A Brief Treatise on Why I like Cats

I often get asked by people who don’t like cats, why I like cats. And I’ve come to conclude that much of why I like them has to do with associations. I think it stated on the basis of not liking dogs growing up. I didn’t like dogs for their barking. Loud barking scared me. Anything loud scared me to be honest. The wrestlers on TV when they cut loud promos (interviews) usually scared me and loud dogs caused me to keep a distance from dogs.

But I also didn’t particularly love cats either. But I had some fond associations with cats. These assocations will give you some insight into how my mind works:

I watched a lot of ALF the alien who crash landed in a families house and they had to hide him from the Alien Task Force. I watched them on VHS because I was too young when it first aired. I think the comedy in that show really influenced my disposition and facial expressions. I think the themes of feeling never really at home in one place might feel like a point of intersection with ALF as a character. It was also common on his planet to “eat” cats. And there is a theme throughout the show where he is trying to eat the cat of the family (The Tanner’s) he is living with. He is unable to. He tries at one point to adopt kittens so he can eat them only to find that he finds them adorable and might be a cat lover. And perhaps around that time, I figured out I was one as well *spits*.

I also watched a ton of Wizard of Oz and relate to the Cowardly Lion. His apprehension with life decisions make me relate somewhat to Cowardly Lion, and I’m often unaware when I make courageous decisions. Lion’s are cats. And the more I see cats the more I am curious about what makes them apprehensive and what inspires their curiosity.

Lastly, in 8th going into 9th grade I became strangely interested in the music of Cat Stevens. I liked his soft melodic folksy sound and feel he was before his time. Or maybe he was exactly right for his time. He chose the stage name Cat Stevens because apparently his girlfriend told him he had eyes like a cat. That is not as interesting a fact as I hoped. But around the time I started listening to Cat Stevens, 3 stray cats appeared outside of our condo that we began to feed. The runt of the litter was the onle one of the 3 that wasn’t afraid of people. Naturally I named him Cat Stevens. He would do this thin that if you pet him and grabbed his tail he would continue to turn around to be pet again everytime you grabbed his tail. His siblings were never as friendly.

After this my adolescence seemed to be more frequently met by the presence of cats. My mom got a cat that ran away then a replacement cat named Tabitha who lived until 19. My dad got a cat who I named Poggles because I liked Pogs and had really enjoyed Mr. Bigglesworth from Austin Powers so I named her Mrs. Pogglesworth. I can’t remember what the name we originally tried to give her was. Shortly after Poggles we got Dwarf as a kitten. I think we tried to stick Dwarf with the name Boots and perhaps if we had stuck with Boots, he would have been less of a mean cat. He wasn’t that mean to me or my dad but to just about everyone else, he was not exactly a ray of sunshine. Dwarf also had a broken paw from when he got declawed and he eventually had to adapt and could use it to catch small objects. Legend has it that he was eaten by coyotes, a fitting yet horrifying way to go.

In between then and now I have become more fond of lots of animals. I like dogs honestly. I’d keep a dog as a pet. I just feel as far as animals go, they are pretty one dimensional. They don’t really surprise you the way cats can. And usually when they surprise you they are bad surprises, like with a turd or an act of aggression.

When a cat poops on the floor or attacks you, they make you think you did something to deserve it. Like they were settling a score for something else. Most cats don’t greet you at the door or look happy to see you unless they need something. My cat Fable, does greet you at the door or waits for you in the window and constantly brings toys to you because she wants to play. She also attacks you if you don’t pay her enough attention and will stare at you in the shower if you don’t close the door. She’s weird. But also funny.

There are way more silly cat videos on the internet than silly dog videos. Or at least that’s what my alogrithm shows me.

The last thing I will say about cats is I am not obsessed with cats. Like if I didn’t have a cat, I’d be fine. Despite this treatise, I don’t necessarily feel the need to talk about cats unless I’m defending them to dog people or people who don’t like cats. Most people who don’t like cats claim allergies (I was allergic too. In college, I just would rub farm kittens on my face every chance I got and somewhere along the way I became less allergic) or have a bad experience similar to mine with dogs.

Fable waiting for me every night I got home from work.

Excerpts from Firsts

Bubble tea in Princeton

on the verge of tears between telling me about biology and eating vegetarian patties

Science and research,

where are your glasses?

You look different with glasses

you love your tiny dog

spinnakopita and a walk

saw you 7 months later

wearing glasses and maybe with your tiny dog at a small town coffee shop from afar.

