We see through a lens — always.

I’ve gone to three weddings this summer. They were most beautiful with their fresh white table cloths, hanging cafe lights,  layered cakes and dancing bridal parties, at the edge of the good life, perhaps — and perhaps also — at the edge of what is absolutely and stupifyingly terrifying.

At each lovely wedding, the bride was filled with hope, the groom most proud. She had found someone who loves her. He had found the one within the one of the most holy one. And I hoped with them, and felt proud with them. It was happening again. The beautiful life I have lived was happening again — to them.

What lies ahead for these new, hopeful voyagers? What lies ahead as they peer into the clear, bright future through clean, freshly crafted, personal lenses? For them, the greatest adventure is what lies ahead, but it is also in what lies behind what lies ahead. What lies behind what lies ahead is them, their family history, the things that have influenced them, their DNA and their choices.

Ahead they will see perfect little baby girls and boys — perhaps; a new home in a good school district — perhaps; beautiful vacations in beautiful places — perhaps; good jobs and needed income — perhaps; a deeply maturing love and acceptance — perhaps; but also, just perhaps, they may find disability and disfigurement — perhaps; spousal betrayal — perhaps; loss of jobs and income — perhaps; unimaginably broken moments on cracked and broken floors — just perhaps.

I so hope not. God have mercy! Christ have mercy!

But this is for sure: youth is the lens which time will bend.

In beauty and in its loss, and in hope and in disappointment, in sickness and in health we all will live and more and have our hyper-definitive, super-retentive and revised-inventive being.

And time will bend the lens.

My hope, for myself and for all of my gorgeous, smooth-skinned, shinning-hair, bright-eyed lovelies is that age may increase magnification — and gentleness.

Katy Perry cut her hair short. She is trying to find the person underneath the persona. She said so herself. I heard her say it. She’s looking for her authentic self. She wonders if she will be loved for who she really is. I get it.

Last night I went to my room about 9 am to watch the most recent episode of “Dr. Blake” on Netflix. He found out how his mother died, and he got on the bus with Jean, she leaned against him, he held her hand.

This morning when I came downstairs, I brewed a couple of strong shots of espresso,  then I petted my cat Megan until she purred, then I held my wife’s hand.

“Would you cry for me, would you spend your life with me? Tell me honestly, if I couldn’t be strong would you still love me the same?” We all wonder this, along every other creature on the planet, and I wonder this, along with Adam Levine, singing “Locked Away,” on my iPad.

We want to be loved as we are, for who we are, weak and strong, right and wrong. The thing is, this is a moving target. Who we are keeps changing, what we look like keeps changing, where we are keeps changing, what we do keeps changing and so we keep being a bit insecure which leads to the question, “If I got locked away, and we lost it all today, tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?”

Okay Adam, okay iTunes, okay iPad, okay listening audience, this is the constant state of we-fragile, we-insecure, we-ever-fluctuating human beings.

But, and yet … God … nonstop

God  …

                    is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

One lump of insecurity mixed with one lump of certainty.

“Yes, I am telling you, yes! Yes, you fragile God seekers — Katie, Adam, all of you — yes, I am telling you honestly — lost, locked away, found or abandoned, or not, yet again and again  — you will still certainly, yes, be loved the same, by God, yes, he will get on the bus with you that is going nowhere that you know for sure and hold your hand too, yes   — and with gentle effect.”

Who am I?

I can’t always tell you for sure, because I keep changing.

But yesterday, I noticed that I pretty much operated as a dad.

Who am I?

I am a dad.

Yesterday, I ate lunch with one of my daughters at the Chi Thai Kitchen in San Diego. It’s near her home and a favorite eatery of hers. We both had the Red Curry with Chicken — her recommendation, and a delicious one — then we went back to her house and played with her cats and sat on the couch and confabulated twicely.

She was super-vulnerable with me — as she always is — and I was super-open with her, as I always am, listening to her carefully and respectfully, affirming her thoughts and emotions as valid. I prayed with her before we parted company, her head on my chest, much like when she was little, but different because she isn’t anymore. She is an adult, and I treat her like one. She prayed for me too.

Because we had discussed her career options, I told her, “Listen, you don’t have to be any certain thing to win my love. I love you completely and totally, and I always will. You don’t have to choose a particular career to win my approval —  like teaching at the University. You already have all of my approval. Do what you want. I love you. I will never stop loving you.” I have told my girls that all their lives.

