Love With A Capital L

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

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

There is a documentary on Netflix called “How To Fix A Drug Scandal.” Like all Netflix documentaries, it’s great – well made and endlessly fascinating. It’s about 2 women in 2 different Massachusetts drug labs who, in different ways, cheated the system and cost thousands (thousands!!!) of people their freedom. Now, maybe those people were guilty and maybe they weren’t, but they certainly were treated unfairly by a group of federal & state employees concerned with ease, comfortability and their own positions of power. It was gross. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

There is something important I learned in it, though, that I do wish to talk about.

I lost a buddy to a drug addiction last month, and it was heartbreaking. Addiction is heartbreaking. 1 of the women tasked with testing the drugs seized in arrests turned out to be a very serious drug addict herself. She was an over-achiever throughout school, valedictorian of her high school class, extraordinary athlete, college degree, great job. At that great job, she became a user. How did that happen? I used to think drug addicts looked a certain way or followed a certain template, but I was wrong. They look just like me.

I know 2 attorneys that are awesome. Outside of the 2 of them, I have to admit that attorneys have historically held a poor reputation in my head. It’s not a reputation that is set in stone or anything, but nonetheless poor. The narrative had gone that defense attorneys are the morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, who will do and say anything. I know that’s harsh, but this opinion has sadly been reinforced over years of perceived example. The defense attorneys in this doc may actually be morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, but as they explained their call, it sounded noble and beautiful. Their behavior sure was noble and beautiful. By the end, I wanted to become a defense attorney. I wonder if those years of “perceived example” were just that, perceptions based on easy generalizations and lazy cliche.

This reminds me of the story of Jonah in the Bible. All of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys, aren’t, and the characters who are not, are. It’s jarring and confusing. The prosecutors are elected officials who should be wearing white hats while keeping us safe from the villains. Except, they’re the ones unfairly meting out a perverted mis-representation of “justice” to those unlucky enough to cross their desks. It becomes more and more difficult to know who is trustworthy. And as that ground shifts, our anxiety grows.

I guess I have usually wanted to understand which end is up, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them,’ who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The problem is, as we discover, there is no us and them, just us. I could be the prosecutors or the drug addicts. Another problem is that an honest faith journey includes an endless process of watching ideas (set in stone, absolutely figured out and under control) that we believed, no, that we knew, spectacularly annihilated. Those idea that are exposed as much too small and fit into very inadequate boxes.

It seems to me that we’re made (and when I say we, I mean all things) for expansion and these boxes we create out of our fears lead to contraction, where it’s not only the boxes that are tiny and restricting, it’s our lives. We’re faced with a choice, hold on with white knuckles to a fading paradigm or release it to become something closer to truth.

It’s nice, being wrong so often. I don’t really need boxes anyway.

Jokers — February 23, 2021

Jokers

So, last week was another week in 2021, which is shaping up to be even more of a bear than 2020. I’m soon going to be able to stop that sentence immediately after “last week was another week,” and we’ll all know what that means.

I lost a buddy I knew last week to a drug overdose. (This was the “horrible thing” I referenced in last week’s post on pyramid schemes and discouragement.) He left behind a wife and 2 small children. He struggled with addiction since high school, maybe earlier, and his was one of those stories that they say will end in a jail cell or a coffin. 2 days before his overdose, he posted a long grateful note of thanks to God on Facebook. It was his 7 months clean anniversary.

It’s common to wonder in situations like this, why? Why was he so disturbed, so sick? What was so bad that he would spend his life in the familiar pattern of detox and relapse? Or the question I asked of my own dad, that will surely haunt his family, why weren’t we enough? Where did these demons even come from?

I know some of those answers in my buddy’s case, if all that he had shared over the past 4 years had been true. This is not a certainty, of course. His service was for a person I never knew and barely recognized. If there weren’t pictures, I would have questioned if I stepped into the wrong church. But with this, for some reason I believe him. Like so many, the damage inflicted upon him by his family of origin (broken, dysfunctional in every way) was crushing, ultimately leading to his death. They dutifully carried on what are called generational curses. Midnight Oil, in the terrific song “Forgotten Years,” sing, “Few of the sins of the father, are visited upon the son.” In this case, it was significantly more than “few.” It was an avalanche of excrement for him to dig out of, too much in fact, and he simply could not.

Now. I have to be very careful when I get overwhelmed with the weight of loss and sadness, it can be pretty oppressive and increase my already hyper-sensitive soul. And there, on my dresser, was a borrowed copy of the movie Joker. I had good advice from the Angel to, under no circumstances, watch it while in this state. Very good advice that I ignored.

