Catfish

The First 40

The new episodes of Catfish air on Tuesdays, so almost the entire day is devoted to old episodes. (The one sad, lonely exception is Teen Mom 2 the hour before the premiere. Sigh.) I watch while I eat my breakfast and tend to my rabbit HoneyBunny. Though I didn’t personally name her, I really love it because at least once every day, I say “I love you HoneyBunny,” like Tim Roth’s character does in Pulp Fiction. Anyway. The episode this morning was a bit of an anomaly. The Catfish had been to jail and out because the Catfishing turned into criminality. Simply lying on dating profiles and direct messaging isn’t against the law, but extortion is. Nev & Max traveled several airplanes and one long drive through snow covered roads so far north to a town that may or may not be on maps in hopes of an interview. Of course, they got one – it is a TV show and reality isn’t exactly real like we know it to be. So as they left that depressing house, Nev said, “One thing I’ve learned from all these years of Catfish is that there are no monsters at the end of the line.”

I love the show, have been watching it for so long, I guess it’s only natural that this would have informed so much of my perspective. Episode after episode, for 40 minutes I think the person they’re chasing is just horrible, a nightmarish villain looking for no more than to be a wrecking ball in some poor sucker’s life. And then for the final 20, I realize I’ve been wrong. They’re just sad or lonely or damaged. (Now sometimes, they are pretty awful, but it’s so unusual, it’s a perfect example of the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule.’)

And then last night I sat down to watch the Netflix documentary on the Malice At The Palace – a riot at a basketball game in Detroit where NBA players jumped into the stands and fans stormed the court to exchange punches and injury. I’m a sports guy so I was very familiar with this unfortunate incident, and very familiar with the immature, violent ‘thug’ athlete storyline. The players were 100% wrong, referred to as wild animals, and the fans were victims, innocent bystanders, targets of uncontrolled rage. This easy narrative turned out to be what we could have all figured out is total garbage.

It’s the 100/0 mentality, or what we can from now on call the First 40 Syndrome, where we operate as if the whole truth is contained in the first 40 minutes of Catfish, before the inconvenient reveal that we share more in common than we’d like to acknowledge. We neeeeed the players to be all wrong, to be space aliens – anything other than strict division between us and them would prove that we are closer to the edge than we can handle.

In the book of Joshua (a book about us/them if there ever was one), as Joshua is fighting anyone different than himself, he comes face to face with someone new. In ch. 5, v. 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

This is what we’re all asking, everyday, online, in our cars, the supermarket and on the news, right?”

Are you on my side, or theirs?” “Who is all right and who is all wrong?”

And get this, in a shocking twist, that man (who is revealed as the “commander of the army of the LORD”) standing with a drawn sword says…

“Yours, of course.”

That’s what we expect, what we need. And it’s certainly what Joshua expected. But this man says, “Neither.”Are you on my side or theirs? Yes. Which is it? Both. Neither. Who is right and wrong? Both. Neither.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe we’re operating with a limited visibility, as if 2/3, or the First 40, of the show is all there is.

Joshua then asks a different, infinitely better, question, “What message does God have for me, His servant?”

And I can’t help but feel that the profound, heartbreaking reply is the same for us today: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing [whether it’s the northern edges of the earth, a stadium in Michigan, whether it’s Annville or Afghanistan] is holy.”

Cafish, pt 4 (or 5 or 12 or 100)

This morning on a Catfish repeat, the players all ended up to be exactly who they said they were. You’d think this would be cause for celebration and “…happily ever after,” but you’d be wrong.

I started that last week, and I just cannot remember why! I don’t remember the people or the show, how they met or why I cared so much to write it to you. There is a certain discontent, maybe we would call it a holy discontent, that slides into places and situations where we long for the one thing (husband/wife, job, house, baby, etc) that will complete us. And when we get that thing, we are still not complete. I heard once in a talk that people with a porn problem always have an anger problem – because we want it to be something that it can’t, to fill a hole it can’t, and when it doesn’t, we get frustrated, using more and more, clicking more and more, and no amount can be enough to do what we want it to. But that’s true for so much more than porn, isn’t it? 

The couple on Catfish had dreams of a blissful life once they would meet, that they would ride into a painted sunset with their prince/princess, but when they did they discovered to their horror that each was only a human being. What a disappointment! 

I wonder how much of our lives are built on an altar of misguided expectations. How much of our relational conflict revolves around the ugly reality that they just WILL NOT do what I want them to do? That the world is not as I think it should be? How many fights begin on the stories I tell myself, often having no basis in reality? How much of our faith is centered upon an idea that God will smooth all rough patches and answer all of our prayers?

