Love With A Capital L

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

A Bad Review — December 11, 2020

A Bad Review

I posted quite a while ago on a book I read called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved it more than I can tell you, though I tried in the post. I will always try.

So. I finished another book by Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I stayed up too late several nights ago to finish it and was exhausted all the next day. That day was heavy and my heart was soft, hammered into mush from the book. (I told you about that day – the post on that is called “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” in case you wanted to read that, too.)

I bought 4 copies today to give as gifts. Maybe I’ll buy more, but 4 was a good enough start.

The story is about a girl, 7 year-old Elsa, and her Granny, who dies and leaves a treasure hunt of sorts behind for Elsa. There are people and dogs and fairy tales, it’s funny and sad, about death but more about life. The characters are odd (I would say “delightfully odd” if I were a critic. I’m not. I’m just a man in a chair who writes for a blog that few read. If you’re reading this, you’re part of a select club. Thank you. But maybe a critic is just a person in a chair, too. Anyway.) The characters are odd and not all are very likable.

Not everybody is likable in real life, either. And those that are to me aren’t to everyone. I think my neighbors are probably the only people I know who it would be impossible not to like.

But what makes me not at all like a critic is what I’m about to do now. I don’t want to talk about the book any more. I thought I wanted to talk about the story and how it felt when I was surprised by the characters. As it turns out, I don’t.

Last night, I read another Backman book, called The Deal of a Lifetime. It is also, to borrow a phrase from Dave Eggers, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. This one is short and devastating. I won’t talk about this one, either.

The best thing about art, these books in particular today, is how they are an invitation into the parts of ourselves that are usually roped off, back rooms where nobody goes. Real life is so much more about brushing teeth and alarm clocks than themes, narratives, depth and connection, but they’re all there if we only take the time and attention to recognize them. They’re all there barely under the surface, asking to be unearthed. We hide them because of their uncomfortable complexity, but they are ultimately the things that make life so wonderful. My tears were a cleansing, an offering in gratitude that we are here and we are now. In such tremendous gratitude that we are alive.

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.

Mama’s Boy — December 3, 2020

Mama’s Boy

I’ve been watching (and enjoying) I Love A Mama’s Boy on TLC. Now, this is a show about women who are in relationships with boys who are…um…let’s say, overly-bonded, with their mothers. In a text message to my very good friend, I confessed that I was “embarrassed” to watch and like this mess. It is, to use a current term, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Now, I have no idea why these women are in these relationships, why they would live with these boys’ mothers, why they would build houses on their in-laws properties, why they would share Valentine’s Day dinners, why they would stand idly by while mother and son practiced a tango, of all things, as their wedding dance, why why why. NO IDEA. I suppose it’s a deflated sense of worth combined with the bar being lowered so far that this is what passes as acceptable in a prospective mate. AND I have no idea why these boys would apply to be on a tv show that ridicules them, that shows them in such a pathetically emasculated light. (Actually I do know that one: just like in small children, even negative attention is attention. Being a punch line for our 15 minutes of fame is still 15 minutes of fame.)

I could probably go on asking questions in this vein, but the truth is, I don’t care. It’s not too many episodes and it’s sufficiently mindless, which can be fine for 42 minutes here or there.

What I do want to talk about, and what I do care about, is the phrase ‘guilty pleasure,’ and why I might say, even in jest, that I am embarrassed to watch.

Like so many things, it is a reflection of our bend towards image-making and an endless list of what we “should” or “should” not do or who we “should” or “should” not be. It’s a avalanche of should’s under which we bury ourselves. Why would I possibly be guilty over a tv show or a movie or song? Because I am so focused on being cool or whatever. For example, I am a music snob. I like songs and artists that you haven’t heard, which by some misguided logic makes those songs and artists better, which by the same misguided logic makes me better. I also like the Christina Aguilera song “Fighter” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” but you’d never know because I wouldn’t tell you about those.

I want my favorite movie to be Pulp Fiction because it’s cool and violent and independent, or better yet, something neither of us has heard of and is wildly uncomfortable to watch, but in reality it’s probably a Captain America movie or Point Break.

Guilty pleasure? Nope. It’s just me, and the second I can make peace with who that is the second I can unload the mountain of expectations that tear me apart. I’ve been so exhausted trying to live up to the ideal of me that is in only my head. The one that has everything together and makes all the right decisions, is wise and beautiful in equal amounts, and doesn’t watch garbage tv.

But the truth is that I am often a basket case when I’m alone over the poor decisions that are definitely not wise, and will always laugh when a mother and son decide to dance inappropriately. Is that shameful or is it simply human? Maybe human is the most beautiful thing of all.

