perspective

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the title of a film on Netflix. It doesn’t have anything to do with me thinking of ending anything, doesn’t have anything to do with me at all, except that I just finished watching it. Written and directed by Charlie Kauffman, the creator (writer and/or director) of gems like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my #2 favorite movie of all time), and Adaptation, among others, it goes without saying that it’s weird. Critics gave it an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes (a film review website) while audiences gave it a 48%. That sounds about right. I usually love films like this, that play with time, dialogue, narrative, and identity like they were blocks to be arranged and re-arranged, but I’m not sure I liked this one.

I’m not really sure that’s the point, though. Charlie Kauffman probably doesn’t care if you or I like his work. It’s polarizing, mostly you love it or hate it. I have a good friend who took my recommendation and watched Eternal Sunshine with his special lady and he credits it with effectively ending the relationship. It was their last date. He often thanks me for that (the end, not the recommendation, he considers it the worst movie he’s ever seen.)

I’m not recommending I’m Thinking of Ending Things. You can watch it or not, you already know if it’s your kind of film.

In Rob Bell’s new book, Everything Is Spiritual, he writes, “They were just four-minute songs, but they were teaching me how creation works. We didn’t have to wait to see what happened, we could create the happening.” This is what any and all works of art do to me, show me how creation works. Something is there/here that wasn’t before. Something that was impossible moments ago is not only possible, but realized.

These films that challenge, that take your accepted notions of how movies go and what they are capable of, and explode them are absolutely vital. You see, we are born with a sense of wonder and imagination and, over time, have that conditioned out of us until we protect “the way we’ve always done things” at all costs. Our perspective shrinks until we can only see what already is. Faith is wildly irresponsible because it involves hoping in what is not (yet.)

The world around us is crumbling and 2020 has not been kind. But that can change the second we begin to believe it can, the second we start to understand that what we do here, now, today, (even the smallest act of love and gentleness and grace) can shape our tomorrows. That the way we behave toward our neighbors (in person or on Facebook) will impact strangers across generations.

The Scriptures say “All things are possible,” and I don’t always see that, if I’m honest. I don’t see how taking cookies to my friends affects a global pandemic or systemic racism or widespread violence or political corruption or countless other illustrations of human brokenness. But this tiny 2 hour movie about a guy with problems driving in a snowstorm with his girlfriend makes me think its true. Anything great isn’t about something so superficial as if I liked it, instead it’s about transformation. Has it moved me, even the smallest bit, away from desperation and cynicism and into a larger perspective? Has it cracked the shell I have so carefully molded out of the status quo? And will this new shift into the possibility of creation inform my relationships, day-to-day interactions, thoughts, and responses?

I don’t know exactly what this film was about, but I am an inch closer to knowing what I am about & a mile closer to you, and those 2 make it a tremendous success.

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when Gisy sings on Sunday morning, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too.

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in this space, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s about Jesus. It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Prosponsive Proactors

This is an extraordinarily uncertain time, where any illusion of control is stripped from our hands. Honestly I suppose it’s not “extraordinarily uncertain,” but I do think the uncertainty is much more difficult to ignore. 6 months ago, if I told you the world could, or would, come to a screeching halt, you’d laugh and shake your head and talk about how I had lost touch with reality. And now it’s entirely possible that that exact scenario could happen AGAIN (!??!) next week, tomorrow, in an hour.

One of the unintended consequences of that sort of precarious standing is that we are forced to become reactors instead proactors (that’s not a word, but you know what I mean.) I think it’s sort of the same as the difference between thermometers and thermostats. Using overly simplified definitions I’ve constructed out of thin air, proactors prepare and move in a direction they choose intentionally, reactors read the room and move based on the environment of the room.

LeBron James said, about basketball in this Orlando bubble, that you control what you can and adjust to the rest (or something like that.) Last weekend I was explaining to my boy Elisha that I prepare so much for a wedding because then I am free to respond to anything that happens to come in my direction. That outdoor wedding had a torrential downpour 5 minutes before the scheduled start time which delayed the scheduled start, then after we (the groom, wedding party, my wife & I, and a few others) toweled off the soaked chairs, we stood in swampy puddles and oppressive humidity for this sacred ceremony, only to have forgotten the rings. Nothing went according to plan and it was just beautiful.

