Love With A Capital L

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

Either/Or or Both/And — August 6, 2020

Either/Or or Both/And

Bryson DeChambeau is a professional golfer who recently added 40 pounds of muscle and started outdriving everyone in golf history. Before we get into today’s post, I just want you to know that I, too, will be riding along with the sports media’s silence and will not be asking the obvious question…Unless somebody else does. And in that case, the public narrative will be feigned ignorance, surprise and outrage. This is protocol. We all agree that we don’t really mind if every athlete is doped up, hitting balls cartoonishly far, as long as they don’t rub our noses in it with positive tests or confessions. So, yes, Bryson DeChambeau is a weightlifter and all the distance records will fall and we’ll all be keep our mouths shut about it. I honestly don’t mind, even a little. The only offensive thing about this social contract is the aftermath, when we self-righteously pontificate about ‘ethics,’ ‘fairness,’ and the children.

We sure are silly sports fans, willing to accept anything to defend our childish ideals.

Anyway. I want to discuss something today that is probably unrelated to Bryson DeChambeau. Well, if they are related, the link is in the stories we tell ourselves to understand, explain, or rationalize our behavior.

I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. This alone created an environment that is easy to imagine, many of us were raised (or now live) in spaces where we felt as if we were “walking on eggshells.” Someone was unpredictable and volatile, often violently so, and to survive, we learned to be pleasers. We avoided conflict, suppressing emotions and opinions in the service of what we thought was peace (but was in reality it’s opposite). That’s the first thing.

I am also deeply sensitive and empathetic, with a gift for being able to truly see all sides of every argument. I do have deeply held principles, but they do not hinder me from this ability. It’s why I make everyone pretty comfortable. Ideally, this is the safe space from which they can honestly seek the truth. When there is disagreement, I often don’t confront. I listen and ask a million questions, believing that this safety is essential to growth, free of judgment, free to change.

Now. I am either crafting beautifully valuable soil…OR I am a child pleasing his father, afraid to confront and suffer wounds on the broken eggshells.

I wonder which one it is.

I am also a guy that tends to black & white, always & never over-generalizations. Last night my thought was that maybe my wondering which one is actually wandering down a misguided path. Like most things, I have learned, the answer is both. My ridiculously simplistic question, “which one?” is only answered with a “Yes.” I am crafting beautiful soil AND I am pleasing, ignoring the song of my soul and spirit. I read that wisdom is less what to do as it is when to do, because the right action at the wrong time ceases to be the right action. In fact, the “right” thing can destroy relationships and build thick, high walls of steel.

The answers we receive are directly related to the questions we ask. Flawed questions will never lead to true or meaningful truths. Today is a very good day because I think I’ve finally stumbled into the question that can lead me away from that familiar fear of a child and into the man I have been called to be. Now, I can wonder something altogether new and exciting; what that, what I, will look like.

 

 

Panem & Pennsylvania — May 19, 2020

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

If we make a list of what’s noble, pure, lovely, of all the good things we’ve seen people do, every little thing we can remember…I wonder how much that could impact mornings and the way we see our noisy neighbors and our shady politicians. I wonder how much that could impact our lives, and in that, how much that would impact our world.

— February 28, 2020

Here is a too personal story. I often need to re-focus on Rest (mostly at the gym) because it disappears so easily. The voices in my head kick up in noisy violence screaming that if I take the day off & sleep in, I will gain ALL of the weight I have lost, lose ALL of the strength I have gained, and instead of rebuilding my mind and body while I allow me to recover, I will spend today shopping for new, much larger clothes because mine have become shrink wrap overnight. Before you even say it, I know that this is ridiculous nonsense with absolutely no bearing on reality. That it is the exact opposite of reality. That it is an avalanche of lies. I know this, but old habits die very hard and I usually end up working out anyway.

