Musings/Opinion, Poetry

Holding you, myself- To my son, on his birthday

This is a letter to my son- who turns one today! It’s written so he knows what he’s getting himself into. It’s more than that, but mainly just a heads up. There are things he will have in his past that were not put there by his own actions and decisions, or even mine. We all have those things we pass on to others or carry with us through our journey. My biggest piece of luggage is depression. 

It comes and goes in different ways but it never leaves completely. There’s been a lot of talk about mental illness lately and we can’t talk about it enough as a community. Mine isn’t as crippling as some and isn’t as dormant/avoidable as others. There are times when I have to leave a grocery store (usually a grocery store, not other places for some reason) because my anxiety has moved the walls too close or the wind of a passing stranger’s pedestrian wake is too invasive. I also have this recurring dream in which I am trying to get somewhere- sometimes across the street, sometimes to another room in a house that seems to be mine but is unfamiliar, sometimes other places entirely- and I can’t get there. I’m alone sometimes. I am with others sometimes. But I am always unsuccessful in my attempt before I wake up, nervous and defeated. These things are obvious signs I’m not doing well, but there are so many more signs along the way. There are for all of us. Knowing how to talk to people about them or recognizing them in your own life can save so much energy and even a life in the most extreme cases.  

Baby Bear- I want you to know it’s okay to not feel great inside. To be aware of your feelings and know there are others who are feeling the same. I want you to know other people feel. I hope it makes you a better, more understanding person. I used my feelings as weapons when I was too young to understand what it meant to be a good friend and I am really going to try to show you the dangers of that sort of self-centeredness. 

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A couple stories before I finish this letter. They both involve live music and depression. Fun topics.

I learned about Frightened Rabbit from the television show “Chuck” in about 2010 or 2011. They instantly became one of my favorite bands. I missed the chance to see them once while on vacation. One of my best friends bought Kim and me tickets to see them open for The National as a wedding gift in 2013. It ended up being one of the most tense moments in our marriage when we ended up being VERY late (something I learned early in our marriage that I didn’t think mattered to me but very much does matter to me) and only seeing one song by Frightened Rabbit. It was fine I told myself, we’ll see them next time they come through Denver. It was three years later when they released their final album as a band. By then, Kim knew how much the band meant to me and had come to appreciate them almost equally. 

Frightened Rabbit is a band I’ve written about before. The intricacies of the word play and the melancholy way they talk about life and the inherent sadness in it is refreshing and makes the music feel familiar instantly. “I’m working on drawing a straight line and I’ll draw until I get one right…” “I guess I’ll save suicide for another year…” are just some examples of simplicity with which they express infinitely deep emotion. According to a 2016 Westword magazine review of the show I’m referencing, “Frightened Rabbit has been writing heartfelt indie rock for thirteen years for lonely souls who want the emotional catharsis that a folks ong provides, plus the energy only a rock song can give.” On this particular night, we were treated to an excellent collection spanning their whole catalog, despite the recent release of a new album. Kim and I were in the left balcony at the Ogden Theatre, on the rail. The show was high-spirited and felt like a party with long-lost friends. There was an urgency in it all despite the sadness in a lot of the songs. One of their dancier tunes- Old Old Fashioned- got everyone into the mood. After that song, or one near it anyway, Scott pointed out two people having “the time of their lives” up on the balcony and thanked them for it. If you know me and how I listen to music and interact with it, you can probably guess who one of those two was. He had joked with the crowd multiple times, juxtaposing humor with the clearly formulated expressions of his own depression. He opened the encore with an acoustic cover of “Purple Rain” as a tribute to Prince who had recently passed away. After that was “I Want to Die Like a Rich Boy” which is somehow more depressing than the title would lead you to believe. Then the band came out and played one of my favorite songs of theirs, “The Woodpile” and ended on a song from an older album. It was a beautiful night and one of those nights that brought me and Kim closer as a couple because of the togetherness of the experience. It was the last time we got to see them. Scott Hutchison died of suicide in 2018. To have a night where you pay good money to spend with someone who will never know you or the impact their words and music had on you and for them to notice you having the time of your life was special. To lose that voice hurts but demonstrates a point I want Emmerich to know- our feelings are real and more than just novelty items to look at and put away without thought or action.

Another story, if you’ll permit me. A few years ago at the coffee shop/church we attend, there was a show by a band called Loud Harp. They are wonderful humans and beautiful artists. Their opening band that night was Giants & Pilgrims who share both of those qualities as well. They are delightfully whimsical and deep. Tim Coons, the lead singer, started talking about this song he was about to sing and it was so beautiful I was crying by the end of the first verse. As someone who struggles with depression, it was nice to have someone sing about the worry of passing it on to your children. Again, this feeling doesn’t just sit dormant, it weaves itself into the fabric of a person’s being and sometimes crosses the metaphysical space between generations in a very real and physical way. 

