Posts Tagged ‘love’

The ranking is bronze, silver — gold.

And it is also faith, hope — love.

Not much beats gold, or love, as precious.

Love is the pure gold of God, and the summum bonum of life.

Many are the witnesses that love is supreme, and that without it we “gain nothing.” Love is everything — the core, the essence, the apex, the thing! All of our lives most of us have never wanted anything more than we have wanted to be loved. We ache for love, for falling in love, for being the loved one, for more delicious, life-giving, energy-making, life-curing love.

How do we get it?

Consider a young girl living in Missouri, who has never seen visited the ocean, any ocean, anywhere. She finds a picture of San Diego online. It is a beautiful shot, taken from the Coronado Bay bridge, showing the bay, the palm trees, the Silver Strand, the gorgeous Hotel Del Coronado and the great, sparkling Pacific beyond.

She holds her tablet, her 9.4 by 6.6 inch digital ocean in her hands and gushes, “I love the ocean!”

But there is so much of the ocean that she doesn’t know to love.

She doesn’t  know the knock-you-out, corner-of-eye to corner-of-eye,  panoramic expanse of the great Pacific, the lovely, blue watery arms of San Diego that shimmer like a dream land before you as you drive west up over the Coronado Bay bridge. And she doesn’t know the briny, salty, sea-in-the-air fragrance that greets you at the beach. And she doesn’t know the soft, clean, warm sand between the toes. She doesn’t know the cold, wet shock of the Pacific ocean as you enter it. She doesn’’t know the thrilling ride down the wave —  the rapid rush, the surfy slosh, the white water engulfing you.

To understand the ocean, and to understand love, we must live these realities not simply admire them from afar. To get love we must drive toward and into other people, and also God. We must experience the other, we must experience God, and we must sink our toes deep in to love, and then run to it’s shore, and dive in head first.

Reading about love in a book, even a sacred book, may be a gesture toward love, but it is no more love than looking at a picture of the ocean is experiencing the ocean.

To really know love, to experience love, to know the panoramic reality of love in all of life, to know the sweet fragrance of love found in difficult relationships, to know the warmth of love between your toes when you have been deeply valued, to know the cold shock of love being so much other than what you expected, to know the rapid rush of love as it washes you down the sloping, sliding, thrilling, scary waves of other people —  that is what it means to know love, and that is what it means to know God.

Love is good. Love is better. It is best. Love is best.

So, run at this. Smack this. Jump on this. Dive head-long into this.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13




Randy HasperI didn’t see Carlos hit the old man, but he did, hard, right up side of the head, with his fist, and the old man bled just above his right eye.

When I went over to check things out, Carlos was looking dour. I could see that the world had gone down hard for him. Larry, who knows Carlos, told me that Carlos is homeless, living in his car and scrounging for every bite.

Carlos denied hitting anyone.  Then my friend John spoke up and said, “I saw you hit him,” and pointed to the old man.  But Carlos wasn’t to be pinned down, and seeing that his lie didn’t work, he said to all of us menacingly, “What I do in my family is none of your business!”

Tiffany, standing on the sidelines, spoke up, “I know about abuse, and it isn’t okay.”

I took my cue her. “We’re not okay with abuse and with violence at the church,” I said. I wasn’t sure what Carlos would do next, but whatever the outcome, I was acutely aware that the whole thing was brutal and sad, for the whole lot of us, standing there.

Then I told Carlos, “I don’t mean to disrespect you, but you need to leave,” and he did. I then turned to the old guy who got hit. “It’s nothing he said.”

“No, it’s not nothing,” I said. “It was wrong for him to hit you like that? Why did he do it?”

“He’s just like that,” he said.

I went and got some medical supplies and I wiped the guy’s cut, and I  put a bandage on him. It was only then that I noticed that he was shaking. He had played in cool, out of fear, at first, but now that the threat was gone I could see how horribly upset he was. He too was homeless. He told me that he was afraid that now Carlos would come get him. I suggested he move his camp. Then we fed him dinner, in the basement of the church, along with the hundreds of others who came for the meal.

Three times the guy who was hit came back to me before he left, and he thanked me for caring for him for standing up for him.

Then I got a plate of hot mashed potatoes and gravy and sat down with some older Hispanic ladies who lived near by in the Congregational Towers. They were super cute, and friendly with my daughter, who tried out some of her Spanish on them.

The food was exquisite, and the company too, except for Carlos, but he just needed a boundary drawn, and maybe he needed that more than a meal.

A grandma told me that recently when her granddaughter was at her house, and the little girl was jumping on the couch. she told her, “Please don’t do that.”

The granddaughter said, “No.”

So grandma said back to her, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” That settled that. Another boundary drawn, and so we civilize the world, protect our couches and our heads.

A little while later, the granddaughter asked for something and the grandma said, “No.”

The little one, two or three looked at her grandma, thought a moment, and said, “I not asking you; I telling you.” Grandma told me that she really had to try hard then, to keep from laughing.

We all need more, more boundaries, and more love too. Maybe no one told Carlos “No” enough when he was little. Maybe they told him too much.

