Day 16: 5 Favorite Jesus Moments

These top 5’s are really something. Not sure how they are hitting, but this one should be delightful for the purpose of reflection on the preeminent relationship in my life and the reason for existence. It also will serve as an interesting exercise in what I consider to be moments in markers in my relationship with Christ, God Himself.

5. When I was in high school I was at Taco Bell with my friend Andy Hoehn. We were on the wrestling team together and we were having a conversation about God. I wish I could describe the details but suffice it to say it was a conversation about why I believed that Jesus was my Savior. I remember being so delighted to share my faith that I immediately prayed that the conversation would be fruitful. It wasn’t long after pulling onto Quakerbridge Road that I was overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. I remember feeling chills and not really knowing what happened at the time and later learned to appreciate my experience and the value of speaking in tongues.

4. My freshman year of college I went to a two night concert featuring a worship artist named Jason Upton. It was particularly powerful because he ministered through the Scripture from Malachi about turning hearts of the father to their children and hearts of children to their fathers. I remember this being a moment of healing in my own heart where I felt like I could begin to see and heal aspects of my relationship with my own dad. I remember those worship services softening my heart in ways I did not imagine possible.

3. My last semester of grad school I had this crisis of what to do and where to go after I finished. I remember being parked on a hill on Mulberry Street in Scranton, PA with a milkshake or ice cream cone in my hand. I said to myself, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I have no idea what I’m becoming.” And in what felt like an instantaneous response to my spirit, I felt I heard the voice of God whisper to my mind, “I love who you are becoming.” I remember feeling both broken and encouraged to keep going which I believe sustained me in my next season of life on the farm and obtaining ministerial credentials.

2. My entire season of chaplaincy residency was an intense season of God stretching my faith and understanding new dimensions how God is faithful and sustaining even in death. I don’t think I fully understood how much death is connected to life and how important grief is in our ability to keep going. I also learned how delaying grief can keep one stuck. As a whole I don’t know if I daily felt tangible grace to do difficult things as much as I experienced as a hospital chaplain.

1. Valentine’s Day of my freshman year of college, my best friend Ben and I had a conversation until 2 am where at the end of it we had prayed for him to accept the Jesus as Lord and Savior. I have had a few other experiences in which I have been with people as they professed belief or confessed for the first time. I also connect this experience to baptism, the public declaration of faith. I believe there is a tangible joy to be experienced when I see people meet and choose to follow Jesus.

Day 2: Am I Still There? (Unpublished from Aug. 2020)

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes…

So whoever knows the right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:14-17

Have I been vanishing?

I feel it when people ask me what I am doing.

I start my sentences with a plan and slowly drift into uncertainty until I say, “I don’t know” 3 or 4 times. Then I see their look wondering how to change the conversation.

I hate that I do that. Sometimes I do it and maintain a smile or laugh at myself. Other times I do it and look around and begin to ask myself “What just happened?”

A few days ago I sat in my truck for a while and just stared listlessly waiting for a divine interruption.

Then yesterday I saw some pictures from my childhood. And I read into them, that I looked lost. Maybe all children have moments where they photograph with expressions of curiosity and inquisitiveness or appear to be trying too hard to achieve some simple task.

Tasks, like staying at a job or not moving so much or staying content.

When I look at pictures from when I was 5 or 6 I feel like I am looking in a mirror at someone more familiar to me than the person I see now.

23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

James 1:23-24

If I have vanished then where have I gone?

Life is seemingly so short and moves so fast.

If you know the right thing to do and fail to do it, it is sin or feels like death.

There have been times this last year that I have been confident of what the right thing is and have barely done it.

There have been times when I have been certain of what the wrong thing is and sadly but confidently done it. I have sinned boldly and reaped boldly of the awful reward.

I have spun my wheels in the mud, while oxycodone sits in my medicine cabinet on the other side of the mirror looking like the least of all evils.

But all vices wage war with the Spirit and make you feel lost if you sow to numb the flesh.

If I have gone, then where am I now?

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 

For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

James 1:6, 1:11

My quarantine started in October when I moved to Margate and lived on an empty street working six days a week.

From September until February contained some of the most depressed moments I’ve experienced for a long time. That was all pre-pandemic and while I have had moments and stretches of depression in the last few months, I also have had some of my very exciting moments from February-now.

