Love With A Capital L

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

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.

On The Way — November 15, 2019

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?

Smells Like Real Life — November 5, 2019

Smells Like Real Life

Around the same time, also in 1991, a band from Seattle called Nirvana released an album that would change everything in music, fashion and culture as a whole. This album would also give me a space (even if it was only in my head and heart) and in doing so, make me not as much of a weirdo, not as much of a misfit.

While we were all trying to be perfect – and what I mean is that while we were all trying to show everyone we were perfect – here was a band and a singer who looked like we all felt. The music did, too. We were insecure and inadequate in a land of make believe and that made so many of us so angry. We were desperately searching for meaning and purpose (there just had to be more than hair spray and insincerity holding us together, didn’t there?) and not only were we not getting answers, our questions were being ignored.

Now. The song. The drums perfectly sounded like doors being kicked down, which of course, they were. Then, the voice of Kurt Cobain mumbled: “Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend. She’s over-bored and self-assured.” Hello, hello, hello, how low. Then, our worlds collectively fell apart (or together) at the chorus: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.”

We might talk about “here we are now, entertain us” as the anthem for a generation, and generations to come, but it’s that “stupid and contagious” line that broke my heart. You know when someone says something and you think, “how did they know?”

How could a guy in the Pacific Northwest know who I was and exactly what I was going through? He couldn’t, and that meant there were more like me, disaffected, lost, lonely, and that was unbelievably comforting. There were more like me, I wasn’t alone.

The song destroys all pretense and perfectly sums up the ache in us all and ends… wait’ll you hear this… “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.” Whatever, nevermind!!!! Awesome. It’s angry, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, honest, cutting, and hilarious. It is overwhelmingly real.

People began dressing differently, doing (or not doing) their hair, speaking truth, showing their wounds and scars. We started to think about confessing that no, things might not be ok.

3 years later, in April of 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Sigh.

But the world had changed, he shined a light into our souls and exposed us. The images and facades were hollow, the emperor had no clothes. So now what? We could start to find the clothes that did. We could be whatever we wanted, whatever we actually were. So who was I in 1991? Nobody knew. I sure didn’t. I had spent so long being what you wanted me to be that I hardly noticed who I truly was.

I didn’t know how or where to find out – only that it was absolutely necessary. One thing I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t find anything in Mariah Carey videos. Or the church.

Emotions — November 1, 2019

Emotions

I gave a talk at a youth group near Gettysburg last Saturday. The church is fairly conservative (although it could be said that, to me, maybe every church is fairly conservative) and there was a very good chance that I would not play well there. I shared the message for their Sunday service several years ago and have not yet been invited back. The looks on the congregants faces told me as much, so the fact that I was not yet invited back was far less surprising than that I was for their youth group.

I was because I have very good friends who either persuaded everyone else who (hopefully) had forgotten the past or hidden my visit from them altogether. I didn’t ask which one.

My very good friend asked me to come and speak about music and faith. I said yes, of course, then asked “um, what kind of music?” Because the kind of talk I would give on Christian music might not be what she had in mind. And actually, what music I consider to be Christian might not be everyone’s, and we should probably know what definition we’re using to avoid the kind of misunderstandings I enjoy. She said whatever I wanted, and I asked her to pretty please repeat that. And she did. So, I said yes again.

Now, I think it would be fun to explore those songs and ideas here, in a short series based on that talk, called “It’s a Cold and It’s a Broken Hallelujah.”

The songs are: “Emotions,” by Mariah Carey. (So you know and can follow along as intended, we played the videos – easily found in a Google search. For this one, however, I offered to simply play the song because there was “a significant cleavage issue.” And there is.) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Help Is On The Way,” by Rise Against. (This one is the only one that the video is absolutely necessary.) And “Hallelujah,” the cover version by Jeff Buckley.

“Emotions” was a gigantic hit record in 1991. It was all of the words that begin with P: polished, produced, perfect. What an unbelievable showcase for that extraordinary instrument of hers, right?!! She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. The video is exactly like the song, glossy and refined, as if a team of marketers created it in a laboratory for maximum exposure and sales figures.

The problem is that it’s called “Emotions,” and I don’t feel any at all. Except that she’s awesome, I suppose.

Pretending is the other P word that comes to mind with something like this. It’s like an advertisement for LIFE, or at least the life other people are living, that I could be living if only I…whatever. It brings to mind – and the reason I play it in discussions of spirituality – gauzy pictures of Christians with perfect teeth and plastic smiles. This was the perspective I had of people of faith for the first half of my life. To me, they all looked like Joel Osteen book jackets, all smiles and manicured nails. My life wasn’t all smiles and manicured nails. In fact, no life I knew was all smiles. Sometimes, there were tears and dirt and darkness and hairs wildly out of place.

When you’re upset and the wheels are falling off, a Christian, with their cliches and cheery platitudes and “God’s plan,” is often the very last person you’d like to see. The carefully crafted images of rounded edges and masks they wear usually just amplify their uncomfortability and insecurity.

Everything is fine, and if it’s not, shhh, we’ll just hide that behind the closet door and hope it goes away.

Phony (another ‘P!!’) That is what “Emotions” means to me.

I understand that this is not the most positive way to start a conversation, but it gets better. It has to.

catfish — March 7, 2019

catfish

Today on MTV, Catfish in on. If you are unfamiliar, Catfish is a terrific show where people who think they’ve found true love online discover, with the help of host Nev Schulman, that the objects of their affections are not at all the people they believe them to be. It’s pretty great tv, where the drama is in the search to find the actual person, then the reveal and subsequent confrontation, and finally the tears and broken heart resolution. Who knows what all is real? (Only children still believe that reality tv is, in fact, reality. It’s more of a ‘based on a true story’ situation, probably.) But there is an undercurrent that is very real, that is too easily missed as we watch shows, detached and judgmental – the judgment either taking the form of sympathy for the fished or disgust for the fisher.

