I’m A Fan Fridays — “I had reached my life-long limit of lies.”

AA Room

I’m back; not with a loud bang but with a bit of a whimper.  The year 2014 was the worst year of my life.  There are so many reasons why; we’ll get to some in time.

Today is a good day.  Part of the reason it’s a good day is that I’m determined to live in this day and only this day.  I’ll leave tomorrow to itself.  I can only handle this one.  I’ve come to realize, kicking and screaming and not all at once, that I’m an alcoholic and an abuser of prescription drugs.  It’s a nasty combination which almost, on a couple of occasions, landed me in a real-life version of an opening scene from the HBO series Six Feet Under.

I’ll write more about my journey as days go by, but that’s not all I’ll write about.  I’m determined to keep at this blog; I think I really need it.  And if I write something out of my own experiences that moves you or someone you know to live a better, more joyous life, then it will be worth it.  I know that, for me, cathartic experiences can truly come from anywhere, carried by anyone, at any time and in any place.

Here’s a monologue from a movie that was “made for me to see.”  I truly think God knew that I would not truly get what I was doing to myself, my family and my friends until I saw this film.  The thing is, none of that truly hit me until the THIRD TIME I watched it.

Yeah.  I sat through this film three times before I understood how much like Denzel Washington’s character I actually was.  I’m not black and I’m not a pilot.  That’s about the extent of our differences.  But, like him, I couldn’t see it until I saw it.

This monologue, so beautifully done by the great Denzel, is where I got to on February 3, 2015.  The day before my 46th birthday this past week, it was as if I had reached my life-long limit of lies.  I thought I had gotten there before, but I was wrong.  My rock bottom, as it turned out, had a trap door.  I have a long, long way to go and a lot of amends to make, but I’m ok.  I’m scared as hell, but I’m ok.

I didn’t drink today, and I took only the medicine prescribed to me as directed.  I’m alive now, and if I’m blessed with the opportunity to wake tomorrow morning, I’ll pray to God to continue to do for me what I cannot do for myself.

Love yourselves, my friends!

—-

Follow Scott on Twitter — @scotylang

On Hope…Just a few words while I have them

tumblr_m62ggwMtaR1rx2k32o1_1280I love The Shawshank Redemption.  It just might be my all-time favorite film.  At the beginning of the story, Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover–a crime he didn’t commit–and is sent to Shawshank Prison in Maine to live out the rest of his days.  I’m sure you’ve seen the movie so you know exactly who and what I’m talking about.  (Side note: If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, shame on you! Do so immediately! Just keep your TV tuned to TNT.  They show it at least once a week, it seems!)  It is truly a story about hope when all hope seems completely lost.

Andy is the character that keeps hope alive throughout the story, and infuses the lives of his imprisoned friends with that same, contagious hope.  After an initial battle with the understandable fear he has about entering that terrible prison in the first place and a truly horrifying start to his incarceration, Andy is able to find some friends among the inmates and even the guards.  He figures out a way in which he can become useful.  He creates for himself a possibility.

Hope seems to be easy to live into when you have something to hope for…or, is it something to hope in?  Andy lives in the hope that justice will one day prevail, that the truth will one day come to light and it will be proved that he is, indeed, innocent.  If he can just work hard, keep his head down and an ear up, he just might find himself in a position to once again bask in the freedom that he and all of his fellow inmates know is just beyond the walls– walls that seem to close in more and more as the years go by.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if the story could’ve played out the same way if Andy had actually been guilty.  His innocence seems to be the linchpin.  Everyone else is guilty.  Their fates are sealed.  They know they deserve the punishment they’ve gotten.  They might get paroled at some point, but that isn’t very likely.  Their hope has all but disappeared with their guilt.  Andy, however, has something on which he can hang his hope–the justice that arrives on the back of truth.

