Love With A Capital L

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

And I Am A Material Girl — May 16, 2022

And I Am A Material Girl

Just a few short months ago, I would have written a full series of posts on how much I disliked Madonna, how I thought she was sickeningly overrated. In fact, maybe I did. I don’t remember. But I do remember laying out terribly detailed arguments against her to anyone who would listen. Then, in a surprising twist, my sister had the 2 disc greatest hits set Celebration buried in a mountain of cds she had given me as trash for a project which I had intended to take on.

I would have immediately moved it to my garbage can, but track 1 on disc 2 is Dress You Up, and if you are alive, you love Dress You Up. I stopped fighting the losing battle against that song (pretending I didn’t love it, pretending I didn’t sing along at the top of my lungs) a long time ago. So I put the discs in my car only planning to listen to Dress You Up on repeat 15 or 20 times before they found their way to the landfill.

But a strange thing happened when I was late to repeat track 1 – track 2 began. Track 2 is Material Girl. We all know Material Girl is an embarrassing relic of the ‘80’s, bubble gum, disposable, pure sugar superficiality. Isn’t it????

“‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mister Right,” is a great line. Then, “Experience has made me rich and now they’re after me” is fine (better than fine, actually) but the way she sings “’Cause everybody’s living in a material world and I am a material girl,” is transcendent. My series of nasty posts would’ve surely included a huge section on Material Girl. And they would’ve been absolutely wrong. Vogue, Hung Up, Music, Borderline, Everybody, Burning Up, Cherish, I could go on and on, (don’t even get me started on Holiday) and the cds stay in for weeks until I can summon the superhuman strength to push eject.

Sigh, Madonna is awesome, but there is a bigger point here. Sometimes we are so familiar with something that thing loses it’s power. We take it totally for granted, we treat it as an everyday, common occurrence. We begin to see miracles as routine. The tremendous beauty of a sunrise or -set fails to register a second look. A hug, a wink, The Shawshank Redemption, my mom, Morrissey, throwing & catching baseballs, Oreos, so much just passes by unnoticed.

I remember the first time I kissed the Angel. I was wildly nervous and overwhelmed that I would ever have the opportunity to kiss such a lovely woman, and then we did and then we got married and we did a million more times and I am mostly no longer nervous and not overwhelmed enough at this even more lovely woman. When I think about her and her soft lips now, married nearly 22 years, she is way better than Material Girl, or even Holiday, I just forgot for many of those years.

I wonder how many things are like that in my life. The first time I held my boy Samuel, I wept at the enormity of this new life, how much I loved him, how much I prayed/dreamed for him, and what all of it meant. Tonight he and I had an argument over grades. Grades!??!?? He is the most wonderful young man, can I really be missing these day over a test score?

I know there’s room for grades AND appreciation, arguments AND gratitude, but too often it’s just grades and arguments. The Bible talks about ears to hear and eyes to see, and I think Material Girl is probably what those verses mean. We sometimes need new ears and eyes and lips to experience the familiar as brand new, so we can see our lives as the mind-blowing gifts they truly are.

Strange, Moon Knight, and Wanda Maximoff — May 9, 2022

Strange, Moon Knight, and Wanda Maximoff

Yesterday I saw Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, last week Moon Knight wrapped up, and there is something quite interesting about them. They aren’t for everyone. I can’t remember previous Marvel films about which I could’ve said that.

Doctor Strange was a mind-bending horror trip through multiversal universes. I don’t even know if that last sentence makes any sense to you, but spoiler rules dictate that I can’t say anything else. I will say one of my sons and I liked it very much and my other son and wife, the Angel, didn’t at all. (That she didn’t is no surprise, we had come to terms with that long ago – however, that I took her on Mother’s Day is a term that we’ll need a bit more time with.) After the movie, I received a text asking me how it was, and I couldn’t exactly answer. I said it’s not for everyone, and that’s 100% true.

Moon Knight was a series on Disney+ about a relatively unknown… superhero? Avatar? A man who is awfully handsome and awfully mentally ill whose multiple personalities are being manipulated by an Egyptian god that may or may not be the skeleton of Kevin from Up. I liked the promise of the 1st episode, liked the series less and less through episode 4, LOVED episode 5, and episode 6 was fine. The first 5 were less standard superhero stuff and more painfully honest character study, until they lost their nerve and returned to a standard final act which resolved until the last 30 seconds, when it didn’t.