Indian food because you were craving it

in a mini mall you didn’t love

you said you were too loud for this place

and that you’d only had it once

and didn’t know what to order

was in Scranton for 5 years

and couldn’t tell me the name of a single bar or what you did for fun

took 2 phone calls from your mom

and didn’t try to leave

fell asleep in my car driving back from also bubble tea

I said goodbye with a backwards hug

because it felt appropriate

Mini golf got rained out

so I took you to my favorite restaurant a few towns away

got pulled over because I didn’t know how to properly install a single license plate.

did a scavenger hunt from the car

my creativity was on point then.

you were as kind as you could be.

The first second and third restaurant were closed for lunch

We found Thai downtown

the waiter wanted us to share a straw

the first time I had bubble tea.

We did not

went to some stacks in a park after a walk

took pictures of you on your camera

an awkward goodbye in the car

awkward two months later when you said you’d go out again.

Best if Used By

If my heart was a fruit, I wonder how sweet it would be

if it was ripe or had spoiled or is not quite ready.

I wonder if in it there are seeds that would come out

and plant just to die and multiply

And I wonder if my heart is acually the seat of love

or if that lodestar, the love verb or love noun

is actually found somewhere else.

Maybe in the bowels

working itself up into the loins

turning and twisting and begging to express its guts

waiting for the courage just in case its met with rejection

Is it work or winning over or being with or is it washed away

like a cast away, like a coconut that just the halves are covering

our chests like armor or for modesty because to be naked is too vulnerable,

too much like love in dealing with flaws

that I might actually see in another being perfected

with the generous eyes, with acceptance, with something dangerous

Hope _-__—-_—- the lingering kind

I hardly know when to give up or if I ever should have.

I am from….

Template Adapted by Levi Romero 

Inspired by “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon

I am from expensive pens on borrowed time

From cat graphic tees and clown figurines 

I am from the farmacy

a honey hive of hospitality

I am from the barely living banzai tree

The Palmettos a little more alive 

whose long gone limbs I remember

As if they were my own.

I’m from Christmas Eve and Italian Pride

From Janice and Anthony and the 2 Catholic Mary’s

I’m from dunking bread in red sauce and fighting

And from telling the same stories. 

I’m from Jesus’s heart and the never satsified

And somewhere over the rainbow 

I’m from sotftball games

I’m from Trenton, New Jersey and Italy, Pietregala

chicken parmagiana and ego waffles 

From my grandmothers resolve to live like she’d never die

her calm

her seated smile, family costumes, and inquisitive expressions

on the shelf, in boxes in the garage, in the pages of my journal

from homes that hardly felt like homes but yearned for the ones who lived in them

I am still from a place I’ve never been.

Love Note

It may appear like the last year we’ve hardly been near.

It is entirely on me, and I fear moving might not make room for the intimacy you desire without radically restructuring, which is what I am certainly inviting.

If anything of my personality has captivated you, I too, will give you the best of me.

Finding a Box of Old Letters – A Box of Old Letters

It’s Patient

Patience assumes goodness out of what it waits for.

The first descriptor of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is that it is patient. If we were to take a survey asking to give a word to describe love, I don’t know how many of us myself included would lead with patience. But the Scriptures do.

When it comes to the salvation of humankind the adjective that describes God’s saving work and His judgment is patient.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation

2 Peter 3:15

Without patience we would die waiting for good things. Patience is evidence that we are alive and in love.

An oversimplified way I like to contrast patience as love is in the comparison of waiting at a Bus Stop vs. waiting at the DMV.

Waiting at the DMV for license renewal or any other reason to go and all the bureaucracy that comes with it is time consuming. It also just confirms that you already know how to drive. Thus waiting feels arbitrary and somewhat excruciating. Unless it is the first time you get your license, there is little satisfaction other than leaving the DMV.

Bus Stop Love or Train Station Love or Airport love, is waiting for your beloved to arrive. It is the exhilaration and anticipation of waiting for the one who has been on the journey or if you are the one traveling, the anticipation of being reunited with the one that will greet you. Or instead of a person perhaps just arriving at your destination.

That which separates the two is desire; The seat of desire is our heart. Patience is cultivated in proportion to our desires and perfected when we desire good and godly/heavenly things. Patience turns towards impatience whenever we take something meant to be good and we move towards obtaining something before its proper time. Our heart becomes sick or deceptive in its pull towards our perceived want.

Impatience implies the lack of good, either through distorted desire or improper perspective. When we view that which we desire as something we need, or it takes the place of God, we can easily grow impatient, hoping something alternative to God will satisfy even though it cannot. Giving in to this is like watching love slip away.

