Love With A Capital L

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

Family — July 8, 2020

Family

We need to talk about The Family on Netflix. It’s about a super-secret Christian organization that may or may not be pulling all of the strings in America. Full disclosure: I’m only 2 episodes in (out of 5), maybe by episode 4 or 5 I will no longer use the phrase “may or may not be pulling the strings.” That appears to be the way it’s going. The music is ominous and in my experience, it’s not usually very awesome anytime anything is super-secret. But I don’t know that yet.

So far, it’s a group of boys hanging out together having Bible studies and playing football, men having clandestine meetings with politicians and world leaders, and women who say things like, “the men spend all their time serving others, who is serving them?” Maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’s even ok to have frat house-ish buildings with tax-exempt religious status, too.

But politicians seem to historically have pretty much trouble with infidelity, and this super-secret Family rationalizes these indiscretions with a shoulder shrug and a questionable reading of the story of David & Bathsheba: an “oh well, when you’re chosen by God, these missteps don’t matter much.” And then the bright lights go away, politicians keep their offices and their club memberships. And maybe that is how it should be. Forgiveness is a vital tenet of the faith, right? We all fall, right? These politicians get caught, (then, ONLY then, always after they get caught) are sorry, have a community in place around them to help pick up the pieces of their lives and re-dedicate themselves to their wives, children and constituents. Is that cool? Redemption in real time?

I suppose it depends on where you stand how you tell (or interpret) the story.

For the first 22 years of my life, I hated God and Christians. I would have heard this story as one of pure corruption. The “Family’ of swine are grossly manipulating a nation of marks, using Bible verses to achieve and increase their money and power. It would make me want to throw up all over their frat-houses and twisted insincere ‘apologies.’

Then I fell in love with Jesus and for the last 8 years, have been a pastor of a local church. Now, I hear this story and…

Well, if I am honest, I hear it exactly the same. However, the big difference is that now I can hear that there might be another side of the story. I can watch 2 episodes and think that though I don’t personally know John Ensign (former Senator from Nevada, whose repaired marriage ended in divorce after he resigned from his seat), he might not be a high character guy.  But if he is in fact a swine, maybe they all aren’t. Maybe some are just young guys looking for meaning and a space where they can support the leaders of our country, love the people who live here, and play football in Washington DC grass.

When you gain or lose weight, it’s slow and over time, totally unnoticeable until someone you haven’t seen for a while reacts, right? It’s that way with spiritual growth. We don’t really feel like we’re moving all that much, still make mistakes, still raise our voices to our children, get heated when we’re cut off in traffic. But it’s less often. And there’s less and less time between when we act like idiots and when we know we’ve acted like idiots. Watching this documentary, I can recognize that I am different. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’m far less inclined to pretend that I do, and that’s really something.

Princess Poppy — July 4, 2020

Princess Poppy

Yesterday I was working out and a song from the animated movie Trolls came on my playlist, “Get Back Up Again.” I’ll give you a second to find it and listen.

…. 

It’s great, right? But it isn’t the most masculine thing (or progressive or in any way ‘cool’) you’ve ever heard. Usually, I listen to punk rock and Morrissey and, well, right now I have a new song by Beck playing. My taste in music is exemplary, I take great pleasure in finding new and exciting artists and records. Then there is this embarrassing Trolls song that I repeated 4 times in a row during my workout. Just a sweaty dude listening to Trolls. 

If you were to know only that about me – that I LOVED “Get Back Up Again” – you could draw certain conclusions about me. Conclusions that would probably be wrong.

Todd Snyder wrote in one of his greatest songs, about a woman referred to by another as a prostitute: “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”    

She was all kinds of other things, too. So am I, and so are you. 

I write so much about this lately, (and in every election cycle), because I pay an inordinate amount of attention to social patterns and culture, and it’s impossible not to notice how we’ve been divided into groups based solely on 1 facet of ourselves. We’ve been sold the lie that this one facet is the only thing about us that matters. Now, this has always been a temptation, from the beginnings of history. In the Bible, a man asks (about Jesus) if He knows “what kind of woman she is.”

As Todd Snyder would say, “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”  

Yes, we are addicts, alcoholics, abusers, prostitutes, mask-wearers, non-mask-wearers, Republicans, Democrats, cheaters, liars, vegetarians, pescatarians, Keto, nurses, pastors, punk rockers, jazz elitists, smokers, non-smokers, people who read books on a Kindle, even people who LOVE an Anna Kendrick song from Trolls.

But that’s not all we are.

We are Children of the Living God, created in His image – Republicans and Democrats alike (gasp!!!) – and we’ve been created by, in, and for, love. This terrible lie has caused us to forget that simple, monumental fact. Almost nothing that is happening can be called love. Instead, it’s the same old violence, rained upon each other and upon ourselves.