(It’s actually a solid metaphor for marriage, isn’t it?)

So. We’re forced to be reactors. Or are we?

Maybe there are some things we can control that will make us far more adaptable to the threat of rapid, jarring change.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, PhD, Executive Director of Institute for Jewish Spirituality, wrote in an email I received a few weeks ago, “One of the core values we hold at IJS is to be responsive, not reactive. We have taken our time in listening and reflecting on what this moment means for us, as an organization, as a community, and as individuals. We are still listening and reflecting, even as we take action. 

Yet the nature of our work is that, regardless of the particular issue at hand, there are some questions we invite and even demand of ourselves to ask:

Am I/Are we acting with as much compassion as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we acting with as much wisdom as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we listening as deeply as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we being truly honest with myself/ourselves?

Am I/Are we reflecting and deepening the image of God in each and every human being as much as I/we can?

Am I/Are we creating greater capacity for shleimut, wholeness which embraces difference and contradiction, which is the essence of shalom, peace?  

The answer to these questions is always “No,” because we can always do better. We can always broaden our awareness, deepen our compassion, and elevate our wisdom. We can always listen better. We can always be more honest. We can always do more to see and lift up the image of God.”

(He uses responsive but I am using prosponsive or proactors or pro-whatever in much the same way, to avoid the ‘re-’ confusion)

The interesting thing is that with a focus on our work, our journey, our quest, we have a different perspective and the uncertainty is reframed as landscape. If the story isn’t COVID and is instead the redemptive work of Jesus in the world, and in us, then it is less menacing and far more hopeful. We control the little patch of land that is ours to control (like our compassion, wisdom, listening, honesty, shleimut, LOVE) and let it translate into whatever setting we encounter.

If my path is to show the love of Jesus, there’s a strong possibility that whether it’s in school or not won’t matter as much. If my interest is the union of Steph & Tom, then how much it rains is less damaging. Shalom is desperately needed in every room, regardless of the temperature.

I know it’s a hard anxious time for all of us, maybe we could use a fresh (old) word, maybe we could remember a new story.

The Point

I’m sitting here with this empty Pages document, probably taking a break from our response series. When I wrote last week’s “Echo,” I told my wife that it was probably as close as I could ever get to putting my heart & soul into words. If you happen to like me, that post made you remember why. I still do believe, and you can tell.

But part of the problem with that is, what comes next? What are we doing here with this blog?

Of course, I’d like to convince you that “Hey Jealousy” is one of the greatest songs ever (which my very good friend inexplicably tells me is debatable – she’s wrong;) and that Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is one of the greatest albums (inarguable), but the truth of the matter is that this space isn’t actually about either. It’s about Jesus (everything is.) And it’s about living in a world where His presence seems to be increasingly difficult to discern. It’s our job to point it out wherever we see and notice.

I often reference a story in Exodus where Moses is spoken to from a burning bush. The burning bush wasn’t the big deal, it was that it wasn’t being consumed. That is the kind of thing that takes attention, instead of just running through my to-do list preoccupied and distracted. How many burning bushes am I missing? I need someone to point them out when I find it hard to stop and focus.

Echo In The Canyon was a burning bush for me. So is Fight Club. So is this new Killers record (out today.) This blog is mostly just me pointing at bushes.

I have another website where I’m also pointing, last week it was at a terrific wedding reception that occurred 4 months after the ceremony (thanks to this global pandemic that you may have heard of.) I have a wedding tomorrow for 2 people I’ve never met. I’ll meet them at ‘our’ wedding. It took me quite a long time years ago to decide if I was going to be an officiant you could hire through a website. Obviously, I wanted to walk the steps, ask questions, have conversations, talk about expectations and Genesis 1 with the couple, but that desire became negotiable when a friend asked me to marry her sister. I didn’t know her sister at all, the first time I saw her was when she was walking down the aisle.

I didn’t like it then, was conflicted about all of it. Most of the guests weren’t taking it too seriously, were treating this sacred union like it was a trip to the grocery store or the McDonald’s. It felt offensive, like we were taking something awesome and huge totally for granted.