It’s interesting how quickly we can dismiss the Bible as outdated and irrelevant, stories about ‘they’ and ‘them’ and not ‘we’ or ‘us.’ It is much the same with programs like this. The lines that separate us are nowhere near as defined as each of us like to think, and the more we can dismantle these structures and erase those lines, then there is the chance for understanding and genuine connection.

It’s not surprising that we draw these lines of comparison and condescension, it’s all part of the foundation of Catfish. The people who are fishing, deceiving those on the other end of the screen, are creating images of themselves. They are actors on a stage pretending to be someone else, someone they are not, to gain acceptance and belonging. And I watch, pretending to not be just like them, pretending that we are very different. Now, I have never used your pictures or lied my face off to waste years of someone’s life, but I have a loooooong history of image-building. I have been what’s called a pleaser, trying desperately to fit what I think you want, to be cool, smart, funny, mean, trendy, or whatever.

I shake my head and say, ‘these people.’ But like so much, there is no ‘these people,’ there is only ‘me,’ only ‘us,’ and the weight of the show is in the mirror it uses to shows us how unsatisfied we are being who we are. I need better jeans, a better job, a better car, more money, clearer skin, bigger biceps and a smaller spare tire, to find fulfillment, peace, happiness, peace.

Who am I? is The Question that is always looming, just beyond fake plastic filtered smiles and sunshine instagram posts. Not everyone’s food (or workout or pants or marriage) looks that perfect all the time.

Ok, so I am a catfish in all kinds of ways. But I am the catfished in more (and the truth is, everybody is.) I do all of these things, contort myself into more desirable positions, for the same reason everyone has ever done, since the beginning of time – for that beautiful bond, for a hand to hold, for love. That’s why the unbearably naive victims on the show believe EVERYTHING, because they are willing to close their eyes and cross their fingers in the hope that this time it might be true, that they might not be alone. Of course, the paradox is that as long as we wear masks, we’ll never find the authentic relationship for which we are wearing the masks in the first place. But we have to wear the masks because we’re all so busy trapped in ‘us’/’them’ theology, and this catch 22 rolls over and flattens us all.

But yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. Just because we have always done it this way doesn’t mean we will continue. It is not just what it is. The revolution starts when we say it does.

 

 

Memento — January 20, 2019

Memento

There was a great (GREAT) movie in 2000 called Memento, in which the protagonist Leonard searches to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Standard thriller plot, except he has no memory at all, leaving notes all over his body, all over everything.

Now. There is a very interesting discussion to be had on the philosophical idea the film’s title is taken, Memento Mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remember death,’ or ‘remember that you will die.’ We’re not going to have that discussion.

Instead, the discussion we’re going to have is about Lady Gaga. I have been a pretty serious fan since ‘Paparazzi,’ a song so good it forced me to re-evaluate the 2 earlier singles. The problem I have with Lady Gaga is that I am afflicted with much the same issue as Leonard. Every Gaga song is without question THE BEST LADY GAGA SONG!! If ‘Hair’ is playing, it’s the Gaga masterpiece, until ‘Bad Kids’ or ‘Alejandro’ or ‘Monster’ or ‘John Wayne’ or ‘Angel Down’ or ‘Summerboy’ is playing. The truth is that her finest moment is ‘Bad Romance,’ but I just don’t remember just how fine a moment it is until it’s on.

I read the Bible, and one of the narratives is how the people of Israel get themselves in a mess, God rescues them, and they celebrate, promise to follow Him, and forget, thus beginning the circle anew. It’s terribly frustrating and impossible to read without the thought of, “seriously, again?” It’s like Mr. Incredible’s quote on saving the world, “Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess ! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!” Why don’t they just pay attention?!!? Do we really have to keep running the same story on a continuous loop forever?

To which the answer is, apparently, yes.

I sigh, shake my head and mumble about ‘these people,’ while I make the same mistakes over and over, step into the same traps, fall into the same holes, continue to think ‘Manicure’ is better than ‘Bad Romance.’

We all have a little bit (or a lot) of this Leonard, forgetting really important details of our lives.  I know Lady Gaga songs aren’t the ‘really important details of our lives,’ but you get the point. We certainly aren’t bound by our pasts, but there is value in where we’ve come from, who we were, how we have grown, overcome, transcended, value in celebrating the times we were rescued. All of it provides the context for living and where we will go and who we will be. I suppose we all need more notes and tattoos as reminders.

My boy just walked into this room where I am writing, sat on the edge of the couch and expressed some remarkably insightful thoughts about Marvel characters. I hope I don’t forget this moment – it’s just perfect. (What’s not is how he’s going to get himself into trouble in 15 minutes, but for now…perfect)

There’s no special, clever ending here, just the same thing. I want to be present to every second. That’s mostly what the idea of Memento Mori is about – we are going to die, so we should enjoy each moment as if it’s the last, and then, we will really live. (Maybe we are going to talk about this now.) This is from a site called The Daily Stoic: “Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, a car can hit you in an intersection and drive your teeth back into your skull. That’s it. It could all be over. Today, tomorrow, someday soon.”

This purpose, priority, meaning, urgency, all of it is so overwhelming in its beauty. It’s called presence, right? Being present to my life, and never taking any of it (the what, where, why, how and especially the who) for granted. And remember, because I don’t want to have to keep relearning it every day.