Is Our Fire Grace or Compulsion?

The things that we say and the things that we do when stripped of there cover should probably bear greater consideration. From a motives stand point, I think it is important to be clear what we hope to get out of our requests. From a statement standpoint, I don’t think complaining or accusing are enduring ways to get both what we want and to be satisfied with what we have. Additionally, listening feels like it has become like art, optional, unless perceived as a utility for “good”.

That leaves us with loud shouting about things we want to change which is met with a total lack of patience to hear what the other actually needs. The effect is division, which outside of Christ should come as no surprise at all. Jesus’ statement that he came to bring division among households should not leave us surprised when there are divisions over politics. Jesus, mind you also gave a stern warning to his disciples about politics. After performing wonderful miracles of feeding the hungry, Jesus in a boat tells the disciples, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees (Legalism with love) and the leaven of Herod (impure political power)”

In other words don’t rely on your perfect performance to be a vehicle for provision, also don’t rely on the imperfect promises of false power to supply you what you need. Putting faith in either leaves you empty, enraged and unsteady.

But, what of those with even the purest motives? Like you.

What if your everyday decisions and best efforts are to be zealous for the Lord? Well, I have a story.

In my Bro’s Bible Study we are reading 1 Kings, specifically the stories of Elijah, the prophet who is taken up to heaven in a chariot tornado, who before that, has a seemingly unprovoked showdown at Mount Carmel. I say unprovoked, but Elijah is angered by being accused that he is one who is ruining Israel. (Who do you think is ruining your nation? a question worth asking of yourself) Instead, Elijah responds with an accusation (Who do you want to accuse?) “No it was you and your father’s family. Now get everybody together and let’s have a good ol fashioned God-off.”

Photo: Fire in the sky - Need to Know | PBS

He organizes a gathering, and then after his rivals fail, he prays an interesting prayer. He asks for fire to fall on his sacrifice (What are we willing to sacrfice or allow to burn to prove a point? And should we?), “Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” God seems to answer the prayer, fire falls and then some people worship God (I think?), and Elijah commands the people to kill (Are you also willing to kill to get what you want? See James 4:2-3) a bunch of prophets of a false god.

I read that story and then read what follows, and wonder what did God actually want from Elijah or anyone at this time in history? Because in the next chapter, the nation is unchanged, Jezebel, the queen calls for the death of Elijah, Ahab, the King is fine with it, and Elijah seemingly throws in the towel and asks to die. Why? I think it is because he does not get what he expects.

In asking for the spectacle, which he did get, the result was not the immediate change of heart for the nation or its leadership. Quite frankly, I don’t know that God gave any indication to what Elijah’s expectation should have been. (Maybe the expectation should be, the nation is fallen and broken. It sucks, it’s not as a great a place to live as you hoped it would become. You’re expecting far too much of your leaders and the kingodms of this world and far too little of your God and His Kingdom to come and is in part here).

How, on a personal level might one apply this if one has completely ignored my parentheticals thus far, you might ask? I’ve wanted the spectacle, the fire, the moment that changes everything. I’ve wanted to have at least a clear answer. I want people to name my feelings for me rather than denying them or muddling the waters with indecision or deferment. Yet, God wants faith and friendship.

In 1 Kings 19 God isn’t in wind, fire, or earthquakes, He comes in whispers. Just prior to that he comes with a meal and an offer of rest. (Maybe God doesn’t get mad at us for not working a steady job for 3 months. Maybe He’s not evaluating whether that makes us worthy of love, worth getting to know, evaluating whether we’re lazy or indecisive or stubborn or bitter. Maybe He just was dying to love us and enjoy ys and hope that we’d enjoy Him and His people).

