Love With A Capital L

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

On A Daily Basis — April 8, 2022

On A Daily Basis

Today is the most beautiful. The sun is brilliant in the cloudless sky, and that’s a pretty stark contrast to the past few days or weeks, when it had rained often and the sky was always the color of cement. The Angel tells me not to use the words always, never, and “all the time,” and I suppose she’s right. Maybe in the past 2 weeks, the sky wasn’t the color of cement for 15 minutes in the late morning. I just don’t remember it.

She tells me that because I am naturally inclined towards exaggeration. I’ll say I haven’t slept in weeks, but when pressed, I have slept but not well, and then when pressed on that, I realize that I had a night last Tuesday that was alright, so who knows what’s true anymore?

None of this always/never business matters at all because the point is that it’s a lovely day and lovely days feel like possibility, and not much has felt that way lately. This central Pennsylvania weather is an apt metaphor for the state of the world about now; raining, gray and depressing. We’re also in Lent and if you go for that sort of thing, it’s an invitation to self-reflection and, in a heart state that corresponds to late winter, melancholy. This week ahead in the church asks us to engage with the passion (which in this context means suffering), and in a culture that tries so hard to avoid uncomfortability, it’s no wonder we feel so torn apart. We simply can’t turn a blind eye to the near constant negative stimulation. So now what?

I’m happy I didn’t write this yesterday, because the tone would have been quite different. Yesterday it was raining and today is awesome. That’s enough, sometimes. Yesterday the best we could do was to just barely hold things together. Today we are 1 step away from changing the world forever, today is when my love pyramid scheme is not far away, when it’s not only possible but totally reasonable.

Tracee Ellis Ross is an actress on the tv show black-ish. She wrote a piece about the final season in Entertainment Weekly, and in it, she says, “black-ish was an opportunity for me to be free and to shine and to embody all of my values; to be able to strive for a level of excellence in the work that I do, and how I interact with the people that I work with, and to be of service and fight for equity and joy on a daily basis.”

I love it and her, I’ve read it a hundred times.

And as we’re talking, if you replace “black-ish” with anything, with whatever we do, whatever we care about, how we spend our time, and who we spend it with, her writing describes a design for our lives that is much bigger than a tv show. The “work we do” is loving each other, is holding each other’s hand and walking through the pain/suffering and flying through the celebrations, is picking us up and reminding us that we can keep going. “Fight for equity & joy on a daily basis.” Right??!!?? We continue to fight, in Lent and on Easter, yesterday in the pouring rain and today in the blinding sunshine, in late-February and in September. All isn’t lost when we’re reading horrible news while our hearts break, it just means we work the way we were designed (if your heart isn’t broken sometimes, that’s what is truly concerning) and the world doesn’t. And on those days, when we keep showing up, fighting for joy, we display an overwhelming courage that inspires us all when we wonder if we can go one more day. We can. And we will. We will be free and shine, embody our values, and keep fighting.

The Pyramid Scheme — March 17, 2022

The Pyramid Scheme

The world is mostly on fire. Every single thing seems to be, in equal parts, depressing and terrifying. I recognize this, every moment weighs on my heart, head, stomach, and in my bones. I tell you I recognize this because we’re about to talk about youth sports again, and that can feel ridiculously insignificant.

Maybe it is, but the thing is that when problems appear to be so BIG and overwhelming, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the sheer size of the monsters in the room. Often the best (and perhaps only) action is, simply, to do something.

There’s a parable of a man and his daughter walking on the beach full of beached starfish. The young girl begins to throw them back into the ocean, one at a time. Her dad says, “you can’t save them all, what does it matter?” And she answers, of the one she’s just returned to the water, “it matters to that one.” Or at least that’s how I remember that parable going, you get the point. Honestly, as I write it, the dad is really disappointing, right?

Anyway.

We’re all watching the news, feeling the bombs and violence chip away at our souls, gas & grocery prices at our wallets, and general hopelessness at our hearts. There’s a palpable darkness that can drag us down a deep, deep spiral. Can I end this war? Can I actually affect any sort of change in the East, in the UN, in the schools, banks, hospitals, or anyone’s lives? It feels like each of those answers are no, but I’m not so sure.

