imagination

The Nineties

I just finished a book called The Nineties, written by one of my favorite authors Chuck Klosterman. He mostly feels like a smarter, sharper, funnier version of me, which is a great compliment to me, but maybe not as much to him. The book is about, well, The Nineties, a decade that has been so important in shaping much of who I am, the extent of which I am still discovering. It’s a perfect, and horrible, time to read this, as I am sometimes given to nostalgia. You know the type, the “things were better when I was young” – type of thing. Even if they weren’t. Even if they weren’t even close. So, maybe they weren’t better, but simpler for sure. And with much better music.

Personally, no day has been better than today. I’d trade all the great music of the ‘90’s (including Nirvana) for 5 minutes with the Angel and the 2 boys that live in this house (one of whom is now 15 years old!!!!!).

But the last 2 years have certainly been heavy, and it is absolutely understandable to want for a simpler time, one where we weren’t quite so divided and full of rage about that division.

Klosterman points to the 2000 election debacle and 9/11 as the 2 moments that birthed our current situation, where we started to break into pieces and everything became an increasingly either/or situation. You either agree with me OR you are a heartless, ignorant monster. There are no shades of gray, no in between.

We could talk about that – and I am happy to do so, commentary on culture is one of my favorite things to discuss – but what I’m thinking and why I’m writing about it here (and not on my other space) is because this makes me think about church.

Maybe the things that tied us together ever were pretty fragile. Maybe great music and tv shows and area codes and cubicles were always too superficial to last, like ropes tied to cracked branches.

When the 1990’s began, I believed there was nothing more important than what you liked.

A funny story: When I first went to the Angel’s apartment to pick her up for our first date, I not-so-discretely perused her cd collection. It was totally acceptable, a solid B, the only problem is that it WASN’T HERS!!! I’d find out later that it was her roommate’s! Angel’s were in a small plastic case in a chest at the foot of her bed and the small collection was…just awful.

So, when that happened, in 1998, the flaws in my theory became seriously evident and could no longer be ignored. There had to be something more to bind us, all of us, together.

Also in 1998, I began to fall in love with Something More, and as Jesus became more and more real to me, other things got less and less important. As He got bigger, my theory got much smaller. As He grew, politics shrank.

I miss the ‘90’s. I miss when small disagreements weren’t dealbreakers. I miss when we could coexist. Of course, maybe the ‘90’s weren’t this idealized pastel colored picture in my head, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? I miss this memory (even if it is slightly distorted), because it can feel so disjointed and broken now.

The other part of this is that this weekend is Easter. What I remember about the ‘90’s is true in Him, in His Church. We can be different, individually wonderfully made, think different things, vote for different people, listen to different music, like different flavors of ice cream, but if He, if His life, death, resurrection is the tie that’s holding us together, then those differences are just colors and textures that are beautiful decorations on the truth of an empty tomb.

Moody

D.L. Moody, an evangelist in the 1800’s, said, “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I don’t really want to talk about the content of the quote right here & now. (Maybe I do… but I’m not going to.) I do want to talk about our reaction to that quote. And seeds. That quote is a great beginning, because it, in all likelihood, elicits some sort of feeling, and probably a pretty strong feeling, right? And then what? What do we do when faced with an idea that pulls on the threads that hold us together? Whether we agree or not, some words require a response, one way or another. What is that response, and have we ever considered our own?

There’s a parable in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke about seeds. A sower lets some seeds fall in 4 different spaces. The first it can’t ever take root. The second is received but is quickly forgotten, never taking root; third is also received but is crowded out and wilts. The last is considered good soil, where the seed grows and grows, yields “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” It’s obviously not about seeds, it’s about us and how we receive information, specifically the Gospel. What kind of seed are we?

D.L. Moody, for example, plants a seed. Now what? Would we initially nod along? Or bristle? Would we mourn because we’d think about the marriages or relationships we know where one (or both) is treated poorly, abused, neglected? Would we think about our own marriage? Would we be courageous enough to ask our spouse what they thought of this quote? Would we be convicted and evaluate our behavior in each of our relationships?

If we nod along in assent, would we, as second seeds, forget as if it were the next internet challenge. Or squeeze it out as the hours pile up at the office, or the demands of the schedule subdue anything else, like third seeds?

