It Took A Long Time To Recover

How long will you keep me here

walking on this line

I’m outside your house and home

and I can’t remember mine

Everything is so foreign now

I thought I had you with me

And then you came out crying

And I knew it never would be

We were walking in circles

and it felt like quite the time

I guess I never felt your love

I just kept on feeling mine

….

Yeah I know it happened

Yeah I know I stumbled

I stumbled through the summer

tried to find another lover

tried to chase another lover

but I also know it took a long time to recover

Every year, the cycle of my life seems to carry so much wait (and weight) in August. Maybe it is the last push of summer. Maybe it is because so many of the cycles of my life have revolved around education or some new endeavor. Or maybe I got stuck in a loop.

The lyrics above are to a song I wrote back in 2016. You can see a rare video of me singing it back when I recorded it here. Then you can evaluate my singing voice and come to new conclusions. Regardless, those lyrics came from a place 3 years prior at the beginning of August which wound up being the final page of a complex relationship.

Since then, the month of August has been a month in which I started grad school, started a chaplaincy residency, ended a chaplaincy residency, started teaching. It has fallen in seasons of transition. Life transitions are usually challenging in themselves, but when transitions are accompanied by grief and loss and perceived abandonment they can feel impossible to get through.

This August is no different. I have felt nauseous for 2 weeks straight. Sometimes my body feels like its trembling, like I’m going through some kind of withdrawal. I have been searching for a name for what’s happened. It’s not grief. It’s something more intense. It’s whatever the emotional pain someone heaps on you as your grieving that makes you question reality is called.

Is there a word for that?

Is it gaslighting?

Maybe but not entirely.

It is fear but not the reverential good kind. It’s the kind that has you on high alert that makes you kind of weary of many interactions. And that creates a fight to capture an accurate identity instead of one being crafted through false accusation.

And so in these conditions we recover. People who have endured much worse and the loss of much more find a way to recover. Sometimes it takes a very very long time and the only way they recover is to find new hope.

So I’m preparing to newly hope. And if hope can no longer be found here, it is time to go. And if time to go means a quicker recovery then there is a good in the goodbye.

I hope you too can recover from your wounds and losses in this season friends.

The Disappearance of Most Familiar

I’ve lost my keys for what feels like every day for a month except it’s not my keys I’ve lost.

I don’t know what your pattern in dealing with grief is, but my seemingly unavoidable pattern is to delay it until the last possible moment. It is hard for me to accept that things are gone. My theology feeds this thought in its claim that no person is definitely gone if they confess Christ. Absence in theory is temporary.

Humanity does not do well with accepting the permanence of death, and the leap that we cease to exist seems to run contrary to the hope instilled in us by the Spirit and breath of God. How could God’s breath be anything less than eternal?

But the nature of missing things does not suggest that things evaporate or lose their mass or matter. Though, I don’t know how the concept of life as vapor jives with the thought of object permanence, things don’t cease to exist when they are not seen or heard.

But if things or people did cease to exist wouldn’t we just adapt to life through the lens that nothing lasts unless it is present? Would that spare us or cause us more pain? Is it more painful to accept each time someone leaves or dies that they might never come back?

But that is not how life is. When we lose, we still wish we had or had won. We still want who we want to be here. We would rather have what we have been looking for than lose it for good or even for a little while. Because when all we are left with is memory, it can feel like our memories are taunting us as reminders of what we had but have no longer. They exist as if to say, “good luck going on without.”

Then we are left with the choice to forget or leave behind or move on. We are left to give up clinging to the past, and in a sense, it feels like we are asked to give up hope for the future. We become confronted with the reality that this person is not there in quite the same capacity or potentially any capacity for what we still hope to do or achieve or find encouragement for along the way. Everything becomes a matter of faith or fiction or fairy tale. Am I carried by the memory of the one lost or some mystical coexisting presence and intercessor?

And what of the other disappearances? What about the one who leaves not life itself but just your or my life. They exit from you and you alone. What about that person, who very much alive decides, “I want little or nothing to do with you? How do we navigate that rejection or hatred?” Because if we carry that, what we carry could be catastrophic at most and confining at least.

The finality of death or seeming finality is not fooled by the question of “how can I fix this?” I simply cannot. The relationship has seen its end. They are gone. Most or maybe all regrets have no help.

But the lack of finality of relational abandonment, neglect, or disconnection is a much different challenge. There is more forgiveness required due to the risk of continual hurt, the risk of unanswered questions that still beg an answer, the deception and misperception of peoples opinions and thoughts. All these and the seeming fruitlessness of trying to restore a relationship that lacks mutual desire can be wraught with distress. Even more, when the fruitless attempts don’t seem to be grounded in any tangible, rational reason, we can be tempted to fight for the familiar.

But love holds loosely. I don’t know if that is truth, but it seems true. My favorite blogger said it was true a decade ago, and it has felt true. In other words, all any of us can really do in any of our relationships is to let go, not with the thought that we or the person we hold will fall off a cliff or into a deep cold ocean after our ship has wrecked on an inceberg, but to let go with both our feet on solid ground and hope that whether this person is standing across from us or next to us that they will choose to stay when we let go.