So, as I was relistening to this album a few weeks ago, it hit me that one of my biggest worries as a dad is that my son will carry my depression with him either as his own or a burden unknowingly hoisted upon his innocent shoulders. All I can do is help him with that, whatever it looks like for him. And then, holding him before one of his naps I saw my face from pictures of my childhood in his sweet sleepy stare and it wrecked me.

 

If you’re feeling like you can relate, you’re not alone. If you don’t feel that, reach out to someone in your life who may relate. I’ve got a great support structure around me to help when I am really down. There are resources for all of us whether we think we need them or not. 

 

So anyway, here’s my letter to you son. It’s called “Holding you, myself”

***

“If I could break the course of course I would,
But it could darken your blood too.
If it comes to this, I’ve open arms
And side by side we’ll shout the Psalms.”
-Giants & Pilgrims

In the transitional moments
when you look up at me-
a diaper change or a soft “goodnight”-
You are a universe of memories.

Your sweet soft cerulean eyes
so similar to your mother’s.
They stare and shine and show me the past.
A prayer in them drifts into the atmosphere,
Hoping it will return in the rain or a breath.
We say “amen” together with a blink.

There is something pulling at the corner of my mind,
the same way your eyes pull down just slightly at the corners.
An image I was on the other side of.
Somehow you are there now, too.
This begs an apology.

I shout against this shadow I cast on myself.
I push it away from us, even now,
as I look down holding you, myself-
the new unwritten living memory of my youth.

A shout, a whisper, a song, a meditation…

“We will carry the light that forces the darkness to run.”

 

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Musings/Opinion, Uncategorized

Unfinished, Untitled

I’m a dad. Sorry if I didn’t get to tell you in person or on the phone or over text or whatever. I don’t necessarily owe it to anyone to tell them but I do feel bad some of my friends found out the ways they did, including you if you’re reading this without having prior knowledge of the miracle happening inside my wife. (Side Note: We aren’t truly modern parents in that we are wrestling with how to ‘social media’ our new addition instead of putting everyone on overload. We’ve had a hard time getting here and are sensitive to how social media can feel in the midst of hard stuff, so we’re taking it really easy on posts and pictures currently.) My son has not been born yet but I feel it inside me to be a dad already. There are so many in my life who have taken up a place of instruction already, whether you know it or not. It’s daunting to think of all the books and blogs I could read between now and whenever then is. So I take in what I can and I hope it’s enough.

It feels like my wife is growing my new best friend and I couldn’t be more excited. She’s doing so much hard work and I just sort of hang out trying to be supportive and not take up too much of the bed or the oxygen. (We sleep in a queen sized bed with one of those giant c-shaped maternity body swallowing pillows. It’s crowded with us three piled in.) But I know I’m important in all of this. Even without being super “handy” or “project-aggressive” I know I am needed by her. And by him, my son. I will have never had the chance to earn the right to be heard by him before I will be listened to by him and that scares me. It’s one of the many things about being a dad, especially to a boy, that scares me.

But there is a list, probably quite big, of things that excite me to no end. Like, in 7-9 years when he starts really getting into writing screenplays and stories and asks me to play the villain. I can/will undoubtedly play a pretty good villain. Or in a year and a couple months, when he sees me walk in the door from work and he takes steps he just learned how to take towards me with his arms out for a hug (and balance) and a smile beaming with wordless pride. The first time he asks me if what he is feeling is good or okay. The first time we have one of “those” talks wherein I expound on some deep fatherhood wisdom and he says I think you missed the point of my question, dad. The potential to take my son to a World Cup game in 8 years, and countless other special events too! And all the others.

I know I won’t feel this way every day. I know a lot of days will have passed by and I will have missed something or not taken the chance to be the perfect version of my son’s father. I get it. I also know there will be a lot of days he will miss me being awesome while thinking I am being completely lame or insensitive or out of touch.

I already worry for him and his future. I worry about him becoming caught up in the crowd around him. I worry about him being too individualistic or introverted (which, when growing up, can be labeled in certain unflattering ways). I worry that a seed of doubt and depression like mine will grow in him and it will be my fault and he will resent me for it. But I know he will be loved. I watch my wife stroke her growing belly and I know he will be loved by her. I listen as she groans the pains of his expansion and I know they’re groans of yearning to meet him as much as discomfort. I cry when I write stupidly cliched blog posts about him, so I know he will be loved. I also write poems about him and poems for my wife about how much I love her, not just because she’s growing our son inside her.

