Letter to a Beautiful Woman

You Dear,

look like a friend from antiquity

the one in whom the seasons changed us more than they change themselves

I’m sorry I could not circumvent the grief we’ve shared and caused

Our rotation caused collision

and carried us further and further and further….

Kind Hearted Woman by Keelyart Paintings

and then away

I keep looking, staring really, passed the painful parts

the lovely parts too,

yet there is the image of your face floating in my hope

I’ve asked it to leave with you towards whatever boundary

you can run to without looking back.

Looking back

my affection for you became the trowel

digging away, grinding the roots of my insecurities

unconvinced that any hurt would wed itself to my identity

and I, helpless under your hand, try to shield myself from

the kindness, the unmatched countenance, the tenderness

to keep myself from whatever goodness would prevail in me.

I would fight you to the death instead of

laying down and dying

to the same result

just without rest.

I would fight for you but you’ve run a race

finishing at a line that was not the one

where I pray you into the place of choosing

and you carefree in your tears

attract an audience

with the songs, the sonnets, the sentiments

that the world (or at least mine) has signed its salutations

What’s Changed?

I’ve been asking the question lately, how much anger is too much anger? How much am I allowed to have that is considered righteous before it crosses into the mental murder that is sin? And how do things or people change? What causes them to subtly become different, less engaging, less or more caring?

Coming off the heels of the anniversary of the Reformation, which many laud as a great turning point of the Church, we can nostalgically assume this happened in such a way that Luther peacefully nailed something to a door and walked away to start a return to true and pure religion before God the Father. But Luther was pissed. Luther was angry about a lot of things he saw around him, some of which were not in the slightest helpful, some of them reformed the Church.

St. Augustine said that, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Some of us are so conditioned that anger is bad that any sign of it we just alert ourselves to the fact that anger is present and we ignore it and try to subdue it as quickly as possible so long as we are not actually confronted by what in fact might be wrong. Lying is wrong, coercion and using people is wrong, manipulating circumstances and people is wrong, exploiting church members to increase one or a few peoples wealth and status is wrong.

But if something is wrong and we allow ourselves to understand our anger rather than immediately quell a God-given emotion we might gain the courage to do something. We must do something with our anger. People say strength restrained is the definition of meekness. However, anger restrained may protect a persons sensibilities, but it might change nothing. People love to point to Jesus flipping tables in the temple. It’s a good story. Jesus is mad and he does something about it. He’s mad that people have turned a place of worship into a place of profit (In modern times we have found a way to make worship music itself profitable. It’s a strange world in which we live).

But sitting in and with anger can be dangerous. It can cause us to do the wrong thing. It can push us to a place where we destroy rather than transform or restore. Jesus’ anger sought to restore the temple to its proper place.

Peter got angry, or so I imagine, when he took a wild sword swing at someones head. This anger was less helpful seeing as he tried to kill someone.

But the other beautiful daughter is courage.

My roommate Caleb calls me the conduit of courage. I call him the conduit of joy. I carry around a cowardly lion notebook and have the cowardly lion action figure on my shelf that I bought in Portland as a souvenir of a time I went there. Why? To remind myself to be courageous. To take steps of faith and to hope in the midst of the perception of rejection. I have required courage to make many of the decisions I have made in my life.

I find it increasingly difficult to do so every time I take a step of faith and fall. But anger alone doesn’t bring us to the point of seeing things change. Courage is what is required to insure that things do not remain as they are.

Courage creates a catalyst for change. Some things need changing. Courage is required for change. Courage defined is the ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief. The only way for courage to be present is to simultaneously coexist with fear, pain or grief. Quite honestly, when you are doing something right without fear, pain or grief you don’t need courage, you are merely being a self-aware human being.

It was said of Jesus that he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, and he courageously stepped into rejection and disappointment among his own for the sake of love.

Love is having the courage to give up yourself, acting in the hope of a transformative good for the ones whom which you have deep affection.

What changes is choosing courage.

On The Loss of a Friend

The last time David sees Jonathan the son of King Saul, they kiss, they weep and David mourns knowing he will never see him again and says, “The love of Jonathan surpassed my love for women.” David had quite a few wives.

To this day one of the best chapters I have ever read in a book comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves in his chapter on friendship/phileo love. His argument is that while friendship is not the kind of love that is necessary for human survival, friendship is the kind of love that makes life worth living, that adds joy to life.

I think about this when I think of Jesus when he calls his disciples friends. Friends allow friends to know what they are up to and what their intentions are and this can be both fun and freeing. Friends agree to be a part of each other in adventure and interests.

This is the reason why I think losing a friend is so hard to bear. Friends are people we have given ourselves to in a social contract of complete choice. I have chosen to allow you in and you have chosen to allow me in. Obviously friendships can vary in depth of intensity and intimacy. The ones we have given more of ourselves to usually require a deeper level of commitment, accountability and trust.