Later that evening my daughter who I had lunch with came over to my house, and she and my other daughter and my wife and I ate dinner together, then we played Mille Bornes, a French card game, then Catch Phrase, a wild, fun guessing game. We laughed and hooted and helped each other and didn’t, as when we threw nasty cards on each other’s “Go” pile — like flat tires and speed limits — or when we helped each other guess the desired catch phrase, even across the teams.

There were some touching moments in the evening, as when one daughter helped the other daughter read the catch phrases. This was done because one can’t read. We make no big deal about this in our family, because in our family brain damage is something we live with, always have. We know we are all a bit brain damaged so it’s normal for us to help each other.

All day yesterday, I was a dad, eating with my daughters, talking with daughters, playing games with daughters. At the end of the day we all sat on the couch together and watched the end of a baseball game. We like team sports; we are a team.

Being a dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love it. It’s easy for me — really it always has been. It has been one of the most natural things in my life. Being a dad is simply being there for another human being, well one that came out of you, which is kind of wonderfully weird. Really, it’s a great thing, a noble thing, a supreme thing. Having a child ennobles us. Being there for a child, any child, ennobles us — you didn’t have to have had the child for it to ennoble you. Caring for a child, any child, or any adult for that matter, is the best way I know to get free from being overly occupied with yourself, which is also easy to do, and not entirely good.

What does it mean to be a good dad?

Being a good dad is simply wanting someone else’s good and acting on that — lovingly and consistently. It is holding on tight! And it is letting go! And it is doing both these things at the same time! It is doing what needs doing and saying what needs saying when it needs saying or doing. It is praising one daughter for being accomplished, another for being loving and fun. It is eating lunch with one, going to a ballgame with another. It is doing something that is needed — with no strings attached.

I was a dad yesterday, and again today.

Of all the things I have been, this is me at my best.

I have a simple request for you, God, this morning.

I’m asking for the good.

It isn’t because I am so much good as that I ache for good, but I do ache for more good, and less evil.

God will you encourage, protect, prosper and generally and in every possible known way to heaven empower anyone on earth who is doing good today?

Leaders, teachers, pastors, therapists, nurses, homemakers, business people, entertainers, sports figures, doctors, parents, grandparents, siblings — will you please greatly encourage and help anyone who is in a role where they are doing good?

Being gentle,

Being moral,

Being loving,

Being kind,

Bringing justice.

Giving to others,

Protecting the innocent.

Not shaming,

Not blaming,

Not being greedy,

Not oppressing,

Not being violent,

Not being sexually inappropriate,

Protecting little ones,

Protecting powerless ones.

 

God, we beg you, will you live super- duper-powerfully today in those who are making our world better?

We ask you to defeat evil and prosper good in and by and for those who are …

Buiding something good,

Restoring something good,

Adding value,

Inspiring hope.

Loving love.

 

This is our simple.

Immediate.

Appropriate.

Request.

Today.

This last weekend I attended a wedding rehearsal, a wedding rehearsal dinner, a wedding, a Sunday church service and a graduation party.  I also hosted old friends in my home, friends who were visiting from Colorado for the wedding.

In all the social groups I was in this last weekend, I consumed a few sumptuous eats — yummy tacos, savory hamburgers, spicy spinach salads, tender grilled veggies  — laughed several delicious laughs, drank IPA’s moderately, guffawed considerably, confabulated consistently and semi-solidly connectified — modestly.

My friends and I talked about home flooring, Ferraris, Paris, a cat’s ability to recognize individuals, other people’s girlfriends and our favorite European cities.

Thus, I am a known collaborator and identifiable social accomplice. I am a knownificant. I am a partakiphant. I am a card-carrying memberaphile of a group bonded by God, church, friendship and family.

As a result, I see myself through the lens of the normalized socialized collectively identifiable.

This is all fine, but sometimes it feels just weird to belong —  and yet to not always feel like you belong —  to feel a part and apart.

I think you know what I mean.

Last weekend I spent a good deal of time alone, I ate cold cereal alone, I finished up two public speeches on my laptop — alone, I watched a B rated western on my iPad — in bed —  alone, and I drove alone to the events I attended in my car. I also stayed one night on my side of the bed — alone — because my wife didn’t feel good.