I follow this guy, @poemsbydalecarl (Dale Carl Fredrickson), on Instagram and he inspires me to keep writing poems even when I think my words suck. He wrote one called “drink this bullet” that deeply moved me. His courage to put his art out there for people to see is inspiring. We’ve never met, I don’t think, but I feel like he teaches me small things about parenting. And he has a book (admittedly, I haven’t purchased it yet, sorry Dale) of poetry- something I’ve always wanted to be able to do.  (Side note- I think my son may finally push me over the artistic ledge to be able to do it. Maybe. If I don’t let my laziness and preoccupation the endless search for entertainment that will finally satiate me instead of focusing on things that actually change the world.)

Anyway, a while back I started a note on my phone of all the ‘dadvice’ I wanted to give my child someday. Things like “nothing in life is free” and “don’t tell a girl you love her if you’ve never seen her without makeup on” or “it’s okay to be bored sometimes” and others. (Remind me to tell you about my old man strength theory, it’ll change your crossfit, paleo, burpee life forever.) Basically a list of mantras that should help to inform his world view and make him a better, more selfless person than I ever was or will be. In that note on my phone is a picture of a quote Dale put up from a guy I have never heard of or read (because I am woefully uninformed when it comes to good poets and varied sources of good information) named John Blase. It perfectly summed up what I hope to have happen someday: “If you hope to make it as a father, you’d best learn to stand alone in the yard at night and allow your human failings of the day to be obscured by the stars.” So, read my unedited and incomplete poems below if you want. Share your advice for a new dad even if you aren’t one. We can’t do any of this alone despite our best attempts.

I love you son. See you soon.

For my wife:

When the fever dream of wet youth sprang us from nothing
we wept.
We put our shitty clothes in our hampers at the end of the day and felt alive
with the stench of bad decisions and ellipses.
The girls dressed down their mini-skirts with denim tops and still they all said the same stupid things.
The boys wore their dad’s flannels like some failed rebellion and fell for the same pathetic lines.
We dreamed smaller than we thought best and forgot to recklessly chase them down a shadowy alleyway.

It wasn’t better. It wasn’t worse.

It was just young and played out over the tireless years.

Now, here, in this dark room I reach my hand around your in-and-out chest and feel your growing stomach and I know I didn’t totally blow it. It’s the only place I’m certain of that. The ceiling fan whirs gently overhead mixing our air and our breath and sending it back to our lungs.

Together.

The way your body presses up against me, vulnerable and ruthless. Your hair on my bare skin. It all reminds me I am never alone and I am undone with the thought of ever having to be lonely again.

For my son:

There are worlds in the sand at the end of the block.
It’s up to us to discover them,
name them,
populate them,
destroy them.

When your hands do the tiny work of the eternally first hands,
I will be with you.

When your eyes begin to make out the fuzzy edges of a new universe that may not exist after sundown,
I want to hear you describe what it looks like.

Whether that stick you found is a paintbrush, a gun, a sword, an oar, a bat, or a twirling baton,
I want to be in that story.

When there’s heartbreak or sadness in a song you just heard or wrote,
I will will feel that with you.

I need you to know, though, the answer won’t always be yes.

You’ll have to learn I’m not going to be perfect,
but believe me when I say the times I let you down will hurt me too…

(This one is terribly unfinished and I don’t want to end it sadly, but, for now, that’s how it ends. Thanks for reading)

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Musings/Opinion

Too long again, as usual

This is not for you. Despite what I may say to the contrary. This? This is mine.

I want to write a song that brings people to tears. Not sobby, drooly, snotty tears. Just a sad, head-nodding, look out at the window and see beauty tears. I want to learn some complex chords and string them together to make a beautiful tune you all will remember long after I’m gone. I also want to write (and DM maybe?) and absolute banger of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I also want to write my wife a poem she will show our daughter when she talks to our daughter about why she fell in love with me. I want my words to sound as good as the first few paragraphs of “It” by Stephen King. Plain, expository, and heart breaking.

I look at my fingers when I type. I used to listen to music but lately I’ve started forgetting my headphones and can’t tell if that’s on purpose or fate. I tell myself “this week is the week I start writing more” almost every week. When I work out on Mondays, which is usually the only day I work out (if I work out), I think it’s always going to start me on the path to a better me. Or whatever.

I do all these things and I want to do all these things for a long time. I want my blood pressure to go down (on it’s own, without diet changes). I want to have time to watch every good show people talk about so I can be in it with them. I told myself earlier this year I was going to dive in deep with the Sermon on the Mount and really get at the heart of what Jesus has for us all in that lesson. I also want to pray more, meditate more, be silent and still more. I even have a strong desire not to use curse words as casually as I do. (Yes, I use them often enough to justify a desire to use them less casually. Not a desire to not use them, but just use them…less.) I also want to change the way the criminal justice system works without the knowledge or wherewithal to take steps towards meaningful action. I currently work on the law enforcement side of it and have no idea how to reconcile the two polar opposite sides of my brain that support what police officers do while being appalled at the obvious divisions the system creates on a class and race dividing line.