If a friendship becomes too intimate without honesty it becomes confusing.

How to Get Over the Loss of a Friend | Psychic 2 Tarot

If a friendship becomes too committed without accountability and boundaries, it can become codependent and toxic.

If a friendship has trust without intimacy it is unbalanced and susceptible to collapse on an unknown foundation.

Here is the other side of friendship that is unlike affectionate familial love or romantic love. Those two require commitment to exist and sustain and to break commitment is neglectful. You fail to fulfill obligation and covenant in the case of family and love/marriage if you walk away. In friendship, that social contract can end without demand. Mourning is probably necessary, but friendship has no obligation because what it was based on in the beginning was mutual agreement.

This becomes slightly complicated in the context of the family of God. We can’t entirely walk away from family when we have the same Father so we have to learn to simply coexist despite the end of friendship because the implication and demand of the kingdom is to love even if a friend has become an enemy. The kingdom can have enemies even from within (David and Saul). Christians have in the past been known to kill each other over doctrine. Now they kill one another with ostracism or with bad doctrine rather than over it.

You might be wondering if you’ve made it this far, how do friendships end? In David and Jonathan’s case the urgency of their lives on different plains of trajectory and Jonathan’s eventual death marked the end of their friendship. The book of Acts gives us a picture of people who parted ways but there is no indication of if they considered one another friends or merely partners.

The fact that it does not seem that it was an easy parting of ways does suggest that there was some level of relationship that made it difficult to separate. But in 2021, it is easy the maintain friendship with people I rarely see.

It takes effort to end friendships in the Kingdom, concentrated intentionality to avoid people you see with regularity. Somehow despite that concentrated effort, it is unavoidable apparently to not coexist as family. So instead we occupy space as family in light of our reasons we have chosen to abdicate friendship.

Here are some of the reasons we make the choice to abdicate friendship:

-betrayal abandonment (John Mark, presumably the writer of the gospel of Mark is for a period of time uninvited by the apostle Paul to travel with their missionary party because of a perceived abandonment) When people feel like they were left in a moment when they needed partnership, they have an easier time leaving behind friendship.

-exploitation/being used, while this is something we tolerate in most areas, work, church, service without much thought, within the context of friends, there is mutual expression of give and take that often goes un-communicated among friends. There is usually a self awareness that comes with this give and take and usually an acknowledgement when the balance is titled in one direction. But there comes a point when someone perceives they have given too much or too much has been taken and a boundary has been crossed.

-discontentment with what or who you have, one of the complaints I hear most often among friend groups is people not liking when other people ask, “who is going?” Because of an abundance of options or social equity which I have discussed previously people try to evaluate who will be at places in light of many “good” options. It’s weird and in a way it’s still using people. I only ask who’s going to avoid people.

-triangles, whether they be romantic triangles or relational triangles, these are breeding grounds for miscommunication and hidden motives. Someone is usually hiding something and avoiding something in order for the triangle to break its bond. As is the case with triangles one person is usually left to be the side that gets dropped. This in some ways can strengthen the bond of friendship/codependency of the remaining sides.

-death, often the most permanent but also preserving of the friendship. When we mutually lose a friend there is a shared understanding of fondness with which the person is remembered. Death is a loss but one outside of our control. This in some way makes it the most tolerable if we are able to accept that there was nothing we could have done. And so we have the potential to mourn without the uncertainty of what could have been done differently.

Why even write or talk about a topic? Why even give voice or expression to the loss and process it in a public way. Because I think this loss is in some ways inevitable. We are prone to mistreat and use one another for our own benefit. We are prone to miscommunicate and say something hurtful. We are prone to walk away to pursue a greater desire or perceived need. And we are prone to exploit people until they become no longer useful to us.

And these are things we do to our friends not just our enemies. Maybe we will think twice or think more deeply about the way we treat one another. Maybe we will pause to think if we are treating someone as collateral to gain traction with someone else. Maybe we will learn how to be more selfless in our affection and lay down our lives for friends.

There is no greater love.

Best if Used By

If my heart was a fruit, I wonder how sweet it would be

if it was ripe or had spoiled or is not quite ready.

I wonder if in it there are seeds that would come out

and plant just to die and multiply

And I wonder if my heart is acually the seat of love

or if that lodestar, the love verb or love noun

is actually found somewhere else.

Maybe in the bowels

working itself up into the loins

turning and twisting and begging to express its guts

waiting for the courage just in case its met with rejection

Is it work or winning over or being with or is it washed away

like a cast away, like a coconut that just the halves are covering

our chests like armor or for modesty because to be naked is too vulnerable,

too much like love in dealing with flaws

that I might actually see in another being perfected

with generous eyes, with acceptance, with something dangerous

Hope _-__—-_—- the lingering kind

I hardly know when to give up or if I ever should have.

