Tuesday, July 20, 2010

my heart like a kick drum

"I won't look back anymore/I left the people that do/It's not the chase that I love/It's me following you"  The Avett Brothers

Not too long ago I was part of a conversation that shed a little light on how men and women operate differently when it comes to their expectations for one another.  One friend, female, we'll call her Heather; the other, male, we'll call him Jeremy.  I wasn't as much a part of the conversation as a spectator.  (Sidenote: You never seem more brilliant than when you keep your mouth shut for an enlightening conversation.  Try it sometime.) 

Now that the scene is set and the characters identified, I'll just make up recreate the dialogue that ensued.
Heather:  Guys just generally try too hard, I think.
Jeremy:  What do you mean?
Heather:  For instance, with dating.  Guys think they need to go out of their way to wow a girl early in the relationship.  Horse-drawn carriages, candlelit dinners and the like.  I think most girls prefer something a little more simple and organic.  It doesn't have to be a big show.
Jeremy:  I can understand that.  You don't want to base your relationship on creating a moment that is to a certain degree contrived.
Brent (interjecting):  Hold on.  For me, personally, I can't afford to hold anything back.  I'm not nearly charming or engaging enough to just hope it happens for me naturally.  I need to try hard just to make it seem simple.
Heather (eyes rolling):  True.  Your charm-deficiency is readily apparent.  So some will have to try harder than others.

OK, I'm not sure she really said that last part.  But she was definitely thinking it.  In fact, I remember the context of the conversation but almost nothing that was actually said so the above dialogue is shrouded in mythos at best.  Still, the point holds as long as the war wages between Ares and Aphrodite.  Girls think guys try too hard.  Guys think they don't get enough credit for trying.

I just recently got around to reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, an instant classic about music, manliness, and memory told through the voice of a protagonist forced to face his fears about relationships and get his life together after his girlfriend breaks up with him.  (A favorite among twentysomething, not-quite-directionless hipsters whose mothers can't figure out why they can't just a find a nice girl and settle down.)  Anyway, there's one particularly illuminative passage that sheds light on why relationships between men and women are doomed to inevitable failure.
You hear that?  She's not very good at slushy stuff?  That, to me, is a problem, as it would be to any male who heard Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" at an impressionable age.  That was what I thought it was all going to be like when I was married...  I thought there was going to be this sexy woman with a sexy voice and lots of sexy eye makeup whose devotion to me shone from every pore.  And there is such a thing as the look of love...it's just that the look of love isn't what I expected it to be.  It's not huge eyes almost bursting with longing situated somwhere in the middle of a double bed with the covers turned down invitingly; it's just as likely to be the look of benevolent indulgence that a mother gives a toddler, or a look of amused exasperation, even a look of pained concern.  But the Dusty Springfield look of love?  Forget it. ...

Women get it wrong when they complain about media images of women.  Men understand that not everyone has Bardot's breasts, or Jamie Lee Curtis's neck, or Cindy Crawford's bottom, and we don't mind at all. ...  We worked out very quickly that Bond girls were out of our league, but the realization that women don't ever look at us the way Ursula Andress looked at Sean Connery, or even in the way that Doris Day looked at Rock Hudson, was much slower to arrive, for most of us.  In my case, I'm not at all sure that ever did. ...

(I)t's much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negliges and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances, had no basis in reality at all.  That's what women ought to get all steamed up about; that's why we can't function properly in a relationship.

That's the problem.  As men, we are constantly searching for that look that we have been taught is attainable from a million movies, television shows, and fairy tales.  We have literally seen the look of love, just never directed toward us.  It's a refusal to believe this reality is unreachable.  So results the constant struggle to up the ante, to make our pursuit of the woman more grandiose and cartoonish, still never seeing the look we think we deserve... that we've earned.  Women just don't fall in love like that.  At least not with guys that would try that hard just for the satisfaction of a fleeting glance.

