A LITTLE over a year ago, my wife Sarah and I bought a 2018 Hyundai Tucson. It’s blue. A light blue.
In fact, it looks the same color blue as the character Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (Anybody with me, here?). Anyway, we didn’t want boring-old grey. Everybody’s got boring-old grey. Yawn.
We were about a split second away from deciding on this tawny, warm orange—more of a burnt umber, if you will—as the color of choice when we clicked online to the blue color that reminded me of Bloo from “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.”
So, I saw the color and was like, “Bloo!!” So, we got the blue Tucson (which Sarah also liked, I will just so happen to point out).
At least we’ll be unique, we thought.
(Okay. Brief explanation. My son Connor and I used to watch this animated gem of a tv show when he was little. Foster’s Home is where imaginary friends go in between gigs. When a kid outgrows them, the imaginary friends go to stay at the home until a new child adopts them. I loved that show. Everything about it was super great, especially the animation. Plus, I know what it means to be in between gigs, so…)
There’s this thing, this phenomenon, that happens wherever we turn our minds to something we think is unique. Psychologists call this the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. More commonly, it is referred to as “frequency illusion.”
This is when you buy a blue, Hyundai Tucson because, well, at least you won’t be getting the same car as everyone else. Then, as soon as you drive the car off the lot, you start seeing your exact car, everywhere. In fact, you very soon see that there are three on your street, alone.
So, not quite so unique after all.
Still, it’s a sharp-looking ride, and my occasional Lyft passengers seem to be comfortable. So, that’s all good stuff.
The other day, I pulled up beside a Hyundai Tucson at a stoplight. It was the same year, same color, same interior, same everything as our Tucson. There was a young woman driving it.
If I were to be called upon by the authorities to describe the driver of my car’s doppelgänger, I’d say she was in her late twenties to early thirties, dark hair up in a high ponytail, and at least her right arm had a sleeve of tattoos.
Part of the reason I remember those details is that I began to think about how she must have liked the blue Tucson, just like I do. And that was weird and interesting to me at the same time.
I mean, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that she’s the one who chose the make, model, and color. She chose the same as I did. We have that much in common: an impeccable taste in mid-sized SUVs. That’s pretty much it.
But then I began to wonder: What if we had more in common than what’s on the surface? What would happen if I imagined a circumstance where I could see *The Lady in the Tucson* as if she were more like me than different from me?
Why do I always tend to shut off possibilities when it comes to people I encounter in everyday life with one assumption after another?
We continue to live under the delusion that we are separate, unconnected beings; that whatever it is that makes up “Me” is solely contained within the walls of my epidermis.
There’s no way to overstate the fact of our time: in America, we are divided. I could write for days about why I think we’re so divided, and I probably will. Some other days.
For now, I am moved to consider the Lady in the Tucson. What else do we share? It what ways could we possibly be alike?
Does she have siblings? Children? A spouse? Does she shake her head every time she sees a Phillies’ starting pitcher turn over a three-run lead to the bullpen, knowing a loss is sure to come?
Does she get scared about her future? Does she wonder if she’s living the best life she can possibly live? Does she regret?
Does she chase after the next big moment as if it were the EXACT MOMENT she MUST HAVE in order for her life to have meaning?
Does she have a hard time sleeping? Does her leg hurt when it rains? Does she ever get stolen away in the pages of a book? Does her heart fall into pieces when she hears a certain song? Does she sing?
Does she know she is a completely unique, one-of-a-kind, expression of God, never to be duplicated? An expression of Love itself?
The Lady in the Tucson and I could be more different than we are alike. But, we might also be more alike than we are different.
How will I know?
Maybe she just likes Bloo as much as I do. Who knows?
I’VE BEEN DOING a lot of questioning lately about why we’re even here in the first place.
Who are we to each other? What’s going on?
I mean, honestly, what the hell are we even doing here? Not many people seem to know why they even want to stay alive, let alone whether or not they have some sort of purpose or whatever.
So many of us can’t wait for the day to be over; for the time to go by more quickly; for the next moment to come.
When’s the weekend going to be here? When’s summer going to get here? I can’t wait until summer (or is it fall? or winter? No, it’s spring! I can’t wait for spring to get here!!)!
What year is it, again?
“In every soul
Is the need to grow older
To speed up the passing of time.
I don’t know why
But it makes me cry.”
–Jacob Collier, “Make Me Cry”
I’ll tell you why I think we’re here.
We are here to communicate with one another. To understand that we are, in fact, already inextricably connected.
We are simply different parts of the same whole.
We’re not “like” the same; we are the same. We are different perspectives of the same experiences.
We are here to share those experiences—to literally “be” the experiences we have—with one another. Our own unique way of seeing the world is our contribution to a great depository of experiential love from which all love is drawn.
The well from which you draw the love you need to love those dearest to you is the same well from which I draw, from which your ancestors and my ancestors drew.
It doesn’t matter if we didn’t ever know it was the same well, it simply was and is and always will be the exact same well.
