The Prodigal Year

I’ve been reading and rereading this book for the past few months called The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, and it might be the best book I’ve ever read. It’s short, sincere and reflects on Scripture and a piece of art that moved Nouwen during a season in which he moved into a community that worked with individuals with learning disabilities.

In some ways I began reading this book at the perfect time. In other ways, I feel as if I had read this book sooner I would have understood the story known as the prodigal son and my own life better. After reading it, I am convinced that prodigal is not a good name for either son in the story. While I believe prodigal is a good description of the younger sons actions of spending his money wastefully, I don’t believe it is an accurate description of the son. A better description is simply: lost.

A better description of this year for me is: lost. Not loss as much as lost. I still have much.

I think we can spend a lot of our resources and spend ourselves just to find we have not been moving towards home. Wastefulness is a perception.

A woman with an issue with blood had spent all she had in hopes to be made well, over the course of 12 years. It felt like a waste because she was not healed, until Jesus healed her and asked for nothing in return. A woman breaks an expensive jar of perfume on the feet of Jesus and Judas called it wasteful.

Eternity determines what is wasteful.

Jesus seeks the lost.

Do I?

This has been a very unpastoral year for me. I waited until the last 2 hours of my credentials lapsing to decide to renew them on December 31st at 10 PM to maintain the title of “Minister.” I don’t know if I panicked or if I felt that it was somehow important.

2 weeks prior to that, I withdrew my name from a ministry position at a church in downtown Charleston, and for the first time really said no to a position in ministry when I had no other immediate options for work. Going into the new year I also stopped reporting to my job at the US Postal Service (though I might technically still be employed) and withdrew my name for candidacy in joining the Secret Service (I’m starting to sound crazy).

I felt powerfully weak and wasteful…

and quite frankly disempowered.

Then I went to Hawaii with Rich (checking my privelege), only to find it very difficult to reconcile with community, myself, and the various brands of Western Christianity that we try to wear.

I have never felt less connected to a local church. I get anxiety going there sometimes not knowing if I will be reminded of my wounds or the feeling that I am only useful for my labor. I am unsure whether it is worse to feel used, unseen, unknown or ignored when all one wants is to be healed so they can have the energy to labor in the certainty of their identity as the Beloved.

To be lost is to forget the love of the Father and to a certain extent it does not matter how we got there or who or what circumstance we blame. What matters is: there is only one way back.

I would catch you up on the other jobs I worked, the other wounds I internalized, and what else I did this summer but you haven’t asked for them. But if you read this far, you are probably wondering: when do you come home? When do you rest in the somewhat certainty of beloved Sonship?

When do we choose a course that would say: “I will change my perspective to see this as blessing rather than hardship?”

The when… or rather how, I think happens as I accept the next step with humble trust, that my steps are being guided, my heart is being held, and the Spirit inside me will continue to bend my heart in affection towards King Jesus.

If this does not happen, it would all be waste.

P.S. I started my first year as an educator teaching 6th to 8th grade Exceptional Children Social Studies, Science, and Math. That’s what I’m “doing.”

On Writing Our Stories: Long Scrolls and Lonely Journeys

Before books and their bindings and blogs, humans told their stories on scrolls. They rolled them out and wrapped them up fairly quickly. Unless we were writing poetry, I think we wrote to be succinct and if we were trying to veil some meaning from the masses, we used metaphor.

I am also convinced that humans wrote to communicate something immediately or widely not necessarily for posterity nor prosperity. Writing as information and instruction and even inspiration must have preceded writing as art or entertainment or industry.

While I believe it’s too late for writing to return to being only one of those things, I find it peculiar how quickly marketing and media has shaped valuing stories in relation to entertainment or personal economy. Many have usurped storytelling and their own adventures and used them as a means to make money, entertain and gain social equity. Hobby has been replaced by hustle.

I won’t stand and judge, but I will question my own perception of whether or not this stolen storytelling and lesuire is enviable. The value society has placed on storytelling seems to have diluted the depth of personal experience for the sake of creating a visible brand whether it be personal or commercial.

This is in turn, I believe has made certain lived experiences that have massive potential to shape individuals character overlooked or forgotten in favor of what has given someone a more instantaneous yield of sociel equity.

In other words, we’ve created shallow people who are good actors when it comes to depth. We can manufacture media in any form that looks even feels deep.

But why does that even matter?

Maybe depth is overrated, and it is better to manufacture it rather than live it. Depth has a connotation of heaviness that does not sell, nor is really desirable to experience. My hope in depth is that hopefully it endures.

Endurance: a term we have mostly relegated to athletes because we only want to hear about individuals who have endured hardship who have also made something out of it. Which is mostly another way of saying we only want to hear about it if it has become a marketable success story.

Never waste a good trial.

Humans have become more peculiar, myself included with the things we share through social media. I think the peculiar part of sharing is the “why” we are sharing it.

Do I hope my sad or happy experience will inform, inspire, instruct, entertain, earn some type of reward or do I put it out there to arrive at a sense of feeling less alone either through mutual understanding unmitigaged approval in the form of a tap or click on a screen?

People can have multiple reasons for doing things.

Truth be told, I have at some point written or shared portions of my story for all of the above reasons. I think at the core of all of them is the awareness that life feels long and lonely at times, sometimes without any real clear reason for feeling lonely. It can feel lonely when you are surrounded by people or not, married or unmarried, have no children or a dozen. There is a part of the psyche of suffering that has to endure certain parts of the journey or lived experience alone or more accurately, under a seemingly distant gaze of an imminent God.

Sometimes it feels like God is just watching us flounder about failing and flailing with hope under another weighty disappointment, amidst another broken relationship, in the fog of an impossible to renew mind waiting to see what we will do.

In living, I wonder how much of this scroll I have to read before I get to a point where we get to a happy middle, where there is enough of a break in the conflict to catch my breath and not waste an opportuntiy to rest. It is also clear that the weight is not on my shoulders. People are not thinking about me or you all that often. People have already forgotten most of our sins and mistakes and if they are thinking about your mistakes, it’s probably just one very particular one that they refuse to let go. Maybe it was traumatic, maybe it was repetitive and has colored the entire journey. Maybe the world needs to know or maybe no one does other than God.

I don’t know and maybe when we tell our stories, no one needs to know entirely why.

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 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*