Suspension of Disbelief

Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore  and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.

When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief.  It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content.  The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.

Think of your favorite book or movie.

Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief.  Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.

mirror-light-black-glassToday didn’t feel like one of those days.

Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions.  Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).

Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.

So something has to suffer.

How do we learn to love our own stories?

Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh.  Find joy and the hearts it inhabits.  Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives.  Expand your circle and make a difference.

Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance.  In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices.  You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.  Always keep moving forward.

Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.

Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.

You’ll know when it happens.  We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.

That may make some uncomfortable.  It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.

We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.

We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.

You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.

If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.

~Matt

 

Radioactive

My mother worked in a nuclear medicine department at a hospital for forty years.  She’s still there, inching her way towards retirement.  My father was an operator at a nuclear power plant before he retired.

I used to tell people that I glowed in the dark.

I remember visiting the hospital or the power plant (pre 9/11 years) and being amazed at the concept of radioactivity. Somehow this substance could kill you if you were around it too long.

I called my dad after 9/11 and would hear the stories of increased security, guards with automatic weapons and armored vehicles. Every year the township distributed iodine tablets to help against the possibility of exposure from a fallout event.

We all have our fallout events.

pexels-photo

This week, we took Carter in for some testing.  He’s been complaining of a rapid heart beat and some chest pain here and there. His emotions are erratic and we decided to talk to his doctor.  For two days we’ve wondered about results and the call came in today.

Everything normal.

So I look at him and wonder why?  What changed and what can we do to help?

The other night, after he had flown off in a rage and finally calmed down, he hugged me.  I told him I was sorry, that I wanted to make him feel better.

“Daddy, you don’t hug me enough anymore. You give me more high fives than hugs,” he said.

Feelings came crashing through. I’d seen him from my lens and not his. I’d assumed he would be mild mannered, like me, and not this vibrant, active, and emotional kid. I had parented him by attempting to attach the influence of my past to a person who had not known what it was like, one who never glowed in the dark.

It was an amateur parent thought:

He’ll be cool and low key, just like me.

I was wrong.

He has parts of me, yes, but he is his own person.  One who needs more hugs than high fives, freedom and the chance to grow. He’s Carter, not me.  One day he’ll be a father and I want him to know I’ll be there, with love and support at whatever level he needs.

0809151058a(1)

This is Carter from last Sunday.  My reason to keep fighting to get this fatherhood thing right.

~Matt

A Bike Ride and The Storm

I stood on the playground as Carter rode circles around me on his bike, a skill he had just acquired and accomplished without the use of training wheels.  I thought back to growing up, when a bike was the only way to get around.  Our home town was situated on the side of a hill.  Going down was great.  Going across was okay, but I could take it.

I’d avoid going up hill at all costs.

Carter pulled his bike to the side and hopped off.

The playground is with his elementary school.  Someone had thrown hundreds of sheets of colored paper in the dumpster next to where I’d parked. Storm clouds gathered to the west and, as we watched, the wind picked up a sheet of white paper and blew it to Carter’s feet.

He had found a small pencil on the ground and sat down, drawing shapes and figures on the paper.  I sat across from him as he worked, hand moving in loops and swirls, green eyes checking to see if I was watching.

It was a vast difference from the night before.

broken-rust-bike-bicycle

An instance had grown to a conflict, to emotions and words, anger and tears.

“What are you drawing?” I asked.

It was the shape of an animal with four backward L feet.

“A turtle,” Carter said.

“What’s his name?”

“Mister M.” He drew a big M on the turtle to make his point.

A second piece of paper blew out of the dumpster, danced on the wind, and landed next to me. I grabbed it and passed it over to Carter.  We traded papers.

He started on a stick figure, paused, and looked at my face.

“Are you drawing me?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said as he colored in a black shirt on my stick torso.

I swallowed.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said. “We’re going to do better. As a family.”

“It’s okay.” He said.

In a moment, he had shown me grace.  The sun cut through the clouds and he squinted against it.  He finished my stick portrait and handed it to me.

“Keep it,” he said.

I will, Carter.  I will.

~Matt

The Anger Addiction

I’ve spent a few years working in the medical field, from emergency medicine to rehabilitation and a doctor’s office.  In this time, I’ve met a ton of people and had the chance to see the highest moments of positivity and the darkest times of grief. People often stand at a crossroads.  They can overcome and find themselves better than before they arrived.

Or they can drown in their sickness.

Today I listened to an amazing sum of conversations and it hit me.

When did we get so angry?

As a culture we’ve become obsessed with it.  Watch daytime talk shows. Listen to the politicians.  We love angry people.  Pick up a cause and yell about it, in digital or real form, and you’ll find an audience.

As a church, we’ve embraced it.  If everyone can be offended, why not us?

light-man-new-year-hope

There’s a scene in The Godfather, one of my favorite movies (I’m a guy, it is required) where Al Pacino is sitting at his child’s baptism.  As he goes through saying the words, the shot cuts to various murders that Pacino’s character has ordered.  As he renounces the devil, he kills those who oppose him.

It works because of the contrast and the pull at human nature.  Who hasn’t wanted to get back at our enemies, to even the scales, to repay wrongs in prime, Old Testament fashion?

Jesus, the one we all do our best to follow.

The writer Donald Miller posted an excellent article on his blog about Learning to Walk Away.  He talks about the story of Jesus and the young rich man.  How, when the young man rejects his offer of salvation, Jesus walks away.  He didn’t hang out. He didn’t yell, argue, post smart Facebook comments and info-graphics.

He walked away.

Today I made a goal.  I would improve someone’s day when we interact.  Whether that person was Val, Carter, Aiden, or a patient I’m registering.  I would make their day better.  It didn’t matter if they were angry, upset, sad, or annoyed.  I’d do my best.

It won’t be easy.

Right now society is focused on what following Jesus isn’t. We need to revolutionize and embrace what it is.

Break the addiction of anger. Be less jaded. Open our arms. Love when it is hard. Forgive when it seems impossible.  Lay down our lives and pick up our crosses.  They’ll know us by our love.  Not our offense, our politics, money, donations, organizations, or righteous indignation. They’ll know us by our love.

A love without end, that supports everyone in our community, that acts against the logic of this world. When we pick up our crosses we drop our anger.  You can’t hold both.

It is time to choose.

~Matt