Category Archives: life philosophies and other esoteric crap

Believing in the Magic

We don’t believe in magic any more. We believe in data, in good solid reporting, in facts. If I can’t see it, if you can’t prove it, it didn’t happen. In a world driven by pictures and video, joy can be a luxury.

There was a guy named Roald Dahl, a British novelist who sold a few (million) books. He said that if you don’t believe in even the possibility of magic, you’ll never find it.

Being the low-brow, banal guy I am, I’m more familiar with the Richard Castle version.

castle

I instantly thought of this quote this morning when I read the daily email from the Catholic mystic Richard Rohr. The email talked extensively of the Wonder–and how the Wonder was “way to focus our attention in these days when life is so uncertain. We have absolutely no idea what the author of Love is asking of us . . . except we are fairly certain the Beloved One is not asking us to lay claim to any certainties at all.” That was written by a woman facing the end phases of a battle with cancer.

richardRohr

Catholic mystic Richard Rohr

She writes that the Beloved, another word for the Wonder (and for God) is not far off waiting for us to catch up. She writes that “The Beloved is Love and there is no other place for Love to be than in the act of holding tightly to you and to me. Deep within the recesses of our very being, we are held . . . known . . . treasured . . .”

I struggle to believe in Magic, Wonder, the Beloved–whatever you want to call it. But I love the idea of it.

theMagicIsBack

In this case, it wasn’t. The 1980 Mets were awful; this was their tagline.

A friend of mine, a woman who is delightfully edgy and cynical sometimes, is getting married this weekend. She’s like a little kid about it. And to be fair, her march to the altar has had its share of magic.

Sometimes the Magic sneaks up and grasps us from behind, not in a scary way, but in an embrace that can make a good day amazing, or make you know that you aren’t alone on the worst days.

I’m not great at this Christian thing, and to be clear, I’d really rather that you don’t judge other people of faith by my example.

But as I said, I’m in love with the idea of Magic, with the concept that we’re never alone, especially in the deepest, darkest moments of life. That the Magic is there, not fixing things, but just silently sitting with us, when that’s the one thing that might take the edge of the wounds.

 


When your heroes pass

My first baseball glove was a a Rawlings Tom Seaver model. If memory serves, the first book I ever bought was an biography by the same Tom Seaver. In fact, I’m a Mets fan because of Tom Seaver. His name was magic when I was in elementary school–worthy of more than its weight. A little less than a decade ago, when we wound up in Fresno during a trip out west, my first thought was how that was Tom Seaver’s home town.

You get the idea.

Today, Tom Seaver’s family announced that because of his dementia, Tom Seaver was removing himself from public life. It could’ve been a big year, being the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets–the team Seaver led to an unlikely World Championship.

TomSeaver

The Franchise in happier days

Dementia is one of the things that happens to 74-year-old men, and Seaver’s life has been nothing if not blessed. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the greatest pitchers ever to grace the mound in Major League Baseball. Even though he spent about half his career away from the Mets, he’s still referred to as The Franchise. and his trade in 1977 is still known as the Midnight Massacre.

I knew this was coming–word has gotten out that Seaver’s health was slipping. Former teammate Art Shamsky commented on Seaver’s health a week or so ago.

And yet, it’s still a shock.

My first hero is failing.

He’s not the first. Just earlier this week, Luke Perry, heartthrob to a generation of women died from a stroke this week. He was 52 years old–very young for a stroke victim.

It’s sad when you outlive your heroes.

It’s even sadder when you don’t.


I’m not the storm

If you’ve been on social media for long, you’re probably familiar with this meme:

i am the storm

It’s a pretty bad-ass line. It’s something I’d hope to use if I were ever to face the personification of the storm. It’s brilliant bravado. It’s one of the lies you tell yourself when you’re alone and you have to just get through.

I’m reminded of storms today. The message at church was about storms. Someone posted the storm meme on my Facebook feed. My response was: “I’m not the storm, but I’m the stubborn, stupid SOB who’ll still be here when the storm is over.”