And if they don’t, then it is their loss. And that at the end of the day, maybe that person was not who you thought they were, or maybe that person or persons was not worthy of your space, and maybe they aren’t as familiar or necessary as you thought. And we will accept, with some measure of difficulty, in some strange, cruel or even unimaginable way, that their disappearance at least now, is for the best.

James Passaro has been blogging for the better part of a deacade around themes pertaining to Christian theology, love and loss, coming of age, coming to death, poetry, vocational identity or lack there of. He still belongs to Jesus, still steady in pursuit of a meaningful calling, a desire to be of use to the Church, still finding ways to genuinely love, still faithful to His Lord, still willing to listen to your story. He still thanks you for reading.

I Write to You Children

There is a beautiful piece of poetry right in the middle of 1 John chapter 2 verses 12-14. It is the center of a sandwich of intense passsages. The first describes: saying you walk in the light but have persistent hatred or rejection towards your brother; the second describes not loving the things of the world that are passing away, the lusts, the pride, the things we yearn for that take our gaze from God. Much could be said about 1 John 2:9-11 and 2:15-17 and the way that John is writing a tender sincere love letter about the radical commitment of living wholly for Christ.

But I want to write about the poem and the words he uses, writing to little children, fathers and young men. For the sake of context, I am a young man and in the literal sense still a child of someone, but not a little child. yet, to God, the Christian is never old.

Here is the text:

12I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one.

The repetition is the greatest evidence of its poetry. The only verses in the poem that differ completely are in John’s address to little children, the basis to the beginning of every person’s existence. We all start as little children, some of us never leave this state.

And to them, John writes first, “I’m writing to you because your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake.” That in itself is interesting wording because it does not say for our or your names sake; it says for His name’s sake. In other words, for Christ’s sake! He (God) has a vested interested in our being forgiven.

In the second stanza John’s address to little children lets us know he is writing because we have known the Father. This is also perplexing, not in that the Father can be known; He wants to be known. I believe He is more easily known the more childlike our faith, the more desperately needy and trusting we are that he will provide for us as a Father to his kids. The only way we could know the Father is from a posture as adopted sons and daughters. We do not father God, the only brotherhood we have is perhaps with Christ who became our advocate, intercessor and propitiation. He is both our replacement yet all of creation is by and for and through Him. All of it so we could be reconciled as children to have access to the Father, so we could know the Father.

After little children, John addresses the father in 2 stanzas giving them the same rationale in both, as to why he is writing to them. The fathers have known Him who is from the beginning. That past tense phrasing of known indicates that their is a history of intimate knowledge. The fathers in this verse presumably have children either genetically or spiritually. They are responsible for someones development and growth and care. They are a father like the Father and their knowledge of God and Christ has historical value. It has a currency of knowledge based in reality and repetition of understanding the character of God.

And finally he addresses young men, the last, the often forgotten, the historically most dispensable in war and tragedy, whether slave or free. You could argue among slaves, young men were valued higher for their strength and ability to work but work is a curse, a byproduct of sin. Men are exploited to keep up with the curse. Young men especially because they are past the point of provision in the sense of relying on someone else to work for them, yet are not viewed as valuable caretakers or providers to a spouse or children or presumably a parent. They are floating in the middle which has placed them last and which John sees and addresses with the most words.

Dear Son: Letters to My Son – Journals For the Soul

John writes first “because you have overcome the wicked one.” Have they? Have we? Have you ever met a young single Christian man that has overcome the wicked one? I have been a young single Christian man for lets say 16 years if we go by the age of adulthood we kind of agree upon as Western society or we could say 21 years if we are going by most agreed upon Jewish standards. Suffice it to say whatever the timetable, the majority of young single Christian men I have met have very little figured out. I’ve met a few superstars, maybe John did to. The disciples aside from Peter and Thomas and Judas all seemed like superstars. To be fair though Peter was married so he might have had kids. Who knows?

My point is overcoming the wicked one hardly feels like a consistent reality. There is too much self doubt. There is too much telling young men they are expendable, replaceable, comparable. Vocational rejection, Relational rejection, Competition, dizzying disappointment and unclear even more dizzying expectations. This is getting all the more complex not less. Yet in John’s eyes young men have overcome.

In the second stanza he makes an even more audacious claim. “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” John lets us know why he believes young men have and can overcome. Because of strength and because the word of God abides in you. God in Christ by His Spirit willingly abides in you and me in the midst of our sinful predilections. God stepped in and seemingly has stayed. So John writes and he writes a letter with poetry.

He writes so our relationship would remain, so our love would be strengthened so we’d not lose heart.

I write to you and to myself to not lose heart.

Tony

My dad Anthony (Tony) Louis Passaro Jr. was born on August 23, 1950 over a month premature. He was the only child of my grandmother Mary and grandfather Anthony L Passaro Sr. My grandma had several prior miscarriages before the birth of her only child. From the little I know of his birth, I know he was small. I don’t know if there were any additional complications or considerations. What I do know from his stories is his childhood did not get easier.