Are you seeing a problem in this? I want the first paragraph and the second. I also want to keep my job, not lose friends, not alienate my wife, and become a stranger to sunlight.

I’ve got the wants nailed down. I’m dialed in on desire. Somehow I find a way to NOT attain any of those goals. Except getting most of the way towards watching shows, that I’m crushing. Why is that?

The more I come closer to middle-agedness I realize the main thing that I lack is the discipline. The discipline to see things through and to not say yes to the laziest option. I turn my alarm off where I used to get up right away. I scroll Twitter and Instagram one more time (two more?) to make sure I didn’t miss anything “important”. I pigeon-hole myself by saying I need open-ended time to write and then cruise through two episodes of Daredevil or three Cheers shows. I don’t say no to the OrderUp request at work knowing full-well I have leftovers and a budget pinch. I choose driving instead of riding my bike. I choose silence instead of a conversation with my wife. I choose the basest desires over the most productive and life-giving ones because I’ve lost discipline.

I read “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” a while back and it was phenomenal. Meaningful in it’s critique of modern society (even though it was written in the 70s originally). It painfully ripped open the curtains on my private lifestyle choices. It was also powerfully encouraging. I have been listening to a lot of Julien Baker and John Mark McMillan recently. They have a soul-bearing poetry in their music which sounds simple and honest enough for me to know it is excruciating. They open a world of hurt and prayer with the simplest of melodies. I read a lot of Stephen King, a “master of American letters”. A man who probably has more good stories cut apart in his editing trash heap than I have inside my wannabe writer’s brain. He brings out the ordinary darkness in a world aching for truth. I would love to be like these people. I’d love to, but they have discipline. And I struggle mightily in that department.

And I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone. I’m almost certain I’m not. It all sounds so self-deprecating and ho-hum, woe is me. And it is. But it’s also not.

“I want you to know I’m with you.”

That’s probably the most profound thing I’ve learned about God and Jesus in the past decade of my life. He/She/They are with me. And they are speaking at us while giving us the choice to listen. In the decay of fall into late winter they are speaking. In the one blade of new spring grass shooting up before the rest there are words to be heard. In the pounding rain of late June there is a song. And we can be that for other people too. A neighbor/friend/co-worker/spouse/sibling. We can be with them. And we need them to be with us. Now more than ever, I think. Or maybe the same as ever but with more of an obvious need these days. It’s easier to say “I want you to know I am with you” than it is to ignore someone is in need and forget others exist.

Advent season is here. It’s almost Christmas. It’s a time for hope, a weary world rejoicing. It’s the start of a new year and the season people are generally most happy and stressed during. It’s the return of joy for some, the dread of loneliness and history for others. It’s a reminder of all the things we didn’t get done and some of the stuff we did. For some of us it’s family, bright lights, baked goods, gifts, and homemade meals. For others of us it’s head down, power through each day, order out, and just keep hoping for January. It’s the ultimate reminder that God is with us. It’s the ultimate reminder that good exists for all of us. It’s the receipt of a gift that’s bigger than a wrapped box of stuff. It’s the gift of moving on from your dark self-loathing and making a difference somehow, even in the small steps, even if only in your own life so that others can see it’s possible in theirs too. It’s the hope of better days ahead and not more of the same. It’s also the reminder that if you fail at the change you want, you’re still not alone.

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Uncategorized

What is dead may never die

It’s Holy Week, kids. That wonderful time of year when pastel is all the rage and flowers make their daring ascent from the dirt. When the hopes of every baseball fan are still intact. The end of the school year is starting to kick up dust out by the horizon. The tax man has called and you’ve answered or are thinking about answering anyway.

For a large portion of folks around the world, it is a week filled with introspection, exuberance, hope, and a little sadness mixed in. The Christian calendar is at a climax this week. The Messiah has come to Jerusalem. The coats and blankets have been cast down for a donkey to walk on. A conquering King comes with all the trappings of a peaceful servant. This is the week history changed. This is the week hundreds of millions of people celebrate the answer to centuries full of questions.

Disclaimer: I’ve been reading a really great book about Jesus and the progression of God’s people towards his coming. Most of the ideas in this blog are coming out of that book and out of Pastor Darren’s Palm Sunday sermon at Timberline Old Town. They are not wholly my own. I also may have written about this before. In some situations, the ideas may not even be representative of my theology exactly but emphasis or humor is added because I am a writer and I can do that if I want to.

From about page 4 of the Bible, we start learning that we’re playing with a joke deck of cards. (When I was younger and less intelligent, I bought a deck of pinochle cards without knowing it. I got home and started dealing a game of poker and, needless to say, everyone was betting huge based on their hands. I quickly learned there was something amiss and was embarrassed to find the deck stacked with high value cards for a game I had never played.) Adam, Eve, the whole story gets murky right away. Then come Cain and Abel. For me, one of the most emotionally stirring verses in the whole Bible is Genesis 4:10.