Would we search for any reason to ignore it? He’s from the 1800’s, his perspective is skewed, he’s old-fashioned, outdated, patriarchal, whatever. Maybe we wouldn’t like his beard, or that he goes by D.L. instead of Dwight. Maybe we’d dig for evidence of his own marriage, read his other quotes for any shred of hypocrisy.

Or would we argue, reject it immediately like we do on social media? Maybe it struck a nerve and it’s easier to quickly throw it out than consider the possibility that it could have something to say about our homes, facing our Insecurity and Inadequacy as bouncers at the door. Would our instincts rebel, close our ears and eyes and hope it goes away?

Or would we sit with it like a million-pound gorilla in the corners of our lives and let it actually affect us? Would we reflect on it, meditate on the implications? Would we make a different decision? Would we allow that gorilla to destroy the steel door that keeps us on the throne and Jesus out, from being #1 in our hearts, homes, marriages, jobs, lives?

The thing is, we get to choose. If we were 2nd seeds today, we can be 4th tomorrow. Or vice versa. The choices are ones we get to make every day, every moment, with every new idea or person or experience. But I’m wondering now if there’s another question that we have to answer before we can even begin any seed work: Are we really prepared to give that kind of attention and intention, prepared to show up in such an active fashion to our own lives? And that beautifully significant question might be the scariest of all.

To-Do

Every Sunday afternoon I write all of my responsibilities, meetings and appointments in a journal with the word peace on the cover. That’s my idea of a hilarious joke because to-do lists are good for a lot of things, but peace isn’t usually one of them. Anyway, this week is a full page. A full page is unusual, and leaves me very little of the unscheduled time that is so precious, leaving little time for rest of work (unless you happen to see ALL of life as work: mission;)

There are seasons in our lives, right? And speaking of precious, Samuel’s high school baseball season opens this week with his first game, and these are the times we will all remember forever. So the full page of items to-do is jammed with these sorts of wonderful things, but as I look at this week, my breath begins to shorten and my muscles tense. You understand feeling overwhelmed. Like you are a coffee mug and life is trying to pour a gallon jug into you.

Yesterday (yesterday!!!) the message in church was about worry or judgment or, what it really is, control. It’s amazing how the teachings on Sunday mornings are often given for me as well as given by me. 1 day later, the pouring starts.

I am more and more convinced that this is no coincidence, that it is totally intentional and the enemy’s primary tactic. Worry, control, anxiety, fear, a looong to-do list. Lots of ripples, like a stone into a serene summer lake, but the cause of all of them is our absence in this moment. We get lost in yesterday or tomorrow, sacrifice today, and wake up lamenting, “Surely God was in this place and I, I was unaware,” and the now God was in is gone and tomorrow is spent thinking about the today we’re ignoring/missing (depending on how much responsibility we’re willing to shoulder.)

I can see the real danger here. If I am suffocated under the perceived avalanche of ink on the page, I focus on crossing the items off, and in the process, I check out and float far from the beautiful life that is unfolding here and now. You become an item instead of a treasured friend, the game becomes an obligation rather than the joy it is. If I spend the day looking for something better, I disrespect and devalue the something better that is in front of me right now.

That is the actual cost, what Jesus (and most of the people that knew Him) would call death. This day is a priceless gift: here and now, fully present, engaged, connected. I still have these things to do, but it’s the preceding word that makes all the difference. Do I have to do, or do I get to do? It might feel like a subtle difference, but what it really is is the infinite chasm between life and death.

Now if you will please excuse me, I get to go pick my boy up from practice in 10 minutes.

Color-Fullness

Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here. 

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal. 

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with. 

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about. 

Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

The End Of The Year

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow is a half day at school and that means this house will be, more or less, full and I’d like to be totally present for every second of it.

If you’ll miss this space, and these posts and my thoughts on the new Spider-Man film, you can read what I wrote throughout the year on my other site, lovewithacapitall.com. And I did write a book 2 years ago about the Bible, the Bridge and me. The truth is, I talk and write a lot, so if you miss me for the next 2 weeks, there is a humongous pile of work you can find. Or you can call, text, or email anytime.

This last year was so full, right? Our hearts were stretched, damaged, broken & bruised, healed, always deeply moved. We were disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmingly sad AND fulfilled, elated, overwhelmingly joyful. Would you say it was a good year?