He always spoke fondly of his friendships with the guys he played baseball with growing up. Myron and Louie were friends for life growing up together in Jersey City. They remained close throughout my own childhood as my family frequented the Jersey Shore and spent time with their families as well as with my Godfaher Jimi Beam and his wife Bernie.

My dad loved telling stories of his childhood on Poplar Street and remembering good times in Jersey City. I also remember the other stories, of a very difficult childhood, one in which he was physically abused by his father, an alcoholic, for being left-handed, seeing the way my grandfather harshly treated my grandmother, and my dads own difficulty with how the nuns treated him growing up in Catholic School.

Sometimes it is hard to know if it was this environment that shaped his personality as an adult or if he was already a mischievous child in Catholic school that warranted being hit with rulers and kneeling on rice. The stories from his Catholic schooling to me never sounded awful in comparison to my father’s home life, yet his journey within the context of Catholocism seems to be one that was not filled with thoughts of God as a loving Father and forgiving advocate. It could just be that a place meant to be full of solace and salvation brought more confused pain to my dad who as a child was probably just scared. My grandmother though, found a sense of peace and purpose serving the Catholic Church despite them not approving her eventual divorce from my grandfather when my father was well into adulthood.

It was not until recently I heard more of the stories about my dad’s college years and his early to mid 20’s and his first marriage to Holly. Maybe it was because St. Peter’s made their run in the March Madness tournament, that I was reminded he could not pass an accounting class in his college in Massachusetts so he transferred to St. Peter’s and attended classes in the evening for several years while working during the day, I think for the Jonathan Logan.

My dad worked most of his life in government social services settings, the Hudson County Welfare Board and then The State Child Support Office of New Jersey. While I do believe it made him a diligent public servant, I don’t know how much bureacratic government work did for his perspective on humanity. My dad was not politically correct nor would waste an opportunity to make an inappropriate joke. It is good he retired when he did because while I have never felt my dad was a malicious person, I don’t think he would thrive in the current cultural climate.

I know little of my dad’s first marriage; I know there was a slight age gap and they enjoyed watching hockey. Until I was an adult I often did not comprehend that my dad had lived a life before me. I was not born until he was 37, only 3 years older than I am now. As far as his second marriage to my mother, there is both much and little I could write about that, but it hardly seems necessary now. I think my parents would agree that the best thing that came of their marriage was me and my brother (which is what I imagine even couples who are happily in love might also say of their children).

In many ways, my reflection of my dad as a father has much more substance in the years that he raised me and my brother alone beginning in a third floor, two bedroom apartment in Briarwood when I was in 5th grade, roughly 1999. I shared a room with my brother and at that time myself being 10/11, my brother 16/17; I have fond memories of that living arrangement.

Thankfully, we lived down the street from my grandmother who fed us twice a week and who I often spent time with on the weekends. As a single father, I cannot imagine what he thought or felt during that time. I remember distinctly the things that felt normal, our weekly routine of meals that consisted of either tuna and tomato soup or ramen noodles, our medley of pizza rolls, potato skins, taquitos, and other frozen delicacies, and a weekly order from Vito’s pizza of either pizza or subs, always paid for with a coupon.

What I remember most though in those years was going to his softball games behind Pullens, a gas station that was right down the street from Taco Bell. Sometimes I would watch my dad with admiration playing the outfield. Other times I would disinterestedly play with GI Joes in his van. Either way I remember often going to Taco Bell after those games which truth be told is where my love for Taco Bell began. That Taco Bell on Sloan avenue is probably the place I have eaten more meals at than many places I’ve lived.

Dad moved us into a condo still in Briarwood around the time when my brother went off to college at Penn State. Then, it was just me and my dad throughout my teenage years. Sure he had girlfriends during various seasons, Barbara, whose children were my great friends and who I spent much time backyard wrestling with, and then Linda who was quite eccentric but showed kindness to me and my friend Ben. But many days it was just me and dad with our routine, school/work (him smoking on my way to school always having to ride there with the window down no matter what season), being picked up from a baby sitters, homework or going to softball games, watching tv on the couch or going to sports practices. My dad was great about normalizing our home life and never making me feel like we were struggling to get by.

One of my fondest memories that I had as a child was a trip we took to visit my Godfather Jimi when we went to Manhattan. My Godfather made me and many others laugh harder than anyone I knew and I felt like the luckiest boy in the world going to the city with my dad and godfather and hanging out for the whole day. I remember driving home and telling my dad we have to do that again. That was the only time we ever did something like that, but I can still vividly remember standing between them laughing on some street in Manhattan completely delighted.

We always had a vacation, usually to Wildwood where I got to bring a friend or was with friends, Scott Francis or Ben to the Poconos, unless it was with Barbara and her kids Billy and Timmy. We had plenty of daytrips to Lavalette to see Louie and Nancy and Myron and Debbie and their families. I could write a blog just of all the memories I have from those daytrips to the beach. Holidays had routines; every thanksgiving we spent with Patty Ann, Aunt Francis and Joey. Christmas and birthdays always had a consisted of a ton of gifts. Well into adulthood, my dad was still buying me wrestling figures and DVD’s even as I was selling a lot of childhood toys and trying to declutter. Dad liked the idea of getting stuff.

