Love With A Capital L

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

The Barkley — May 26, 2020

The Barkley

You know I love to watch documentaries… I may need forgiveness in a minute, my neighbor just flooded the street with the sweet smell of burning tires and my headache is beginning and stomach turning and maybe the fumes will cause all kinds of nonsense. No, I don’t know why they do the things they do, I just know they do. I don’t have to know why. If you come by any night between 9-11pm, they’re outside revving various engines and you can ask them yourself.

Anyway, I love documentaries, right? I saw one Friday that was my very favorite. It’s called The Barkley Marathons and details a roughly 130 mile ultra marathon through the mountains of Tennessee. Most years, people don’t finish. Since its inception, 13 people have finished. It’s called a race, but that implies competition and the only competition is against the course and against the voices in your own head that tell you to stop, you can’t do it.

I have 3 quotes I wrote down to talk about with you.

The Barkley was created to “Give people the opportunity to really find out something about themselves.” What would I find out about myself in 130 miles that I wouldn’t otherwise? Everything. We do planks in this house and they always end with my face inches from Samuel’s, saying, “you can do this, your body can do this, it’s only your mind telling you you can’t, and that isn’t true, it’s lying to you. I KNOW you can.” And then he does, goes longer than he thought was possible for his screaming muscles, and he finds out that the limits he thought he had minutes ago aren’t actually his limits at all.

“You never know how much you can do until you try to do more.” I think we’re conditioned to seek comfort, so when that desire is threatened, we stop. It’s called our Comfort Zone, and it’s so much more dangerous than bears and mountain lions and my neighbors. Our soft cozy couches encourage complacency, and complacent isn’t where we were called to be. (Contentment is. They are different, and we should maybe talk about that some time.) We are called to grow and growth requires discomfort. Growth requires us to try something new, something we hadn’t done, something at which we might fail (gasp!).

What is that old cliche? The only way you can not fail is to never try anything new. The only way you can never miss the last shot is to never take it.

Growth requires us to risk. Because maybe we can. This Barkley Marathon is like everything else – nobody could do it until somebody did. It was impossible until it wasn’t. No one could run a sub-4 minute mile, but then when Bannister did, many others followed.

I don’t know if we’re afraid to fail or afraid to succeed (probably both), I just know we’re afraid.

So these people start the race and it’s hot or it rains. They have no idea where to go, there’s no map and the route changes every year. The creator, Lazarus, says, “So many things aren’t going to be the way you planned it,” and that sounds EXACTLY like this year, 2020. Well, it sounds like every year, to be honest.

And when we face these uncertainties, these disruptions, then what do we do? Do we hold tighter to our plans? Grasp even angrier for some form of control? Do we quit? Do we hide?

Or will we take another step?

I married a couple Saturday and, every wedding I officiate, I reflect on the tremendous risk they’re taking. Saying “I do” to another and saying “I do” to this ridiculous marathon is so similar. We don’t know where it’s going, and when it goes there, will I be enough, can I do it??? It’s the same as saying “I do” to Jesus and “I do” to our lives. Maybe we can’t do it today, maybe not tomorrow, but we have to ask, we have to try. It’s the greatest moment of a wedding, that space between my question and their answer. I saw the significance of the choice in their eyes, and I knew they understood what it meant to look straight up a mountain face they did not know for sure they could climb. And we all celebrated like crazy when they said they would find out

The Problem With The Maze Runner — April 29, 2020

The Problem With The Maze Runner

Over the last 3 nights, we watched the Maze Runner trilogy and I loved it. Before you act on those words and run out and watch it, there are 2 important characteristics you need to understand. First, I am, after all, the target market and fish-in-a-barrel for that sort of science fiction. 2nd, I am mostly able to find pleasure in anything, so that means I like everything…

…within reason. I’m not a fool. I’ve seen movies, heard songs that are obviously garbage. It’s not too interesting to talk about those because, at some point, you end up dismantling someone’s labor of love. To commit fully to a work of art, any work of art, takes an unbelievable amount of heart, time, energy, and vulnerability and it is disrespectful to the gift to disparage it on subjectivity. Of course, some aren’t art at all. Instead, they are simple cash grabs or empty scratching for attention or fame. We are free to disparage those. (As long as we can tell the difference, right?)

That last paragraph is not what is on my mind.

What is on my mind is the context of the Maze Runner, and the current state of things that fractured the escapism movies provide and pushed me to ask if things will be the same ever again?

The basis for the film was a virus. The protagonist was a pandemic, in a way. The virus was the domino that began the snowball rolling and moved every step of the story forward, inspired every action taken by each of the characters.

I LOVE 12 Monkeys, too, and the Matrix (and countless others dealing with the idea of apocalypse) but I wonder if I would watch it the same way today, or ever again.

Now, I don’t think COVID-19 is going to be the “Flare” creating a legion of zombie-like “Cranks,” that kills indiscriminately and leaves the planet a hollow shell. But the possibility is certainly more real than it was on New Years Day. I see people wearing masks in these movies and yesterday at the grocery store.

It adds to the confusion and fear that we have no idea if what we are being told is true, on any level. Every piece of information contradicts the one before and, as in political discourse, we have to decide who is telling the truth and this usually leaves us believing none. I have no idea how one can still identify with either party. And we grow more and more confused as more misinformation spreads like wildfire.

And I wonder if that’s how the breakdown starts. I think probably this pandemic started years and years ago, when all of the deception and mis-/dis-trust began. It pulled and pulled at our very humanity, we began to see each other as enemies instead of brothers and sisters. As We began to see only “us” and “them.” And probably the first time the Flare started, some didn’t believe, thought they were being manipulated and lied to – because they had been lied to so many times before! – and instead of fighting the virus, they fought each other until the virus turned each party’s world into the same wasteland.

The Maze Runner was a nice trilogy, I liked it a lot. But I don’t want to wear masks every time I leave the house. Again, I don’t think COVID-19 is the “Flare,” but I do think the seeds being sown right now (and in the ‘60’s, and yesterday and tomorrow and next year) could be the same seeds, unless you and I rip that disgusting field up and start planting something new and beautiful.

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.