The problem with both responses was the choice of personal pronoun.

Storms dwarf us as individuals. A blizzard can have wind chills cold enough to freeze exposed skin in seconds. A hurricane can blow structures over. Its storm surge can sweep you out to sea. A tornado can drive a blade of grass through a telephone pole.  The strongest of us cannot possible withstand a storm alone for more than a few minutes.

For me, 2015 was a perpetual storm. I’m reminded of it as I’ve been sick for most of January and was just diagnosed with the flu. I don’t think I’m headed into the sequel, but even if I were, I’m smarter now.

We cannot withstand the storm alone. I sure didn’t. My wife was a freaking monolith of strength–at least in dealing with me. I had a friend at work who more or less dragged me along at points (which is okay, because I returned the favor).

And for me, at least, the God I claim to believe in was a little involved. I don’t want to turn this into a sermon, but I would ask that you indulge me a bit. Even non-believers, in some cases, would buy the love your neighbor part of the Christian gospel.

The thing about storms is they’re inevitable. You can avoid a lot of them by good design. But inevitably, you will experience one. You can’t do it alone. You weren’t designed to do it alone. From our earliest times, we were built as social beings. We were built to recognize that you need someone else.

When you can run you walk. When you can’t walk, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you. That sequence contains an implied social contract. Sometimes you have to do the carrying.

The God I try to believe in is loving. But he’s a sarcastic pain in the neck sometimes. When the storm comes, the people who’ll weather it with you aren’t always going to be your choice. They’ll be Democrats or Republicans (which every irritates you more). They’ll be Christians or atheists or people who are spiritual but not religious. They’ll be vegans or be the ones who still laugh at People Eating Tasty Animals (PETA). They may even be (shudder) Patriots fans.

Any port in a storm.

Our strength isn’t our ability to be the storm. It’s our ability to withstand storms. Together.

 


Crock pot people in a microwave culture

It’s been about three weeks now, give or take, since Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade killed themselves. We’ve moved on. Their families and friends haven’t.

Five families are still coming to terms with the sudden holes in their lives and by yesterday, we’d moved on to whether one of the victims’ colleagues should’ve dropped and f-bomb on CNN. We’re a short-attention-span culture.

And yet it’s a valid story how children deal with their parents’ suicide (both Spade and Bourdain had children). But we’re off the to next outrage. Trump tweeted something. Kennedy retired. Your team made a bone-headed move. That other stuff is from yesterday. The cool kids have moved on.

Death threats are buzzing around like fireflies on a summer night. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Maxine Waters, and the employees of the Red Hen have all received them. People walk around wearing shirts that say things like “Rope. Journalist. Tree.” Somewhere along the line this stopped being shocking.

When Henry Aaron received death threats for hitting home runs in 1974, it was stunning. Now that same kind of news would be background noise.

I’m not saying to wallow in these things–that wouldn’t be healthy. But people are more like crock pots than microwaves. We evolve. For all our technology, we don’t like change. We like evolution. We make the same mistakes over and over again, but with effort, over time, the mistakes become fewer and we gradually become better.

We aren’t done in 45 seconds if you put us on high and rotate us.

I suspect that some of the rampant discomfort comes from the fact that our world forces us to go faster than we’re comfortable with. Our attention spans–and the content-providers’ bottom line–depends on there always being something new. A new outrage. A new tear-jerker. A new story that touches our hearts.

We think in bumper-sticker phrases because that’s all there’s time for. So existence become a meme battle and life is drained of its nuance and complexity.

I don’t have a solution. And even if I did, by tomorrow, something else would replace it.

But sometimes the hamster wheel isn’t the best place to be. And sometimes scouring the interwebs for that last piece of information about this guy who’s on your side or that guy who isn’t, doesn’t cleanse your soul.

I guess I’m just getting old. And realizing that most of it’s just noise–something you won’t remember in five days, let alone five years.

