Love With A Capital L

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

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — January 9, 2020

Let’s Dance To Joy Division

The days off this week were sort of forced. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

I watched the first 2 Iliza Shlesinger comedy specials (War Paint and Freezing Hot) and the first episode of the Witcher, all of which were excellent. The Iliza’s give a lot of hope for her career, because each special is better than the last. Usually in art (music especially), a whole life informs the debut, and it’s personal and deep, then the follow up is rushed and sadly lacking the immediacy of what made the debut so compelling. Iliza is sharper as she goes, the material is new (not just a greatest hit collection with a few new tracks.)

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (the current Superman, at least for now) and carries an unreasonable amount of armor, swords, moral ambiguity and violence: all things I really love.

I’m listening to Matchbox Twenty, “Our Song,” right now. I’ve always thought they were wholly underrated and under appreciated, and I would be willing to fight you about that.

Then there is this song called “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” by the Wombats. As much as it hurts me to say, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe if I did, I would be a little embarrassed to mention them. Not as embarrassed as I would’ve been when I was 20 and that sort of thing mattered more.

(By the way, “Our Song” has ended and “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson is on now. If you do nothing else, please listen to this. It’s everything.)

So, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” is a catchy pop song that sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes. This world doesn’t make any sense, sometimes, and it’s scary and feels random and mean, so let’s just have a nice meal, enjoy ourselves and move our hips a little. War, earthquakes, whole countries on fire, hunger, violence (when I say I love violence, it goes without saying that it’s in Netflix documentaries and not in real life, right???), what are we supposed to do? It all feels so big, what can we do?

Well, we can’t fix it today, or tomorrow, or next week. I might suggest we are part of a generation that believes we can’t fix it on a macro, or governmental, level. However, I do believe we can fix it. Or better yet, I believe it’s not meaningless to try. We have to try, or why would we ever get out of bed?

It’s broken, structurally. Everyone knows this. The whole system is corrupt, rotted from the inside, but not without hope. We can easily forget the system is made of people, it’s not faceless and nameless, it’s just people who are broken, corrupt, sad, empty, who are overwhelmed with inadequacy and insecurity, and when those people can be replaced with people who are loved, accepted, belong to a family of humanity that knows no walls or division, people who rediscover their worth and value, then the system can be one that breathes kindness, care, compassion.

It’s quite a reclamation project, a long play, isn’t it? But it’ll work, and the longer we wait to love somebody (eventually everybody), the longer it’ll take. We can start today, we can do something, anything. Write a check, volunteer, vote, pray AND hold hands, kiss softly and slowly, eat with someone, listen, laugh, and move your hips a little.

Cold & Broken — November 22, 2019

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

(Day to) Week Off — November 15, 2019

(Day to) Week Off

This week took a different sort of turn for me. I had plans that I was forced to abandon, as I got sick. This happens when the weather truly changes and sweaters and jackets aren’t only fashion. This week, I was fortunate enough to have few scheduled responsibilities this week and could crawl under a blanket and take NyQuil and naps.

What is usually a problem for me is actual (physical, emotional, spiritual) rest – as we have been walking through in this space. I know that not everything is fit to be posted , and certainly not everything is interesting enough for you to give such a valuable currency as time. But rest seems to me to be a universal pursuit, especially in a culture that worships at the altar of productivity above all else. It’s funny when I hear that we are no longer a religious society…we are, only the God/god has changed.

So, I took my “day off” and made it a “week off,” give or take an hour or 2 or 7 or 8.

I didn’t read at all that I can remember, besides email and social media posts. I’m writing another book, and I didn’t open the document once. I wrote one blog post before this one about the band Rise Against and the Bible. I picked my kids up from school, made dinner, did dishes and watched the People’s Court and Netflix documentaries.

One of the documentaries was called Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond about the making of Man On The Moon, which is the 1999 film about Andy Kauffman that starred Jim Carrey. Man On The Moon is a pretty good movie, but Jim & Andy is outstanding, utterly transfixing. It’s odd and unnerving to watch someone disappear so thoroughly into their work – the doc became a meditation on image and identity, which is endlessly fascinating.

But there is a scene where Jim Carrey, who serves as the narrator/commentator, recalls his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was told, “That’s great, this could really turn into something,” and now, with the benefit of experience and wisdom, said, “No, this is something.” I wonder how many times we miss the now waiting for it to “really turn into something.”

How many of us have had a date and immediately began to look for the future in the other? Or skipped words, sentences, and pages to get to the end of the book? Looked to next week, when this over-scheduled and demanding one is over and we can get back to our lives?