I believe when we die, we become entirely one with God, which means we will be entirely at one with love itself.
That means every encounter we have with love in this life—any act of kindness, compassion, understanding, anything done that produces the universally recognized and understood fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul writes about in Galatians—is an encounter we have with our loved ones, and everyone else’s loved ones, who have gone on before us to become one with love.
They are woven into the very fabric of love itself. So, when we experience love, we literally experience them.
I believe that I have been in the presence of my grandfather—all of my grandparents actually—at different times in the past few years. Especially, the past few years. I know for a fact I’ve been visited by Todd Brooks (the best man at my wedding in 1992) a few times. He died in 2013.
Did I see their ghosts? Not in the Jacob Marley sense, I don’t think. It’s always more of an ontological influencing; an intellectual nudging, if you will.
Perhaps it’s a memory? But what is a memory?
A memory is not what actually happened. We like to think it is, but a memory is our current self interpreting how we got to here-and-now, and it’s always doing that, again and again and again.
A memory is our imagination at work, attempting to reconstruct the past into a usable tool for understanding how we got to where we’ve gotten and where we might be going after this moment, and the next, and the next one after that.
I believe our imagination is the key to our connection with God and our communication with each other. That’s why artists and creative people have always been right on the pulse of it all, itching to articulate what it means to be human.
It is the Creative in each of us that is at the purpose of God.
When we are creative—in whatever way that appears in you—we are experiencing and are present to a oneness with God we don’t usually recognize; it’s always there, we just don’t always see it.
When we experience someone else’s creativity—watch a movie, read a book, see a painting, observe a beautifully cleaned home, eat an amazing meal someone has prepared, watch an athlete, etc., etc., etc.,—we are communicating with the deepest parts of that person. They are offering and we are receiving. And so it would be in reverse.
The creator, the created, and those receiving the creation form a fantastically beautiful circle of intention and meaning. When that circle forms and we are present to it, we take part in the experiential reality of God.
It happens all day every day, and you’re not even missing it.
You might not know what’s going on, but whenever you smile at someone or hold the door at Wawa for someone or check on a neighbor or tip extra well or go through a door someone else is holding for you or recognize that someone is having a bad day, or see something online that “renews your faith in humanity,” you are in the midst of experiencing God.
Who do you think you are?
Well, for starters, you are an indispensable gift to the universe.
You are irreplaceable. You are brave, resilient, and full of something so incredibly unique that only you could give it to the world.
No one else but you can do what you do. We need you, and you will never fully understand just how much.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens, has, as it were, haunted me for almost my entire life. From as early as I can remember having memories, anyway.
I’m certain as a ten-month-old in 1969, I must have scooched too close to the television a time or two while Alastair Sim’s classic portrayal came into our living room on Christmas Eve. Baby’s first Christmas and all that.
I don’t know exactly when I became possessed by the story, but I do know I have always found it exciting, fascinating, thrilling, terrifying, and the most profound story of the experiential reality of God and the transformational power of that reality I know.
(Okay, I haven’t *always* known that last part. Or maybe I did, but didn’t know I knew it? I don’t know; I forget more than I remember, these days).
What I do know is that the story became inextricably connected to Christmas for me at a very young age and has shown up to me in different incarnations throughout my life.
In high school, Mr. Steinmetz (may I call you Ted, now? Nevermind. That seems weird, I think. I’ll stick with Mr. Steinmetz) let me be a part of the “morning announcements.”
If you went to Shawnee High School in the 1980s (the one in Medford, New Jersey. There’s more than one Shawnee High, but that’s another great story for another time!), you’ll remember those morning announcements came at you in the form of a morning *radio show* produced from the school’s main office and broadcast throughout the building via the speaker system.
We played cool music, gave the weather, did the sports, announced upcoming events, played more music. It was a really terrific thing Mr. Steinmetz (Chemistry teacher/part time DJ moonlighter) put together for the school. It made every morning so much more interesting for everyone and turned out to make a tremendously profound impact on my life.
I believe it was Christmastime in 1984 when, during the morning announcements for the last week of school before the break, Mr. Steinmetz played a radio-play version of “A Christmas Carol” from 1926, starring Basil Rathbone, over the speakers at the very end of our program, just before the first bell.
He played about five minutes of the twenty-five minute long drama each day, spread out over the five days before we would say, “See you next year!” to each other, the way young people do when they want to lean in on the literal meaning of things, even in jest.
When Mr. Steinmetz (you know what? Ted is much easier to type, so I’m just going to call him Ted. Because I’m fifty-one, and I’m lazy now. Is that okay with you, Mr. Steinmetz?), when Ted saw how taken I was with this production, he secretly dubbed me a copy of the entire performance on a cassette tape and surprised me with it on the last day before the winter recess.
That Christmas Eve, our family made an addition to our yearly, family devotional. After a reading of the Christmas story from the scriptures and the singing of carols and hymns, we would all gather around the fireplace and listen to Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge—and a supporting cast of players whose voices are etched in my heart for all time—in “A Christmas Carol.”