Amy — October 24, 2020

Amy

I have some thoughts on Amy, the tragic documentary on the life and death of Amy Winehouse that I watched yesterday.

First, maybe it didn’t have to end this way. 1. At a rehabilitation facility, when her husband and 2 others were mocking her song “Rehab,” saying she’d have to change it. (The lyrics were, “they try to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”) They pushed like mean middle school kids, and she quietly answered, “I like it here,” clearly embarrassed. 2. Her bodyguard said, towards the end of her life, “She just wanted someone to say no.” I’m angry that she felt she couldn’t.

This amazing talent had an eating disorder and a wide number of addictions, and because of her lovely gift, she was forced (by everyone from record executives to her own fame-thirsty father) to live these disorders and addictions in public. The disorders and addictions that became punch lines on late night tv, “news” programs, and countless conversations by people like me. People exactly like me, as it turns out. I remember laughing at her issues and meltdowns, too, as if she were a singing, dancing machine and not a human being.

We all knew she would die early, and of course she would pass at 27, like so many other tortured souls. Now, she’s gone and only her memory and the music remains. I love the music, but as I get older, wiser and softer (something thought impossible), I wish I would have never heard “Back To Black,” “Rehab,” or my favorite, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” and she would still be here instead. I wish we would not have kept shoving her on stage and cashing checks at the expense of her life. I wish making and offering her beautiful art would not have such a high cost, that she could’ve walked down the street without assault, or gone to an island without her dad bringing a camera crew.

But I did, she’s not, we do, and it does. And did we learn anything at all from this celebrity sacrifice? Maybe. Probably not. She’s gone and there will be more. I wonder what and who it will take to shock us back into sanity. Amy (the documentary and the person) was one of the saddest masterpieces I have ever seen.

Wrong. — September 2, 2020

Wrong.

When the Fight Club movie was released, Lisa Schwartzbaum (critic for Entertainment Weekly) gave it a D. In the current issue, she reflected on that grade and said she hasn’t reconsidered, that all reviews are confined to a certain time period and should stay that way. Like, for instance, we cannot consider ‘80’s comedies through a 2020 lens. There will be socially problematic characters, jokes, plot lines and countless else that just doesn’t hold up. It has to be viewed as part of a complicated amalgam of context.

I think Citizen Kane is grossly overrated. I know exactly what Rosebud is and wish I didn’t, wish I didn’t spend the time watching wondering what the big deal was. However, it must have been awesome once.

Anyway, maybe Lisa Schwartzbaum had a point then, though I cannot imagine what it was, and surely would change that review today with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom. Maybe she wouldn’t, either, maybe she’d just continue to be wrong.

The point is, we change. Society changes. Our perspective changes. This is a given, right? Of course. Could you picture how much you would dislike the 18 year-old you if you ran into you at a party? I would at least feel very sorry for that very opinionated, misguided, insecure kid. And then I would be equally grateful that I’m not that kid, that I was open enough to change my deeply held positions on almost everything.

I think we’re probably all that way, which makes it all the more perplexing why we’re all so violently defending our current dogmas as if we have arrived at the apex of our own evolution. Doesn’t wisdom carry with it a level of experience and, with it, humility that we might not know everything about everything? Doesn’t it require that we hold with a looser grip?

I’m not mad at Lisa Schwartzbaum. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, and I totally understand her desire not to amend her review. Who we were is who we were, not who we are, unless we haven’t learned anything, unless we stayed stubbornly planted in the mindset of our youth, unless we haven’t grown, unless we haven’t changed. And I can’t think of anything more depressing than that.

General Zod In Waco — July 30, 2020

General Zod In Waco

I told you last week that I was falling apart, right?

We’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs, but first I want to give you a quick recommendation/review. I followed up the Filthy Epstein documentary with the Waco series, also on Netflix. It’s a 6 part series based on books written by those closely involved, produced by and starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon. Taylor Kitsch hasn’t been in anything I’ve seen, but is outstanding as David Koresh. Michael Shannon has been in quite a few things I’ve seen (General Zod in the newest Superman movies, Walt Thrombey in the awesome Knives Out, etc) and is terrific in everything, including this, as the chief FBI negotiator.

It’s the feel-good hit chronicling how the FBI & ATF murdered 76 people. Maybe we can talk about the things the Branch Davidians (the group led by Koresh) did wrong or that we don’t like or understand. Surely, there are plenty of those to discuss. But I’m absolutely positive none of those things deserved the death penalty. It was disgusting and when the final credits rolled, I cried and cried. It’s beautifully written and acted, an excellent miniseries.

