imagination

Our Why

As you are probably very well aware, I care for youth sports a great deal and coach when I am qualified (which meant soccer and basketball when the kids were young and needed more of a babysitter than a coach and means only baseball now.) Every year there is a shortage of volunteers and that’s sometimes depressing even if it is predictable. The truth is, if I had an ounce of good sense, I wouldn’t do it either.

The most common guess is that nobody does it because of the time commitment, but that’s not true. Like everything else, we make time for what we value. If she says she doesn’t have time to call you back, it’s not because she doesn’t have time, it’s because she doesn’t have time to call you. Most parents who “don’t have time” are at all the games and always have time to write nasty texts about their future major leaguer’s playing time.

Having said that, parents are usually the biggest obstacle. As a parent of 2 athletes, I am comfortable saying that we are the absolute worst. We think our kids are the most talented, sweetest, hardest working people who have ever graced a field or laced up a pair of sneakers. Sure, we’re wrong, but that hardly matters. It only matters when you are the coach, like I am, and you’re honest that your son will get all of the preferential treatment possible.

Players are next in line. I find myself saying “nowadays,” “when I was young,” and “we used to ___” more than I ever thought I could. Yes, kids are different, probably because of the last paragraph, but they’re not monsters. They’re not all monsters.

You should know that I’m writing because, late last week, all of the coaches got an email detailing the myriad of ways we were misbehaving and the consequences we would face if we were to continue acting like petulant babies overflowing with insecurity and bad judgment. At that moment it became obvious that coaching wasn’t the most thankless position, it’s league president. Now why would anybody want to do that???

But I know why. And I know why I continue to choose to ignore my own good sense. It’s precisely because of all of the reasons not to engage.

We give our time to kids who need someone to trust, to count on, who will look at them, see them and to trust them back. To the kids who need fresh words and new stories believed and spoken about them. That is a far superior use of our moments than Netflix or scrolling through social media or even more hours of overtime. By giving our most valuable resource, these kids see that time isn’t our most valuable resource after all, they are.

We serve the parents (or the coaches serve us) because more people loving our children is muuuuch better than less.

But it’s the kids that give us our real why. I see a boy in my weight room who comes in every day. I ask everyone to do 7 sets of everything because it’s the number of completion, of wholeness. 7 because of Genesis 1. I sometimes ask him to do 8, because in John’s gospel, he gives 7 “signs” and then continues with an 8th (which is the resurrection of Jesus), signifying a new week (!!!!) and a new creation. I ask him to do 8 because he’s becoming a new person. He listens, or pretends to. And today after the 7th, he looks me in the eye and says, “I’m doing 8.” He is why we do any of it.

It’s how we love and it’s how, in whatever small or gigantic way we can, tell stories of a whole new world, one practice at a time.

(I have nothing to say about the miserable behavior in the email. There’s always one or two, isn’t there? 😉

What If You Do?

At a baseball game last night, we lost. That’s ok. I don’t ever mind wins and losses. (Well, I do a little…sometimes more than a little.) What I do mind is the how. How did we play? How did we compete? How did we show up? How did we carry ourselves? How was our mindset? How how how.

So last night our how was rough. I saw it in their eyes, their countenance, their posture, and just as a positive how elicits a favorable result (not always a win, but always something good), our loss was a direct translation of our how. It’s mostly that way in our careers, marriages, homes, our lives, right? We often sleep-walk through the ruts & routines of our days. We’re tired, uninspired, listless, frustrated, passive and the tapes in our head keep us firmly stuck in that loop. Maybe it’s settling for less, or maybe it’s just a lack of vision. Maybe it’s just that our eyes are closed to the opportunities, the beauty, the glory of God crackling all around us desperately trying to jar us from our despair.

In an weekly email I subscribe to, Caitlin Winkley writes, “Are your thoughts contributing to the type of woman you want to be, the type of life you’d like to live and how you want to feel?

Or, are your thoughts fueling your old story, leading you to feel worry, doubt, unsurety, powerless and fearful?”

(I don’t know why she assumes everyone on her email list is a woman, but I really don’t care. She’s awesome and this is wisdom for everybody, regardless of any demographic category. This might be a very good time to discuss the things that offend us, but we’re discussing other things today…I DID read once that we get offended by small things when we don’t have big things to think/care about and give our energies to, so that’s all we’ll say about that here, now.)

Do we need a renewal of the mind? Did each of my players last night live into a picture of the “type of woman” he wants to be? Did they give what they had to give and feel how they want to feel? Did I?