These lies are also tied to other, deeper seeded untruths like “I am lazy,” “I am undisciplined,” “I have no self-control,” “I never follow through with anything,” so to prove them wrong, I end up working out to chase those demons away. However, the things I do to chase the demons actually reinforces their existence. As I work out, I perpetuate this myth and its pseudo-solutions, giving the loop the energy to continue.

Now. At this point, I can see my participation in the violence I inflict upon myself, so I begin the tearing down of my very essence, “stupid…flawed…hypocrite,” and on and on. The clouds grow thicker and the darkness gets heavier, and my thoughts twist into tornadoes until I can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the gym last week, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. This happens, and is manageable, but the condition of my spirit is the thing that is alarming to me.

My friend Rick (who is awesome, and wonderfully odd) came in, walked right to me, and asked if I was ok. He referred to my wounded aura (see what I mean? Strange) and asked again.

In the outside world, when we ask, most of the time we don’t mean it, we just use all greetings as synonymous for “hello” and keep walking. Any answer is useless and an honest answer is worse: aggressively counter cultural, obstinate, rebellious.

I told him the truth. He had heard much of this battle before, but this time he brought up how this circle used to be, used to feel, used to carry on, and how much it used to steal from me. Then he said, “So I guess this is Congratulations!” with a huge smile as he shook my hand.

And he’s right. These episodes don’t last long, aren’t even constant – more like bring dunked in a swimming pool instead of drowning on the bottom. I am much quicker to say what my buddy Jason says, “That is a lie. So what’s the opposite of that?” I might hear the words “stupid” and “hypocrite” in my head, but I don’t receive them anymore, like I did years ago.

This journey of faith includes some shocking leaps and heartbreaking falls, but mostly is a long-play, where our growth is lived out in baby steps and 2 forward and 1 back. Today probably doesn’t feel vastly different from yesterday, or last week, but if you would meet the you from 10 years ago, you would hopefully roll your eyes and shake your head at all the things you wish you had known then. You might not even recognize you, your beliefs, your values, your hands or feet.

This is why we need each other, why we need Ricks in our lives, right? To call us back when we lose our way. To pull those tornadoes in our head apart, exposing the venomous deception. To congratulate us when we have mistaken our trial as failure. To ask if we’re ok and wait for an answer, even one that is true. To point out that we are New Creations, even if it takes a while to forget all of the habits we’ve held closely (as if the habits were who we were) for so long. To remind us where we are going and how remarkably far we’ve come.

Congratulations, indeed.

Release — February 12, 2020

Release

Every New Years, I reflect on the year that has passed and choose a word that will be my focus for the coming year. This year I decided on Release. Again.

3 of the last 5 years, I’ve chosen Release. Release expectations. Release my need to control outcomes. Release my need to control others responses. Release my grip on the universe and the way I think everyone should be and what everyone should do and how everything should go. Release my addiction to “Should.” Each of those 3 years identified a different specific aspect of release. It’s like the word love; it could and does mean so many things, so many different facets of the same 4 letters. I love my sweaters and I love peanut butter cups and I love my wife, but I don’t love them all in the same way. Probably shouldn’t be the same word at all, but sadly it is.

So, I’m giving my attention to this new version of Release and, to be honest, it’s going pretty well.

This is sort of what happened this week.

(Let’s call my friend Thanos) Thanos ran into a circumstance that is causing him a great deal of pain and suffering, 2 words that sound the same but aren’t even close. Pain is the thing, suffering is our response to the thing. Pain is unavoidable, suffering might not be. Depending on your perspective, maybe Thanos caused himself the pain or maybe he didn’t. Either way, he’s hurting.

[And for my whole life, I would walk with him, helping to carry this weight. Actually, the truth is probably closer to “I would walk with him, carrying this weight.” I didn’t see me as helping at all. I needed to “fix it,” self-impose a responsibility that wasn’t really mine. I wanted him to change his behavior, switch the path he was on, something. I mostly just wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. I saw this as love. I believe this came (comes) from a beautiful place, but as this information entered my wounded heart and was processed through the gauntlet constructed from the automatic lies that screamed “not enough” unless I was able to rescue him, it became a twisted idol of my own arrogance and self-importance. Interestingly, that superhero complex was always twisted once again because I could not be the rescuer – I was never meant to be, no one is – reinforcing the message that I was “not enough.” By trying to save the world, and failing, I kept living into a circle of despair and self-loathing. The flaw in my design was that I was measuring my own worth and value to an unattainable ideal. Which I needed to release. See?]

