The Counting Game

Seagulls on a fence

“THE COUNTING GAME” is one of the great travel games of all time. Everybody travels. Many, many millions of people have traveled over land, sea, and air with multiple children under the age of five over the course of human history. 

My parents used it with my brothers and me, and I used it with my own children. 

“*You* count every one of the blue Volkswagen Beetles you see, and *You* count all of the red ones.” 

Or you could make it just all of the red cars or all of the yellows. Or maybe it’s road signs or homes with weather veins or solar panels or seagulls on a fence. Whatever. You make up the rules that apply to you and yours. 

The point is, the game gives the children something to concentrate on, something to look out for, something to do.

When you’re playing “The Counting Game,” when you’re really into it, you don’t have the time to wonder “What do I want to do with my life?” Because you’re doing it. You are caught up in doing your life. Right then, in that moment. 

When you’re lost in the concentration of your imagination and are searching with all your might for as many different state’s license plates as you can find while on your trip to upstate New York, you will discover you have zoned out, gone away, become lost in the concentration. 

These moments of our consciousness intrigue and fascinate me. 

Is anybody listening?

As a person who struggles with the desire to always get to the next thing and the next thing after that, I often feel as if I miss more moments than I capture. 

I look forward to what’s to come—good or bad—as if I could possibly know what that would be. 

I have that special kind of hubris that continually insists I have the ability to know what’s going to happen in the end before any and every situation that occurs. As if I could actually know such information, and that knowing is somehow going to shield me from pain and unhappiness. 

Scott Friedman, my best friend since high school, introduced me to “The Perfect Game” one time. There are three very simple parts to it. These are the rules: 

“Whatever is suggested, do. Whatever is offered, take. Whatever happens, declare it perfect.”

I’ve tried to play The Perfect Game a few times. I think it showed me more about my inability to trust than anything else. It showed me my lack of faith, I guess; if you look as I do at faith as being a radical trusting in that which is more than yourself. 

Sometimes, it seems like what life comes down to is simply the ability to realize you’re living. I think this happens whenever we set our minds to something—whether monumental or banal (according to us)—and lose ourselves in our creativity, in the creative process. 

When we have what we think is “nothing” on our minds (which is impossible, by the way), we seem to do one of two things:

We either continually chase after the feeling we get when we are “in the zone,” when we “go away,” when we realize we are all one and the same. That feeling.

We chase that feeling, but we want it without the *doing* part. 

We put expectations on what we think an experience should be like, what it should look like, what other people need to be doing during it, what we will look like doing whatever it is we’re *supposed* to be doing. 

In situations such as these, we may occasionally catch a glimpse of what we seek, but because we are so consumed by the chase itself (only wanting the outcome for ourselves) we might never truly see that we have already found what we are looking for.  

OR 

We decide to realize that the place we are seeking is always right wherever we are. 

You don’t go somewhere else when you sit down to write and are shocked to realize an hour and a half has gone by in the last ten seconds, and you have pages on the screen before you. Pages of words you put together. 

You didn’t go anywhere, and nothing came to you, and time didn’t speed up or slow down. That is you and your imagination at work, playing the role of creator. You are creating, and your concentration is total. 

And it is always happening. Constantly. Consistently. You are creating every moment of every day. 

I believe it is in moments like these when I become aware that God and I are existing as one and the same, and the exact same thing is true for you. 

These moments happen to us all the time throughout our day. We just don’t always see them.

More seagulls on a fence

The Celtic Christians called moments like these, “Thin Places.” 

I love that way of thinking about it. That the veil I, myself, have created between God and me becomes transparently thin, and God’s will is known to me in a moment, for that moment, and nothing more. 

Every moment in which you are creating is a moment in which you and God are one, and every moment you live is a moment in which you are creative and are in the act of creating. 

So, if every moment you are alive is a moment you are creating, then every moment you live is a moment in which you and God are one. 

What does that mean? 

