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.

No Church for Young Me

In early September of 2011, I was sitting at my desk in the church office probably making a flyer on Paint for a youth event. My pastor and boss came in and I’m sure said something important, but I’m not sure what it was. 4 minutes later I was crying underneath my desk after being screamed at by a lunatic and fired. The secretary came in because she was 6 feet away while this all happened and said, “One day you will laugh about all this.”

In the years that followed I may have laughed about it, but the trauma of that season of my life took a lot of counseling and processing that 10 years later I still carry with me into my mythology of failing to be a minister.

Speaking of which you did not wish me a happy 10 year anniversary to the first and only job I’ve ever been let go from.

Brene Brown says you should not put publicly on a platform what you have not privately healed of. I agree. I also have given up caring about Brene Brown’s philosophy.

So two roads diverge in a yellow wood and I’ve chosen the one I shouldn’t go down because the one I’ve been down has produced a cycle that I can’t afford to live through again.

I felt called into ministry my senior year of college a few months before graduation. Really it was in and around February of 2010, shortly after I shared some words at my grandmothers funeral. Upon graduation in May, I applied to grad schools and prayed during a very confusing season of life. There was a recession, jobs were scarce and I was unsettled moving back to New Jersey. On top of that, just about daily for 6 months I felt in prayer the Lord say paraphrased, “you will be a pastor by the time you are 23.” I told no one. I just waited and tried to be faithful.

And to be honest, I was pretty faithful. I was also pretty naive. I was hired by a church in February of 2011, 2 days after my 23rd birthday. At 23, I was too young to know about hiring strategies or tax laws for non-profits. I thought the church was being generous paying me $20.00 an hour 20 hours a week, unbeknownst to me there was an unspoken expectation that I work more than that which was not so subtly hinted to me by the associate pastor (who was being paid in a housing allowance while collecting unemployment so as to work the system and so the church would not have to pay tax on the allowance).

By 24, 4 months after I was fired I began to understand. I had thought the only sins a young minister had to look out for was pornography and adultery. I slowly became aware of non-denominational churches functioning as tax shelters for wealthy Wall Street traders and for others who had questionable ways of earning money. I found out after being led to believe that the church “couldn’t afford my position right now anyway, so you should stay and we might hire you back,” meant the pastor hired his daughter for my job. That daughter who I eventually dated and whose brother I hired for a lucrative natural gas project that I stumbled into while staying connected to the church.

This is mythology.

After serving for 3 months at another church in Shrewsbury as a young adults ___________, (fill in the blank, at that point I did not know when you were allowed to use the word pastor) I abruptly left ministry to take a job not in ministry with my calling in question. During that time, two pastors who knew I felt called into ministry instead of asking how I was doing or when I would plan to pursue my calling wanted me to try and get jobs for their kids. One pastor reached out to me asking me to get him a job. Word travels fast when you make money, even if you are working long hours in the middle of nowhere, people want in. (By the way a lot of this post will deal with money, it’s a running thread throughout church history. What are we serving?)

During that time, I was tithing $600 a week. I tithed $15,000 in 6 months at age 24. It was more than 10% because while I was not “doing” ministry, I still believed in the work of ministry.

I quit though because my life was falling apart. Thankfully, I had a church to support me, a church not without problems, a church not without issues that I felt were suspect, but I knew they cared for me. My friends and pastors let me live with them while I was in grad school and gave me time to heal while I studied Catholic theology and wrestled on weekends, while occasionally given opportunity to preach on Sundays and try to recover while attempting to lead a youth group on Wednesday along with some other really great leaders. I think we had more leaders than students. That felt like love.

But I left. I can’t remember why. Maybe to get licensed and ordained, maybe because I wanted a job in ministry and didn’t see an opportunity. Maybe I just can’t stay in one place, maybe I just run from everything.

Regardless I moved back to Jersey working on a farm, served the local church to prepare to get licensed in a denomination I both love yet confuses me. The process was both unnecessarily complicated and entirely too easy. My licensing meeting was supposed to consist of an interview with 3 people to assess whether or not to affirm my calling into ministry. One person did not show up, one person was 40 minutes late, and one it was at his church and had known me for 5 years. The only question they really wanted to hammer out was to understand how much of my tithe was to go to the district.

Money is a part of this mythology.