Baseball meetings – it’s likely all youth sports meetings, but baseball has a special gift for bringing out crazy – can drag on and on, begging the question, “how far and how fast would I have to run to get enough force to break through that window, what injuries would the broken glass inflict, and would I survive the fall to the ground?” But as we discussed/implemented codes of conduct (because coaches and parents find ways to ruin everything and force discussions on codes of conduct), I began to consider the kids on my team, thinking about their faces, their voices, their sometimes sad family situations that are beached on the sand.

Maybe we can’t transform Vladimir Putin’s mind today, but if we can create new systems, maybe the next Putin won’t be quite so hellbent on starting a war. The idea (that sounds like a joke but isn’t at all) is one of a pyramid scheme, but instead of leggings or cleaning products, the product is love. If I love you, and you love 2 more, and those 2 love 2, and those 4 love 2 – it’s compounding interest in an economy of grace. Now, this is not the ‘love’ we usually mistake, conditional and manipulative, but a new (old) kind, a generous, unselfish, unconditional love. One that is not designed as a means to get, but as the end in itself, only to give.

In that starfish parable, instead of spreading just more of the same doctrine of despair, instead of trying so hard to break the innocent spirit of his girl, maybe the dad could start helping out and throw some starfish back. Maybe we’re all that dad with the same choice in front of us. We can choose which kind of dad we’ll be. We can keep lamenting, “what can we do???” Or we can start getting our fingers in the sand to make a difference to just one ballplayer (or student or cashier or whatever) at a time in our homes, neighborhoods, in this cracked, violent, messy, sweetly beautiful world.

Ordinary Time — March 8, 2022

Ordinary Time

I haven’t seen the new Batman film yet, but I am watching Inventing Anna on Netflix. Most of what I’m listening to is old Morrissey/smiths cds, although “Plain Sight” by John Dhali is currently playing on my Amazon music playlist called Prime Time. All of the playlist titles are forms of Prime (Optimus Prime, Prime Cuts, etc) and it’s ridiculous and embarrassing how much joy that gives me. I’m reading another long novel, which is still early enough to be daunting without the momentum that drives me to devour the last 1/3 in big bites. For now, it’s sitting next to my chair and I haven’t picked it up since Friday. I have pain in my heel and my lower back that reminds me how old I am (or at least how old I feel). My son is sick, maybe, or just playing hooky, depending on your point of view. He’s in 9th grade and significantly taller than I am. My other son started baseball practice last night. He’s a junior in high school and if I think too long about that, you’ll hear my heart crack. The Angel is lovely, as always, a divine gift from the Creator of Everything who might not have made anything as awesome as she, and is far out of my league. She doesn’t seem to mind, so I don’t bring it up.

We’re early into Lent, for whatever that means to you. At a contemplative retreat Saturday, I confessed that Lent was a season/space that meant almost nothing to me. This is odd to hear because I am the pastor of a church and maybe a pastor shouldn’t say things like that, but it’s true so maybe it’s exactly the sort of thing a pastor should say. I didn’t believe in God for the 1st half of my life because of the damage Christians, tv preachers, and local churches that are indiscernible from corporations have done to my heart. Much of my journey of faith since has been leaving that baggage behind and trying to separate and reclaim things like God, the Church, church, the Bible, and so on, from the offense that has been done in their name. Bringing the baby back in while leaving the bathwater outside, so to speak. It’s been uncomfortable and wonderful. I imagine Lent will be meaningful to me sometime soon. We’ll see.

The Church calendar travels through seasons like Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, broken up by what is called Ordinary Time. With no Lent practice in my life, this is effectively Ordinary Time for me. That’s why I spent the first paragraph detailing my real, ordinary life. It wasn’t particularly interesting (unless heel pain is interesting to you) and it didn’t contain much in the way of what would be called in Hollywood “plot development.” It was just time.

The problem is that I can fall into the trap that says if I’m not painting towns red or jumping out of airplanes, I’m wasting time, therefore wasting my life. It’s like a life lived in sound bites, like we are a collection of EXPERIENCES, is the goal, and (lower case) experiences are boring and unsatisfying.

The thing is, that boring, unsatisfying paragraph is the most beautiful to me. I see a simple life overflowing with gifts and extraordinary ordinary everydays. And there is no such thing as just time.