But what is truth, really?  These days, it seems as though one man’s truth is another man’s blasphemy.  Some days it feels to me like something to hang my hope upon is nothing more than yesterday’s pipe dream.  I used to be so sure, so certain of where my hope was hung.  But, as I entered my thirties and felt my faith changing, I slowly began to realize that my trust in that which is greater than myself was shifting as a result of an extremely shaky and unfocused hope.

In my youth, my hope was firmly fixed upon a life after this one, and, not insignificantly, was tied to an “I’ve got it all worked out” theology.  That made things quite easy…until the questions without any answers started popping up.  The religion of my teenage upbringing seemed to have very little room for uncertainty.  If you studied and prayed hard enough, you’d know what to do.  All of the difficult questions had answers, except the ones that didn’t.  In those cases, we were to “leave that up to God.”

Without answers, my hope began to fade.  Without a feeling of certainty, I began to wander, lost in the desert of the unexplainable.  Then I discovered what it is that lies just on the outskirts of unanswerable questions– Mystery.  A place where my hope slowly started to flower.

For a brief moment in time, I thought about giving up on my faith.  I thought I could, as some of my friends had done, leave God behind in favor of a Secular Humanist approach.  (In a remarkable bit of irony, I’ve witnessed the lives of several friends actually transformed by God for miraculous purposes the moment they gave God up.  Go figure.)  As for me, I could never pull that off.  There has always been something in the ceremony of my religious practice that has kept me intrigued and engaged in a pursuit of a relationship with the Sacred.  And it was a refocusing on that pursuit that re-energized my hope and strengthened my faith.  It was a reinvestment in a greater hope that enabled me to trust in mystery.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Donald Brash, explained his thoughts on hope to me.  A statement he made baffled me at first, but as I let it settle, the meaning became more clear.  He said:

“Hope is greater than faith because it liberates faith to new possibilities.”

Possibilities.  I like them.  Without possibilities, we’re doomed to live forever behind the walls of our own personal prisons.  The prisons we create for ourselves every time we’re confronted by our own faults and shortcomings.

Hope is real.  Hope is powerful. Hope is, as Andy Dufresne says to Red, “a good thing, maybe the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies.”

 

________

Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scotylang

On living among the retired one percenters

VeroBeachFLHPAh…Vero Beach!  I love ya.  Seriously, you’re so beautiful.  Your beaches are free and your weather is brilliant.  At the same time, though, I simply can’t pay $135 for a short sleeved, casual shirt at the local men’s shop.  I don’t even know if I wish I could.  It’s a nice shirt, but, let’s face it…it’s not $135 nice.  Come on.

Charge whatever you think you can get.  That’s capitalism.  I’m down with it.  You want a specific clientele.  That’s your right.  I get it.  I know that demographic is here, or else your beach-front specialty stores wouldn’t be able to stay afloat, as it were.  Folks here may drive slowly and have a terrible time parking between the lines, but Lord knows they’ve got plenty of money to spend.

I truly don’t begrudge anyone here or anywhere a nice, comfortable retirement.  I think what’s making me uncomfortable is the exclusiveness.  I’ve lost count of the number of different gated communities I’ve seen during the ten days I’ve been here.

vero_beach_island_club

What’s breaking my heart a little every day I’m here is the obvious effort our society is putting into separating ourselves from one another.  We seem to be buying into the illusion that by putting up walls, implementing rules about the height of our neighbor’s grass, and charging outrageous prices for a golf shirt we’re somehow going to be able to live without the fear of anyone trampling on or taking from us what we’ve worked so hard to store up.

I’m not saying that all who have retired down here constantly say to each other, “Let them eat cake!” But I do wonder if all of the mansions literally built upon the sand here don’t play so very easily into the metaphor of so many misguided uses of money and resources.

We can try our hardest to isolate ourselves from the poor and the disenfranchised.  We can stand our ground all we want against the desperate and needy. But it won’t change the fact that they still exist in great numbers all around us.

Vero Beach, I’m glad to have the opportunity to get to know you.  You have so much potential; so much to offer.  I’m afraid I just may not be your type, and, like a fickle lover, you won’t even notice when I’ve gone.