I am a known alone.

I am socialized.

And I am a hermit.

I love people.

I love solitude.

I love to read, eat, think, write, wash my cat and hang out with her —  alone.  In fact, I often prepare for being in community by being solitary, and yet not completely because when I am alone I am often thinking about what to say to them when I am with them.

And yet, skin — it is a wall, a file folder, a divider. I persist as a bag of skin, meeting and greeting other bags of skin. We are separated from each other by skin, hung on bones. We are autonomous skin-and-bone bags, variously greeting and meeting and eating with other individuated skin-and-bone bags.

Even when I am with you, I sense that I am not you. I am walled within my skin, I am walled within my experience, I am corralled within my emotions, I am high-fenced within my perspectives.

Who am I?

Who are you?

We are shards — struck from the same vase, but we have fallen into different places on the ground.

We are connected.

Many things unite us, food, faith, fondness, family.

We are alone.

Many things divide us — food preferences, types of faith, lack of fondness, family conflict.

I am both connected and alone. You are the same. We are one. We are not.

I am thinking about it. I exist severally and jointly, even with the human being that I am the most one with — my dear wife.

And yet, all this considered, I want to be more so —  connected and individuated  — bothly.

I want to be better with people — my wife, my daughters, my friends, my church community, the whole world.

I want to better be alone, with me, not them, just me, not them, good with me, nothing to do with them.

What about you?

I’m grateful.

Brains may default, choices may go rogue, ethics may atrophy, protective labels be ripped off, relationships come unmoored, hard surfaces crack, beautiful floorings stains — muck and yuck and lots of cluck — and yet …

After deformation, deterioration, defamation and detonation —  your basic buck and duck and chuck the muck  —  extraordinarily, new options may sprout, miraculous opportunities recrudesce, redemptive chances break through and the good within the good of the persistent good pop it’s beauteous head back up to the surface like a gorgeous baby Hippo surfacing in a becalmed African river.

Last week, on Saturday,  I watched my 89 year old mom cut her 70th wedding anniversary carrot cake while my little nieces Ruby and Rose chased each other through my brother’s house screaming, while one of my brothers sat and sweet-confabulated with my wife, while my lovely daughter and her boyfriend hung out laughing in the backyard with my nephew and his wife.

Last week at The REFINERY Church — the place I love and care for and have worked so very hard to esteem and redeem —  I watched new white base boards go into the youth room, new warm-yellow, mason jar, Edison bulb lights go up on the youth stage, a pretty new wood and glass door being placed into the opening between the courtyard and the Gallery and new lavender trumpet vines being planted on the big trellises framing the classroom building.

Good — all good, all positive, curative, redemptive good — for everyone who goes there, ever will go there or who still watches from afar — or up close.

Next Saturday I’ll go to a very fun, super-dooper-trooper, post-emptive-redemptive and ultra-moltra-resultra wedding in the new REFINERY Church courtyard. Two-hundred or so of my friends, neighbors and fellow congregants will be there. We will snoot, hoot, and root-the-reboot —  together!

It will be the good within the good of the pre-existent, mid-resistant ever-persistent good.

I am so grateful!

They came to me, five or so gentlemen in suits, across the square, one bringing his iPhone 5 and handing it to me, gesturing toward the men who were with him, “Would you please take our picture?”

I did. Twice, because the first picture wasn’t right; the pyramid of the Louvre wasn’t in the backdrop.

Then they were happy.

I asked them where they were from. They were from Iran. I told them I was from the US. Then I said, “You are welcome in my country.”

“And you are welcome in ours!” they replied.

I have the right.

I have the right to go out into the world, as I am apt to do, and welcome the world to myself. That doesn’t mean they can come. Many of them probably can’t. It just means that they know that someone from there, here welcomes them.

I am not naive — but neither do I live in fear. I am a citizen of the world. I choose to be. I have no permanent home — I know that, none of us do — I have no exclusive people. I am welcoming to myself, and I welcome everyone I can.

I am not a government. I respect government, I respect and understand law, I participate in government, but I am also myself, a being existing apart from government, cosmopolitan, international by nature, universal by soul.