We have championship games, but we also have evening practices in the gym. If we don’t love the process, don’t love the ordinary, there will be no championships. If we’re always looking ahead, waiting for the caps-locked moments, we’ll miss the other, far more often, quiet days, weeks, months, and years. Our wedding was awesome and I’ll remember it forever, but it pales in the deep significance and rich fulfillment of the marriage. These last 2 days home with my boy (no matter the reason) that feel so uneventful, won’t always be available. He’ll move out and create his own life, and I’ll look back and wish for 2 more uneventful days with him when he was 14. So these 2 days home are miracles that must not be missed wishing we were somewhere else doing something else worthy of envy-inducing photos on social media.

This is my overwhelming gratitude for this big, wonderful, ordinary life that has been so much better than I could have ever imagined in any dream in any universe.

Fidelity — February 25, 2022

Fidelity

I read High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, this week for what was roughly the 20th time. If you haven’t read it at all, I can’t imagine why. You should. It’s full of music and Top 5 lists and relationships, 3 of the things that make living so great.

Now. Last Monday was the artificial greeting card holiday Valentine’s Day, and I wrote a post about how it wasn’t great, but that was ok because marriage isn’t always GREAT, sometimes it’s average and sometimes it’s hard and that is ok, too. I have the privilege and honor of officiating weddings, and if I could force them to do anything afterwards, it would be to connect with a group of other young married couples and one couple who isn’t newly married.

When you get married, at some point you look at the other and wonder if you’re broken, if you’ll ever get things back “the way they were,” and then inevitably, you’ll think that you’re probably the only couple who is going through this, others are rolling along, laughing, having meaningful conversations and tons of sex. You’ll wonder, “are we over?” You’ll ask one of the dumbest questions in the history of mankind, “have we fallen out of love?” And maybe say something equally silly, “I love him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her,” whatever that means.

High Fidelity is about that sort of transition from the excitement of a new person, new face, new story, new relationship into the steady state of commitment to the same person, same face, same story, same relationship.

Now, 1 thing about that. In a small crafty shop in a backwooods town in Tennessee, I saw a quote written over the text on a page of a book: You don’t read the same book twice. While the book stays the same, you are always changing (hopefully). The person next to you in bed or across from you at dinner is always changing, it’s never the “same” person, story, or relationship. Part of the problem is that we stop seeing them as growing, evolving, we stop asking them questions assuming we already know the answers.

Everybody feels like they’ve fallen out of love at some point, because a. We think love is a feeling, so when we stop feeling it, it must be gone. Of course it’s not; a feeling OR gone. The other reason is that we are bored, not because they’re boring but because we chose not to find them interesting.

I have always loved to date. I love asking questions, finding out the backstory – why you are who you are, what do you care about, why, what’s the ‘yes’ that drives everyday, and on and on. I love a new album, putting it on and listening to it for the first time. What will I hear? Is there something (a chord change, guitar solo, lyric) that will change my life? And I think, “YES!!! There it is!!” But the new albums have filler songs, too, and after a few weeks, before I even know what I’m doing, The Queen Is Dead is back on and I’m finding new treasures in “I Know It’s Over.”

We think our partners are background noise, Muzak, or just a soundtrack to our lives, and that new person we are seeing on Instagram is the brand new hit with the hot producer-songwriter team. We’re wrong, they are both. Or they can be.

High Fidelity talks about women’s underwear. We think the new is always wearing the sexy panties, while the commitment is wearing the worn in faded comfy underwear. But the new has the comfy ones, too. And the commitment has the sexy ones. We just stopped paying attention.

So if we are honest enough to say, “um, I don’t really like my husband very much right now,” terrified that you’re careening towards a messy divorce and you swore you’d stay married forever and and and!!!! Then we’d find every other couple everywhere who will say, “oh sure, me too” or “that’s normal” or “and?” And then we’ll share stories and laugh and feel like we’re not alone and not broken, we’re just married. And it’s awesome. Because that person with the comfy AND sexy panties, with the constantly changing opinions and dreams, with the lips that are the absolute BEST to kiss, who knows just how to lay like spoons, is still as great as ever. We know what the other likes for breakfast, what pants show off their curves best, what movies, dessert, toothpaste they like. We married them for a reason. And now we choose to continue to get to know them. We choose to care what they like for breakfast. We keep asking a truckload of questions. We keep choosing them. And they do the same with us.

