Love With A Capital L

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

Hurt — December 28, 2020

Hurt

There’s this show called Song Exploder on Netflix and of course I love it. It is exactly my type. When the Angel and I walk around a clothing store, when we see a striped long sleeve shirt (or ‘top’), we both know and instinctively stop. This show is my long sleeve striped top. Or MaryAnne on Gilligan’s Island. Princess Leia. Janet Wood. I have opinions and specific tastes. Song Exploder is perfect.

This morning I watched the episode detailing ‘Hurt,’ by Nine Inch Nails, on the album The Downward Spiral. Released in 1994, it was a big hit and for 1994-me, it’s themes of loneliness and inadequacy were, um, familiar. The problem with the album was that it always gave me a headache and made me feel a little physically ill as I listened. In this Song Exploder show, Trent Reznor (who is Nine Inch Nails) explained that there were things you could “hide” in a song to make the listener “uncomfortable,” or “unsettled.” My physical reaction was totally unconscious but purposeful in it’s creation, and now looking at the album through 2020-me eyes, it’s even more brilliant.

I don’t really like the songs on the album too much anymore, but this one still moves me. It was covered by Johnny Cash and was reborn, for a new generation. And as it turns out, for it’s creator. The loneliness, inadequacy and pain that made it so relatable for me weren’t pretense at all. They were absolutely authentic, and he spoke about when the Johnny Cash version happened, he was questioning his worth, ability, talent, if he was enough.

This is the universal narrative for me, and to tell you the truth, it’s mostly why I do any of the things I do. To try to speak fresh words to this very human affliction, which is not affected by class, image, status, money. The voices in our heads scream us down just the same. Nine Inch Nails was famous, successful, popular, and unfulfilling. Johnny Cash covering that song was a re-telling of the looped false story in Reznor’s head, that told him he was not now, not ever, going to be enough. That beautiful cover was a crack in that wall.

Now, he seems easy and assured in interviews. I’m sure it comes and goes, like it does for all of us, but at least it comes now, right? It’s almost the new year and that means it’s time for dreaming. Wouldn’t it be cool if our lives could be covered by Johnny Cash and we could finally see them with new eyes? If we could finally see ourselves as we actually are, free of the sledgehammers in our heads? The song sounds different to him now. And to me. It’s not so hopeless anymore.

We’re Here — December 22, 2020

We’re Here

“I want someone to know I’m here.” That is the heartache expressed by the title character in the book Britt-Marie Was Here. This is another novel written by Fredrik Backman, which may be a poor choice as I’m still recovering from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry and The Deal Of A Lifetime.

I read once that if you take LSD, you are never the same as you were before. If you were a 5, you’re not a 5 anymore. That’s how I feel about those books. Like I was cracked wide open and now I’m a permanently different Chad.

Anyway. It’s Christmas in 2020 and on the one hand, we desperately need the hope of Christmas and the birth. On the other, I can’t imagine the despair of another holiday in isolation. This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

This Britt-Marie book is about a woman newly single, alone because the husband she has pretended was faithful has been publicly exposed as what she knew he was. She’s kind of awful, but as Backman slowly peels back curtain after curtain, she’s all of us. She wants to be seen, wants to matter to someone.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival.

But it’s not. It’s killing us. We’re invisible and we are not meant to be invisible. We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together.

As I read, the thing that kills me is that I know how many Britt-Marie’s must be in my town, neighborhood, on my street, invisible. And this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know we’re here.

Mando — December 8, 2020

Mando

As of Saturday morning, I am a subscriber to Disney+. It’s taken a pretty long time for me to make that commitment, considering my tastes, but this is no surprise. I’m usually a relatively late convert to new forms of entertainment. All of my friends had cds, dvds, and an iPod before me, all I eventually loved. I had to be wrestled into a membership to Amazon Prime music, which I immediately loved (that love has yet to fade even a little). I collected old 78 record players/records, 8-tracks, cassettes, VHS tapes, until a flood drank them all along with the house. I even still read actual, physical books! I do not have a Kindle, though I do have an iBooks app that has few downloads I never read. If there were still record stores, I would go there, too.

So, why?

Partly because it’s expensive to switch media. This morning I gave my son a pair of earbuds (wired!!!) from my iPod and asked him to please not ruin or lose them. These boys have such little respect for things. Can you believe they treat them like the soulless disposable trinkets that they have become? Anyway, don’t lose or break them, right? But why? I can’t imagine the circumstances that they will ever be used again. And that fact carries with it a significant amount of sadness, reflection on the money I spent, and disgust at my faithlessness, my disloyalty.