I get the giant honor of performing marriage ceremonies, and there was this one. Many in the immediate families weren’t coming because there was fractured relationships and misused religion. (Until 1, a dad, did.) And in the middle of these 2 lives with very scary, winding paths, obstacles, challenges, dark nights…And also in the middle of a field right next to the Susquehanna river at dusk on the most beautiful night of the year, we got married. Would you say that was a good day?

This other one. I happened to be there because of a not so happy pastoral decision – but one’s not so happy is my wonderful gift. There was a huge family and one largely absent, and next to a pond on another lovely day, we got married. During the ceremony, all of the guests gathered around us, holding hands and each other and prayed. How about that one?

And one other. This one had very few of us under a tent in the rain on the side of a mountain in Harrisburg. Again, winding paths, not even close to the way we dreamed when we were kids, obstacles, challenges, tears, but right there in the rain, we got married. Was that day good?

Ok, 1 more. This one was at the neighbor’s house with lots of questions and stress and second-guessing and fear over if they were or were not ready, whatever that means. Are any of us? There was also love and respect and potential and hope. High school sweethearts and me, there in the hot sun, we got married.

I’ve been asking if these weddings were good, because these weddings are pretty perfect metaphors for 2021. Which of us would’ve chosen last year, chosen illness, chosen loss, fear, (oh man, the fear, the FEAR), sadness, chosen broken relationships, busted marriages, chosen division, anger, hate, disrespect, chosen extra police presence in our schools, chosen isolation, loneliness, hopes dashed on rocks, chosen to hurt? Do I need to go on?

But you know what? What else about 2021? New hopes, new creation, new jobs, careers, relationships, marriages, amazing discoveries, fresh words, renewed commitments, communities, the Dallas Cowboys, Shang-Chi & Spider-Man, presence, rhythm, blessing, the gift of you & me here now, peace. I could go on here, too, right? We got to love each other.

Each of these weddings I mentioned (Jesse & Heidi, Brad & Becca, Sonia & Jeff, Mark & Muriah) happened in the same month and (where I only knew Mark & Muriah last year) they are now my friends. Can you imagine how awesome that is to say? We are friends. FRIENDS.

In front of God and all of us, they gave themselves to each other in the wild risk of loving another person. Their paths might not have been perfect, but those messed up paths brought them here, before God, to each other, to us. We can watch them navigate the choppy (sometimes calm, serene, sometimes dark, treacherous) waters of marriage with grace, forgiveness, celebration, and gratitude that we get to watch from up close while we walk alongside of them.

2021. Maybe things are judged as great in their depth and significance. Everything happened this year and we were here, feeling all of it, wide awake, with authenticity, honesty and the courage to continue to show up with faith, hope and love. And as we know Paul says, the greatest of these is love.

So, now. Was it a great year?

It was the greatest.

A Great Persecution Broke Out

I have always been fascinated by our propensity to remain in spaces that, if not exactly destructive (though they are often that), they are at the very least not working for us. I usually ask it like this: “I wonder why he/she stays there/continues to do that when they KNOW it’s wrong for them,” and I say it less with wonder than annoyance. The good news is that the “he/she” part is immediately replaced with “we,” because it doesn’t take long for me to remember.

I stayed at a job years after I knew it was time to go. I had relationships for far longer than either of us would’ve categorized as healthy. In almost every area of my life, I can point to patterns that existed past their obvious expiration date. You probably can, too. Not because you and I are particularly unique, but the opposite. This is a human problem that has been a thorn forever.

There’s an interesting passage in the Bible that illustrates this better than our unfulfilling jobs or broken relationships or pointless routines ever could.

That last words Jesus says, in Acts 1:7, are “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Essentially, GO and tell everybody everywhere about me and this divine love. And then, in chapter 7, they are STILL in Jerusalem! Now, this was good because the number of disciples in Jerusalem was increasing daily, but this was not good because it was a violation of the specific command of Jesus. Chapter 7 details the murder of Stephen and then chapter 8 starts with this easily overlooked phrase: “on that day a great persecution broke out.” They wouldn’t go, so they were forced to go and then the story of the Church, of us, really begins. Without that great persecution, without those disciples telling everybody everywhere, who knows?