Love Note

It may appear like the last year we’ve hardly been near.

It is entirely on me, and I fear moving might not make room for the intimacy you desire without radically restructuring, which is what I am certainly inviting.

If anything of my personality has captivated you, I too, will give you the best of me.

Finding a Box of Old Letters – A Box of Old Letters

It’s Patient

Patience assumes goodness out of what it waits for.

The first descriptor of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is that it is patient. If we were to take a survey asking to give a word to describe love, I don’t know how many of us myself included would lead with patience. But the Scriptures do.

When it comes to the salvation of humankind the adjective that describes God’s saving work and His judgment is patient.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation

2 Peter 3:15

Without patience we would die waiting for good things. Patience is evidence that we are alive and in love.

An oversimplified way I like to contrast patience as love is in the comparison of waiting at a Bus Stop vs. waiting at the DMV.

Waiting at the DMV for license renewal or any other reason to go and all the bureaucracy that comes with it is time consuming. It also just confirms that you already know how to drive. Thus waiting feels arbitrary and somewhat excruciating. Unless it is the first time you get your license, there is little satisfaction other than leaving the DMV.

Bus Stop Love or Train Station Love or Airport love, is waiting for your beloved to arrive. It is the exhilaration and anticipation of waiting for the one who has been on the journey or if you are the one traveling, the anticipation of being reunited with the one that will greet you. Or instead of a person perhaps just arriving at your destination.

That which separates the two is desire; The seat of desire is our heart. Patience is cultivated in proportion to our desires and perfected when we desire good and godly/heavenly things. Patience turns towards impatience whenever we take something meant to be good and we move towards obtaining something before its proper time. Our heart becomes sick or deceptive in its pull towards our perceived want.

Impatience implies the lack of good, either through distorted desire or improper perspective. When we view that which we desire as something we need, or it takes the place of God, we can easily grow impatient, hoping something alternative to God will satisfy even though it cannot. Giving in to this is like watching love slip away.

Patience fades, desire fulfills, sin is born. And the moment prior, when we thought we knew better reveals itself as destructive. Hopefully, through feeling contrition, we recognize that it would have been better had we waited. We wish we would have assessed better why we wanted something or Who is the giver of good things and then wait for it in its proper time.

Because that’s what love does. It waits. It’s patient.

Prose: Simple-Hearted

In the spring, it became apparent we had lost each other for quite some time. I had become rote in my ability to disappoint. You had become distant before and after discussion on top of discussion. Together we suffered and our affection caught glaucoma. Nearness and touch gave way to a glance that at times was familiar and others was as unwelcome as a strangers gaze.

I placed my baggage on a chair at the table and asked you where you woud like to start. Should we start with mine or yours? Would you like to dump it all out at once and sort through it or take it out one piece at a time until it becomes intolerable?

Desire carried us then to lighten each other’s load

How patient are you now?

I find we both can be patient, depending on how generous we are feeling and if our longing for something else abates in order to notice each others need for tenderness.

Together, yet separately, we crafted versions of one another that were neither true in regard to our selfish motives nor the overtly romantic notions of who we wanted each other to be.

And this too gave way to accepting the imperfect person standing there doing dishes, taking out trash, folding clothes, leaving clothes on the ground, scrubbing the toilet, leaving hair in the sink, crankiness, irritability, depression, with the one whom we chose to at one time make a home with. Whom we recently have forgotten to make a home with. Who will care for us in our neglect?

I have refined you and you me, or at least, we have been useful in the process. It was not our usefulness that made us or kept us face to face. It was our hearts circulating willingess to lay down parts of the self to inherit much of the other, and there we were able to return.

To the smiles, the giggles, to the hands we hold across the table and the breath we both hear and have frequently felt intimately, and it is the many moments in the delight of familiarity that we find each others eyes again and again.

And there simple hearts are known.

I Don’t Like What God Says

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”- Jesus Luke 6:27-28

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Jesus Luke 17:33

“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” -Jesus Luke 17:4

These are some things that I don’t like that Jesus tells me. To say nothing of the assurance of suffering. Comingled with there are promises of joy(one of the many likebale things Jesus also says).

I don’t like when God asks His people to wait an unknown amount of time. I don’t love trying to interpret the voice of the Spirit when God seems content to leave me in His mystery.

But I do like God’s nearness, God’s presence and God’s faithfulness when I am not faithful, which is why I think it wise to hear what He says and trust it and cherish it, even if it is cutting.

Because it is cutting. God does not coddle our sensibilities and push us to harm ourselves into further disobedience. He is willing to remove the poison, the sin, the plank through pain if it must be so. Usually, it must be so. We covet our sin under our scars and try to keep them there.