Then God gives instruction on how to finish well because all the zeal and effort has not led to the desired outcome or output. Elijah complains that it has all been so inefficient, yet God sees the future and sees what this was meant to set up. Just as Moses only led the Israelites during the wilderness leg of the journey just to transfer Promise Land leadership to Joshua, Elijah transfers a double portion to Elisha, anoints new kings and receives the promise that 7,000 prophets were being raised up while Jezebel had her eyes fixed on trying to kill one (Elijah) whom God protected.

Sometimes, or honestly, all the time, God is far less concerned in what you can accomplish then if you are willing to stay in step with Him and release the sense of accomplishment in favor of obedience and friendship.

I think at times Elijah and we put God in a position where we are trying to compel him to act. We potentially back ourselves into a corner and ask God to perform when in reality He has left room for us to take steps of faith and spend time in communion with Him without fear of or desire for death (something to end).

But things do end and usually, there is grace in that too.

Catharsis, Neurosis, Jesus

After almost 2 months of not writing, I realize the cognitive dissonance I live in when it comes to writing. I regularly vocalize something like this: “I am usually doing my best spiritually and emotionally when I am writing and reflecting regularly on what I feel like the Lord is speaking to me.” Then I don’t write and end up confused or uncertain of what to do or who to be.

So to get back into it, I’m going to throw out a few definitions:

Catharsis- the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Neurosis- a relatively mild mental illness, not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality.

Why these words? I feel like humans or maybe just I have a tendency to settle for the first while I make room for the other. I’ll explain but I’d like to offer a story in Scripture.

In 1 Samuel 24, King Saul is taking a leak in a cave near some sheep pens. Actually he had to have been pooping. If the men were far back in the cave and they had time to talk about the plan to kill Saul, I think one is less alert and more comfortable popping squat.

So Saul is pooping in a cave and David creeps up and cuts a piece of Saul’s robe off, and David, because he has a sensitive conscience feels guilty. He then sternly lets all of the men around him know that they should have never entertained the thought of attacking the king. So David lets Saul re-leave, after his (Saul’s) relieving to the readers relief, though David would have to relive this event in a similar way later. See what I did there. We are all impressed, but I digress.

David then calls out of the cave. Saul turns around. David bows to the ground. Then David gives a plea to Saul and tries to prove to Saul that he has no intention of harming him, by showing him mercy in the cave and providing the cloth he cut, as evidence.

Saul responds with recognition and weeps asking David to keep an oath in regards to Saul’s family when David becomes king. An oath is made. Catharsis. The oath is later kept but in a few chapters, Saul is trying to kill David again. Neurosis

David is on the run a while. Saul is hung up on killing David, to preserve his kingship.

***

I have a confession. Sometimes I approach Scripture in search of catharsis and sometimes my prayer or lack of focussed prayer turns into neurosis. Both are not particularly helpful.

I was struck by some of these thoughts while reading Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene and Eric Peterson. In one particular letter, Eugene critiques Kierkegaard’s biblical interpretation in Fear and Trembling as too neurotic, as Kierkegaard reflects on his broken engagement comparing his own circumstances to God testing Abraham with Isaac at Moriah.

I literally read that last week and had the thought, “Yeah, Kierkegaard feels unwell and mentally off even in his writings which is probably why he never could fit into a pastoral vocation.” Then, the Sunday sermon at church was about Abraham and Isaac, and I began to do the exact same thing with my own circumstances, not giving a second thought to Kierkegaard’s error.

It is amazing that man so radical, who had so much to say and critique in 42 years of living could have so much passion for the Church and disdain for the institution. He who seemingly died from his own exhaustive criticism, could have potentially avoided it all, had he let himself be loved or let himself be given over to a love that would have made him more tender. Instead, neurosis with Jesus.

Catharsis with a little Jesus risks shallowness. Neurosis with a little Jesus might mean depth but risks isolation. There is a middle, a homeostasis, a peace, that allows us to be accessible in our dealing with others while holding the tension of acknowledging present, even consistent suffering whilst remaining hopeful, expectant of good.