I keep writing about it because I’m so sad to see how easily we’ve been manipulated into believing that we are so different, that these differences are irreconcilable, and that these differences are so fundamental to our existence that we would behave so awfully towards one another. I’m just so sad, the heartbreak compounded by the largely ignored truth that each act of violence originates from an unbearably deep reservoir of fear and pain in the violator.   

It’s another page in the us/them fictional dogma we accept. Huge segments (maybe all) of the things we see and hear are grounded in a desperate need to draw battle lines, where “we” are 100% right and “they” are 100% wrong. This pandering rips at the fabric of human decency and the only real desperate need is for revolution.

So, let’s do that. But it’ll be a revolution of love. We will show up to love each other – no matter who the ‘each other’ is. Our Each Others will be our neighbors and our enemies, our co-workers and our brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats.  

It’s an unlearning of centuries of curriculum, a complete overhaul of the theology of comparison and competition, and I can’t imagine that it’ll be easy or smooth or without some real setbacks, but as Princess Poppy sings, “Hey! I’m not giving up today. There’s nothing getting in my way. And if you knock knock me over, I will get back up again.”

Both Hands — June 17, 2020

Both Hands

Both Hands is a terrific song by Ani DiFranco. It’s also what I’m calling this post. I should probably call it 2 Hands Theology, but if you’re reading this, maybe you’ll check that song out as you’re reading this (or after you read this, the two are unrelated as far as I can tell – the song is about a last night of passion and this post is about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Hmm. Maybe they are related…I’ll try to tie these 2 clouds together at the end.)

So. The new 30 For 30 ESPN documentary is about the great home run race of 1998. These 2 behemoths hit homeruns at a rate we hadn’t seen before, breaking all records and “saving baseball.” Later, we’d acknowledge the fact that was hiding in plain sight all along: that they were juiced out of their minds. Of course we knew. Everybody knew. But we agreed to act shocked and disgusted later if anybody pointed out this heaving musclebound mammoth in the middle of the room. A few years later, Barry Bonds would return from the offseason with 30 extra pounds of muscle and a hat sized 25% bigger than last year and break that homerun record.

Now, I really couldn’t care less about the discussion of performance enhancing drugs and statistics and halls of fame. We were happy then to pretend, so maybe the asterisk belongs in our homes and not next to Bonds’ 73. Whatever.

What I care about is how our lives and the surrounding circumstances are rarely strictly black and white. We pretend they are, too. We have such frustration with the complexity of reality, of authenticity.

We loved the home run race. They were just really great guys playing the game they loved for us. (Probably not.)

Then, they were “outed” as “cheaters.” Sosa lied to Congress and pretended he couldn’t speak English. They were monsters. (Also probably not.)

Instead, I would be willing to bet they are human beings, just like me and you. Maybe under the weight of expectation and dollars, I would make the same decision.

I pastor a small church in a small town and all through the old Testament, we read the story of the Israelites, “God’s chosen people.” The narrative is a roller coaster, where they make all the mistakes, call out and are rescued, then make all the mistakes again until they call out and are rescued again, then make all the mistakes again and on and on, ad nauseam. We read that and say “Those people,” while shaking our heads. King David is “a man after God’s own heart,” AND a guy who slept with his buddy’s wife and when she was pregnant, had him killed. There are examples on nearly every page of the Bible of things that don’t fit. Our palms get sweaty because of the unresolved nature, the inability to generalize. What do we do when our boxes absolutely don’t apply?

Barry Bonds is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen, narrowly beating Roger Clemens for that imaginary honor. Both were, by all accounts, humongous donkeys to everyone they viewed as less than them. All of that is true. I had posters of Clemens on my wall growing up. (I also had posters of Morrissey. On one side was toxic masculinity and on the other, its antithesis.)

The danger of judgment is that judgment is usually based on only one aspect of our personality or behavior. McGwire and Sosa are cheaters…and dads and friends and grandfathers and neighbors and would probably carry an elderly woman’s groceries into her house for her. (I’m not sure about Bonds or Clemens carrying groceries, though, but who knows? For sure not me.)

David is flawed. He’s also courageous and forgiving and faithful. The Israelites are a foolish, stubborn lot who live a maddening loop. And yet there is tremendous kindness and generosity as this loop repeats. We are all of this. God, and the Bible, seem very comfortable with us, with this dichotomy.

Ani and her girlfriend can’t make it work, no matter “how hard they tried.” This is their “swan song.” And yet they are sharing this moment, clearly still in love. Both can be true. As a country, as neighbors, as a culture, we’ve been sold a lie that we are all 1 thing. We are Democrats OR Republicans and forced to draw battle lines and choose sides. The truth is, we are far more like a Venn diagram, where the vast majority of us overlap. Of course there are parts that don’t, but when did we start to believe that those were the only parts that matter?