My very favorite song is “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” I’ve heard it a gazillion times, it’s playing as I write this, and it is never not amazing. I know what’s coming, but when Morrissey sings, “take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care,” it squeezes my heart in just the right places. When I put headphones on and focus, it’s surprising and fresh and I hear new things every time. The Angel is the like that. To tell you the truth, I think probably the reason I hold marriage in such high regard, is her – my exciting new number 1 with a bullet AND the treasure I know with the lips and curves and chord changes that are always perfect.

Not Love — February 22, 2022

Not Love

There was a Catfish on this morning that ended with the catfishing couple in each other’s arms, the rare happy ending. Only as I was watching, it didn’t feel happy at all. The person answered the gazillion-dollar question of “Why?” with, “I didn’t want her to leave,” which sounds sort of sweet and romantic.

At the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy, Rocket (the raccoon) asks the Nova Corps officer, “What if I see something that I want to take, and it belongs to someone else?” The officer (played by the always awesome John C. Reilly): “Well, you will be arrested.” Rocket pushes, “But what if I want it more than the person who has it?” John C. Reilly: “Still illegal.” Rocket: “That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand?” This sounds exactly like this Catfish. I want it, so I’ll do whatever I have to do to have it.

She said, “I didn’t want her to leave,” and figured that was a terrific reason to misrepresent herself. But what about the other? Who cares??? The only concern was the Catfish and her own interests. She, like Rocket, saw something she wanted to take.

Saturday night, the Angel and I watched the Tinder Swindler on Netflix. This documentary detailed the story of a guy who lied and lied and lied to everyone he could possibly lie to, creating an intricate pyramid scheme. He’d manipulate one woman, “steal” her money to pay for another woman, using her money to pay for another woman, and on and on. He lived this extravagant globe-hopping lifestyle bankrolled by women all over the world that he caught on matching app Tinder.

It was impossible to watch the doc and feel any other way than this “Simon” was a monster. (Now, I say impossible, but that’s not entirely true. There were plenty of embarrassing trolls who took to the internet to blame the women!!! Whatever.) But the Catfish played as touching and beautiful, love persevering against all odds. Almost like the lies proved how real the emotions were, the depth of the facade evidence of the depth of the hearts involved. I wonder what the difference was, other than the directors & film editors.

The scene in Guardians was comedy, the Tinder Swindler was tragedy, and Catfish was romance, but all were different versions of Rocket, hopelessly selfish and single-minded in achieving the desired item (even if the item is a human being). All based on one simple precept: If I want it more, I should have it.

This is not romance. This is not love, and in fact bears little resemblance to actual love. Love asks, and in the asking, releases control and gives it to the other, gives the other the power to say yes…or to say no. Love does not take, either by force or deception. This town isn’t big enough for manipulation and respect. Control and love cannot coexist, no matter what the soundtrack is, and I’m pretty sure we should stop pretending they do.

The Worst Valentine’s Day — February 15, 2022

The Worst Valentine’s Day

There are a lot of drawbacks to being married to me, the fact that I’m writing about a pretty terrible Valentine’s Day on the internet isn’t even close to the biggest. But it isn’t great.

The Angel and I have been together for 24ish years, and in the course of those 24ish years, yesterday was The Worst Valentine’s Day we’ve had. (Maybe it’s important to say that I’m not the best at caring about greeting card holidays, but I do love LOVE and I do love my wife, so I’ll participate;)

We often talk about youth sports in this space. Over the years, all of us of a certain age has noticed a trend that we’ll call the Sportscenter-ification of the games. What I mean is that almost nobody watches entire games, we watch the highlights on Sportscenter or YouTube or forwarded GIFs. I coach baseball for boys who have very little knowledge and/or perspective of a game. These kids have no appreciation for the ups & downs, the slow parts, and fundamentals are a completely lost art (I KNOW I sound like everybody’s dad, talking about how it was “when I was young,” and that hurts me a little. Anyway, I am somebody’s dad.) We’ve been conditioned to think a game is all dunks and home runs.

