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.”

Can You Beat This Quiz on Female Video Game Characters? > Fandom Spotlite

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?

The Night We Walked on Water

Impetuosity is a word I have often heard associated with Peter. It is a word that would seem to accurately describe James and John (the Sons of Thunder) when their inclination was to call fire down from Heaven to burn a city. I think that impetuosity has two sides. Often we are so preoccupied with one way of thinking that when something that runs contrary to it enters the picture we or I become very quick to disregard my care for the thing that stands at odds with me.

But what if that thing is less clear than an enemy or an outright rejection? What if that thing that frustrates us is a storm or uncertainty or someone who cares for us that is not necessarily trying to hurt us? What do we do with our angst?

When Peter walks on water, his boat and the people on it were aggressively rowing against wind and waves. I’m prone to think that the disciples, determined to cross the lake were doing what they felt was their only option. Strive against the wind on the boat.

FreeBibleimages :: Jesus walks on the water :: When Peter sees Jesus walking  on the water, he wants to do the same (Matthew 14:22-33)

Jesus who is walking on the water is either unfazed by the wind and waves or has authority enough to calmly walk among them.

And then the disciples, Peter included, see a Jesus whom they mistake for a ghost. And Peter has a thought after calling out to Jesus, who identifies Himself as the man who walks on water. Peter thinks he can identify with Christ by also walking on water.

But this too was an impulsive thought. Not long after he walks on water, he falls into it and immediately cries out for help. Equally immediate is Jesus’ response of reaching out his hand to help.

I wonder how Peter would reflect back on that story:

“We were rowing, going nowhere. I still don’t know why he sent us ahead into the wind knowing we would struggle. Then we saw him walking; it seemed like He had no intention to come to us, that he was willing to sneak past us. Maybe, it was all about Him wanting us to reach out, to cry for help. So we did, although I wanted to be with Him, to be like Him. But it seemed so impossible. Even when I stepped onto the water it seemed impossible. Even as I took a few steps it was hard to believe. It is still hard to believe. I walked with Him on water for a moment, and followed Him into all sorts of things I did not know. That was His constant thread of drawing me nearer to love, to trust in Him without the guarantee of anything else. Even my own faith is subject to sifting. But Jesus, He’s real, He caught me. He’s kept me.”

Spiderman and the Journey Into Obscurity

“I never knew you. Depart from me.”

This is the violence of rejection.

It is not arbitrary when Jesus says this in Matthew 7. It comes as a result of a series of statements that imply the independence of individuals who are motivated by the pursuit of glory and honor and superiority at the expense of relationships.

And in a way Jesus is describing a type of journey toward an obscurity that has sought recognition from all the wrong places or at least the wrong reasons to the neglect of being known by God.

Yet, there is another type of obscurity, a voluntary kind that Jesus seemingly lives out and another kind that is thrust upon us as a gift or an opportuntiy to be humbled.

Both require humility, one is certainly easier and met with much less resistance. The challenge of willingly becoming obscure is in part due to the fear of being forgotten or the fear of loss or becoming lost to one’s self. We don’t volunteer our hiddenness because we are afraid someone else will surpass us. John the Baptist knew well the difficulty, but knew the greater difficulty of staying in the place of prominence when it was time to move on.

But “if you lose your life… for my sake.”

This is the echo and refrain and invitation that I am having to remind myself. Am I willing to become lost in Christ which ultimately will find me found?

Am I willing to give up the little I have accumulated even the little in which I feel adequately known to have eternal riches and an identity formed by the Father of all good things?

I have been unwilling. I have fought to establish independence and sought my own justification. I have cried out and reached out to largely be ignored and I have been unwilling to be forgotten.

So I have functioned as a ghost. Scaring, maybe even intimidating the ones who have ignored and disregarded me only to find that ghosts can’t receive healing.

Returning to the places and people that have wounded you without regard for restituion does no one any good by reappearing. This I think is also the point of the resurrection. There is no evidence that Jesus reappears to his murderers.

He shows up for the ones who actually want Him.

That, I think is an important way to live. Showing up for those who want you. By want you, I mean those willing to spend time with you in reciprocation and love not the ones who want to use you.