Yesterday on Rue de Renne in Paris, I walked by an Eastern looking woman with a dirty paper cup, sitting on the sidewalk, begging. I thought about the nice shops I had just visited, about how much I am able to indulge myself. Then I went back to her, and I put a couple of Euros in her cup.

I am not telling anyone else what they should do, or feel. I am not saying I solved a problem with a couple of Euros, I am not feeling virtuous, I am just saying what I did, I am just being honest about what I want to do, what I feel urged to do, inside.

I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I am not a protect-and-defend conservative. I am a person trying to live my life as a follower of someone with a bigger vision than I have, to live by two great commands, one to love God, another to love others, to live by the radical spiritual reality that everyone is my neighbor, by the super-radical idea that I should do to others as I want them to do to me.

On my current stay in Paris, I have snapped pictures of the Iranians at the Louvre, I have eaten food with the French in Les Philosophes — a small crowded restaurant in Le Marais — I have gawked at art in the Museo de Orsay with the Japanese and the Chinese, I have peered up at the windows of San Chapelle with the Canadians, I have ridden the bus to Versailles with Muslims, and from the cathedrals with Nuns.

I know who I am. I love my country, I understand why it exists, I am very grateful to have grown up there, made a home, raised my children in peace, and I value it, and soon I will return to it, but I also love other countries, and I value them, and I value other cultures, and I value their people.

They are my people, all these people, and I know that. Deep inside I have an affinity with all creatures and with all people and with all plants and with all minerals, all stars and all galaxies too.

I love, I ache to love, I want to love more, to the edge of my familiarity — and past that.

I know that you do too.

I love you for that.

I stood in the Georges Pompidou in Paris today, fifth floor, modern art exhibition.

Loved it!

Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Kupka, Warhol, Pollock — all there and much more, lurking in the galleries, going nonrepresentational on me, splattered, shattered and re-mattered.

As I looked them over and through, I thought about how modern art has re-imaged our world. It has lifted our mental bed covers, peeped us beneath the surface of our lives and looked us into the strange, improvisatory forms and shapes of things sleeping in our psyches.

The exhibition in the Pompidou is so different from what is in the Louvre where we find the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the raft of the Medusa, the winged bulls.

As I stroll-gawked through the Pompidou exhibit, I thought about how modern art, over time, grew increasingly abstract — and increasingly inclusive. It was the impressionists who started this.

Monet begat Picasso.

With modern art, art became form, and everything became art.

Subjects became increasingly unrecognizable. Form and content merged and became colored lines, circles, curves, arrows, triangles, boxes, parallels, randoms.

Modern art threw reality in our faces — geometricized, essentialized, energized.

I love it, well some of it.

I’ve heard some people don’t

An elitist explanation for this would be that they simply don’t understand it.

I don’t think so. I think we all understand it all too well, and this is actually what disturbs us and either drives us away from it our pulls us into it.

Reality, stopped down to it’s essentials, frightens us, stuff like atoms, electrons, lines, dots, emotions, instincts, body parts, chaos, non-rational reality, the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff that we are made of.

Modern art hasn’t made a life of it’s own; it is our life, and is unnerving, too real, too ugly, too beautiful and so we turn away from it, just as we do from reality.

Consider Kandinsky. His paintings are life untethered, parts and pieces, horizontals and verticals, color contrasts, essential spiritualities, floating through the flotsam and jetsam of sentience.

Perhaps a Kandinsky is more like a Venus de Milo than we suspect. Modern art is life — with the arms knocked off.

I’m for embracing it, all of it — what flies and what floats, what is rational, what is not, what is recognizable and also what lurks just below that but is that.

To appreciate modern art, any art, one must come out of denial and into acceptance.

It’s that simple.

It’s about you; it’s about accepting youself.

You can never really have enough of what you don’t really want.

Yesterday we lollygagged and casu-shuffled through Louis IV’s chateau at Versailles. It was exhausting, just trying to see part of it, just trying to comprehend that kind of over-the-top-of-the-top, squared-off pile of stone, wood and velvet luxurification. 

Did Louis really want all that — that many rooms, that many stairs, that many painted ceilings, that many mirrors, that long of a garden, that many people to back up his that-many indulgences — 10,000? 
He may have. Apparently he convinced himself and many others to pretend that he was sunshine. 
But maybe, just maybe — not sure — Louis just wanted to be loved, wanted the sanguine apricity of the court, and it was his mother who duped him in to thinking that he wanted to be obeyed, over-indulged and glorified.