Our culture suffers from this same malady. For instance, we think marriage is the same; all highlights and clip packages, candles, bubble baths, one long music montage set to some bouncy love song. And when it’s not, we think we’re broken. That the love is gone. That we’re doing something wrong. That it’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, that whole Sportscenter-ification is a lie. Marriage is time outs and bunts and bounce passes. It’s crappy Valentine’s days and wonderful random Thursdays. Life, too. It’s not all mountain tops, it’s Monday mornings, too.

The Church has a liturgical year. Yes, there is Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. But there’s also the rest, which is called Ordinary Time. That’s perfect, right? Ordinary Time. We go to work, change diapers, watch tv, eat in the car. Not all of our workouts are personal records, sometimes we’re tired and all we can do is get there at all.

It’s not broken. We’re not broken. We’re not doing anything wrong. I wrote a card to my wife yesterday that spelled out how overwhelming and wonderful it is that after 24 years, our relationship is so much better than it was on our wedding day. And that’s absolutely true. Kissing her slow and soft still gives me butterflies, it’s still shocking that I get to be the one that gets to do it. We make dinner together, make the bed together, change our bunny’s litter box and sit next to each other complaining about our sore backs in bleachers at basketball games. Of course, there are also fireworks and game winning half court shots and championships.

Sometimes the bands/singers on the radio are horrible, sometimes they’re just ok. It’s not always the Greatest, it’s not always Morrissey. And the songs aren’t always There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And it’s a crazy delusion to think they would be.

The Angel & I communicate very very very well, (even so far as to discuss how the wheels fell off on our Valentine’s Day – it’s not high maintenance, it’s real, and it’s really important). We talk a lot, laugh and cry together, trust each other, find beauty in every day, love each other to the moooon even when things aren’t going perfectly. We advance the runner, catch fly balls, make our free throws and rebound. Teams that do those things win, marriages that do those things never break, and lives built on that are full and awesome, even when they aren’t.

Happy (best, worst, and everything in between) Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Chocolate Bunnies — January 28, 2022

Chocolate Bunnies

Around Easter, there are these big chocolate bunnies that look amazing, you break into the packaging, take a bite and only then realize that chocolate rabbit is only a chocolate shell. You expect a thick, rich block of yummy deliciousness but they’re completely hollow inside. Still tasty but ultimately empty.

This morning, about 20 minutes ago, I finished The Queen Of Versailles, a documentary on Amazon Prime by Lauren Greenfield (I wrote a previous post about her doc Generation Wealth). This Lauren Greenfield is a genius. Anyway, it’s about an obscenely wealthy time-share businessman, his success, family and their lives. It’s also about an obscenely wealthy time-share businessman losing everything. The Queen of the title is his wife, Jackie. I finished it this morning because when I started it days ago, I had to turn it off a half-way through believing it was simply a garden variety picture of grotesque excess and sometimes that sort of superficiality just doesn’t go down smoothly. I persevered mostly because of Lauren Greenfield, and as the crash was beginnings, I was interested in how each of them (he, she, too many children, employees, etc) would respond to the economic catastrophe.

I loved Jackie, a little surprisingly. She appeared to handle everything with class and grace, leaned into her marriage and family. She gave money (that was increasingly disappearing) to a high school friend who was facing foreclosure. She began a thrift store to support & serve her community. She showed herself a beautifully devoted, faithful wife to a man who was moving in the polar opposite direction in every way. I appreciated her more and more, even as she continued her Botox wearing a ridiculous fur coat in the kitchen complaining about not being able to afford a watch.

The businessman who was so magnanimous, so self-satisfied, so arrogant as the film started unraveled quickly. In a heartbreaking moment, he said, “Nothing makes me happy anymore.”

I posted yesterday on image-making. I often post on my love of Catfish. This is certainly a there, isn’t it?

You know, in seminary, as I started to study the Bible and write a million papers, I was knocked down by a BIG theme I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t believed in God for (what is now) half of my life because I saw it as a hypocritical exercise in superficial masquerade. Christians looked the same, perfectly behaved with perfect teeth and hair. Maybe I still see it that way, but the Bible sure isn’t. The Big Theme was, on every page, honesty. Nothing was left out, people argued, raged, lied, doubted, celebrated, danced, had sex, fought, sang, made the worst decisions, despaired, hoped, and loved. It was everything about being human, it was everything about the movies and art that I loved most, real and genuine.

