presence

…And It Was Spectacular

So. I want to share the last 2 posts I wrote for my Love With A Capital L blog (lovewithacapitall.com) with you. They’re about an all-star state baseball tournament, coaching, and Cars 3. They’re also, of course, about Jesus, because everything is.

I wrote them for that blog because, in my head, everybody rolls their eyes when I tell yet another story about youth sports, and most of the people that read those posts don’t know me in real life at all. They’re from China or New Mexico or somewhere else that makes coming to the Bridge on Sunday mornings mostly impossible. But maybe you do care. Maybe you don’t know that I write in 2 places. And maybe you really want to know what I thought of Cars 3.

*Here’s the 1st one (called This Is Not A Lament):

This Saturday, the county all star baseball team my son plays on will compete for a state championship.

I just wrote a post for the Bridge site about the aggressive passivity that is running rampant, crushing everything (including our spirits) in it’s path. The post is a lament. Marianne Williamson says, “Our playing small does not serve the world,” yet that’s what we have decided to do. We’ve chosen to lower the bar, setting it on the ground so that we never try, never fail, and consequently, never succeed and never grow.

This post, however, is not a lament.

Last week, I watched as a group of 15 & 16 year-olds offered their substantial gifts to pursue excellence. (The day before, I had the privilege of sitting with a player who had been given news that he would not play, that he was an alternate, a victim of roster limits, as he wept in disappointment. That kind of holy disappointment only happens after we’ve given everything.) 15 & 16 year-olds have a reputation, perhaps deserved, of apathy and indifference. But not on this team.

This team was full of boys who had trouble sleeping the night before, whose bellies were full of giant butterflies. This team was full of “try hards.” (“Try hard” is, inexplicably, a term of derision in schools nowadays among insecure, inadequate kids overwhelmed by their own fear.) This team was full of passion and energy, driven by, and full of, life and love.

It goes without saying that I’m proud of them. What might not be so obvious is how deeply I am inspired by them. Do you remember that movie, As Good As It Gets? Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “you make me want to be a better man.”

I am an assistant coach for these young men on this team. I throw batting practice and hit balls infield/outfield. I give high-fives. Every now and then, I try to give helpful suggestions learned from years and years of being a ball player.

A coach is in an interesting, enviable position. I am more thankful than I can tell you that I am allowed to watch from the inside. They remind me how I want to show up to my own life, every day, for ‘practice’ and for games. They don’t take days (or even plays) off, they pour into themselves and each other. They are committed. They are deeply respectful – of absolutely everything. They are gifted and grateful. They give without reservation. They bring all of them and they show up. I used a million words, but the only one that truly describes what they do is worship.This is not a lament. This is a celebration. If they are the future, we can all breathe easily and with tremendous hope.

Man, I want them to win this championship, they really deserve it. But I guess it doesn’t really matter, they’ve already won. And so have we.

*And now here’s the 2nd, after those amazing young men did actually win the state championship (called I Was There):

Yesterday we watched Cars 3. Everyone loved the first and nobody loved the 2nd. That’s interesting, right? How can the same creative team make a beautifully beloved movie AND an overstuffed misguided mess (albeit with some very nice moments)? They must’ve asked themselves the same question, and as an answer/apology, produced the 3rd installment to give a proper end to this story & these characters. It was really great. Lightning McQueen passes the mantle to newcomer Cruz Ramirez and becomes her coach in much the same way Doc Hudson became his 2 movies earlier.

Baseball season is over, and here’s how it went. Saturday, the all star team I help to coach won the state championship. During the regular season, the team I head coach didn’t win any sort of championship. I have played many years of baseball, 8 years old through college, and coached for many more, and if I was forced to choose, this year (championship and not) was my favorite.

These 2 things are related in presence and presence alone. So many times, we live sometime other than now, somewhere other than here. I remember my dad, who had so much trouble making the transition into new here’s and now’s, always remembering & mourning what had been, when he was, what he should’ve been. He’s certainly not alone, right?