I carried that tradition with me when Malisa and I married, and started a family of our own. Our children were raised on the story, and the tradition of experiencing the tale grew for us as a family as we found other new adaptations and productions to hear and see.
The power of God to transform the human heart has always been the main theme of the story for me. The hope this story gives me—that every human being has the potential to be forever altered for the better because of an encounter with love itself—has remained with me for all of these years, despite my many self-destructive actions which now seem like attempts on my part to prove that very hope to be an entirely false proposition.
In the early 2000s, I went online and found a copy of the cutting Charles Dickens himself used when he would read the story to live audiences, both in England and on at least two tours of the United States.
People lined up around the block to buy tickets to hear Dickens read this tale. It was like trying to get tickets to see “Hamilton” today—lotteries, long waits, performances sold out months in advance, women hitting each other with their purses, that kind of thing.
I took Dickens’ cutting and adapted it into a one-person play, and have now performed it dozens of times. In 2013, I even made an audiobook version (more on that soon!)
Actively participating in this story in some fashion every year—either as a performer or as a spectator—always forces me to realign my mind and heart with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I experience when I am made to realize that God is not done with me yet.
And if God is not finished with me, then God is not finished with you, either. Or your family, or your friends, or your acquaintances, or your enemies.
Everyone is deserving of grace, no matter where they are in the world, and there are forces beyond ourselves actively working to help us realize this every minute of every day.
There’s this woman I know. I’ll call her Rochelle Scudder. We’ve been friends for a few years now, and I just think she’s a super person.
The other day, she made a post on Facebook that started out with some version of, “If you believe such and such…” and I thought for sure was going to end with the “then un-friend me now” conclusion that’s been in fashion for some time now.
I had worked myself up to be saddened and discouraged because those kinds of posts sadden and discourage me. But then, a small miracle happened.
(Btw, I’m calling it a small miracle because that’s what it was to me, and everyone gets to decide what a miracle is to them. That’s how miracles work. Try declaring a few things miracles today. You’ll like it, I think.)
Instead of, “then un-friend me now” she wrote, “Please don’t unfriend me now…[instead] let’s have a respectful, one on one conversation about it.”
That was not at all what I expected, and I instantly got misty-eyed, which made it very difficult to write a comment on the post and drive at the same time.
(That’s absolutely not what happened, at all. I had the cruise control on, so I was fine.)
Rochelle’s post gave me hope. I had been getting so discouraged by what we’ve all been seeing around the country. The division is real and can often seem like too great a chasm between two sides that couldn’t possibly be brought together, no matter how hard we might try.
Even though this division is real and cannot (must not) be denied, it is not the only way of the world. There is an undeniable force at play in the world right now, working desperately to show us that grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are the only answers to our fear and pain and sadness and feelings of lack.
I texted my friend Rochelle mere moments after I had had this encounter with her beautiful attitude and efforts toward seeking first to understand. Her heart came shining through in that post and cast a light of hope onto my heart which had been temporarily hidden in the shadow of doubt.
I told her she had been God to me in that moment, and I was grateful to know her. It takes courage to say no to fear and misunderstanding, and shine a light of hope to the world.
We are not *like* God’s face to the world, to the *other,* whoever they might be.
We ARE God’s face to the world.
You are the ONLY manifestation of God that will ever exist in the particular way that is you. God literally experiences the world uniquely through you and through me, and through your family and your friends and your acquaintances and your enemies.
All God wants is for your will and the will of God (Love) to be one. Well, the fact is, they already are one. God just wants us to continually rediscover that fact and to trust it, to hope in it.
When someone else can bring an awareness to you of the eternal, everlasting presence of the experiential reality that is God, they are actively performing the role of God to you. Literally.
The way God “shows” God’s-self to us is by having others do actions that move us toward grace and forgiveness and love instead of fear and selfishness and cancelation.
All the while, God is prompting us to pay attention to those moments as they are happening, and they are happening all the time, everywhere.
The story of “A Christmas Carol” is a reminder to me that the Holy Spirit is constantly moving. She is constantly doing the work of showing me that I am worth the trouble, that transformation is not only possible but is at the heart of God’s continuous work in the world.
You are worth every effort, dear friend! Please, know this!
Look around at others and see how they are God to you. Pay attention and use your imagination. You’ll see it.
It won’t take long before you witness an act of loving-kindness between strangers, experience a piece of art that shakes you up, or read a Facebook post from someone you hold dear you that leads you to suddenly realize you’ve been having an encounter with God all along – that your entire life is one perpetual encounter with God.
Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, referencing his love of Christmas, speaks about it this way:
“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come around, as a good time—a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. The only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow travelers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
My “Fellow Travelers,” your presence is valuable in so many ways you cannot even imagine. That nudge inside you to choose love instead of hate, to think of others before yourself, to offer grace to someone when you want to *cancel* them, is from the very heart God.
And God has chosen to wear God’s heart on your sleeve and mine.