This is just another way we avoid being fully present in what is happening here and now. We are waiting, expecting something (the best or the worst) and it’s suddenly over and we only know it wasn’t… What was it? Who knows? It’s gone and we missed it.

I‘m finding that our lives are really an ongoing process of simplification. When we start to drift into the ‘what if’ dreamworld, it’s vital to pull back. What if Or What is? ‘What if’ is a question loaded with, and almost indistinguishable from, the fear that whispers the question into our vulnerable ears. ‘What is’ is grounded (perhaps distantly) in a gratitude for the gift of today. Sometimes today is rough. Sometimes today is too much to bear. Sometimes today is heartbreaking and full of bitter tears. But there is blessing in that, too. So many of our favorite moments were born out of the ashes of the previous ones. 

We had yesterday, have tomorrow, but today we can plant seeds for a new creation, if only we can stop trusting the stories our fear is feeding us in our unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.

Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

COVID-19 is now a fully political issue. Of course, it has always been a political issue (alcohol- and smoking-related illnesses kill far more than this virus could in any worst-case scenario, but they have much better public relations, more effective lobbyists, so we’ve decided we don’t care too much) but now we have straight party-line protests and “Republicans are now pro-choice” memes. Ah yes, the meme, an ultra-modern genre that feeds on generalized oversimplifications. This particular meme obviously goes both ways but the point of politically generalized oversimplifications is to ignore all that doesn’t support the opinion of the writer. Our hopes that this was a human issue that would bring us together and not a left/right issue have been dashed on the rocks of partisanship, replaced with the usual political maneuvering and more of the same acid-tongued sniping. It’s super depressing and has driven me to posting Red Hot Chili Peppers and Billy Idol album covers on Facebook just to break up the vitriol – I am now that guy. I swore I’d never be that guy, yet here we are.

Everybody knows I loooove the tv show Catfish, about people employing fake profiles online. They do this for any number of reasons (from romance to revenge) and the hosts/detectives track them down and expose them. The show began as a movie, also called Catfish, where the soon-to-be host of the tv show was himself “catfished.” He had fallen in love with a woman that turned out to be a married, middle-aged mother of 3. She had created several fake profiles to interact with each other on Facebook to add depth and reality to the deception.

When you watch the movie (or the show), as the ruse begins to unravel, you’ll feel some level of indignance – “How could they do that????!!?” – decide they are “monsters” and wish for their just desserts. You will get angry at their inhumanity, their vicious callousness at breaking another’s heart. They are the villains in the story, and we along with the victims are the righteous innocent.

In the movie, the filmmakers show up at her door and she continues to lie, as my mom says, like a rug. Finally, she is forced to come clean and the narrative transforms, as do our easy characterizations.

Earlier, I wrote that they do this “for any number of reasons,” and that’s not really true. They mostly do it to find a personal connection that has been lacking.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re created for personal connection – this is undeniable, especially now.

But why have they decided that who they are isn’t good enough for this connection?

Well, why have we? Think of all the ways we compromise or cultivate an image that might be more appealing to him or her…because we aren’t satisfied with who we are, because we have believed that we aren’t good enough.

This woman, the “monster,” is a talented artist, 2 of the 3 children are severely disabled. In fact, they are step-children, she chose to marry a man and care for those 2 boys for the rest of their lives. She is intelligent and soft, empathetic and funny. She is terrific. She made a very poor catfishing decision out of loneliness and disconnect that she will regret forever, but it is something she did and not who she is.

I think Catfish should be required viewing for every human being living on earth. We easily fall into the trap where we think those who believe differently are dumb, inhumane, ignorant, misinformed, heartless, but they’re not. (Well, maybe they are, but not always;) Usually, they are exactly like you and me, formed by experiences, wounds, mistakes, ideas, environment, education, suffering, and on and on.

Every Catfish follows pretty much the same arc. Fingers crossed that the person is actually the person we think it is. This wish melts into broken-hearted sadness that what was hoped for, isn’t the reality. Finally, we rebound into a deeper understanding, where we see the other as they are, not an idealized picture on a screen and not the 2dimensional generalization based on their behavior and our fear. This last space can also be called love, where it’s not about control or our wants and desires, not about us at all. Love because it is free of our fearful boxes and labels, free of The Other, free of the desperate need to win (and for someone else to lose.)

Maybe this COVID-19 crisis is like that, too. Maybe this IS a human issue, a global act of grace, but we first have to get past the fearful grasping for what we want, what we think, what we need, before we can discover the love that has been there all along, just waiting for us to arrive.