It’s easy to hold tightly to our need to judge and label, it neatly suits our need for control. And look where easy got us; do you feel in control? Maybe we need to adopt this 2 Hands Theology and this fresh, new metanarrative where we are fingers AND toes, cheaters AND daddies, foolish AND faithful, but always human.

 

The Politics Of Pandemics — April 6, 2020

The Politics Of Pandemics

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has upended every aspect of our world and our lives. The worst-case scenario of 100,000 deaths in this country alone was floated last week, prior to new stay-at-home orders and new recommendations to wear masks anytime we leave our homes. By the time I post this, it’s entirely possible that the numbers and regulations will have changed. So much about this virus is unknown and, in a world that worships knowledge and control, the utter lack of knowledge and control might be the biggest attack on our way of life.

Now. Smoking-related deaths number almost 500,000/year, obesity kills over 300,000/year, and nearly 100,000 due to alcohol. Almost a million Americans die from these big three, and they are advertised everywhere as a privilege, a right, a reward. Why are they not seen as, at the very least, equally destructive pandemics? As killers? Why are we confined to our homes, isolated, for COVID-19, while alcohol (a substance that takes the same amount of lives every year, not to mention the broken marriages, families, relationships, and lives it leaves behind) is considered a life-sustaining enterprise and sold in grocery stores???

(I understand the dangers of the horror of withdrawal that necessitate the ‘life-sustaining’ designation, but I also understand many illegal drugs carry the same danger…Should drug-dealers be considered ‘life-sustaining?’ I know I know, I’m told they’re different, but it’s really only different because 1 is illegal and the other isn’t, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.)

Of course I have an agenda with alcohol and the entire system of self-destruction that willfully turns their head while they line their pockets. It’s filthy and offensive to allow cigarettes and alcohol in every convenience store while regulating the time and reason we are allowed to come out of our homes, because for heaven’s sakes, we all need to be protected and cared for!!! The hypocrisy is stunning and revolting. Maybe we would all be back at work and school and sporting events and concerts if this virus had the same public relations/lobbyists, the same deep pockets as tobacco and alcohol.

Now, I am not at all advocating for the stay-at-home order to be lifted and we go back to business as usual. I’ll stay here for as long as they tell me to and wear my mask to pick up my milk and toilet paper. But maybe we should stop pretending our motives are selfless and altruistic, a nation of loving big brothers who care only for our collective well-being, and instead call it all what it is: business.

The Fear — February 5, 2020

The Fear

My sons were very young when I first began to explain the cliche, “follow the money.” Probably, if you were to listen to my wife, much too young. Maybe, but they are quick to ask the question (often, the only important question) and that answer usually frames the story into very easily understood pieces.

For instance, I watched a Netflix documentary on some sketchy food practices and spent most of it in awe, having my mind blown by the corruption and hypocrisy in the. It was only in the last 10ish minutes where the filmmaker played his hand, M. Night Shyamalan-style, and the whole doc turned out to be nothing more than a long-form commercial for vegan-ism (Big Vegan;). It was a disingenuous twist, exactly the sort he spent the entire film exposing in the evil animal product villains. It didn’t discount or minimize the truth he found or the impact of the truth, it simply displayed that, under different circumstances and different opportunities, he would have been working for the other side exposing the vegan propaganda.

My boys and I found no shortage of examples that were easy to find and see in professional sports – why would I narrow that to ‘professional?’ Collegiate athletics, high school, sheesh, even youth sports are rotten to the core. Anywhere there is money, of any amount, there will be leverage and abuse.

It was with great hesitation that I selected the series Broken and began with episode 1 and the plastic/recycling/petroleum industry. Then, episode 2 focused on cheap, disposable furniture, IKEA, and the environment. Obviously, this is all crushing and leaves little hope for the future. I used to see the Biblical story of Noah as one where an angry God wildly overreacts and nearly destroys all creation. And why? Because they had fallen so far, broken things so badly, nothing could ever go back to the garden where everything was “good.” I didn’t like that story then, but now, I can understand.

Which brings us to the Iowa Caucus… I don’t know why we can’t count votes. The short answer is that of course we can. The longer, more complicated answer is that we can’t only when we don’t want to, when we don’t like the outcome. I don’t know why we don’t want the outcome yet. I probably don’t want to know.

This is painted with such a broad brush, and everybody knows the American political system needs a Great Flood and a brand new start. We need a reset, an absolute zero. No one and nothing resembling this 2 party catastrophe can remain.

I don’t want to watch Broken anymore. Or the news (The dog and pony impeachment show is likely over by now, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.) Or sports. Or any more Netflix documentaries. Or voting “results.” But I will. You see, I am pretty thick like that. I don’t think it’s over, this beautiful story of us, and at some point, instead of being dismantled by all of this self-inflicted damage, we will find what has been lost and blow it all up, keep the pieces that matter, and build something fresh and new and hopeful and more fitting to our call. It’s coming. Maybe not tomorrow, probably not tomorrow. But it is coming.