Love With A Capital L

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

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.

A Million Bucks — October 26, 2021

A Million Bucks

Earlier this week I was standing on a chair (long story), got too close to the edge and fell. After sitting for a second to do a quick “is anything broken?” conversation with myself, I walked around for a minute reflecting on how old I am and just how much that fall from a kitchen chair hurt. Then, in the middle of the night, I got up to walk to the bathroom and discovered that the room was spinning with the earth. That’s nothing cool to discover anytime, much less the middle of the night. In the morning it became apparent that the world was not spinning, I was.

You know that natural lack of awareness that we have where we can see clearly in others what we are completely blind to in ourselves? Well, I’ve been through some training and am a reasonably bright person, so I know the symptoms of concussion. However, I am made of steel so I simply can’t be concussed.

Anyway. I shouldn’t have been driving a car so much and ended up on the couch, Netflix and chilling alone. Generation Wealth was the doc, not onNetflix, but on Amazon video. This Generation Wealth is the feel good hit of the summer, displaying our drive for excess, love of money, and rampant consumerism at any & all costs.

The filmmaker made an interesting observation I hadn’t previously considered. In the old days we coveted our neighbor’s things (cars, donkeys, picket fences, wives, etc) but now we look to celebrities, athletes and CEOs with whom to compare ourselves.

Most everybody has an addiction in the modern world, whether it’s money, fame, plastic surgery, work, OxyContin, or sex. If a little is good, more and more and MORE is better. Maybe that’s true, but it really depends on what it is we’re getting more of. If it’s peace or love or peanut butter cups, that’s true. If it’s sports cars or infidelities, probably not as much.

When the world shut down because of COVID, I had dreams that there would actually be a “new normal.” I dreamt that we’d find the time at home is awesome, that we like our families, that our priorities would be rearranged. I dreamt we’d miss each other more than our cars and wheels & ladders to success.

Of course I was wrong. There’s no new normal, just more of the same. But the people in the documentary (and I suppose all of the people ever, even us, now) all learned something. I’ll tell you what it is in about 3 paragraphs.

Today I went to the funeral of a man whom I never met. By all accounts, he was a beautiful, caring, loving man. Many of his family spoke, telling stories and reminiscing. They had the blessing of feeling only loss. What I mean is that we often get more than 1. We get loss, but we also get regret, anger, fear, right? It is a fortunate person who can only grieve, and the only regret in that packed room was that they didn’t get to spend more time with him.

So, the chorus of the voices speaking at the memorial was how much and how well he loved them. I saw this quote from Mother Teresa the other day: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Too many times we get this all mixed up, and we leave home to change the world, leaving our families as casualties of our ambition, no matter how well intentioned it might be.

This man, Paul, loved his family, and as in most people like him, family was far more than blood relation. It was anyone and everyone in his sphere, anyone and everyone the universe brought into his path. And they were all better for it. But here’s the thing, he loved that family, stuffed them to the gills with significance and worth, and now I get to know them and I’m all the better for that.

That’s how it works with beautiful people and the pyramid scheme of love. We love those in our orbits, then because they have been loved, they love those in theirs, then they do the same.

I cried at the service. I listened to this shining tribute – of course, there were flaws, but just like all of us, the flaws lose power in the light of connection, presence, and love. Maya Angelou said people will never forget how you made them feel, and he made everyone feel like a million bucks. I would love to be just like him when I grow up.

In the film, a guy in Iceland who had lost everything, said, “That’s the good thing about collapse.” What a strange thing to say. But what everyone had in common was they got all they wanted and it wasn’t anywhere close to filling the hole. It was just more. More more more.

Sometimes it takes catastrophe, or collapse, to figure out what is truly meaningful. And as it turns out, what matters in our lives isn’t money or stuff at all, it’s the people we share them with. It’s the broken-hearted families, full of tears and overwhelming gratitude. It’s the people who run when you fall off a chair. It’s the hands to hold and the arms that squeeze so tightly, they keep us from losing any pieces when we fall apart.