Are we doing that today at work or school or wherever?

OR are we feeling doubt, worry, unsurety, powerlessness? Are we overrun by fear?

Unsure is the perfect word, isn’t it? Because those adjectives she uses are paralyzing, making our feet heavy and still, holding us tightly to the ground when we have always been meant to fly. And then the tapes: Really??? Are you really meant to fly? You??? What if you fall? What if you are wrong? What if you don’t have what it takes?

What I have learned, even as I too often listen to those familiar tapes in my head, is that those questions aren’t that far removed from, “Did God really tell you…” from Genesis 3. They were lies then and they are lies now.

What if you swing and miss? What if you don’t catch it? What if you make a bad throw? What if you give all you have and still lose? What if you fall? What if you’re wrong?

What if if you don’t have what it takes?

And the obvious answer is, to paraphrase a famous parable, “Oh but my darling, what if you do?”

Sports might not always be the perfect metaphor for everything (I guess), but they are very close.

“Was Any Of It Real?”

I have 2 teen-aged boys, so one of my favorite experiences is to introduce them to the art that moved me during my life. One cannot live on Marvel movies alone, you know? Almost, but not quite. We’ve watched The Money Pit, Predator, Naked Gun, and Lord of the Rings, listened to Nevermind and The Joshua Tree, and the younger one has started to dip his toes into Kurt Vonnegut. They don’t always get it, but I certainly do. I remember why I loved these things and most of the time, love them even more with the benefit of the extra 10 (or 20 or 30) years on this spinning ball.

Saturday we watched The Truman Show. It’s about a guy who’s been the unwitting subject of a reality show since he was born, 24 hours a day, everything and everyone a production. Except for him. When Truman asks, “Was any of it real?” Christof (the creator) answers, “You were.” It’s beautiful and even more perfect today than it was in 1998, when it was released.

I thought then that it was a pretty sharp commentary on reality tv, like Running Man, a prophesy warning of the dangers of the path ahead of us. And maybe more importantly, a vehicle for Jim Carrey to explore something other than broad stretch-faced comedy. Both of those are still there, true, and very successful, but the film is bigger than that.

(It’s funny how something can be obvious to some and hidden to others until precisely the time when it would make the most profound, thunderous impact. This ‘new’ insight into this film surely isn’t new to everyone, but Saturday and still today, it’s crackling with the electricity of discovery in my mind and heart.)

In Rogue One, a character named Chirrut says, “There is more than one sort of prison, Captain, I sense that you carry yours wherever you go.”

That describes so many of us. We decide what we are and are not capable of, live lives as if “it is what it is” and “they are what they are” and worse, “we are who we are.” We build the walls that define our limits, and never test them. It’s like Truman. When asked why he never questions this artifice, Christof answers, “We accept the reality of the world that we are presented,” and there might not be a more accurate statement in the entire film. We accept a wide variety of settling simply because it’s been presented to us as reality. The dome that encircles Truman’s world isn’t unbreakable, it’s really fear – of water, or death, of the unknown – that keeps him inside.

I often think about my fear and the steel bars that make up my own cage. What are they and what would it mean if I were to tear them down? These 2 questions are absolutely vital to explore, and like this pretend town, very nearly impossible to notice until we do, then it’s all we see.

Maybe it’s time to stop accepting so much. Stop carrying our prisons around wherever we go. Stop settling. Stop relying on old habits that didn’t work then and don’t work now. And stop calling it reality.

Just because it happens to be true today doesn’t mean it’s true tomorrow. I’ve heard it said that we move, transform, start, leave, risk, jump only when the fear of staying the same outweighs the fear of change. Truman found that space, sailed that boat into the vicious mouth of his fear and walked through the door into a new reality. Yes, it was a reality that would be missing predictability and safety, but the old one was missing honesty, authenticity, love. It was missing the things that make life so wonderful. It was missing life. And as he chose life, I could no longer hold back my tears because it’s not just Truman, it’s you and me, too.

Because all discussions about new creations are really just discussions about the resurrection, aren’t they? We often live Saturday lives that are caged in by the belief that what we see is all there is…but Sunday came then, and it can come now. Here. For us.

So now what?

A Loving, Attentive Way

It has been 3 weeks since I’ve written for this space. I know this because at the beginning of the week I carefully craft a to-do list, then cross the items out as I complete them. It gives me a nice handle on the week ahead and helps with focus and intention. My last 3 lists have “Bridge post” still clear, without the familiar pen stroke through the middle. Last week, several tasks went undone. This could illustrate that my focus and intention were severely lacking, OR it could mean that my focus and intention were exactly where they needed to be and not tied so tightly to a list that I would miss other beautiful invitations. Let’s just go with the latter, ok?