 

I’m a fan Fridays! A Simple Song

4135698Good day to you all, and Happy Friday!  For this edition of I’m A Fan Fridays! I am thrilled to bring you a performance that I’ve loved for quite some time.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” is a work which was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy to be a part of the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  It had its premiere on September 8,1971.

This performance of A Simple Song from this great work remains my favorite, to this day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you “A Simple Song” performed here by Joseph Kolinski.

Enjoy!

**

 

______

Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scotylang

I’m A Fan Fridays! (Sunday morning edition)

HowtosuceedHey folks!  I’m sorry to have been so neglectful of late.  I’ve been so busy getting ready for this job that I just started the other day.

On Thursday, I flew into Vero Beach, Florida to begin a production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying at the Riverside Theatre (and boy, are my arms tired!!…I know, I know…)

In honor of this Pulitzer Prize winning musical, I’ve decided to share just a clip if this wonderful show.  Here is the Tony Awards performance of the 2011 revival of this classic thing of beauty.  Enjoy!

(And, yes…that is Harry Potter!)

***

______

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

On the quest for a personal Lenten journey

lent_desktopAs a young boy, living in the South Philadelphia suburb of Tinicum Township, I spent a good deal of time at St. John’s Lutheran Church serving as an acolyte.

I loved being an acolyte.  We got to wear robes like the clergy; we got to light the candles with a super cool lighter/extinguisher thing; we got to assist in the distribution of the communion elements; and, the most cool thing of all, got to ring the church bells!  I can barely put it into words how important being an acolyte was to me at that time.

When I was nine years old, we moved to New Jersey and my parents left the Lutheran tradition behind us.  After a few years with a non-denominational, community church, our family settled itself in with the local Church of Christ– an evangelical, fundamentalist tradition born out of the restoration movement.

Too say the very least, the Churches of Christ disagree with the worship practices of the main line denominations, and my services as an acolyte were not needed in my new church home.  This secretly broke my heart, but I lived to accept the fact that things were going to be different.  The old ways of my young faith were to be set aside, and I would simply have to learn the new ways of God, which were actually the old ways of God.

Confused yet?  Yeah, so was I.

My maternal Grandmother, who lived across the street from us in that South Philly, suburban row home, continued on with her faithful participation in the Lutheran tradition, and, because of and with her, I secretly kept some of the traditions of her faith in my own practices.  A very significant practice for me (not every year, I’ll admit) was the practice of observing Lent.

lent-word-cloud

What I remember about my observance of Lent was that it began 40 days prior to Easter and that I had to give up something; that was about it.

As I grew older into adulthood, I pretty much gave up the practice entirely.  I don’t have the time to give up anything.  I’m good without it.  Besides, I don’t worship that way, anymore.

About fifteen years ago, my wife and I re-examined our faith and were led to a different way of seeing God, faith, and religious practice.  We now identify ourselves as Christians who worship in the United Methodist tradition, and Lent and Easter once again play a very significant role in the practice of my faith.

This year, in an effort to grow, I determined to seek out a Lenten journey that was more personal for me than giving up caffeine, which has become my go-to item to chuck.  This year I thought that instead of giving something up, I would seek to find something to do, a path to walk that would bring me closer to God and my fellow humankind.

I was led to the House For All Sinners And Saints, where I felt invited and called by God to participate in this Lenten practice.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe in God in your own way or reject the notion of God altogether, no matter where you are on your journey in this life, I want you to know that I am going to participate in this Lenten practice as a way to lift you up.

I don’t need you to be like me, to worship like me, to practice a religion like me.  What I do need you to know is that you are so much more than you can ever imagine, more valuable than you can ever realize, and loved beyond all measure.

During the Lenten season as many around the world reflect on where they are in relationship to God, I want you to know that you are as close to God as the air you breathe.  God is never away from you and you are never away from God.

