Monthly Archives: March 2015

Got to have faitha faitha faith, I gotta have faitha faitha faith

Okay, so the last couple months, in particular, have been a challenge. It’s like God was walking around heaven and said to Satan–not the hockey player–he said, “Have you noticed Chris? He’s not as good as Job, but he’s working out and looking kind of buff and getting confidence and stuff. His butt looks almost as good as George Michael’s in that video. He’s not a total screwup any more.”

And Satan said, “Let’s not get carried away. He still roots for the Mets and the Jets.”

To which God said, “I said not a total screwup. It’s not like he’s rooting for the Browns and the Cubs.”

At which point, Satan conceded the point and then said, “But take away his working out and that part of his identity and he’ll fold up and blow away.”

To which God said, “Won’t happen. He weighs too much to blow away.”

Satan, who doesn’t like God’s sardonic humor sometimes, rolled his eyes.

“I saw that,” God said.

“You weren’t even looking at…never mind,” Satan said. “Still, take that stuff away and he’ll be a mess.”

God thought it over and then in his Morgan Freeman voice said, “Okay. You can take that away from him. But you can’t take away the Mets starting pitching. He’s gotta have something to look forward to.”

Actually, none of that happened, but it makes a good story. But I can’t work out right now and the rest of my life is a little stressful. It used to be that if I didn’t work out, I became Dr. Jeckyl. Or maybe that’s Mr. Hyde. Whichever was the angry one. I get them mixed up.

Except this time I haven’t. And while I don’t want to turn this into the Jesus blog, I feel like I need to tell <Paul Harvey voice>the rest………………………of the story</Paul Harvey voice>.

I toyed with faith through most of my life. As a cradle Catholic, I went to church for the same reason as all the other boys my age–because I had to, to try to play the NBC chimes on the xylophone thing I dinged during the Eucharistic prayer, and because it was a chance to look at girls. Especially once I went to Catholic high school.

But for whatever reason, my faith has deepened in the last few years. And I know that there’s something bigger than what’s happening now. I know I am loved with an intensity I can’t even imagine. And I know that even if I screw up, even if I fail, even if I can’t ever do another push up or complete another Tough Mudder, I am accepted.

A few weeks I quoted Vince Lombardi as saying, “Anybody can love something that is beautiful or smart or agile. But you will never know love until you can love something that isn’t beautiful, isn’t bright, or isn’t glamorous. . . . Can you accept someone for his inabilities?” It’s my experience that God can and does do that. And given that, how can I help but try to do the same.

If I never work out again, God loves me even if I’m not beautiful or smart or agile. Even if I root for the Jets. And because of that, it’ll be okay.

That’s what it means when someone says their faith gets them through.

 

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Do what scares you

We went on a cruise at Christmastime and one of the things they added was a drop slide. If you’re unfamiliar, a drop slide is a water slide where you get into a little compartment and stand there a bit. Then the floor drops out from under you and you go down the water slide.

Looks like fun, huh? Except I don’t dig heights. Or falling. Or feeling like I’m falling. I had a 15th floor apartment before I got married and it took three months not to have vertigo when I went out on the balcony.

So for me, going on the drop slide was a scary proposition. The first day on the cruise, I spent some time just watching it. And then I told my wife I was going on it before we left. Her response was something close to, “Yeah, whatever.”

“You don’t understand. It will be a moral failing if I leave this cruise and I haven’t gone on the slide.”

Trust me when I say, you can roll your eyes and they won’t stick like that.

I had to do it because it was scary. Just like Tough Mudder is scary every year. Just like all the height obstacles at Warrior Dash were scary. I do those things because they are scary.

Yeah, you’re probably rolling your eyes now, too. (It’s okay, they won’t stick that way.)

The reason I seek out scary things to do is because life is sometimes scary. Sometimes you have to do things that scare the hell out of you, whether it’s going out on your 15th floor balcony or getting up on the roof to fix something or facing down a bully at work.

By doing scary things in a controlled situation, you can develop the confidence and faith to do scary things in uncontrolled situations.

And that is a really big deal.


Learning to trust

It took me the better part of <mumble mumble> decades to learn one of the most important lessons I could ever learn: I’m pretty good at figuring things out.

Because here’s what would happen: something would fall in my lap and it would be big and overwhelming and I would freak the hell out and get scared and then angry and then expend a lot of energy and anger. I spent a lot of time looking at the freaking impossible unfair task that all came down to i.

And then I would get down to business and get the job done.

To be sure, it wasn’t always pretty and sometimes I asked for help from people.

But I usually figure out a way to get something done if it needs to be done. I have, since the <mumble> presidential administration.

I would forget who had the power in the equation, and that was me. I had the power to react, to work hard, or prioritize to get to good enough if perfect wasn’t necessary, or propose an alternative. Or, if the situation was right, to turn around and run just like my fictional hero and clothing model, Thomas Magnum.

Without getting into politics, I don’t like a victim mentality, which is ironic because I’ve spent too much of my life assuming that role. And I think some of my awakening about my flawed approach came, ironically enough, during a social justice ministry I took about ten years ago.