I feel a certain way about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it is our mythology. Why those stories are treated with reverence and studied in English classes, and these films are treated as lowbrow trash is so confusing to me, maybe it actually is the perfect illustration. Maybe I am the lowest common denominator. Who knows? I don’t really care, though. I’ve long since left behind the term “guilty pleasure.” I am drawn to artwork that helps me understand the human condition and emotionally connect. I can’t think of a better wide AND deep, completely relatable depiction of grief than Wandavision. Or a more relevant dive into our complex mistrust of authority (sometimes we are paranoid and they really are after us) than the Winter Soldier. And though the movie was pretty disappointing, Iron Man 2 saw and highlighted our collective struggle with our own mortality in the middle of a backbreaking responsibility and a clear call to something greater.

I am not a witch destined to rule or destroy the cosmos, (at least as far as I know), but I have lost people, knew that my heart was irreparably broken, and wailed under the weight of “what do I do now, without you????” You too, right?

Anyway. What I think about these latest 2 installments of the MCU is, they were ok, not for everyone and it’s THAT evaluation that is so hopeful to me. The things that really affect us, that really mean something, probably aren’t the things that are sanded down to avoid all edges. McDonald’s “hamburgers” are engineered to be ok to everyone – that’s how you sell billions, but they’re nobody’s favorite. Your favorite probably has bacon and cranberries and a special kind of hot sauce or pickle, right? And maybe the person with you sits there wondering how you, how anyone, could possibly like that!?! Ask 3 people about Wandavision, 1 of them will have HATED every moment of it. And 1, like me, will think it’s PERFECT and go on and on, write blog posts about how deep and wonderful and real it was.

It’s funny to talk about a studio that makes movies that bring in billions of dollars like this, but I might really dislike this next Thor movie and that prospect thrills me.

On A Daily Basis — April 8, 2022

On A Daily Basis

Today is the most beautiful. The sun is brilliant in the cloudless sky, and that’s a pretty stark contrast to the past few days or weeks, when it had rained often and the sky was always the color of cement. The Angel tells me not to use the words always, never, and “all the time,” and I suppose she’s right. Maybe in the past 2 weeks, the sky wasn’t the color of cement for 15 minutes in the late morning. I just don’t remember it.

She tells me that because I am naturally inclined towards exaggeration. I’ll say I haven’t slept in weeks, but when pressed, I have slept but not well, and then when pressed on that, I realize that I had a night last Tuesday that was alright, so who knows what’s true anymore?

None of this always/never business matters at all because the point is that it’s a lovely day and lovely days feel like possibility, and not much has felt that way lately. This central Pennsylvania weather is an apt metaphor for the state of the world about now; raining, gray and depressing. We’re also in Lent and if you go for that sort of thing, it’s an invitation to self-reflection and, in a heart state that corresponds to late winter, melancholy. This week ahead in the church asks us to engage with the passion (which in this context means suffering), and in a culture that tries so hard to avoid uncomfortability, it’s no wonder we feel so torn apart. We simply can’t turn a blind eye to the near constant negative stimulation. So now what?

I’m happy I didn’t write this yesterday, because the tone would have been quite different. Yesterday it was raining and today is awesome. That’s enough, sometimes. Yesterday the best we could do was to just barely hold things together. Today we are 1 step away from changing the world forever, today is when my love pyramid scheme is not far away, when it’s not only possible but totally reasonable.

Tracee Ellis Ross is an actress on the tv show black-ish. She wrote a piece about the final season in Entertainment Weekly, and in it, she says, “black-ish was an opportunity for me to be free and to shine and to embody all of my values; to be able to strive for a level of excellence in the work that I do, and how I interact with the people that I work with, and to be of service and fight for equity and joy on a daily basis.”

I love it and her, I’ve read it a hundred times.

And as we’re talking, if you replace “black-ish” with anything, with whatever we do, whatever we care about, how we spend our time, and who we spend it with, her writing describes a design for our lives that is much bigger than a tv show. The “work we do” is loving each other, is holding each other’s hand and walking through the pain/suffering and flying through the celebrations, is picking us up and reminding us that we can keep going. “Fight for equity & joy on a daily basis.” Right??!!?? We continue to fight, in Lent and on Easter, yesterday in the pouring rain and today in the blinding sunshine, in late-February and in September. All isn’t lost when we’re reading horrible news while our hearts break, it just means we work the way we were designed (if your heart isn’t broken sometimes, that’s what is truly concerning) and the world doesn’t. And on those days, when we keep showing up, fighting for joy, we display an overwhelming courage that inspires us all when we wonder if we can go one more day. We can. And we will. We will be free and shine, embody our values, and keep fighting.