Each night, against my warnings, my kids pray, “Please let school go fast tomorrow.” What they don’t know is that it will, it does, it is going much too fast and they are in danger of absolutely missing it. I wonder how much I have missed, how much I still miss. How many awesome experiences I’ve looked past, hoping it could really turn into something, when it already was?

I’ll be healthy next week and off of this couch and back into the hamster wheel.

…Unless I don’t get back into the wheel.

Old Baby — November 7, 2019

Old Baby

Yesterday was my day off and I want to tell you about an awfully strange special I watched on Netflix. I love stand up comedy, always have, so that category often draws my attention. Maria Bamford, quirky and super-weird, is one of my favorites, and I found a special from 2017 called Old Baby. Now, technically, it was a stand-up routine, but it was delivered to different audiences in awkward, surprising places. It began with her performing in front of a mirror, alone. Then, in front of 4 people on a city bench. Then 1 guy on a couch. Then in a small crowded library room, a dinner party type-setting, a bowling alley, and you get the point. It was jarring and very uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing. She wasn’t interacting with the audience, simply sharing her routine as if she were on a stage in front (which she was, in the last vignette.)

15 minutes in, I was so disturbed by the format, I moved to turn it off, which is exactly what I did with the first one I picked, a Nikki Glazer special called Bangin.’ She began her show with a graphic 15 minute (at least) talk on a sexual act that broke the ONLY rule of comedy: be funny! I am with you for any and all topics, virtually unoffendable, UNLESS it is not funny. In that case, I am out. There are too many awesome things to do and experience. Like Old Baby.

The biggest difference in 15 or 20 year old me and 44 year old me is that I would have loudly proclaimed her special unwatchable. If you liked it, then I would judge you as embarrassingly wrong (only half jokingly.) Now, I’ve mellowed quite a bit and am capable of seeing that it’s possible, if unlikely, that even if I don’t like it, someone else might. So, if Nikki Glazer is your deal, I suppose that’s cool. She is not mine.

Anyway, I didn’t turn Old Baby off. You see, I want art that makes me uncomfortable, that moves me, that has edges that would keep, say, my wife, away. I’m writing other posts about honesty and music and I hate Mariah Carey’s song ‘Emotions’ because it’s built to be so innocuous, so bland and safe, that it would sell a bazillion copies, which of course it did. I sometimes forget that I want honesty and innovation, want to be challenged, want more than mass-produced efficiency.

Old Baby was perfect. It might not have been the best stand-up routine I have ever seen, might not have even been her best. But here’s the thing, after Old Baby I put on (for the millionth time) Richard Pryor’s 1979 concert, which probably IS the best stand-up routine ever, and laughed out loud over and over and over. But the artist/work I have been thinking and talking about from the second it ended, and now posting about, is the genius of Maria Bamford and her 2017 special Old Baby, and that’s the point.

Hornby and Q.T. — October 17, 2019

Hornby and Q.T.

It’s easy to forget how much I love to read. And watch films. And write. All sorts of things, really. For some reason, I am often unwilling to make the time and energy commitment they require, but when I do – like today – I remember who I am, who I’d like to be, what I like to do.

There is a forgotten place called a library that lends actual, physical books FOR FREE and 3 weeks ago I borrowed one called Funny Girl, written by Nick Hornby. He wrote a book I’ve read a hundred times called High Fidelity that is My Very Favorite Book In The Whole World (narrowly edging Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut). And for 3 weeks, Funny Girl sat on a shelf in my dining room staring at me quietly judging, wondering why I hadn’t yet picked her up. Today, it’s pouring rain and I’ve decided to treat me a little better and take 1 day a week where I do no work (at least I try) and today is day 1, so I opened this book and began a new life.

I love to read, especially books written by Nick Hornby.

I also love Quentin Tarantino films. Today was also a day I curled up under an blanket and watched a movie I had been wanting to see, The Hateful Eight. I have 2 children who do not watch Rated-R movies, so that means I rarely watch Rated-R movies. Instead, we usually watch superhero movies – I love those, too, and have no problems watching them over and over – but I discovered years ago that I like movies where people wear regular clothes (not necessarily tights and capes) talk a lot and nothing much really has to happen for me to care. They used to be called ‘Independent’ films, and maybe they still are. Either way, I don’t make the time to see them.

I watched Hateful 8 because I love Tarantino films, or at least I think I do. I LOVED Pulp Fiction more than I can say, Kill Bill vol. 2 and Reservoir Dogs nearly as much, but most everything else has been, honestly, pretty disappointing. Hateful 8 was ok. The acting was great, the dialogue was, too, as expected. Maybe I don’t love Tarantino movies, maybe I just love 3 of them.

