Love With A Capital L

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

Confusing — March 25, 2020

Confusing

I’m quite certain I have nothing new to say on this Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis and global lockdown. Wash your hands, stay inside, hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer, you know, the usual things. Stay away from all people (pets are ok, I think… but what I know for sure about pets is that, according to PETA, the term ‘pet’ is derogatory and must be replaced with ‘animal companion’ immediately).

And on social distancing, (I mean “physical distancing,” which is now the appropriate term to use), Dr Arthur Caplan says, “Do your best to socially distance. Maybe don’t sleep in the same bed? Minimize sexual contact. Don’t share toothbrushes. Try to use separate things. You don’t want to be hugging and kissing. You always want to use good hygiene in terms of sneezing and coughing and still doing the hand washing thing frequently. You want to clean surfaces frequently. You might not want to share the same forks and knives unless you’re really sure they’ve been washed thoroughly. That kind of thing. You can have a discussion about how you would divide up your living space – but if they won’t go along, get away.”

This space in time asks so many more questions than it answers. Maybe this is no different than any other time, maybe all times are confusing as we’re living them. But we ask anyway, as if we’ll get answers.

Is this virus actually brand new? If so, like some report, why are other outlets reporting that it has been here for months, at least? Why is it transmitted only in the air and then also on surfaces and then in the air and then both again? Why are beer distributors and gun shops life-sustaining? Why do we care so much about this particular virus while alcohol-related deaths will faaaar surpass all COVID-19 in the time it takes to write this? Is it really just public relations? Maybe viruses should have as capable marketers as wines and lite beers? How long will I have to stay home? Minimize sexual contact? No hugs and kisses? How did these politicians get elected? Where is the stimulus and unemployment money coming from? Why does my mother-in-law use “u” and “r” instead of “you are?” Do I have enough toilet paper? Can I actually flush “flushable” wipes? If no, why are they called “flushable” wipes? If yes, why did my waste company send an auto-call telling me not to? Is “pet” really a derogatory term? What does PETA do? And the biggest question I have today: WHO IS SHARING TOOTHBRUSHES????

It’ll be over eventually, and there will be more questions.

Will we have learned anything at all? Will we force change in the system that we can so easily see has been exposed? Will this be a reset, an opportunity to build something new out of the ashes of this crash? Or will we simply go right back to the way it was before, like we always do?

I hope, at the very least, that we keep washing our hands and that the monsters who share toothbrushes will stop.

Both Hands — March 18, 2020

Both Hands

We are all quarantined (except for those on the beaches in Florida, I suppose.) The schools are closed, most businesses are affected, and it is causing a great deal of tension. We are not a society of people who take very kindly being told we can not. It seems like an infringement, an act of violence, even if the thing being taken away is undesirable or harmful.

This virus could kill us, or those close to us. But I wanna go to the mall or the movies or ANYWHERE!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or heard that we’d want nothing more than to check out for a minute, stay home, lower the volume on the world and take a nap. Now we have to, and we are losing our collective mind about it.

But that’s people, it’s who we are.

I don’t really want to write about that, what I do want to write about is the truth of feeling, talking, living, fully engaged, able to see and hold wide ranges of emotions. A philosophy of “Both Hands.”

The virus is horrible. People are in pain, suffering and, in some cases, dying. The wide reaching state of emergency is heaping stress and anxiety upon countless more. How will we make it? How will we pay the rent, the bills, the groceries? What will we do??? Some of us are alone and lonely, the quarantine emphasizing our heartbreaking isolation.

At the same time, the quiet is lovely. The time at home, with my wife, my boys, is like water healing every broken or cracked part of me. The house is full of laughter and smooches, and this is a season where we would never have found this unhurried time to spend together. We play games, watch movies, music is always playing and we’re eating healthy around the dinner table. I called my mom yesterday, a gift I’ve neglected due to the demands of every day.

I am more thankful than I can express for the time. And I pray for it to end. This is the paradox of a life in between.

I sometimes get the blessing and honor of officiating funerals and nowhere is this more pronounced than in that thick space. We are sad and our hearts are aching…and we are hopeful for the promises of Jesus and grateful for the time we spent with the person we mourn. It’s a “both, and” situation, not “either, or.”