On Sunday, Angelina came up to me. She put out her arms and gave me a hug.  She’s five.  Pretty soon she was back for another hug. I picked her up and gave her a big squeeze. I love Angelina. She looks like a little fire plug. Last year I sponsored her for Christmas and bought her a polka-dotted dress and a sketch a doodle. We’re good together.  She came back for a final hug before the morning was over.

Alex also came up to see me after church.  Alex is in his twenties. He has a learning disability.  “I’m getting baptized,” he told me proudly. Alex  has found a place, and some people, in our church, to make a little bit of a family out of, and be loved.

At the end of the morning Elizabeth came by. She too wanted a hug, and took three. Elizabeth is about fifty and learning how to make it on her own for the first time in life. She handed me a letter. “I just need to tell you how I’ m feeling she said, “I’m doing much better.”

We need more, more protection, more acceptance, more of a sense of belonging, more affirmation, someone to hug us, someone to read our letters, more love.

I wonder how Carlos is doing today?  What does he need? What put all that hate in him? What could take it out?  Not punishment. Not prison. Not rejection? Not religion.

I think that he just might need what we all need, more love.

The first time I really took much notice was when she was lying on the sidewalk. We went over and presented her with the standard cliché. She said she was, and we helped her get up, and she hobbled off.

I had my office manager email the city. I had images in my mind of them coming out and pouring a cement square and calling it a day. They didn’t. Instead we got a letter in the mail saying that it was our responsibility to fix the problem.

“What?” I said on the phone to the city official, “We own the sidewalk?”

What it really came down to was the tree. Our tree cracked the sidewalk so it was our responsibility to get it fixed. There often seems to be a discrepancy in life, between what we want and what we get.

Actually, the whole thing started about forty years ago because of the sun. Someone decided to solve the problem of the sun shining too much in the west-facing windows of the church. In a moment of brilliance they took a little potted tree, dug a hole about ten feet from the side-walk, right in front of the windows, and put it in the ground. It was a good solution, it worked well for quite some time, but the problem solvers didn’t imagine the end result — another problem. It’s often like that with people who plant trees — they lack the prophetic gift.

When the company we hired came and broke up the sidewalk, all sixty feet off it, they uncovered root work —  forty years of it. Huge python-like roots were exposed, some six inches in diameter, lurking along a sixty foot span of walk, uplifting the cement from two to three inches, creating a trip hazard, eventually upending an older woman.

The fix cost the church close to $7,000 — the removal of the 35 foot tree, the removal of sixty feet of walk, the pouring of the new sidewalk and curb, the purchase of new landscape — non-root invasive.

There is often a discrepancy between what we want and what we get. We want someone to fix a problem; we are required to fix the problem. We want shade, we get a bill for $7,000.

I’ve noticed the discrepancy lately. Recently the son of a friend of mine committed suicide. We were stunned, knocked sideways, and run over by this. I went to the memorial service and came back home kicked in the head. This wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted life; we got a brutal death. A mom planted a tree. The roots broke the sidewalk. There is no fix.

There is a discrepancy in life between what we want and what we get. There is an uplift, a break, a gap and we fall on it, or into it and we don’t much care for lying on the concrete.

I don’t quite know what to do, but one thing comes to mind. What we can’t fix we can love. I love my friends left. I love the good that was in the little boy who grew up and then gave up. I love fixing the things I can.

The discrepancy remains, but it doesn’t overwhelm us, because other things remain too, a new sidewalk, a new tree, new friends, good memories, bravery — love.

The June, 2011 issue of Vanity Fair wrote up a juicy, detailed piece on Charlie Sheen’s media meltdown. All the drugging and prostituting and money wasting  is now chic-yuck. “Two and a Half Men” is over for Charlie,  but  Charlie himself is not over yet. Are we jealous pf Charlie, as he thinks, are we disgusted, or  just voyeuristic?  When Charlie went public with his special brand of insanity, he sucked up  a million followers on Twitter. Crazy money, high-priced prostitutes and extreme drug use tweets well in America.

It interesting.  Universal’s 2010  animated film Despicable Me has grossed something like $540 million worldwide.  In Despicable, love and loyalty win.  Gru, a lonely single-guy, lets his love for three little orphan girls win over his super-villianous selfishness. Charlie Sheen and Gru are both despicable, but Charlie is not the kind of despicable in this movie.  Audiences paid to see Gru’s transformation into a loving father and wiped a tear. Do we hark toward Gru or Charlie?  

Last night I saw Tracy Letts’  “August: Osage County” at the Globe.   It played 18 previews and 648 regular performances on Broadway. It’s the comic-tragic American family come unglued. At the core, the patriarch, Beverly cheats on his wife Violet with her sister and alcoholism, drug-addiction and pain ensue for the next two generations. The play ends with T.S. Eliot’s “This is the way the world ends…”  but this  screwed-up  family doesn’t end with a “bang” or  a “whimper,” but with silence —  empty, dark, alone silence.

American’s are increasingly bipolar in our entertainment preferences.

We alternate, between extremes. We go for Charlie then Gru,  back to Osage County, then on to Sesame Street. We love Lady Gaga. We love Taylor Swift.

We  seem to want safe, loving, kind, sane and loyal.

