What We’ve All Been Searching for Since Childhood (A Post About Belonging)

At first, it sounded like nonsense.

A few weeks ago we picked up my son, Aidan, from two weeks of residential wilderness camp. He’d attended the camp with a friend from our town, and we were taking them back to the hotel for a decent shower before the long journey home. The two boys filled the thirty-minute drive to the hotel with a seemingly infinite stream of inside jokes born from their two-week adventure together.

Most of what they said made no sense to us. Yet, listening to them, you got the feeling something magical had happened between them—a bond forged in the midst of trials and tribulation and overcoming and rejoicing. Listening to them, you realized the code words they were using were the natural bubbling up of this deep magic. What is this deep magic?

belonging

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It is called belonging.

Closeness. Togetherness. Unity. The merging of two stories into a common language, a common vernacular. Each code word and each inside joke an icon of something greater, something bigger that cannot be completely articulated. Each retold story the retelling of some ineffable connection, the likes of which cannot be grasped but only pointed toward in laughter and delight.

At camp, Aidan and his friend put their phones away and took their hearts out. Instead of watching YouTube videos and sharing someone else’s stories, they created their own stories. Instead of learning someone else’s language, they developed a language all their own. At camp, they found a little bit of what they will continue to search for in middle school and beyond. Indeed, it’s what we’re all searching for all the time.

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Our Best Hope(s) in a Summer of Violence

hope

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An hour before gunshots rang out in Dallas, I was playing a game of basketball with my kids in the driveway—a game called Around the World, in which it’s every man, boy, and little girl for themselves. The game started pleasantly enough but quickly devolved. Cruel words flew back and forth. A ball was thrown, not at a hoop, but at a head.

Around the World, violence begets violence.

And in America, it has been a summer of violence. Orlando. The summertime killing fields in south Chicago. In Louisiana and Minnesota, two more black lives senselessly ended. In Dallas, five policemen executed for crimes they didn’t commit. And the next violent tragedy, whatever it may be, just waiting in the wings.

Like so many, I’m grieving.

Grief can take many forms.

Indeed, this summer, grief has taken many forms in me. Immediately, I want to get right up on my pulpit and pontificate about people and policy and politics. Immediately, I want to talk about solutions, because sometimes solving is a way of not feeling. Sometimes, quick solutions are denial in disguise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, denial is the first stage of grief. I see this form of grief inside of me and all around me.

Yet, I know, my solutions are just a slightly more dignified form of my anger.

Anger is the second stage of grief, and I’m in a rage. I read the headlines and I want to scream until my throat is scorched. I saw an image of a sign held high at the Dallas protest: Know justice, know peace, f**k the racist police. I’m as conflicted as that sign:

My yearning for peace mutates into the very anger by which peace is slaughtered.

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The Parable of the Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

He watches the people lined up outside the club. People? More like swine. Robotic pigs, programmed to get into lines, to work and to sweat all day and then, at night, to rub their sweaty bodies together on a dance floor.

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

But it’s not just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

No one has ever kept their promises to him.

mass shootings

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His parents always told him they were interested in him, but when he tried to talk to them, he could see the faraway-glassy look in their eyes. And they told him they’d love him no matter what. But he overheard what they condemned in everyone else. Would they really love him if they knew the things he really thought, the things he really did, and the things he really wanted to do? He thought not.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

His girlfriend had promised him forever. In return, he’d promised her everything. Then, after all that promising, she’d had the nerve to tell him her feelings had “changed.” That she no longer loved him. That it was over. One more promise broken.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The politicians promised prosperity. They said there was a formula to things: honest work, blood, sweat, tears, a house, a marriage, kids, and retirement accounts were supposed to add up to the American dream. But his father had worked like a slave for the company, and then the company abandoned him for cheap, overseas labor. The banks had robbed people blind on bad mortgages, and now his parents’ house was worth nothing. His parents weren’t dreaming; they were scraping by.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The church promised him peace. They’d told him if he went every Sunday, gave his energy to their programs, his money to their building, and his heart to their Jesus, then he could be assured of eternity. But his problem wasn’t fear of the afterlife; his problem was despair about this life. He’d hoped the church would open the trap door, showing him the way to a deeper, more meaningful level of this life. Instead, they’d just kept making empty promises about the next one.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

So, as it sits on the car seat beside him, he wonders, why am I hesitating?