“The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen!
Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’”

Cain kills his brother. Chapter four of about a bajillion chapter library and we already have fratricide. And the spilled blood of the victim is crying out to a God who is maybe starting to have second thoughts about his people. Blood. Deception. Exile.

Blood. Deception. Exile.

It’s a pattern in the Old Testament and it groans on and on and on throughout history. The cry of Abel’s blood echoes from the mouths of the oppressed throughout the Bible and throughout history. And the people we read about in the Bible are searching, literally and metaphorically, for something to call truth. For a home. For a savior.

Hosanna. Save us! Praises to the Savior!

In Psalm 118:25 we read the first use of my favorite word in the whole Bible: Hosanna. “Lord, please save us! Lord, please grant us success!” Hosanna! A call for help and it transforms in the New Testament to a call of praise but never loses its original plea. Heal us, and praise to you regardless of the outcome of the first part.

The whole of the Christian Bible points to Jesus. He bleeds through every word; his birth, life, death, and resurrection. So, as the early Jews were wandering towards the Promised Land through the dessert, they were marching towards Jesus. As the conquering armies turned them away and enslaved them, they too were marching, shackled, towards Jesus. As the Romans were sweeping over the land and bringing their empire to the far reaches of the known world, they were preparing a way for the Lord. As a young mother and her fiancé were riding home to be counted among the kingdom’s citizens, they were laying the red carpet down for a King. As twelve, seventy-two, and hundreds more picked up their skirts and traipsed through the dusty cloud of an outcast, rebellious, and revolutionary Rabbi, they were making known their hosannas. They were echoing the call for justice that started in the morbidly bright red farm-earth in Genesis. They were offering up the mud and straw of Egyptian slave bricks to be broken and made new. They were painting their door frames with a question and the hope, the faintest whisper, of an answer.

Then, during a week of festival and celebration, hundreds (if not thousands) took up symbols of a conquering king and shouted Hosannas- Save us! Praise to you!- to a man riding a symbol of peace preaching a message of grace before retaliation…

of love over competition…

of mercy over punishment…

of “welcome” over “you don’t belong”…

Wherever you are on the spectrum of belief in Jesus as the savior of the world, this week is for you. This week is the Genesis week. The rebirth week. The new creation week. This week is the repentance (the turning back) of an eternity of mistakes, misgivings, wrong-doing, and oppression. This week means more than any of us can possibly figure out. I have more questions than I have answers at this stage in my life and I have comfort knowing that my belief doesn’t need certainty as much as it needs those questions.

I need that grace that cries louder than blood. I need that love that covers a multitude of my own shortcomings. I need “Hosanna!” to be the question and the answer, the same way those sweaty, crowded people did as Jesus rode by on a small donkey as he moved towards death and resurrection for all of humankind.

 

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Musings/Opinion, Random

Indians versus Cubs. Cleveland against everybody else.

I would like to say this post is going to have some deep spiritual context or personal growth story. It doesn’t. It’s all memories and hope for a celebration. Baseball is a funny game, it’s still America’s game too. Bear with me, I’m going to try and do this all by memory. Because, it’s more fun that way, that’s why. Any errors are obviously my own and I don’t care to discuss them unless they drastically change the narrative.

I’m a baseball fan. It was one of my first loves. Probably my first. Ok, I’ll admit it, my first, and longest love. I can remember, vaguely, watching a Mariners game in the Kingdome when I was single-digit aged. I can remember watching- in sweltering, unbearably dry Colorado heat- the Rockies at Old Mile High Stadium when my mom got a hot dog and all it’s mustard dropped down the back of her shirt. Or a beer, not sure. I remember going to see Cal Ripken Jr. play in the worst arena in the world, Tropicana Field, during his last season. I don’t remember Candlestick Park, but I’m guessing I’ve been there. I am almost positive I’ve seen every major league team play, except the Nationals, who I saw as the Expos one Sunday afternoon when my dad, brother, and I played hookie from church. And the yankees, I hate the yankees. (Yes, they aren’t capitalized. Yes, it’s on purpose.)

There are games that have been more fun than others. Game 4 of the 2007 World Series was unforgettable, but also, really lame. The Mariners game in Seattle with my best friends one summer. The Athletics-Rockies game that rained so hard my dad was afraid driving home but we watched Jason Giambi hit one of the hardest hit baseballs I’ve ever seen and it didn’t count because the game was rained out and not made up. Going to three Cleveland Indians-Rockies games one summer with my dad, sitting in three different places around the stadium because why not. And others. So many others.