And as much as I don’t understand how or why I feel the way I do, I feel like I’m living in two places. And every time I try to take the next step I become the version of myself that wants to be fiercely loyal to friends and family, be around them and enjoy them, while being completely uncertain/unsure of myself. And I want to hide.

Whether I am here or there, what am I waiting for?

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

James 5:7-8

I’m waiting for what we are all waiting for, fulfillment of perceived promises, a sense of purpose, a sense of God’s pleasure and delight (1 Timothy 6:6), sanctification in Christ, abundant life.

  • Authors Note- This blog was started in August of 2020 and was unpublished. I was reflecting on how I ended up working back in construction, was post knee surgery and figuring out if I would move back to Charleston. I was reading heavily in the book of James. Life is short so I was and still am determined to live and love well.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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?

Leaves that Heal Nations

In the Kingdom, when it comes, there will be the tree of life that bears different fruits and the leaves of that tree will function like medicine to heal the nations. It is not often when reading Revelation that I know if I am reading a metaphor or imagery or literally, but in this instant, I don’t think it is harmful to believe a literal very large and very happy looking tree fulfilling this purpose.

But the tree as it stands and sways is made and moved by Jesus, in Him it moves, we breathe and have being. In this same Kingdom, in those same eternal moments every tear, every sorrow, all recollection of death and pain will be wiped away.

It is on that hope, I hope to encourage you with these brief words. Jesus came and comes again with one intention, to lavish love on His Bride, His Beloved, His people in restored relationship.

10794631-beautiful-autumn-leaves-filling-the-frame

There is a strange dichotomy at play though, right now. Winter is supposed to pass; it’s supposed to be done with on Thursday. The time of things dying and being laid bare is supposed to be behind us, even during Lent, a time meant to prepare us, a season of repentance of sins, of giving away, of denying our self. The leaves and flowers are determined to make their appearing. And yet the world is slowing down and simultaneously crying out because of sickness.

But maybe the world, the creation and the command of God are all crying out the same thing.

Maybe they are crying out, “Do not be afraid!” Particularly afraid defined as running away or fleeing. We may stand our ground or even be forced into solitude or quiet in these times but the potential for relationship and community and conversation still exist in abundance. The potential for love and kindness and mercy is present.

And though we wait, for the day when leaves will heal nations, perhaps Jesus has left us, His church to heal and bless the nations. 

Love Theories 3: Laid Down

Anticipating the end

you emptied

carrying the burden of perfection into the marketplace to barter away your breath

surrendering it to the world while we try to give you something in return

In our pride mingled with ignorance, we desired to invest a portion of our work to lay claim to something we could not pay for

often forgetting, you were paying a debt we would not comprehend

you seemingly overlook that I murdered you by the violence I exact on myself as I incarnate sin

You did not rage at this injustice, you forgave it, calling my wrong reproachable yet remain approachable

sprinkling, then pouring your blood upon the pitiable life I’ve offered you

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calling this small movement, beautiful, making me believe, giving you my heart was worth more than gold and myrrh

as if I am the frankincense, the fragrance, the aroma you desire

my almost obsolete obedience, you mold into something and call it the delight of your eyes

you embrace, you wash, you display, stopping my decay

offering me a better body

offering a “where are your accusers?’ to your shamed daughter

offering a “welcome home” sandals, robe and ring to your unforgotten son

offering “behold your son” to the wounded heart, blessed mother

offering your footsteps to mimic and show us the Father who is Ours

offering yourself, as if, I was never not your friend.

Mr. Rogers Cat Stevens and Bosco the Bear

“Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there”

Saw that Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers film yesterday. It was odd in good ways, nostalgic and started with forgiveness moving to generosity, then to kindness.

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I’m not a movie critic but the films pacing was patient. It was the first time in a long time or perhaps ever, when I thought throughout the movie, “that’s who I want to be.”

There was a particular scene where Mr. Rogers is on the phone with this guy Lloyd (who the movie is really about) and says, “This conversation is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”

And I was reminded of Jesus and how the practice of patience and presence is what perfects us. Letting patience have its perfect work in the midst of testing and trial leads us to love. Jesus found opportunity in the pain while putting up boundaries towards evil ideologies and that which would try to cast doubt on His identity.

A major problem, perhaps not new to humanity is: the world would have us tolerate attacks and lies about individual identity by allowing people to self-identify, while they stumble through trial and pain until they forget themselves rather than find the Creator. Mr. Rogers teaches us, collective identity (the neighborhood) always informs, even may heal individual identity.