If you don’t subscribe to Disney+, you can’t watch the Mandalorian, and that would be a shame. It’s terrific. But maybe that’s my hesitance with adopting new, exclusive forms of media, because it leaves some behind. It’s like a first-class curtain on a plane (if either of those exist in a modern, pandemic world). Some are inside and others are outside. I want us all to watch at a scheduled time and talk about the Child the next day. I want us all to gather in front of the tv for the world premiere of “Thriller,” of the finale of Seinfeld.

Now, you might not even know who or what the Child is. And there’s no such thing as music videos anymore. Or sitcoms that anyone, much less everyone, cares about. Who would ever watch a show when it airs? Are there even shows that “air” anymore or do they simply appear in a queue to be streamed on the 4th of the month?

There is a program on Netflix called “The Toys That Made Us” that is awesome, and maybe new episodes exist, but I don’t know because I don’t know when they drop or whatever that’s called. They don’t on, for example, Thursday nights at 9.

I recognize this all sounds like the bitter nostalgic rants of the Oldest Man On Earth, and maybe it is. But I don’t ever want anyone to have to be on the outside of anything or feel like they don’t belong or aren’t cool or whatever enough. I made mixtapes for everyone I knew (especially girls I liked) so they could hear the songs that changed my life and would certainly change theirs. I pastor a church for the same reason. I guess I write this blog for that, too. I don’t want anyone to have a bad marriage or feel unloved or alone or worthless.

I don’t believe, like Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super, no one is.” I think when everyone is super – or acknowledges that we are – then we’re all super. And there’s another scene where Mrs. Incredible says, “Everyone is special, Dash,” and her son responds, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” He’s wrong. Everyone is special, it just might be in a different kind of way and take eyes that see, for us and for them.

This didn’t begin as an idealistic manifesto on how great you are, it was only supposed to be a little bit of nothing on how great the Mandalorian is. But maybe you won’t hear how great you are anywhere else today.

Mama’s Boy — December 3, 2020

Mama’s Boy

I’ve been watching (and enjoying) I Love A Mama’s Boy on TLC. Now, this is a show about women who are in relationships with boys who are…um…let’s say, overly-bonded, with their mothers. In a text message to my very good friend, I confessed that I was “embarrassed” to watch and like this mess. It is, to use a current term, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Now, I have no idea why these women are in these relationships, why they would live with these boys’ mothers, why they would build houses on their in-laws properties, why they would share Valentine’s Day dinners, why they would stand idly by while mother and son practiced a tango, of all things, as their wedding dance, why why why. NO IDEA. I suppose it’s a deflated sense of worth combined with the bar being lowered so far that this is what passes as acceptable in a prospective mate. AND I have no idea why these boys would apply to be on a tv show that ridicules them, that shows them in such a pathetically emasculated light. (Actually I do know that one: just like in small children, even negative attention is attention. Being a punch line for our 15 minutes of fame is still 15 minutes of fame.)

I could probably go on asking questions in this vein, but the truth is, I don’t care. It’s not too many episodes and it’s sufficiently mindless, which can be fine for 42 minutes here or there.

What I do want to talk about, and what I do care about, is the phrase ‘guilty pleasure,’ and why I might say, even in jest, that I am embarrassed to watch.

Like so many things, it is a reflection of our bend towards image-making and an endless list of what we “should” or “should” not do or who we “should” or “should” not be. It’s a avalanche of should’s under which we bury ourselves. Why would I possibly be guilty over a tv show or a movie or song? Because I am so focused on being cool or whatever. For example, I am a music snob. I like songs and artists that you haven’t heard, which by some misguided logic makes those songs and artists better, which by the same misguided logic makes me better. I also like the Christina Aguilera song “Fighter” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” but you’d never know because I wouldn’t tell you about those.

I want my favorite movie to be Pulp Fiction because it’s cool and violent and independent, or better yet, something neither of us has heard of and is wildly uncomfortable to watch, but in reality it’s probably a Captain America movie or Point Break.

Guilty pleasure? Nope. It’s just me, and the second I can make peace with who that is the second I can unload the mountain of expectations that tear me apart. I’ve been so exhausted trying to live up to the ideal of me that is in only my head. The one that has everything together and makes all the right decisions, is wise and beautiful in equal amounts, and doesn’t watch garbage tv.

But the truth is that I am often a basket case when I’m alone over the poor decisions that are definitely not wise, and will always laugh when a mother and son decide to dance inappropriately. Is that shameful or is it simply human? Maybe human is the most beautiful thing of all.

