Love With A Capital L

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

Rhinos — March 5, 2020

Rhinos

My boys are home from school with the flu. It is not too serious, but enough to lay around for several days and watch tv. We binged 2 seasons of Scooby Doo Mystery, Inc – 48 episodes of a very interesting take on the gang and their relationships. Now that I think about it, it was an interesting take on our relationships (with ourselves and each other), really.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. I have spent quite a bit of time visiting the doctor’s office and different pharmacies, searching for someone who cares. (I believe my doctor and the staff there care as if they are family, the aforementioned search only concerning local pharmacies.) It took 2 maddening, fever-and-cough filled days to find one who would fill my prescription…

Now. A bit about Rhinos, and then we’ll tie these clouds together. A rhinoceros is enormous and can run upward of 3o miles/hour. The problem (and it’s a problem as enormous as they are) is that same rhino can only see around 15 – 30 feet.

The reason we’re talking characteristics of rhinos is because we are a culture of rhinoceroses. They are us, we are them. We run and run, as fast as we can, with very little vision. The only goal is movement, progress, chopping wood, with little to no regard for the world around us or even ourselves, if it extends past the right now.

And then the flu suddenly stops us, and we lose our bearings. What are we if we are not productive? Who am I if I am not running, covering ground? What kind of daddy am I if I can not protect them, keep them safe and healthy, and when they’re not, if I can not procure a simple prescription?

We do, that’s what we are. Our value, in this country, is based nearly exclusively on our speed, busy-ness, number of social media “friends” and “likes,” how much we push, climb, and how easy we make it appear. What if I don’t post this week? What if I am not making BIG GAINZ? What if I’m tired? What if I’m not in control? Then what? Am I what the voices in my head say, “lazy,” “inadequate,” “weak?”

This is EXACTLY what Scooby Doo was about (barely beneath the villains in monster masks.) The beginning of season 2 found our heroes fractured and questioning their place, their worth, their essence. They were asking the same question we are, who were they if they could not solve the mystery? Who was Fred without Daphne (or without traps)? Who was Velma if she couldn’t figure it out, using reason and her giant brain? Who were Shaggy and Scooby and what were they for, really?

It was brilliant! All of these things come together, and the big takeaway is… Well, I don’t know. (How anticlimactic is that? I pastor a church, can you even imagine how frustrating it is to listen to me ask all of these questions, week after week, and so rarely answer them????) I’m probably a terrible life coach. But Shaggy’s path was different from Fred’s and Velma’s, you know? How can I honestly answer? Maybe the answer is to stop running for me and it’s to start running for my son? Maybe it’s solitude today and community tonight? Maybe it’s another mystery or maybe it’s time for a break from being meddling kids.

I guess what I do know that’s true for all of us is that the real problem isn’t running so fast, or solving mysteries, or being horrible pharmacists. It is a lack of vision, a lack of awareness, a lack of intention, and it is especially when that lack leads us to the conclusion that our worth is only found in our output.

Rise of Skywalker — January 22, 2020

Rise of Skywalker

I saw Star Wars and I liked it. Of course I liked it. I am the target market. If a marketer’s intended demographic had a face, it would be my face.

From around 5 to 12 or 13, nothing mattered more than Luke Skywalker, Jedi knights, empires and rebellions. 24 year-old me cried at the opening crawl of episode 1…on a date. As I write this now, it’s less embarrassing than it was then – the happy ending is that the date was with the Angel, and she still married me.

The 2 externals in my life that mattered the most were Star Wars and, later, Morrissey.

In High Fidelity, the author Nick Hornby asks the question if we find the things we find because we are the way we are, or if the things we find mold us into the way we are. Which comes first?

Did I love Morrissey because I was super-sensitive and leaned towards loneliness and melancholy? Or did those songs push me in that direction?

I suppose it doesn’t matter now. No matter how I got there, I did and now I’m the sort that cries at movies and paintings and, well, everything. It’s probably a combination. If I was the captain of the football team, maybe Morrissey would’ve sounded sad and whiny and I would’ve tended more to Led Zeppelin IV or Nickelback. If I was a 5 year old girl, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to fight and liberate the princess and the galaxy (in that order) with a laser sword and space ship so badly.

Sometimes it feels like the road has been mapped out perfectly all along, that we found the people and things that made sense and gave us some context for our lives at EXACTLY the right time. So perfectly, in fact, that it can make us question if we have any free will at all or if we’re just puppets in a theater having our strings pulled by giant fingers in the sky. Then other times, it all seems so random and confusing, with no narrative or plot, like we’re bumper cars driven by toddlers.