Hotels — October 22, 2021

Hotels

This morning I woke with a physical exhaustion that has thankfully become quite rare. So when I came home from an unenthusiastic workout, I opened Netflix and crawled under a blanket.

In one of my searches, I discovered 2 documentaries that interested me and were listed to be streaming on Netflix, but were not! I scrolled and scrolled, past so many until I landed on The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel. A young woman named Elisa Lam left Vancouver in a familiar quest for answers to the question we all ask at some point; Who am I? This quest took her to California, first San Diego through Los Angeles ending in San Francisco. She would get no further than LA, no further than the Cecil Hotel.

It was an eerie story of conspiracy and perhaps the supernatural as she simply disappeared. There was a surveillance video of her in an elevator and then no more. It was also a story of homelessness, hopelessness, mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, the police, a hotel’s history of evil/tragedy and a musician in Mexico.

The series was 4 episodes and in the 4th, we learned what actually happened. I’ll ruin the suspense here, this is the 4th paragraph and there wasn’t a conspiracy or governmental coverup, there was a lovely young woman who had serious mental issues that caused her, ostensibly, to climb into a water tank on the roof of a hotel and drown.

I intended to make this a post about easy characterizations and a need to understand that lead us down all sorts of paths we don’t want to go, and which have been adding to our disconnect and division. Maybe I will, but it’s so much more in my head now, I just can’t let this one go.

Elisa Lam was a very prolific blogger, posting every thought and idea on Tumblr. I imagine anyone who read her work felt as if they knew her, that’s probably why the story was so captivating for so many. She was our sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, wide open about every thing in her life. We wanted the best for her, wanted her to find meaning and love. If you’re reading this, do you feel like you know who I am? Do you think we’d be friends? I hope so. In all likelihood, we would. It’s sure a new, interesting world, where we can become close to people we’ve never met, and in Elisa Lam’s case, never even had a conversation.

I like that. I think it’s one of the most beautiful side effects of social media. We are closer than ever before, nothing separates us (except physical space, I suppose.) And we are farther apart than ever before, falling prey to the delusion that online relationships can take the place of relationships IRL. She traveled to California and slowly fell apart in public and no one asked the smallest question, if she was ok. Maybe she would’ve lied, pretended like we do, that yes, she was fine. But maybe she would’ve told the truth, that no, she wasn’t.

I wonder how many times I pass by a person in distress, too busy or distracted or too minding my own business to look or listen. I wonder if a human connection – even a tiny, superficial one – would’ve saved Elisa Lam’s life.

You already know I think we’re here to walk together. We’re made for just this sort of human connection, and we’ve wandered so far off that path that when we are asked, it’s jarring and we feel a sense of intrusion. When did that happen? And I wonder if we felt it slipping away.

In this film, one of the main characters was Los Angeles and a part of LA called Skid Row. Apparently, the idea was to take the homeless and other “undesirables” and imprison them in a square of the city where they could be ignored and forgotten. Human beings were “undesirable” and systematically, purposely ignored and forgotten? It seems like we all have to ask the question that drove Elisa Lam to California in the first place: Who are we????

Her death obviously wasn’t the Cecil Hotel’s fault, but it sure feels like a metaphor. The Cecil was crafted with great care and beauty and over time, seems to have forgotten it’s original creation. Great care and beauty were poured into this structure so that it could take creat care of others. But without a clear vision or purpose, it fell into disrepair and became just another flop house where the people who interacted with it were seen and treated as disposable, which in turn made this once grand hotel disposable, rotting from the inside.

It was a super sad documentary, but as Black Widow says to Bruce Banner in the 1st Avengers movie, “No, we need a little worse.” Not paying attention, whistling through graveyards and hiding behind masks of the images we desperately try to keep, has gotten us here. Maybe we need a little worse, too, a few more cameras shining the light of truth on our increasing dysfunction, to force a course correction. And if we do that, if we start to care or listen or love, maybe Elisa Lam’s death would’ve been for something. Now, it’s just a senseless casualty of modern life.

