Love With A Capital L

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

Both Hands — March 18, 2020

Both Hands

We are all quarantined (except for those on the beaches in Florida, I suppose.) The schools are closed, most businesses are affected, and it is causing a great deal of tension. We are not a society of people who take very kindly being told we can not. It seems like an infringement, an act of violence, even if the thing being taken away is undesirable or harmful.

This virus could kill us, or those close to us. But I wanna go to the mall or the movies or ANYWHERE!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or heard that we’d want nothing more than to check out for a minute, stay home, lower the volume on the world and take a nap. Now we have to, and we are losing our collective mind about it.

But that’s people, it’s who we are.

I don’t really want to write about that, what I do want to write about is the truth of feeling, talking, living, fully engaged, able to see and hold wide ranges of emotions. A philosophy of “Both Hands.”

The virus is horrible. People are in pain, suffering and, in some cases, dying. The wide reaching state of emergency is heaping stress and anxiety upon countless more. How will we make it? How will we pay the rent, the bills, the groceries? What will we do??? Some of us are alone and lonely, the quarantine emphasizing our heartbreaking isolation.

At the same time, the quiet is lovely. The time at home, with my wife, my boys, is like water healing every broken or cracked part of me. The house is full of laughter and smooches, and this is a season where we would never have found this unhurried time to spend together. We play games, watch movies, music is always playing and we’re eating healthy around the dinner table. I called my mom yesterday, a gift I’ve neglected due to the demands of every day.

I am more thankful than I can express for the time. And I pray for it to end. This is the paradox of a life in between.

I sometimes get the blessing and honor of officiating funerals and nowhere is this more pronounced than in that thick space. We are sad and our hearts are aching…and we are hopeful for the promises of Jesus and grateful for the time we spent with the person we mourn. It’s a “both, and” situation, not “either, or.”

The problem is, we hide, we pretend, we try to fit an image we’ve decided is fitting, important, or spiritual. This masquerade requires us to eliminate one of our hands in the service of the great lie. We decide it is not Christian to weep, to ask why, to allow our sadness room to breathe, so instead we plaster on a smile and recite our practiced platitudes. And we suppress our pain and encourage others to do the same, which only results in super secret wounds that never heal. The only way is through.

Yes, this is the worst. It’s also the best. Sometimes in the very same moment. I have a good friend who says, “How can hell be any worse?” And I answer, “How can Heaven be any better?” We’re both right. And we’re both wrong. This is our prayer, it can only be offered from our open, honest hearts.

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.

— February 28, 2020

Here is a too personal story. I often need to re-focus on Rest (mostly at the gym) because it disappears so easily. The voices in my head kick up in noisy violence screaming that if I take the day off & sleep in, I will gain ALL of the weight I have lost, lose ALL of the strength I have gained, and instead of rebuilding my mind and body while I allow me to recover, I will spend today shopping for new, much larger clothes because mine have become shrink wrap overnight. Before you even say it, I know that this is ridiculous nonsense with absolutely no bearing on reality. That it is the exact opposite of reality. That it is an avalanche of lies. I know this, but old habits die very hard and I usually end up working out anyway.

These lies are also tied to other, deeper seeded untruths like “I am lazy,” “I am undisciplined,” “I have no self-control,” “I never follow through with anything,” so to prove them wrong, I end up working out to chase those demons away. However, the things I do to chase the demons actually reinforces their existence. As I work out, I perpetuate this myth and its pseudo-solutions, giving the loop the energy to continue.

Now. At this point, I can see my participation in the violence I inflict upon myself, so I begin the tearing down of my very essence, “stupid…flawed…hypocrite,” and on and on. The clouds grow thicker and the darkness gets heavier, and my thoughts twist into tornadoes until I can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the gym last week, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. This happens, and is manageable, but the condition of my spirit is the thing that is alarming to me.

My friend Rick (who is awesome, and wonderfully odd) came in, walked right to me, and asked if I was ok. He referred to my wounded aura (see what I mean? Strange) and asked again.

In the outside world, when we ask, most of the time we don’t mean it, we just use all greetings as synonymous for “hello” and keep walking. Any answer is useless and an honest answer is worse: aggressively counter cultural, obstinate, rebellious.

I told him the truth. He had heard much of this battle before, but this time he brought up how this circle used to be, used to feel, used to carry on, and how much it used to steal from me. Then he said, “So I guess this is Congratulations!” with a huge smile as he shook my hand.

And he’s right. These episodes don’t last long, aren’t even constant – more like bring dunked in a swimming pool instead of drowning on the bottom. I am much quicker to say what my buddy Jason says, “That is a lie. So what’s the opposite of that?” I might hear the words “stupid” and “hypocrite” in my head, but I don’t receive them anymore, like I did years ago.

This journey of faith includes some shocking leaps and heartbreaking falls, but mostly is a long-play, where our growth is lived out in baby steps and 2 forward and 1 back. Today probably doesn’t feel vastly different from yesterday, or last week, but if you would meet the you from 10 years ago, you would hopefully roll your eyes and shake your head at all the things you wish you had known then. You might not even recognize you, your beliefs, your values, your hands or feet.