We are fascinated by cruel, hateful, mean and cheated.

Why? We are both. We contain both, all of us. We lust, we loyalify. We hate, we repent.

What wins? Both seem to.

Strong, opposing forces take turns in us, winning, losing, fighting to win again. Become a Charlie Sheen and you self-destruct. Pretend to be a saint and you are a liar. Make good choices or make bad choice, both end up as family entertainment, and grief.  

Charlie, Beverly or Gru?

It’s all so very interesting, but Gru strikes me as just a bit more fun over the long run.


Posted: December 23, 2010 in girls
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 I grew up afraid of girls. 

Perhaps it was because some of my early crushes didn’t work out that well, like the little girl  at camp who I kissed on the cheek on a hot summer night while we were playing tag. My brothers ridiculed me for that. My pre-teen love, Teresa, had a magneto-electro smile that virtually paralyzed me for six years — we locked eyes in class regularly from the fourth grade to the ninth grade —  but I never, ever had an actual conversation with her. Then there were my few awkward high school dates. There was the cute girl who  got me down on the front seat in the car and kissed me hard but nothing happened, except we both got a little bored and our lips hurt after a while. Inexperience. And there was the high school girl I took out on a date, and we talked, but we really had nothing interesting to say to each other and I never talked to her again. That was a bit weird;  I guess you don’t know who you really like  until you talk to them.

When I fell in love with Linda, who eventually became my wife, she was engaged to someone else. We were good at talking to each other, very good, but the conversations got more complicated when I confessed true love. With girls, it can get scary.

Maybe my early fear was exacerbated by not having sisters, but I kind of did, so that couldn’t have been all of it. Connie and Beth, the daughters of my parents’ friends, hung around the house for a couple of summers when their mom was working at the campground my parents ran. They were cool, not so much like girls, more like family. We played games, teased each other, made alliances with each other against other factions of our blended family and played war with playing cards. I like war with girls. My mom and I used to argue a lot. When my dad would protest we would say, “We aren’t fighting, we’re just having a discussion.”  War. During our summers with the girls, it was obvious that Connie could get emotional, and so could I. I remember the time I threw the monopoly game board over on the girls and my brothers, the red motels and green houses flying through the air and me flying out of the room. It seemed like a good thing to do in the moment but later I felt ashamed and then again I didn’t  — these girls were family.

My grade  school teachers were all women. What is that about? Our culture is afraid of men being with young children too much.  These wonderful women were smart, professional and demanding. They seemed to like me, maybe because I was smart, I wasn’t sure on that, but I feared them all. Mrs. Protova was so stern and large, but what adult isn’t huge to a first grader. Mrs. Meyers was all business. She expected things; girls do. I fell in love with my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kibby. Even at home, my family talked about how hot she was.  It seemed normal to me, to love her, but of course I never told anyone. Fear! What would they say?

Then, early in high school,  there was the girl I played footsie with during a movie at the local theater. I didn’t go to the movie with her, a gang of us were there together, but a spontaneous flirting game happened between us, and as a result I missed the movie and left feeling like I didn’t get my money’s worth — for the performance. Did she like me? I couldn’t tell. I liked her, but I think that all she wanted to know was that I thought she was cute. Thinking back on it now, it was a competitive sport for her. She tasered me with her foot, and I surrendered.  I didn’t understand anything about girls back then, and so I left the movie feeling a bit confused and not knowing why. There was also the girl in my biology class who I never spoke to because she looked like the Venus de Milo with clothes on.  And there  was the adorable cheerleader in the green and white school sweater and mini skirt who I just couldn’t risk making a mistake in front of because she was so perfect to me, so I didn’t — big regret. They all fell into the category  “Wow! Wow! Wow!” — fear and trembling unto death. Too beautiful can be distancing.

Then there  was my mother. She liked interesting things, the iris in the front yard, the cardinals and jays that came to the bird feeder, Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, which we read together, the movie Third Man on the Mountain, which she took us boys to see.  She was different from other girls, because she loved me and I loved her and that took away the fear. And now I see that I grew up to love what she love, natural history and stories and children. Lots of girls follow guys around and do what they do, even though they don’t especially want to, but they do it because they love them and want to please them  — fishing, working on cars,  shooting guns, looking through telescopes. It’s okay, but it goes both ways. A man who loves a girl will also choose to  love some of what she loves. Men who love girls follow them around.

We didn’t always do a good job of loving my mom; we teased her too much about the food, being different from us, my dad too, and when I was a teenager, my dad told me that was wrong. I thought so too, but teasing girls or joking with girls is still something I find myself doing a bit when I like them. I consider it my calling to make my daughters and my wife laugh a lot. Men like to make women laugh and women often laugh with men they like. Laughter is good between us, mostly. But we didn’t laugh when my mom got cancer. I went in and sat by her bed and talked to her. She told me a while back, now many years later, that this was meaningful to her, special, for me to just sit with her.