The problem is, we hide, we pretend, we try to fit an image we’ve decided is fitting, important, or spiritual. This masquerade requires us to eliminate one of our hands in the service of the great lie. We decide it is not Christian to weep, to ask why, to allow our sadness room to breathe, so instead we plaster on a smile and recite our practiced platitudes. And we suppress our pain and encourage others to do the same, which only results in super secret wounds that never heal. The only way is through.

Yes, this is the worst. It’s also the best. Sometimes in the very same moment. I have a good friend who says, “How can hell be any worse?” And I answer, “How can Heaven be any better?” We’re both right. And we’re both wrong. This is our prayer, it can only be offered from our open, honest hearts.

Rhinos — March 5, 2020

Rhinos

My boys are home from school with the flu. It is not too serious, but enough to lay around for several days and watch tv. We binged 2 seasons of Scooby Doo Mystery, Inc – 48 episodes of a very interesting take on the gang and their relationships. Now that I think about it, it was an interesting take on our relationships (with ourselves and each other), really.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. I have spent quite a bit of time visiting the doctor’s office and different pharmacies, searching for someone who cares. (I believe my doctor and the staff there care as if they are family, the aforementioned search only concerning local pharmacies.) It took 2 maddening, fever-and-cough filled days to find one who would fill my prescription…

Now. A bit about Rhinos, and then we’ll tie these clouds together. A rhinoceros is enormous and can run upward of 3o miles/hour. The problem (and it’s a problem as enormous as they are) is that same rhino can only see around 15 – 30 feet.

The reason we’re talking characteristics of rhinos is because we are a culture of rhinoceroses. They are us, we are them. We run and run, as fast as we can, with very little vision. The only goal is movement, progress, chopping wood, with little to no regard for the world around us or even ourselves, if it extends past the right now.

And then the flu suddenly stops us, and we lose our bearings. What are we if we are not productive? Who am I if I am not running, covering ground? What kind of daddy am I if I can not protect them, keep them safe and healthy, and when they’re not, if I can not procure a simple prescription?

We do, that’s what we are. Our value, in this country, is based nearly exclusively on our speed, busy-ness, number of social media “friends” and “likes,” how much we push, climb, and how easy we make it appear. What if I don’t post this week? What if I am not making BIG GAINZ? What if I’m tired? What if I’m not in control? Then what? Am I what the voices in my head say, “lazy,” “inadequate,” “weak?”

This is EXACTLY what Scooby Doo was about (barely beneath the villains in monster masks.) The beginning of season 2 found our heroes fractured and questioning their place, their worth, their essence. They were asking the same question we are, who were they if they could not solve the mystery? Who was Fred without Daphne (or without traps)? Who was Velma if she couldn’t figure it out, using reason and her giant brain? Who were Shaggy and Scooby and what were they for, really?

It was brilliant! All of these things come together, and the big takeaway is… Well, I don’t know. (How anticlimactic is that? I pastor a church, can you even imagine how frustrating it is to listen to me ask all of these questions, week after week, and so rarely answer them????) I’m probably a terrible life coach. But Shaggy’s path was different from Fred’s and Velma’s, you know? How can I honestly answer? Maybe the answer is to stop running for me and it’s to start running for my son? Maybe it’s solitude today and community tonight? Maybe it’s another mystery or maybe it’s time for a break from being meddling kids.

I guess what I do know that’s true for all of us is that the real problem isn’t running so fast, or solving mysteries, or being horrible pharmacists. It is a lack of vision, a lack of awareness, a lack of intention, and it is especially when that lack leads us to the conclusion that our worth is only found in our output.

The Fear — February 5, 2020

The Fear

My sons were very young when I first began to explain the cliche, “follow the money.” Probably, if you were to listen to my wife, much too young. Maybe, but they are quick to ask the question (often, the only important question) and that answer usually frames the story into very easily understood pieces.

For instance, I watched a Netflix documentary on some sketchy food practices and spent most of it in awe, having my mind blown by the corruption and hypocrisy in the. It was only in the last 10ish minutes where the filmmaker played his hand, M. Night Shyamalan-style, and the whole doc turned out to be nothing more than a long-form commercial for vegan-ism (Big Vegan;). It was a disingenuous twist, exactly the sort he spent the entire film exposing in the evil animal product villains. It didn’t discount or minimize the truth he found or the impact of the truth, it simply displayed that, under different circumstances and different opportunities, he would have been working for the other side exposing the vegan propaganda.

