Meaning.

I’ve heard it said that the reason accountants wear grey suits is to add a little color into an otherwise drab life.

I’m thankful for accountant types, because I am not wired to be that organized and responsible. Which is one reason why I often think the church I started would be a welcoming place for people who don’t like “Organized Religion. ” Because I’m running this religious ship and I’m not that organized.  I need accountant types, but the thought of worrying about carrying over the one and fiddling with a slide rule all day would lead me into some new habit that would eventually require a twelve-step program. So when my accountant brother-in-law told me he’s getting into gambling, I was actually relieved. If you are going to break bad, gambling is much better than meth.

The gambling accountant recommended me listening to a podcast discussing gambling because he knew I had an interest in learning about his new hobby. I did have interest, though he didn’t realize it was more of an interest in making sure my future nephews and nieces didn’t have a father with busted kneecaps because of Fat Frankie’s crowbar.  So I tuned in and this what I heard.

“Usually I wouldn’t care who won an early season college basketball game between two non-ranked teams, but because I bet on them, I do tonight.” The host said.

“Gamblers drive T.V. ratings because otherwise most people would turn off a blowout, but gamblers are still watching to see if the losing team’s kicker converts a field goal with thirty second left to cover the line.” Then the host said the line that captured my attention. “Betting gives meaning to meaningless games.”

“Betting gives meaning to meaningless games.”

And it all made sense to me.  When you put money on a game you are buying your way into the emotional experience. Not everyone’s team will play in the Super Bowl or playoffs (trust me I’m a Cowboys fan, I know) but if you put enough money on the game, it can feel like the Super Bowl to you. And that rush is what you’ve purchased with your bet.

The quest to give meaningless games isn’t just experienced with betting. A good fantasy football player will know the health of the last place team in the AFC West  third receiver’s ankle and which backup running back will come in for goal line carries for the Tennessee Titans. These pieces of trivia are quite meaningless, unless you’ve created a world of meaning by playing fantasy football.

Sportscasters will seemingly spends the same amount of time describing whats happening off the field as what happens on the field for the same reason.  If we turn a player into a character on a quest it gives the game more meaning.

And I blame all of this on Hollywood.

OK. Not really, but maybe I blame Hollywood a little bit, because our fiction affects our expectations for reality. So you are watching a movie. Let’s make this movie an action movie. In the opening scene your hero is introduced using the typical “save the cat” the move. The hero does something heroic that makes us, the viewers, like him, such as saving a cat or beating up a bad guy. During these “save the cat” scenes most of the individuals the hero encounters are throw away characters, which you can tell because their names are rarely mentioned and no time is spent giving any depth to their character. A throw away character is flat: completely good or completely bad. But if a storyteller takes the time to develop a character in the open section, you can almost be certain that character will re-emerge later in the story, because the most valuable commodity you can give to a character is time. If they spend five minutes getting you to know a character, they aren’t just going to be gone.

But real life doesn’t work that way. Just because you spend time on something doesn’t mean it will have a life-altering meaning. Just because you’ve learned some information doesn’t mean you will have some Slumdog Millionaire type moment when that seemingly trivial knowledge becomes the answer that earns you a large sum of money.   And just because you’ve watched every episode of Bear Gryll’s “Man verses Wilds” doesn’t ensure you that you will be shipwrecked on some Island in need of survival and rescue skills. Sometimes you experience things that have no tangible benefit later on in life. Actually that’s a large majority of your life. Despite having invested years in acquiring the skill of pole vaulting, I’ve never once used the skill to leap over an alligator filled river, yet.
The real danger of Hollywood is the antipathy it fosters towards the mundane. And that bleeds over into our expectations for what a deep spirituality looks like. A deep spirituality in a Hollywood-ized world can’t include the mundane and monotonous.

A deep spirituality in a Hollywood-ized world can’t include the mundane and monotonous.

I’m always worried about people who act like they have God on speed dial. You know those people who say, “God told me to go to this place to eat lunch or that place to gas.” But to be fair, I had a phase when I was trying to be a God on speed dial person in college. Some people have a phase in college where they smoke weed or abuse alcohol. I on the other hand had a phase in college in which I felt like God was on my speed dial. I assume the other phases get you more friends, but at least this one doesn’t hurt your kidneys as much. God on speed dial Luke felt that if he listened close enough to God’s voice then God would point him down the right direction for every little choice including lunch spots and gas stations. And if he did that they would be like those moving walkways at airports or the special arrows on Super Mario Cart where if you drive over them, they will make you drive super fast. If I listened carefully enough God would shoot me past the meaninglessness of everyday life into a having a never-ending God buzz.

The problem was I only heard one command over and over again. And it was a terrible one. At first I thought I had the wrong number to God, but no matter what number I dialed, it was the same answer. The voice was always telling me to pick up trash. Which was such a rip off. I wanted God to tell me some special details about my friends’ life, specifically their hidden salacious sin so I could be some kind Christian sorcerer knowing their dark secret.  But no sorcerer spends his time bending down to pickup cans of Mellow Yellow which is all I was doing until I grew out of that phase.

Mario Puzo wrote the Godfather when he was a young writer struggling to make ends meet. As the story goes he supposedly only wrote The Godfather because he needed money and knew that would be a way to get a quick check. Puzo assumed that with a little bit of money in the bank he would then be able to write the kind of books that really mattered to him. Yet Puzo never again wrote anything that had the cultural significance that The Godfather had and he even continued to go back to writing Godfather type books for much of his career. The project he thought didn’t matter turned out to be his life’s work.

Shane Hipps in his book “Selling Water by the River” makes the point that most of us have less than thirty thousand days in our life. If we were to monetize that, thirty thousand dollars would buy you a car and get you a down payment on a house, but for most American it wouldn’t keep food on the table and the lights on for too long.  When you realize the brevity of our life, that as James says, “Life is mist” you see life’s meaning. It is a meaning that isn’t found in extraordinary experiences and God’s not a shortcut to achieve those moments on the regular. The extraordinary experience is every breath. This moment you are in right now. This breath of air you consume right here and now. Right now isn’t waiting to be infused with meaning because the meaning already exists. That meaning has existed since it was infused with all the grace anyone ever needed when God breathed his spirit into dirt creating life.

It’s like the girl in every romantic comedy searching for her true love. And every potential love disappoints her sending her running into the arms of her best friend. The guy who has stood by her side for years, but she never thought of him as anything other than a best friend. Though everyone on the outside knows that’s her one true love. It had always been right there, even if her eyes couldn’t see it.

This moment, no matter how monotonous and trivial, has already been infused with meaning. So don’t miss the mist, because it will not be here forever.

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