGwire and Sosa are cheaters…and dads and friends and grandfathers and neighbors and would probably carry an elderly woman’s groceries into her house for her. (I’m not sure about Bonds or Clemens carrying groceries, though, but who knows? For sure not me.)

David is flawed. He’s also courageous and forgiving and faithful. The Israelites are a foolish, stubborn lot who live a maddening loop. And yet there is tremendous kindness and generosity as this loop repeats. We are all of this. God, and the Bible, seem very comfortable with us, with this dichotomy.

Ani and her girlfriend can’t make it work, no matter “how hard they tried.” This is their “swan song.” And yet they are sharing this moment, clearly still in love. Both can be true. As a country, as neighbors, as a culture, we’ve been sold a lie that we are all 1 thing. We are Democrats OR Republicans and forced to draw battle lines and choose sides. The truth is, we are far more like a Venn diagram, where the vast majority of us overlap. Of course there are parts that don’t, but when did we start to believe that those were the only parts that matter?

It’s easy to hold tightly to our need to judge and label, it neatly suits our need for control. And look where easy got us; do you feel in control? Maybe we need to adopt this 2 Hands Theology and this fresh, new metanarrative where we are fingers AND toes, cheaters AND daddies, foolish AND faithful, but always human.