Love With A Capital L

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

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

There is a documentary on Netflix called “How To Fix A Drug Scandal.” Like all Netflix documentaries, it’s great – well made and endlessly fascinating. It’s about 2 women in 2 different Massachusetts drug labs who, in different ways, cheated the system and cost thousands (thousands!!!) of people their freedom. Now, maybe those people were guilty and maybe they weren’t, but they certainly were treated unfairly by a group of federal & state employees concerned with ease, comfortability and their own positions of power. It was gross. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

There is something important I learned in it, though, that I do wish to talk about.

I lost a buddy to a drug addiction last month, and it was heartbreaking. Addiction is heartbreaking. 1 of the women tasked with testing the drugs seized in arrests turned out to be a very serious drug addict herself. She was an over-achiever throughout school, valedictorian of her high school class, extraordinary athlete, college degree, great job. At that great job, she became a user. How did that happen? I used to think drug addicts looked a certain way or followed a certain template, but I was wrong. They look just like me.

I know 2 attorneys that are awesome. Outside of the 2 of them, I have to admit that attorneys have historically held a poor reputation in my head. It’s not a reputation that is set in stone or anything, but nonetheless poor. The narrative had gone that defense attorneys are the morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, who will do and say anything. I know that’s harsh, but this opinion has sadly been reinforced over years of perceived example. The defense attorneys in this doc may actually be morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, but as they explained their call, it sounded noble and beautiful. Their behavior sure was noble and beautiful. By the end, I wanted to become a defense attorney. I wonder if those years of “perceived example” were just that, perceptions based on easy generalizations and lazy cliche.

This reminds me of the story of Jonah in the Bible. All of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys, aren’t, and the characters who are not, are. It’s jarring and confusing. The prosecutors are elected officials who should be wearing white hats while keeping us safe from the villains. Except, they’re the ones unfairly meting out a perverted mis-representation of “justice” to those unlucky enough to cross their desks. It becomes more and more difficult to know who is trustworthy. And as that ground shifts, our anxiety grows.

I guess I have usually wanted to understand which end is up, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them,’ who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The problem is, as we discover, there is no us and them, just us. I could be the prosecutors or the drug addicts. Another problem is that an honest faith journey includes an endless process of watching ideas (set in stone, absolutely figured out and under control) that we believed, no, that we knew, spectacularly annihilated. Those idea that are exposed as much too small and fit into very inadequate boxes.

It seems to me that we’re made (and when I say we, I mean all things) for expansion and these boxes we create out of our fears lead to contraction, where it’s not only the boxes that are tiny and restricting, it’s our lives. We’re faced with a choice, hold on with white knuckles to a fading paradigm or release it to become something closer to truth.

It’s nice, being wrong so often. I don’t really need boxes anyway.

Superheroes, etc. — March 1, 2021

Superheroes, etc.

We’ve seen 8 episodes of Wandavision now. What once was confusing and gimmicky is now clear and focused, the gimmick has faded into a deep character-driven exploration of grief. We all knew this, probably, but the genre hasn’t historically been a space for deep character-driven anything. At least that’s what we all have been led to believe. To say you’re a superhero guy implies you’re stunted emotionally and especially socially, living in your parents basement wishing for a girl who likes action figures and cosplay as much as you do.

Aside on cosplay: The last time I participated in anything that could be called cosplay was when I was 8, with a lightsaber and bathrobe or a towel safety-pinned around my neck. Good times, man. But if that’s what your deal is, I’m down with that. I don’t live in my parents basement, either. I am married with 2 kids, and haven’t played with action figures since high school. I loved it then and would probably love it still. I don’t think I’m stunted in any way. I wouldn’t, though, would I?

But I really love superhero movies and would sign a petition to classify them as films, nowadays every bit as nuanced and layered as any random indie film nobody sees and is critically adored. They just use a different delivery device. Peanut butter is still peanut butter if it’s on celery or an apple or a cracker or a chocolate bar. Courage, fear, friendship, kindness, and love are real if they’re in your town or Hogwart’s.

This has taken a while to come to grips for me, as a fairly insufferable snob with negative opinions on popularity. If everyone likes it, I figure it’s like white bread or McDonald’s hamburgers; nothing to love but nothing to hate, inoffensive, safe, produced for mass consumption. But Endgame raked in 2 billion dollars and everybody saw it and screamed with joy when Captain America held Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor). It’s hard for me to understand that sometimes everyone likes something because it’s actually very good.

