Love With A Capital L

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

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — September 24, 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the title of a film on Netflix. It doesn’t have anything to do with me thinking of ending anything, doesn’t have anything to do with me at all, except that I just finished watching it. Written and directed by Charlie Kauffman, the creator (writer and/or director) of gems like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my #2 favorite movie of all time), and Adaptation, among others, it goes without saying that it’s weird. Critics gave it an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes (a film review website) while audiences gave it a 48%. That sounds about right. I usually love films like this, that play with time, dialogue, narrative, and identity like they were blocks to be arranged and re-arranged, but I’m not sure I liked this one.

I’m not really sure that’s the point, though. Charlie Kauffman probably doesn’t care if you or I like his work. It’s polarizing, mostly you love it or hate it. I have a good friend who took my recommendation and watched Eternal Sunshine with his special lady and he credits it with effectively ending the relationship. It was their last date. He often thanks me for that (the end, not the recommendation, he considers it the worst movie he’s ever seen.)

I’m not recommending I’m Thinking of Ending Things. You can watch it or not, you already know if it’s your kind of film.

In Rob Bell’s new book, Everything Is Spiritual, he writes, “They were just four-minute songs, but they were teaching me how creation works. We didn’t have to wait to see what happened, we could create the happening.” This is what any and all works of art do to me, show me how creation works. Something is there/here that wasn’t before. Something that was impossible moments ago is not only possible, but realized.

These films that challenge, that take your accepted notions of how movies go and what they are capable of, and explode them are absolutely vital. You see, we are born with a sense of wonder and imagination and, over time, have that conditioned out of us until we protect “the way we’ve always done things” at all costs. Our perspective shrinks until we can only see what already is. Faith is wildly irresponsible because it involves hoping in what is not (yet.) 

The world around us is crumbling and 2020 has not been kind. But that can change the second we begin to believe it can, the second we start to understand that what we do here, now, today, (even the smallest act of love and gentleness and grace) can shape our tomorrows. That the way we behave toward our neighbors (in person or on Facebook) will impact strangers across generations.

The Scriptures say “All things are possible,” and I don’t always see that, if I’m honest. I don’t see how taking cookies to my friends affects a global pandemic or systemic racism or widespread violence or political corruption or countless other illustrations of human brokenness. But this tiny 2 hour movie about a guy with problems driving in a snowstorm with his girlfriend makes me think its true. Anything great isn’t about something so superficial as if I liked it, instead it’s about transformation. Has it moved me, even the smallest bit, away from desperation and cynicism and into a larger perspective? Has it cracked the shell I have so carefully molded out of the status quo? And will this new shift into the possibility of creation inform my relationships, day-to-day interactions, thoughts, and responses? 

I don’t know exactly what this film was about, but I am an inch closer to knowing what I am about & a mile closer to you, and those 2 make it a tremendous success.

Dilemma — September 22, 2020

Dilemma

I am in the middle of The Social Dilemma, another deeply disturbing Netflix documentary on the manipulation of each and every one of us by our devices, or to be more accurate, by our social media. Our devices are simply plastic rectangles, not villainous beings bent on our destruction. I guess social media isn’t exactly bent on our destruction, either, it/they just want our thoughts, money and behavior. Our destruction wouldn’t further those goals.

However, it might depend on what your idea of destruction is.

The dilemma for me is easy to spot, Amazon Prime Music Unlimited releases a “My Discovery Mix” every Monday based on a similar personal information algorithm that knows me (or at least the virtual “me” if there’s a difference) and what I will like. I don’t know these songs and have usually never heard of these artists. As a long-time music snob, that pains me to say, but the truth is that this dastardly algorithm is mostly always right, I DO like it and my life is better with these songs in it.

Last night I looked up Kanye 2020 t-shirts and am absolutely positive that when I open Facebook today to see if anyone “liked” the video I posted yesterday, thus validating my worth and value as a human being, I’ll see ads for Kanye and his political “Birthday Party.” Maybe I’ll order from one of those ads. I don’t even have to search anymore, the advertisers will bring the options to me from now on.

I have a degree in marketing and advertising. The point is to convince the consumer that he/she/we are lacking something, that he/she/we are incomplete without this cleaning product, pair of jeans, or newest vegan hamburger. THE POINT is to affirm our deepest fear, that we are not enough. So we buy their widget in great faith and discover we are still missing something vital to our lives. The cycle repeats endlessly, keeping everyone in business. The industry of self-destruction.

So, am I cool to be used, my strings pulled like a mindless marionette, in exchange for the convenience of Kanye 2020 t-shirts and new songs? I’m going to make my family watch this film because they have been born into the matrix and have some decisions to make. Maybe they’ll continue on the path of progress, but they’ll have to mindfully choose to do so with all of the information. If my spouse is abusive, I can stay or I can go, but all of our cards have to be on the table. There will be no more feigning surprise and outrage.

Yes, Facebook is selling us. “If you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.” We can decide if that price is too high for the benefit, but we can no longer pretend to be unwitting marks.

I love to see pictures of my family and cat memes and People Are Awesome compilations. I love to hate the comment threads on our local school district’s parents group page. Maybe that’s enough. Who knows? But I’ll decide. Or maybe I just think I’ll be deciding and will instead be walking the path Mark Zuckerberg has paved for me. I wonder if I even know the difference anymore.

But I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe it has a happy ending.