But it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose what it is, and we get to choose here, now, today.

Blurry — October 19, 2021

Blurry

If you look at my search history, you’ll find “lists of cool weird streaming documentaries.” It’s difficult and awesome at the same time because there is such a bottomless well of possibilities. When there is so much, how do you find anything? I know the algorithm decides what I’ll like (and he/she is often spot on) but I still like to pretend I have some choice in the matter.

Of course, choice and free will online is sort of relative, too. When I type into that ubiquitous bar, Google decides what I’ll see and when I’ll see it. But manipulation isn’t why I’m writing today. My search was for the “best streaming cult documentaries,” and after finding that I didn’t have the services for my first 2 choices, (I had seen many on the list), I ended up with something called Children Of God.

Children Of God was (AND, I would find out in the last 5 minutes, STILL IS!!!!!) a sect of Christianity that revolves around a recluse named David Berg. It’s called the Family now, probably to escape mountains of bad press. Like so many cults, what may have began as faith and community turned into a garden-variety patriarchal altar of sexual abuse. There isn’t really anything new here, there is plenty of history of the worship of sexuality going back as far as you want to go. Anytime there is something beautiful (and the divine gift of sexuality is certainly that), there will be the temptation to twist it into pretzels of violence and pain. Maybe it wasn’t intended to be that way, but it’s easy to see where this Children of God/Family road leads. Women are essentially slaves to the men rationalizing the structures as faithful obedience.

Even though it’s not new, it’s always striking how subtle the slide is into this warped ideology that no one would’ve agreed to when they signed on. It’s like most things. There’s a story in the Bible about David & Bathsheba and he gets into trouble after a long series of bad decisions. If he had been asked to go from 0 to 100, he would’ve aggressively refused. But 1 to 2 and then 10 to 11, then 99 to 100, those steps are small, sometimes quite insignificant and very easy to take.

I think that’s why judgment is such a dangerous position. It’s possible the only difference between us and them or you and me is time, and if we were spoon fed in tiny increments, we’d end up exactly there. Dark, thick lines we draw between us and them can be quite blurry, in the right circumstances, in the right light.

And most of these members of a cult ended up wrapped up in this mess is because they were longing for some kind of human connection. They were lonely & isolated and found a community that accepted & loved them. And that is what they found… mostly. The leaders didn’t love them, they loved power and status and gratification, (in this particular cult, none of the men loved them either, they just loved their bodies and what they could get from them), but usually the other followers found kindness, understanding, camaraderie, and friendship in a world that has too little of those.

That’s why it’s so sad that they were taken advantage of, lied to, told sex was love and domination was leadership. Gifts from the Divine were dragged through the mud, getting everyone dirty and leaving only shame.

And the Children of God/Family continues. The spokesman who agreed to be interviewed denied all of the allegations and accounts, including the video evidence. David Berg is, at the time of the film, still alive. And the scars from the abuse are still very fresh.

Chickens — October 14, 2021

Chickens

Every week in this space, at some point there is a reference to the differences that make us so cool and fascinating. It’s the worst part of this quarantine isolation: we’ve forgotten how much we like each other and instead, believed the silly lie that there exist divisions too wide to cross.

I mentioned last night in a truly exceptional book group that it’s people who provide me with the greatest evidence for God. It’s people who consistently give reasons to remain hopeful. (Of course, it’s also people who give the reasons to lose hope, too. But if we’re honest, that’s much less often and a far less interesting way to spend much time.)

I just finished an article in Smithsonian magazine about a man named Val in Philadelphia, PA who has a record store with millions of records. He’s surly, elitist, Christian, and characterizes his collection as a disease. As you are well aware, I am a record, song, & artist man, have absolutely no desire to go to this store, but I love that we live in a world where it exists, where he exists. Why would someone do this? Why would he give his life, as he did/does, to doo-wop music? Who knows, baby, who knows???