It’s the unholy mosh pit of regret (past) and worry (future) stomping violently on today. These cartoons – or I guess we should call them animated features, that sounds fancy and pretentious – use colors and fantasy (cherry red cars that talk and have more expressive eyes than most people) to illustrate and invite us into authentic emotions we might otherwise be too distracted to notice. They ask us questions we might otherwise avoid. McQueen is angry and grasping to the good old days and doesn’t know how to move forward gracefully until he does, and then he learns, as Doc did, that there was shockingly more joy, purpose and fulfillment involved in leading another to victory (in life and on the racetrack… and the field;). He learned to leave his past glory where it is and allow tomorrow to breathe up ahead while he pulled his parking brake on now, an anchor to the significance of this moment.

I maybe didn’t do much to lead those 15&16 year-olds to the crown (I’ll leave that for them to decide), but what I do know is that I was allowed to watch these young men from the dugout, as close as you can get to excellence. I was allowed to coach with a brother, who continually surprised me with his smooth, easy, absolute greatness. And I was there. Not thinking about how I wish it was me playing and winning, nostalgic for my own ‘glory days,’ or if we’ll go back next year. I can’t imagine a place I would have rather been. I love those boys, am so grateful I was allowed to tag along to their march to 1st place.

I get so many things wrong, make so many mistakes, see the overwhelming gifts and blessings in the rear view mirror rather than as they are holding me in life and love. I say too many things like, “next year” or “when I was…”

But not this year, sister. You know what I can say about this year, the most important thing I can say about this year? That I was there and it was spectacular.

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.

This Branch

At our contemplative retreat last Saturday, we engaged in a practice called Visio Divina (Latin for “Divine seeing,” or a phrase I loooove, “praying with your eyes.”) We find a picture or an object or, maybe, anything at all and we focus on that object and ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts. We have spent quite a bit of time in a sister practice called Lectio Divina, where we spend time with a Scripture passage and ask for the same sort of guidance of the Spirit. This was our first time with the Visio part.

(I wasn’t sure I would be ready today, that I had lived with and processed enough, to share this, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe it should feel immediate and unfinished. Maybe that is part of the journey, and a valuable part.)

My object was a branch seen through a window of the Bridge, and here is a poem that I wrote about that branch:

This branch

is blowing,

sometimes gently, sometimes violently,

moved, led,

a dance of differing tempos.

This branch,

before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines,

connected to the tree, (the Vine),

healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying,

It is beautiful, an extension of the tree,

it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely.

As it is.

But a stripe from the window,

a separation,

condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch,

This branch

loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.

It could be a million other things, none as wonderful as the branch itself…

It feels good to simply leave this here and return to it next time.

Unknown

Last week, I wrote a post from inside the process. This is only noteworthy because it so rarely happens. We have gotten accustomed to stories with an arc; beginning, middle, and end. A story without an end leaves us in varying degrees of discomfort. Where are we? What is happening? And most importantly, will everything be ok?

I got several messages asking these questions, looking for resolution, from people I love very much and who love me back. My sister (The Best Sister In The World) sent the first, on her lunch break, then hearing that I was in fact better than ok, she was able to return to work. People are just wonderful.

But I think we’ve been mislead somewhere along the way, and it was last week that started me down this path. Because I was so happy and full, if a little confused and unsure in the middle of this swirl of information trying to find cohesion, it was strange that those I love so dearly would be concerned. The path is dangerous, but nothing worthwhile ever comes without it, so maybe our ideas of good & bad, desirable and un-, should be re-arranged. Maybe the things that make us uncomfortable should be welcomed with a bit more hospitality, because the ‘us’ that we will become is so valuable. Maybe the uncertainty of the journey is the catalyst for the stretching that will leave us transformed. Maybe we should, as this brilliant fitness guy I follow online (Aadam Ali, Physiqonomics) says, “embrace the suck.”

Sure, we don’t want to, but the only way is through.

I was struggling with words and judgment because not everything I see, hear, and experience is for public display. Before I write or speak about anything or anyone, I have to discern if it is personal and/or the person would not appreciate seeing his or her name on a website or Sunday morning. That’s not always easy. As you have probably figured out, I think everything should be out in the open, where the light can reach it. We have these stories of defeat or celebration, with everything in between, for each other to glean from, to find hope or belonging or acceptance or encouragement. We find that we are not alone, and that’s probably what we’re all looking for anyway, right? Even more than we want to know why, we want someone’s hand to hold in the unknown.