Ain’t The Same — November 18, 2020

Ain’t The Same

Jasper Mall is a documentary on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty unremarkable, actually. It chronicles the decline of a mall in the American south and nicely weaves in the death of a store, a young relationship, and a man. It was slow, melancholy and predictable. (The irony can’t be ignored that it’s playing on precisely the monolith that is murdering malls like this one)

It finished 5 minutes ago and, if I am completely honest, I am much more broken hearted than it deserves. But you understand my heart isn’t broken from this mall or this relationship, instead it’s a mourning for my own youth, my own mall, my own relationships. I spent so much time at the local mall, well spent with my best friends doing nothing at all except being together and learning each other and ourselves. I miss those guys, those seats in front of the Bavarian pretzel, the ice hockey table, and cassettes (which would later morph into cds).

I miss those guys the most. Cassettes were wildly overrated.

I often get nostalgia for details. For instance, no 15 year old boy will ever know the overwhelming fear of sitting by the phone mustering the courage to call the girl, and when/if he finally does, it might be busy (!!!) or (infinitely worse) answered by HER DAD!!! Now, he’ll text at 2am. A student like me will never cut classes to wait outside of the record store to buy the new release of his favorite band, speed home, and spend the day in bed with the liner notes. A new release the record store dude will already have pulled and waiting at the counter. Now we stream it a track at a time and forget it.

There was a lot that wasn’t great, too. My rose colored glasses are tinted, not opaque.

But the thing is, when things change, any change, even wonderful ones, hidden in the gooey center is loss that must be mourned. My oldest boy is very nearly able to beat me when we wrestle. I’d never tell him, but it’ll be such a cool celebration when he does. But he’s no longer the boy who slept on my chest and that I carried through stores. He won’t ever be that small again. I could cry for days when I consider how much I miss that tiny baby. AND I love the young man he is now. Things change. We often don’t get to choose what we carry with us, the best we can do is be fully present as they are happening.

The Security/Maintenance/Cleaning man in the movie says, as the last line of the movie about the domino game that has lost a player, “It just ain’t the same.” No kidding. Maybe we spend too much time looking at yesterday or tomorrow at the expense of today. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking, but we probably thought malls and high school friends and ice hockey tables would last forever, right? And we thought hugs and meals together were so commonplace, we were too busy checking our phones to notice them for the divine gifts they were. Maybe a totally average film is just the reminder we need from time to time to jolt us into our lives here and now.

Azkaban — November 10, 2020

Azkaban

A guy I used to work with once cornered me and began a shockingly intense and impassioned attack on the Harry Potter book series. He railed against the magical and, as he saw it, demonic framework of the story, that it was impossible for a Christian to read and enjoy the books. As a Christian who very much enjoyed the books, I asked if he had read them, actually read them. As you can guess, his answer was an indignant “NO! I would NEVER read such a thing!” Then how could you have such a strong opinion based solely on something somebody said? He shook his finger while he scolded me and stormed away.

I tell you this story for 2 reasons.

First, I like to make this space about what kind of pop culture art I am consuming. These works of art are usually documentaries, but I haven’t taken the time to watch much of anything, much less the documentary on the Nxivm cult I have been wanting to catch. Instead, what I do watch is football and whatever my family wants to watch on weekend evenings, which is the Harry Potter series. I had read all of the books, but had not seen all of the movies until Saturday.

Second, that guy was wrong.

Maybe you know that I’m a pastor of a church. But maybe you don’t. I am. AND I love the Harry Potter series. Demonic witchcraft and wizardry was the category box for that guy. I see so much more, but the problem is, if you choose to see the much more, then it doesn’t fit very neatly into any box at all. We like boxes. We like things we understand. The world is all too often chaotic and messy, which makes us frightened and anxious, so we are constantly trying to make sense of anything at all. General myopia can shrink what we experience into bite size pieces that are not too threatening, giving us the illusion of control.

The story uses magic as the context, but it’s really a story about these characters and worth and calling and loyalty and and and. And by the way, the first recorded people to bring gifts to honor and adore Jesus Christ were magicians. But this is good and evil and courage and purpose and selflessness and and and. This is ultimately a story, a series of books & movies about love.

I think building all kinds of walls to keep the scary things out more often end up keeping us in. These walls become prisons, like our own personal Azkaban. We’re building boxes to reinforce our need for control, our need to understand, to have the answers, to eliminate mystery and the unknown. The boxes we’re building are essentially altars to ourselves, and as far as things that run counter to God, idolatry is number 1 with a bullet.