Whether or not my dad was intentional about it, he provided me with so many opportunites for memories and enjoyment even though I have some lingering echo of hearing him say I was never satisfied. I think in part because there was an emotional disconnect with him throughout my teenager years. I think being a father was not easy for him in every aspect because of his own childhood. I don’t know if he ever desired or tried or felt like working through his own trauma with his father would be helpful. I know before I was born, there were several years in which my dad was having to come to the rescue of his own his father because of alcoholism and debt which eventually led to his death. I imagine it was very difficult for my father to balance caring for his own father who had caused him so much pain.

As such, I don’t know if he ever entirely knew how to help me process life with the strong degree of emotions I felt. I don’t recall any conversations as a teenager that were particularly filled with wise fatherly advice. He did not talk to me about girls or my hopes or dream or vocation aside from perhaps listening when I said I wanted to be a professional wrestler. He allowed me to be largely indpendent in the process of applying to colleges. He certainly took me to visit schools and as I have mentioned made sure I had no substantial debt after college, but I felt very lost throughout my teenage years.

I have no memories of being disciplined by my dad. I never was punished, never had a curfew, would often stay out past midnight on the weekends before I could drive. He often would say, “He’s never given me a reason not to trust him.” And for the most part I believe that holds entirely true. I believe there was a grace on my life that kept me entirely disinterested in drugs, alcohol, being promiscuous or anything that could have led to getting into serious trouble. But I don’t know if he saw or recognized the things that actually troubled me because of maybe his own emotional threshold. I talked to a teddy bear into my teenage years. I played with GI Joes for hours some weekend nights up until I was 18, and I don’t think my dad saw or noticed that as being worrisome.

Largely because my dad liked to tinker with toys, his pinball machine, his records, his collectibles, his stuff. If anyone knows my dad, they know that his basement is enshrined with collectibles and things that entertained himself. Every night for over a decade he would lie on the basement floor listening to one of his 13,000 album. When we had cats, our cat Dwarf would sit on my dads back resting with him as they listened together to classic rock albums. My dad was good about routine and ritual and actually was pretty easily contented in some areas. Maybe that was how he coped.

In other areas, usually in regards to his health he could be stubborn. He never really quit smoking. He kept active playing softball all the way up to the day after his leukemia diagnosis. He loved softball. He has a shrine of softballs with his batting averages from each season written on them dating back to 70’s. He enjoyed inuendo and cursing which I shared with him up until the end of high school.

My senior year, which was an emotionally dark time, gave way to a season in college when my faith grew and potentially changed the way me and my dad related. I became immersed in my faith and dad might have found it hard to reconcile it with the Catholicism he endured growing up. It probably was even more of a challenge when I began pursuing ministry as a vocation. I remember trying to bridge the gap post college. I would regularly have him edit things I was writing, because he majored in English in college, a fiction story about a cheese delivery boy modeled after the life of King David and a nonfiction autobiography of my pastor hoping we would have points of reference for my faith.

At some point in time, probably when I started wrestling in New Jersey, our relationship began to form into something more simple and familiar. I think we both accepted the people we each were. By this point my dad was retired and married to Lorraine, still loving the beach still playing softball and now that I was living in the same state working and wrestling, I think our visits and time together did not diverge much. I loved seeing him at my wrestling events and playing pool in the basement and catching up.

Life in general for him was more routine until August of 2018. About a week before I was about to move to Charleston to work as a hospital chaplain in my first full time job in a ministry context, dad was diagnosed with acute myleoid leukemia. And for the 3 days before I was about to move and work in a hospital every day, I spent it with him in the hospital preparing to get his first round of chemo.

Truth be told I can’t describe his experience in detail because I don’t entirely know it because I was not there. I know his wife Lorraine was there every step of the way, and my brother saw the effects of the chemo. We did not tell my grandmother while she was living of dads condition so as not to distress her. I was spared of some of that distress by living far away for 13 months. He was in remission for a bit and then it came back and so did I, moving back to New Jersey, hoping I could be helpful. But a delayed bone marrow transplant in the midst of a pandemic, eventually led to him having to be in the hospital for 6 weeks without a visitor. I have no idea how he had the mental capacity to endure that.

But my dad did endure a very hard almost 4 years with leukemia. He sought aggressive treatment and it gave him what I hope was meaningful extra time, but it was a fight the whole way. When he went into remission again after the bone marrow transplant I moved again, back to Charleston perhaps naive or just perhaps hopeful that dad would have a lot more time. Though he managed to never get Covid, he had a couple of other complications before the lieukemia came back this past April.

Even with the diagnosis my dad remained hopeful and optimistic and felt he had no choice but to prepare for more aggressive treatment. Another round of chemo that did nothing other than leading to 4 lengthy hospital stays over the course of 7 weeks eventually led to the decision to stop pursuing treatment and come home with hospice. I will not write about those details but I will say, it was difficult to see my dad suffer but not difficult to care for him in the stritctest sense of dealing with him or his body failing. The difficulty lay in seeing my once and at times still vibrant aspects of his personality become dimmer.