I think this is Peter Parker’s dilemma to a degree. Can I do more good by being unknown than known? I don’t know if it was adequately worked out in this most recent movie because he chooses to be completely unknown not as Spiderman but as Peter Parker and that seems strange. Spiderman does not become obscured, meaning people still know Spiderman exists, and he does good. But the identity of Spiderman is obscured. This carries over into Peter Parker being forgotten which I think sends the wrong message to a generation already consumed with putting forth an idealized version of their identity.

I don’t know if it is actually worth laying down who you are for a heroic masked or plastic version of ourselves. I think just about everyone is already doing that. This is part of the nuance of obscurity.

It allows us to find out who actually wants us around not for our heroics or even for our mistakes but for who wants to love us well because we exist and are capable of reciprocating genuine love and affection. We obscure the mask in an attempt to have a genuine expression of our identity and being known. We lay aside pretension in order to discover the gift of the person that is a free and true version of themselves even amidst their own wounds and ongoing healing.

In a way we have to separate ourselves from our masks, which in itself is a version of obscurity usually hiding the genuine and often messy, but somehow also allows us to give off an idealized version of what we are capable of. The mask allows us to say, look how beautiful, picturesque and rich my life and your life can be often neglecting the beauty of contentedness.

If we were content would we feel the need to boast, or waiver in indecision, or desperately try to garner a following?

In obscurity, we learn how to be content, how to be known to the ones that matter and are willing to reciprocate love and we are free enough to continue to walk when we are wounded by our enemies.

The Body

You know those plastic little communion 2 in 1 bread and wine cups? They must have really seen a boom in sales since Covid. The wafer is a tasteless styrofoam, the juice is consistently a little sour. But it does the job. Depending on what you believe the purpose of communion is, it does the job. If you believe it is a symbol of our participation in the body or if you believe it is a more literal demonstration of participation in Christ to form us sacramentally into His body, it may or may not get the job done.

This weekend I tried to take communion. I opened the plastic but somewhere in the attempt, I opened only the juice portion of the cup. And somehow the plastic film covering the wafer was a little harder to get to, or get into. So I struggled, juice shaking out onto my fingers, the plastic film getting damp and me fidgeting for several minutes trying to open the top. To try to get the order right, to try and partake of the body before the blood. And I recognized in that moment again, how hard it can be to commune. Something that should seem so easy, that I have done hundreds of times, something that fits in the palm of my hands reminded me how hard it can be to find yourself in a broken body.

The way Jesus gives his Body and Blood to his brothers makes it seem like He was broken so the body would not have to be. “Unless you eat and drink you have no part of me. Unless you share in this cup of suffering. And you will share. And you will suffer. And it will probably be from among your own.”

TrueVine Chalice Prefilled Communion Cups - Gluten Free Bread & Juice Sets  (Box of 100)

Did you sign up for wounding among a being perfected people?

Most people don’t know what they are getting into, joining the Church, becoming a Christian. Some of us who have lived comfortably and continue to live comfortably have little to no concept of the invitation to suffering that we are invited. Most of us or maybe just me, have too high of expectations regarding my own or others sanctification, too little expectation of the mystical internal transformation of the person of the Holy Spirit, the Magic Spirit.

So I’m trying to get it opened and by now I am weeping while everyone else is standing because they did not struggle as much with the cup that I did in that moment. Their suffering, though deep was not triggering their remembrance in a way, that saddened them. Perhaps I am misremembering. Perhaps as I struggled to open the plastic film covering the tasteless wafer, I did not have to reflect on how hard it has been, to fit in, to be a part, to be rejected by the church and how hard it probably will continue to be to reintegrate into an institution that I am suspect of.

It may have been easier to just get a new cup, to find my way to commune in another way or another place or not at all. So I negotiated, I told God I understood, it shouldn’t be this hard, maybe I made it hard. Maybe I opened it the wrong way, or was not careful enough.

By now the juice/blood has stained my fingers, some has dripped onto the floor as I continued to weep. And I feel no closer, no closer to Communion, reminded of my lack of participation, aware that no one could possibly notice or be aware of what is triggering my emotions.