Patience fades, desire fulfills, sin is born. And the moment prior, when we thought we knew better reveals itself as destructive. Hopefully, through feeling contrition, we recognize that it would have been better had we waited. We wish we would have assessed better why we wanted something or Who is the giver of good things and then wait for it in its proper time.

Because that’s what love does. It waits. It’s patient.

Take the Shot

Easter came, Easter went. Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Day.

I have been thinking about wounds, resentment, humility, Jesus, dying, living and forgetting myself.

And as I was thinking about this yesterday, I thought about self-pity because a lot of privileged white reformed guys have been trying to tell me how bad it is. I agree its bad. It’s the product of the sin of pride revealing itself when things don’t go well. When things are going well most privileged white reformed guys are just arrogant, but they don’t like to talk about that sin as much because it hits too close too home.

Photo Courtesy of Richard Van De Water

As I was thinking about this I felt the Lord impress upon me a question:

“When was the last time you took a hit for someone that was really hard to recover from?”

That question, is the question that Jesus willingly walks into time and time again, inconveniencing Himself, foregoing riches and opportunity in order to bring salvation and a Kingdom to the kids (us).

That question is also what Peter faces prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Peter thinks he will be able to answer with selfless action. When the rubber meets the road he does not.

When the rubber meets the road I do not.

I have not taken hits because I have too good a memory of what hits feel like. It’s easier to take a hit for someone when you feel strong or calloused or when you don’t see them coming. It might be harder to get up in these cases, but it’s easier to take the hit.

Jesus took the blow unflinchingly, knowing it was coming, remaining tender. That’s why it’s impossible to save ourselves. We will always shield the blow when there is doubt about the damage.

What if we don’t recover?

That’s the fear, right? What if the damage dealt to my heart because of your sin towards me, my sin towards you, my sin towards myself, what if I deal the blow that I can’t recover from? What if I take the risk and it was not in faith and it all falls apart? What if, nay when I fail again, what if I just can’t will myself to get up?

To get ahead of that, the only way I know how is to take God at His Word.

Then it hit me:

Every time Peter is about to royally screw up, Judas too, Jesus lets them know. Jesus lets Peter know there is hope on the other side. (He lets Judas know it was better he’d not been born). Jesus promises us hope on the other side and through His Spirit He promises to speak to our heart, our mind, to surround a seed of faith with hope so that we will endure even if what we’ve sown dies.

Some of what we sow, it is a sheer mercy that it dies and bears no fruit.

Which is why I’m praying over what I’m sowing and if you want what your sowing.

Lord Jesus, may I sow according to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh, the ones that are rooted in self-preservation and tries to grasp too tightly. Let me scatter the seeds and trust and do the work with joy and hope (eager expectation of good). Let me lose myself in You and sow good seed into others. Let me be generous not looking out for my own interests but considering others better than myself. Thank you for being good, gently and lowly in Your Lordship. I am need of Someone less harsh than myself.

Holy Ghost and Chill: Food

Fasting for me ends up looking more like hostage negotiations. I fasted sweets once, and my fast did not include Chocolate milk. I did a liquid fast in college and drank milkshakes several times during it. In high school we fasted one day and our pastor told us we could have anything that fit through a straw, so my friends Angelo and Gabe tried to blend donuts. 

Where is the Spirit in all of it!? *pulls out hair while mentally making a list of where to get milkshakes and where not to get donuts the next time I fast*

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this section. Did you get a chill when you read meat and potatoes?

If so, it was either the Holy Spirit or you are very hungry which is odd because we are only 2 pages in, and I told you to grab a snack in the intro, and even though this is not a self-help book, I’m not here just throwing out blind suggestions (I am throwing out or keeping run- on sentences). Regardless, you have autonomy to choose to read this chapter without a snack. I don’t understand you for it, but you have permission.

Back to my point meat and potatoes. I almost got a chill typing it; then I somewhat leaned into it and felt a small tingle on my neck. Some people when they read or hear meat and potatoes, there is no register. Some people didn’t hear/read salad, so they are indifferent. Some people were waiting for the addition of cheese, and the chill did not come. 

The why behind whether or not we got a chill or the Spirit is an indication of what might in fact be going on. 

One hypothetical way to account for the chill: If we were in Ireland during the Mid 1800’s and someone said meat and potatoes and presented people with a plate of it, I could safely assume a chill or even tears would sweep over the population. When 1 million people die of mass starvation, the call and provision for meat and potatoes would provide a savory life source and in turn be received as a good thing, even a miraculous thing. (Not sure why the author chose to use such a sad example in a book with this tone but let’s keep going)

When food is a life sustaining provision and received as such, it takes on a different importance than when there is easy access. 