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes (and this is likely no surprise, I imagine it leaks into everything I write and say.) It holds all of this confusion, the duality of an authentic life lived with eyes half closed (or half open;), with both hands. The Writer asks questions without expecting answers, is comfortable being lost without needing a detailed map home. A life that holds everything “temporary” (a better translation than “meaningless” – it’s not meaningless, not at all, only temporary) lightly, wanting to understand but willing to abide in the uncertainty, content to eat and drink with the people we love.

Star Wars wasn’t perfect, but in a world that has much much much more than enough pain and suffering to go around, it was beautiful. Morrissey is, too. I don’t care how they got to me, I’m just so thankful they did.

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — January 9, 2020

Let’s Dance To Joy Division

The days off this week were sort of forced. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

I watched the first 2 Iliza Shlesinger comedy specials (War Paint and Freezing Hot) and the first episode of the Witcher, all of which were excellent. The Iliza’s give a lot of hope for her career, because each special is better than the last. Usually in art (music especially), a whole life informs the debut, and it’s personal and deep, then the follow up is rushed and sadly lacking the immediacy of what made the debut so compelling. Iliza is sharper as she goes, the material is new (not just a greatest hit collection with a few new tracks.)

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (the current Superman, at least for now) and carries an unreasonable amount of armor, swords, moral ambiguity and violence: all things I really love.

I’m listening to Matchbox Twenty, “Our Song,” right now. I’ve always thought they were wholly underrated and under appreciated, and I would be willing to fight you about that.

Then there is this song called “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” by the Wombats. As much as it hurts me to say, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe if I did, I would be a little embarrassed to mention them. Not as embarrassed as I would’ve been when I was 20 and that sort of thing mattered more.

(By the way, “Our Song” has ended and “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson is on now. If you do nothing else, please listen to this. It’s everything.)

So, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” is a catchy pop song that sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes. This world doesn’t make any sense, sometimes, and it’s scary and feels random and mean, so let’s just have a nice meal, enjoy ourselves and move our hips a little. War, earthquakes, whole countries on fire, hunger, violence (when I say I love violence, it goes without saying that it’s in Netflix documentaries and not in real life, right???), what are we supposed to do? It all feels so big, what can we do?

Well, we can’t fix it today, or tomorrow, or next week. I might suggest we are part of a generation that believes we can’t fix it on a macro, or governmental, level. However, I do believe we can fix it. Or better yet, I believe it’s not meaningless to try. We have to try, or why would we ever get out of bed?

It’s broken, structurally. Everyone knows this. The whole system is corrupt, rotted from the inside, but not without hope. We can easily forget the system is made of people, it’s not faceless and nameless, it’s just people who are broken, corrupt, sad, empty, who are overwhelmed with inadequacy and insecurity, and when those people can be replaced with people who are loved, accepted, belong to a family of humanity that knows no walls or division, people who rediscover their worth and value, then the system can be one that breathes kindness, care, compassion.

It’s quite a reclamation project, a long play, isn’t it? But it’ll work, and the longer we wait to love somebody (eventually everybody), the longer it’ll take. We can start today, we can do something, anything. Write a check, volunteer, vote, pray AND hold hands, kiss softly and slowly, eat with someone, listen, laugh, and move your hips a little.

All I Want For Christmas — December 13, 2019

All I Want For Christmas

The second I heard Lady Gaga’s first album – actually, probably the first time I heard ‘Paparazzi’ – I figured that she was not the empty record company vessel she appeared to be. Of course, the songs were amazing, perfectly written and packaged pop explosions, but the interesting part to me was that embedded inside an album about becoming rich and famous, there were lyrics that dismantled the very goal it espoused. My theory was that she was wooing us just to pull the rug from under us all, exposing the vacuousness of the entire system of chasing dollar bills and Kardashian fame.

I figured she was different, the anti-Mariah Carey, anti-Britney Spears.

I am right about Lady Gaga, she hasn’t yet “come out” as running an elaborate ruse to show us ourselves and the absurdity of temporal, temporary pursuits, but I am right. As you can see in A Star Is Born and the Joanne album, her entire career trajectory is the revelation of a real-life artist, an endangered species of sorts.

What I may not be right about is that she is the anti-Mariah Carey.

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, there’s an interview to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Now, 2 things. First, 25 years?!!!?. Can it really be 25 years??? And 2, we hear it on an endless loop at this time of year and you either love it or you pretend to hate it. (Sometimes, art snobs like us rage against popular things because they’re lowest common denominator drivel, edges sanded to appeal to everyone, and moving no one. Or because we like to look like the coolest kids at the party.) The public reactions are polarizing, but the actual feelings aren’t: Everyone loves this song, because it’s perfect.