But whether I liked it or not seems besides the point. The point is that these 2 small-ish acts acted as mirrors, and the person I saw was familiar and awfully welcome. Great art (or not-so-great art or even bad art) is completely inspiring, shows me a world where anything is possible – where I am possible.

I do so much absently, passively. Hateful 8 wasn’t great, but it was anything but background noise. It demanded my attention, my engagement, my presence. When I get a moment, I usually choose a mindless sitcom or reality show to check out for a minute, which turns into 2 or 3, leaving me glassy-eyed and stuck. Of course, this is not a rant against the evils of sitcoms or reality tv, but at least for me, they do not give life, never encourage me to grow or evolve.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” While I can binge watch my days away, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I could read instead. Or watch something that asks something of me. Do something that gives life instead of takes.

Today is a very good day, maybe I could have more of these.

Trolls — August 23, 2019

Trolls

My 2 sons and I saw the movie Trolls Tuesday morning at the local theater. Now, I recognize that Trolls is not the most masculine movie – sort of makes Frozen look like Raging Bull – but there we were, just 3 guys deep in the story of Princess Polly and Justin Timberlake. JT says in the movie that his grandma says he has the voice of an angel and as it turns out, she was fantastically right. In the emotional climax, he sings the awesome Cyndi Lauper ballad True Colors. My heart stopped and I wept – not because I cry at everything, I do, but this time it was because that was the ONLY response. It was an uplifting fairy tale of the power of happiness and friendship full of great (if a bit inconsequential) songs and pastel colors.

As we walked out of the darkness, we agreed. It was fine.

Now, to discuss Trolls is to actually discuss Toy Story. Not 4, which is in theaters now, but the first time we saw Woody and Buzz, when the landscape shifted and Trolls would never be good enough again.

Before 1995, kids movies were paper thin, superficial, helpless princesses and as subtle and nuanced as a falling anvil. The parents took their children and waited for the end credits to roll. That is, until Pixar introduced us to full, complex characters who had journeys that mirrored our own. Since then, instead of pandering to children with parents held hostage, our minds and hearts are now engaged the same way live-action films could, but rarely do. Think about the first 15 minutes of Up, Bing Bong and Sadness in Inside Out, and every second of Wall-E. They embrace our souls as we are immersed into computer-generated worlds that are more authentic, more true, than photographs of our own.

Trolls, pre-1995, is pretty great. Now it’s simply ok. Fine. We may sing the songs again (except for that steaming piece of garbage, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” That one will not be welcome in my house) but we won’t remember the names or the plot. It’s just not good enough anymore.

An assignment in a college 20th Century world class required us to write some sort of essay. I don’t remember what the actual topic was because I didn’t follow the directions at all. I wrote my own paper on, I think, a talk given by Henry Rollins. As the professor, John Synodinos (a beautiful man who was perfectly suited to be an educator), passed our graded papers back to us, he held mine up and said, “This one,” and paused. I expected to be eviscerated for my rebellion, but he lit up and said, “His name is Chad Slabach, remember that name. He is a writer.”

I will never forget that day, that feeling. It was the first time I was actually seen in school. It was a fresh word, spoken to a young man full of “potential” (is there a more hurtful label??) who didn’t “apply” himself. I was never good enough of what everyone wanted me to be, always disappointing. I was nice. Fine.

John Synodinos held my fractured psyche in his hands and spoke a different truth. With his acceptance and affirmation, opened my eyes, and the lies I believed about myself would never be good enough anymore. My life was fundamentally changed.

Could it be that I was more than just fine? Maybe I needed less acquiescence and more expectation. Less shuffling and more soaring.

There are moments where the walls we’ve constructed that limit us are exposed and we start to believe that what we’ve settled for is beneath us, right? It’s not like we cross a threshold and crawl out of a cocoon completely new, the old habits die hard, never quietly. Trolls still gets green-lit and a gigantic budget, but we begin to see that those old clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I see that familiar look in someone’s eyes, I pray for that Synodinos moment for them, pray that I can be one who can help to give it to them. I pray for that crack in the old paradigm that will bring the whole thing crashing down and the imagination that has lain dormant for so long can escape.

Hm. Actually, now that I think about it, Branch (JT) is a prisoner of his own perceived narrative that keeps him gray, grouchy, and small. He needs his own Synodinos (Princess Poppy) to show him the way out, that there IS a way out… Well, maybe Trolls is better than I thought.

Salvador Dalí, pt 2 — August 20, 2019

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net  if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí on bridgefaithcommunity.com if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that.