While we’re talking about that hammer, when Thor regained it and woke up to the idea that he could still be “worthy,” who didn’t understand? Who hasn’t felt the inadequacy of “Am I good enough?” Even the god of thunder feels like me and you. This is the sort of arc that takes half a dozen movies to move from sickening arrogance to heartbreaking insecurity. Have any of your friends fallen apart because the image they wrongly based their entire value on turned out to be pretense? If I am not what I do, what I can produce, then what am I? Of course, it’s as true and relatably human in a cubicle or corner office as it is in the last son of Krypton.

We live in a culture that needs it NOW, spoon-fed with a tidy conclusion – and that was always perceived as the realm of superhero stories. Our hero would vanquish the villain as the credits rolled. Infinity War ended with half of all living creatures reduced to dust and we had to wait a year for any other resolution. That first story in the Marvel universe took 23 (!!) films. That’s why it mattered soo much and was sooo devastating when Tony Stark made the sacrifice he did.

Wandavision took 4 episodes before anything happened that even considered making sense of the sitcoms from different decades. Many of us checked out, but those who stayed are now being rewarded with a richly imagined psychological drama. Vision says at one point, “what is grief but love persevered?” Of course, I cried then. So did you and everybody else because Wanda is now our sister, dealing with the kind of loss and suffering that breaks us into a million pieces. Does the fact that the lovely her life is dead somehow hurt less if she can fly? The decision to do this on a weekly tv show tied into and through the previous films allows us to truly know her story, and as it turns out, it’s ours.

I could write forever about Rocket and his loneliness or the Quill/Yondu father-son dynamic or Gamora wrestling with the sins of her own father or Natasha wrestling with her past and if she’s done too much and gone too far to ever return… but I won’t. You already know.

Us Against You — February 11, 2021

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.

Trash — January 28, 2021

Trash

I read a book early this week. I’m not sure I’ll give you the name because it was absolutely awful and I try not to make this a space where I tear anything down. Maybe I will.

It was written by an author I love, who wrote one of my Top 3 books of all time which was made into my favorite movie. I’ve read much of his other work and loved most of that, too. This book I found in the bargain section back when bookstores were still a thing for $5.97. I was pretty ecstatic because once, my house was swallowed by a flood where I lost everything I owned, including the books.

Not the books! I collected lots of different genres. Different translations of the Bible, some very old and with stunning old famous paintings of the stories (like Daniel in the lions den, the sermon on the mount, and David & Goliath.) They were the sort that you would keep forever and pass down through generations. I have 2 now, one a large print that I received as a gift this Christmas. I also had everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote that I could find. You can tell a lot about yourself and the journey you’re on (and if it’s the journey you think you’re on) by the books you read 10 years ago and now, similar to a map or the Kevin Bacon degrees of separation.

This $5.97 discovery sat on a shelf for years. After finishing Bear Town, Us Against You (its sequel) hadn’t yet arrived, so now was a perfect time for this treasure. I devoured it hungrily and, when I was finished, asked the same question I always do when I finish: What was that? It’s asked in various tones and sometimes in different words. Now what do I do with this thing that is now a part of me? I sat, then I walked through the house and to the kitchen, where I threw this book right into the trash.

I don’t think I’d ever done that before. I’d usually take it to the library or a thrift shop to donate or put it on my shelf, but this one is different. I don’t want anyone else to read it, ever.

Maybe putting it in the trash was wrong. It doesn’t feel that good. It feels like I’ve been disrespectful of the time & effort, of his talent and discipline, of his craft, of his creativity, carelessly casting it aside into the garbage heap of history.

You know why I didn’t like it? A major theme of his work is connection. The characters are misfits in a culture that regards them as less than human. They are alone, isolated, lonely, weird, sometimes schizophrenic, and take wildly drastic measures to find others to break those categories and create new tribes or families. Obviously I find beauty in that. Obviously. I am weird, too, often depressed & lonely, looking for connection and belonging.

This book, though, was the inverse. In the beginning, characters were together, in relationships, and the plot separated them. It was super sad. Everybody lost everything and everyone that mattered to them. I expected a shift at the end where we realized how far off track we had gotten, but there was no shift. No redemption. I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need a sliver of hope that all is not lost.

Now that I write that last paragraph, I can see why I had such a visceral reaction. The country I live in is isolated and alone, divided, and I keep waiting for the shift where we all see how far off track we’ve gotten, but there’s just more hate and rage and space between us.

I guess I threw it away because I simply can’t abide a hopeless narrative, either here in real life or on the page, and I don’t want you to, either.