I was talking baseball with my wife over coffee the other day and realized I could talk baseball all the time if I wanted to. Sam- a stranger who commented on my hat in the coffee line- and I had a great conversation about this year’s World Series and I liked him for it because he was deferential, knowledgeable, and entertainingly invested in my side as well as his. That’s how most baseball people are.

Image result for naquinNow, I will hit you with real truth: I’m an Indians fan. I have no geographical, emotional, regional, or familial ties to the area or team. I don’t like other teams from the area. I chose them when Major League was a popular movie and then they got good for a while, and it stuck even after the Rockies became a thing. My mom let me stay up on a Sunday night in late October of 1997 to get my heart broken for the first time in three months by my beloved sports teams. (Packers-Broncos, Super Bowl XXXII anyone?) It was an extra inning game and I’ve hated Edgar Renteria and the Marlins ever since.

I didn’t know then how long it had been for Indians fans. I didn’t know then how long it would be again. But in 2007 when the Indians were on a run that was about to get them to the World Series against my second favorite team and then proceeded to lose the next three games eliminating themselves from the post-season, I was crushed again. I’ve only ever met one other real, honest, Indians fan. There aren’t many of us. But I like to think of us as a resilient bunch. Which I’m sure is true of the Cubs fans too, wherever they are. They’ve been quiet recently, haven’t they? I’ve not heard much about that team recently…………..

This won’t be a Cubs-bashing post because any other year, I’d be happy they made it to the World Series. But I am not this year. In a year when the Indians had two players suspended for PED related transgressions, thus eliminating themselves from the post-season. In a year when the regular season starting rotation was reduced by 2 with less than a month left in the season. When one of the key starters played 11 of 162 games. It’s a year the team “shouldn’t have been here” and “shouldn’t have won 14 games in a row” among other shoulds. And now, they play the team millions of people, myself included, picked to win the whole thing this year.

The Cubs have the best team in the majors this year, maybe one of the best all-around teams ever. They had it at the start of the year, and, to the best of my knowledge, have had it all year with little injury or adversity. If they don’t win, it would be a massive disappointment for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people. Let’s just say, there are a lot of excuses and reasons why the Indians “shouldn’t win the World Series in 2016”. Which makes it sort of bearable that the Indians may not win. It gives them every excuse to pack it in and call this year a success regardless of what happens over the next 4-7 games.

But baseball isn’t a great “maybe next year” sport. It’s 162 games. Everyone wins 60 and loses 60, then the other 42 decide the season. It’s a season that feels like it takes all year because it does. It starts in the winter and ends in the late fall. There are too many variables. Every game doesn’t count, like I said earlier. In football, every game matters significantly more (6.25% of the season versus baseball’s .6%). I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable baseball fan and I wouldn’t want to be, but there is something special about this game and this year.

There’s a deep mental aspect of the game that is undeniable. There’s a physical side of it that is next to impossible to explain. It’s got all the drama of individual mental fortitude and classic team dynamics. It will be interesting to watch this series this week and especially interesting to see if anyone remembers there is another team playing (and with an actual shot at winning) other than the Cubs. Also, for a small batch of us, we’ll be rooting for a different feel good story. Indians in 6, because why the heck not.

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Musings/Opinion

R.E.M., Retired Life, and Punk Kids

First a story…

My wife and I, like a 68 year-old recently retired couple, went to breakfast yesterday morning. A Tuesday. In October. We live a charmed life to be sure, and we embrace our future senior discount with open, circulatory-challenged hands. Breakfast was great. I was taken aback by the sultry tone of our server’s tone when he asked, with an accent no less, “Do you want jelly for your biscuits?” And later when he asked “Are you okay on creamer for your coffee?” I was downright blushing. We had a good conversation as usual. We had fun. On a date, on a Tuesday morning. (Reminder: Not AT Tuesday Mornings because that would be a ridiculously awful date.) On the way home is when the real magic happened.

REM isn’t my favorite band. They may not even be in my top 50 favorite bands. But they’re really good. Especially the song “Nightswimming”. It’s this beautiful little piano and strings song (with an OBOE!!! And a string arrangement by John Paul Jones!!!) about being young and vulnerable and all that stuff. It centers around memories of that youthful feeling of skinny dipping with friends and how utterly self-conscious we all were at that age. (Whatever age it is Michael Stipe sings about in that song. 15? 26?) The way Stipe sings- with a slight warble in his voice and that nervous tenor- calls up all those memories of sneaking into neighborhood pools all summer after midnight or trying not to be too loud in the lake so you didn’t get yelled at. It screams back with memory, with longing, but also a reverence of lessons learned and maturity attained. It’s beautiful and innocent and it hits me in my chest every time I hear it.

And now another story…

I used to, quite often in fact, find myself in a room full of high school students with no real task to accomplish or responsibility other than making sure they don’t fight each other by the end of the day or cheat on the test they’re taking. When I found myself in those situations, I would watch them work, trying to appear busy while doing things most people do when they’re not working. I read. A lot.