That is the difficulty, the choice between the end of suffering and the hope for more out of life and how little power over that choice it actually ends up feeling like we have, like he had. And now as a I write this he is gone. It hits me in waves; I will not hear him again, hear him tell me he loves me, except for his voicemails that I have saved, to visit, to play pool with, to talk about the Rangers with, to listen to music with. I won’t hear is laugh or see his wide smile or the big nose we share.

If I had not at this point been clear because this reflection is too somber, my dad did enjoy laughter and having a good time. He was not a particularly serious person, though he felt things strongly. My large emotions likely come from him, my temper, my humor, my love for storytelling. He did not travel much, largely remaing in Jersey, never lived elsewhere, never waivered in his accent, always found a way to be inappropriate. He was always a breath or two away from a sex joke. Again if you knew my grandmother, it would hardly seem like they could have been mother and son. But I don’t know how much each person is exactly like there parents.

There is much I don’t know. I know I love him, and I will miss him and I know in a lot of ways I am the spitting image of my dad. I know that today. and I will know that tomorrow, and in the days to come, as the grief continues to come. I know it will be hard to think about the things he will have missed or rather I will have missed to share with him.

Our second to last phone conversation on Saturday July 9th, he was more awake and alert for over an hour and half, talking to my brother, and then to me on the phone where he kept commenting on the birds he heard coming through my end of the phone. I was reminded again that our last name Passaro means little bird, particularly a sparrow.

I’m reminded now of this verse from Matthew 10:29-31

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I am comforted that in my dad raising me, and for the brief time I was able to care for him that ultimately, there is a Heavenly Father responsible for all of our ultimate care. I’m thankful for the dad I was given to enjoy and love even if it has too short of a time.

Timing in the Garden of God

When I think about Jesus recently, I think about time. I think about what I do with it and how the way I spend it affects His heart. I think about how with the current state of things, time in the present, takes precedence over the past or the future.

I think about society and how unmalleable people are when it comes to dissenting opinions. Entitlement is king and people don’t want their rights infringed upon if it makes things inconvenient now. This attitude is present in the poor and priveleged alike. People who are upper middle class and well off made out really well over the last two years. Sure the current recession might equalize some of that, but people made and saved a lot of money prior to now.

I say this also with the knowledge that people rich and poor also need rest. Somehow we must reserve time for rest and look foward to rest. Even if now, is not the time to rest, somewhere within the now should be the foward looking vision of the hope of rest. Even if I am working hard now, though I have paused to read this, rest is to be on my mind.

Now, in the present, where God can most easily be accessed by those of us who are bound by time is what I also think God cares about when it comes to human creation. He cares about obedience, bearing burdens, loving enemies, preserving life, and does not mind calling His children to risk their comfortability and resources to arrive at salvation and joy to the full. The Christian call to share in suffering with a willingness to offer ourselves as living sacrifices has not changed for the ones that confess Jesus as Lord. We do it because He is worthy, not because it is convenient.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day by Arthur B. Davies on  artnet

And the moment I must follow is now, if my identity is rooted in love in Christ. Nothing has changed in the now.

A return to the Garden of God, a mind fixed on things above and the Kingdom of God has a full view of rest not restlessness, which is interesting because when I think of Jesus, I think of the Scriptural promise that he now lives to make intercession for us.

There is not a moment, where Jesus is not pleading our case, living as our respresentation within the Trinity as the One who asks for mercy for us from the Father, who further also asks for the Father to give good gifts to His children, to provide for us and for our children. Part of our work and partnership in intercession is also a willingness to find and receive the strength in the now to be a source of rest for those that are weary and without hope in the world. This too is part of our call in the now, until the Kingdom comes in fullness on earth as it is in Heaven.

Practically speaking there are thousand of creative ways of doing this and ways to expend energy in doing this without the rest of the world ever knowing we’re doing it. There are ways to follow Jesus in obscurity that are far more valuable and less time consuming and probably more rest rewarding than crafting a social media image or chasing wealth.

The last thing I feel I should write about the timing in the Garden of God or time spent with and for Jesus is that the idea of wasting time looks way different in the Kingdom than in the world. I believe wasting time in a good way with Jesus involves things like going for an edifying walk, singing a song that no one will ever hear, writing Jesus a poem that no one will ever read, sitting with a grieving friend, or celebrating a friends success or achievement. I think things that the world glorifies as productivity is actually destroying others, busyness, profiteering, even legal ways we do this that have the tertiary affect of exploiting the poor.

When a group of people asked John the Baptist what the fruits of bearing with repentance are in the present, what he chose to address was all the ways the poor are exploited and the ways in which humans with priveleged positions try to get more money out of people. See Luke 3:4-14.

What Jesus never rebukes and rather encourages is the way we spend our time visiting and caring for the poor and oppressed and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:34-40

Where can we begin? In prayer. God may you grant me rest and then strength to bring rest, alleviate burdens so that the labor in love I perform will be like walking with you in the cool of the day. I love you Jesus because you loved me first.