Anna — March 28, 2022

Anna

Inventing Anna is a new buzzy Netflix documentary-ish film. Each of the 9 episodes begins with the clever disclaimer: “The whole story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.” A wildly unlikeable “German heiress”/con artist dupes plenty of people who should have known better and (I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know the story) may or may not end up convicted for these acts/crimes. 9 episodes. 9 long episodes about this woman and the superficial culture that made all of this possible. 9 hours of my life I won’t get back.

The acting was terrific. The writing & directing were good, music was great. The events on which it was based were surreal and fantastic. The cultural critique was sharp and pointy. It’s exactly the sort of thing the algorithm would figure I’d love, and normally it would be right, it is the sort of thing I’d love. But I hated it. I don’t have to like everything, and I don’t have to always agree with the algorithm.

There was a square of 4 desks in “Scriberia” and 3 of the 4 characters there and the trainer, Kacy, were alright. The husband of the journalist who broke the story was awesome. Everyone else (I might be swayed on the lawyer) was absolutely awful, carefully crafted images of human dollar signs.

[Awful isn’t always a dealbreaker, the greatest tv show in the history of tv is Seinfeld and there aren’t many redeeming qualities to be found. The show acknowledged this with the finale when they all ended up in jail for essentially being terrible people. But Seinfeld is the exception, an outlier. Whether they succeed or not, we need someone we like, someone to root for, someone to care about.]

Every good story – the ones we like that stick with us – contains a character arc. The protagonist is one way, and through conflict or obstacle, changes, grows, and becomes someone else by the end. We’re just the same in real life. We are who we are. Then we find ourselves (intentionally or otherwise) thrown into spaces where we learn, adapt, rise, fail, lose, win, get up or stay down. Either way, we are transformed at the end of this particular journey. Sometimes the stories hurt like crazy, but significance isn’t measured by enjoyment. And eventually the next story beckons and we engage.

We all know people who don’t, right? The people who remain the same, doing the same thing, going the same places, telling the same jokes, as the life drains from their, and our, eyes. Bored. Tired. Uninspired. And sometimes that’s us, simply surviving, going through motions, trapped in repeating loops of rut and routine.

Anna was the same in the episode 1 as episode 9. She was lonely & sad as she was chasing & catching excess, treating everyone like trash. She was lonely & sad in episode 9 as she was no longer catching the glamorous life she pursued, and still treating everyone like trash. People were to be used and discarded. At every turn, the characters made horrible decisions, ignoring their families and their souls. I found the show very very sad. I wanted more for them, I wanted them to feel loved and worthy, enough, regardless of how much money was in their bank account or how much their hotel room cost. I wanted them to rest. I wanted Anna to be held by someone who would care for her unconditionally. I wanted the lawyer to go on his vacation and Vivian to stay at home with her baby, reading Goodnight Moon and singing lullabies. (And I know not everybody wants the same things or values the same things I do…)

I also know it was a movie. Maybe she’s lovely. And maybe ‘more’ IS a worthy goal for our lives. I’m not sure, though.

The Pyramid Scheme — March 17, 2022

The Pyramid Scheme

The world is mostly on fire. Every single thing seems to be, in equal parts, depressing and terrifying. I recognize this, every moment weighs on my heart, head, stomach, and in my bones. I tell you I recognize this because we’re about to talk about youth sports again, and that can feel ridiculously insignificant.

Maybe it is, but the thing is that when problems appear to be so BIG and overwhelming, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the sheer size of the monsters in the room. Often the best (and perhaps only) action is, simply, to do something.

There’s a parable of a man and his daughter walking on the beach full of beached starfish. The young girl begins to throw them back into the ocean, one at a time. Her dad says, “you can’t save them all, what does it matter?” And she answers, of the one she’s just returned to the water, “it matters to that one.” Or at least that’s how I remember that parable going, you get the point. Honestly, as I write it, the dad is really disappointing, right?

Anyway.