I eventually got hired by a church, part-time 10 hours a week doing a job I was more or less doing for a year and a half. It was supposed to happen 6 months earlier but I think they were debating whether to hire me at $10 an hour for 12 hours a week or $12 an hour for 10 hours a week which is a bout $6,000 a year which is about how much the church spent on one Trunk or Treat Event which took about 6 minutes to approve. Needless to say I did not feel very valued or very much in relationship with some pretty key people so that stint on staff did not last very long.

Money is a part of this mythology.

People place value on things by attaching a dollar to them or they in place of money attach value to things by offering something more valuable in its place namely: love. If you can offer that, genuine care, genuine empathy, movement towards an individual they might be more inclined to stay or reciprocate generously. They might actually grow and heal and be gentle if you love them well.

Or maybe not, they probably won’t. People don’t change that much. I don’t change that much. I’m still just a young angry and bitter former minister who is too intense to settle down with.

I put my head down worked a job for 2 years, taught ministry classes at night, wrestled, led small groups and tried to be content to have the license of minister without a position. Until I turned 30 and had a quarter life crisis (I’m living til 120 now apparently), moved to South Carolina to do hospital chaplaincy for a year so I could say I did ministry full time for the first time in my life, during a season when a lot of things around me seemed to be breaking, including my year in Charleston at church.

I will revisit this here. Mostly to say if you made it here, that you don’t want me in your church. You don’t. I’m not helpful. I’m critical. I’m burned out and I haven’t even started yet. I’m insightful but it probably won’t help or lead to any lasting change. I’m reflective and for a few moments you might be impressed, but you’ll just find that it’s not really doing me any good. It makes for barely readable blog content that is mostly just complaining. To add to the mess, I’ll probably write about the mess in a public space so people will reach out to tell me you probably shouldn’t post that.

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

I visited Charleston in January 2018 to interview for a chaplaincy residency at a hospital. I visited a church that I loved. They preached about the gifts of the Spirit which I also love. The people standing in front of me prayed for me at the end of service. 3 weeks later someone on staff at the church called me to follow up and offered a place to stay when I came back to look for an apartment. That was an empty promise because when I reached out to that person, they were no longer on staff, were on staff at a different church and rescinded his offer to help.

Notre-Dame cathedral fire: 5 facts to know about the Paris church |  Options, The Edge

I reached out directly to the church who also could not help, which I’ve come to learn is not true. They just did not want to help a stranger which is fine.

I visit in May, hear a fellow chaplain give his testimony, find my reason to move so I move and work as a chaplain in Charleston. I fully immerse in the church. The first person on the first Sunday I met at a going away party for the associate pastor was a worship leader, get connected with people playing soccer, get involved in a Sunday school on the Gospel of John, join a group that meets at 6 am led by an elder, try one small group, join another led by someone on staff that just ends one day without any follow-up or attempt to reach out to the people in it.

In my year at the church, 3 people on staff leave or are let go from their positions. I interview at the church starting in early May, given a job description, talk about living arrangements, interview with one elder who calls me a unicorn, preach a two service Sunday, get oddly confronted by the church secretary right before I’m about to preach during a prayer meeting prior to service. Somebody else apologizes on her behalf right before service is about to start.

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

Then I get a phone call from the lead pastor the day before I’m about to go to a 4 day General Council for my denomination saying the church is not in a position to hire me. Now that sounds fine and dandy, but the position and timing in which I was left made it extremely difficult. I had 3 weeks left of residency and 1 month left of a lease and to commit to staying in a place without a job and feeling left high and dry by your church is not a recipe for knowing what to do next. 2 weeks after being told I would not be hired an elder from the church approached me and says “Congrats, I here your coming on staff in two weeks.”

I think that made things worse, the confusion, the lack of communication, the not knowing who was a part of the decision making, the lack of knowing who knows anything and the frustration around not knowing who to talk to for fear of saying something wrong. So I left with the impression that I was unwanted. Where is Jesus in all of this?

Jesus is part of this mythology.

That’s a good question. Jesus is the forgiver of tax evaders and exploiting pastors. Jesus is the forgiver of neglectful shepherds and elders and those who have no business leading a church.

But it’s not an excuse for the fucking mess that leaders are making of a generation of people they are supposed to be shepherding. The guise of pastoring in place of building a platform for their inflated egos. Hiring graphic designers and videographers to put them on a screen to gather a following for themselves and their gain and their prosperous ease whilst hiring incestuously calling it the family of god when in reality it is hiring just family.

There is a fucking pandemic in the church and its not just covid and it’s not who is deciding to wear masks or not. Its every church elder board deciding it needs a video team instead of equipping Gods people to do the work of ministry. Take a long minute or maybe the next month to look inward and evaluate how good of job you are doing equipping your people instead of evaluating how good of job you are at reaching people through some online metric.