It means a lot of things, but to me, ultimately, it means I am never alone and there is nothing I could ever do or say that cannot be made into something brilliant and wonderful by the one who is co-creating with me, making all things new. 

Look, there’s no reason to get all theological about it. You didn’t read all this way to be told what to do, and I’m not going to do that.

All I want to do is communicate to you that you have a special mission in this life, and that mission is to live your life. 

You are a brilliant, one-of-a-kind, super creator! And what you do matters more than anything you could imagine. 

No one else is you. Not now, not ever. 

You are vital and are loved beyond your understanding. You just are. If you can’t believe it right now, that’s okay. I’ll believe it for you. 

I believe in you! 

Peace to you.

Maybe Bloo to You is Blue to Me

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…)

“Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”

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?

Peace to you.

Alien Imagination Station

Why is there air?

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. 

*Free checking doesn’t actually exist

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. 

Why are we here?

We are here to love and to be loved in return. 

You are worth everything. 

Peace to you.

How Rochelle Gave Me A Christmas Carol in September

Philadelphia, 2020

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. 

Also Philadelphia, 2020

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.

Bristol Borough, PA, 2020

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.

And it’s a permanent gig.

That’s how important you are!

Peace to you.

Your Greener Side of the Fence is My Cliche’

Photo: Me

THEY SAY the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It’s an age-old adage, and I’ve heard it since I was quite young.

I’ve understood it as a warning to not covet what others have, and I’ve done a pretty decent job living that way, I think.

What I have failed to do until recently, though, is dig a little deeper into what it truly means.

Many might be moved to comment something like, “You need to learn how to love what you have, and be grateful for what God has given you.”

And while I think those are true sentiments and make a great deal of sense, it’s not always quite that simple. I believe that a fascination with a neighbor’s grass says less about the grass and more about one’s feelings of lack in life.

Sometime not too long after we’re born, we experience a *second birth*. This second birth is our initial awareness that we are individuals, separate from everything else.

It is at this point that we experience for the first time a sense of lack—a lack we believe can be filled by things, relationships, circumstances, careers, a set of religious beliefs, and countless other idols. We spend a great portion of our lives in pursuit of what philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins calls the “Sacred Object.”

As an artist, I spend a great deal of my time doing what Hamlet advises his players to do when he tells them to “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.”

One would think I might be able to see more clearly the type of folly that is the chasing after a phantom called “Certainty and Security.”

But, alas, I am not.

Instead, I have broken relationships, ruined opportunities, and even injured myself in my various attempts at acquiring what I thought others had and I lacked.

What I am learning to come to grips with now is a simple truth that being whole and complete is not something this life has to offer. That’s not to say I believe what happens after this life is what’s important either. I don’t have any idea what, if anything, happens to us after we die.

That would be the other side of the fence.

When I look on my own side of the fence I see, time and again, that I have been called to help my neighbor and spread love and forgiveness where there is none.

The symbiotic nature of our existence, I am finding, is demonstrated in how we love one another. Love is the very being that connects us and unites us. It was made manifest in our individual lives and in the lives of every living thing at the very moment of our creation.

In the giving up of this desire, we find our purpose in loving and serving others, and the returns on this investment are far greater than you can imagine.

Gradually and then suddenly, in the loving of another, the other side of the fence begins to look a lot less green than the garden that has begun to grow right inside your own heart.

Don’t be afraid, dear friends, of exploring your own yard. Your worth is not tied to what you have or have not obtained in this life.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition and drive to be your best self. Go get you some of whatever, I don’t care. Going after and obtaining *things* (which include relationships and the feelings we get from them) is part of this life’s journey.

I love things! My camera is one of my favorite *things* I have in my life right now (as are my children, Sarah, Watson, etc., etc., and the list goes on).

WATSON: (raising his head as I read this back to him) I’m glad you put me on your list. Thanks, man.
ME: Of course. You’re always on my list; if you know what I mean.
WATSON: Right on.
(Pause)
WATSON: Wait…what?

