perspective

“Stupid” and “Uninformed”

I have friends on Facebook who are extraordinarily nasty to me. Now, to be fair, they don’t know it’s me to whom they’re being extraordinarily nasty. Of course the car is always driven by politics. From one side, I’ve been called “selfish” and that I “don’t care about other people.” From the other, I am “faithless,” “living in fear,” and that I “don’t care about the Bible.” I take the Bible too seriously and simultaneously water down the Gospel. But in this world of solid lines of division, what we can all agree on is that I am “stupid” and “uninformed.” About what I am so stupid and uninformed, however, is different and strictly adheres to those solid lines.

You know, I considered putting the word friends in the first line in quotes, as if these people are actually not my friends, just an imaginary designation to perpetuate the illusion of connection. But they ARE my friends. They are very lovely people, some of the very best human beings I’ve ever known, IRL and they would never, never say these things about me to my face (or to anyone else, for that matter.) I’m quite certain they don’t know they’re talking about me when the violence is posted.

Before we go too far, I should say I really like Facebook – I love your pictures and I love your point of view, even if we don’t agree. I care what we all think. I want to know what the people in my life think about masks and vaccines and Game of Thrones and the Dodgers and LeBron James and dinner and voting rights and Britney Spears and even your vegan lifestyle. I believe that we are capable of having these conversations respectfully and without the vitriol that marks social media posts. In fact, I think it’s even possible to have an honest, open discourse with love and kindness and the sort of space that allows us to search and perhaps change our minds (gasp!!!!!). Love and kindness and that sort of space do not exist in the same space as “stupid” and the rest of the condescending name-calling.

This post is, again, about “us” v “them” and “the other.” It’s easy to write about a general faceless nameless villain who is the enemy, who is stupid and uninformed and whatever else our politics demand. But when we put flesh and blood on these few specific slices we’ve decided are the most important and fully round out the whole picture, including all of the many facets that make us, us, it’s much harder to discern who the bad guys are, if there are bad guys at all.

Maybe that’s why Jesus created the Church, to remind us that more unites us than separates. (Maybe not more in quantity – there’s an endless well of opinions and differences – but absolutely more in value.) That maybe He is worth infinitely more than these distinctions, and loving each other is far more important than winning. The Church connects us and dismantles the us/them dichotomy. It is nearly impossible to hate the one that sits next to you on Sunday morning when you know their birthday, have prayed for their children, celebrated that great new job, and mourned the passing of their parent, even if they did vote for the wrong candidate. That’s why the isolation of quarantine has made us so sad and angry, we’ve simply forgotten that we are all made in the image of God.

Which brings me to these nasty posts unwittingly about me. The command to not judge was vague and hard to understand for me for so long (we are asked to discern but not judge, what is the difference????), but recently has come into focus. Judgment says you are “stupid” and “uninformed.” Judgment says I am right and you are wrong and you are wrong because you’re not as smart, sophisticated, and awesome in every way as I am. Judgment reinforces the walls between us. Discernment decides what is beautiful and healthy and what is not. Judgment uses fists while discernment uses hands.

This hurts my heart because I have so often made mistakes. I have fought with sharp, cutting words dripping with venom. I have sarcastically made others feel small and insignificant. I have devalued people I dearly love by devaluing their perspective. I have not been careful with journeys and paths that were different from my own. I have tried to control using any and all means necessary. And I’m deeply sorry for all of this.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the good stuff – tell me about last night’s vegan dinner and your thoughts on Olympic badminton.

The Ocean

Last month, my family and I spent a few days at the beach. This mini-vacation turned out to be exactly what my tired, bruised spirit desperately needed. The previous days and weeks had felt as if each moment, each day was a tiny sharp chisel chipping away lightly, almost imperceptibly, until the very integrity of my self was compromised. 

The first thing to go is gratitude. I imagine it’s that way for most of us. It’s much harder to see a silver lining when we’re tired, distracted, resentful, in pain. Everything is just cloud. Of course, it’s also the prescription to ease the circumstance, but the darkness is blinding inside.

[Do you know how long, how many stops and starts, it’s taken me to get this far? It’s not that I’m wrestling with what to share – I’ll share everything with you. It’s simply that I can’t find the words.]

When we got in the packed van to leave, I was an angry, broken man. Those are 2 of the words that are just perfect, no trouble finding them. I was angry and broken. The chisel found a nerve and continued to tap tap tap an irritating beat. I felt different, like I was a completely new person…but not ‘new’ new, more like an older, outdated version of me that had reclaimed my soul.

Sometimes you can lose things and not know they’ve gone. A hoarder doesn’t have a house like the ones you see on tv in 1 night. It takes years and years of small invisible steps. The ground is taken an inch at a time. I guess I had been asleep for too many of the inches?