Refining and Ashes

When an entire city is destroyed by fire, it is the resiliency of a people that is left to rebuild. In 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome destroyed more than 2/3 of the city under Emperor Nero. He sought to blame the Christians for the fire because they were easy scapegoats. They were already unpopular among the populace.

3 months after the fire, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down according to Church tradition and apocryphal texts. Tradition and theory are all we have in relation to the fire and Peter’s martyrdom. Both of these events don’t rest in the realm of truth.

I reflect on Peter often because of his impetuosity, his quickness to react, his overt emotion and his ability/spirit empowered unction to bounce back and be useful.

I reflect on fires now to remind us of what fires do; they destroy, consume, reveal what lasts and in some rare cases of Scripture fire does nothing. People are in it and protected by God. It is used as a metaphor for the spreading of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

And sometimes fire is used to test the life we build on top of our faith:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Will what we have done in this life survive a testing fire? What interests me is: how in the world do I know the caliber of resources I have built with will remain? What if I don’t have interest in building something with the wrong kind of materials?

I’m fairly certain, Paul is writing about the Christians part in the work of ministry and building up the Church. And I’m also fairly certain that most of what people in the West call ministry will be burned up. A reward will be given for what lasts and loss will be felt for what doesn’t despite us still being saved.

At this stage of life, I am not sure what will be left. I’m not sure if it is the work I have done for the upbuilding of the Church that has burned away or my trust in things working out for my good while trying to do it (Admittedly, I don’t know if I’m trying hard to do it). I can still tacitly believe that God is doing and working good for others, but I have been unable to reconcile my own paralysis, lack of confidence and seeming inability to let go of hurt and rejection over what I perceive is my calling and personhood. I am stuck.

As I was driving in my car on the phone with my mom, I shared my frustration over interviewing at schools, frustration about church life, frustration with the cyclical nature of hurt from the same people and the inability to cope with the fact that I still feel perpetually stuck. And she said, “Could it be God is refining you?”

To switch I swiftly replied, “For 3 years?! I don’t need any more refining. There is soon to be nothing left but ashes.”

To which I heard the Spirit more swiftly reply, “If that is all that is left, I will trade you even that for beauty.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

I don’t know if there is a poetic, prophetic text in Scripture that is more filled with hope. Jesus reads this passage in the Temple and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At the same time, I read this passage and wonder: when? How in the midst of being stuck, held captive, strung along, grieved, in despair do we just get out? Does this only come in the resurrection? Does it actually happen now? Is there actually a sense of communion and love and safety in the assembling of the faithful?

Maybe. Jesus thought there would be.

Maybe, when I’m sufficiently refined, we can trade up for beauty.

My Father, the Hero

About 6 years ago, at Pennington Assembly of God, members of the staff recorded videos of our fathers listening to us answering questions about what it was like to be raised and loved by our dads and the instances in which we as sons did things that were unbecoming of the fearfully wonderful men we would become. We showed it on Father’s Day. Here’s the link

I think about that season of ministry and feeling energy and creativity flowing in ways that felt lighter and funny. I think somewhere deep in the heart of God is the comedy of the Father. And I think the Church has not yet fully realized the God that has plenty of Dad jokes at His disposal.

I recognize after working this past year in education in an underprivileged school how many students lives in single family homes, most of which without fathers in the household. I recognize further how rare it is for a student to live in a single family household solely raised by their father.

The national statistics suggest that only 16% of children raised in single parent homes live in a household with a single father. Of all total household arrangements less than 5% of households contain a single dad. In my classroom of roughly 15 students, I only know of one was raised by a single-father. These statistics and my experience has made me more aware of how rare my own experience is of spending a large portion of my childhood raised by my dad.

In 4th grade my dad got an apartment in the same community as my grandmother. Our third floor two bedroom apartment was in a different school zone, but my dad requested permission for me to continue to attend the elementary school I was enrolled in. He also got permission for me to attend a Middle School where the majority of my elementary age friends would attend. I still have the letter he wrote to the school board as a reminder of his diligence to make sure there would be conistency in my life.

My dad modeled consistency well in his diligence at work and playing softball. He allowed me to play sports and trusted me to carry out my own schoolwork. My dad trusted me with a sense of independence and creativity and always supported me. He paid me and my brother’s way through college and always made sure we had everything we needed to be given the best chance to succeed.

In adulthood, I have appreciated my relationship with my dad more over the last decade. I don’t necessarily feel any sense of a cats in the cradle situation even though I did move away and move back to New Jersey several times. My fondest memories include my dad attending professional wrestling events in Wrightstown and our standing games of pool in the basement while listening to classic rock on CD or as of more recently his jukebox. In some ways fatherhood and sonship gives me the sense that it can get easier as you get older. That could just be because I have been single and have not been preoccupied with a family of my own.

I’ve also learned new things about my dads character, his resilience and optimism in the face of difficulty and illness. I have often wondered over the past 3-4 years how he has demonstrated hope and joy in spite of the suffering in his body. His demonstration has given me courage and hope and has required me to trust more in the hope that God sees me and guides me in my own times of suffering and disappointment.