I don’t like to leave until there is a great persecution, either. Aadam Ali (on Physiqonomics) says often, in the context of health and fitness, that nobody changes until the pain of staying the same outgrows the pain of change. This is absolutely true, right?

How many of us are bored, tired, rudderless, aimless, just trying to get through another day with no challenge or big ask of us? Well, there is one challenge; get through another day and not let our soul wilt any more. Sometimes, as in my case, I used to drive to work miserable with a dream in my heart that I couldn’t/wouldn’t pursue. And why? Comfortability, stability, I had been there so long, knew the job inside out, complacency… The driving force behind all of it is fear. What if I can’t get another job? What if I don’t get another girlfriend? What if I’m alone for the rest of my life, living in a car under a bridge by a filthy river thinking about this moment when I threw it all away?

Of course, there is selfless responsibility and seasons in our lives where we are in valuable places, learning and growing. But my guess is that we mostly know the difference.

You may have heard some variation on this a hundred times from me, but today, this week, all of this is simply a way to celebrate my mom.

Now, my mom is the greatest. She strong, courageous, loyal and the most generous person I have ever known. If you know her, you know this, but what you don’t know is that she gave her 2 weeks notice at her job earlier this week. In our conversation where I told her how proud of her I am, she confessed that she was terrified and was full of second guesses. Faith is like this. It’s why the disciples didn’t leave until chapter 8.

Am I doing the right thing???? What if? What if? WHAT IF?????

In this same conversation, we spoke about her selling that house (the one I grew up in, that she has lived in for 35 years) and moving, too! Can you imagine the automatic negative thoughts in her head? Me, too. We don’t have to imagine, right?

And she did it anyway. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of that monster. This is yet another example of how she’s inspired me in a list of a million. I’ve always wanted to be as beautiful as my mom when I grow up, and never more than right now.

When the disciples finally left, that proved to light the fire that still burns, still changing the world 2,000 years later. Every time I see an act of courage like this, taking steps in the darkness, I lean in and ask, wide-eyed and breathless, what amazing thing is God going to do here? And you know what? Almost every time it’s so much better than I could have ever imagined.

A Season Of With

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews lately, and really loving every moment. There is a distinct possibility there is more in my Bible in my own handwriting than from the author of this letter, whoever that is. It doesn’t start like a letter, but it ends like one – there’s even a celebration that Timothy is now out of prison and greeting from the Christians in Italy.

Hebrews has everything anybody would ever want from a book in this vast beautiful library of books we call the Holy Bible; doctrine, instruction, history, even very personal touches. What I could do is pluck a verse from anywhere and talk about it for a few paragraphs here, but the one I am choosing is in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, with Christmas on my mind.

This has been a long year of variants and political warfare, loss, disconnect, and division. Last year, we hoped the mood would pass with the year, full of hope that the new 2021 calendar would be new, fresh, peaceful. Now we know the only thing that changed was the calendar.

So now what? You know that is my favorite question, said with wide eyes and anticipation. I don’t throw my hands up and sigh, “now what?” I lean in and feel the energy crack and hum. The answer can and will set our course. The posture we take can and will decide our future. Do we think 2022 is, again, just a digit of difference, or is it a whole new world? Can it, can we, be transformed? Is January 1 just an extension of December 31, 2022 just 2021 part 2, 2020 part 3, or can it actually be the beginning of an original story?

Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Maybe instead of spending our time alone, thinking of ways to tear each other apart, we could give our time to coming together and brainstorming as many ideas as we can manage to encourage each other. And if we could fan the flames of culture and humanity with love & good works instead of paranoia & pain. Maybe our flags could have less demeaning slogans and more of, literally, anything else. And instead of standing on the sidewalks shouting at each other, we could take our conflicting views to the yellow line in the middle of the street and engage in actual conversations. (I did not say our opinions have to be in the center. We can hold opposing perspectives, but only with the acknowledgement that, though our ideas may be far apart, we are not.)

I can love you. I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (the SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave), learn to start to try to start to try to love my enemies. I can listen, reach out, feel, hope.

I have always thought that the only way this great divide could happen is to stop sitting next to each other, causing us to forget that it’s NOT us vs. them, that it IS just us. When we don’t sit next to each other, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 100th dimensions fade away, leaving cardboard cutouts, caricatures drawn on the boardwalk.

And the only way it can end is when we “not neglect our meeting together.”

This season, a season of love and presence, a season of “with,” is one that is crying out for us to heal these wounds. To build bridges across these imaginary divides. To sit side by side in worship of this Savior who came to show us what it meant to be human and gave us the Church to live it out.

A Book I Don’t Like

I was reading a book I don’t like until Tuesday, when I closed it for the very last time. I’ll drop it off at one of the used thrift shops in town this weekend. This was the 2nd time through. I didn’t like it the first time, but the author is one I very much enjoy, I own several books of his that I would happily recommend, so it sat on my shelf asking for a second chance.

It was even worse this time, but even in that, there is something important to learn. Reducing a whole to simply one of it’s parts is dangerous. Reducing a person to one of his quirks, one of his habits, one of his days, one of his mistakes, is wildly disrespectful to that person and the One who created him.

The best part of this book was a quote by another. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” This quote deserves it’s own post, series, year of sermons and small groups to unpack, but not today.

In 1 Corinthians 3: 21-23, Paul writes, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” I think what Paul is saying is that we sometimes spend our time arguing over what or who or where we can find God, when God is everywhere, if we just have eyes to see and ears to hear.

We can find beauty and truth in a child, a movie, the mall, a greeting card, a sunrise, or a book we don’t like. And wherever we find beauty and truth, we find Jesus, and it is our business to point it, to point Him, out. Later in the Scriptures, Paul quotes a poet from Crete to Titus. Cretan poets are not Christians, their poetry not “Christian” art, but Paul is wide awake and quick to claim truth wherever and whenever he sees it.

I think that quote illustrates this theme nicely. We are half-hearted, looking for God in churches and temples and the Christian section of the bookstore, when infinite wisdom and joy and truth and presence is offered us. Isn’t it the same story, we try over and over to compress the story of God into one that we can easily understand? This compression didn’t serve Moses, Jonah, Ezekiel, and on and on and on very well then and it doesn’t serve us well now.

I know I’ve said this before, but maybe spirituality is an art of subtraction. We get rid of the things that no longer serve us, we cast off the weight that holds us back, we break the blinders that keep us from seeing God as He is instead of as we are. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but growth always is. We grow by subtracting and find, strangely, that we’ve gained all things in the process.

Hotels

One morning last week I woke with a physical exhaustion that has thankfully become quite rare. So when I came home from an unenthusiastic workout, I opened Netflix and crawled under a blanket.

In one of my searches, I discovered 2 documentaries that interested me and were listed to be streaming on Netflix, but were not! I scrolled and scrolled, past so many until I landed on The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel. A young woman named Elisa Lam left Vancouver in a familiar quest for answers to the question we all ask at some point; Who am I? This quest took her to California, first San Diego through Los Angeles ending in San Francisco. She would get no further than LA, no further than the Cecil Hotel.

It was an eerie story of conspiracy and perhaps the supernatural as she simply disappeared. There was a surveillance video of her in an elevator and then no more. It was also a story of homelessness, hopelessness, mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, the police, a hotel’s history of evil/tragedy and a musician in Mexico. 

The series was 4 episodes and in the 4th, we learned what actually happened. I’ll ruin the suspense here, this is the 4th paragraph and there wasn’t a conspiracy or governmental coverup, there was a lovely young woman who had serious mental issues that caused her, ostensibly, to climb into a water tank on the roof of a hotel and drown.

I intended to make this a post about easy characterizations and a need to understand that lead us down all sorts of paths we don’t want to go, and which have been adding to our disconnect and division. Maybe I will, but it’s so much more in my head now, I just can’t let this one go.

Elisa Lam was a very prolific blogger, posting every thought and idea on Tumblr. I imagine anyone who read her work felt as if they knew her, that’s probably why the story was so captivating for so many. She was our sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, wide open about every thing in her life. We wanted the best for her, wanted her to find meaning and love. If you’re reading this, do you feel like you know who I am? Do you think we’d be friends? I hope so. In all likelihood, we would. It’s sure a new, interesting world, where we can become close to people we’ve never met, and in Elisa Lam’s case, never even had a conversation. 

I like that. I think it’s one of the most beautiful side effects of social media. We are closer than ever before, nothing separates us (except physical space, I suppose.) And we are farther apart than ever before, falling prey to the delusion that online relationships can take the place of relationships IRL. She traveled to California and slowly fell apart in public and no one asked the smallest question, if she was ok. Maybe she would’ve lied, pretended like we do, that yes, she was fine. But maybe she would’ve told the truth, that no, she wasn’t.

I wonder how many times I pass by a person in distress, too busy or distracted or too minding my own business to look or listen. I wonder if a human connection – even a tiny, superficial one – would’ve saved Elisa Lam’s life.

You already know I think we’re here to walk together. We’re made for just this sort of human connection, and we’ve wandered so far off that path that when we are asked, it’s jarring and we feel a sense of intrusion. When did that happen? And I wonder if we felt it slipping away. 

In this film, one of the main characters was Los Angeles and a part of LA called Skid Row. Apparently, the idea was to take the homeless and other “undesirables” and imprison them in a square of the city where they could be ignored and forgotten. Human beings were “undesirable” and systematically, purposely ignored and forgotten? It seems like we all have to ask the question that drove Elisa Lam to California in the first place: Who are we???? 

Her death obviously wasn’t the Cecil Hotel’s fault, but it sure feels like a metaphor. The Cecil was crafted with great care and beauty and over time, seems to have forgotten it’s original creation. Great care and beauty were poured into this structure so that it could take creat care of others. But without a clear vision or purpose, it fell into disrepair and became just another flop house where the people who interacted with it were seen and treated as disposable, which in turn made this once grand hotel disposable, rotting from the inside.

It was a super sad documentary, but as Black Widow says to Bruce Banner in the 1st Avengers movie, “No, we need a little worse.” Not paying attention, whistling through graveyards and hiding behind masks of the images we desperately try to keep, has gotten us here. Maybe we need a little worse, too, a few more cameras shining the light of truth on our increasing dysfunction, to force a course correction. And if we do that, if we start to care or listen or love, maybe Elisa Lam’s death would’ve been for something. Now, it’s just a senseless casualty of modern life. 

But it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose what it is, and we get to choose here, now, today.

Mayhem

We’ve been in a conversation on spiritual gifts at the Bridge, and Sunday we had homework. I called it Project Mayhem because any time I can reference Fight Club, I do. In that film, the underground clubs (that we DO NOT TALK ABOUT) are the first step taken towards shaking individuals out of the familiar rut of modern life. Once that step is taken, once the culture is beaten out of them, once they see light in darkness, once they taste life, there is no returning to what they had mistakenly called life before and now have newly opened eyes to experience the big, beautiful gifts of their lives that these men had taken for grated for so long.

The film is just so great.

Anyway. Once they are transformed, there is a need to take this revelation out into the world to ‘infect’ the others who are still sleepwalking behind masks/images of their own creation. This is what they call Project Mayhem. (“I want you to start a fight…and I want you to lose.”)

Now before we go further, the characters in Fight Club are violent and are bent on destruction, both of which are decidedly not part of the homework assignment. But here’s the thing about this metaphor, doesn’t it sound familiar?

A person finds/meets/experiences something (or someOne) that changes them (us), transforms us, opens our eyes to a new way of life. This transformation exposes the superficiality of the previous sand that we had built upon. There is now meaning, significance. We are connected to each other and the world around us in ways we never acknowledged, never noticed. We start to care. We are loved and we fall in love. We are brand new.

If it stops here, it’s a cool thing that’s happened, but that isn’t where it ends, is it? We want to pass this beautiful new life on to others, because we know beyond reason that if others receive, it doesn’t decrease ours. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The more who are awake and alive, the more the world crackles and hums with the energy and possibility of the Divine. So we take it out, and since telling isn’t always good enough, we show. We show with joy, peace, patience, life, love. The world changes, or rather, the world can change. It’s the only way it can change.

Yes, Fight Club uses violence and destruction to bring about the “complete destruction of civilization,” but listen to this: “SO THAT [we] can build something better.”

I know I talk too much about Fight Club sometimes, but I’m not sure the way it is is exactly what we want or what we dream it could be. Maybe we are also called to build something better…

Maybe not by using bombs or baseball bats, though. Maybe with hugs and prayers and meals and kindness and empathy and best of all, Jesus. Maybe that’s the mayhem that tears this whole silly facade apart and then it can finally be replaced with a Kingdom.