We’re all watching the news, feeling the bombs and violence chip away at our souls, gas & grocery prices at our wallets, and general hopelessness at our hearts. There’s a palpable darkness that can drag us down a deep, deep spiral. Can I end this war? Can I actually affect any sort of change in the East, in the UN, in the schools, banks, hospitals, or anyone’s lives? It feels like each of those answers are no, but I’m not so sure.

Baseball meetings – it’s likely all youth sports meetings, but baseball has a special gift for bringing out crazy – can drag on and on, begging the question, “how far and how fast would I have to run to get enough force to break through that window, what injuries would the broken glass inflict, and would I survive the fall to the ground?” But as we discussed/implemented codes of conduct (because coaches and parents find ways to ruin everything and force discussions on codes of conduct), I began to consider the kids on my team, thinking about their faces, their voices, their sometimes sad family situations that are beached on the sand.

Maybe we can’t transform Vladimir Putin’s mind today, but if we can create new systems, maybe the next Putin won’t be quite so hellbent on starting a war. The idea (that sounds like a joke but isn’t at all) is one of a pyramid scheme, but instead of leggings or cleaning products, the product is love. If I love you, and you love 2 more, and those 2 love 2, and those 4 love 2 – it’s compounding interest in an economy of grace. Now, this is not the ‘love’ we usually mistake, conditional and manipulative, but a new (old) kind, a generous, unselfish, unconditional love. One that is not designed as a means to get, but as the end in itself, only to give.

In that starfish parable, instead of spreading just more of the same doctrine of despair, instead of trying so hard to break the innocent spirit of his girl, maybe the dad could start helping out and throw some starfish back. Maybe we’re all that dad with the same choice in front of us. We can choose which kind of dad we’ll be. We can keep lamenting, “what can we do???” Or we can start getting our fingers in the sand to make a difference to just one ballplayer (or student or cashier or whatever) at a time in our homes, neighborhoods, in this cracked, violent, messy, sweetly beautiful world.

The Worst Valentine’s Day — February 15, 2022

The Worst Valentine’s Day

There are a lot of drawbacks to being married to me, the fact that I’m writing about a pretty terrible Valentine’s Day on the internet isn’t even close to the biggest. But it isn’t great.

The Angel and I have been together for 24ish years, and in the course of those 24ish years, yesterday was The Worst Valentine’s Day we’ve had. (Maybe it’s important to say that I’m not the best at caring about greeting card holidays, but I do love LOVE and I do love my wife, so I’ll participate;)

We often talk about youth sports in this space. Over the years, all of us of a certain age has noticed a trend that we’ll call the Sportscenter-ification of the games. What I mean is that almost nobody watches entire games, we watch the highlights on Sportscenter or YouTube or forwarded GIFs. I coach baseball for boys who have very little knowledge and/or perspective of a game. These kids have no appreciation for the ups & downs, the slow parts, and fundamentals are a completely lost art (I KNOW I sound like everybody’s dad, talking about how it was “when I was young,” and that hurts me a little. Anyway, I am somebody’s dad.) We’ve been conditioned to think a game is all dunks and home runs.

Our culture suffers from this same malady. For instance, we think marriage is the same; all highlights and clip packages, candles, bubble baths, one long music montage set to some bouncy love song. And when it’s not, we think we’re broken. That the love is gone. That we’re doing something wrong. That it’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, that whole Sportscenter-ification is a lie. Marriage is time outs and bunts and bounce passes. It’s crappy Valentine’s days and wonderful random Thursdays. Life, too. It’s not all mountain tops, it’s Monday mornings, too.

The Church has a liturgical year. Yes, there is Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. But there’s also the rest, which is called Ordinary Time. That’s perfect, right? Ordinary Time. We go to work, change diapers, watch tv, eat in the car. Not all of our workouts are personal records, sometimes we’re tired and all we can do is get there at all.

It’s not broken. We’re not broken. We’re not doing anything wrong. I wrote a card to my wife yesterday that spelled out how overwhelming and wonderful it is that after 24 years, our relationship is so much better than it was on our wedding day. And that’s absolutely true. Kissing her slow and soft still gives me butterflies, it’s still shocking that I get to be the one that gets to do it. We make dinner together, make the bed together, change our bunny’s litter box and sit next to each other complaining about our sore backs in bleachers at basketball games. Of course, there are also fireworks and game winning half court shots and championships.