Back to this week. Previously, I would lose sleep, begin a crushing headache and be consumed by a need to ease Thanos’ pain, trying to prove something to someone. This week, I still walked along, still offered my prayers and time spent listening, perhaps offering potential solutions – but all of this with no strings attached. I guess what I did was love (in the highest definition of the word) Thanos. Just love him. The story was not mine. The burden wasn’t mine to carry alone – I could come alongside, be a brother and friend, and we could do this together. I didn’t need to selfishly make it about me, I could honor him, allow his to learn his lesson, walk his path.

It still hurts, it’s still uncomfortable, but that’s because I love Thanos, not because I’m trying to be somebody’s idea of enough. I can just love, and that’s always enough.

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews — January 16, 2020

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews

We’ll start with Depeche Mode being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and my first instinct is to say: It’s about time. How did this oversight happen? Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, The Crickets, Comets, Green Day, and on and on – we are not now debating whether or not these bands deserve to be in the HOF, but how could Radiohead possibly gain entry before Depeche Mode???

My first instinct is to say ‘it’s about time,’ but I’m trying not to focus so much on incompetence and, instead, only feel gratitude, overjoyed that a band that has meant a great deal to me has gotten the appreciation and acknowledgment they have very well earned. Listen to “Lie To Me” and “Everything Counts” and tell me I’m wrong.

I really loved Nine Inch Nails for a little in high school so I’m happy about that, too.

Whoever this super-special club of voters is (of which I would love to somehow be a part), they get my approval for these 2, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, AND refusing acceptance to horrible college jam-band Dave Matthews Band. Exclusivity is paramount in the perception of a Hall of Fame, and if DMB is allowed inside, then what’s next? Rusted Root? Spin Doctors? Or worse, Blues Traveler!!!

You know, it’s a strange thing, this blog posting. It’s awfully arrogant to assume that my opinions (facts) on bands and movies or anything else might be a little bit interesting to anyone but me, isn’t it? Why would you care what I think of Dave Matthews? I know I like to read others thoughts on art and culture, but I’m just some man in Pennsylvania who has an iPad and a WordPress account. Who knows about that, but I do know about the value of telling our stories. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and honesty does exactly the same thing listening to “Blasphemous Rumours” on vinyl does; makes us feel less alone, like we’re not lost in a world that doesn’t see, know, or care. That there might be someone, somewhere who is feeling the same things we are is unbelievably comforting and a step or 1,000 on the road to knocking down the walls we’ve decided separate us and seeing each other as, simply, human.

Here’s something else I want to tell you: Yesterday is my usual day off, right? (I say usual, but it’s not at all the norm yet. The relationship with unproductive time is complicated, but rest is vital to being a healthy person, so I’m walking that way.) I didn’t take it. I decided to end my commitment to The Witcher after episode 4, and this week has drifted without any replacement. I wrote a lot, visited some good friends, baked a cake, worked out, started reading 2 new books, listened to a ton of new songs, watched youth sports, and served as taxi driver for the neighborhood. Great week. But I did not take my “day off.”

And that is ok. I had a terrific week, inspired and engaged. The point of the rest day is to break from all of the expectations and voices telling (screaming at) me what I SHOULD be doing. What if I begin a new practice to escape that cage and it becomes just another expectation, another should, another example where I have failed, more guilt and shame?

It’s still a cage.

My resolution (not a New Years resolution – more like a whole life resolution) is to be a little kinder to me, give me a break from time to time. So yes, I did not have my “day off” this week…and that’s fine.