You are loved and cherished by God because you are God’s beloved creation.  You are loved and cherished by God because you were created, in spite of all of the things you might think get in the way.  You are worthy because you are God’s beloved child–redeemed and whole and brilliant.

During this Lenten season I want you to know you are loved, and I will try my best to show it.

I wish you peace!

_________________

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

On what you can expect when you expect something

ec22c64c1cc09e0a_3d-audience.previewA couple of months ago, about a week before Christmas, a thought occurred to me.  As I am wont to do nowadays, I condensed it to less than 141 characters (including spaces!) and tweeted it.  Here’s what I sent out to the world:

If a gift is given with an expectation of the receiver, then there is no gift, simply and exchange of a thing.

I didn’t think much about it.  Not too much comes from any of my activity on Twitter, and that’s fine with me.

But, something pretty cool happened that day.  Somehow, Pam Grier (yes, you read that right– Foxy Brown!!) came upon my tweet and retweeted it.  What that means is that she sent my little thought out to everyone who follows her.  With my name attached to it, Ms. Grier sent my tweet to over 500,000 people.

Evidently, it registered with many of those who saw it, because a few hundred of them retweeted it themselves.  I’m not sure exactly how many people have seen the tweet to this day, but I was blown away by the power of our modern-day methods of communication.

People talk listen on tin can phone communication

When I think about all of that, what occurs to me is that we really have no idea how significant each one of us truly is.  What we say matters.  What we will do on this day reverberates throughout the universe in the same way waves are created by the butterfly’s wings.

Now, that might only be a figurative statement and it might also be literal, too; I’m no scientist.  But, what I do know for sure is this: whenever we do or say a thing, after we’ve done or said it, whoever receives that piece of communication makes it mean something to them.  Sometimes that meaning is life-changing.  You never know.  What happens from there is so often out of our hands.  Even so, the next move is ours, and that move begins with us releasing our intentions without any expectations of the receiver.

Let me explain what I mean in this way.

I recently closed a production of the play, The Diary Of Anne Frank at The Media Theater in Pennsylvania.  During the run, we performed several student matinees for high school students.  Many of the students had never seen a live theater production before, and this particular play is not the easiest piece to see as your first.

Throughout the performance, they reacted as most audiences prior to them had reacted.  But, every so often some of the kids reacted to certain characters and moments in scenes in ways that most adults might consider inappropriate–laughing when you might expect a more serious attitude, murmuring to one another when you might expect silence, even occasionally talking back to a character (a character, mind you, not an actor).

Some involved in the production were concerned with the reactions of some of these students in attendance, but the more I thought about it, the more I was thrilled.  You see, these kids were engaged.  They were participating in the communication.  As far as I noticed, none of them were playing with their cell phones or whispering about how they might end up missing lunch.  They were fully engaged with the story and emotionally invested in what was being offered to them.  How could we really ask for more than that?

To have someone respond to your communication in the exact manner you expect them to limits the possibilities of how you can impact the lives of another, and how they, in turn, might surprise your own life with what they can bring to it.

Recently I decided that I’m a huge fan of mystery.  I believe that faith and mystery are such close bedfellows that any attempt to remove mystery from my life has a tremendously negative effect on my faith; not just in God, but in my fellow humans, as well.

I have found that when I concentrate on giving my communication away as a truly well-intended gift and leave what comes next to the mysterious unknowing that is another’s response, my life is richer, fuller and far more satisfying.

Now, that’s not to say that miscommunication doesn’t ever happen.  On the contrary, it happens often.  But, if I take responsibility for all of my communication, both how it is released (intention) and what meaning is made from it (someone’s response), I am, myself, engaged with the world in a way that makes for a heck of a thrill ride in this life.

I pray that my intentions bless your life.  I pray that you receive my intentions in that way.  But, no matter what, I choose to participate in the great mystery that envelops all that we do and say to each other.

I wish you peace.