Why am I sitting instead of shooting?

Yet, he knows the answer. The man.

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The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed

When I’m procrastinating on writing—due to fear, fatigue, fear, lack of inspiration, did I mention fear?—Facebook is like a magnet.

One day recently, I could feel its pull, so I decided to trick myself into writing by giving into the temptation, going to Facebook, and crafting a blog post entitled, “The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed”—a sort of hopeful, redemptive response to all of the angry, nasty, and cynical news in my Facebook scroll.

The first item in my feed was exactly what I’d predicted.

A New York Times article about the anger at a political rally, replete with divisive comments from both supporters and haters. It confirmed my expectations, and I got ready to write a really good response to all the soul-sucking content.

But then I kept scrolling.

And it was the only article posted in the previous two hours that drained my soul.

The rest of the content nourished my soul.

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BREAKING NEWS: This Just Happened and the World May Never Be the Same

love

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(UnTangled News)—The global community was rocked yesterday by a divorce that may alter the course of humanity and the future of the planet. UnTangled News can confirm some basic facts:

For millennia, Love had been married to Power, clinging to Power and riding on his coattails, relying on Power to transform people and the world. Love was afraid to exist on her own in the world—afraid of what people would do to her and say about her.

But yesterday, something changed. In hearts and homes and villages and cities and nations, Love finally gave up on the relationship. Love just up and walked out on Power, ending their partnership for good.

One close friend of the couple, who goes by the name of Inertia, was quoted as saying, “They were always at odds with each other. They kept each other in check. While they were together, you got the sense nothing would ever change. And I kind of liked that. Now that Love is free of Power, I’m afraid she’s going to change everything.”

Reports from Around the Globe

Reports pouring in from around the globe suggest Inertia’s worst fears may be coming true—now that Love and Power are divorced, Love has been free to sacrifice and to lose and to be vulnerable and to invite and to release and to honor:

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It’s All the Rage: How Outrage Has Become a Virtue

This post is a bad idea—an invitation for indignation. Because I’m about to suggest we all act a little less controversial and, these days, suggesting less controversy has become the most controversial thing you can do…

anger

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Electronic communication is in its adolescence.

Blogging is about twenty years old (the word “blog” was first coined in 1999). For all intents and purposes, text messaging is about fifteen years old (texts could not be exchanged between phone networks until the turn of the century). And Facebook just reached the end of its first decade of public use (until 2006, Facebook was exclusively for college students).

Electronic communication is like a teenager.

And it’s doing what all teenagers do: it’s getting angry.

Online, we’re acting like right and wrong is obvious and what we believe is obviously right. Like uniformity is the only valid kind of community. Like someone else’s opinion is a direct threat to the validity of our own. Like it’s our job to be unwavering. Like talking back is the only way to talk. Like the only way to be yourself is to shout down all other selves.

To be enraged is all the rage.

To rant is to be righteous.

To be verbally violent is to be virtually virtuous.

We have become so comfortable with the everyday Facebook rant, we even expect it from our politicians and our pundits and our pulpits. In fact, we demand it.

I may not rant on Facebook, but I’ve been watching myself closely, and I have plenty of anger in me—dark stares and distraught sighs and dangerous sarcasm. Why? Because I’m ordinary. I’m human. We are, all of us, carrying within us an awful lot of anger, whether we realize it or not.

Anger isn’t new.