This weekend, I was part of the $60 million-plus intake for ticket sales for the new Christopher Nolan-directed, Leo DiCaprio starring, dream-themed flick Inception.  (Worth every penny.)  Without giving away too much of the plot for readers who might still be planning to see it, the movie is structured around the proposition that you can change someone's mind, and as a result their entire being, by simply implanting an idea deep inside their mind and convincing them the idea is their own.  One character struggles throughout the film with the difference between fantasy and reality, memory and projection.  Eventually, he must come to terms with whether memory is enough to sustain a relationship with someone or whether simply projecting actions, events, and conversations with someone else is enough to keep that person alive at least within the confines of our own minds.  Can you really imagine the reaction of another person or create a dialogue when you are writing both sides of the script?  Can you really remember a person for all of their virtues and all of their flaws at the same time?  And if you can't then are you willing to accept the imperfect version you create in your own head?  Can the memory of what once was or the projection of what could be ever be enough to satify you?

It's a fascinating question in light of the above conversation I referenced between two friends that is vaguely related to real events.  Because in trying to impress and pursue a woman by creating this moment in time, hoping that will be enough to produce the look of love I desire, am I not in some ways simply trying to implant deep within her mind the idea that I am lovable and attempting to convince her that idea is her own?  Should she accept that kind of pursuit?  What am I after anyway?  Her or the projection of love as I think it should be?  Maybe Aphrodite is righteously indignant after all.

But what am I supposed to do differently?  How can I change now?  I have only been trained to over pursue.  Not just because my charms are lacking.  But because the look of love is the only thing I know to want.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

no one man should have all that power

"Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic/He know, he so... gifted."  Kanye West

In case you've been living under a rock or have no knowledge of or interest in sports whatsoever, LeBron James long thought to be the best basketball player of a generation decided to uproot himself from the only home he has ever known in Cleveland last week and "take (his) talents to South Beach" announcing "The Decision" in a one-hour ESPN special. 

His decision immediately unleashed a torrent of criticism from local fans who burned his jersey, said some pretty horrible (but possibly true) things about his mother, and generally just flooded the streets to yell obscenities.  No fan was drunker, less calculated, or more haterific than Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who fired out an ill-advised letter.  (Except you're going to need to imagine that this letter was written in Comic Sans font... because it was.)
Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;
As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. ...

To which the Reverend Jesse Jackson responded:
He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship--between business partners--and LeBron honored his contract. ...

LeBron is not a child, nor is he bound to play on Gilbert’s plantation and be demeaned. ...

And that pretty much brings you up to speed on where we are today.

Now various and sundry sports talking heads have attacked LeBron for his decision to spurn the Cavs for the greener pastures of Miami and a chance to compile championships with his friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  He has been attacked for everything from disloyalty to the cities of Akron and Cleveland and state of Ohio, to an alleged fear of trying to win championships without surrounding himself with other highly talented players, to joining Dwayne Wade's team, to being an egomaniac more concerned with pushing a brand than chasing the greatness of previous players like Michael Jordan.  Now rather than rehash all of the arguments I have made over the last week asserting that LeBron did his time in Cleveland and isn't the first 25-year-old to get out while he had the chance, that he can forge his own path to greatness without following the Jordan model to a T, or that you can't join someone else's team when the "team" is only four guys and not even enough to run fullcourt games; I think I just want to focus on the charge that "The Decision" special was nothing more than the overblown overindulgence of an overhyped athlete.

See, I think it is much more than that.  No matter what he does the rest of his career, if he ever lives up to the "King James" and "Chosen One" monikers, or how many rings he puts on fingers... last week, LeBron James changed the game forever.

Like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, he took control of his own destiny in every way.  Why?  Because only he could.  For the first time in the free agency era, a player didn't have to negotiate with teams or try to come to terms on a deal.  Teams came to him offering cart blanche and more.  They cleared their rosters, freed up money meant for him, tried to put their team in a situation over the better part of two years just to have a chance to talk to LeBron. 

Now this freaks people out.  Because everyone likes it better when these players are under control.  We already hate them for the money they make and the cars they drive and the women they pursue.  (See my previous loosely-related post "hater nation.")  But to have to stomach that one man can direct his own destiny without control from a team, an owner, a city, a fan base, the media, an agent, a PR rep, or anyone other than himself.  Now that we just can't swallow.  The hate is too thick to stomach.

This will destroy basketball.  It will shatter the dreams of little children who believe in heroes and puppies and rainbows.  This is the death of loyalty and fidelity and bravery and integrity.  Everything good has perished.  Only the dark reign of egotism remains.

LeBron is not the destroyer of basketball.  He is the liberator of it.

We hate him because we can't do what he can.

Imagine if you had the opportunity to declare free agency in some part of your life.  Don't have a job.  That's fine.  Declare free agency.  Watch the job offers come rolling in.  Don't like your cell phone company.  You're a free agent now.  Discounts are coming your way.  Need a better rate on your car loan, mortgage, retirement plan.  Free agency.  Time to put those banks in competition with each other.  This is the free market, baby.  Greed is good.

As a single, relatively well-to-do, comparatively young, certainly available man, I'm ready to declare some free agency of my own.  I'm ready to start hearing some offers.  I'll take my talents to South Beach myself if I like the terms of the contract being offered.

Point is, free agency is the way of the world.  We all take advantage of it any chance that we get.  It's not only farcical but entirely hypocritical to judge LeBron just because he is the biggest free agent in the world and made the decision he thought was best for him.

You don't like players having all that power?  You better get used to it.  The game is changed.  We are all witnesses.  And we are all free agents.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

tuesday's gone

I have a couple of ideas for blogging soon but there is no way I can write anything else until I write this.

Lately, I have been encountering a wealth of pain and struggle, not of my own but of others.  Everything from the failure of relationships to the dissolution of marriages to death and sickness and poverty.  I have been witness to too much grief and too few miracles.  There is little else in the world that makes less sense to me than seeing parents mourn the loss of a child.  It is something that is particularly affecting my church family as our pastor reported on his blog just the other day.
The past 24 hours have been pretty devastating for us as a Summit family.

First, our beloved Helen Young, a matriarch in our church, passed away this afternoon. Helen had struggled with a severe case of cancer for some time…and went home to be with Jesus at about 4pm. Helen was our church’s backbone. I remember when she told me, 9 years ago, that God wanted me to be pastor of her church, then “Homestead Heights Baptist.” I thought she was crazy then. Perhaps she was. She has served us and our congregation faithfully, and up until the past year has been on just about every church-wide mission trip we’ve taken. She has entered into joys unspeakable.

Secondly, Chai Atwood, the son born 14 weeks premature to our college pastor Trevor Atwood and his wife Keva on Sunday, went home to be with Jesus a little before noon. We were praying for a miracle. God has taken Chai on into ultimate healing. No longer can he come to us, we will go to him. (1 Sam 12:23)

Third, we found out today that Nate Henn, the son of Summit members (North Raleigh campus) Bob and Julie Henn, was killed by a terrorist bomb in Uganda yesterday. Nate worked for Invisible Children, leveraging his life to see healing and hope brought to forgotten children around the world. Check out his story here.

I have said prayers for all of these people over the last few days knowing that feeble but powerful offering is all I have to give them.  For the Atwoods, it is a little more personal for me as I have served in the college ministry with them for years now and have learned so much from the example of Trevor and Keva as godly people and loving parents, even though they probably don't even realize what a testimony they have provided for me.  Shortly after I learned of what happened, I saw Trevor's response on behalf of his family and it was filled with grace, humility, hope, and strength.
Today much changed, Jesus did not. The gospel is true in the face of death. Thx to the 1st born among many brothers. Chai Samuel is yours.

I don't know if I'll ever be a man like that.

I am lucky to call Trevor a pastor and a mentor, blessed to call him a friend.  Inasmuch as he is like Jesus, I need to be more like him.

While all struggles are light and momentary in comparison to the glory and inheritance we have in Christ, my struggles truly are light and momentary in comparison to anything that matters.  Still I rage inconsolably blaming God and anyone else for my slight pin-prick of pain that I experience.  I am a bratty child in God's sight.  A sissy when it comes to pain.

The light of the gospel shines its brightest out of darkness.  Hope is precious to those who would be without and useless to those who have everything that they need.  One of the greatest gifts God can give us is the clear understanding of our desperate need of Him.

That will usually come when I stop trying to make sense of everything or presuming that I can or should know what God is doing in the world.  It comes from knowing that Christ does not change.  His love is steadfast.  His character remains the same always.  God doesn't wait around for me to need Him to show up.  He is always there, ever-present.  But thank God for the times it is made clear to me how desperate I am for Him.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and pray for these people if you are reading this and are so inclined.

And I pray God that I will remember...
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.