This movie was, essentially, a re-imagining of my buddy’s life. Abuse, neglect, illness, loneliness, depression, on and on – the Joker turned his violence outward and my buddy directed his mostly at himself. But other than that difference, it was the downward spiral of self-loathing that looked for all the world completely inevitable.

Was it?

One of the arguments against both is that, at some point, we have the choice and responsibility to build something new, something better. Maybe that’s simplistic ‘bootstrap’ psychology from those who have never been in that sort of darkness. (I happen to know that darkness, so total that the hope that there could ever be light again has faded and been replaced with emptiness.) But maybe it’s not.

We have the ability to choose life, don’t we? I know it doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate.

If you’re familiar with me or my work, you’d think this is the point where I start painting pictures of love conquering all, detailing pyramid schemes of love, how love drives out that fear, how a small perspective shift and a bit of imagination and a hug will break those chains… but I’m not going to do that here. I just don’t feel like it this morning.

I believe those things I usually say, I have to. Otherwise, I’d have to resign myself to the robotic hopeless futures of those 2 sweet boys, and that is something I can not, something I will not.

Joker is a fictional character, but his story is real for so many of us. But it’s a really bad story and one that we have to believe can change. The 4 minute mile was impossible until it wasn’t. It just has to start with one (or an army of us) who keeps running into the impossibility.

One Of Those — February 15, 2021

One Of Those

Last week another horrible thing happened. Yet another. I’m telling you, there is no truth to the phrase, “we aren’t given any more than we can handle.” Sometimes, we are, we just don’t get to tell the story afterwards.

This has been a hard year, 2021 is taking over right where 2020 left off. I heard a man (I’m pretty sure it was Hank Fortener) say once that he was in a time of incredible stretching. Me, too. I am stretched to the point where my muscles feel like they’re about to tear into shreds. The kind of tearing that never can be put back together. But then again, I happen to be one of those insufferable types who stubbornly holds on to hope anyway. Maybe those muscles won’t tear at all, and instead the stretching will create a new strength. It doesn’t feel like that, but that’s sort of what hope is, isn’t it?

I’m learning that we will most often choose the option that hurts us the most. Of course, it might feel good now, but it leaves lasting scars. I lie but everybody finds out (everybody always finds out) and the consequences are bigger and far more painful than had I never lied in the first place. I do it anyway. I eat a bunch of sugar that tastes fantastic but (now that I’m no longer 12) I’ll feel rotten for 3 days. I eat it anyway. I stay in the relationship that leaves me feeling worthless and used because of course it’s easier than leaving but it also validates the suspicion I have that I am worthless and unloveable. I keep going to those sites where I have to erase the history but can’t erase the shame. I keep sinking a needle into my arm or wherever still has veins even though my marriage and family is feeling the polar opposite of high and picking up the pieces of that wreckage is impossible. I know this and make that choice anyway.

It seems like our deep self-loathing is insurmountable. My big dumb idea is for a pyramid scheme of love, where I love 2 people and they each love 2 people and so on until everybody is loved and we begin to act out of that abundance rather than our searing emptiness. It’s a dumb idea. Especially when all evidence points to our desperate need to cling to our brokenness, to choose self-hate over self-love, at all costs.

The big flaw in “love others as you love yourself” is that we don’t love ourselves. Maybe we are already loving others exactly like we love ourselves – not at all.

So. I’m sad today (and for the last few days). Do you know why I cry these tears? Because my eyes are wide open and my heart is in perfect working order. Why isn’t everybody?

Here’s the thing. When my heart isn’t broken and I am seeing clearly (instead of through these blurry pools where my eyes used to be), I know my pyramid scheme idea is a good one. Well, maybe it’s not a good one, but I really like it. I’m a man who sees a beach full of drying starfish and throws them back into the water 1 at a time. Maybe it won’t make a difference in the grand scheme…yeah, sigh…maybe it won’t. But I’m still that person doing it anyway. What I can tell you is that sometimes you will love someone and walk next to them and they kill themselves anyway. Yes, that’s true and real and happened last week. And you will, like me, wonder during restless nights if you could’ve/should’ve done more, if you should’ve walked closer for longer. And maybe if we did, they would’ve killed themselves anyway.

So we’ll sit on the beach for a little while looking at all the starfish wondering why in the world they keep ending up here. And then we’ll stand up and pick one up and throw it back into the water. And then another. And then 2 more. And then we’ll start dreaming again, wondering why a pyramid scheme couldn’t work, why love couldn’t work. Now maybe it couldn’t, but the way we’re going sure isn’t working, and it’s all I have.

Funeral — January 26, 2021

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

Bears — January 19, 2021

Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less The Rock and More Lobot — December 16, 2020

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday — December 11, 2020

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday. 

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be. 

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart. 

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage. 

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right? 

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor. 

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside. 

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms). 

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community. 

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

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.

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?

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.