Today I read this on an email, written by Justin McRoberts:

“Just about nothing “is what it is.” Not in a world inhabited by people created in the image of God, in whose hands is both creation and resurrection. The capacity to make and remake is a thumbprint of the Divine on Humanity. I’ll go so far as to say that we dishonor our Creator when we give in to “it is what it is” thinking.

Love doesn’t just win. Mercy doesn’t just triumph. Light doesn’t just cast out shadow. Peace doesn’t just get a chance. Forgiveness doesn’t just restore. And time has never healed a single wound without the loving, attentive way people have spent that time after hurting one another.”

This is so great because I often dismiss the despair of the “it is what it is” disposition.

Now, there is a wise woman who corrects me, reasoning that acceptance is a vital step in contentment. It’s all in the tone. We can talk about that tone another time, but for today, I want to soak in the phrase “the loving, attentive way people have spent that time.”

We always hear that time heals all wounds, and that is sometimes true, but not always and not all wounds. Restoration isn’t the default setting and neither is love or forgiveness.

(You know, maybe that’s not true, either. If the default is the factory setting, the original design, then maybe it is. The story starts in Genesis 1 in the image of God, after all. Maybe there’s a conversation to be had, we can talk about that another time, too. But I’m going to refer to default settings as the status quo, the natural human bend, and there, competition, comparison, resentment, conflict, worry, and control rule that day.)

So, given that we are quite selfish, reconciliation is rare. A talk show host used to say peace is only possible through victory and he’s right under the current rules. BUT if we spend our time in “a loving, attentive way,” then a different outcome can be seen. Love is possible, mercy is possible, forgiveness is possible, and peace is possible.

The only question that remains is one of intention, right? Is it what it is? Are we what we are? Or can we be transformed? Can a loving, attentive disposition lead us down a different path that might not be so obvious but is so clearly our calling? Of course, it is.

What will we choose, hopeless resignation to ‘how things are’ or passionate commitment to how things were (Genesis 1) and can be again? Will we choose animal instincts or loving attention? Will we exist in the tiny boxes handed to us or will we smash those constricting structures and get back on the narrow path towards beauty and life? Everything can change and it can change today.

The Invitation

Last Sunday I used the phrase, “we are to use our creativity to actively impact our environment,” knowing how many questions it carried along with it, like barnacles hitchhiking on a whale. Do I have any creativity? Does everyone? Either way, what should I do? What is our environment? Can I really impact the world? This all seems so big and overwhelming, is it possible? How do I find time to do this? If God wants this, why doesn’t He do it Himself?

And on and on, right? It sometimes seems like each line of the Scriptures asks more than it answer, every word a doorway to a new idea or avenue of exploration and reflection. That’s not an accident, I don’t think, it is the design.

I’m not going to A any of those Q’s I referenced earlier, except the 1st and last.

1st: Yes.

Last: Built into the story of us, right there in the first 2 books of the Bible, we find our answer. Everything created is given the ability to produce, to participate, to carry on, to move this story forward. If we weren’t supposed to be robots “in the beginning,” why would we be now? (Well, maybe that’s a bad question – we might be because most things we touch, we break. But that doesn’t appear to be God’s intention for us or this entire creation.) We have been gifted with the free will to choose; love or indifference, surrender or control, engagement or apathy. We can be here now, awake to the unbelievable blessings around us, OR, we can sleepwalk down streets jammed with burning bushes, wondering if God exists and, if so, where He is and why He isn’t speaking to us.

This participation applies to our relationship with His Word. This beautiful library of poetry, song, history, wisdom, parable, and whatever Revelation is, is not now and has never been intended to be an instruction manual, like in the glove box of your car or the LEGO booklets that have a step-by-step guide to making their product. If it was, I promise you there wouldn’t be 2 verses that were exact opposites!!!! Those verses are Proverbs 26:4 & 5, google them, and spend the rest of the day considering why they are consecutive verses, instead of spread chapters apart, where we could forget. It’s as if we are being forced to deal with the contradiction. On that note, it’s similar to the parable of the vineyard workers. If the landowner had paid the workers from the first hired to the last, they wouldn’t have known that they all got the same amount. He wanted them to know, wanted to confront them, wanted them to wrestle with the implications. He wanted them to participate in their own growth, wanted them to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”

The invitation has been given, it’s now up to us what we do with it. What kind of world do we want to live in? That might be the biggest question we have to answer on this subject, because the way we answer that will direct our steps on a daily basis. If I want to live in a world of kindness, I will practice kindness.