So if you are a pastor or know a pastor and haven’t taken a minute to evaluate whether you’ve put platform above people, then fuck your platform. I hope it burns. I hope the money from your book sales burn. I hope you enjoy the riches you are storing up on earth while you missed out on advancing the Lord’s Kingdom for the sake of your own. I hope your own ego can’t withstand the weight of judgment for your pastoral neglect in favor of your hunger for fame and to be heard.

“Wow! You sound angry.” I’m not angry enough. You’re not angry enough. Our emphasis on media as our vehicle is like the praying on street corners that Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for. Jesus didn’t ask us to broadcast our services or our prayer meetings especially when you are failing to equip the people that are gathering.

I’m angry over the rhetoric the church spouts and the lack of follow through it embodies. If I am the least of these, find a way to love me. If I have offended you or have you worried, do not reach out to me. I will be fine.

I left Charleston in September of 2019 wounded and worried. I withdrew from a night shift chaplaincy job at a children’s hospital to apply for a campus ministry job at Princeton University which led to another 2 months of being strung along just to be left without an explanation. I worked quietly close to 60 hours a week to drive 2 hours one way on Mondays to teach another theology class, hoping to find a sense of community and place to plant myself, hoping that place was Charleston.

Moving on is a part of this mythology.

I moved back to Charleston and another ministry interview process that lasted from the beginning of October to Mid-December. At this stage my sense of calling was in question. I felt unsupported and very unseen at the church I returned to that had already rejected me for a job. There was no recognition of pastoral calling and plenty of false promises of opportunity with no follow through.

Moving back is a part of this mythology.

Perhaps I am just disagreeable, unteachable and have regressed into complete immaturity shrouded by my own bitterness, unable to find anything good in the local church. That’s fine, give up on me, don’t affirm my calling and the Church will still go on because it is and has always been so much bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than the fumbling around of charismatic personalities and the people in awe of them that don’t bother to look or care about the failures and damage they cause in their wake. Someone will pick up the pieces. Jesus will pick up the pieces, piece by piece, maybe with the help of a good therapist and plenty of medication and a good hiatus from ministry and the church in order to learn your lesson young man.

Maybe You’ve gone to prepare a place for me somewhere or maybe you’ll let me burn.

**** I debated the title of this blog. No Church for Young Men, but I didn’t want to give the impression that the church has by any means been anywhere near a safe place for women. It probably has been even less so and there have historically and still presently less opportunities for work and more opportunities for disappointment for women. I also do have the self-awareness that my church trauma is probably nowhere near the church trauma of others. However, if we are playing the game of good deeds outweighing the bad, I don’t think I have caused nearly as much church trauma that I have experienced. I am more than willing to own and reconcile my wrongs in the process. But the purpose of this post was not to own my wrongs as much as to put on blast the ones of the church and the institution that has made the promise of family and safety and has often been a place of self-promotion and sectarianism even within the walls of a single building.

If you would like to dialogue over these issues. I’m willing to dialogue. I do not want sympathy nor correction. I am very aware of the problematic nature of posting something so harsh. I made a choice. This is how I’ve chosen to celebrate 10 years of trauma in ministry and to reconcile my current place in the church and how friends, enemies and acquaintances have chosen to perceive me in light of there own experience of me rather than empathetically relating to my lived mythology.

My hope for myself is to one day to be able to see this all in a much different light and to rejoice at the work of the Holy Spirt and the Kingdom of Heaven in my life and the world. Today, as of now I see dimly if at all and am still very much broken by the fact that very little in my experience with church, people in positions of authority, relationships with many sisters in Christ have become volatile, manipulative and seemingly impossible to tolerate. There might be more to come or perhaps my maturity and humility will allow the space to process in a better more healthy more private way.

Thanks,

James Passaro

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.

Sing with what we Got: Habakkuk 3

What we have in Christ is so much more than what we’ve lost.

This might be hard to believe, harder to feel, and sometimes we are not at all able to see it, perhaps even moreso now in this season. Which means now more than ever remembering and hearing what God has done is so necessary.

“O Lord, I have heard report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in hte midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk 3:2

The starting point of faith is believing what we have heard. Romans 10:13-15 reminds us that faith is formed in us by receiving through revelation the Communicated Word. This in itself is a gift.