But a lot of us (and lots of parts of us) are like chocolate bunnies. We construct elaborate “realities” based on very little, shells with hollow insides. When did we decide we were nothing more than what we had, or that who we actually were just wasn’t enough? When did we decide to focus on the exterior while just behind the door was either unknown or in various states of disrepair.

When COVID forced us to stay home, I wondered what we’d find. Without any images to convey, would we find our homes and families a sweet sacred space? Or would we be forced to face the emptiness? It’s hard to tell, we still had images to convey on social media.

Nothing made this guy happy, in a house full of his children, and a wife who brought dinner to his office and was harshly sent away without the kiss she asked for. What he could have found was a wife who truly didn’t care about his money, loved him for him, and a healthy family who desperately needed his affection and resilience to steer them through a storm. He could have showed them how to get back up and stand. He could have held hands on long walks and danced to loud music in a downsized kitchen. He could have done anything else. He chose to only find his value in his assets and net worth, chose to find a person who only loved himself for his money.

I understand the crushing fear of not being able to provide. When we were homeless after a flood washed away everything we owned, I couldn’t sleep, had a constant jackhammer of a headache, sickening anxiety, wanted nothing more than to run and hide. I understand the pressure of provision.

But we do have choices. We do have questions to answer about who we really are. Are we chocolate bunnies, fake profiles, P&L statements, nameplates, corner offices, the brand of jeans we wear? Or are we something else, something much better that doesn’t fade or disappear? Sure we crack, sometimes we break, but then what? When it rains, are we the sort that erodes or that sings at the top of our lungs?

I want to be one who sings, but I don’t want to sing alone. I want to be a part of an army of millions and millions of singers, dancers, artists, and lovers who are tired of chocolate bunnies.

Color-Fullness — January 21, 2022

Color-Fullness

Yesterday, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here.

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal.

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with.

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about.

Anyway, the reason racism is so stupid is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

Anyway — December 8, 2021

Anyway

Sometimes I sit down at this computer (which is a actually an iPad and an attached keyboard) and don’t have a clue what to write. The blank screen is intimidating, ruthlessly mocking me, laughing at this idiot sitting in the dark illuminated only by it’s condescending blue light.

Of course, that’s only in my head. This blank screen doesn’t care about me at all. I can write or not write and it wouldn’t care less. Indifferent like the ocean, where I could swim or drown and she wouldn’t even blink.

Yet I still sit down at this computer (iPad with attached keyboard), ideas or not. I start and delete, start and delete, getting 5 or 6 words or 5 or 6 paragraphs before I trash it all and begin again. I listen to music and type the lyrics, poetry that no one will ever read, paraphrased Bible verses, weather forecasts, anything. Just moving my fingers, really, trying to jar some form of muscle memory, as if the inspiration is in my hands. Maybe it is. Maybe they remember. Maybe after 2 hours, I close this tablet with nothing at all.

I do this anyway. No matter what. It’s like the dishes. I don’t ever feel like doing the dishes, am never inspired to clean up the sink, but I do it anyway. I set reminders on my phone for Mondays and Fridays, and do you know why? Because my wife likes when I do them. We’ve been married for 20 years and our marriage is better than it has ever been, and it’s not close. There were moments, days, years, where we didn’t feel like doing the dishes (whatever the ‘dishes’ were, whether dinner or sex or trash or kindness or laundry or whatever.) We have this practice where we come to the front door to meet the other when they get home. Sometimes the chair or couch or bed is comfortable or extra-extra comfortable, and we come anyway. We don’t always feeeel like it. And we go anyway. I pastor a church and there are times where I don’t jump out of bed on a Sunday morning. I don’t always hurry to the gym because I’m sooo in the mood to work out, either.

I think it’s important to write here. I’d decided this about me before I ever sit down, topic or not. I love my wife like crazy. I am also going to love my wife like crazy. These 2 statements are not about circumstance or situation or the weather or motivation or inspiration, they are simply what I do, what I will do. They are non-negotiable.

So I sit down here and give the time, like an offering. I don’t have to think about if I want to anymore, I cannot be talked out of it, it’s value isn’t in question. It is now who I am.