One of the underlying assumptions of some of the people in the group was that people fell into two groups: oppressors and victims. And there were more victims than oppressors. I’m not going to deny that the world is chock full of schmucks. But they aren’t omnipotent. Even victims have the power of personal choice.

The key, most important reaction is any situation is to exercise your power over the situation. Make a choice. Maybe the situation is bad enough to leave. So leave. And don’t look back.

Maybe you can figure out an alternative. If so, go for it.

And maybe it’s worth riding out. If so, make the choice, realizing that it’s your choice and not something forced on you.

Every single person has the power to choose what to do next. For me, it took a long time to reassess my approach and to understand my value.

And then to act. Because I’ve proven I can do hard things. And even if I haven’t done that hard thing, I’ve done all these others.

And I’m pretty good at figuring things out.

If you think about it long enough, so are you.


No the accumulation of your worst actions

I’ve spent a fair piece of my adult life as an unhappy guy. It’s not just because I root for the Mets and the Jets. It’s because I essentially give up control of my life to other people and circumstance. You can’t do that and be happy. And you can’t be unhappy and treat the people around you the way they deserve to be treated.

So if you went back into my past and talked to people about me, you’d find people who don’t think much of me.

A while back, I was faced with a choice–I could either define myself by those actions, or I could let go of that and do better in the future.

To be clear, letting go doesn’t mean the things I did to people are undone. (And to be fair, I wasn’t Hitler, Stalin, or Walter O’Malley–I was just a pain in the ass.) It means I have to define myself differently if I want to be of more use in the future.

There’s a scene in an old movie called The Mission. It’s set in South America in the 18th century. Robert DeNiro stars in it as Rodrigo Mendoza, a slaver and mercenary. He comes to understand the need for forgiveness and to earn contrition, he tethers himself to the heavy load of his armor and hauls it up the side of a mountain.

 

Arriving at the top, he’s weary and dirty, barely able to stand. One of the tribesman whose people he’d kidnapped comes over to him with a knife. After some back and forth with the Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), who’s been guiding Mendoza, the tribesman raises his knife. Mendoza is sure he’ll die and knows he deserves it.

The tribesman then cuts the heavy load from and rolls it away, over a cliff into the river, never to be seen again. Mendoza breaks down weeping.

You can’t be your best if you’re nothing more than the accumulation of the worst things you’ve done. You have to be able to move past them.

In my faith tradition, that’s what salvation means. You may find yours some other way. But you have to find it if you want life to be worthwhile.

It doesn’t undo the bad things you’ve previously done. But those things are done. You can’t help the people you did them to if you live the rest of your life as if you’re condemned.


What’s your excuse? (continued)

For various reasons, I can’t work out right now. I’d like to think it’s because if I get any better looking half the population of Tampa Bay will crash their cars at how awesome I look, but that’s not it. (I know, hard to believe, but…)

So a friend of mine IMed me the other day and said, “How’s that ‘What’s your excuse?’ thing working for you?”

It took me a couple minutes to come up with an answer. After all, I’m not working out and the whole point of ‘What’s your excuse?’ is that there’s no valid reason not to work out. It’s either laziness or lack of guts (leading to too many guts), right?

Actually, your friend has a point, Mr. Fitness. You aren’t working out. What’s your excuse?

What’s your excuse? isn’t just about working out. It’s a template to apply to whatever part of your life you might want to improve.

For health reasons, I can’t work out right now.  I’m not exactly sure why that is. It’s frustrating as hell for me, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt for the moment. For me, what’s your excuse? applies to figuring out why and dealing with it. It applies to keeping the other things going while I figure it out. It applies to maintaining my sanity and making sure I meet my commitments to the best of my ability. Those things are happening.

Right now, I’m not getting my ass handed to me by Tony Horton or Shaun T. I’m not running a zillion miles and getting ready for Tough Mudder. But when I can–boy, oh, boy–I’m gonna sweat and wheeze and suck air like no one you’ve ever seen.

Oh, dude. We’re waiting and when you put those DVDs in, it’s gonna hurt so much…in a good way. We meant in a good way.

Until then, I’m going to do what I need to do to get things dealt with. I’m woriking at being the best I can be under the circumstances, not letting my struggles give me an out.

That’s the point of what’s your excuse? Whatever position you’re in, it’s your life and you only get one. So go for it. Don’t accept the conventional wisdom. Figure out what you want and pursue it with as much vigor as possible.

No excuses.


Better to light a candle than curse the darkness

A friend of mine just had a baby. I know she’s pretty tired, but that hasn’t stopped the joy radiating from the Facebook posts of her new son.

Another person I know has brain cancer. Her family’s in a tough spot, trying to balance her situation and the care and finances required, while still keeping life going for her kids.

Another friend’s father is dying and she’s trying to send as much time as possible with him while he’s still here.

Still another friend’s been exhausted for weeks and has no idea why.