(should I just get a new communion cup, should I ask for help, should I continue to struggle, should I do some other mental gymnastics to recover, to get it together, should I apologize/repent more for my sins, it must be my juiced stained fingers, I must reconcile the wrong way, I will open the plastic film to get into the body, it’s not that serious)

And this is why Paul is careful to remind us that the Holy Spirit and the Word be our guide when it comes to remembering how we are united to the body. What brought us in was not our great behavior, what brought us in was our belief in the person and work of the Son of God Jesus Christ. I cannot open enough communion cups correctly or incorrectly, I cannot guard my heart and mind, eyes and ears, body and soul enough, if I have not communion and communication with the Father of all Creation. I cannot strive enough to be part of the body in which Christ is the head. I cannot claw and grind and bleed enough to be accepted as the Beloved into His being perfected body.

And I cannot expect the body to be something it was not meant to be. The Church is not the Savior, the sustainer of intimacy or joy because it did not author Salvation. It is merely the vehicle of the faithful and unfaithful in which we coexist and are brought together because we are foolish and filled enough to believe the same thing. Other than that we are still the source of each others wounds, rejection and disregard and we choose to stay.

Finally, after enough friction, the plastic film came apart and I got to the wafer, stale and damp and I drank the cup, small as it was so there was nothing left. I stood up and sang and returned to my life of sinful behavior, poor attempts to love, with reminders of the past and some hope of progress, relationship with Jesus and a lot of the same things I bought into when I first believed.

Maybe it’s the same body I’ve always remembered.

Reconstructing a Crushed Spirit

In my 8th grade Social Studies class, I am teaching (talking to myself) about Reconstruction. It’s interesting how this period of American history still feels like a largely incomplete endeavor.

One slide in particular that stuck out was the ones defining the word reconstruction. I have not taken the time to think about the definition since starting this blog 10 years ago.

Reconstruction is defined as a thing that has been rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed, whether that is a country or an ideology of an American ideal or a person or victim of circumstance, the act of reconstruction seeks reparation.

US Congress could use Reconstruction-era civil rights powers to protect  black lives today

Another definition is: an impression, model, or re-enactment of a past event formed from available evidence. Some re-enactments are simply displays of what happened; some re-enactments seem to play out with similar consequence by recreating damage or destruction.

I find some semblance of evidence in my life for all the definitions included in reconstruction.

It might come as a surprise to you, but I am a rather sensitive person. I would not say I am saddened easily. I would say I am grieved by things longer and express my grief with greater intensity than most.

I would also suggest I am easily susceptible in getting stuck in cycles of hope and high expectations of individuals and institutions and become disillusioned by abuse and neglect. I’ve become especially sensitive to the way humans use and exploit others to achieve their own ends, whilst veiling an honest assessment of what has been done.

To be fair, I think some do this to avoid the reality of their choices so that they don’t have to take a step in making restitution. People love to gain power and wealth through exploitation and hope for a wave of the hand forgiveness. Or in some cases, individuals just want to construct a narrative where they are a hero and “good” despite how they’ve used others for their gain and prosperity.

They are led to believe that their confession is enough when what is in fact is required is restitution. And as a result they leave the oppressed without the very thing they’ve taken from them.

I’m a fan of exposing darkness to the light so damage can be healed. I’m also for tangible ways to restore relationship and to better the person who has been hurt.

What I’m finding is that humans are either ill equipped or unable to or simply refuse to make restitution. We rely on God, a miracle, or put our hope in a community that we pray will make a merciful or gracious judgment.

And if these things don’t come in the way we expect, we perhaps learn to become content in our present suffering. And I think that is a more realistic description of what a life led by Jesus looks like. We share in a suffering that does not steal our joy. Or to see it another way, we make a radical choice of joy amidst our suffering. I’d rather suffer with and for you than to be without you. That is the way of Jesus.

But to suffer by you or because of you may require less of my commitment and simply my forgiveness. Our forgiveness which is my responsibility for my own reconstruction might never yield restoration of relationship. Some things are not guaranteed. Jesus and Stephen can offer forgiveness to their murderers without guarantee that it will be received.

Reconstructing starts I think by not crushing yourself under the weight of holding onto anger bitterness and withholding forgiveness.

Freeing myself from the need for revenge or even from what I want allows me to rebuild with what I have. And that requires an assessment of what is left. And it might be with much less than you expected, but where else can we go if who we have in Christ is promised to be enough.