But why is good news resisted rather than received? Broken promises, crushing disappointment, dashed expectations. Sometimes these things happen because we are unreasonable in what we expected, hoped, or thought we needed. Sometimes they are completely reasonable expectations, and we have been failed because the world and people are broken. Sometimes the why behind the failure is crystal clear and most times no explanation is sufficient.

But God doesn’t break promises. One of my favorite lines from the song “You Pour Out Mercy” by Luke Wood goes: “All man’s empty promises lie broken at Your feet, but You have never broken One.”

And it is in the confidence of God’s unbroken promise that Habakkuk rejoices even sings out to God despite less than ideal circumstances, circumstances where the Israelites have been invaded:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls. yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s’ he makes me tread on my high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Song is a weapon against temptation to sin and temptation to despair. Song is how King David stirred his soul from a stupor. Song is how we share our voices in unity. Song gives melody to our prayer and displays passion in our power. Song is the sound and sign that let’s the world know we are alive and ready to love.

It’s what we’ve got.

We are not in the Wind, We are the Wind

What an interesting time for an interesting and interested God. A God that is not idle but who remains an eternal intercessor in Christ. A God that we may feel is silent about circumstance yet still resounds about who He is.

John 3:8 reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Metaphorically, Jesus draws a comparison between the wind and those born of the Spirit. And it is interesting that Jesus would draw this comparison because wind can only be evidenced by the things it is moving. How do you see wind without seeing something else moved by it? Jesus acknowledges that we hear it.

Scientifically speaking, in a wild oversimplification, wind comes through temperature and pressure changes. Thus the expression winds of change is interesting because wind itself is the result of change not necessarily the cause of it.

We are the wind. Or rather we are like the wind. We are the products of the change of being born anew, born again, now learning and adapting through the Spirit to our current environment.

The time and circumstance in which we find ourselves now, does not change our identity or our ability to be present and to embody the life giving Spirit in and to the world.

Wind-palm-trees-golf-course-Hawaii-Maui

But!!!! There is more. Being born of the Spirit, according to John 3:8, means that it is impossible to be in the wrong place. The question that I plague myself with and need to let go of is: am I in the right place to fulfill the will of God? And the answer to that is, Yes! If you’re breathing moving and having your being, you and I are in the right place. Whether or not our lives are bent towards obedience is a different question. So the question I need to be preoccupied with is, “Lord, how do I love you and others right where I am right now? Help me stay yielded and in step with you. I want to move like the wind with You.”

Even the wind and waves obey Him, so must I. I must obey because that is where I will find my heart delighting. That is where I want my heart to delight and how to delight others and in some cases disappoint others. (there are power and principalities that would like us to fail)

Yesterday I went for a bike ride down the shore for about an hour. It was the first exercise I have done in almost 2 months. It was phenomenal. It was a breezy ride along the bay in very wealthy neighborhoods. On my way home I stopped outside a church that had a prayer labyrinth (imagine a giant circle with a maze painted path on it).

It moved me because that labyrinth was much like a stone labyrinth in the prayer garden at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina where I started my chaplaincy residency. It was the perfect place to pray and walk. For the first time in months, I prayed with passion and confidence in who God is. I’m sorry it has been that long.

But something amazing happened at the end of the labyrinth. These labyrinths start on the outskirts of a circle and have their ending point in the center. It took about 3-4 minutes to walk. But as soon as I hit the center I paused briefly and turned toward the church steeple and was hit with several successive massive gusts of wind. These winds moved me multiple times while I stood facing it.

I tried to speak to the wind to stop it. I verbally spoke, “God, how am I supposed to hear you when the wind is so loud?” The Spirit replied, “The wind won’t keep you from hearing my voice, and I don’t need the wind to move you.” It was sustained and kept moving me affirming that I too am born of the Spirit. In Him we move, we breathe, we have our being. Let us, the Church billow with blessing.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Love Theories II: Coming and Going

It is leaving Heaven

It is finding luxury in sharing the suffering of the dirty and fallen in order to make them clean and whole again

it is eyes fixed while awaiting the gaze of the beloved

it is resolute patience, incomparable kindness,

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it is the greatest guard

it is the hopeful guardian

it is the eternal guard

of the heart

it is the seal with a kiss, with blood, with the Spirit

it is the coronation before consummation as it fills and overflows a kingdom

It is returning to Heaven, leaving an army behind

It is coming from Heaven with an army behind

It is making  it’s home with us forever

patient for us to desire it, as desperately as it desires us

It does not regret what it endured

it was it’s joy to give us everything

it waits for our everything

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame