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.

How Things Happen

Sometimes when I willingly make a series of decisions I cannot anticipate the consequences of what will happen or what I might undo. What’s more, I can find a version of myself that is not anything close to the version of myself that the world needs or His beloved, the Church needs. Sometimes I find what I thought I needed and what I knew I wanted, God looks at and wonders, “how can I refine your sensibilities?”

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter goes from confessing inspired truth of Jesus’ Messiahship to receiving a stinging rebuke for trying to push a different agenda for Jesus. Funny how we can change, how the light in which we are seen can change in a paragraph, how much we can seem to get right and then so quickly get wrong.

I love Peter. He gets so much wrong. He gets chewed out by the apostle Paul for refusing to eat with people to preserve his reputation. He’s dumber (not a popular phrase) in his theology, more focussed in his eschaology and according to church history was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Christ. He tried to cut someones head off but missed and got an ear.

Have you ever tried to cut someones head off and only got their ear and desperately needed Jesus to heal the persons ear, not knowing how desperately you needed Jesus not just to heal someone’s ear but also to die and raise from the dead for you?

Peter also wrote this:

2 Peter 1:5-8 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Making every effort to add specific things. Much could be said about a lot of those words but the phrase that sticks out to me now is mutual affection or brotherlfy affection (ESV). Sandwiched between godliness and love, this has been the posture I have most questioned within myself as of late. Brotherly affection is kind of snuck in between two big popular Bible words.

And what of the conclusion? If you possess these qualities you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Christ. If you possess a sibling like, familial affection, you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive.

Siblings look out for each other and want the best for one another. Sure, there are moments of rivalry and competition but these usually come when we are at our best, when we are secure enough to play and compete without receiving a loss or defeat that would inflict some permanent damage.

Peter is hardly ever secure enough for healthy competition pre-resurrection. He seems to always be posturing for closeness to Christ’s kingship and wants to distinguish himself from his brothers and apostles. “Even if all else fall away I will not.” And while he doesn’t betray Jesus, he denies Jesus several times as Jesus himself predicted.

Sometimes the thing that we convinced ourselves we would not do after making a display of trying to prove that we will not, we do anyway and to a greater degree of disappointment.

And we are humbled, not necessarily to the point of a guilt stricken death like the betrayer but enough to return to the dark interior of returning to an old life, a version of the self that still can’t catch a fish and brings along others in another fruitless endeavor. It’s not so much a waste of time as it is a missed opportunity to love, to listen, to hold each others hurts.

Part of me wishes, the Bible would have given a glimpse into some more conversations among the disciples, the ones closest to Jesus in the days that followed his death. What were Peter, James and John discussing? What more was Thomas doubting? What were the Mary’s hoping? What did their doubts and disappointments sound like in the waiting and the grieving? I wish they would have given me more of that.

The closest we get is two people we never heard of prior, walking along in the Gospel of Luke, who meet Jesus on the road, then Jesus disappears when they realize who He is.

How does it all happen?

How do we walk along in faith and in hope and with such a desire to love, just to check our pulse and temperature and find that our love is colder than we had hoped? How do I move from thinking I can be gentle to being so far from it?

How impetuous are we/were we Peter? The deliberation, the planning, the charting of a course to move and hope, to plant, and to run just to be shipwrecked on your way to Rome (Paul) or in Peter’s case to let slow prejudice seep back into your mind to where you only eat with the people that most reflect your own preference of self-righteousness.

How do I find myself at a table of strangers when it is my family and friends around me?

I don’t know.

How do I find myself at a table of family and friends when it is strangers and fellow sinners around me?

Brotherly affection.

I have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, yet loves me like a brother and pleads my case before the Father. Somehow, by His Spirit He invites me to participate in that activity, to love in way that puts brother and friend before myself. I hope to be better.

Vacations, Escapes, and Preparation

Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray- Preparation

Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals to holiday and rest- Vacation

Jesus went to the mountain, awoke early to be alone with His Father, went to the garden late at night to ask if the cup of suffering might be taken away- Escape.

By the most common historical estimates, I am now the same age that Jesus was when he died. From what we know about him vocationally, he was a carpenter and a teacher and whether or not he fished, he frequently knew where the fish were and may have been able to produce a catch by merely speaking a word.

He was/is a model of consistency, content to do very little of significance or success by a strictly worldly measurement. He had no home, no insurance policy, no tangible castle or kingdom that we have yet to see. He didn’t even leave behind a really great lasting table we can look at and iconize in a museum.

He left a story that He did not even write down, yet “by Him, for Him, through Him all things were made.”

And He left the world a Church (more specifically a gathering of those called or summoned). I won’t get into what this gathering is supposed to do, be, look like other than to say “every tribe and tongue worshipping Jesus as King.”

And if I were to add one thing which really is summed up by the word “King,” it’s that I’m not a king, a hero nor do I bring anything of great signicance to this kingdom other than my unique struggling to come to grips with my own existence.

I’m an heir certainly but an heir that has done nothing to earn that position. In fact, I’ve done plenty to garner a reason to lose that position.

Yet, I’m overly aware of the mission. And depending on the day, I might stir myself or allow myself to be stirred to participate in it with a trepidation that would make one think it was optional.

Which is why I think I spend time doing the things in the title of this post. I vacation, get away or take a break from the monotony, the stress, the brokenness I cause, reveal, and am seemingly helpless to fix. It’s why I escape; I go hide for a bit to recalibrate, to find a version of myself that will be bearable and perhaps helpful for the world or at least for the Church to again see. And it’s why I prepare, timidly praying things that I no longer have any idea if I should be asking for, wondering what else I can be courageously willing to lose in order to find the only One that keeps me and to temper my expectation in hope that I accurately perceive how to be obedient despite conflicting desires of the heart.

And I think amidst the vacation, escape and preparation, I find I don’t do even do those things well enough to passibly find entrance into the Kingdom by my own merit. I struggle with the apparently easy things, the things we are supposed to enjoy and delight in.

Maybe that’s a symptom of other things, something more chemical, something that could be easily medicated or maybe in Jesus’ day people put far less expectations on one another or had a more idealized version of community where they weren’t permitted to exploit or enslave one another to move up a tax bracket while their neighbors struggled to provide. They were willing to cancel debts, set people free, and recognized that any form of bondage was to be as temporary as possible, even obsolete (set the captives free). How well they executed that… well?

But there I go talking about some idealized institution or group of empowered people gathering together and forgetting myself, my complacency, my repentance and penance.

And my harshness… contrasted with Jesus’ gentleness. It is impossible to respond to Jesus’ rest when we are feeding the pressure (either self imposed or perceived from the outisde) of the demand to perform ourselves into something we want to be.

Some people are good with achievement and contented by promotion while I light both of those things on fire, while asking out loud, “what good is it?” while searching inside with the question, “am I good enough for…?”

And this is why I need Jesus, my rest, my refuge, my permanent vacation, my escape, my preparer, author, finisher, intercessor, brother, friend who said and demonstrated: “you were worth my blood, no greater love…”

And, then I am able to remember again.