Maybe I don’t have to have all of the answers. Maybe being sure isn’t the point. Maybe that’s what faith is, right?

Amy — October 24, 2020

Amy

I have some thoughts on Amy, the tragic documentary on the life and death of Amy Winehouse that I watched yesterday.

First, maybe it didn’t have to end this way. 1. At a rehabilitation facility, when her husband and 2 others were mocking her song “Rehab,” saying she’d have to change it. (The lyrics were, “they try to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”) They pushed like mean middle school kids, and she quietly answered, “I like it here,” clearly embarrassed. 2. Her bodyguard said, towards the end of her life, “She just wanted someone to say no.” I’m angry that she felt she couldn’t.

This amazing talent had an eating disorder and a wide number of addictions, and because of her lovely gift, she was forced (by everyone from record executives to her own fame-thirsty father) to live these disorders and addictions in public. The disorders and addictions that became punch lines on late night tv, “news” programs, and countless conversations by people like me. People exactly like me, as it turns out. I remember laughing at her issues and meltdowns, too, as if she were a singing, dancing machine and not a human being.

We all knew she would die early, and of course she would pass at 27, like so many other tortured souls. Now, she’s gone and only her memory and the music remains. I love the music, but as I get older, wiser and softer (something thought impossible), I wish I would have never heard “Back To Black,” “Rehab,” or my favorite, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” and she would still be here instead. I wish we would not have kept shoving her on stage and cashing checks at the expense of her life. I wish making and offering her beautiful art would not have such a high cost, that she could’ve walked down the street without assault, or gone to an island without her dad bringing a camera crew.

But I did, she’s not, we do, and it does. And did we learn anything at all from this celebrity sacrifice? Maybe. Probably not. She’s gone and there will be more. I wonder what and who it will take to shock us back into sanity. Amy (the documentary and the person) was one of the saddest masterpieces I have ever seen.

To Show Up — October 12, 2020

To Show Up

I suppose, like so much else, this story begins with my dad. When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be the opposite of everything he was…but that was when I was a child. Now that I am a man, it’s easy to see him clearly, as he was, as a complete human being with talents, passions, dreams. Sure he had his share of flaws, but also many strengths. I love him, have always loved him.

That is all true, I have made peace, but that doesn’t change the damage that has been done. For instance, our house was built on an ever-shifting foundation. He was wildly inconsistent. This comes pretty standard with alcoholism, but the unreliability created an environment of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety.

If you ask me, (and I understand no one has), the reason our culture is so riddled with anxiety and stress is for the same reasons. We are all so unpredictable, our values and beliefs sway in the breeze, commitment and stability are relics of the past. How can we find peace if every time we close our eyes, the furniture is moved, and when we wake, the room is unrecognizable? It’s a world of “who knows?” where truth is public opinion and public opinion is fluid.

Anyway. Though my father was home every night, it was impossible to know which version of him would show up (in mind & spirit, as well as physically) at any moment. I saw this and the devastation it causes. For exactly this reason, a primary value of mine is to be a safe, consistent presence to those around me. That when I walk into any room, nobody holds their breath in apprehension like we did.

This makes relationships hard for me. I heard someone say about the Enneagram once that #1’s (‘perfectionists,’ to over-simplify things) can be hard on others, and expect much, but it is nothing compared to how hard they are on themselves, a mere fraction of what they expect of themselves. This is mostly true in my experience. When my actions don’t match my intentions, I am my own very worst critic.

Where this is going, the “story” of the first sentence, is that I am awfully sensitive of how people show up, or more importantly, if they show up at all. Philip Seymour Hoffman says to Julianne Moore in the Hunger Games, “people don’t always show up the way you want them to.” That is also mostly true, but it can be the most wonderfully breathtaking surprise, as well. Allowing others to be who they are, quirky and awesome, has been one of the greatest lessons (and now pleasures) of my life. But they have to show up, first. He could’ve stopped half way in, “people don’t always show up.”

I have trouble with deep friendships because I get “stood up” so often. This is of course, physically, but emotional and spiritual, too. How many times has someone sat across a table for a meal with their phone on the table, preoccupied and distant, distracted. They are there, but they are not at all there.

Now. I don’t have a point, this is more of a mournful exploration. Maybe my expectations are too high (I’ve been told that), but I can’t seem to agree, no matter how hard I try. Is it really such a high expectation that I am where I say I’ll be, do what I say I’ll do, and that I am simply me all the time? And that I expect the same of you? Really?