I discovered who I am after many, many years of searching. Many, many years of weight & priority, of digging into my heart and learning what I truly value. I read the Bible, not necessarily because I always want to, but because I want to be the sort of man who reads the Bible.

And when I don’t… Of course I don’t. I’m not anywhere close to the neighborhood of perfect. My Bible can get dusty, the dishes don’t always get done on a Monday and Friday, the Angel doesn’t always know I love her to the moon and back, not every decision is consistent with the me I’m becoming. So when I don’t…well, I also want to be the sort of man who is kind, forgiving, peaceful and loving to everyone (including me) anyway.

Zealots — November 5, 2021

Zealots

My friend was wondering what zeal is and if it’s actually a positive or negative characteristic. I thought it was positive, but…

Yesterday, I was dying. (I’m saying that in the way you say that when you’re sick and miserable, not actually dying. I’m perfectly healthy today. Anyway.) I had gotten vaccinated the day before. Now. I usually keep things like this pretty close to the vest, only disclosing to my closest friends. The vision for my life is to build bridges and make relationships and that requires me to refrain from taking many firm “political” stands, which this has unfortunately become. I do from time to time, but I do not do it lightly. This is not a “political” statement for me, in fact, it fits into that life vision category. Being unvaccinated (I had actually gotten COVID earlier in the pandemic, so it wasn’t exactly a safety issue as much as a designation issue) was keeping me from certain people/relationships/spaces and, like I said, I can’t have that.

But we’re close friends, right? So I had a rough reaction to the shots, and yesterday I was sore and hurting from head to toe and while I laid on my couch trying not to move any part of me, I watched tv. A documentary I watched was called City Of Joel, and it was about a religious/political conflict in New York between a growing group of Orthodox Hasidic Jews and the rest of the town. The Jewish people were zealous about their religion and their families and the rest were zealous about their families and their community. Both were operating, on some level at least, like so many, from fear. Fear of persecution, fear of difference, fear of losing. And I thought of how many times the zealous have crossed very damaging lines into violence.

My son is studying the Salem witch trials in school – just wait until he gets to the crusades. We are zealous about our politicians, vaccination status, mask stances, positions on abortion & homosexuality, sports teams, religion, anything. Our deeply held beliefs create wildly different responses. Sometimes that zeal causes us to take a meal to our neighbor, sometimes it causes us to riot or pull triggers on our weapons of evangelism.

My friend put it this way – “How zealous must we be…Do we cut off ears? Or love like Jesus?” What a great question. He was referring to the moment where Peter pulled a sword and cut off a Roman soldier’s ear in defense of Jesus, who rebuked him and put it right back on his head. Obviously, we would say zeal in loving the way Jesus did is the right answer, but how quickly does that get misguided? Peter thought he was not only loving like Jesus, he was loving the real, flesh and blood Jesus. He was wrong.

I know physical violence isn’t the answer ever, and that’s easy to tell, but there are many other different kinds of violence. We manipulate each other through judgment, though withholding, through condescension, through gift-giving, through affection and on and on. That’s violence, too.

I wonder how many of the worst atrocities in human history were planted (at least originally, in the seed stage) by what we could consider positive motivations. Someone I know is so angry that I’ve been vaccinated that I have been effectively excised from his/her life. This anger started (hopefully) from a deep concern for my well being and became emotional violence.

I think so much of what we are feeling now in the culture is very similar. I desperately want you to vote my way, believe what I believe, listen to/read what I listen to/read because I think it’s the best thing for you. I think it will bring you enlightenment or happiness, because I think that’s what it has brought me. I know that is also a little condescending, but it stems from the simple fact that we want the best for those we care about. (Now, sometimes that’s not from where it stems – sometimes it’s to be right or powerful or to win. I’m not talking about that, that’s just insecurity and inadequacy.) I get off the path when I take offense to the fact that you don’t do/want what I offer and respond out of that offense.

So my friend asked this question. 1. I think we’re supposed to be completely overcome by love (for God and each other) that it has to come out. And 2. It sure takes a lot of careful wisdom to figure out how it comes out. This is the tricky part, isn’t it? I’m not certain about too much but I am positive it doesn’t happen with our hands in fists, grasping tightly to our scared, arrogant, fragile egos. It only happens with my hand holding yours, walking each other home.