By the time David is being hunted down again I think he resists catharsis and returns to his enemies the Philistines for some type of refuge. It’s a strange place to be, going to a town of people who you were once at war with, who you received fame for killing their best warrior only to make your home with them.

Jesus to the cross.

Lose your life to find it.

These actions, behaviors, thoughts occupy the space between catharsis and neurosis and sometimes feel like they are dangerously close to dipping into one of the two. I don’t know how to tell when we have dipped in, I just know who keeps us in the midst.

A Silenter Night

“We have lost Him. On Him who we hung our very hope, our everything. We forsook all to follow and we were not able to keep Him alive, to keep Him here, to establish an eternal Kingdom. One of us betrayed Him, one of us denied Him, we all ran away. And when some of us came to watch Him hang we wept and wondered and waited for God to intervene. This was not the plan; this could not be the plan to see perfection torn to shreds, to bury a breathless body in forged out stone to fit the One we supposed was the darling of Heaven. We had rested or tried to rest on His promises. He had us convinced. And now what good is it? What meaning can we find while the mourning is too real on this darkest of all nights. Had it been light we would not be able to see through our tears, through the waves of all His words that now seem to carry no weight in light of injustice. And God is silent. Some of us saw Him transfigured with Moses and Elijah. Neither of them died like this. Was he a criminal? Are we? Are we next? Perhaps it would be more bearable if we were next. After all what else is left?”

We live in the aftermath of the resurrection. We know today that what we celebrate tomorrow is the promise, bore witness to by the Spirit, that we who believe will one day be raised with Him. And that is our consolation and Blessed Hope, and it should be enough; it is enough.

Yet it has been a painful year. It has been a painful now, as many all over the world have suffer loss, some of those losses great and unexpected. I do not understand loss enough.

I thought perhaps a year of chaplaincy would help me or at least make it easier, but I reflect on the last year, the losses of relationship whether the hope of romance or the loss of my grandmother and the countless losses of beautiful people who I met during my time in the hospital system. I think about the loss of trust and to some extent dreams of working in a ministerial context and the loss or delay of settling down somewhere to live only to start working a job that has taken its toll on my mind and body.

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I am in the worst shape of my life physically, and undoubtedly, I have had days that emotionally and mentally  have been far too dark to revisit. And yet I believe in the Resurrection. I profess faith in a good God who will make all things work together for the good of those who love Him if in fact I love Him.

And I suppose that is the question. What is the quality of my love? What is the condition of my heart? Will I relinquish any potential root of bitterness, frustration, even anger over the way the story of the last year has been written.

I had a brief conversation with my friends tonight about buying a new laptop. They said the one I use that is five years old and cheap is not worth keeping and I should get a new one. I resisted, saying that this one is sufficient and that I am amazed it has lasted this long considering how cheap it is. And it turned into a conversation about my desire for big and drastic changes while being less interested in the smaller manageable ones.

And I realized I have run out of patience (Love is patient). I might not  have the courage to wait for things to change over time putting forth effort so I  have hoped futilely that things would magically, drastically change over night, that things would resurrect. I have been told and taught to believe this way. But I am not sure that this is how it shakes down. As miraculous as the resurrection is, I’m not sure it is a magical or instantaneous as we think. He was slain before the foundation of the earth.  It was the plan of the Godhead in eternity past and, Scripture suggests Jesus was busy doing work in the grave, a work that took time in order to hold the keys of victory over death.

The last year and a half my faith has deconstructed. I have lost touch with the Church/church through disillusionment and disappointment. I have become exhaustively frustrated by the process of sanctification and struggle to live a disciplined and faithful life. I have struggled with prayer and miracles, but not death and not resurrection. I think the death and resurrection of Christ for some of the last year has been the tendon that has held me together. It is easy to believe Jesus died, it feels evident and certain from a human point of view and being acquainted with death I have felt solace in the fact that Christ would die in my place. But the romance is the resurrection. The scandal is that He did not stay dead and because of that truth, the implication is I don’t stay dead and disappointed or sad forever.