It’s been seething beneath the surface of our complicated humanity for millennia. Our anger wasn’t created by Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging and all our many forms of electronic communication. But they have given us just enough degrees of separation to feel comfortable unleashing it. And the problem is, once unleashed online, it gets hard to cage it again. Once typed out, it gets way easier to act it out. Then it becomes a habit. A way of life.

Fortunately, there is a way to grow out of our online adolescence.

It’s called uncertainty.

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The Kindness Challenge

Let’s admit it: we’re obsessed with winning. Just look around. Everything has become a competition. Our will-to-win is everywhere, and it’s not going anywhereBut what if we gave it something better to do? What if we all decided to compete at a game called kindness?

kindness

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We’re at the kitchen table—my wife, youngest son, daughter, and I—and we’re playing Go Fish. The game is quickly becoming too competitive: my son is hiding cards underneath the table, I’m pretty sure my daughter is sneaking cards from the pile, and heated words are starting to fly. Most of them are not from me. I’m tempted to end the game.

Instead, I announce we’re changing the goal of the game.

We’re going to keep a tally of kindness during the game and, regardless of who has the most cards at the end, the winner will be the one who has shown the most generosity and gentleness. At first, the kids look at me like I’m crazy.

Then it changes everything.

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Dear ISIS (A Letter Between Human Beings)

Paris attacks

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Dear ISIS,

I know I’m supposed to hate you. I know I’m supposed to be angry. I know I’m supposed to want revenge. I know I’m supposed to demand justice at any cost. I’m supposed to raise my middle finger, tell you I’m not afraid, hunt you down, and blow you up. I know I’m supposed to think you’re the bad guys and we’re the good guys. I know I’m supposed to think you’re evil.

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Reflections on Beauty (From Main Street U.S.A.)

Beauty. There’s an entire industry dedicated to it. But what if beauty isn’t something you can buy or paint on or put on? What if beauty isn’t even something you can create? What if beauty is a reality we cultivate and something in which we participate?

beauty

Dixon, IL (July 15, 2015)

I’m walking down main street in the small, rural town that was once my hometown and is, as of two weeks ago, my hometown once again. It’s my first official day as a writer in our new home. I’ve just dropped the kids off at camp, and there’s a conflict playing out within me.

I’m feeling pressure to race home and write something beautiful.

But up the block, there’s a coffee shop where people are gathered and laughing, and I haven’t had my morning dose yet. And one block further down the street is my wife’s new pediatric development center, Florissa, which I haven’t yet visited. And lining the sidewalks, from here to there, are hanging baskets, with thick cascades of pink and purple petunias.

Bountiful.

Beautiful.

It’s a July day that has dawned like the best kind of September day. Baby blue sky, mashed potato clouds, sunlight that kisses your face instead of slapping it. It’s the kind of day on which you don’t really need a breeze, but it feels just right anyway. I’d been planning to rush home to capture some beauty in words, but here, ambushed by beauty, I’m reminded:

You don’t capture beauty. It’s too big to be caught and too wild to be grasped. You don’t even discover beauty; you slow down, take a breath, and you let it find you. You make yourself available to it. You bear witness to it.

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The Power of Friendship (When Friendship is a Verb)

The word “friend” is a derivative of the verb “freon,” which means, “To love.” A friend is a person. And a friend is a verb

friendship

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Two years ago, as my daughter was sprouting up through her fourth year of life, I was helping her put on a pair of jeans, and the waistband strained mightily. I asked her if she would like me to loosen it. She looked at me with puzzlement and asked, “Why?” So I found the stretchy strap inside the waistband and loosened it several notches.  I looked at her and asked, “Better?” This time, she looked at me with awe and she sighed,

“Oh my, that’s a lot of better.”

My daughter didn’t know how uncomfortable her pants were, because she didn’t know how comfortable they could feel. When dis-ease sets in like a slowly dripping faucet, we don’t notice it. We unconsciously adapt to it. This can happen to our pants. But it can also happen to our hearts.

We steadily, quietly get flooded by the almost imperceptible drip-drip of disinterest.

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