The difficulty for me exists in the complete and total lie I have believed for so long, to the detriment of so much — that my feeling of lack will be filled by the acquisition of *things*, whether those things be a job, a house, a car, money, etc.

Again, those are not bad things to go after, but do they satisfy your soul? Nothing but Love can do that.

Please know there is nothing to be obtained or lost that is attached to your value, your worth as a unique, beautiful child of

Love.

Are you perfect just as you are? Am I?

Of course not! And where did you ever get the idea you were being called to perfection? There is no such thing! There is no *call to perfection* because perfection does not exist.

Strive for it, work hard for it. There is great value in the striving to be your best self. You will never arrive, though. That’s not the point. The destination is the journey. The destination is the striving.

With every breath you take you are moving ahead, evolving, going in one direction or another based on your choices for which you alone are responsible.

Choices and their consequences. That’s all life is — choices and their consequences.

And yet, we’ve not been left alone and abandoned.

How do I know this?

I know this because of the experiential reality of three fundamental beauties that exist to us like the water to the fish–

Faith. Hope. Love.

And the greatest of these is Love.

You, dear reader, are God’s delight, as my new friend Marlena Graves would say.

Happy Sunday, dear ones. You are so very valuable and destined for joy. I hope you know how important you actually are!

And, btw…I love what you’ve done with your garden!

Peace to you.

Trying on Other People’s Lives

I’VE LEARNED a great deal about myself from trying on other people’s lives for a living. There is something about—in a very real sense—putting your feet into someone else’s shoes and actively moving around as that person in their world for period of time. 

That’s my favorite thing about the work of being an actor—becoming someone else. I always feel so honored to be able to literally bring someone to life for whatever length of time it takes to tell whatever story is being told.  

I always feel such an honor when I get to work on a brand new piece; one where nobody has ever said these words in this order before. I especially love when the playwright is in on the process, so they can see their creation come to life in you. 

Maybe it’s because I’m also a writer that I love collaborating with the playwright in the room, that I don’t get nervous that I’ll *mess up* somehow. I want to do the best I can to tell the playwright’s story, as it is in their head. The writer has an intention to release out into the world, and I want to do my best in doing my part to make that intention into meaning for those who experience the piece. 

I’ve come to think that way about my own life, lately—A story about who I am and who I am becoming. The Creator and I co-create my life’s story, and we’re always together in the room. 

I like when I get the opportunity to play real people from history. In a way, it’s like creating your very own Frankenstein monster. The person you’re *resurrecting* is not actually alive in this reality, but you re-animate him or her with your body and mind, and they get to do things again. 

For three hours a night (give or take), you get to lend every bit of you to the service of giving life to this creature, this creature who desperately has something to say.

Most of the time, though, I get to play fictional people. People who were made up in someone else’s mind. 

Having the privilege of imagining what it might be like to be someone else is not the same as actually being someone else. Of course, it isn’t. But, how can we have empathy for someone we don’t know if we don’t at least try to imagine what they must be going through.

I’ve played a lot of bad people in my career, people you never see get redeemed. That’s because the story is mainly about someone else, and that’s cool with me. 

What I love about playing bad guys is that you need the bad guy in order for the good guy to be the good guy.

“Ragtime,” for example, is just an interesting short-story about somebody finding a baby in their garden until I come in as Willie Conklin and drop the n-word in front of God and everybody.

“And there it is,” I would often hear the audience whisper. “Here we go!”

You can’t affect change in the theater unless there is truth in a moment. That particular moment in “Ragtime” was so important to the show and had to feel so real. Otherwise, it becomes cheap and trite. The stakes have to be there every single time. I tried my best to throw darkness out so that the light could do its shining business. Most of the time, I think it worked. 

And it exhausted me. 

Summoning up that kind of hate—even the appearance of it—takes a toll, like watching the video of George Floyd being murdered. The more you watch it, the closer you can come to despair. The story may not be finished, but that moment will never go away. 

In the summer of 1998, I was cast as Uncle Ernie in “The Who’s Tommy” at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. The things this man is depicted as doing to a young Tommy were beyond anything I could get my mind around. 

My daughter was three years old, at the time. Who does that to a child? 

“I just can’t relate to that in any way,” I kept saying to myself, to the director. “Those acts make this person unredeemable, unloveable. I can’t get past it.” 

I struggled with that barrier in my performance all through the rehearsal period. I went through the motions as best I could. I really *tried* everything, and nothing worked, nothing convinced.

Then came our first preview. 

At the end of the musical, Tommy (the now hearing, seeing, Pinball Wizard back from far away, played so beautifully by Matthew Magill) sings with the entire cast in the finale. 

In our production, Tommy, during this final musical number, was to “have a personal moment” with a family member. Something not necessarily noticed by the audience. Kind of a “find something to do here” type of thing. 

On this night, Tommy approached Uncle Ernie and stood right in front of me. He looked me in the eyes and then put his arms around me, holding me. He was forgiving his abusive Uncle with a tender hug. 

I burst into tears and could not stop crying. 

You might be tempted to say, “Well, that wasn’t real. That’s not real life.”

I assure you: It might not have been my *real life* but it was absolutely real. If there were a way that Tommy could forgive Ernie (even in the confines of *make believe*) then there would always be hope for me, for all of us.

There is a force at work in the world right now, and She is begging us to seek first to listen and understand. The time for that is right now, and there has never been a more perfect time in history to do it the world over. We’re ready! 

We are beginning to write our story in the type of collaborative way that was never before possible. 

From now on, EVERYONE is included!

What kind of character do you want to be?

Peace to you.

The Hidden Tag


YOU KNOW MY FEELINGS about Daniel Day-Lewis. One of the two greatest living film actors, the other being Meryl Streep. Obviously.

I might have seen Day-Lewis’s very last ever movie (please, God, say it ain’t so!) the day it came out. It could have been the next day, but let’s say it was the day it came out, for the sake of this particular argument.

The film, by one of my favorite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, is called “Phantom Thread.” In it, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a renowned dress maker in 1950’s London named Reynolds Woodcock.

One of my favorite scenes happens relatively early on, when Reynolds is telling his companion about how he always sews a piece of fabric with his name into the garment somewhere. It’s hidden away, and no one knows about it except Reynolds and the fabric.

There’s something about that secret knowing that really interests me.

Reynolds would create a dress and then send it out into the world. When he sewed his name in with the fabric, it felt to me as if he were making a promise to the dress to always be with it, to literally co-exist with it, giving the dress its very worth by branding it with his name. It was such a personal, intimate gesture.

I imagine Reynolds making a dress for an occasion. And then what? What happens to the dress after that amazing debut?

I imagine that dress getting sold for charity and closeted and never worn and going out of fashion and finally being given away, probably.

Maybe, years later, a woman sees something about this dress she’s purchased for twenty-five dollars from a thrift store. She can’t quite put her finger on what that is, exactly, but she knows all it needs is a little TLC and a good pair of shoes, and it will be just perfect for her daughter’s theater company, for which she is the costume designer.

“What’s this in the fabric? Oh, my God,” she says.

“What is it?”asks her daughter.

“This dress was made by Reynolds Woodcock in 1954 in London.”

“Who is that?”

“Only the greatest dress maker of his time! This tag with his name was sewn in. It was hidden all this time. I heard he used to do this with every one of his creations, but that’s just become legend, a myth. But it’s actually true! Do you know how much this dress is worth? I’ll never look at a vintage dress the same way again!”

It’s not that the dress wasn’t worth an exorbitant amount of money the entire time. It absolutely was (It was a Reynolds Woodcock original, after all).

It’s just that nobody looked for the tag, and the further it got away from Reynolds, the fewer people knew to look for the tag with Reynolds’ name. It was the discovering of the tag which identified the maker, and that made the worth visible to the mother and her daughter.

That was just something I imagined.

Then it made me think.

Each of us was created by the one who sews his name right into our very being. We were created with the name Love stitched into the very hidden fibers of our souls. We were literally created with and by Love itself, and Love is inextricably intertwined with us as we live our everyday.

(But, it’s hidden.)

Here’s the thing:

We go on for years feeling we have no worth because we have forgotten about the sewing. We’ve forgotten that God spoke with each and every one of us, individually, at the very first moment of our creation:

“You are the only one of you, an original, one of a kind. There never has been, nor will there ever be another you. And I have sewn my name on the very center of your heart so you will know how much I value you. You will live with my name—Love—always on your heart.”

Maybe we’ve forgotten that promise of our worth because we’ve gotten shut away and undervalued for so long. If we don’t feel valued, we forget our worth.

Others don’t give us our value or our worth. That was given to us at the time of our creation. What others do is provide us with the opportunity to rediscover our own worth by seeking out the worth of another.

Imagine looking at another person and seeing them as a one-of-a-kind, original work of art by the finest craftsman of all time.

Because that is what each one of us is.

Each and every individual is like the finest, original, one-of-a-kind dress made by the greatest dressmaker there ever could be.

We know our worth and value because of the tag of Love sewn in before we were even born. We have been given our worth by Love, itself.

The authenticity of your life was stitched into you at your making. If you’ve forgotten that, I am here to tell you that I can see your hidden tag.

I know who made you.

Peace to you.

Seeing the Light on the Stairs

THERE’S A BIT OF A STORY behind how I came to make these four photos I made a couple weeks ago, and if you have seven-and-a-half minutes, I’d like to share it with you. 

On the 24th of May, Sarah, Watson and I finished an episode of Family Feud and were about to head upstairs to bed. It was probably 10:00pm. 

Watson went out back for the final time, and I sat on the back steps, feeling the breeze. It was gentle, the breeze. My cheek touched it as it passed. That might sound strange (it was strange to type, just now), but I felt as though, somehow, this small bit of moving air was meant for only me, at that moment.

“Just notice me, for a second,” the breeze seemed to say. 

Watson and I made our way back inside, having successfully evaded Max (the deeply troubled dachshund next door) and, for some reason or no reason at all, I sat back down in the middle of the sofa and began flipping channels on the TV, instead of following Sarah up to bed. Watson decided on the love seat as his bed for the moment, curling up into a furry, black and white ball against one armrest. 

Sarah had gone upstairs at some point when Watson and I were outside, and I guess I didn’t realize she had turned off all the lights downstairs, leaving the living room to be lit by the television alone, which is plenty of light with which to navigate our downstairs quarters.

Our television remote has about .05% battery power, and I sat there for a good twenty minutes before I reached the threshold of frustration required to hit the power button and finally retire for the night.

With a push from my thumb, the TV instantly went black. The darkness hit my eyes immediately, and I was unprepared for it. It took me a moment to adjust. Nothing irregular. I stood and walked over to Watson to say goodnight. 

ME: Goodnight, buddy. Love you.

WATSON: Goodnight, Rosie.

ME: What?

WATSON: Just kidding, dude. Goodnight. Love you.

I realized my eyes had adjusted to the light, and that the light my eyes had found was coming from a familiar source, but one I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to. 

The light was coming in from our porch bulb and was streaming through a small window, illuminating the staircase and the wall beside it in a way that commanded my attention. It was as if the light was calling to me to notice it. 

My camera happened to be sitting on the table next to the couch. I reached down, picked it up, and turned it on without ever taking my eyes off the light. I was spellbound. I put the viewfinder to my eye, instantly saw the frame I wanted, and pressed the shutter. 