This is why we need each other, why we need Ricks in our lives, right? To call us back when we lose our way. To pull those tornadoes in our head apart, exposing the venomous deception. To congratulate us when we have mistaken our trial as failure. To ask if we’re ok and wait for an answer, even one that is true. To point out that we are New Creations, even if it takes a while to forget all of the habits we’ve held closely (as if the habits were who we were) for so long. To remind us where we are going and how remarkably far we’ve come.

Congratulations, indeed.

More On Releasing Everything — February 14, 2020

More On Releasing Everything

I might call this The Tension of Trying (and Failing) to Know What To Release.

What I have been being taught for the last 44 years and that I am beginning to actually learn is that I (or you or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Tony Robbins or anybody) has practically zero real influence on anyone else. You might think you see something that is not, um, let’s use the parlance of the day and say: “living my best life,” and want something different, better for me.

Now, let’s for a minute say that you’re right. Let’s put aside all of the ways we try to fix or fit each other into the boxes that make us comfortable without a clue as to what might be good or healthy or desirable for the other, ok? You’re right, the thing you see IS in fact causing me to not live my best life. Now what? In all likelihood, I don’t care. Not even a little.

Nearly without exception, we gravitate to the people and ideas with which we agree. This is why Fox News, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher exist and have such wide audiences. Not a soul on the right watches Maher and no leftist would be caught dead listening to Limbaugh. The things that make the deepest impressions are those that we already believe shared in a fresh manner, with clever words and phrases.

People will do what people will do. I will change only if and when I am good and ready to change, or when God stops me on the road to Damascus and transforms me. We don’t change each other. Then why we do this dance of buying the delusion that we can “speak into” another’s life? Of course it’s pride, like everything else, but whose?

Is it yours, for thinking it is your place to point me down the right path? For thinking you know the right path? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a little self-righteous?

Or is it mine, for not listening to what may be wisdom? For not being open to new (often opposing and wildly uncomfortable) ideas and concepts? For protecting my current paradigm against all foreign attack?

Both. So now what?

First and foremost, I guess we focus on becoming the kind of people who listen to the externals, sifting the wisdom from the agenda-driven narcissism, and evaluating it honestly. And we release the rest. We don’t just throw Sgt. Pepper’s in the garbage because it doesn’t sound like Help! We look for the truth and adopt it. We aren’t really supposed to dig deep ruts to plant our feet and stay the same forever. We shed the constricting old skins, instead wearing coverings of perpetual growth.

But as far as getting our observations, advice or best intentions all over anyone else? As far as asking them to focus on that same growth? We probably release that.

But isn’t it natural and, yes, loving to want lives of peace and joy for others? What if your experience might be valuable? What if you have a heart that beats for others and you are well aware that the biggest blind spot is our own mirror? What if you simply want to help?

I don’t know. This is the “tension” of the title. On a cynical day, I’d say nobody cares what you think. On an optimistic day – which I believe is accurate – that mantra changes to almost nobody cares what you think. If we are becoming the people who listen and grow, how else would we be exposed to fresh new perspectives that change our own? Maybe we have to try, at some point. But what about all of the relationship wreckage that will surely litter our lives?

What about that??? Is it worth it?

See? Tension. We are asked to hold most things with 2 hands, rarely is anything purely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. No matter how much we want a guidebook that will enter data and receive the correct answer.

Sometimes sure, it is worth it. Others, no way. And sometimes the yes and no are for precisely the same reason: because the relationship is that important.

Maybe this is why my lesson on Release is taking soooooooo long.

Release — February 12, 2020

Release

Every New Years, I reflect on the year that has passed and choose a word that will be my focus for the coming year. This year I decided on Release. Again.

3 of the last 5 years, I’ve chosen Release. Release expectations. Release my need to control outcomes. Release my need to control others responses. Release my grip on the universe and the way I think everyone should be and what everyone should do and how everything should go. Release my addiction to “Should.” Each of those 3 years identified a different specific aspect of release. It’s like the word love; it could and does mean so many things, so many different facets of the same 4 letters. I love my sweaters and I love peanut butter cups and I love my wife, but I don’t love them all in the same way. Probably shouldn’t be the same word at all, but sadly it is.

So, I’m giving my attention to this new version of Release and, to be honest, it’s going pretty well.

This is sort of what happened this week.

(Let’s call my friend Thanos) Thanos ran into a circumstance that is causing him a great deal of pain and suffering, 2 words that sound the same but aren’t even close. Pain is the thing, suffering is our response to the thing. Pain is unavoidable, suffering might not be. Depending on your perspective, maybe Thanos caused himself the pain or maybe he didn’t. Either way, he’s hurting.