My boys and I found no shortage of examples that were easy to find and see in professional sports – why would I narrow that to ‘professional?’ Collegiate athletics, high school, sheesh, even youth sports are rotten to the core. Anywhere there is money, of any amount, there will be leverage and abuse.

It was with great hesitation that I selected the series Broken and began with episode 1 and the plastic/recycling/petroleum industry. Then, episode 2 focused on cheap, disposable furniture, IKEA, and the environment. Obviously, this is all crushing and leaves little hope for the future. I used to see the Biblical story of Noah as one where an angry God wildly overreacts and nearly destroys all creation. And why? Because they had fallen so far, broken things so badly, nothing could ever go back to the garden where everything was “good.” I didn’t like that story then, but now, I can understand.

Which brings us to the Iowa Caucus… I don’t know why we can’t count votes. The short answer is that of course we can. The longer, more complicated answer is that we can’t only when we don’t want to, when we don’t like the outcome. I don’t know why we don’t want the outcome yet. I probably don’t want to know.

This is painted with such a broad brush, and everybody knows the American political system needs a Great Flood and a brand new start. We need a reset, an absolute zero. No one and nothing resembling this 2 party catastrophe can remain.

I don’t want to watch Broken anymore. Or the news (The dog and pony impeachment show is likely over by now, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.) Or sports. Or any more Netflix documentaries. Or voting “results.” But I will. You see, I am pretty thick like that. I don’t think it’s over, this beautiful story of us, and at some point, instead of being dismantled by all of this self-inflicted damage, we will find what has been lost and blow it all up, keep the pieces that matter, and build something fresh and new and hopeful and more fitting to our call. It’s coming. Maybe not tomorrow, probably not tomorrow. But it is coming.

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court — January 30, 2020

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court

My heart is broken about a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California that killed 9 people I don’t know. One of them is basketball player Kobe Bryant. Everything has been written about him, so I’m going to write some more.

He was an absolutely transcendent basketball player. He was intelligent, charismatic, caring, magnetic, generous. He was a great dad, husband, teammate, co-worker, and friend. He was also egotistic, jealous, selfish, a terrible teammate, a bad dad & husband. (I won’t talk about Colorado – the 3 that did were severely reprimanded by their employers and/or the public. I know we don’t talk about things like that. I know we don’t tell the truth.) People loved him. People hated him.

He was all of these things and much much more. He was human. We think athletes (and anyone above a certain level of fame) are superheroes, but instead they’re shockingly human. Sometimes, rarely, we will acknowledge this fact.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Marvel films are their willingness to dive into this duality. Tony Stark is Ironman! And a narcissist. He can save the world! A world that he, through his actions/creations, placed in danger in the first place.

We are complex and defy easy generalizations. Meredith Brooks (in a hit song I won’t name;) sings, “I’m a child, I’m a mother. I’m a sinner, I’m a saint.”

The problem is when we compartmentalize each other, needing them to be just one thing in service of our own comfort. Why can’t we acknowledge that Kobe was deeply flawed? It doesn’t lessen the tremendous loss. In the interviews following his death, one thing that stood out is that he was quite open about his faults. He was seemingly the only one who was comfortable with the truth. (That’s where change happens; there’s a reason step 1 in recovery is first. Honest evaluation is vital. As long as we continue to hide, we can’t change OR affect people who can be inspired by the entire arc of the story.) Other celebrities have lists of “things we don’t talk about,” and run from press conferences or questions that touch on those less than proud moments, decisions and characteristics we all have. This is called hypocrisy in the Bible. We are called not to pretend…and in the same way, not judge each other. This becomes much more possible when we don’t neeeeeed them to be just one thing, when we can accept and hopefully move to love them as they are.

On the People’s Court yesterday, a defendant was funny and engaging, very likable. He was also recently released for 13 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He had trouble making a living to support himself and his new wife because he couldn’t get hired. He also lost the case, and was friendly and deprecating to Doug in the hallway.