Fortunately, today is also a cause for celebration, to celebrate my dad for being here, for being a great father and loving me and my brother well. And while there is more to write and more to praise, for now I’ll simply say:

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

A Few Tender Words to You, as if You were Me

Hello friend, I don’t know what you might be carrying lately. I also don’t know if what you are carrying is much heavier or signicantly lighter than you are imagining. I don’t know even know if your indecision is the product of you not actually knowing or if you feel so trapped where you are that it is hard to imagine a joy filled future.

I don’t necessarily see all you are dealing with nor do I know it. I don’t know the extent of your illness, your weakness, what the cause is of you being less present or barely awake. I can’t really imagine the toll it has taken on your mind but I do know the toll things have taken on my own heart and my own mind. I also know that the times when I am overwhelmed by the feeling of an unmet expectation, that I should have known or should have been better, I know that comparison hurts and that condemnation further kills or isolates the hope inside me.

Beloved, you need that hope inside you. You cannot under any circumstance surrender hope; now the direction of our hope might change, but you cannot discard it. You must remain faithful to hope. It is the anchor.

Also, you must lean into love. I imagine you have felt like the things or the people you expected love from have let you down, maybe often and maybe seemingly beyond recovery. You might sense that the love that once came from a certain place or someone has grown cold or despondent to your needs. I am sorry for that. I don’t know why love grows cold. I don’t know why it can be so hard to conjure, why our hearts can feel love sick or that our very love is somehow sick or ill and unable to give with the generosity we desire it to give. I think we always suspect that love will be transformative and sustaining.

Perfect love does this, the kind that drives out all of our fears. That kind only comes from God. A love like that must be divine, otherworldly, beyond human comprehension. But that is the love we need friend, probably in this moment, a love that has no desire to abandon, a love that does not waiver in its intensity, a love that does not suddenly come to a halt or push you aside or forget you exist. A love that keeps you in the center of its imagination. That love requires a perfect person in order to be a perfect love.

Yet we also must have a love for the imperfect. Somehow you are trying to maintain a strength to be able to love those who have hurt you, to love even your enemy. You have engaged in a seemingly impossible endeavor. It has tired you out. It feels like you cannot force forgiveness, you cannot force holiness and it seems easier to return to the dark comforts of addiction or slow death rather than deal with the disappointment of feeling alive in love just to have it sucked out of you, just to have it go unreciprocated or for it to feel like it no longer has the power to change you, revive you, keep you.

I cannot assure you of the timing in which it all gets better or in which it all makes sense or when the stories converge to have a continuation that is filled with purpose. I think somehow it does, that in the deep mystery of God and of our own lives that we can be contented to know that we are not trapped in an unhappy accident of existence. Rather, the love by whom and for whom and through whom you were created has made you to be a source of wonder in the world. I hope today you know that you are the reward.

If You Continue…

In late February of 2013, I began training to be a professional wrestler. It came after putting a dream I had growing up, on hold for about 7 years. Really, on hold is not the right word, more like out of my mind what I thought was completely. But it’s amazing what the right place at the right time, at a season of life where other things lost their meaning can provide for a person.

As it turned out, the initial excitement of training only lasted a few weeks, and as I was gripped by a season of depression, training just wasn’t giving me any sense of joy. But I remember having a thought for several months. I remember thinking, “If this dream was something that was a part of a my life and brought me joy for so long, one day if I persist long enough this might just bring me joy again.”

Whether or not that thought worked or was sustaining, I’m not sure I can tell or remember. What I do remember is that I continued until 2018 (with almost a full year break in 2015-2016) when I moved to South Carolina.

It was then I continued in a new direction with a new set of expectations and goals with an invigorated sense of purpose that I believed was grounded in a call from God. If any of that interests you, this blog chronicles much of that journey, or you can ask me for a rambling, long winded, inchorent babbling version where the only hope is that I will shut down in the middle of it in order for it to come to a succinct but albeit inconclusive end.

This is quite a long introduction to say a few words on the topic of continuing on in one’s faith. To start I present a scripture:

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:21-23

I have been struck by the conditionality of Paul’s words. To expound on the supremacy of Christ just prior, and to follow the verses above by proclaiming that Paul rejoices to share in sufferings, he seems to say “in your reconciliation you could stop or move on from your hope, the same hope that was meant to be an anchor to your soul; you could cut ties with.”

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He puts forth the condition of cutting ties in a sandwich by way of reminder of a former alienation and enmity brought about by evil behavior. He also reminds us that the way God presents you now is as holy an pure and without blemish unable to be accused and that there is unimaginable possibilities in the hope of the gospel. Even still there in the middle is an “if you continue in your faith.”

And what makes us want to not continue is hardly ever what one might think actually could. The New Testament seems to be strongly convinced that persecution would not stop followers of Jesus from continuing. The writers seem far more convinced that false doctrine leading to false beliefs is far more likely to lead believers astray than persecution. There is almost this assumption/guarentee of persecution, whereas false doctrine/teaching has to be entertained, has to find a willing ear. And this according to the New Testament is far greater catalyst in the turn towards no longer continuing than anything else I can think of.