The last documentary I watched was called Chicken People. If you are searching for something to watch, I have no idea how you continue to scroll past Chicken People. This 80 minute gem is about human beings who show chickens. (If you’ve ever seen Best In Show, it’s like that, but with chickens. And it’s not a Christopher Guest vehicle, it’s real.) Who knew you showed chickens? Chickens are ugly and disgusting, right? Wrong. I really only knew about the mass-produced food chickens, but there are an unbelievable variety of chickens that are beautiful and anything but gross. The owners bathe, hold and pet them (and love them) like puppies. Who decides to show chickens? A talented entertainer in Branson, MO who sings show tunes, and a lovely southern recovering alcoholic who has a 2nd husband and 5 kids, 5 dogs, 3 cats, a llama, 400 rabbits and a thousand chickens, that’s who.

I wouldn’t show a chicken, but that’s not really the point, is it? (I would totally go to a chicken show, though.) The point is you are very different from me and Val is very different from both of us and that show tune guy is different from almost everybody. My neighbor can sing opera like an angel and my son is a Dungeon Master (in D&D, not a real life dungeon thankfully). My best friend in high school built and raced fast cars, I knew every lineup and the batting averages of every major league team. Hello Kitty is wildly popular. So is big-time professional wrestling.

These are the things that are important. Sure, so is who we voted for or if we’re pro-fax mandates, but we’re made up of lots and lots of facets and to think just one is enough to tear the world apart is pure fallacy. We’re all different, strange, and awesome. And we’d know this if/when we get to see each other in person, see that we’re not monsters at all – just weirdos who may or may not show chickens with families and kids and jobs and fears and loves and passions just like ours. And that’s wonderful.

What It Sounds Like — October 4, 2021

What It Sounds Like

I am now 46, safely passing Wednesday without much disruption. I’ve been waiting for a mid-life crisis that never seems to come. Maybe next year.

This morning, as I walked on the treadmill, I half-watched the news on one of the overhead screens. (Is there really nowhere I can be free from media??) The first story was a guy in the highest position of leadership in this country passionately detailing coming vaccination mandates and the importance of such a mandate. And the second story I saw was that same guy, with exactly the same passion, commenting on last weekend’s gatherings in support of a woman’s right to her own body. He was quite indignant that, yes, of course we should have the right to do what we want with our bodies without any government involvement. After all, why would those people have the power to dictate what happens in each citizen’s own body? Why, indeed.

I recognize that there are probably many many reasons why these 2 topics are wildly different and to push a mandate on my body while arguing against a mandate on my body is totally consistent. But there are two things about that.

First, it’d be supercool if there was some sort of admission that, on the surface, it does at least sound like the positions might be in conflict with the other. Instead of ignoring the superficial similarities, pretending that we haven’t simply changed the words like political musical chairs. It’s interesting that one party can say my body, my choice AND forced vaccines for everybody while the other can fight just as strongly to keep your needles away from my body AND the ability to control what goes on with another’s pregnancy. Both borrow the main argument of protecting the vulnerable when it suits.

Second, and faaaar more important, is the very clear illustration that these issues are deeper and more complex than can accurately be conveyed in sound bites, sandwich boards, and shouted cliches. The fact that both sides of the aisle can argue the very same point about where & when the rights to our own bodies begin & end should give us a level of understanding & compassion that would allow authentic human discussion. You would think that “protecting the vulnerable” could/would translate into common ground, giving the impression that we might not be as far apart as we previously believed.

Again, I know I’m not the brightest man on earth and you might have a thousand ways to condescend to my elementary analogy here. (But you don’t have to.) I don’t want us to argue anymore, to shout our certainly valid points (whichever ones we are tightly holding) at each other anymore, but I do want to start talking. I do want us to sit down at tables and listen instead of continuing this silly propensity of ours to feed our insatiable need to win at all costs. I do want to find some consistency in a shared humanity. I do want to acknowledge that the divisions we’ve been sold might not be quite so wide.

After all, we can all agree on Tiger King and that’s something.