(And as John would probably say, if we aren’t practicing kindness, maybe we don’t really want to live in a world of kindness. Maybe we don’t really believe kindness works.)

If we want to live in a world of generosity, we will be generous. If we want love, we will love.

This is the invitation. There is a party, now how will we dress and what will we bring?

SAD

I don’t know if you know this about me, but March is a very difficult month. There is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (with a fitting acronym, SAD) and that is a real thing. I don’t necessarily think all officially named disorders are but SAD sure is. By the time February and March roll around, it’s been cold and dark and lonely and by this particular March, we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year so we’re even more isolated than usual.

Anyway, I think it always has been. When I say that I don’t know if you know this about me, I didn’t know this about me for years. Probably, if I had been paying close attention, it would’ve been easy to spot, but we don’t always pay close attention. We’re busy and distracted and if the truth can be told, don’t want to pay close attention. There are wounds and unresolved issues that would be too painful to even begin to resolve, so they stay in the corner or under the bed and we keep running hoping we can ignore them forever. Of course they won’t be ignored and seep out of us in all sorts of ugly ways that get all over everybody and make a giant mess. Sometimes, those ugly ways change.

For a few weeks, I have had headaches and haven’t been sleeping. My mood has been great, not as irritable as you’d guess, but the seep has looked like this, this year, so I am a little like a zombie until 9 or 10 and then again by 5 or 6. I was wondering why I felt like such garbage when Angel reminded me that it is indeed March and obviously I feel like garbage because I always feel like garbage in March. There are a few anniversaries of super sad days in March and even though this year I missed the actual day and barely acknowledged them, the emotions and scars apparently sat pouting in the middle of the floor of my soul screaming for attention. Maybe what they were screaming for was just a little respect. You see, those days changed me. I am a different man now than I was before those days and even though we have made peace and they have been integrated into the massive library of relationships, people, places, experiences, lessons, feelings, knowledge, (and on and on) that is me, they do exist.

I wasn’t intending to run (that is no longer what I do) but I was unaware, sort of a waking sleep (that is sometimes what I do). Somebody said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” and I don’t know if that’s true, it seems like all life is worth living. But it becomes true for me if you omit just 1 word, worth. The unexamined life isn’t living. It’s a monotonous loop of repeating the same mistakes, stuck in the same patterns that damage us, settling for the same unfulfilling jobs and relationships, uninspired and exhausted, giving our moments (all of these sacred moments) to simply getting through the day.

The super sad anniversaries don’t break my heart into pieces anymore, but they are still significant and should be treated as such. Everything significant should be treated as such. When did we stop treating these things as gifts and start taking them so for granted, like they were anything less than everyday miracles? We’re alive. That breath we just took, it’s not now and has never been guaranteed. Sometimes we don’t get another. Sometimes the hug, kiss, touch we just hurried through will be the last. The BIG problem is that we hardly ever know they’re the last as they’re happening. We just look back with regret that we missed something beautiful.

You know, now that I think about it, I misspoke earlier. I added an extra word that I’d like to take back. I wrote: Everything significant should be treated as such. Maybe it should have read: Everything should be treated as significant. Not just super sad anniversaries, but everyday conversations, steps, meals.

It likely won’t make March feel like September for me, won’t eliminate the seasonal affect, but it will certainly help make every day, every month more alive, more colorful, more connected full of presence and wonder and love. Then we won’t want to just get through, we’ll want to savor and enjoy this amazing life we’ve been given.

Sports, etc.

This was in the “draft” folder of my Love With A Capital L website. Apparently I wrote it earlier this year or the end of last year, and don’t remember why I didn’t post it. So, here it is, a little late:

I write so many posts on sports because I grew up on a steady diet of sports, and often the things we eat when we are young remain integral to our lives. Teams, players, won-loss records, ERA, batting average, and second-guessing were often the only way my dad and I could relate and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely LOVE it. One year in the NFL playoffs, after I was out of the house and married to my Angel, Peyton Manning had a first half that was unbelievable, something like 5 straight TD drives, where he looked like a space alien brought here to play football. I was alone in my living room and called my dad. Just a father and son loving Peyton Manning together…

So, I love sports. Maybe I really just love my dad and the 2 have gotten mixed up over a lifetime into where I can’t tell the difference, and now he’s gone but sports are here and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Anyway. I can also see now that sports are primarily windows and illustrations – instead of ERA, points per game, completions percentage, sacks and batting average, I care far more about character, drive, and the human condition, perfectly displayed and refined on the practice field, bench, and weight room.