It was mind-numbing on its best days. On its REALLY good days I wrote poetry in the style of Walt Whitman and tried to get kids to be as excited as I was (and still am) for the contributions to American letters from the sweaty-toothed madman. But mainly I thought. I remembered the days of my schooling when I would have subs and wondered if it was that bad. I wondered if I was as arrogant as a typical high school student, or as apathetic. (Both?) I also wondered if they honestly believed these were the best days of their lives or they just felt like they had to say it. If they were nightswimming with their friends and remembering it, not for the instagrammable quality but for the visceral youthfulness.

Then, as if guided by the fate of boredom, I would get really curious and look up the history of different things and words and come across words like nostalgia. It’s Greek and I think we all know what it means. Its roots, though, come from the word “nostos” (To come home) and “algos” or “algia” (to cause pain). And I stop dead in my tracks.

To come home and feel pain. To return to a place of belonging and not feel great about it.Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.’ Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.‘”

I’ve always struggled with this last quote from Jesus. Don’t be mean Jesus. Let him grieve his Father. Let this man be with his family.

Then I read this only two chapters later:

Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. People’s enemies are members of their own households. Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.”

Did Jesus understand the concept of nostalgia and try to warn us about it? Did he “get it” 1700 years before the word was commonly established? Something about the way he says “Those who love their father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me” makes me think he did. But this whole thing challenges my long-held view of Jesus as a family man. And I know He is for me, He is for my wife, and my family. He is for you, your families as well. He just asks more of us for the Kingdom’s sake.

Jesus never preached of an easy path, we all know that, I think. He never said it was going to be crazy amounts of fun and always be easy when we follow him. I am starting to think this whole Jesus as fully God and fully man thing really does go so deep into his persona he was off-putting because he understood things on another plane of existence than even his closest followers did. Don’t hold onto your family too tightly because in the end it will only cause you pain from the longing for and memory of it.

Build a cairn. Raise your ebenezer. But then move on.

When we put roots too deep are we only setting up a harder challenge to enter into Kingdom work? I don’t know. Because some ministries need deep roots to thrive, right? So why Jesus, why would you tell us to let the dead bury their own and to turn away from our families? Because to go home again could cause pain? Because longing for what might have been only leads us to timidity and reckless decision-making? Because the good ole days were just days on some long passed calendar?

For some of us, that is very tangible. Home causes (caused) pain. For some of us, we long to go back home. For some of us, we just don’t have a clue what home is because we’ve never felt it. Maybe we just can’t hold too tightly to our memories of the “good ole days” because God is calling us into bigger and better lifetimes if we’re able to be mobile. When we wish for the “way it used to be” we’re essentially saying we don’t like how it is now, even though now is the only time we can exist in effectually.

When Jesus asks me, as he asked the rich young ruler, to give up everything to follow him, there is the thought: “Everything? Even my beautiful wife? Even my house? Even the possibility of living a long and peaceful life? Even the memories of comfort I hold tightly to?” Yeah, I guess probably that stuff too.

We have homes, we have people we love, these are good things. We have spaces we crave to be in. These things are not evil things. We have a ministry the good Lord has put us into, that is the thing, the rest is nostalgia.

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Musings/Opinion

Super Tuesday, Super schmooze day

I think every four years since I started paying any attention I’ve said ““this election matters more than any in history!”” I don’t think I have been wrong about it in any of those years either though. The reason being that each election adds a new chapter of history to our ailing, divided, powerful, misguided at times, but still great country. This is an essay that is biased. It is not objective. I am trying to sway you to see something in a different way. It won’t work, probably, but if it moves you in any kind of way, let’s talk.


 

What do you believe in? That’s what you should vote for. What do you hold dear? Elect that issue, if you can.

“”Here’s the reality: the status quo is not enough. We need real change. And we’re not going to get that by tinkering at the margins.””

My wife and I care deeply about a few things. Each other. God. Jesus. Our family. Our friends. High School aged kids. Injustice in the justice system. (See what I did there? Word play, you’re welcome.) Inequality of people we don’t really know, but feel connected to. Music. Coffee. (There are more, probably, but that’s a core list that covers a whole litany of sub-topics too.)

Sunday, the usual last day in February, was unseasonably warm and beautiful. My wife and I waited in line for a couple hours to see a Presidential candidate speak. We believe deeply in what this candidate had to say. We both have never felt so connected to a complete set of ideals with so few exceptions. We also have never felt so empowered to be a part of something bigger than ourselves in a political context either.