I like that way of relating to women, to sit beside them, to be there when they are going through something, in a safe way, in an unobtrusive and supportive way. Safe gets at it. Safe means seeing women as people and as family. A young friend told me recently that he didn’t feel so good about some porn that he had looked at. Porn is no proud accomplishment, for the people who view it or who make it. It seems to undermine progress — toward real accomplishments and real relationships.  Porn  girls are not family, well they are somebodies’ family but they are presented online as having  no family. A woman told me recently, after she caught her husband looking at girls on the Internet, “The thing is, I can’t compete with those woman.”

 I thought about it, and actually I think she can compete, really well, and win.  She is real, unlike the images, a real women, not an airbrushed woman. She is a talking, thinking, a real-time-and-space woman, with bending arms and legs and she is better than any flat-screen girl. Porn girls’ pictures don’t match up well against real-girl bodies, against curvy, warmish, bright-eyed, taking girls with fun laughs and quick repartees. From my experience, girl reality offers something far better than  vapid, non-relational and untouchable nudity — fascinating friendship topped off with hugable bodies, really good smelling hair and remarkable tasty lips, available for tasting if they turn out to be girlfriends or wives.

But I’ve noticed something interesting here; girls tend to check out girls as much as guys do, not internet girls with no clothes on, but catalogue girls and walking-by girls, especially thin and “pretty’ girls, their clothes, their hair, their make-up, their everything. It’s the fatal female-to-female comparison, and it doesn’t work too well for most of them. “She has better legs, better teeth, a better nose, ohhh, than me.” It’s torture! It’s self-hatred. It’s sad, and I wish it wasn’t so. All girls are beautiful girls, in some way. To love oneself, and not compare oneself with others — “ahhh” now there is the trick. It is so much about, to put it simply, being gentle with ones own perceived imperfections. A girl told me recently, “I’m not normal. I burp  in public, and my husband says, ‘That was really attractive,’  and I can’t find boots to fit me because my calves are too big. It happened because I walked on my tip toes too long, when I was younger.” She repeats, “I’m not normal.”

But this kind of  “normal” can be just another form of tyranny — this is too big, this is too little, this is too loud, this is too soft and squishy, this is just right. It’s Goldilocks all over again — it has to be “just right.”  Individuation is a step toward freedom from the domination of the “just-right.”  Love means not having to conform to exacting specifications published by the group and used to tape measure oneself.  A girl once told me. “If you don’t love me, there is something wrong with you.”  May her brand of insouciant self-affirmation  increase. Normal is what you are, and it becomes even more normal to you  as time goes on because you experience the you of you, more and more. “Pretty girl” is a fabrication of the mind, and there are so many changing ways to be pretty that the mind must be discipline to expand its neruro-electrical  and  phsycho-social list of  possibilities. Many astutes have noticed that when we love girls, they get prettier, when we love men, they become more handsome.

Perhaps men have ruled this conversation too much. A girl once said to me, “Why would anyone have their lips and breasts made bigger?” And before I could try to reply, she answered herself, ” Honestly, because men want it!  The discussion is dominated by body strength. And if women stand up for themselves and try to refute these kinds of standards, they are perceived as unattractive. Women who don’t buy in are seen as having something wrong with them. Body parts don’t make you superior. Why are men calling the shots on what is beautiful?” Whew! Somebody isn’t happy with how its gone down.Touche!

It has occurred to me that it is also true that guys compete, with each other, according to some kind of beauty standard. A guy’s sense of “handsome” is in part culturally conditioned by his sense of good skin color, eye color, cheekbone shape, chin angle and on and on.  Think Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Olando Bloom and George Cluny; they set the  modern standard.  And throughout history, men have tried to settle the issue of who is superior, who is a stud,  by strutting their stuff and by peeing on things, and by making conquests of women,  and by making money, playing soccer, and killing each other.

What to do? I told my young friend who felt ashamed of his attraction to porn, “Go find some girls and make friends with them.” It’s the hopeful approach, the future-oriented approach, the think-about-what-is-imperfect-but-still-good approach. Friendship with real girls is the opposite of lust. It is also the opposite of a very ineffective way of dealing with your hormones —  asceticism, self-hatred, the making of behavioral laws and moral rules and killing people.  I don’t much admire the techniques of the flagellants of the 14th Century, marching in public and whipping themselves for their failings.  Self-mortification never made anyone holy. More and more I believe that life should not  be about beating up on yourself  for being human, but about loving yourself for being human. No matter what standards of beauty and rules for relating we come up with, it is normal and always will be for men to adore women, and women to adore men, and women and men to admire women, their bodies, their minds, everything about them, and it is so fun and right  to find ways to honor that without it becoming obsessive and sick or objectifying or depersonalizing. I think so much good can happen when we center on what is good, instead of pounding on ourselves for where we have failed.

I met my wife-to-be while I was in college. She went to the same church as me. I remember talking to her in the library. Books and girls — I love that combination. She was engaged, as I said before, but that didn’t work out. I told her, “I loved you,” which is never a bad thing to tell people, unless you don’t mean it, and true love changed her sense of the future, and so after some fall out and some talking it out and some waiting we got married. I tell her now, “I fell in love with your brain.” I am still in love with it. She in an individuated thinker, and I can never be sure what she will say about a new topic we get into. I love that in her! To love a girl is to love her brain. And there is more, because her brain is resident in her body, and I love her body too, all of it, perfect and imperfect. She is mine and we are one and I love her body the way I love my own body, in a comfortable, accepting, non-shaming, unconditional way. I didn’t always do that, when we were younger, and its been a journey to get to where I am now but one worth traveling. Acceptance and gentleness is the most advanced way of relating to girls.