I think the reason people turn to false beliefs is due to palpability. There is something in what is being believed that is easier or more conducive to living life a certain way than if they kept a grasp on truth. Anything to avoid the disruption of comfortability or status. But to continue on in faith, means saying yes to who (Jesus) you barely know and what you may have not have the faintest grasp of what is involved (the works prepared to do beforehand).

If we want to follow Jesus, expecting the upending of sensibilities is what we signed up for; alongside it is a steadfast promise that we will be kept and loved and forgiven upon confession and our efforts to continue to turn from darkness toward delight in Jesus.

Will you continue? What do you believe that is convenient but untrue? What do I believe that keeps me comfortable yet unwilling to look foolish in faith? Who am I continuing for? and what do I need to do with the ministry of reconicliation God has entrusted to me as an ambassador of the kingdom? So many answers to these questions I know in part, or hardly at all, but in choosing to continue, I establish myself in hope.

Longanimity: The Hope of A Calling

My urgency to write might in part be due to my angst, in part due to the fact that I have not blogged in over 3 months which usually is not a great indicator. I learned a new word today: longanimity. It is derived from Latin, meaning “long soul,” but essentially means patience in sufffering.

I found it in a translation of Scripture of Ephesians 4:2 which usually translates longanimity as longsuffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of the call to salvation which is entirely strange. We are offered salvation from eternal torment and salvation to relationship with Jesus, only to share in His sufferings perhaps with a keener awareness of the suffering caused by our own sin and the common suffering of the human condition. In a sense, it feels like it gets worse before it gets better.

Perhaps, I have no better demonstration of the ability to endure suffering in the body in the last several years than the example of the perseverance of my own father. Since 2018, he has been fighting leukemia. During the fight, he has faced several other health complications that he has overcome by in large with an optimistic disposition (also in the midst of a global pandemic). His doctors and nurses praise his perspective, and I am frequently amazed by how resilient he is in the face of sickness.

What my father has demonstrated is the ability to bear with himself, one particular instance in which he was in the hospital for 6 weeks without visitors in the midst of Covid stands out most. Somehow he did not go insane, or if he did, he somehow managed to recover the sanity he had, although one could argue from his sense of humor and ability to somehow say inapprorpriate things that some of his sanity left him in the late 60’s early 70’s. It was a different generation. Nowadays people are going insane under the guise of rational thought and relativism.

Regardless, the longanimity that the apostle Paul writes about in Ephesian 4 not only has to do with the suffering we endure within ourselves. It deals with the suffering we endure as an evidence of our calling, in relation to bearing with others. Herein lies a whole new depth of suffering that the Church has done a particularly stellar job of ignoring. How so, one might ask.

We ignore the command to bear with one another in the ease in which we forgo reconciliation or when we act as a transient member of the Body that supposedly has life sustained by a unity of Spirit. It’s to easy to leave a church in America, by in large because there is a cornucopia of options and opinions (which could potentially function as evience of our disunity). If you prefer to have the positive spin, it is the evidence of the diversity in our expressions of worship. (Although in the south you would be hard pressed to make a case that diversity is something celebrated in many churches). Why, one might continue to ask.

Because of the neglect of Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort (or you could insert the word strive, although that is a word that the Church has grown to all but demonize despite it being commanded) to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace. My latin translation, uses the phrase Zealously strive, not in regards to earning our salvation but in regards to keeping a unity of Spirit bound by peace. In other words, try with everything you have to be united with brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps, now would be a good time to pause for a minute and think about what we zealously strive for.

I’ll go first, at this stage almost nothing. I strive for nothing. I would say for a long period I zealously strived to make ministry a vocation. I would say I have zealously strived in the much more distant past to make romantic relationships work. I have zealously strived in my writing. I have zealously strived in my fight against lust, in my struggle with seasons of depression, in the attempts to renew my mind with Scripture, in laboring in various jobs in seasons when I worked long hours, in seasons of prayer for revival on my college campus. But now, maybe I strive to survive this school year or maybe I’ve all but given up.

As much we are called to strive and bear with another in love, (these are not easy words, they demand much of our faithfulness, our complete humility, our complete gentlness, see Ephesians 4:2, they demand self-sacrifice, require a self-effacing that we might allow ourselves to fade into the background) there is a disarming word at the front of all the demands placed on us as a result of this one disarming word. That word is calling or if you prefer, a more gentle and perhaps a less angst inducing word, you can substitute invitation. An invitation to the divine call of salvation. God Himself has called out to us in the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ because He wanted me; He wanted us. He invites us, gently, humbly, not seeing equality with God as something to be grasped, yet saw the reconiciliation of humanity as something not only strived for or grasped but was willing to face death for the joy set before Him. That joy: us, sinful self-seeking us.

And amidst this invitaton is the invitation to hope. In every choice to endure suffering in our body or for another is hope, the anchor of the soul. So we hope, for my father’s continued hope and positive disposition, hope for our eventual renewed and whole mind, hope and courage to strive for reconciliation at all cost, hope to actually bear up under the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than ignore their suffering and plight for the sake of the maintenance of our own convenience, reputation or platform. Jesus left Heaven (He also returned and lives to make intercession for us). What do we leave for the sake of love?