gratitude

What We Hold Close

This is a post written by Natalie Roy called What We Hold Close. I don’t usually share emails or posts here unless I do, and this is one of those rare, special times. And then, next week, we’ll talk about “dirty fuel” and “punishing ourselves,” in the service of transformation. (We are already very familiar with the broken concept of “negative goals.”)

“I love a clean house.  I  clean and clean and clean some more especially when hosting guests at home.  I would notice when my partner would walk into the house I would get agitated… “take your shoes off!” and “make sure to not mess anything!”  Yet, the moment the guest would arrive, it would be “don’t worry about your shoes! Come on in and make yourself at home!” 

Oh yes.  Sometimes I am so very out of touch.

But don’t we ALL do this? 

We treat those on the periphery sometimes with much more compassion and grace than those we hold dearest and closest.

And often, the one we treat the worst, is ourselves.

We are hard on ourselves.  And don’t we do this under the false guise that if we are hard enough on ourselves we will stay motivated or be fixed or be better or more.  It is something called “dirty fuel”, when we are motivated in opposition to something such as our own unworthiness.  

Do we not trust that without such strict force we would evolve?  Do we think we are only as good as how much we are willing to punish ourselves into it?

Motivating towards negative goals is both harming and unsustainable.  Motivating from a place of needing to be better will always lead to negative consequence or giving up.  It will lead to “what’s the use” or “why me”, “nothing is ever enough.” 

Something interesting came up in my yoga class today.  I was thinking about anatomy and how our extremities can move faster than the body parts closer to our core.  So I can move my fingers more quickly than my shoulder, and my shoulder can move more quickly then my heart. 

So we can discern that lasting change, on the things we REALLY care about can sometimes be a long game.  Transformation takes time.  It happens choice by choice, day by day.  The idea of an overnight success is a fallacy.  What can shift (and lightening fast) is your perception, your mindset, and your feelings.  And those we have to continue choosing each and every day. 

We change our lifestyle to change our lives.”

I guess this snuck up on me and hit me over the head so hard is that I have lately been running on “dirty fuel” so much, and when she writes that it will lead to a mindset of “nothing is ever enough,” I am laid bare. I’ve never met Natalie Roy, but I think there’s an above average chance that she knows exactly who I am. Maybe she has been reading my email or my journals – the parts I don’t let anybody see. (Ok, just kidding, there aren’t any parts I don’t let anybody see.) The point is, I don’t know her, but she certainly knows me.

We’ve been exploring our response to the Good News of the Gospel. It’s a motivation based on who we are and what we can do – not the opposite. It’s a “clean fuel.” It’s a yes. This is an absolutely vital distinction and I owe Natalie Roy a big, sweet thank you for helping me remember what I already knew.

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

Order

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

Why wouldn’t I? This was the question in the last post (called Ham) about this response of ours. Of course we don’t have to, but why wouldn’t we? If you love these posts just as they are, no matter what I write about or how much time, effort and care I expend (like my mom does), would I stop expending time, effort and care? I hope not. I hope I would work harder to show my thankfulness to you (and my mom).

This makes complete sense, right? But when it comes to “spirituality,” I suddenly begin to wrinkle my nose and contort myself into all sorts of positions, feigning confusion and/or dreaming airtight arguments detailing why not.

The last time I wrote about this, we explored the imaginary conflict between the letter written by James and the concept of grace, but which in reality is no conflict at all. If my desire isn’t to display my gratitude, to say thanks, am I really that grateful? Probably not. The thing is that our modern perspective of shifting truths has created a society of (wink, wink) tolerance, and on the one hand that is sort of good, but the other hand has suffered mightily. The unintended consequence of our neglect of Truth (which is really what the your truth, my truth fallacy is) is a neglect of Jesus, a neglect of the Gospel.