The line was enormous. We stood in it, in some form of slow trickling movement, for nearly two hours. We were surrounded by casual conversation and families. We were enveloped in the bigger picture that included children, people like us, people unlike us, and beautiful fresh elevated air. The conversation behind us was entirely in another language. My wife believed it to be Portuguese and I am not against that thought but am not certain enough to know one way or the other. The only English words I heard them say were ““socially awkward”” and ““trump”” (maybe with a capital T, maybe not), although not together. When we got inside the venue for this particular candidate’s rally, we were filled with hope and excitement to be a part of something. Thousands of folks from our community had shown up to be a part of this something with us. It felt electric. On the cusp of an adventure.

We didn’t expect surprises or brash rhetoric. We expected passion and emotion surrounding a certain group of issues. We were not let down. We were, in fact, even more surprised than either of us expected to be. We watched a committed husband/wife couple come out to raucous applause. We were enamored by the doting spouse staying and drinking in the fullness of the event as a spectator with deep ties to it’s center. The smile carried by both was as big as the words being spoken by the one.

To hear, truly listen and hear, a person so committed to their particular set of beliefs and values talk openly about them was inspiring. (For me, to the point of a welling up of tears a couple times. To my, more even-keeled, wife, not so much, but she was still stirred.) We were treated to a rarity: a room, nay, an near-full arena of people who at once could be boisterous and exuberant but then instantly silent in order to hear every word. We were gifted an opportunity to hear someone with a long standing public record of uniformity in their beliefs. We were enamored with the democracy of it all. There were no zingers, except maybe one, or put downs. There wasn’t a long laundry list of reasons the other folks are awful. There was genuine concern and emotion surrounding the possible future of our world.

At no point was I ever embarrassed to be there because of what this candidate said. I never felt like I couldn’t tweet or text a friend the quote I just heard because of it’s niche audience or interest group. The whole speech, just about an hour, was confined to one idea, in my opinion: Love your neighbor because they may not have had the opportunity you had or will have.

Take a small part in the greater whole and the whole will remind you why all hope is not lost. This candidate spoke to a room, largely full of people that looked like me (white, middle class- like the town I live in), about people who didn’t look like me but who were all represented there. Black, Native-American, Latino, Seniors, Toddlers, middle-class economic status, Women. All of them were loved and respected by this candidate with equal measure. I’ve never heard rhetoric so universally acceptable and concerned as I heard yesterday. Giving babies and seniors respect because they are not independent of the workings of society. Giving heed to a group, long oppressed and oft-forgotten on the political agendas of main-stream media. Loving our underrepresented neighbors. Paying attention to the whispered voice cowering in the corner because of decades, centuries maybe, of being beaten down. If we spend more time (and money, yes) educating our youth, maybe we won’t have to spend so much of both incarcerating them as they grow up in different and unique ways.

All these groups have all types of folks in them. All of them believe different things. But a common base of mutual respect, forgiveness, and love can change the entire indefinable projection of a nation. The candidate offered a buffet of reasonable and rational expectations we should have for our government. There wasn’t an offer of specifics on attainability because a person doesn’t need to justify their dreams. There were agreeable points of fact about our environment- social, economic, and physical- from logical and reasonable view points.

But then, this candidate said something that hit to the core of what I’ve wanted to write about for weeks but haven’t known how to.

If we set our expectations low, the outcome will be lower. This candidate used a bread analogy: if you ask for a whole loaf, you’ll get a half, but if you ask for a half, you’ll get crumbs.

I don’t understand, and I haven’t been able to come close to understanding, why people criticize politicians, pastors, business owners, and dreamers for dreaming too big. ‘“Oh, he’ll never get that. No one will go for that!’” You’re right, but they may go for a compromise in the vicinity of that. If we establish a goal of where we are going, we’re more likely to get there. If we avoid the real issues, we will miss the mark altogether and keep missing it until it’s unrecognizable.

The speech was an hour of truth. Simple, undiluted, and universal. There wasn’t a feeling in the speech of disingenuousness. There was an overriding understanding that this person believed every single word they were saying and offered no excuses for why, or any hidden meanings. There was no veiled cover-ups of past indiscretions. There was no false agenda. There was truth as this person saw it and, I believe, many others would see it if we could collectively get passed a decades-old one word hang-up. Helping others matters now more than ever and “we” got here because we remembered that. And the truth, hard as it may be, that we are vacating that position because we’ve seemingly forgotten.

The candidate ended by saying that what their platform ultimately is about is love. That’s it. It all comes down to love. It’s so stupid and simple, but it’s true. We love because we were loved. We don’t love because it’s free or easy, but because it’s right.

It’s probably clear who we support by this essay. You may not have figured out who we saw yesterday, and that’s OK. I’m not going to say their name because people, as a generality, already have a fixed opinion of them. I believe that if you go off of what I wrote above, we could almost all agree that these things are important more than most things.

Believe in truth and it shall set you free. John 8:32

Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:38-39

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