When our access is difficult or seemingly impossible, the provision of something is more easily received as a gift. In 2009 I traveled to Russia and Dr. Pepper was not accessible and a rare commodity so I was asked to stow a 6 pack in my luggage. There was celebration in the streets (not quite). While there, I vaguely remember them trying to curate their own Root Beer. 

When we previously had access to and remember the taste we associate with something, we try to get that back because our memory says we enjoyed it. 

Here’s a tangential theological thought: Taste and see that the Lord is good. 

Similarly, God was confident to presume that if we experienced His goodness, taste of His heavenly gift and share of His Spirit (Hebrews 6:4) that we would not willingly fall away or abandon permanently, our pursuit of God. We would not choose to forget God’s pursuit of us. 

Now what of things that we lose taste for? I have eaten Taco Bell for about 20 years. It is easily the food I have eaten more than any other. And if I’m being honest, I don’t even like Taco Bell anymore from a taste perspective. I never go and desire the food. It is quick, open late, and I know it won’t taste bad or make me sick because I have developed a familiarity with their ingredients. My body is well acclimated with Taco Bell, but my taste buds get no excitement or exhilaration. I am simply banking on nostalgia and history and the reminder that me and Taco Bell have hosted many good memories together. Just because Taco Bell is steady, does not make it good nor does it mean Taco Bell has my best interest in mind. In fact one can argue that I am codependent on Taco Bell and Taco Bell has no need for me. It would exist without me. Would I exist without it? 

The answer to that is also yes. I would exist independently of Taco Bell and my joy and happiness is no longer dependent on it. Our relationship is historical and occasionally we run into each other when better options are lacking. This is scarcely a human’s relationship to the Holy Spirit or to chills.

*This is an excerpt from a project called Holy Ghost and Chill: Discerning the Difference Between Chills and the Holy Spirit and Perhaps Giving Up Trying. It’s a working title. *Shrug*

Prose: Simple-Hearted

In the spring, it became apparent we had lost each other for quite some time. I had become rote in my ability to disappoint. You had become distant before and after discussion on top of discussion. Together we suffered and our affection caught glaucoma. Nearness and touch gave way to a glance that at times was familiar and others was as unwelcome as a strangers gaze.

I placed my baggage on a chair at the table and asked you where you woud like to start. Should we start with mine or yours? Would you like to dump it all out at once and sort through it or take it out one piece at a time until it becomes intolerable?

Desire carried us then to lighten each other’s load

How patient are you now?

I find we both can be patient, depending on how generous we are feeling and if our longing for something else abates in order to notice each others need for tenderness.

Together, yet separately, we crafted versions of one another that were neither true in regard to our selfish motives nor the overtly romantic notions of who we wanted each other to be.

And this too gave way to accepting the imperfect person standing there doing dishes, taking out trash, folding clothes, leaving clothes on the ground, scrubbing the toilet, leaving hair in the sink, crankiness, irritability, depression, with the one whom we chose to at one time make a home with. Whom we recently have forgotten to make a home with. Who will care for us in our neglect?

I have refined you and you me, or at least, we have been useful in the process. It was not our usefulness that made us or kept us face to face. It was our hearts circulating willingess to lay down parts of the self to inherit much of the other, and there we were able to return.

To the smiles, the giggles, to the hands we hold across the table and the breath we both hear and have frequently felt intimately, and it is the many moments in the delight of familiarity that we find each others eyes again and again.

And there simple hearts are known.

Hawaiian Retrospective

A little over a month and half ago I went on vacation to Hawaii. I had a friend tell me, jokingly (though in every joke there sometimes is a truth) “You’re going on vacation? A vacation from what? You don’t have a job.” It’s actually a line from Seinfeld, Jerry to George (I’m not George).

I don’t need to justify my position, but I will. Suffice it to say that pre-pandemic I was working long hours in an isolated beach town in NJ to move to another job with the same company that took no breaks during the pandemic. Also, I tore my meniscus, got ACL surgery and was pretty inactive for a while so after going on no extended vacations for 2 years, one of those years being an emotionally intense year of chaplaincy in which I made very little money, followed by an emotionally trying time of disappointment in pursuing a career in ministry, I decided to take a vacation in the midst of a pandemic after not working for 3 months. Thankfully, I got a nice tax return check.