It all buries the important stuff. And maybe that’s part of the plan.


Miracles

A friend of mine–a woman named Maria–recommended a book to me once. It was 2015 and things were tough. They weren’t I’m dying of cancer or I’m about to lose our house tough, but they weren’t easy.

She recommended a book, a quirky romantic comedy called Kumquat, by a horror writer named Jeff Strand. A really, really demented  horror writer named Jeff Strand. Never in a thousand years would I pick such a book on my own. And most demented horror writers wouldn’t write a book that could be called sweet and uplifting without a hint of irony.

The book is about a guy named Todd who’s in his early thirties, works a dead-end job, and is existing in a life that doesn’t consider the possibility of even quiet desperation. He meets a woman named Amy who may or may not die at any moment of an inoperable brain aneurysm. Together, because she convinces him to do it, they take a spur of the moment road trip from Florida to a hot dog stand in Rhode Island.

At one point, Todd does something good and decent that’s quickly forgotten in the unfolding plot. Later, he’s recognized by people. It turns out that the good, decent thing he did went viral.

At the time the book was exactly what I needed. It refreshed my soul.

A book about a forgotten event that picked someone up became a forgotten event that picked someone up.

I’m no saint. But when they used to collect tolls on the Veteran’s Expressway, once every few days, I’d pick up the toll for the person behind me. And then for a while, a men’s group I’m in met at the hospital cafeteria for St. Joseph’s North in Lutz, Florida. I’d always buy a coffee there before the meeting. And often, I’d pay for two and let the next person through have a freebie.

The things we do don’t have to always be grand and sweeping. Sometimes they can be small and insignificant. The extra toll. The next cup of coffee. A sweet book for a friend that has a hard time.

In Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey’s character talks a lot about miracles. One of the best quotes ever in a movie was from God. It’s a long one, not suited for a bumper sticker but it’s worth staying to the end.

“Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce, it’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says “no” to drugs and “yes” to an education, that’s a miracle. People want Me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realize is, they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”

Miracles are often hard. But not always. Maybe someone picked up a toll for the single mom and it got her through a difficult day. Maybe the teenager was all set to give in until someone who cared let it show. Maybe someone saw a friend having a hard time and recommended a book.

Miracles aren’t limited to five-decades old baseball teams, or to Catholic saints, or to neurosurgeons.

The world is angry enough. It needs miracles. And God’s not gonna do them all.

Thanks, Maria!


I’m a hypocrite and that’s why I’m Christian

Today I read separate pieces about Christian hypocrisy and why it’s turning people off.

The first piece, by John Pavlovitz, says that there’s good news and bad news. In writing to church, he says there’s bad news–that it’s dying. But the good news is taht its dying and something better. Left open is whether that something better is secular.

Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne writes the second, which takes the same approach, but with a more political (and less snarky) tone. In general, the message is that Christians are kind of a pain to be around and more people are noticing.

I’ve proclaimed myself a Christian multiple times, so I should respond.

Yes, I am a hypocrite. I’m mean sometimes. I prejudge people more than I should.  I like the way leggings frame a woman’s butt and legs. I’m often stingy with my time, talent, and treasure.

And I’m currently listening to a song called Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced on Spotify (Dropkick Murphys if you must know).

No less an authority than Jesus would call me out on some of that. If you call someone a fool–if you judge them as unworthy, you’re in danger of judgement. If you check out the yoga pants, you’re just as guilty as if you schtupped.

I do all those things and more. And I know I shouldn’t. And that’s why I’m a practicing Christian. Of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity’s the one that isn’t dependent on your efforts. It’s central theme is that my Father can’t allow sin because it hurts his children. So in order to balance perfect mercy with perfect love, he came and paid the price so we can be reconciled.

We can’t–and needn’t–earn his love. I wouldn’t give my son a Miller Lite when he asks for a beer. And if I know how to treat my son that way, how much more will God treat us that way.