The order of the Bible (and when I say the Bible, I mean the individual books & letters as well as the overarching narrative of the collected library) is:

1. Our Condition. 2. What God Has Done. 3. Response.

So, if #1 (the problem) is ignored or minimized, than #2 (the solution) is ignored or minimized. If I’m not in trouble, why do I need rescue? If I’m not falling, what good is being caught? They’re just words on the page that we read on Sunday mornings that have virtually no importance in our actual daily lives. It becomes theology, an intellectual exercise (hence the arguments and pretense), instead of practice.

And no one is thankful for theology, in itself, and it’s thankfulness that drives #3. This is why we ask, “Do I have to?” It’s a meaningless checklist, and not an authentic response to a gift. The gift just isn’t that big of a deal.

The Bible is ordered the way it is on purpose. If we lose the order, we lose the magnitude of the gift. The characters in Misericorde were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner. Their lives were spared while the rest were not. The characters of the Bible were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner, too. Their lives were spared while others were not. It’s interesting, we can easily forget that we are characters in the Scriptures. We are rescued. The lives that are spared are ours.

Unless we truly understand 1, we will never understand the overwhelming grace of 2, or the Gospel, or Jesus. (And He is the absolute BEST part!!!)

Next time, we’ll talk about the prosperity gospel that is in vogue and how it is the antithesis of this Divine order.

Ham

I have a really good friend who is the author of, as I write this, 5 novels I just looove. Honestly, I feel like a pretty big deal, too, that I know her and we are friends. She wrote a trilogy and is now 2 books into a quadrilogy called The Mercy Series. In the first book, Misericorde, through the words of a character, she detailed an extraordinary ethos for life: “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”

I immediately stopped reading and wrote it down in the notebook I always carry with me, and I’ll tell you why. 

Following Jesus at some point leads you to a wrestling with the idea of “faith +.” Faith + something, anything that I can do to prove my worth, to earn this gift of unbelievable love. We might not explicitly acknowledge this, but it comes out in much of what we do (and how we do it). 

Nothing is free, right?

The Grace of God IS, we are taught, so we hold on to that, but then James writes (in chapter 2) “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (v. 17)…faith without deeds is useless? (v. 20b)…You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (v. 24)…As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (v. 26)” Now what? Is it my faith or my deeds? And this wrestling leaves us at the same point: Do I have to?

The short answer is “No, I don’t.” The longer answer is “…but why wouldn’t I want to?”

The Angel married me, for some reason she loves me that much, so I guess I don’t ‘have to’ behave the way I did when we were dating, don’t have to prove myself, don’t have to wash the dishes and take the trash out and buy her Snickers ice cream bars and slippers, but why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I want to express my love for her in all sorts of ways? Would I ask if I had to?

I think James’ question to me would be, “YES, she loves you NO MATTER WHAT, but if you love her, how is it possible that that love wouldn’t come out of you??” 

We love each other and the things we do are a response to that love. (That word, “response,” seems to have much more to unpack and may become the basis for a million part series here, but we’re talking about my friend’s book right now and I said I’d tell you why I wrote it down.) I love her so I’m making ham for dinner tonight and I absolutely hate ham but I make it because she likes it. That’s my response. My friend (whose name is Cyn Morgan and you can find her books on Amazon) writes about characters who are asking these same questions. That’s why her books are so great. They are loved and have been given so extravagantly, right then, there, as they are. Now what? Their answer is kindness and generosity. I wrote it down because, whether it’s in a novel or in space or in Cleona, it’s a great answer and an even better lifestyle.

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.

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.

Panem & Pennsylvania, pt 2: Lists

Yesterday, I posted about the lines that end the final movie of the Hunger Games series,  Mockingjay, pt 2. Katniss Everdeen says, “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.”

This is obviously a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the 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.”     