________________

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

 

I’m A Fan Fridays! A little acoustic sunshine on a cloudy day

214 Tommy Emmanuel

My brother, Danny, introduced me to Tommy Emmanuel a few years ago via a YouTube clip, much like I’m about to do for you right now.  I can’t remember the exact piece my brother shared with me, but as soon as I experienced the one, I got lost down the rabbit hole of videos of Tommy that are on the site.

To get you started, here is one of my favorites.  It’s a brilliant arrangement of a couple of Beatles tunes that you might be familiar with.  I hope you enjoy this edition of I’m A Fan Fridays!  

Have a great weekend!  Enjoy!!

**

______

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

I’m A Fan Fridays! Two minutes and twenty one seconds of pure happiness

illus11I’m A Fan Fridays was born out of my desire to share with the world a few of the things I think are simply out of this world–performances or works of art that have reached out and touched something deep within me, giving me pause to contemplate all of what life can truly be.

What an amazing time it is to be alive!  I will most likely never get the chance to meet Matthew Auerbach, the young man who gives this life affirming and joyous performance, but through the absolute magic of modern technology, I found this, it thrilled me, and I can now share it with all of you.  Enjoy!

**

 

____

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

On when one is “Touched With Fire”–Thoughts on Manic Depressive Disorder

manic-depression-james-hammonsMost people live day to day.  They get up, live the events of their day, rejoice in triumphs, regret mistakes, look forward to a better tomorrow, go to sleep and then do it all over again the next day.  Someone living with Manic Depressive Disorder does not live that way, and the day to day can very easily end in suicide.  The world simply doesn’t spin the same for him.  The days don’t have the same meaning.

Someone suffering with Bi-Polar Disorder (a label which I basically consider a euphemism for, and less accurate than, Manic Depressive Illness) carries the dreams, hopes, plans, and experiences of his life throughout several days, or even weeks, on a continual emotional plane.  The “ups” stay up, defying anyone or anything to come along and flatten out the wonderful, creative, brilliant existence in which our hero resides when mania rules the day.

The trouble is never in the manic brilliance.  Oh no.  It comes just after;  just after the realization that the Mr. Hyde that rules the manic days has left, in his wake, a  trail of destruction and despair not unlike a small Oklahoma town after a tornado has blown through on an otherwise perfect spring night.  Very often it’s only the experts who see those kinds of things coming, both tornadoes and mania, but everyone can see the results of both.

AZ_d0060-1

Wives, husbands, children, parents, friends, everyone close to you can be deeply hurt by your destructive tendencies when you’re manic and when they are left to pick up the pieces, the despair and depression can seem totally insurmountable.  Relationships can seem to be beyond repair. Debt can seem so deep that ever reaching a financially stable position again can appear to be just a very distant dream. Any true satisfaction from your job appears to be an impossibility.  Your guilt mixes with your feelings of failure and your failure begins to blend in with your questions about your relevance to the world. Those questions then bend themselves to dark resolutions about why the world would simply be better off without you in it.

You will very rarely find a note from a suicidal manic-depressive.  Plans aren’t necessarily made.  In the same way that our hero wants everything and everyone to be wonderful during a manic stage, he now wants the sorrow and regret and guilt and despair to go away, to not be his fault.  The pain that he has caused is so present now that nothing he can think of can take away the downward spiral that he feels he has caused.  These thoughts consume him constantly.  He just wants it all to stop, to be better again for everybody.

So, one day while driving home, his tears flood his eyes as he sees the minivan approaching him in the oncoming lane.  Drifting over, he heads straight on, head on, toward the moment when it will all be over.  But he can still see. And when he sees the man driving the oncoming van with his wife beside him and the children behind him screaming to turn away, he has just enough strength to pull over to his own lane just in time.

It’s time for help.

This story has a happy ending, but many end sadly.  This disease is real and can be devastating, and ignorance is our enemy.  The more we know, the more we can see.  My prayer is that we will all be willing to see with eyes of compassion and understanding before one more soul drives himself into the wrong lane, and instead of seeing that there is help ahead, drives right into the darkness.

_________

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang