Love With A Capital L

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

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.

Azkaban — November 10, 2020

Azkaban

A guy I used to work with once cornered me and began a shockingly intense and impassioned attack on the Harry Potter book series. He railed against the magical and, as he saw it, demonic framework of the story, that it was impossible for a Christian to read and enjoy the books. As a Christian who very much enjoyed the books, I asked if he had read them, actually read them. As you can guess, his answer was an indignant “NO! I would NEVER read such a thing!” Then how could you have such a strong opinion based solely on something somebody said? He shook his finger while he scolded me and stormed away.

I tell you this story for 2 reasons.

First, I like to make this space about what kind of pop culture art I am consuming. These works of art are usually documentaries, but I haven’t taken the time to watch much of anything, much less the documentary on the Nxivm cult I have been wanting to catch. Instead, what I do watch is football and whatever my family wants to watch on weekend evenings, which is the Harry Potter series. I had read all of the books, but had not seen all of the movies until Saturday.

Second, that guy was wrong.

Maybe you know that I’m a pastor of a church. But maybe you don’t. I am. AND I love the Harry Potter series. Demonic witchcraft and wizardry was the category box for that guy. I see so much more, but the problem is, if you choose to see the much more, then it doesn’t fit very neatly into any box at all. We like boxes. We like things we understand. The world is all too often chaotic and messy, which makes us frightened and anxious, so we are constantly trying to make sense of anything at all. General myopia can shrink what we experience into bite size pieces that are not too threatening, giving us the illusion of control.

The story uses magic as the context, but it’s really a story about these characters and worth and calling and loyalty and and and. And by the way, the first recorded people to bring gifts to honor and adore Jesus Christ were magicians. But this is good and evil and courage and purpose and selflessness and and and. This is ultimately a story, a series of books & movies about love.

I think building all kinds of walls to keep the scary things out more often end up keeping us in. These walls become prisons, like our own personal Azkaban. We’re building boxes to reinforce our need for control, our need to understand, to have the answers, to eliminate mystery and the unknown. The boxes we’re building are essentially altars to ourselves, and as far as things that run counter to God, idolatry is number 1 with a bullet.

Maybe I don’t have to have all of the answers. Maybe being sure isn’t the point. Maybe that’s what faith is, right?

10% More — November 6, 2020

10% More

Last week I told you about this leather bound notebook, a gift from my sister that I wrote quotes I find or ideas or things you say or do that I want to remember. Here’s one that’s very early in the book that might be particularly appropriate, here & now. Actually, it’s probably particularly appropriate whenever now is and wherever here is. It was originally said by a man named Hank Fortener.

Here it is: “How much is enough? The truth is…enough is enough, either now or never.”

I heard a statistic once that when people were asked how much income was enough, and the most common answer (from ALL income levels) was 10% more. Then, we could pay our bills and put some into savings and give to those charities we want and have a little left over to go out to the movies or to eat every now and again. Then, we would have enough. No matter how much we make, we think 10% more would be enough. We are always wrong, because then we neeeeeed another 10% more. It is never enough. If we meet somebody. If we get married. If we have a child. Or another. Or once they start going on the potty. Or going to school. Or once I get that job, that position. Or when I get that cleaner, that shampoo, those jeans. Or when we can retire…THEN, it will be different, better. THEN, we will have enough.

But it isn’t.

I don’t know when we learned that contentment is only found in more, but it simply isn’t true. If we are lacking now, right now, wherever we are, we will always lack. If we don’t appreciate what we have, the blessings, the people, the things, then we will never appreciate what we have, and any blessings, people, or things we receive/experience will pale in comparison to the next, the more that’s just around the bend.

Contentment is different from complacency.

Complacency is the mistaken belief that we are finished. That what we are at this moment is all we’ll ever be. That there’s no more to learn, discover. That we’re done growing. That (get ready for it….) it is what it is. Complacency has its roots in despair.

Contentment is security in our identity, confidence in our standing in the universe, stillness in our existence. We are content, peaceful, loved, and we belong here. We are on a journey and there’s joy and loss and fear and celebration and suffering at each step, but we continue to take the steps because there’s something going on here and we want to see what it is, but the journey itself is amazing and we don’t want to miss any part of this step, this moment, this snapshot of our lives in motion. The plant is beautiful today, it’ll grown into something very different tomorrow, but today, where it is right now is wonderful.

Complacency is a hideous lie. Contentment is awesome.

If we can’t (or won’t) dance today, what makes us think we’ll know how tomorrow, when the song changes? If we can’t (or won’t) enjoy that kiss, hug, or touch today, why would we assume tomorrow will magically bring a different response? No matter where we go, we are still there. The grass is never greener on the other side. The scenery might transform, but we’ll still interpret it through the same eyes.

So, what is it that we are waiting for?

My boy has been attending school 3 days/week at home (Tuesdays and Thursdays have been in person). Today is the last day. Monday he’ll go back full time. I’ll miss him more than he knows. I have absolutely LOVED him being at home with me. But Monday he’ll go because he must, and that’ll be ok, because we had this time, because we have today, and it is very, very good.

Far Away — October 21, 2020

Far Away

“All we are is all we made” is a line from a song by Breaking Benjamin called “Far Away.” I don’t exactly know what it’s about, some comments I read say it’s about the rapture, religion, and/or God. Maybe. You know, some songs sound very obviously about one thing to later find out that’s not what the songwriter had in mind at all. I just watched a short form documentary on Netflix (called Song Exploder) about “Losing My Religion,” by R.E.M. and I didn’t really know what the song meant then and any of the guesses I did have turned out to be totally wrong. The good thing is that, with very few exceptions, I have learned to a. release these artists from the weight of my expectations, and b. release my need to know everything about every band I liked to be super cool and impress you. No one was ever all that impressed anyway. All that to say I don’t really care why the band’s name is Breaking Benjamin (is anyone named Benjamin? Who knows?) or why they wrote that song.

“Far Away” might have been written with the rapture or casserole or artificial intelligence in mind, but when I heard the line “all we are is all we made,” I knew that it would mean a great deal to me and that it would soon appear in this space. I heard it on a very good friend’s phone and ran for the nearest pen and index card so I wouldn’t forget.

Our lives are the structures created from many, many individual bricks stacked by many, many individual choices. That structure doesn’t exist by accident, it’s the sum total of each of these bricks. If we use a certain brick, we can’t expect them to magically transform into something different, like logs or steel or straw. If I wake up in a cornfield, there is a better than average chance that I planted corn.

In January of this year, 3 months before the world are to a screeching halt, this space was going to be a year-long exploration of the small, seemingly insignificant decisions and details that become these bricks that become us. Of course 2020 had other plans, but now, with this song, I wonder if it isn’t time to point ourselves back in that direction. Maybe it’s exactly what we need. Maybe after months and months of disruption/invitation, it’s time to re-evaluate what is happening, what needed to go and what needed to stay, and what kinds of people we’ll be and what we need to plant to grow those people.

The lyric asks us, if all we are is all we made, what have we made? And what are we making? The state of everything has illustrated that our passivity, our sleepwalking hasn’t served us very well. This is all going to take attention and intention. I so often refer to the final page of the Chuck Palahniuk book Choke:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight. And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos. What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

This time truly feels like “nowhere in the middle of the night…in the ruins,” and that’s either terrifying or wonderfully exciting. Maybe both. Yes, both. It’s a good thing we are here to do this together.

The Spectacular Us — October 15, 2020

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

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.