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish Colorado didn’t happen, I really wish it didn’t happen to that woman, but that it did doesn’t make his life less inspiring. He, and the woman, and the guy on the People’s Court, my neighbor, and all of my friends, and me…we have lots of facets, lots of texture and depth. Like diamonds. Another song (this one from Rise Against) goes, “We are far from perfect, we’re perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken. But we are *** works of art.” Kobe was a work of art. So was his daughter. And the other 7 I hadn’t heard of. And so are we.

[I’m having a difficult time “Publishing” this… The point is that our only real disservice to each other is to believe that our beauty is somehow tied to our perfection. This is a bar none of us can reach, setting us all up for either failure or more and more hypocrisy and dishonest pretending. I do not mean to minimize the damage done to any victim..I do not mean to say everything is ok. It isn’t…Maybe I’ll be sorry I post this. Maybe someone will misunderstand my heart and think when I call Kobe inspiring, that I am de-valuing another. I don’t mean to, I’m truly sorry if I did. All of this is messy. And I guess what I think, why I’m going to post this, is that I think the messiness is important. I think the only way things change is when all of this is dragged into the light and we stop hiding everything, stop avoiding the mess, and start to look at each other as we are, not some idealized versions of ourselves, and start to pull down the walls that keep us from loving ourselves and each other.]

Rise of Skywalker — January 22, 2020

Rise of Skywalker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews — January 16, 2020

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews

We’ll start with Depeche Mode being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and my first instinct is to say: It’s about time. How did this oversight happen? Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, The Crickets, Comets, Green Day, and on and on – we are not now debating whether or not these bands deserve to be in the HOF, but how could Radiohead possibly gain entry before Depeche Mode???

My first instinct is to say ‘it’s about time,’ but I’m trying not to focus so much on incompetence and, instead, only feel gratitude, overjoyed that a band that has meant a great deal to me has gotten the appreciation and acknowledgment they have very well earned. Listen to “Lie To Me” and “Everything Counts” and tell me I’m wrong.

I really loved Nine Inch Nails for a little in high school so I’m happy about that, too.

Whoever this super-special club of voters is (of which I would love to somehow be a part), they get my approval for these 2, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, AND refusing acceptance to horrible college jam-band Dave Matthews Band. Exclusivity is paramount in the perception of a Hall of Fame, and if DMB is allowed inside, then what’s next? Rusted Root? Spin Doctors? Or worse, Blues Traveler!!!

You know, it’s a strange thing, this blog posting. It’s awfully arrogant to assume that my opinions (facts) on bands and movies or anything else might be a little bit interesting to anyone but me, isn’t it? Why would you care what I think of Dave Matthews? I know I like to read others thoughts on art and culture, but I’m just some man in Pennsylvania who has an iPad and a WordPress account. Who knows about that, but I do know about the value of telling our stories. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and honesty does exactly the same thing listening to “Blasphemous Rumours” on vinyl does; makes us feel less alone, like we’re not lost in a world that doesn’t see, know, or care. That there might be someone, somewhere who is feeling the same things we are is unbelievably comforting and a step or 1,000 on the road to knocking down the walls we’ve decided separate us and seeing each other as, simply, human.

Here’s something else I want to tell you: Yesterday is my usual day off, right? (I say usual, but it’s not at all the norm yet. The relationship with unproductive time is complicated, but rest is vital to being a healthy person, so I’m walking that way.) I didn’t take it. I decided to end my commitment to The Witcher after episode 4, and this week has drifted without any replacement. I wrote a lot, visited some good friends, baked a cake, worked out, started reading 2 new books, listened to a ton of new songs, watched youth sports, and served as taxi driver for the neighborhood. Great week. But I did not take my “day off.”

And that is ok. I had a terrific week, inspired and engaged. The point of the rest day is to break from all of the expectations and voices telling (screaming at) me what I SHOULD be doing. What if I begin a new practice to escape that cage and it becomes just another expectation, another should, another example where I have failed, more guilt and shame?

It’s still a cage.

My resolution (not a New Years resolution – more like a whole life resolution) is to be a little kinder to me, give me a break from time to time. So yes, I did not have my “day off” this week…and that’s fine.