Not everyone gets that. This morning I was listening to Pandora radio on my phone through the Internet. I put on “A Fine Frenzy” station. Alison Sudol  was singing, “You go on and I’ll be happier,”  but she won’t; apparently, according to her, he’ll be happier. Then later, Meiko was singing, “Here I am with my heart on the floor and my love out the door.” There is a lot of pain on the radio, because there are a lot of women who have been abandoned. It makes for  good songs but  lousy lives.

I know some of these broken-hearted women who had someone who said all the right things and then they didn’t and now they only have pictures in a box under the bed, and then maybe they get to the point were they even throw those out. But they don’t stop loving, themselves and their kids. That’s amazing. I am so impressed with the single moms, and dads. The single moms I know work so hard, in retail and in offices, making just enough to survive. They live for their kids. One absolutely beautiful single mom I know, beautiful by any standard, beautiful in mind and body, never remarried after her divorce. Why? Considering how absolutely brutal her husband had been, she chose to keep it safe, for her, for her kids, for her mom and she made a life without a man, and made it good. I honor that. She didn’t think of herself; she thought of how important it was to create a safe space for her family. Her children were so broken by the divorce.

I remember going to her house when it was the conflict was at a  horrible peak. One of her daughters was hiding in the closet and wouldn’t come out , and we sat in front of it and talked to her. I asked this little traumatized girl in the closet what she wanted, and she said , “I want my family to go back to like it was before!” Ouch! So painful. This got at it. She wanted what she needed and couldn’t get. No wonder she was in the closet. The real world didn’t work for her. We couldn’t make that happen, bring back the past, but her mom did the next best thing possible: she made something safe and beautiful called a family without a husband and without a father. Her daughter is now married and has children of her own. Strong single, unselfish women — they rock.

Ever so often a new book comes out explaining how women are different from men. I find them insufferable. Of course we are different, but not in the ways defined by these purchased distortions of the popular mindset. These books go like this: women are emotional. Really? Well, I’ve noticed something too:  so are men, they just nuance it differently. Then we are told, woman are nurturers. Right! Don’t leave me out. So are men. I know a former gangster who is one of the most nurturing, sensitive men I know. He totally serves and protects and cares for his nine kids. We have also  been told that woman want to be rescued. Yep. Well, guess what? So do men. I know so many men who have been rescued by women. It goes on and on, these distinctions but it is silly. Some people like the women are from venus and men are from mars kinds of explanation because they can’t get along  and they find comfort in explanations that don’t make this their fault. Gender stereotyping is a dodge. “We can’t relate to each other because we are different. It’s not our fault.” That is bogus.

There are gender differences, and I like them, especially the ones that you can see, “Wow, wow, wow!” Love those girl shapes, and for the girls, sculpted men — cool too. The physiological differences between men and women, strength stuff, reproductive stuff,  are well-researched and published. And there are  obvious  behavioral differences too.  Men rape women; the opposite of that is rare. Men kill each other at a higher rate than women. Women birth all the babies. Women have perfected some really cruel ways to be mean to each other that men don’t know. There are differences. But when we get inside, less so, there are less differences when we confront our core humanity. We all need such simple and fundamentally human things — to be held, to be understood, to be respected, to have something meaningful to do, to be wanted, to feel okay about our changing bodies and our shaky minds.

This kind of experiential awakening has dissolved my fear of girls. Now, I fear them not. My wife took care of that by teaching me to be human again, after I’d lost that in high school, and by liking me so much that I was able over time to begin to really like myself. I have never met a person who I am so comfortable with as my wife. And my two daughters have taught me so much about girls, human girls, who are human first and girl second. I adore them both. I am their dad and their friend and a safe human being who loves them unconditionally.

My daughter Roz and I play a  game. Since she was a little girl I have asked her, “When will I stop loving you?” And she responds, “You’ll never stop loving me.”

Girls? Nothing to be afraid of here — just another form of human being to never stop loving.


Posted: June 2, 2010 in difficulty
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We deal with failure differently.

Some failures we laugh off.  An older lady told me yesterday. “I was trying to read in a group recently, and I couldn’t seem to read the page I was on, then I figured out I had my glasses on upside down!”   We both laughed.

Some failures can’t be laughed off.  A person told me with great pain recently, “I never thought I’d be divorced.” No humor in this moment.

It’s interesting how we process failure. There is actually controversy about this. Some people take an aggressive, positive approach. They fight against things; they pray against things; they refuse to accept defeat. They may say things like, “There aren’t any failures; there are only learning experiences.” They give examples of those who have been healed, who have risen above loss, who have made a come back, who have reinvented themselves. They are believers in power. They speak of post-traumatic growth.  

This response has value in that it is positive, it sometimes wins the day, it works well to motivate reform; it preserves self-esteem; it uses failure as nuclear fuel to energize a  new  future. At its best it is a plucky, hopeful, can-do approach to life. At its worst it is an arrogant triumphalism, fostering a sense of superiority and the over-expectation of ultimate triumph.