David made the poor decision with Bathsheba that started a snowball not in an instant, but in a series of small, unfortunate, seemingly insignificant, seemingly harmless choices. It’s a slide; a long slow slide, like the one from the top row of Chutes and Ladders. 

On Sundays, I teach about presence and gratitude nearly every week. How could I forget to be thankful and present? How could I be sleepwalking through sermons about the importance of living wide awake? How could I blindly read verses about “eyes that see?”

Of course, it’s easy, right? Things get uncomfortable, noisy, the volume and speed gets turned up, we’re tired, maybe bored, distracted, our focus shifts to the temporal. It’s easy.

Last Sunday we talked about how blessed the pure at heart are, and towards the end, I said, “being focused and connected doesn’t just happen,” and that’s really true. I study all week to teach the Bible, but like that trite horse & water, I can be at the well dying of thirst without intention. Life can become simply a mindless series of responsibilities and obligations without the thread that makes them strands of beautiful fabrics tied together into a rich tapestry of worship and thanksgiving.

So I got in the ocean and the waves folded around me in a (freezing cold) embrace that quickly, pasionately shook me into here, now. Not who I was. Not even really who I am. But who He sees. 

The scales (along with the anger and brokenness) fell – life sometimes seems like a great big long series of scales falling away – loudly to the ocean floor. I know it’s not the last time I’ll be there, on the slide, BUT I also know that He’ll wrap me up time and time again with that overwhelming love of His that just never quits.

WW84 & Luca21

Last weekend, as a little bit of an act of aggression towards my son who had gone with a friend (who was NOT ME!!!!) to the beach for 4 days (4 DAYS!!!!), I watched Wonder Woman 1984. We had not yet seen it and this is usually the type of movie we watch for the first time together. But he was away and it was available on a free trial of HBO, so… In case you haven’t seen it, if you Google it, the first result is the question “Is Wonder Woman 1984 the worst movie ever?” Ha! It wasn’t great, but it started me on a path that leads me here, with you. 

But first, let me tell you we also watched Luca, a Pixar film on Disney+. This one was tremendous and my favorite part in a movie of favorite parts was Luca’s wide eyes. 

Before we tie WW84 and Luca’s eyes into a tidy bow, there’s a song called ‘Roses’ by the Band Camino and here are some of the lyrics:

“Why you wanna be a sad boy, waste your time?/Lookin’ for something that was right here all along/I think we’re gettin’ it wrongIt’s too bad/When did it get cool to be so sad?/We’re spinnin’ backwards, did we all go mad?/Yeah, we’re only human but wе’ve got hands and hearts and noses/So stop and smеll the — roses.”

There’s a young man I coach who is so similar to me, he drives me crazy. He hated the Wonder Woman sequel, but he happens to be that certain wonderful age and disposition where every single thing is just horrible. I know the age well, hyper-critical, painted with elitism, sarcasm and a deep grouchiness. 

The younger me thought it was super cool to be bored, jaded, sad and dismissive of most art, most everything actually, because I was so far above it all. It was awesome to make fun and pick apart anything. I was sooooo funny and disaffected. And I was totally miserable.

Luca left the water for land and was overwhelmed with wonder. There wasn’t anxiety or routine or a mountain of inadequacy. There wasn’t a hierarchy of people or things he ‘should’ like or not, no such thing as a “guilty pleasure” – just pleasure. Just beauty. Just roses.

Of course he would have to deal with the thorns, like we all do, but unlike many of us, he chose to not be overcome with those sharp points. There was the local bully and antagonist Ercole Visconti (there always is) but there was also the lovely Guilia. Luca had the same choice we do. Which one do we allow to color our experiences? To which do we give the keys to our heart? Which one gets to chose our perspective?

Wonder Woman probably wasn’t a great film, but so what? Not every film has to be Fight Club or Pulp Fiction. 

Has there ever been a circumstance where tearing something down led to the teeniest bit of our own growth? 

Another ‘Roses’ line goes, “Maybe you’re the person that you always wanted to be,” and after a lot of thought, the truth is, the person I want to be is one who likes stuff, who can see beauty wherever I look. I want to live a life of wonder and joy, so I do (mostly), and I think if we did more of that…

Well, you know how it is when you get a new car and it seems like those are the only cars on the road? Maybe it’s like that with love and wonder and Luca and positive energy. Maybe it’s like an electricity that each of us feel and absorb.

So, yes, I think if we did more of that, there would be more of that. We’ve got hands and hearts and noses, so let’s just try to stop and smell the — roses.

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.

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 Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour or 2 writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

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.

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.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.