Funeral — January 26, 2021

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

Wormwood — January 15, 2021

Wormwood

2 days ago, I woke up sleepy and instead of working or reading, I watched the Netflix series Wormwood. This odd journey detailed a man’s death, first played to the family and the public as a suicide, then a botched CIA experiment where they gave unwitting participants LSD that caused the suicide, and finally revealed to be an execution perpetrated by the agency itself. It was a day for me and a lifetime of searching/discovery for the man’s son. Not only did the intelligence agency take one man’s life, but many others as collateral damage. They just took longer to die than a fall/jump/throw from a hotel window.

As I watched one disgusting revelation after another, it occurred to me that I wasn’t actually surprised at all. Born post-Watergate and the Vietnam war, I have never known a day where I trusted any government agency or politician for a moment. The show did a masterful job at slowly pulling back the curtain, surely eliciting shock and disbelief from some. Sadly, not from me.

I said to my wife, “and then these 2 guys killed him,” incredulously. These 2 guys believed in something so much that they would heave another person through a window to protect it. Maybe, if the thing being protected is so fragile that it requires such action, it should be allowed to fall. How many deaths over the course of humanity have been attributed to just such blind obedience and disregard for life?

I have a buddy who has been an addict his entire life, practically. When he’s clean, he is quite judgmental of the ones who aren’t. He tells stories of their disease with a familiar air of superiority and condescension, as if they are a completely different species with different wiring and mismatched parts. And I look at him with the same sort of incredulity that I communicated to my special lady about these 2 guys.

What I want to explain to my buddy is that he is them. They are him. It’s unbelievable that he can’t see it, but he has divorced himself from the reality that there is so little that separates his situation from theirs.

But that’s the thing, right? We need to draw lines that separate us from them to maintain that superiority, shaky though it is. We desperately want to be ok, we really want there to be a fundamental difference.

But there’s not.

What makes those 2 guys believe so strongly they would kill? Who knows, but I know I’ve hated another and in the Bible, it says that’s just the same. Maybe it’s fear. Of course it’s fear. The 2 guys protect what they love at all costs. Would I point a gun at an intruder in my own house, while my family slept? Would I pull the trigger? Maybe. I suppose I’d have to get one first, but if I did, maybe I would.

I read these books by Fredrik Backman and perhaps his greatest gift is destroying those walls, those myths that they are so different. The characters in his stories we dislike the most are the most sympathetic, forcing us to examine what lies inside our own hearts. My buddy is wrong, he could be them, and so could I. He is them, and so am I.

2 weeks ago, a protest became a riot inside of the U.S. capitol building, and as I watched on a screen in Pennsylvania, I had thoughts and feelings about those people. Those people. Are we really so different? The same whose marches turned into riots in May were outraged at what happened in D.C. Why? It’s the same impulse. There is an us and we are right and there is a them and they are wrong. We are superior. They are inferior. You see where this line of thinking can take us.

Now, I think those 2 guys were WRONG to throw that guy out of a window, and I’m RIGHT about that. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe a better question would be, what made 2 guys so afraid that they would? What contributed to my buddy’s addiction? What motivated a group of folks to release, as the headline screamed, “tear gas in the rotunda?” I bet I’d be able to understand the answers to those questions, I bet I’d see far more similarities than differences. Maybe we’ve just been asking questions that lead to division and misunderstanding. Maybe we’ve been building ever more walls when we should be tearing them down. And maybe those walls that we’ve erected to keep them out have done the opposite and isolated us from our shared humanity, making us shells of who we could be, who we have been created to be.

Less The Rock and More Lobot — December 16, 2020

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday — December 11, 2020

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday. 

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be. 

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart. 

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage. 

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right? 

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor. 

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside. 

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms). 

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community. 

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

Mando — December 8, 2020

Mando

As of Saturday morning, I am a subscriber to Disney+. It’s taken a pretty long time for me to make that commitment, considering my tastes, but this is no surprise. I’m usually a relatively late convert to new forms of entertainment. All of my friends had cds, dvds, and an iPod before me, all I eventually loved. I had to be wrestled into a membership to Amazon Prime music, which I immediately loved (that love has yet to fade even a little). I collected old 78 record players/records, 8-tracks, cassettes, VHS tapes, until a flood drank them all along with the house. I even still read actual, physical books! I do not have a Kindle, though I do have an iBooks app that has few downloads I never read. If there were still record stores, I would go there, too.

So, why?

Partly because it’s expensive to switch media. This morning I gave my son a pair of earbuds (wired!!!) from my iPod and asked him to please not ruin or lose them. These boys have such little respect for things. Can you believe they treat them like the soulless disposable trinkets that they have become? Anyway, don’t lose or break them, right? But why? I can’t imagine the circumstances that they will ever be used again. And that fact carries with it a significant amount of sadness, reflection on the money I spent, and disgust at my faithlessness, my disloyalty.