Some, on the other hand, take a more accepting, honest-about-loss, humanized approach. They say things like, “It’s important to face the reality of loss. To do that we need to grieve. We need to feel.”  This approach embraces loss and failure as deep learning experiences  that help us gentlize, become more human, more relational. The interest isn’t in winning something, defeating something or healing something.  The response isn’t interested in becoming a dynamo of success fueled by a devastated past.

The interest is in becoming an authentic person, an emotionally intelligent person, a more aware person. This person leans into failure, learns to listen to the rumblings within. This perspective is good in that it clearly identifies a legitimate failure. It often leads to appropriate expressions of grief, to deeper empathy, even perhaps to a few much-needed apologies. It is good; it is emotionally healthy, but taken too far it may become defeatist, overly emotional, giving up on reversing declines, not tapping into the power to heal or reform, not pushing ahead and winning victories that could yet be won.

To see these approaches in action, consider how persons with these two perspectives might respond to terminal illness. The upside-of-life, assertive, go-for-it person says, “We can still beat this,” or prays, “God, we ask you to heal this.” But the more emotionally focused, reality-accepting person might say at a death bed, “It is time to let her go. We have to now accept this.” And then this person prays, “God, comfort us as we grieve this.”  It’s problematic spiritually; both responses can be seen as spiritual. To look to God for healing shows great faith, but to accept reality when it isn’t what you want also shows great faith. 

Such responses are a choice in each situation of life, and we many of us probably go back and forth between these. But some of us have one of these two reactions as a default setting. We tend toward either a triumphalist or a more humanize response to failure and loss. Where this is true this may become problematic for us. Being stuck in one kind of response to every situation many keep us from bringing wisdom to the subtlety and complication of life.

For example, being overly optimistic in some situations can stifle legitimate grief. It can also sabotage a needed apology. It can also run over the top of other people involved in the same incident who need time to process and recover. A downright Pollyannaish outlook can even deny reality.

But being overly “in touch” with emotions, and the past and human frailty also has a downside. Self-confidence can be destroyed if in a time of failure as a person turns upon themselves too much, wallowing in feelings, perhaps over-analyzing themselves for what they think they did wrong.  Too much introspection can stifle action, prevent us from going on, keep us from believing that with God’s help situations can be reversed, dramatically changed, people healed.

What to do?

Do both. Engage in both the “I’m looking forward” and the “I’m looking inward” approaches. Reality is complex; so must our responses be, nuanced, intricate, bi-functional.

True, we must move beyond failure, but we while doing so we must not deny the losses in the past. It is good to see the best in things, but not to deny the worst. Praying for healing is good. And when it doesn’t happen it is also good to accept that God had something else in mind.

In short, to be wise we must be human, and more than that.

In failure, we must  grieve and then move on and finally know when to do one and then the other.

It’s weird, but sometimes the people we love the most we hate the most.  We don’t really hate them, but we sometimes have the strongest negative emotions that we have ever felt, toward them. At a moment of conflict, it feels like hate.

This is something we don’t want to admit. It sounds wrong, but really it’s quite normal. Feelings of love and hate live closer to each other than we may want to admit. We act the dance between the two out. We yell at a spouse or child, criticizing them for something they did or didn’t do, or we simmer inside, silently furious that they have neglected or hurt us, but afraid of our own emotions and afraid of conflict. And yet at the same time, we know we profoundly love them and are committed to them.

Why do we sometimes feel so strongly against those we love? There is so much at stake. Close, family relationships have a huge impact on identity, who we are or think we are. In these relationships we gain a deep sense of worth, and that this can be enhanced or damaged by the loved person. Family relationships also control us, adding to or limiting what we get from life in the crucial areas of money, sex and power. Either gain or loss of what we need amp up our emotions and stir fires of deep calm or anger in us.

We may conflict in a casual relationship without much consequence, but we know that a fight with a spouse or child matters. Our feelings in these relationships flash on brightly, like red lights at busy intersections at night.

What do we do with these feelings? We should honor them, we should accept them, we do best to lean into them. They help us. They are our friends. They tell us that we care. They tell us that these relationships matter. They are normal, and we normalize them by not denying them. And we honor them by acting on them; yes, we act on them by having the needed talk, by working out the needed negotiation, by giving time to process these valuable feelings.

This is life. Feel. You  love. Feel. You  matter. Feel. You have relationships that are important enough to fight for, to care for, to resolve.

Feel. You are alive!

Love  is idiosyncratic.

We  each  experience  love uniquely, filtering it through our personal backgrounds, personalities and experiences.  In this domain, don’t bother with generics.

One person feels loved when they are given a gift that perfectly fits an interest they have. For them, that’s love.  Another  feels deeply loved by a  snuggly hug, another by being close but not touching. Another feels most loved by being listened to as they share the trivia of their day, another by being allowed to talk about ideas, another by having a purring cat sleep on their lap, another by being allowed to watch a local football game with friends, another by being encouraged to go to the beach and walk with girl friends.