Sometimes the bands/singers on the radio are horrible, sometimes they’re just ok. It’s not always the Greatest, it’s not always Morrissey. And the songs aren’t always There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And it’s a crazy delusion to think they would be.

The Angel & I communicate very very very well, (even so far as to discuss how the wheels fell off on our Valentine’s Day – it’s not high maintenance, it’s real, and it’s really important). We talk a lot, laugh and cry together, trust each other, find beauty in every day, love each other to the moooon even when things aren’t going perfectly. We advance the runner, catch fly balls, make our free throws and rebound. Teams that do those things win, marriages that do those things never break, and lives built on that are full and awesome, even when they aren’t.

Happy (best, worst, and everything in between) Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Like a Drip, Drip, Drip That’ll Never Stop — February 7, 2022

Like a Drip, Drip, Drip That’ll Never Stop

Well, I watched the new Disney animated film Encanto last weekend. I can’t say that I really wanted to, but the Angel did, and I very much like the Angel and she watches A LOT of superhero movies with me, so I watched Encanto. (Also, I usually cry while these new Disney/Pixar movies take me apart – let’s not even talk about Up or Inside Out.)

So anyway, it was very good. It wasn’t Frozen good, but it was very good. What I found exceptional was how open & honest it was about difficult emotions, struggles, image-making, expectations, inadequacy, and insecurity. I know, I know, these subjects are often there, but they’re hidden a little, like Easter eggs for parents, so when we’re crying, the kids aren’t sure exactly why.

In Encanto, there’s an older sister whose gift is physical strength. She sings a song called “Surface Pressure” that we need to talk about.

“I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous. I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is. I move mountains, I move churches. And I glow ’cause I know what my worth is. I don’t ask how hard the work is. Got a rough indestructible surface. Diamonds and platinum, I find ’em, I flatten ’em. I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanding.” This is the first verse and it’s as disingenuous as we are. It’s full of posturing. It’s full of the biggest mountain of lies. It’s you & me and everyone we see. Is Encanto a documentary?

It’s not, because she continues, “But Under the surface. I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus. Under the surface. Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”? Under the surface. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service. A flaw or a crack. The straw in the stack That breaks the camel’s back. What breaks the camel’s back? It’s Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa. Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’till you just go pop, whoa.” Wow, right? If I told you how many times I have felt exactly this way. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service? This was supposed to be a kids movie with singing and dancing about a house that’s alive. Drip, drip, drip.

Listen to these questions, through the song: “Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?…Who am I if I can’t carry it all?…I think about my purpose, can I somehow preserve this?…If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations, Would that free some room up for joy Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?…Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?”

Who am I? Am I more than my performance, more than these expectations? What if I can’t carry it all? I think about all of the men I know, the dads, husbands, threatening to buckle under all of this weight. (I know it’s the women, too, I just happen to relate to the men because I’m, you know, a man. I see the women. I see the pressure to be everything to everyone, gorgeous, fit, smart, independent, strong, funny, perfect moms and CEOs and lovers and yogis, to shoulder more and more responsibility, more and more stress, more and more and more.)

Of course it’s too much. This is a kids movie, so I think of the children in schools, saddled with the same amount of uncontrollable, overwhelming pressure. I picture the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, ever contracting to smush the heroes, but this isn’t a movie and R2-D2 isn’t going to stop it just in time. I think we have to stop this, to bring this hamster wheel to a screeching halt.

Who am I if I can’t carry it all? Maybe I was never supposed to carry it all in the first place. Maybe we weren’t supposed to run with the ball. Maybe what we think it “takes” was a red herring all along and it doesn’t and never did matter if we have it.

Encanto was very good, but it hit a little too close to home. I guess it needs to, right? Otherwise we will keep on ignoring the rising heat, like lobsters in a pot. It’s a good thing the songs were so catchy.

Color-Fullness — January 21, 2022

Color-Fullness

Yesterday, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here.

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal.

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with.

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about.

Anyway, the reason racism is so stupid is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

Spider-Man — December 22, 2021

Spider-Man

No Way Home, the 3rd in the Marvel/Sony Spider-Man trilogy, was released last week, broke records, and thrilled me more than I can tell you. I’m going to write about it a little and try not to give any spoilers.

I had a tough time getting tickets for our family and the theater was jammed. The atmosphere was electric, the buzz in the air reminded us all of what it felt like to be sharing experiences. Netflix is awesome but it really can’t do that. Streaming Hawkeye on Disney+ in the living room simply isn’t the same as a theater full of human beings. Nobody wears superhero suits in my house anymore, but they did at the movies.