So, I read this interview and it’s sharp, funny, entertaining and informative. The best interviews (and interviewers) force us to ask, “have we been wrong about this person all along?” Maybe I was. Seared into my head is her embarrassing TRL appearance (and Her embarrassing Cribs episode and embarrassing New Years Eve performance and and and) that showed her, um, in a less than flattering light. Who knows what she actually is?

Who knows who any of the people we see on tv actually are? Once, we all wanted Bill Cosby to be our dad because of his sweaters, The Cosby Show and Jell-O commercials.

We are seeing carefully crafted images.

How I can definitively say I’m right about Gaga is because I’m that kind of arrogant when it comes to music and artistic expression. But I don’t know, really. Maybe there’s a guy that looks like me in his living room that is writing the subtle cutting lyrics and designing meat dresses, pulling strings and planting Easter eggs for us to find.

This is important (and bigger than records and Christmas songs) because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about who I am, who you are, who we are. Are we living authentic, fulfilling lives or are we simply actors, building personas that shift depending on who we are performing for?

And perhaps more importantly, are we making inferences on those we see and meet based on those images? I don’t have the visceral hatred for the word ‘judgment’ that I’m told to, because I don’t think it’s always such a terrible thing. Sometimes, toxic people are toxic people and should not be allowed to hurt us over and over and over, no matter how many times we are scolded, commanded, “Don’t judge me.” But our perceptions should probably be held loosely, able to be changed, because who knows? Maybe she was going through some things. Maybe she has grown since she was 25. Maybe she is still figuring out who she is. Maybe she is exactly who she is on TRL or the interview. Most likely, she’s both and neither. Just like me.

The truth of who we are, stripped of all of the expectations and pretenses, is both messier and so much better than we could ever imagine. It’s those edges and colors and quirks that make life so great. If I promise to be real, and you promise to be real, we can see each other for who we are, fall in love with each other’s everything (even when that everything includes the things that drive us crazy), then Christmas will become what Christmas was actually meant to be when it was about a baby that would rescue us all. And if it can be for 1 day, it can be more and more, and it can be everyday.

Ok. We’ve spent too much time here, reading, when this time could be much better spent listening to that song, and living Love.

(Day to) Week Off — November 15, 2019

(Day to) Week Off

This week took a different sort of turn for me. I had plans that I was forced to abandon, as I got sick. This happens when the weather truly changes and sweaters and jackets aren’t only fashion. This week, I was fortunate enough to have few scheduled responsibilities this week and could crawl under a blanket and take NyQuil and naps.

What is usually a problem for me is actual (physical, emotional, spiritual) rest – as we have been walking through in this space. I know that not everything is fit to be posted , and certainly not everything is interesting enough for you to give such a valuable currency as time. But rest seems to me to be a universal pursuit, especially in a culture that worships at the altar of productivity above all else. It’s funny when I hear that we are no longer a religious society…we are, only the God/god has changed.

So, I took my “day off” and made it a “week off,” give or take an hour or 2 or 7 or 8.

I didn’t read at all that I can remember, besides email and social media posts. I’m writing another book, and I didn’t open the document once. I wrote one blog post before this one about the band Rise Against and the Bible. I picked my kids up from school, made dinner, did dishes and watched the People’s Court and Netflix documentaries.

One of the documentaries was called Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond about the making of Man On The Moon, which is the 1999 film about Andy Kauffman that starred Jim Carrey. Man On The Moon is a pretty good movie, but Jim & Andy is outstanding, utterly transfixing. It’s odd and unnerving to watch someone disappear so thoroughly into their work – the doc became a meditation on image and identity, which is endlessly fascinating.

But there is a scene where Jim Carrey, who serves as the narrator/commentator, recalls his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was told, “That’s great, this could really turn into something,” and now, with the benefit of experience and wisdom, said, “No, this is something.” I wonder how many times we miss the now waiting for it to “really turn into something.”

How many of us have had a date and immediately began to look for the future in the other? Or skipped words, sentences, and pages to get to the end of the book? Looked to next week, when this over-scheduled and demanding one is over and we can get back to our lives?

Each night, against my warnings, my kids pray, “Please let school go fast tomorrow.” What they don’t know is that it will, it does, it is going much too fast and they are in danger of absolutely missing it. I wonder how much I have missed, how much I still miss. How many awesome experiences I’ve looked past, hoping it could really turn into something, when it already was?

I’ll be healthy next week and off of this couch and back into the hamster wheel.

…Unless I don’t get back into the wheel.

Smells Like Real Life — November 5, 2019

Smells Like Real Life

Around the same time, also in 1991, a band from Seattle called Nirvana released an album that would change everything in music, fashion and culture as a whole. This album would also give me a space (even if it was only in my head and heart) and in doing so, make me not as much of a weirdo, not as much of a misfit.