If you don’t subscribe to Disney+, you can’t watch the Mandalorian, and that would be a shame. It’s terrific. But maybe that’s my hesitance with adopting new, exclusive forms of media, because it leaves some behind. It’s like a first-class curtain on a plane (if either of those exist in a modern, pandemic world). Some are inside and others are outside. I want us all to watch at a scheduled time and talk about the Child the next day. I want us all to gather in front of the tv for the world premiere of “Thriller,” of the finale of Seinfeld.

Now, you might not even know who or what the Child is. And there’s no such thing as music videos anymore. Or sitcoms that anyone, much less everyone, cares about. Who would ever watch a show when it airs? Are there even shows that “air” anymore or do they simply appear in a queue to be streamed on the 4th of the month?

There is a program on Netflix called “The Toys That Made Us” that is awesome, and maybe new episodes exist, but I don’t know because I don’t know when they drop or whatever that’s called. They don’t on, for example, Thursday nights at 9.

I recognize this all sounds like the bitter nostalgic rants of the Oldest Man On Earth, and maybe it is. But I don’t ever want anyone to have to be on the outside of anything or feel like they don’t belong or aren’t cool or whatever enough. I made mixtapes for everyone I knew (especially girls I liked) so they could hear the songs that changed my life and would certainly change theirs. I pastor a church for the same reason. I guess I write this blog for that, too. I don’t want anyone to have a bad marriage or feel unloved or alone or worthless.

I don’t believe, like Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super, no one is.” I think when everyone is super – or acknowledges that we are – then we’re all super. And there’s another scene where Mrs. Incredible says, “Everyone is special, Dash,” and her son responds, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” He’s wrong. Everyone is special, it just might be in a different kind of way and take eyes that see, for us and for them.

This didn’t begin as an idealistic manifesto on how great you are, it was only supposed to be a little bit of nothing on how great the Mandalorian is. But maybe you won’t hear how great you are anywhere else today.

Ain’t The Same — November 18, 2020

Ain’t The Same

Jasper Mall is a documentary on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty unremarkable, actually. It chronicles the decline of a mall in the American south and nicely weaves in the death of a store, a young relationship, and a man. It was slow, melancholy and predictable. (The irony can’t be ignored that it’s playing on precisely the monolith that is murdering malls like this one)

It finished 5 minutes ago and, if I am completely honest, I am much more broken hearted than it deserves. But you understand my heart isn’t broken from this mall or this relationship, instead it’s a mourning for my own youth, my own mall, my own relationships. I spent so much time at the local mall, well spent with my best friends doing nothing at all except being together and learning each other and ourselves. I miss those guys, those seats in front of the Bavarian pretzel, the ice hockey table, and cassettes (which would later morph into cds).

I miss those guys the most. Cassettes were wildly overrated.

I often get nostalgia for details. For instance, no 15 year old boy will ever know the overwhelming fear of sitting by the phone mustering the courage to call the girl, and when/if he finally does, it might be busy (!!!) or (infinitely worse) answered by HER DAD!!! Now, he’ll text at 2am. A student like me will never cut classes to wait outside of the record store to buy the new release of his favorite band, speed home, and spend the day in bed with the liner notes. A new release the record store dude will already have pulled and waiting at the counter. Now we stream it a track at a time and forget it.

There was a lot that wasn’t great, too. My rose colored glasses are tinted, not opaque.

But the thing is, when things change, any change, even wonderful ones, hidden in the gooey center is loss that must be mourned. My oldest boy is very nearly able to beat me when we wrestle. I’d never tell him, but it’ll be such a cool celebration when he does. But he’s no longer the boy who slept on my chest and that I carried through stores. He won’t ever be that small again. I could cry for days when I consider how much I miss that tiny baby. AND I love the young man he is now. Things change. We often don’t get to choose what we carry with us, the best we can do is be fully present as they are happening.

The Security/Maintenance/Cleaning man in the movie says, as the last line of the movie about the domino game that has lost a player, “It just ain’t the same.” No kidding. Maybe we spend too much time looking at yesterday or tomorrow at the expense of today. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking, but we probably thought malls and high school friends and ice hockey tables would last forever, right? And we thought hugs and meals together were so commonplace, we were too busy checking our phones to notice them for the divine gifts they were. Maybe a totally average film is just the reminder we need from time to time to jolt us into our lives here and now.