The difficulty with identifying on our own or in reaction to our pain rather than to truth is the distortion of self and a further movement into the depths of brokenness, even darkness. That’s why any attempts to gender reassign or maintaining a loose sexual ethic does not breed liberty. People become less recognizable, self-doubt increases, as does anxiety, and it always effects more than the self.

This, I believe, is why Mr. Rogers places the focus on the feeling. He says the feeling is real and he refuses to demonize sadness or anger, even fear. while celebrating joy with the sober knowledge that the other core emotions desperately need expression in order to remain tender in solidarity with creation.

How those feelings/emotions are expressed is our opportunity to become generous with our time,  recognizing time is a currency that none of us can buy more of. We can’t work harder or become more efficient to procure more time than someone else. All we can do is be more mindful how we spend it, how we express emotion in relation to the other.

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.”

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Cat Stevens’ song “On the Road to Find Out,” is featured in the film and I loved Cat Stevens as a teenager. So much so that we had a stray runt of the litter cat that lived outside our house who I named Cat Stevens. He was 1 of 3 siblings but was the only one that would let us pet him and he had this tick where once you’d pet him, if you grabbed his tail as you pet him, he would immediately turn around and want to be pet again.

Cat Stevens, likely burnt by the music industry, perhaps burnt by the 60’s and 70’s and a bout with tuberculosis went on wild journey of self-discovery, landing in Islam. He is not American which seems important and might be the reason that his searching led him to obscurity rather than at a grasp for more popularity. That could likewise just be a socio-religious facet that also would separate Islam from Christian evangelicalism. Cat Stevens reminds me of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi in his lyrics that are usually spiritually searching, mixed with romantic hope, and familial reconciliation, all of which were within him, seemingly prior to his conversion.

Familial reconciliation with shimmers of romantic hope encompass the film as well, but spiritual searching is left on the outs, likely to keep it palatable for the masses. 

Trying to make a non-controversial film where kindness and forgiveness is celebrated while still being of substance and quality and touching on little to no religious themes seems almost impossible in the current climate, but I think it managed well enough.

Lastly, sticking with the cat theme, there is Daniel Tiger, the disheveled puppet turned kids cartoon that bore an essence or life of his own through Mr. Rogers hands. Habakkuk suggests the hands is where the power of God is, and I would suggest the things we hold and handle are the things we animate. It’s how we get babies and toddlers to eat vegetables, by fooling them into thinking they are swallowing an airplane as if they are Godzilla.

There is a scene where Mr. Rogers puts Daniel Tiger on his hand and talks to Lloyd in Fred’s apartment. It seems silly until you realize why. Sometimes facing your pain in the imaginary realm makes it feel safer to face in present. It might just give you the courage to face the real place or person that has hurt us. 

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I had/have a bear. I’ve written about him before, Bosco, married with a child, who I shared a bed with until high school. When I was 16 or so he lived in my closet because I needed to mature away from him, until I went to college and brought him with me there as well. My junior year he married and my senior year he had a child. I talked to Bosco, Bosco had a voice and he was the expression of my lost innocence. He was the stuffed animal given to me my first Christmas by my great aunt. He was given permission by my kindergarten teacher to be brought to class whenever I wanted after my parents were going through a divorce. He is who I talked to about my confusion and who I sought for rescue when I could not hear God answer my prayers.

I wept on him, wrestled with him; he was the safe place for my anger and sadness. He was who I clutched when I was afraid. Perhaps, the Old Testament would label him an idol, but I did not worship him though I was desperate to keep him, and couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him. I created his family, which was large. He was the oldest which meant he could keep all the others safe. 

If you did a case study of my relationship to this bear and my attachment to it, you could from our interactions trace pain and problems and could  likely rewrite a story that would have been much more picturesque if you just removed every occasion that would have led me back to this safety object.

Powerless, that bear, yet sometimes has felt safer than God. That bear is where I last left him and there have been times I have left him and had to rely on others to get me back to him. After college he came with me to my grandmother’s and then probably through the 10 moves season and even traveled to Charleston. Now he is at my brother’s in Chester. He hasn’t seen his family but once in probably 7 years.

Powerful that God, yet there is no better place than with Him, God has never left and there have been times I tried to leave Him and had to rely on others to get me back to Him. I hope to find more beautiful days to come with Him.