I looked at the picture, like the impatient child I have always been, wanting instant gratification. With only a quick glance, I thought I had something decent and should probably head up to bed. But, I suddenly felt compelled to take a few minutes longer with this experience. 

“Slow down, a minute. Where do you have to be right now? Nowhere. Relax. Remember the breeze from earlier? Take a few minutes with this. Be curious. Look how beautiful it is!” I thought to myself. 

I moved around that staircase from every angle I could think of, looking through my lens and capturing whatever I could see. During the entire experience, I was completely at one with my intention, my work, my purpose. I was in a *zone.*

Now, none of this story is about how good or bad my work is. It’s about how I got to notice something for the first time that I had probably seen hundreds of times before and never recognized. It’s about how I spent time in the midst of the beauty that is always there but rarely seen and came away with a way to share that experience with others. 

*Seeing the light on the stairs* is certainly a metaphor (maybe even a decent book title), and I’ve been looking closely at the lessons that metaphor brings me.

It’s also different than a metaphor, though, because in the experience of making those photos, I spent about twenty minutes creating. And during that creative process, I was in communion with that which is more than me. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I was being called to see that light on those stairs. 

Maybe I have been called to see it before. Maybe often. But this time, I *heard* this call, this persuasion, and spent time being guided by it. 

I think the photos are pretty decent, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they were terrible. The experiential reality of a realm *beyond me* was made present to me through that twenty minute photo session. 

I believe art is one of the conduits through which we can share with each other what being a human is like, and, through the gift of creativity, also come into communion with the “Mysterious More”— a name I once heard Marcus Borg, an intellectual hero of mine, give to what many might call, God.  

When you hear a song that moves you, watch a television show that enraptures you, really examine a painting or a photograph that transports you, let a poem wash over you in a way which takes your breath away, or even notice the way a bit of light hits a staircase in just the right way, your life is different than it was before that event. It’s undeniable.

I have begun giving myself permission to trust those moments again. I respect them in a way I haven’t for a very long time, if I ever really did. Those moments, those events, give me such hope. When I experience them, I feel as though what I do matters. 

With art, there is a creator with an intention, an audience with some kind of expectation, and the work. When I was shooting our stairs, though (and in many other personal examples I have thought about since), I felt I was *sharing* the process of creation with something beyond me, with the Mysterious More. 

Why can’t I call it *God*? 

Because, I just can’t right now. 

Maybe I will again, but for now, I affirm a *Great Mystery.*

I’m doing my best. That’s my story.

I wish you peace. 

TGIF SURPRISE!

Hello, Friends!!

Join me tonight from 6:00 – 6:30pm via Facebook Live!

I’ll be reading my short story, “Into the Background” for you from my living room to wherever you might be.

(Bring the kids! Middle School and up, maybe?)

Here’s the special surprise:

From now until 12:01 am tomorrow, if you pledge at the $25 Level or higher to The Grand Re-Opening!, you can choose an 8×10 print of one of the three photos below.

Pledge $25 or more HERE, and I’ll personally ship out an 8×10 print of the photo you choose from the three below on Monday, May 11, 2020.

You’ll be helping me fund my new project “The Grand Re-Opening” and, in addition to the perks you’ll already be receiving as a donor, I’ll send you an 8×10 print!

All you have to do is pledge anytime before 12:01 am Saturday, May 9, 2020.

Choose from these three photos below and make sure you mention which numbered photo you would like me to send your way when you pledge to “The Grand Re-Opening!”

#1
#2
#3

DONATE NOW AND GET YOUR PRINT!!

I’m a Fan Friday!

this is a photo i took of someone else’s work (i don’t know who). they painted a wooden chair

Hello friends!

Today’s edition of “I’m a Fan Friday!” looks back 15 years to when I was teaching elementary school music in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

I present to you—for your listening pleasure—my adaptation of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I hope you enjoy!

May you be happy; May you be peaceful.