That kind of love is humbling. Except that the Father chooses to give it to me, I don’t deserve it. Mostly because I am all the things Pavlovitz and Dionne claim many of us are.

I don’t want to be those things. Certainly my Father doesn’t want me to treat his children that way. For half a century I’ve been trying to get better but it hasn’t worked all that well. So if my Father won’t give my son a Miller Lite, he’ll give me what I ask for, too–a softer heart.

The problem isn’t hypocrisy. We’re all hypocrites. It’s not hate. We’ve all hated.

It’s hubris. It’s the assumption that love makes agreement, that the Creator of the universe must agree with me.

Because I know what I am, I’m glad God doesn’t agree with me.

When Jesus met that woman at the well–a slutty whore if ever there was one–he didn’t judge her. He engaged her. He told her that she’d been through five husbands and was shacked up with a sixth man. But he never judged her. Instead, he offered her hope.

In his final days, Jesus took a low position–the position of washing feet. It was a servant’s task. One of the people whose feet he washed was the man who arranged his murder.

I fall short of that standard in a big way. In that, we’re the same. So the best we can do is the best we can do–together.

As for the church, it’s far from the monolith you might think. While the hard-asses of the world are getting the headlines, Pope Francis is trying hard to live up to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. People like Father Richard Rohr are interpreting Christianity in new, challenging ways. Even Christians are included in the growing scope of people who don’t want harm upon gays.

So yeah, we’re a mess. But that’s kind of the point. We’re less messy together.

 


Thoughts and Prayers and Utes

My current church isn’t big on complacency. Over the past few months, the pastor has repeatedly called for us to examine what we’re doing, thinking, and spending time and money on–and challenging us about making sure it’s the right thing.

The latest of those challenges came this morning, in a call to have an unshakeable focus on the future, which is to say the utes.

The challenge was to consider strongly investing in the future with our time, talent, and treasure (the vaunted three Ts of pastorship) in supporting this church value, which he has identified as being the most important. Failing that, he’s also challenging us–very directly–to devote our prayers to the utes.

Devoting prayers is something that’s become looked down upon in the mass media most recently. It’s a sign of complacency, they say–and ultimately hypocrisy. If you really cared, you’d stick your worthless prayers where the sun doesn’t shine and freakin do something.

And while we’re at it, Chris, what the hell are you doing for the utes right now, other than throwing money in the basket?

I have in the past volunteered as a Scout leader, baseball coach, umpire, chaperone, and nursery monitor, not to mention driving three-quarters of the distance to the sun to ferry the utes to activities. But right now, I’m doing nothing. And maybe that’s a problem and maybe its not.

So I’m gonna pray about it.

Prayer isn’t a substitute for action, b–

But you just said you’re gonna pray rather than help the chillren.

I thought they were utes.

I like variety.

Whatever. You pray for a lot of reasons. One of them is because it’s all you can do. I have a friend who’s kind of antagonistic to the church. And yet my offers of prayers for her are always warmly accepted. I think they help. I personally believe in a God who loves her–and all the rest of his utes–extravagantly. But I also think they help her. Backed up with care and attention, they make her feel less alone.

Another is for discernment. I’d hope that all the people offering prayers for victims of gun violence, for instance, are also praying for discernment. In spite of the rhetoric from both sides on this issue–“it’s simple, you must agree with me”–this is complex. We do have a second amendment. And if you were to remove all legal guns from their owners, the bloodbath would be unprecedented. On the other hand, does the second amendment cover 30-round clips? Does it mean you get to keep the guns if you’ve had mental problems or domestic violence in your past? That’s just the barest surface of the issues to be worked through.

I’d sure as hell hope that any representative who believes in God is asking for divine guidance in performing his job. And that he’s humble enough to realize that God doesn’t typically agree with people. He’s a bit bigger than that.

So I’ll pray that the youtttthhhhs are taken care of. And I’ll pray that whatever my decision is in terms of involvement, it follows God’s wishes for me.

You may consider this silly, but it’s a free world and it’s the best I can do.