I should’ve continued a paragraph longer, with what is called an “action step,” but I didn’t and now it’s much longer. According to the University of Kansas website, Community Tool Box, an action step is: “An action step refers to the specific efforts that are made to reach the goals your agency has set. Action steps are the exact details of your action plan. They should be concrete and comprehensive, and each action step should explain:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these actions
  • When these actions will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions 

And if you’re familiar with my teaching, I’m not that awesome at specific, exact details. You see, we are all so different and what is valuable and life-changing for you might not be valuable and life-changing for me. It might not be helpful to say it is vital to your spiritual growth to dead lift simply because it is to me. Maybe you’ll get much more out of quietly sitting in a chair or a treehouse or walking on a mountain trail or baking pies. However, I have done it before, I am capable. But only if I’m absolutely convinced that it is a practice/perspective/mindset that is truly for all of us – then I call it ‘homework.’ So, I have homework for us, and to please the University of Kansas, we’ll address each point of the suggested action step.

What will occur: 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, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. We could think them, say them out loud, or write them down…Actually let’s say them out loud or write them, give them a little space to breathe. You can email them to me, too. 

How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur: As much as we need it. When it gets hard or heavy, when we feel anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, etc. When we feel the first familiar rumblings of fear. At least every day.

Who will carry out these actions: Each of us.

When these actions will take place, and for how long: at least every day, forever.

What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions: It’s FREE!!! No money, no staff. All you need is a willing heart and the Spirit of God to guide you while holding your hand. (If you need staff, ask someone, ask me. And if you need to spend your money, I’ll help you with that, too.)  

I think the real pandemic that isn’t addressed with a quarantine is fear and brokenness – these are the nightmares that take us apart in so many ways every day. The Bible over and over counsels us to remember. Nearly every time a command is given, it is preceded with “I am the LORD your GOD, who rescued you from Egypt.” These nightmares (whatever they are, specifically, for each of us) are now our Egypt’s. And if God rescued us then, He’ll rescue us now. We so often only see and feel the oppression of Egypt instead of the liberation of the LORD our God. He hasn’t left, is still very much here, if we only have eyes to see. But vision takes practice, so we think about the gifts He has given: what is noble, pure, lovely, the good things people do, the beauty we experience everyday…and we make a list. I wonder how much that could impact mornings and middle-of-the-night’s 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.

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 the band 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.

Mourning.

In my message on Sunday morning, I was overcome with sadness and I want to tell you why.

A few minutes after 10am, I discovered that a man who was my neighbor had passed away from a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. Immediately upon reading, I broke and could not contain the tears that flowed and the grief that racked my body.

To be honest, the pain was a little surprising. I loved him, but hadn’t seen him in many years, like more than 30. (I know not seeing someone for 30+ years makes me VERY old, but we’re not discussing my age. I still look 18 in just the right light from the right angle and distance, and while the running I did this morning makes me feel 144, I usually feel better than I did in college.) It just came so quickly, without time to think or process. I was just crying. Hard.

They were my neighbors when I was a young child, almost a mirror of my own family. The boy was my age, the girl was my sister’s age, their mom was my mom – and almost as awesome, which is high praise indeed – and their dad, my dad. Our dads didn’t hang out, they both liked their time in their own homes, but we all saw each other everyday.  

He passed last Thursday during the COVID-19 global shutdown, which means that there will be no service and that this wonderful family will mourn together alone. Without lines of people waiting to love them and without eloquent eulogies and without Psalm 23. I know God is there with them, we’re loving them from here, and Psalm 23 is always there about 1/3 into the Bible. But it feels totally wrong and I hate COVID-19 for it right about now.

It’s a common thing to ask “why?” in this situation, and maybe I will, maybe they are, but I just want to wrap my arms around each of them and tell them how much he mattered to me, even though for 30 years I didn’t recognize it. And tell them how thankful I am that he was in my life.

So, why did he matter to me? After the choked up Sunday sermon on Ruth was over, I mostly just sat in a prayer without words, and when Gisy asked me later, “Do you know why you’re surprised? If it’s that painful, there must have been something special about him,” I had an answer. There WAS something special about him. 

He was a man.

