Love With A Capital L

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

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.

 

A Tale of Two 30 For 30’s — June 10, 2020

A Tale of Two 30 For 30’s

2 different documentaries were released by ESPN this year followed much the same outline: Huge star athlete brought down by scandal and where is he now? They clung pretty close to the template, but they felt like polar opposites.

Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour de France’s (Tours de France?) amid wide doping speculation that he vehemently denied, destroying the lives of all those who happened to get in his way. As it turns out, he was using performance enhancing drugs forever and if you search Tour de France winners, his name is excised. Nobody won those years.

Michael Vick transformed football by transforming the quarterback position – everything is different today directly because of his talent, success and impact…until he was jailed for nearly 2 years for dogfighting. He returned to football and was, again, successful on the field but still walks around with the criminal brand he earned.

Now, why are they so different? On the surface, it’s just 2 supremely gifted athletes who lost everything. And so what? Why do we care?

They are different because Armstrong continues to blame everyone else. He was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty, arrogant jerk. It is still not his fault. He admits his act through clenched teeth, but it is only in the context of “everyone else was doing it.” The real villains in his story are the people who blew the whistle to bring down such an American hero. The film ends and we did not enjoy it. We do not like him. We would NEVER trust Lance Armstrong.

They are different because Vick has looked (and continues to look) squarely in the mirror at his own wrongdoing. He has reasons but never excuses. He was the one responsible for his downfall. We did enjoy this film. We may not like or understand him, but we are proud of him. His is a story of redemption and beauty.

(I recognize 2 things. 1. That Vick’s crimes were far more heinous than Armstrong’s. I do not and could not ever defend what he did. 2. I never guessed that I’d call a film that included some of the ugliest behavior I’ve seen “a story of… beauty.”)

Now, so what, why do we care? Genesis 3 has a man passively, quietly stand by while the woman eats the fruit specifically forbidden. When God asks them about it, the man says, “She did it!” Then continues, “And as far as that goes, You put her here!” God asks her, and she says, “It was the serpent, he tricked me!”

Today has us all explaining that “He did it!” “She made me!” “I was scared what would happen if I didn’t go along.” I clicked because she didn’t…”

Genesis 3, Adam, Eden, 2020, me, you, Cleona, Los Angeles. “I’m sorry, but…” is just another way to say “you’re mad, but it’s not my fault.” It’s your fault, or his, or theirs. I only know it’s not mine, or if it is, I’m going to do any sort of contortion to avoid the responsibility of the action.

We care because blame is as old as human beings and it is still just as gross as it was the first time. It has never gotten less obvious or less pathetic.

The problem is that it’s such a lie. Dishonesty interrupts relationship, distracts from connection, until we are so far apart we have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. You and I will have conflict. You and I will disagree. I will let you down. You will, too. Each close relationship has countless hiccups, missteps and offenses that we endure. Blame is the wall that makes forgiveness impossible and prevents reconciliation absolutely, our arrogance in this deception keeps us behind masks of being “right.”

There is amazing power in “I’m sorry,” the kind of power that allows us to celebrate Michael Vick and shake our heads at Lance Armstrong. The kind that makes marriages work and friendships last. The kind that that gives fresh starts, leads us to grow and transform into brand new me’s and you’s and Michael Vick’s (but not yet Lance Armstrong’s), and sees what is possible instead of what has always been.

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.

 

 

Salvador Dalí, pt 2 — August 20, 2019

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net  if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí on bridgefaithcommunity.com if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that.

Youth Sports — January 9, 2019

Youth Sports

The subtitle for this post is “An Argument for the Abolition of Competitive Youth Sports,” because I can’t think of any reason for this dinosaur to continue to exist, infecting generation after generation. 

[Full disclosure; I grew up playing baseball, from the time I was 8 through college, now my children play, and I’ve coached them in each of the sports they’ve tried. I am a sports guy. I love all sports (playing and watching and especially talking about) – except maybe soccer – and competition. I can make arguments all day long for the important values and lessons sports teach. My kids are athletic – good at most sports, very good at others. 1 is easy going and less driven, the other is ultra-competitive – I was a maniac, winning or losing on the field set the tone for everything else in my life. There, now that’s out of the way.]

The entire system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt, from the inside out. The one that stands in its place is a monster that has grown hideously disfigured. Of course, as it usually goes, the monster is me, is us. 

Sports do teach ‘important values and lessons,’ but the vast majority of lessons the adults (including me) teach are important, they’re just negative ones. We teach selfish ambition, pettiness and ugly vindictiveness, not class and character. I could tell stories forever, detailing the experiences I’ve had, the venomous words directed at me, the rage-filled stares and glares dripping with hatred focused on me. Oh, the phone calls!!! 

But instead, I’ll just apologize and ask forgiveness for the many times I’ve spoken quickly & harshly. The many times I’ve made decisions about the ability and (much worse!!) character of children that were 6 or 8 or 10, based on commitment and effort – as if who we are at 6 is who we will be at 26 or 46. The number too high to count of times I’ve thought only of the final score at the expense of the lives that had been entrusted to me to care for. I am unbelievably sorry for the damage I’ve inflicted, the friendships I’ve broken, the moments I’ve lost to disordered priorities.

The positives that kids learn can just as easily be learned a few years later, at 13 or 14. Self-esteem? If we are getting our worth and value from a game played every Sunday, Heaven help us all. Friendships? Again, if our teammates a few hours a week are our only relationships, maybe we need the push elsewhere. Physical activity? Seriously – we all need to go outside and breathe a bit more, kick a ball or play catch. Competition? Maybe that can wait. Maybe we don’t need to start to learn comparison and winning and losing until our personalities are a bit more developed, our character a little more solid, our worth a bit more sculpted. 

Maybe our kids don’t need to see the grown-ups behaving like animals because of ‘them’ and their playing time. The coaches are always wrong, right? They always are playing the wrong people, making the wrong decisions, buffoons, trained circus animals riding tricycles in circles. The coaches “don’t know the game,” and the officials are much much worse. From the sideline, the politics of the team, league, and universe have all conspired to keep their kid, my kid from achieving his/her true potential. Obviously, this has absolutely nothing to do with the player and absolutely everything to do with me.

The kids we’re so concerned with hear and see us arguing, screaming and fighting with each other – where are the ‘values and lessons’ in that??

So, I have an idea. There is such beauty in sports, in the artistic expression of athleticism, in the introduction of perseverance, the development of skill and coordination. We can keep sports, keep the practices, the instruction, the camaraderie, just eliminate the games. With the absence of victory and defeat and starters and substitutes that aren’t getting enough playing time, it would only be about kids and the game. I know, I know, how would we display our pride and vanity? I’m sure we would discover ways to do it, (cage wrestling or gladiatorial combat, perhaps), but maybe no longer at the expense of each other’s kids.