Wow, glorified? How would you live with yourself, fragile and human — yet Mars, and Apollo? 
Those who cultivate worship, or even settle for mere obsequiousness may really — beyond their overly-conditioned and underly-personalized level of ankle-deep consciousness — actually be craving for even just a splash of radiant sincerity. 

Yeah. 

But the opposite may be true too. 

You may never really be able to have enough of what you really want either, even if it is simple, basic, early-morning, in-your-heart kind of stuff. It’s raining in Paris. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, no sunshine, lots of love, from my wife, my friends, my people back home. I really wanted a good coffee this morning. I got it, as ordered, an extra shot in my latte. It’s epidemic with me, with all of us. We want more caffeine — and more love. We all do, we always do. 

But at some point the caffeine stops adding energy, the checked-off world destinations stop adding cultural texture, and the love stops adding value — because we already have value.  More? Want it or not — perhaps it just adds to our anxiety. 

 

Disappointment, it’s an ointment — or it’s not.

I know. I’ve been disappointed once — well more than once.

I think other people have too, a few of them.

I saw a girl the other day who had on too much makeup. I happened to know she’s disappointed, and interestingly it was the makeup made me think of that. Her husband cheated on her a few years back, they divorced, she’s still looking for loyal love. She’s trying hard.

To not get what we want is one thing, to not get what we need another. It messes with us.  There are varying shades of this.

I had a friend who wanted to follow as successful military career with a career teaching history. I was excited for him. But shockingly he died of cancer in his late thirties even before he could start school.

I was unnerved by this. When I think of it it still flummoxes me; this dangerous force majeure, this ghastly, meaningless jape, this lovely dream gone lost —  for him, his beautiful young wife, his small children. Wow!

I think of parents who have lost a child. The unthinkable. They will never fully recover, always remember, always grieve, never be the same again.

Life fails us. In many ways. We don’t earn as much money as we thought we would. Our career isn’t as successful as we wanted it to be. Our signifiant other is not as supportive as we want her or him to be. Our children have difficulty getting established. The dinner we order at the restaurant is too salty. Our retirement accounts underperform. Our business burns down.

Living with reality, living with realities that aren’t what we wish — unfortunately that is normal, common, prevalent.

But here is the deal, or one of the deals. Disappointment can shape us, make us, not break us. Not everything goes well, that doesn’t mean we aren’t somewhat okay, aren’t moving ahead, aren’t blessed in some other way, haven’t had some of the successes we have indeed had.

Two thoughts.

Disappointed?

Then sit with your feelings, hold your disappointment like you would a child, don’t deny that it hurts. It won’t kill you to just experience it, to feel it. It may do you good. If you feel it, you know what the rest of the human race feels, and you know what reality feels like.

Saying things like, “I don’t care,” or “It doesn’t matter,” aren’t very healthy or helpful. You do care or you wouldn’t be disappointed — and caring is a good thing. And really, what you wanted that didn’t happen may have mattered, a lot! Don’t shame yourself for feeling disappointed.

One of my therapist friends told me recently, “You get disappointed because you care so much, you hope for so much, you are such a visionary. It’s true. Great dreamers have great disappointments, but they also live with so much hope, so much expectancy, so much positivity, so much vision that does come true.

Secondly, to live effectively with disappointment — especially seeing that the researchers tells us we are wired for negativity — we may have to work at not letting the blues become our only reality.

When one thing is hard then it is good to notice that very often something else in our lives is easy. Right now my body is suffering various and sundry chronic pains. But my work — it’s going quite well.

And when we have loss, often we experience — even in the same time frame — some gains. In fact every loss may contain a hidden gain. The loss of one stage of life ushers in another, the loss of one thing leads to the next thing for us that wouldn’t have been possible without the loss of the first thing.

A painful family death may be followed by the making a good new friend. The loss of a great job may be followed by a job that is even better, or has a needed difference in it. What is dashed — it may even lead to the cash, of some variety. The loss of a career, or of our health, or of a loved one maybe be followed by the deepening of our souls.

Disappointment — it’s life, and it is an decidedly acceptable emotion. It’s okay to feel it, and to let it go, and also to keep moving toward a different, newly acceptable future.

I know.

You do too.