Love is ideolectic, which means it is articulated in the language of the individual, not the group. It is found in nick names and private endearments and familial neologisms and  goofy redefinitions. It resides in family jokes, favorite foods and funny family stories, a language invented by people with the same reality even if they don’t have the same last name.

When we cannot experience love, the dysfunctions behind our attachment disorders are often idiopathic, unknown or at least unrecognized by us.  An angry father, a perpetually drunk mother, a childhood illness, a traumatic divorce,  a disabling shyness — we may have some idea as to our love disability, but often we are not quite sure as to its precise etiology. We may brood, “Why can’t I seem to connect well with people, bond, enter into love the way I see that others do?” We often don’t know precisely why; perhaps we never will. Love’s dysfunctions are complex, but we do not have to understand them completely to  love.

To whatever degree we can give or receive love, we should; it is a gift and a thrill. Love  is the essence of mental health and the core of happiness. Love is so essential that it should be made the highest priority of life. We should go all out to love the people we live with idiosyncratically, in the ways in which  they want and need to be loved. We should gently, kindly, patiently and continuously customize our love for our spouses and boyfriends and kids and best friends.

If we do everything else but don’t do love, we have done absolutely nothing. Love is first, best, highest and most supreme. Do not miss making this your primary mission in every second of every day for the rest of your life.

Let quirky, personalized, specialized, custom-fitted love rule.

One of the most obvious things about the people in your family is that some of them are quite different from you. 

Take the issue of how we process time. We process it differently. Some are speedy thinkers, quick with a response, quick to want to suggest solutions, quick to want to make up after a fight. Others are deliberate processors, slow to know what they feel, in need of time to  make a decision.

One of my daughters processes things over time. Recently we got in an argument over what movie to watch. I pushed; she got upset. It was a bit of a mess.

When the deliberate processors meet the fast processors over an issue, watch out. The quick tend to bulldoze the slow; the  slow tend to stall the quick.

The solution? In the family, it is wise to allow for differences without judging and stigmatizing the way the people we live with process things. The quick can say, “Hey, take a little time and get back to me on what you think.” The slow can say, “It’s good that you want to resolve this now. Let’s see if we can talk it out. What do you think we should do?”

The secret is to honor the other persons process and to negotiate in a way that works for both people. On the movie issue, my daughter and I gave it some time. We came to an agreeement.

Often the differences in our families show up in our likes and dislikes. Some like sports; some like to read. Some like to hike; some like to watch TV. Again it is so easy to be threatened by differences.  If we aren’t atheletic, could it be that atheletic people make us feel clutsy? If we aren’t smart and bookish, perhaps the literary nerds make us feel ignorant.

I like to watch football. My wife doesn’t. She graciously gives me space to do this. And she doesn’t just tolerate it; she supports me in it. Recently I invited a friend over to watch a playoff game with me. My wife called my friend’s wife, and they took a walk during the game.

The solution to our different likes? Again, it is to allow for differences without judging each other. Who wants a family full of rules and reactions that keep people from enjoying what they really love to do? By giving space for others to do what they want, we allow them to be happy and fulfilled. And furthermore, if we will participate in each others likes, we can expand our interests and become increasingly enriched people.

Giving a spouse or child a chance to pursue their passion is a way of serving and deeply loving them. The I-want-you-to-be-able-to-do-what-you-want response is at the core of what it means to love another person.

Differences between us can threaten or enrich;  it’s mostly our choice.

What To Do Most

Posted: September 21, 2009 in love
Tags: , , ,

happy personThe People Priority

Life is a priority making event. We eat; we shop; we work; we eat. We sleep; we make things, we break things, we fix things, we eat things.  We surf the internet, we exercise, we watch TV; we eat while watching TV; we eat after we watch TV. There is a pattern. Certain things stand out.

When it comes to priorities, I recommend eating, often, all day, and half the night, in your sleep. I ate in the shower recently. Eating is my priority, but eating is not the main thing.

People are. People are the soul’s food. I recommend three to four large servings of small to medium sized people per day.

Nothing on earth is more nourishing to your psyche than small people,  friends,  family, grandchildren, your people. Other things — cars, houses, TVs are a mere sugar coating on life. People are protein.

Your career accomplishments, will be forgotten. Too much food will make you fat, but family and friends and grandparents and children and new acquaintances — they are the sweet spot, the core, the elixir of good living.

Think Jesus. He owned nothing, but relationships, and his life was replete with meaning! Want to thrive? Socialize. Drive fast, toward people. Put your social pedal to the floor. Shift into relational fifth gear, motor toward people at top speed.

 “Love your neighbor.” It’s top priority.

 There are several simple ways to do this. 

Take risks.

If you are invited to a party, go. Jesus did his first miracle at a party. If you are never get invited to parties, take a class at the community college; they often end with a party. My wife and I took a dance class  at the college.  It was like constant party; every night I danced with a different girl, and stepped on her toes. It was a risk; it was fun; it was scary. I’m glad I did it. I won’t do it again.

But you don’t have to go to a party or take a class to risk socially, to have the adventure of new relationship. Church works. Go often. Join a group there. It is the best way to get deeper with people. Jesus’s closest followers joined his group. You need homies, groupies, buddies, cronies, confidantes, side kicks.