BUT I might not be in the majority in this, and other’s stories are not mine to tell.

Last week was the last week of basketball for my boys and that brings with it a full, heavy load of contrasting emotions. There are things I’d like to protect them from (teenaged boys can be awfully frightened, insecure animals and act out of those fears in inhuman fashion) and behaviors I’d like to shield them from, but there are also vital lessons that are learned there, about themselves and their teammates. They find courage and the will to do the hard things that are so rewarding, as well as pride in themselves and their hard work.

Now. I do this work for lots of reasons and sometimes, like today, I find the reason mid-stream.

I had trouble last week making sense of all of this chaos…because there was no end. My boys are still working their way through it as well, we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Will the locker-room nastiness and fake boyhood posturing jade them or will they rebel against a culture of comparison and competition, where we tear each other down in a misguided attempt to build ourselves up? Who knows???? I want to text them from the end and ask if they are ok, if everything turned out for the best, just like my friends did with me, but there is no end here. Maybe there’s never an end, here. Maybe it’s just all the journey, different steps on the path, different heights on the mountain, with slips and falls and leaps and bounds.

Maybe we just keep taking steps, embracing the suck, eyes wide open for the beauty in the midst, remembering (and reminding each other) to trust that this story was never ours to begin with – it’s God’s, and He is still with us, has never abandoned us – and holding each other’s hands in the unknown.

Blocked

I’m not sure there will be a post this week… I mean, outside of this detailed mess explaining why there won’t be a post this week.

This isn’t because there isn’t anything to write about. Quite the opposite, actually; There’s so much and most of it hasn’t been processed in my own head. I’ve spent more time than I could tell you starting and starting over and starting over again and again. If it were an old movie, there would be a wastecan in the corner overflowing with crumpled papers thrown across the room to illustrate frustration and defeat.

I’m not too frustrated and not at all defeated, though. This is all part of the experience, and one I kind of like. Sure, it’s cool to post and to see who reads or watches and if you liked it or if you didn’t, if it forced questions and examination, sparked a train of thought to move through previously untouched areas. The birth of our work, when it’s finished and available for…whatever it will be…is fun and exciting. When I wrote my book, I loved holding it, sharing it with you and giving it space to breathe.

But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the planning, outlining, thinking, meditating, agonizing; the best part was actually writing. The best part was the creation itself.

If our only joy is in the product… Well, the product is only such a small part of the work. And then what? What if no one “likes” our posts? What if no one reads them? What if I still have boxes of books left over? If I write and no one is there to read it, what was the point at all? What is success? How much is enough? Does everyone have to think it’s awesome (and the obvious implication is that then everyone thinks I am awesome) or be moved or have some sort of reaction? If we give a gift and there’s no “thank you” or acknowledgment at all, then what? Is the gift wasted? Meaningless?

It’s like an iceberg – the product is only the very tippy top. The hours and hours and sweat and tears and heartache are the rest.

If you coach a team, there’s all of the many hours of practice, building relationships with while teaching the players. The games are such a small part, they can seem almost irrelevant. Yet it’s too often the only tool we use to evaluate a season.

I have lots to say and no idea how to say it. This chaos will separate, crystallize, (it always does), and come to you in the next several weeks. For today, I’m sitting in it, watching it swirl and listening to the clanging noise that signifies something valuable.

I’m just not sure what it is yet.

But there is the truth that is in this room, standing by the window begging to be noticed. It’s the chaos, asking us to engage, inviting us to wrestle and stretch the boundaries of who and what we are, that is the purpose. If we miss the moments of the journey, focusing only on the product, we’ve completely missed the lesson. Our output will be largely superficial and hollow, never having been lived in or allowed to transform us. We trade the process for the end, and when we do that, the end is never going to be enough (there are never enough likes or shares or views or zeroes on a paycheck), we are never going to be enough, the noise will never stop and we will never rest.

I was 100% wrong earlier, the birth isn’t the finished product, it’s us, it’s our lives, and it’s a really big deal that we not miss them.