Oh, and the freaking Teapublicans (or ReTHUGlicans, if you like) are being mean to Obama again, which is, of course, racism. And Hitlery (Get it? Hahahahahaha.) was probably used her secret email server to order that school to say the Pledge in Arabic to satisfy Obama’s goal of making this an anti-Christian caliphate.

And we can’t say global warming in Florida or Redskins in Washington DC. And some rapper hates the USA in spite of making all her money here. And someone introduced a bill allowing gay people to be killed. And…and…and…

They aren’t yelling because they care about you.

And enough. Please. Just…enough.

Politics has always been a food fight in this country. We used to duel over it. Hell, we fought a civil war over it. Personally, I don’t care if you listen to Rush or think Rachel Maddow is the best host ever. I don’t care if you hate Obamacare or love the Affordable Care Act. There’s a half a chance we might disagree on immigration laws and abortion rights. So what?

From Field of Dreams:

Ray: What do you want?

Terrence Mann: I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.

Ray (gestures to concession stand at Fenway Park): No, what do you want?

Terrence Mann: Oh, a dog and a beer.

There are people who make a lot of money because people like you and me constantly brawl about politics. Moneyed interests on both (all?) sides count on our fear and hatred of them (whover they may be) to add to their power, prestige, and wealth.

Meanwhile, people like you and me continue to have babies, get cancer, lose their parents, and try to live life.

A lot of people paint Christians as typically hypocritical about the whole love thing. I’ll be the first to admit my own hypocrisy. Too often I get angry and slighted when I really have an opportunity to model the forgiveness I enjoy. I’m accepted, in spite of my flaws (and they are legion). I ought extend the same forgiveness to others around me.

Well, challenge accepted.

I know I’ll fail. I’ll be small and petty and let my own fears and troubles obscure opportunities to ease your fears and troubles. I’ll dismiss you because of your political beliefs, your actions, and because you stopped 6000 stupid miles behind the next car at the red light, meaning I have to wait another cycle to turn left. (Two whole minutes of my life, you wasted. Idiot.)

These acts are wrong. So the challenge is to lay them aside and remember that you could have just had a baby (yay for you). You could have a family member dying. You could have an unexplained medical issue that scares you.

Instead of curse the darkness you’re causing (and causing my own in the process), my goal is to light a candle.

Even if you like the Yankees.

Want a beer?


Uproar over the Batgirl comics cover

On first glance, the uproar over the alternative Batgirl cover, in which the Joker is menacing the clearly terrified superheroine is much ado about nothing. The Joker is a bad, bad guy who strikes terror into the hearts of lots of people, even caped crime fighters. On its own, there’s nothing particularly offensive.

For one thing, Batgirl looks like an actual woman, rather than an anatomically freakish wet-dream version of what a hot woman should look like.  (Hint…a woman’s thighs are not bigger around than her waist.)

Although the cover is clearly menacing and shows a huge power disparity between the male criminal and his apparent victim-to-be, that’s what happens in super hero stories. If there’s not danger–if it doesn’t look like the superhero can and maybe will be beaten, what’s the point?

And yet, after an outcry, the artist who created the cover, Rafael Albuquerque, asked that it be removed. And so it was. One thing I didn’t realize, until reading this article about the entire controversy, is that alternate covers aren’t typically created by people associated with the story inside the book. They can create an impression much different than the story is intended to tell, something that appears to be the case this time around.

In addition, there’s a huge backstory around Batgirl…in the comics universe, she was, at one point, sadistically injured and displayed naked in front of her father, Police Commissioner Gordon. That story, The Killing Joke, is widely hailed as the definitive origin story for the Joker, but as time passed even its writer, Alan Moore, has had issues with how Batgirl was treated.

Women tend not to be treated well in comics in general. There’s an entire trope, Women in Refrigerators, devoted to pointing out how often women are killed, maimed, or otherwise injured solely to develop male characters.

Let’s be clear–this isn’t a First Amendment issue. A comic book company is free to publish and remove what it wants, when it wants. And the cover artist is free to request what he wants from the company. And that’s what happened here.

At the end of the day, I don’t see an issue with that specific cover. It clearly shows Batgirl in a position of danger in which she faces a significant challenge to get out. Given the overall context of the comic book industry, and how women have been historically treated in comics–and the fact that Antman is getting a movie vehicle before Wonder Woman–I can understand why women would be upset about it. Their problem is the context along with the cover.

My concern as a would-be creative type is that my work, however well-intentioned, won’t pass something like the Bechdel Test and that could be a problem. I ought to be able to allow a female character to die in a story–and in fact have–to act as a plot catalyst. That doesn’t mean–and in fact, it didn’t mean–that I’m devaluing women in general.

On the other hand, I’m kind of sick of commercials, television shows, and books in which the man is a hopeless moron and his wife/partner/lover is the benevolent put-upon intelligent one who has to put up with his idiocy. I don’t much care how good what you produce is, if you go down that road, I’m not interested.

Did you see the Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray did something dopey and Debra got angry at him?

So I get it, and yet I’ll still let my stories go where they will. If you’re putting stuff out there, you have to expect people to react.