I remember my first small group experience at a church I was terrified. I was afraid to say anything in outloud in the group. When I did risk and speak, I trembled and my heart pounded. I was so shy. It was painful. I’ve gotten over that. How? I’ve been a small group continuously for the last 30 years. Just do it, until in feels natural!

All of ature knows to collect. Flies swarm, fish school, sheep flock. The crows group in a murder, the cobras in a quiver, the seals form a harem. What about you? Who is in your quiver? Who is in your murder? Who makes up your harem? Well, you might not do the harem thing.

Spiritually seeking people have always grouped. Moses left his isolation in the peaceful desert to join his people in Egypt. Ruth left her people to join her mother-in-laws people in Palestine. Peter left his fishing buddies to be a part of Jesus’ small group. 

Follow suite. Don’t isolate, don’t cocoon or hide. Get out of the house. Find  your people.

Samoans make good football players. Think Jr. Seau.  In the NFL he has had over 1,500 career tackles. Samoans have a warrior tradition. So do Christian.  Our Christian ancestors are Joshua, David, Paul. Live like them. Capture your people.

Reveal yourself

Once you are with people, to really be with them you must reveal who you are. Create safe space. Safe space is space where we are all free to be imperfect, where we give people our permission to be imperfect too.

Jesus created safe space everywhere he went. There was a  woman caught in adultery.  Religious people wanted to stone her. Jesus said to them “He who is without sin, throw the first stone.”

Jesus protected her by getting everyone there to admit that they weren’t perfect. The secret to good relating is that there are no secrets. Safety exists in the truth that wea are all failures.

In John 8:32, Jesus says, You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth he is talking about is the truth that we aren’t perfect, and that we need him to help  us be free, to admit that, to be open to be right and good.

To live in truth, I engage in intentional openess. I often share with people something imperfect about myself. It’s easy. There are so many things to choose from.

I once shot my big brother, with a BB gun. I once totaled my car. I am an addict. Addicted, to what? To every food ever grown, cut, cooked, fried, broiled, boiled or burned, but especially to cold cereal.  While laughing, I once snorted super sugar crisps. I like to inhale — my cereal.

Want to thrive in relationships. Tell on yourself. It makes people laugh, or cry, for you. It connects you. It’s liberating to be honest. It opens up the conversation to revelations of criminal activity and other juicy topics. Baptize your conversations with honesty. You’ll draw out interesting confessions.

Some people won’t go to church. Why? They think they have to act holy. If only they knew! I tell them. Come to my church. You’ll meet so many people who are more messed up than you that it will make you feel great about yourself.

Be human. Jesus was, fully God, fully man. If you are free to be what you are, other people will be free to be who  they are and always will be — gloriously and imperfectly and shockingly,  human.

Be stingy — with criticism

Jesus was so different from the other religious people of his day. They were critical of other people, full of rules, judgments. That is so unattractive, so antisocial.

Jesus went around accepting people, lepers, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors.

Some Christians go around doing the opposite, expressing judgment and intolerance. They are intolerant of falling moral standards, of political liberals or conservatives, of other denominations, of other religions, of slipping family values, of people who don’t believe in miracles. But is that an effective strategy to draw people to Jesus? Is it like Jesus?

Come join us and you can be judgmental and angry like us!

Be cautious with criticism. Jesus primarily defined his followers by what they were for, not what they were against. We are for people, not against them. We are for forgiveness. We are for mercy. Samuel Johnson said, “God doesn’t judge a man until his life is over. Why should I?” We are for compassion. We are for peace.

William James said that the “deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” James used the word, “craving.” Meet the craving. Tell people good things about themselves.

To thrive relationally you must be winsomely positive.

Express warmth.

Jesus was always touching the people he healed. Babies that are regularly touched gain weight faster, develop stronger immune systems, crawl and walk sooner, sleep more soundly and cry less than babies deprived of close physical contact.

Touch the people you love, hug them, pre-hug them, re-hug them, post-hug them, kiss them. Jesus touched the blind man’s eyes, he brought the children near; he put his hands on people he healed.

Affirm people. People are 50% more likely to feel close to family members who frequently express affection than to those who rarely do so. Tell people, “I love you.” 

When the preschoolers I know see me, they run and hug my leg. They tell me they love me. They adore me, and aren’t afraid to show it. We would do well not to lose such enthusiasm for people.

Why are we reluctant to tell people we care about them?  Are we afraid it will be misinterpreted as manipulative, as weak, as sexual? Well, if the last is an issue for you, be careful, but still find words or actions to glow with holy warmth.

Express warmth. It creates a magnetic attraction, what Rollo May calls a “field of emotion.”

Go after it. It’s the priority. It’s people. To love them, take risks, reveal yourself, be stingy with criticism, glow with social warmth.

Remember Philippians 4:13.  “I can do everything in him who gives me strength.”

Draw energy, inspiration, a field of warm emotion, from Jesus. He made people his top priority; he was warm, honest, and positive.  If you follow him, he lives in you, he speaks through you. He connects through you.

You might say, “It doesn’t feel natural.” Love? Of course not, it’s of God, it’s supernatural.