In a world where boys grow up into bigger boys, irresponsible, inconsistent, chasing something – who knows what??? Maybe past glory, addictions, pleasure, power, money, status. Maybe they chase to remember, maybe to forget. Maybe to feel or to numb. Who knows? What I know for a fact is that there is a disheartening lack of authentic masculinity. I was always looking to be inspired by the example and leadership of men.

Of course it’s an old-fashioned idea, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Incidentally, I was also looking to be inspired by the example and leadership of smart, strong, courageous women, but there were SO MANY more of those. I had 2 in my own home growing up. Men were much harder to come by, and as a boy, perhaps I couldn’t have named it, but I was looking for someone to show me how to do it; how to grow into one who loved Jesus, his wife and family well, who was consistently genuine, merciful, faithful, trustworthy, loyal, kind and strong, a peaceful warrior, open, safe, and passionate. How was I supposed to know?

He was a man, and there are too few of those in the world, and now that he’s gone, there are less. That was what I mourned, I think. I mourn for his wife and children and friends, that he is now gone and they are without him. But I really liked living in a world with him in it, there was something comforting to know he was here. I guess I mourn for all of us, that a beautiful man is gone and we are without him.

An Undeniable Truth

I just love documentary films. Right now, I am a few episodes into something called ‘Wild Wild Country.’

(On an article called “The 6 Best Documentaries About Cults To Watch On Netflix,” the subtitle was, “What to binge when you’ve finished ‘Wild Wild Country.’” And as I’ve never watched ‘Wild Wild Country,’ that was clearly the next choice. Now, is it weird that the artificial intelligence algorithm recommended an article about cults to me? I wonder what about my previous online history would suggest that cults would be my deal… Anyway, it’s not important to think about that too much; these algorithms are surprisingly on the nose. I would totally be interested in cult docs. So I’m a few episodes deep into ‘Wild Wild Country.’)

It’s about Bhagwan Rajneesh (who is called Osho, I don’t know why) and his gigantic group of followers. They began in India and moved to Oregon, outside of a tiny town called Antelope, and built a town called Rajneeshpuram. Eventually, it’s going to morph into something awful, but I’m not there yet. So far, it’s just setting the scene for that something awful.

I posted months ago about one called ‘Holy Hell’ that was absolutely fascinating. This is not that different. These cults are primarily about community. The members who are interviewed today, decades after the implosions, are still visibly moved, teary-eyed over their paradise lost.

People come in droves to find belonging and family, they give up everything for this pursuit. And they find it. They do. When these films/series begin, it’s easy to see the attraction. Now you ask “Why would they become a part of this????” But when you hear them reflect on their stories, you don’t ask anymore, you know why.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve learned our core virtues are independence and self-reliance. We worship the legend of the solitary hero. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Asking for help is a sign of weakness that isn’t easily transgressed. We suffer in silence, thank you, and please mind your own business about it.

We tell stories about how we were in a big mess, how we were hurting, how we were depressed, how we were at rock bottom – NEVER how we are hurting or at rock bottom – because these stories are actually ones of our incredible capability. It appears and sounds like vulnerability, but is actually the opposite.

We believe we don’t need anyone.

My son will tell you he likes this time, likes being at home, likes not being around people (except Angel and I and sometimes Samuel). He doesn’t, though. He’s increasingly restless, aimless and grouchy. He doesn’t know this is because he has been created for community, because being alone is “not good,” and the other 3 who live in this house are simply not enough for months and months. He calls it “out of sorts.” Yesterday, he was on a Zoom call with 3 of his buddies for a birthday, and it doesn’t take the smartest man in the world to see the “sorts” he’s out of, that he’s missing, is them.

I think he’s like most of us. We’ve believed we’re islands and that we can do it (whatever it is) ourselves and we fill our lives up with anything to distract us from the fact that we are wrong. These cults abuse and manipulate in so many ways, but they always leave us with one undeniable truth. Maybe their power and attraction lies in our stubborn denial of that truth, leaving us empty, wanting and open to the lure of the group.

And if I am grateful to COVID-19, it’s because this virus is showing us, in vivid color, what we have been missing.