While we were all trying to be perfect – and what I mean is that while we were all trying to show everyone we were perfect – here was a band and a singer who looked like we all felt. The music did, too. We were insecure and inadequate in a land of make believe and that made so many of us so angry. We were desperately searching for meaning and purpose (there just had to be more than hair spray and insincerity holding us together, didn’t there?) and not only were we not getting answers, our questions were being ignored.

Now. The song. The drums perfectly sounded like doors being kicked down, which of course, they were. Then, the voice of Kurt Cobain mumbled: “Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend. She’s over-bored and self-assured.” Hello, hello, hello, how low. Then, our worlds collectively fell apart (or together) at the chorus: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.”

We might talk about “here we are now, entertain us” as the anthem for a generation, and generations to come, but it’s that “stupid and contagious” line that broke my heart. You know when someone says something and you think, “how did they know?”

How could a guy in the Pacific Northwest know who I was and exactly what I was going through? He couldn’t, and that meant there were more like me, disaffected, lost, lonely, and that was unbelievably comforting. There were more like me, I wasn’t alone.

The song destroys all pretense and perfectly sums up the ache in us all and ends… wait’ll you hear this… “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.” Whatever, nevermind!!!! Awesome. It’s angry, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, honest, cutting, and hilarious. It is overwhelmingly real.

People began dressing differently, doing (or not doing) their hair, speaking truth, showing their wounds and scars. We started to think about confessing that no, things might not be ok.

3 years later, in April of 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Sigh.

But the world had changed, he shined a light into our souls and exposed us. The images and facades were hollow, the emperor had no clothes. So now what? We could start to find the clothes that did. We could be whatever we wanted, whatever we actually were. So who was I in 1991? Nobody knew. I sure didn’t. I had spent so long being what you wanted me to be that I hardly noticed who I truly was.

I didn’t know how or where to find out – only that it was absolutely necessary. One thing I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t find anything in Mariah Carey videos. Or the church.

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell — October 31, 2019

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell

I’m trying to add a rest day to my life. It’s an interesting thing, when I left my job to work from home, I also left a life neatly segmented into work/rest and on/off. My initial fear was that a childish impulse for laziness (my childish bend towards laziness, in fact) would rule and I would get nothing at all done. This fear was unfounded and instead, it’s opposite proved to be the real concern. Without the structure of time “on,” punching a time clock to be at work there could be no “off,” no rest, and that rest became the most damaging casualty of the move. Even when I wasn’t actively working on something, when I wasn’t productive, I was considering what I would do. Or worse, what I should be doing. That ‘should’ provided a wide-open door for the voices whispering the lies that have plagued me forever, convincing me that any time not working was idle, wasted, that I had not changed and my poor work ethic was letting everyone down, that I was a disappointment.

Those voices are the absolute worst. We can talk about them more another time. What I want to talk about is the next step I’m taking on the journey towards health (all kinds; physical, emotional, spiritual, etc) and ultimately, peace.

So. Now I try to take a day off – No work, nothing to do with church or pastoral duties. Initially, I wasn’t going to go the gym, but as it turns out, I like that, it’s filling to me and allows me to eat a little more;)  Anyway, 2 weeks ago was the first and we talked about that here. I watched The Hateful 8 and started a book, Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Then, last week, I didn’t intentionally choose a film, so I ended up unintentionally staring at half-hour sitcoms and reality tv and not opening the Hornby book until the evening. I’m not one of those condescending snobs…well, actually I am, but not about mindless tv. I see their purpose and think the phrase “guilty pleasure” is ridiculous. We all like what we like and sometimes those things are food and sometimes they’re leeches, sucking our energy and motivation. The very same things can be positive and negative, depending on the day and moment.

On the Hateful 8 day, I was refreshed and bright. even though I didn’t too much like the movie, I was inspired by it’s scope and artistry. The following week, I was drained and depressed. The things we put into our body (into our eyes and ears and souls as well as our mouths) and when we put them in matter more than we recognize. And no one can tell us what and when. It takes attention/intention and a desire to live the kind of lives for which we have been created. That’s not easy and the hardest part is that it takes a long inward journey and willingness to meet ourselves in dark places, hold hands and lead us back into the light.

This week, I watched an ESPN documentary called Chuck & Tito, about 2 mixed martial arts fighters, and finished Funny Girl. I also watched the People’s Court. They were all awesome, (especially Funny Girl), you should find and experience all of them. And today, I feel like a million bucks.

It’s as if these works of art rub up against us and can either erode, wearing us down into hollow-eyed shells over time, or they can provide the impetus for growth, fulfillment and new life. It’s just up to us to decide which one it’ll be.