Now back to the beginning. Nothing is new about me falling apart from time to time. I have ups and downs, like everyone, but as I am told, not everyone feels them quite like I do. When I was much younger, the dark down parts felt like they’d never end and I’d often contemplate anything to end the darkness. Now, I don’t ever think about making today my last day, because I know the darkness isn’t forever. I know the darkness will pass and it will be light again, sometime. That’s as good of a definition of faith as I can find.

It’s been dark for me for some weeks now, and as my tears dried from the horrors of Waco, my heavy heart plodded to why? After breakups in college, I would listen exclusively to the Smiths, Morrissey and Depeche Mode and the other saddest songs I could find. I’d play “Unloveable” on repeat. Why purposefully walk deeper into that abyss? As I watch the pain of Federal Agents being sent into Seattle on the news, why am I choosing the story of Waco, TX? When I’m overwhelmed with sadness, maybe the murder of women and children isn’t the best option. Or is it?

Just like in the kitchen, it really matters a what we put in our bodies. But I’m not sure what that even means when it comes to this. I refuse to ignore or avoid the pain of real life…but maybe diving in so fully isn’t the healthiest, either. Maybe I need, say, 2 Morrissey albums and then a mindless electronic dj mix, like a cold glass of water tossed in my face to remind me that a full life contains joy as well as pain, mindless superficiality in addition to matters of weight. Depth includes laughter, too. Not just tears. Who knows?

But I can’t stand electronic dj mixes. (I call them mixes – maybe that’s what they call them, too – because they’re not songs or albums, they’re just beats and pulses. They’re not really anything, are they? Besides awful, I mean.)

So. I don’t have a nice tidy ending, here or in my broken heart. We’re just having these conversations.

Panem & Pennsylvania — May 19, 2020

Panem & Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Severed Leg — May 4, 2020

A Severed Leg

I watched a documentary this morning called “Finders Keepers,” about a guy who had his left leg amputated, wanted to keep it, and when he got the entire appendage (skin, muscles, tendons, etc), he kept it in a smoker grill in a storage unit. He didn’t pay for that storage unit, so the contents were auctioned and the one who bought the grill unknowingly got the leg, too. Surprise! Then, when he discovered he had a human leg as well as a grill, he wouldn’t give the leg back, turning everything into a legal battle/circus sideshow.

Those are the facts of the case, and as I watched the story unfold (and wrote that last paragraph), nothing about any of it makes any sense. It’s like it’s a coded language where each word makes sense by itself, but together, they’re totally incomprehensible.

I’m not going to give any more away – in case you wanted to watch – but every action of both of the players in the tragedy were motivated by severely broken relationships with their deceased fathers. They were essentially marionettes, each movement the result of strings someone pulled years and years ago.

One has become an addict & an alcoholic, at one point homeless under a bridge. He became the kind of person who keeps his own severed leg as a tangible reminder of his dad. The other was a mean, nasty, fame-obsessed monster who would not return a HUMAN LEG. They both left busted families & relationships in their wake. I can’t say either was particularly likable. I was of course rooting for the leg to go back to the one to whom it was previously attached, but not because he was the “hero” of the story. Just because it was his leg and people should probably retain legal ownership of their own limbs.

I am drawn to these super-weird stories, not to point and laugh like they’re freak shows, but instead because they are simply human. Their circumstances are extraordinary, but not too much. They both wanted only to be noticed, good enough to measure up in their father’s eyes. How many of us would say the same thing? How many have been marionettes ourselves, reacting to behavior we endured?

Incidentally, I find the same connection in the Bible. The stories and people are not so different, we are not as evolved as we pretend. It is in that connection that I find overwhelming beauty, in that shared experience that I find hope. I wish everyone would watch these odd films because, in them, we can find sledgehammers to tear down the imaginary walls that divide us. We can use those hammers to dismantle the us/them fallacy and the images we so carefully curate that weigh us down with expectation and the unattainable notion of perfection. And then once the walls are down, we can finally walk each other home.

The Problem With The Maze Runner — April 29, 2020

The Problem With The Maze Runner

Over the last 3 nights, we watched the Maze Runner trilogy and I loved it. Before you act on those words and run out and watch it, there are 2 important characteristics you need to understand. First, I am, after all, the target market and fish-in-a-barrel for that sort of science fiction. 2nd, I am mostly able to find pleasure in anything, so that means I like everything…

…within reason. I’m not a fool. I’ve seen movies, heard songs that are obviously garbage. It’s not too interesting to talk about those because, at some point, you end up dismantling someone’s labor of love. To commit fully to a work of art, any work of art, takes an unbelievable amount of heart, time, energy, and vulnerability and it is disrespectful to the gift to disparage it on subjectivity. Of course, some aren’t art at all. Instead, they are simple cash grabs or empty scratching for attention or fame. We are free to disparage those. (As long as we can tell the difference, right?)