Echo — August 11, 2020

Echo

This post is about another documentary AND it’s about creativity AND Jesus AND should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need, For guitars and drums and desperate poetry. And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

General Zod In Waco — July 30, 2020

General Zod In Waco

I told you last week that I was falling apart, right?

We’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs, but first I want to give you a quick recommendation/review. I followed up the Filthy Epstein documentary with the Waco series, also on Netflix. It’s a 6 part series based on books written by those closely involved, produced by and starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon. Taylor Kitsch hasn’t been in anything I’ve seen, but is outstanding as David Koresh. Michael Shannon has been in quite a few things I’ve seen (General Zod in the newest Superman movies, Walt Thrombey in the awesome Knives Out, etc) and is terrific in everything, including this, as the chief FBI negotiator.

It’s the feel-good hit chronicling how the FBI & ATF murdered 76 people. Maybe we can talk about the things the Branch Davidians (the group led by Koresh) did wrong or that we don’t like or understand. Surely, there are plenty of those to discuss. But I’m absolutely positive none of those things deserved the death penalty. It was disgusting and when the final credits rolled, I cried and cried. It’s beautifully written and acted, an excellent miniseries.

Now back to the beginning. Nothing is new about me falling apart from time to time. I have ups and downs, like everyone, but as I am told, not everyone feels them quite like I do. When I was much younger, the dark down parts felt like they’d never end and I’d often contemplate anything to end the darkness. Now, I don’t ever think about making today my last day, because I know the darkness isn’t forever. I know the darkness will pass and it will be light again, sometime. That’s as good of a definition of faith as I can find.

It’s been dark for me for some weeks now, and as my tears dried from the horrors of Waco, my heavy heart plodded to why? After breakups in college, I would listen exclusively to the Smiths, Morrissey and Depeche Mode and the other saddest songs I could find. I’d play “Unloveable” on repeat. Why purposefully walk deeper into that abyss? As I watch the pain of Federal Agents being sent into Seattle on the news, why am I choosing the story of Waco, TX? When I’m overwhelmed with sadness, maybe the murder of women and children isn’t the best option. Or is it?

Just like in the kitchen, it really matters a what we put in our bodies. But I’m not sure what that even means when it comes to this. I refuse to ignore or avoid the pain of real life…but maybe diving in so fully isn’t the healthiest, either. Maybe I need, say, 2 Morrissey albums and then a mindless electronic dj mix, like a cold glass of water tossed in my face to remind me that a full life contains joy as well as pain, mindless superficiality in addition to matters of weight. Depth includes laughter, too. Not just tears. Who knows?

But I can’t stand electronic dj mixes. (I call them mixes – maybe that’s what they call them, too – because they’re not songs or albums, they’re just beats and pulses. They’re not really anything, are they? Besides awful, I mean.)

So. I don’t have a nice tidy ending, here or in my broken heart. We’re just having these conversations.

Hot — July 21, 2020

Hot

It is hot where I live. I saw a meme (which are what passes for the wisdom of our generation) that compared these days to the level in Super Mario where the sun was trying to kill you, and that’s close.

Anyway.

I watched the Netflix documentary Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich last week. This was a series that detailed how an empty vessel of a human being victimized tens (probably hundreds, maybe thousands) of young girls. He did it because evil exists in the world. He also did it because no one would say or do anything to stop it, because money talks and/or because they enjoyed the sexually trafficked children as much as the monster in the title.

Just a quick aside: When Bill Clinton says he absolutely was not on the island or in any of Epstein’s houses, and there is evidence that he was…well, it’s a very bad look. I didn’t think he was necessarily involved in the trafficking, but the lies scream that there is something to hide and I might be wrong. He may have been a fine president and a swell guy, but he has proven over and over to be of pretty poor character.

I am also watching the downward spiral of humanity in America played out on my television and social media every second of every day. I happen to be a man who believes in God and the Bible and follows Jesus. I think there probably is an enemy (I don’t think too much if he’s red and horned and carries a pitchfork like in cartoons, though) and if there is, he would absolutely start with isolating us from each other. We would stop listening and only talk. The separation would make us myopic and selfish, only concerned with what we want and what it means to meeeee. It would make us see in terms of us/them, as enemies instead of brothers and sisters. It would make us desperately need to be right, at all costs. At that point, culture would be a tinderbox, waiting for a spark, which this enemy would provide. We would tear each other to shreds, literally and figuratively.

I see politicians and political parties elevated to gods, doing anything and everything to achieve and secure more and more power. If any of us can trust even 1 word spoken by any politician at all anymore, I simply can’t imagine why.

So, how did we get here, where an angry review of a well-made film became an indictment of our recent collapse? It’s easy. Because the vast majority of the people and systems in the documentary were riddled with corruption, consuming anything and everyone in their way. Now, it’s 2020 and the names of the people might have changed and the systems might have cooler logos, but it’s business as usual in the empire.

I’m not usually this frustrated or depressed. I’m actually pretty relaxed, if a bit high-maintenance at times. I have a perfectly lovely rabbit named Honey-Bunny (like Amanda Plummer’s character in Pulp Fiction) and 2 hamsters (Snowflake and Pete). My favorite song is “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” and my favorite book is “Breakfast of Champions.” You’d really like me I bet. Maybe not today, though. Maybe it’s this heat. It’s oppressive, like one of those new heavy blankets that smooshes you into the mattress.