Dog & Pony Show — September 30, 2020

Dog & Pony Show

The Presidential debate was last night and an entire country watched with baited breath and open minds to two qualified, articulate men respectfully sharing their visions for this beautiful country and her people. They listened, conceded some points, and on the others, when they disagreed, were able to argue political philosophies clearly and coherently. And we all watched. Each side saw it’s supporters turn off their tv’s with more questions than answers, with the early hints of changing votes and ideologies. It was a celebration of democracy and open-minded discourse. It was awesome.

Um….

Yeah (sigh), it was the presidential debate last night.

None of that happened. Everybody saw what they wanted in that pointless dog & pony show.

I’m ordering Kanye 2020 t-shirts for my son and I today, not because I’m voting for Kanye West and his “Birthday party.” Just a sad commentary on the political landscape. I don’t think it’s too sad that a music legend is running for president. After all, the current president is a reality show star with no political experience, so why not? But it’s sad that the debate had only 2 people. There are other people running. Like, for instance, Kanye West. Or Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian party). Why are we only seeing 2? Why will the next president be 1 of these 2 choices?

I know, I know. I’m not that naive and clueless.

I’m just not sure I agree that the 2 party system based solely on ever-growing mountains of money is really working anymore. Maybe it never did. Oingo Boingo recorded a song in 1994 called ‘Insanity’ that included the lyric, “a million years of evolution, we get Danny Quayle.” Now it’s a million and 26 years, and we get these 2…

I’m ordering Kanye 2020/Birthday Party t-shirts not because I’m making a joke. (Riiight, it’s me. Who could argue after last night that I am the one making this election a joke?). Well, I’m making a little of a joke, the whole illustrate absurdity with absurdity concept. Birthday party!!! But mostly because I want something different. If I’m going to vote primarily from a negative posture, against something (which almost all of us are), I’m going to vote against this broken system. And for this country.

Dilemma — September 22, 2020

Dilemma

I am in the middle of The Social Dilemma, another deeply disturbing Netflix documentary on the manipulation of each and every one of us by our devices, or to be more accurate, by our social media. Our devices are simply plastic rectangles, not villainous beings bent on our destruction. I guess social media isn’t exactly bent on our destruction, either, it/they just want our thoughts, money and behavior. Our destruction wouldn’t further those goals.

However, it might depend on what your idea of destruction is.

The dilemma for me is easy to spot, Amazon Prime Music Unlimited releases a “My Discovery Mix” every Monday based on a similar personal information algorithm that knows me (or at least the virtual “me” if there’s a difference) and what I will like. I don’t know these songs and have usually never heard of these artists. As a long-time music snob, that pains me to say, but the truth is that this dastardly algorithm is mostly always right, I DO like it and my life is better with these songs in it.

Last night I looked up Kanye 2020 t-shirts and am absolutely positive that when I open Facebook today to see if anyone “liked” the video I posted yesterday, thus validating my worth and value as a human being, I’ll see ads for Kanye and his political “Birthday Party.” Maybe I’ll order from one of those ads. I don’t even have to search anymore, the advertisers will bring the options to me from now on.

I have a degree in marketing and advertising. The point is to convince the consumer that he/she/we are lacking something, that he/she/we are incomplete without this cleaning product, pair of jeans, or newest vegan hamburger. THE POINT is to affirm our deepest fear, that we are not enough. So we buy their widget in great faith and discover we are still missing something vital to our lives. The cycle repeats endlessly, keeping everyone in business. The industry of self-destruction.

So, am I cool to be used, my strings pulled like a mindless marionette, in exchange for the convenience of Kanye 2020 t-shirts and new songs? I’m going to make my family watch this film because they have been born into the matrix and have some decisions to make. Maybe they’ll continue on the path of progress, but they’ll have to mindfully choose to do so with all of the information. If my spouse is abusive, I can stay or I can go, but all of our cards have to be on the table. There will be no more feigning surprise and outrage.

Yes, Facebook is selling us. “If you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.” We can decide if that price is too high for the benefit, but we can no longer pretend to be unwitting marks.

I love to see pictures of my family and cat memes and People Are Awesome compilations. I love to hate the comment threads on our local school district’s parents group page. Maybe that’s enough. Who knows? But I’ll decide. Or maybe I just think I’ll be deciding and will instead be walking the path Mark Zuckerberg has paved for me. I wonder if I even know the difference anymore.

But I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe it has a happy ending.