[And for my whole life, I would walk with him, helping to carry this weight. Actually, the truth is probably closer to “I would walk with him, carrying this weight.” I didn’t see me as helping at all. I needed to “fix it,” self-impose a responsibility that wasn’t really mine. I wanted him to change his behavior, switch the path he was on, something. I mostly just wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. I saw this as love. I believe this came (comes) from a beautiful place, but as this information entered my wounded heart and was processed through the gauntlet constructed from the automatic lies that screamed “not enough” unless I was able to rescue him, it became a twisted idol of my own arrogance and self-importance. Interestingly, that superhero complex was always twisted once again because I could not be the rescuer – I was never meant to be, no one is – reinforcing the message that I was “not enough.” By trying to save the world, and failing, I kept living into a circle of despair and self-loathing. The flaw in my design was that I was measuring my own worth and value to an unattainable ideal. Which I needed to release. See?]

Back to this week. Previously, I would lose sleep, begin a crushing headache and be consumed by a need to ease Thanos’ pain, trying to prove something to someone. This week, I still walked along, still offered my prayers and time spent listening, perhaps offering potential solutions – but all of this with no strings attached. I guess what I did was love (in the highest definition of the word) Thanos. Just love him. The story was not mine. The burden wasn’t mine to carry alone – I could come alongside, be a brother and friend, and we could do this together. I didn’t need to selfishly make it about me, I could honor him, allow his to learn his lesson, walk his path.

It still hurts, it’s still uncomfortable, but that’s because I love Thanos, not because I’m trying to be somebody’s idea of enough. I can just love, and that’s always enough.

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.

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court — January 30, 2020

Kobe and This Guy I Saw on the People’s Court

My heart is broken about a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California that killed 9 people I don’t know. One of them is basketball player Kobe Bryant. Everything has been written about him, so I’m going to write some more.

He was an absolutely transcendent basketball player. He was intelligent, charismatic, caring, magnetic, generous. He was a great dad, husband, teammate, co-worker, and friend. He was also egotistic, jealous, selfish, a terrible teammate, a bad dad & husband. (I won’t talk about Colorado – the 3 that did were severely reprimanded by their employers and/or the public. I know we don’t talk about things like that. I know we don’t tell the truth.) People loved him. People hated him.

He was all of these things and much much more. He was human. We think athletes (and anyone above a certain level of fame) are superheroes, but instead they’re shockingly human. Sometimes, rarely, we will acknowledge this fact.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Marvel films are their willingness to dive into this duality. Tony Stark is Ironman! And a narcissist. He can save the world! A world that he, through his actions/creations, placed in danger in the first place.

We are complex and defy easy generalizations. Meredith Brooks (in a hit song I won’t name;) sings, “I’m a child, I’m a mother. I’m a sinner, I’m a saint.”

The problem is when we compartmentalize each other, needing them to be just one thing in service of our own comfort. Why can’t we acknowledge that Kobe was deeply flawed? It doesn’t lessen the tremendous loss. In the interviews following his death, one thing that stood out is that he was quite open about his faults. He was seemingly the only one who was comfortable with the truth. (That’s where change happens; there’s a reason step 1 in recovery is first. Honest evaluation is vital. As long as we continue to hide, we can’t change OR affect people who can be inspired by the entire arc of the story.) Other celebrities have lists of “things we don’t talk about,” and run from press conferences or questions that touch on those less than proud moments, decisions and characteristics we all have. This is called hypocrisy in the Bible. We are called not to pretend…and in the same way, not judge each other. This becomes much more possible when we don’t neeeeeed them to be just one thing, when we can accept and hopefully move to love them as they are.

On the People’s Court yesterday, a defendant was funny and engaging, very likable. He was also recently released for 13 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He had trouble making a living to support himself and his new wife because he couldn’t get hired. He also lost the case, and was friendly and deprecating to Doug in the hallway.

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish Colorado didn’t happen, I really wish it didn’t happen to that woman, but that it did doesn’t make his life less inspiring. He, and the woman, and the guy on the People’s Court, my neighbor, and all of my friends, and me…we have lots of facets, lots of texture and depth. Like diamonds. Another song (this one from Rise Against) goes, “We are far from perfect, we’re perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken. But we are *** works of art.” Kobe was a work of art. So was his daughter. And the other 7 I hadn’t heard of. And so are we.

[I’m having a difficult time “Publishing” this… The point is that our only real disservice to each other is to believe that our beauty is somehow tied to our perfection. This is a bar none of us can reach, setting us all up for either failure or more and more hypocrisy and dishonest pretending. I do not mean to minimize the damage done to any victim..I do not mean to say everything is ok. It isn’t…Maybe I’ll be sorry I post this. Maybe someone will misunderstand my heart and think when I call Kobe inspiring, that I am de-valuing another. I don’t mean to, I’m truly sorry if I did. All of this is messy. And I guess what I think, why I’m going to post this, is that I think the messiness is important. I think the only way things change is when all of this is dragged into the light and we stop hiding everything, stop avoiding the mess, and start to look at each other as we are, not some idealized versions of ourselves, and start to pull down the walls that keep us from loving ourselves and each other.]