Until she came around the corner, like a fairy tale princess. If everyone else was sleepwalking, she sure wasn’t.

It took FOREVER for her to get to me, stepping slowly, tears streaming down her face. She faced her soon-to-be husband soaking in each other while they waited for me to begin. For a moment I couldn’t, overwhelmed by the moment. It would be impossible to overstate the gift she (both of them, really) gave me – the gift of The Point. Her name is Mandy and nothing was the same ever again.

Now, each of these weddings, I point. I say be here now and talk about Jesus and how wonderful and hard marriage is, but that everything is worth it. At the rehearsal I talk about burning bushes that aren’t consumed and that, like Moses, once we see them, nothing is ever the same again.

What We Hold Close

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

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

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

But don’t we ALL do this? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We change our lifestyle to change our lives.”

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

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

What Would You Say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale Of Two 30 For 30’s

2 different documentaries were released by ESPN this year followed much the same outline: Huge star athlete brought down by scandal and where is he now? They clung pretty close to the template, but they felt like polar opposites.

Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour de France’s (Tours de France?) amid wide doping speculation that he vehemently denied, destroying the lives of all those who happened to get in his way. As it turns out, he was using performance enhancing drugs forever and if you search Tour de France winners, his name is excised. Nobody won those years.

Michael Vick transformed football by transforming the quarterback position – everything is different today directly because of his talent, success and impact…until he was jailed for nearly 2 years for dogfighting. He returned to football and was, again, successful on the field but still walks around with the criminal brand he earned.

Now, why are they so different? On the surface, it’s just 2 supremely gifted athletes who lost everything. And so what? Why do we care?

They are different because Armstrong continues to blame everyone else. He was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty, arrogant jerk. It is still not his fault. He admits his act through clenched teeth, but it is only in the context of “everyone else was doing it.” The real villains in his story are the people who blew the whistle to bring down such an American hero. The film ends and we did not enjoy it. We do not like him. We would NEVER trust Lance Armstrong.

They are different because Vick has looked (and continues to look) squarely in the mirror at his own wrongdoing. He has reasons but never excuses. He was the one responsible for his downfall. We did enjoy this film. We may not like or understand him, but we are proud of him. His is a story of redemption and beauty.

(I recognize 2 things. 1. That Vick’s crimes were far more heinous than Armstrong’s. I do not and could not ever defend what he did. 2. I never guessed that I’d call a film that included some of the ugliest behavior I’ve seen “a story of… beauty.”)

Now, so what, why do we care? Genesis 3 has a man passively, quietly stand by while the woman eats the fruit specifically forbidden. When God asks them about it, the man says, “She did it!” Then continues, “And as far as that goes, You put her here!” God asks her, and she says, “It was the serpent, he tricked me!”

Today has us all explaining that “He did it!” “She made me!” “I was scared what would happen if I didn’t go along.” I clicked because she didn’t…”

Genesis 3, Adam, Eden, 2020, me, you, Cleona, Los Angeles. “I’m sorry, but…” is just another way to say “you’re mad, but it’s not my fault.” It’s your fault, or his, or theirs. I only know it’s not mine, or if it is, I’m going to do any sort of contortion to avoid the responsibility of the action.

We care because blame is as old as human beings and it is still just as gross as it was the first time. It has never gotten less obvious or less pathetic.

The problem is that it’s such a lie. Dishonesty interrupts relationship, distracts from connection, until we are so far apart we have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. You and I will have conflict. You and I will disagree. I will let you down. You will, too. Each close relationship has countless hiccups, missteps and offenses that we endure. Blame is the wall that makes forgiveness impossible and prevents reconciliation absolutely, our arrogance in this deception keeps us behind masks of being “right.”

There is amazing power in “I’m sorry,” the kind of power that allows us to celebrate Michael Vick and shake our heads at Lance Armstrong. The kind that makes marriages work and friendships last. The kind that that gives fresh starts, leads us to grow and transform into brand new me’s and you’s and Michael Vick’s (but not yet Lance Armstrong’s), and sees what is possible instead of what has always been.

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except the band Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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