I don’t know why they wear masks and dress up like characters, seems odd to me. But here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t matter if I understand. I am me and that guy (or girl) is that guy (or girl) and we are different. What I think we’ve forgotten over the last 2 years of quarantine and isolation is that different is a very good thing. We might disagree on cosplay but we all love Spider-Man.

(As you know, I am a spiritual person and that’s one of the coolest parts about the Church and the local church. We can be different, disagree on a great many issues, but we all love Jesus.)

So there are weirdos in costumes and I am totally normal. (That’s a joke. Ha.) We’re all different, but there was a moment, maybe several moments, where none of that mattered at all. We completely lost our collective minds and gasped or cheered or yelled or cried tears of joy or anything. Together.

I get pretty emotional at Christmas. I mean, more than usual. When I saw Into The Spider-Verse, I remember thinking, “this changes everything.” In that animated film, we were forced to confront our ideas of what is possible in a movie. In the context of Christmas, COVID variants, division, anger, riots, and school shootings, this Spider-Man also can change everything. No Way Home gives us the opportunity to confront our ideas of what is possible in our communities, this world, in society, in us.

I don’t know if we’ll take that opportunity, and answer that invitation. I hope we do. I hope we remember who we are and who we can be. I hope we can discover that our differences are actually wonderful and can bring us closer through curiosity, interest & openness.

If I’m totally honest, I do know. Of course we’ll open that door. I’m relentlessly hopeful and it has served me very well. Yes, I get my heart broken and am disappointed from time to time (ok, lots of times) but my trust, belief, faith and love gets rewarded even more spectacularly, much more often. I am one of those who goes in to Spider-Man expecting it to be great…and sometimes, like this one, it’s better than that.

Basketball — December 15, 2021

Basketball

I write an inordinate amount about youth sports. That’s for 2 reasons, mostly. I have youths in sports. And I have always loved sports.

Sports were the main tie between my dad and I. Without it, I imagine we would’ve drifted apart like ships lost at sea. But we did, we were tied together, we didn’t drift. When I coach, watch a game or ESPN, see a batting average, pick up my glove or a football, he’s not far away. I can see him, smell him, feel him. So, the foundation for each of these posts is that relationship, how much I miss him, and how I’d like him to read them.

I am tied to my boys by many things, all of them more important than sports. I am not my dad. But if they think of me when they catch a ball or shoot a jump shot, that’s cool, too. They (we) love basketball and the season began last weekend with something called a tip-off tournament.

The thing about sports is how it is a solid metaphor for everything else. Like when I tell you that my youngest feels the weight of perfection and that often sucks the joy out of the game, you know what I mean, right? Have you ever felt like you needed to keep things together, that if you happened to fall, you would ‘let everyone down?’ Have you ever felt paralyzed, unable to act, in fear of failure? Have you ever stayed too long in a relationship or a job because what if…? Have you ever put so much pressure on yourself to be great that it made you sick and certainly kept you up at night? Me, too.

Incidentally, what keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. I tried to encourage risk, value failure, while celebrating each win. I never withheld my affection or punished a loss, always gave a soft place to land, always threw my arms around him no matter the game/test result. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe nothing.

Or when they take the court and in the course of the game end up guarding the 6’5” 300lb monster under the basket. Right??? I have felt overwhelmed by monsters real and imagined so many times. There are giants everywhere.

Is the final score all that matters? The bottom line? Does it matter how you play if the ends don’t measure up? Do the ends justify the means?

I love the purity of spirit in giving everything we have for something, anything. Too often we hold back, we detach, we hide, we hedge, we are afraid to empty our tanks because what if we lose? What does that mean about us, our worth, our value?

But what if the value is in the engagement? What if our worth isn’t tied at all to the final score? Maybe that’s what we end up learning, and maybe that’s a lesson my dad couldn’t see. That we are so much more than the game, the competition. That it isn’t about the final score, that it never was. And that it is about the connection, between my boys & I, my dad & I, teammates, coaches, our relationship with our own selves, and ultimately the relationship between us and the God that gave us these wonderful gifts. As it turns out, it’s not the sports at all, it’s simply a background for the beauty of all of life, if we can open our eyes, hands and hearts long enough to see it.