That last paragraph is not what is on my mind.

What is on my mind is the context of the Maze Runner, and the current state of things that fractured the escapism movies provide and pushed me to ask if things will be the same ever again?

The basis for the film was a virus. The protagonist was a pandemic, in a way. The virus was the domino that began the snowball rolling and moved every step of the story forward, inspired every action taken by each of the characters.

I LOVE 12 Monkeys, too, and the Matrix (and countless others dealing with the idea of apocalypse) but I wonder if I would watch it the same way today, or ever again.

Now, I don’t think COVID-19 is going to be the “Flare” creating a legion of zombie-like “Cranks,” that kills indiscriminately and leaves the planet a hollow shell. But the possibility is certainly more real than it was on New Years Day. I see people wearing masks in these movies and yesterday at the grocery store.

It adds to the confusion and fear that we have no idea if what we are being told is true, on any level. Every piece of information contradicts the one before and, as in political discourse, we have to decide who is telling the truth and this usually leaves us believing none. I have no idea how one can still identify with either party. And we grow more and more confused as more misinformation spreads like wildfire.

And I wonder if that’s how the breakdown starts. I think probably this pandemic started years and years ago, when all of the deception and mis-/dis-trust began. It pulled and pulled at our very humanity, we began to see each other as enemies instead of brothers and sisters. As We began to see only “us” and “them.” And probably the first time the Flare started, some didn’t believe, thought they were being manipulated and lied to – because they had been lied to so many times before! – and instead of fighting the virus, they fought each other until the virus turned each party’s world into the same wasteland.

The Maze Runner was a nice trilogy, I liked it a lot. But I don’t want to wear masks every time I leave the house. Again, I don’t think COVID-19 is the “Flare,” but I do think the seeds being sown right now (and in the ‘60’s, and yesterday and tomorrow and next year) could be the same seeds, unless you and I rip that disgusting field up and start planting something new and beautiful.

Pneumonia — April 21, 2020

Pneumonia

This week, I had a chest x-ray tell me that I have pneumonia.

This year has been a very, VERY difficult year in this house, as far as staying healthy goes. We’ve all been sick several times, for weeks at a time – maybe they’re different viruses or infections or whatever or maybe they’re all the same one that simply won’t leave, like bad dinner guests. We’ve been yawning, cleaning up, putting the kids to bed while they still just sit in the living room on the sofa for hours, long past the point where we first began to wonder why they’re staying so long.

I’ve been watching Netflix and professional wrestling documentaries until the unthinkable happened yesterday: I don’t want to watch one more minute of ANYTHING. I turned off the 1 o’clock People’s Court 10 minutes early, before the verdict in the last case!

Yes, of course, Cheer is uplifting and awesome. So is every episode of The Dark Side Of The Ring. And so is Bumblebee. And The Toys/Movies That Made Us is always dependably perfect. The Bulls doc on ESPN called The Last Dance started last night and that’s great, too. As far as being quarantined with pneumonia goes, it’s not the worst time.

I’m lucky. The people in my faith community text or call me every day several times to ask about my wife and I, it’s super cool to see a church be The Church, well suited for, to paraphrase Mike Tyson, a global punch in the face. I’m starting to think I’m not, quite as much. You see, I’m frustrated and angry and impatient right now. I haven’t kissed my wife in weeks and, in addition to how nice it is to kiss someone, I read last week on a blog of the many, many benefits (physical as well as psychological) of a simple smooch.

I can be lucky AND madder than a wampus cat in a rainstorm. (I just learned that sweet expression, which has now become my favorite EVER, through a google search – I needed something that I wouldn’t have to censor and all I can think of are expressions I would have to censor.) I can be thankful. I can love Jesus more than anything. AND I can be frustrated with Him and ask Him at the top of my lungs, “Why?!!!???” Maybe there isn’t a why. Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

Probably, what does matter is that I keep asking, keep seeking, keep listening, keep talking, keep walking together in relationship, authentically. There are parts of the Bible I don’t understand, but one of the parts I absolutely do states (in Hosea, a book almost no one reads), in no uncertain terms, “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” What that means is that God doesn’t want my pretend faith, me going through empty motions trying to “get it right.” Instead, He wants my honest everything.

And sometimes my everything is messy, honestly.