Tonight I was sad, dreading thinking about the paralysis of my sense of purpose and still confused about how to place myself where I am physically, mentally, spiritually. I wish I could just spend a week being content. I want a heart capable or healthy enough to choose to love like Jesus. I want the resurrection to change me. And maybe, the light of tomorrow will. So we hope.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Temporary Flights, Indiscernible Heights

731E86F3-D5BF-45A4-9D6F-D144A5D2F680I’m somewhere in the air floating, waiting to land. This wasn’t the plan, but this is where I am. God may have called an audible.

I still am not sure this is where I am supposed to be but God has promised to be with me.

And my soul has grown quiet. The one thing this season has done is simplified my soul. That does not mean that temptation is not sometimes loud or that the weight is less heavy. But I’m learning to tread softer. I’m learning to make less noise when things don’t go as planned. And I’m accepting I might not know God as well as I thought.

I’m also having to accept that my intuition regarding people cannot be ignored. That doesn’t mean I have to speak bad about them or slander them which I have been guilty of. It just means I have to accept that some people’s character is just unattractive, not becoming and in need of transformation.

I thought a year of chaplaincy would mark me more. While it may have helped keep me tender, it did not thicken my skin. Nothing has hardened to help protect myself as a result. So little if anything can bulletproof you from loss.

I should give you an update. The amount of doors that have closed or never opened for ministry in the last few months have been humbling. And where I find myself is on a construction project in Atlantic City, installing power lines via helicopter. It is a job so foreign to chaplaincy, yet perhaps not so foreign.

I replaced someone who was beloved and died tragically far too young.

I took this while interviewing for somewhat of a dream job doing campus ministry at Princeton University ministering to college students across the street from the church I came to know Jesus in. It would have felt like it brought my endeavors full circle, instead like opportunities before it, I interviewed more than once and came close.

Now, my job is new and can be isolating and my heart is grieved, not so much by the job, more so how out of control it all has felt. I am on God’s time which is less urgent than we can imagine; the only thing that has a time stamp of “now” on it is salvation and reconciliation in relationship to the Father. God’s preeminent priority is our hearts.

I’m starting to believe God only cares about our vocation so long as it does not keep us from Him and the calling and creativity in our lives, by which we give Him glory.

For me that is writing, preaching, teaching, listening to the way people are loved by God, persevering through suffering and experiencing joy.

I need more of the last one. I need more of the hope that there is indeed a thread knitting us together in love and purpose to see the Kingdom established on earth as in Heaven.

I also need help and hope for life itself.

EDD42FEF-82F4-4DDB-9FEB-96C1563CDDF5Because dangling through this season, I am looking down and don’t recognize where I should land. I don’t even know if I can guarantee a safe landing. This job gives me a chance to figure out where I want to land, and that makes me sad because no one else is surveying up here with me.

There are only cherished voices shouting up to come back down or to stay where I am. It is lonely in the clouds and I have never been too confident about landings.

I also don’t know how high up I am or will go before I come back down. I feel lower than those tethered and planted in the ground and I want to be planted somewhere. So I reach. I write, I wait, I hope I land and not drift away.

 

 

Last Call: On Grief and Time

              When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.

                But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.

                Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.

                Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart. 

                Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling.  Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.

                Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.

                Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.

                And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness. lastcall-1030x576

                Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg,  not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.

                And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?  

                When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.

What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.

The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us. a

Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.

Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.

Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue. 

This is Our Vapor

Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.

As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.

Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.

But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.

I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.

I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.

When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.

Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.

fire chile geyser andes landform water vapor geothermal energy geographical feature geological phenomenon volcanic landform

James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.

We were vapors worth sacrificing for.

We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.

And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.

We condensed because Jesus condescended.

We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.

I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.

It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.

That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,

Like a baptism,

Like this is a part of life.