Now that the justificaiton is out of the way, I will reflect on what I hoped from the trip. Memorial Day weekend, the weekend I tore my meniscus I met my friend Richard who I traveled to Hawaii with.

We had lots of good conversation the first time we met, centered around moving to Charleston, how in the midst of transition or choosing to transition, there will always be consequences you can’t account for. And how enneagrams 4’s hearts are so concerned about mining the depths that it can be hard for us to get out of the depths and look up and see the light (usually other people help us).

Unforeseen consequences of the first time I moved to Charleston for example: my dad was diagnosed with leukemia 5 days before I moved. Half way through my time here, my grandma passed away. If someone were to tell me those things when I applied for a chaplaincy residency at the end of 2017 perhaps I would have reconsidered moving to Charleston in 2018. But in short we don’t know what will happen when we choose to move or transition. We hope for the best and we get what we get, and hopefully we are content in knowing God has us.

Richard and I also talked about navigating trials, and projecting joy in the midst of suffering (something I’m historically terrible at). Our circumstances in December of 2020 found us thinking about planning a trip. Woe was us! International travel was off the table, and I don’t like the cold, so we went to Hawaii. A glorious compromise.

Hawaii is beautiful. I don’t think anyone who has been could or would say otherwise. Beaches, mountains (volcanoes), nice temperature. In simple terms it’s a great place to vacation and to live if you like living on an island in the middle of the ocean.

We hiked, we surfed, we ate some things, stayed in nice places and laughed a ton. We also talked about community and its purpose in our lives, how by its design it’s never meant to keep us stuck. How community in it’s freest form points us to Christ and sets us free to look beyond self to the needs of others and the Kingdom that has come. And how once community ceases to be this, it becomes a trap or a roadblock to good things. Community takes what we have in common and shares it for the sake of further unity. Community should grow not retract. Community shouldn’t keep us on an island.

It was helpful to think about on an island where it was beautiful and easy to be, knowing that everyone else’s lives were moving and going on without me. It was a different island than the one I was on for 5 months at the Jersey shore coming home to my cat every night in the cold winter of 2019-2020.

Oh the islands I choose to visit. And what isolation does to a person is interesting. I have reflected on it previously. People talk about the dangers of isolation and being alone, and I can attest to many of those dangers. But I will say, being alone for a long time means lots of time to think about what you want and how you will get there.

Which is why in many ways Hawaii was not just a vacation but also a chance to think about the question: “was this what I set out to do?”

I wrote myself a letter on August 5th, 2020 after reading a Bob Goff book, Dream Big, that Richard recommended to me. In it Bob says to write a letter you wrote to yourself and read it 6 months later so naturally I did that on our vacation.

I will give you the highlights of what I had hoped from the letter I wrote on August 5th and read February 5th 2021. (Yes I wrote it with the intention to read it on my birthday):

-I wrote I’d be in Charleston (technically I was wrong, I wasn’t even in Hawaii reading it, I was in Colorado, a place I probably will never return to).

-I wrote I’d have a budding romance (always the romantic optimist), that could not have been less true.

-I’d have writing/publishing opportunities (I’ve certainly written a ton, but have refused to finish anything, an enneagram’s 4 challenge, committing to something long enough to complete it, we accept life for its incompleteness, we also aren’t great at selling ourselves)

-I’d have a healthy knee (actually that’s mostly true)

-I’d have a restful home and a joy filled community (yes…)

-I was considering doing a second Master’s (ironically enought that’s still on the table but it’s my third choice at the time when I wrote it: a Master’s in education. I was previosuly considering an MDIV or Clinical Counseling).

-I was supposed to sell a lot of stuff, eat healthy, and fast more (meh)

It was a short letter. There was some recap and epistle like characteristics to it that were helpful that I won’t go into detail about.

During the many reflections with Richard and thinking about the 4 months of living in Charleston and not working, I had to come to grips with if it was worth it. Was it worth moving and risking looking foolish?

Is it worth it to be left under the scrutiny of others on the outside thinking I might be lazy or indecisive or unsteady or unreliable or not resilient and to move on from those perceptions in order to be steadfast? It’s part of the cost: to be misunderstood, to let others make assumptions, to be judged for how you present yourself. The way to keep going without depression or self-pity is to move on, quietly.

A step of faith requires one to be willing to look foolish, to look like a failure and knowing that many will find your life undesirable. Being able to ignore the inevitable gossip and the ones that treat you like you are less than because of your decisions or circumstances is difficult. But we need to move on from those voices without working up a defense. (perhaps not writing something like this)

But it’s been worth it. And I won’t justify that.

And I would go back to Hawaii.