Both of my boys play basketball, and some days come home very frustrated and very angry. I understand this. There are some other boys on the team that, well…

Adolescence is marked by fear and insecurity, right? We are awkward and riddled with anxiety and acne, growing into the people we will become – but we’re scared to death that those people we’re becoming are somehow not enough. Of what? Whatever, we just live our lives wondering if we measure up. This leads kids to fight and claw and try to annihilate the ones standing nearby in a fruitless quest to appear better in proximity.

The most arrogant, condescending and nasty of us, it’s easy to see, are the ones who are most viciously ruled by this inadequacy. In schools, playgrounds, fields and courts – then later workplaces, offices, and conference rooms – this behavior is totally predictable.

I understand this, too.

I know what it is to wake up in fear, wondering if today will be the day I am exposed, that they ‘find out’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whatever they ‘find out.’) Faced with fear, we fight. We rip and claw at others to prove our dominance.

We sit and talk about these other boys, they vent and I listen.

I know these boys they talk about and the weight under which they are struggling that threatens every second to squish them. I want to hug these kids, hold them and tell them they are ok, that they are enough. I also know they won’t listen, will probably alienate everyone around them until they are alone and hollow, exhausted from the constant image-creating. I know how hard it is to see through the too-small eyeholes in the masks we wear.

When I was young, I wanted these other boys to get what they deserve. I wanted to give them what they deserve. Now, I still do, but the thing they deserve has changed. I don’t want them fed knuckle sandwiches anymore (though I always fear that’s where their path will lead them), I want them loved, unconditionally and beyond reason, for no other reason than that they too are children of the King.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to love our enemies, the ones that are hardest to love, the ones that make it their business to make others feel small and embarrassed and worthless, the ones who pretend, the ones who bully our kids at school.

This impossible-sounding command is only possible if we can see them as they actually are, without their carefully curated disguises, as frightened children.

I want my boys to have these eyes that can see. I want to have these eyes that can see, too.

Now that we’re here, I also want those boys to have the eyes to see themselves as they are, as He does. We are walking this path together, and if Jesus is to be believed (and I truly believe He is), this kind of overwhelming love will drive out the fear and we can all begin the healing. Let’s imagine that, just for a second, for a day, forever…

Watermelon Sugar

This is what I wrote last post: “We have the ability to choose life. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate. That it is what it is. That I am what I am.”

Then I read this, by Erwin McManus: “What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?”

And these, also by Erwin McManus: “If you are filled with despair, you fill the world with despair; if you are filled with bitterness, you fill the world with bitterness; if you are filled with fear, you fill the world with fear. Additionally, that’s all you will ever find. No matter where you go, your world is filled with the same energy and intention that fills you. In the same way, when (you are) filled with hope, you fill the world with hope; when you are filled with joy, you fill the world with joy; when you are filled with love, you fill the world with love.”

“Your internal mind-set designs your external world. If you believe the world is full of possibilities, it is.”

“We do not see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.”

Each of these segments are connected tentacles that have the potential to impact our lives on a level we can’t quite imagine. How we see God, the world around us (people, environment, art, etc), ourselves, our worth, simply cannot be understated.

We all stay in jobs and relationships that make us miserable because the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same. I know that’s generally regarded as true, but I don’t have to like or accept it.

More likely is, a lie was told and we believed it. I heard a guy say in a documentary that if somebody says something is true and somebody else believes it, it becomes true. That’s hogwash, right? If it’s not true, it doesn’t matter how many believe it, it’s still not true. (Or at least it shouldn’t matter.) We were told somewhere along the way that we didn’t deserve more than this, and for some reason, it played on an endless loop in our heads until it was fact. The lie continued to convince us that we couldn’t hope for more, that there were no possibilities, that there would be no joy. We settled for table scraps when we belong at the table, eating with the royal family as children of the King.

Since we bought a lesser reality, that reality becomes the lens through which we see the world. There are no possibilities and no joy for anyone else, either. They’ve been replaced with fear, resentment and despair. All of this is all it ever will be. I am all I’ll ever be. You are all you’ll ever be. This marriage, this job, everything stuck in suspended animation. It’s a skipping record (hopefully you remember what a record is and recognize the undeniable beauty of vinyl) that chains us to this moment, never changing. Our surroundings are bleak, unfulfilling and hopeless largely because we are.

I don’t want us to settle. I want us to Philippians 4:8; “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 think Paul probably wrote that verse because he knows us. As much as we evolve into such a sophisticated species, we stay pretty much the same and spend the moments of our lives thinking about what is false, horrible, wrong, and broken, dwelling on worries of tomorrow and regrets of the past.

We listen to that awful song “Watermelon Sugar,” lamenting the state of music today instead of focusing on how awesome Sea Girls, Strumbellas, Mat Kearney and Cold War Kids are.

I know I write about this lack of imagination a lot, but that’s because I talk about it a lot, and think about it even more. I want the world around me to be lively and bursting with life and color and I’m more and more convinced that it’ll only be that way if I finally acknowledge that this is God’s creation, He’s all through it, and the tomb is empty. It’ll only be that way if, filled with His love and abundance, I am lively and bursting with life and color, or as Jesus says, if I have eyes that see and ears that hear the beautiful music that is already playing all around us.

Another Week In 2021

So, last week was another week in 2021, which is shaping up to be even more of a bear than 2020. I’m soon going to be able to stop that sentence immediately after “last week was another week,” and we’ll all know what that means.

As you know, I lost a buddy I knew last week to a drug overdose. He left behind a wife and 2 small children. He struggled with addiction since high school, maybe earlier, and his was one of those stories that they say will end in a jail cell or a coffin. 2 days before his overdose, he posted a long grateful note of thanks to God on Facebook. It was his 7 months clean anniversary.

It’s common to wonder in situations like this, why? Why was he so sick? What was so bad that he would spend his life in the familiar pattern of detox and relapse? Or the question I asked of my own dad once he passed that will surely haunt his family, why weren’t we enough? Where did these demons even come from?

I know some of those answers in my buddy’s case, if all that he had shared over the past 4 years had been true. This is not a certainty, of course. His service was for a person I never knew and barely recognized. If there weren’t pictures, I would have questioned if I stepped into the wrong church. But with this, for some reason I believe him. Like so many, the damage inflicted upon him by his family of origin (broken, dysfunctional in every way) was crushing, ultimately leading to his death. They all dutifully carried on what are called generational curses. Midnight Oil, in the terrific song “Forgotten Years,” sing, “Few of the sins of the father, are visited upon the son.” In this case, it was significantly more than “few.” It was an avalanche to dig out of, too much in fact, and he simply could not.

Now. I have to be very careful when I get overwhelmed with the weight of loss and sadness, it can be pretty oppressive and increase my already hyper-sensitive soul. And there, on my dresser, was a borrowed copy of the movie Joker. I had good advice from the Angel to, under no circumstances, watch it while in this state. Very good advice that I ignored.

This movie was, essentially, a re-imagining of my buddy’s life. Abuse, neglect, illness, loneliness, depression, on and on – the Joker turned his violence outward and my buddy directed his mostly at himself. But other than that difference, it was the downward spiral of self-loathing that looked for all the world completely inevitable.

Was it?

One of the arguments against both is that, at some point, we have the choice and responsibility to build something new, something better. Maybe that’s simplistic ‘bootstrap’ psychology from those who have never been in that sort of darkness. (I happen to know that darkness, so total that the hope that there could ever be light again has faded and been replaced with emptiness.) But maybe it’s not.

We have the ability to choose life. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate. That it is what it is. That I am what I am.

If you’re familiar with me or my work, you’d think this is the point where I start painting pictures of love conquering all, detailing pyramid schemes of love, how love drives out that fear, how a small perspective shift and a bit of imagination and a hug will break those chains. Maybe this is that part, probably it’s like that part in the Bible where Jesus asks Peter, “Are you going to leave me, too?” And Peter says, “Where else am I going to go?” It’s not exactly a rousing declaration of victory, it’s a cold, broken “Hallelujah.” It’s the acknowledgment of Truth in the face of suffering and discouragement, that Sunday is coming even though we cannot see it, that tombs can be empty because once, one was.

I totally believe those things I say, by the way. I have to. Otherwise, I’d have to resign myself to the robotic hopeless futures of those 2 sweet boys, and that is something I can not do, something I will not do.

Joker is a fictional character, but his story is real for so many of us. It’s a pretty good film (even if it isn’t the feel-good hit of the summer), but it’s a really bad story and one that we have to believe can change. The 4 minute mile was impossible until it wasn’t. It just has to start with one (or an army of us) who keeps running into the impossibility.

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.