I, in my subconbscious imagine saying, “I have healed sufficiently, and this frequent painful blemish of sin is under the skin, and it would be too risky to remove it completely. So I will tolerate it longer.”

But God with a sword from his mouth is prepared to cut. He bypasses our itching ears which desire the next piece of positive affirmation or self-help advice for something a bit more raw and real and lasting. Thus Luke 17:33 paraphrased. “You’re comfort is less of my interest than your surrender because when you surrender, holy comfort will come.” A comfort where we become contented rather than left striving for more.

Yet we fear. I fear losing the things I’ve built which at this point is…. *looks around, reminding self of the things left behind, multiple times, recalling how I usually end up asking why and worrying until the next thing inevitably comes*… a wonderful library of books in garages and storage units all over New Jersey, amassed a collection of wrestling memorabilia in similar places and what of the stocks, and the places I’ve been and the experiences that no one can take from me. Ultimately though, who cares, they are vapors and God will test it all in the fire.

When all or most of it burns and we are left with some ashes, Jesus walks up to ledge of Flat Earth Heaven, looks down on us and shouts, “I will trade you those for beauty.”

He trades dead ends for pastures and narrow paths. He bottles the tears we sow, and somehow some day reap joy. He expands our capacity to fall fully into reciprical give and take forgivness. And he acknowledges and has endured human suffering so we can be assured we are not alone in our experience. And He doesn’t rush to deliver us from the temporal if it doesn’t keep us fixed on the eternal.

Does Donald Trump have a God problem? - BBC News

Which is why I think about other things I don’t like, empty promises, exploiting individual hopes for plastic prosperous amalgams of something that sound Christian or Christlike but is actually shallow self-aggrandizement, the willingness to change the service/servant and friendship language in Scripture for leadership because it sounds more important. I don’t like the way we exalt the already proud and promising individuals instead of looking at the heart of the humbled.

But it doesn’t really matter what I like. Unlucky for me, it’s not what I like (to quote the opposite of a song lyric). God likes uncomfortable things. He likes things we overlook. He likes things that have been counted out and invites them to banquets. He also likes faithfulness in spite of reasons to give up. He likes people who take steps in faith and He rewards those who share in his suffering.

I don’t always like what God says, but I do love who He is because He is undeniably good.

Happy Clean Imagination

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has seen God and lived to talk about it. Yet I know plenty of people who perceive God in other individuals and simultaneously embody what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.

Being able to recognize the power of a life set apart and yielded to the Spirit of God, in a measure, is the experience of seeing God. But how does catching that glimpse affect or change us? Or another question I’ve been thinking about: how does my heart become or perhaps stay pure?

I’ve narrowly missed preaching on mercy 2 times this year, and this week I will be preaching on the pure in heart, and I’m not certain why I agreed.

If I were to judge myself, which the Epistles suggest, might be a total waste of my time, I would not describe myself as particularly pure.

Like if purity had a spectrum: from ages to 0-14 I’d rate myself a 9, from ages 14-18, I’d rate myself a 4, from 18-22 I’d rate myself a 7 1/2, from ages 23-27 I’d rate myself a 3. From ages 27-32 I’d fall on any given day between a 5-9.

I offer you this perhaps as a condemnation of myself, but also as an absurd example of how I sometimes and many people probably define purity. Because here is the deal, if I told you just a speck of poop mixed into your bottle of water, you would not drink it (unless perhaps if the money was right) but you wouldn’t drink it with glee, and you certainly wouldn’t call it pure. It could be Fiji water or purified through osmosis, but once the fecies hits the water it is no longer potable.

And this in part is the reason I feel inept at preaching on purity of heart. I know my dark, my motives, my thoughts, my desires and no amount of desire to be completely blameless seems to keep me pure.

Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t, maybe I just finally need to take myself up on the suggestion of cognitive behavioral therapy and I will be decidedly fixed.

But I can talk about something I do know and have experienced: cleansing.

Psalm 51:2 Wash me clean of my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:6 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

If it were not for the tangible experience of forgiveness cleansing and the means in which the Spirit employs to convict me and hopefully mold my heart I’d be without hope.

Which is why I think being pure in heart comes with the implication that I will continue to take a bath. I will eagerly subject myself to perpetual pruning, purging, purification, no matter how painful.

I will, in the light, be confronted with the areas and motives I have concealed or manipulated in order to serve myself alone. I will mourn over behavior and repent of thoughts before they even lead to poor conduct. I submit to consequence and wounds on my reputation as ownership of my brokenness while equally holding steafast to forgiveneess upon confession.

And in the positive vain, I set my mind on things above. I think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is rightwhatever is purewhatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever I have learned or received or heard, or seen in Christ and those who follow Him– I put it into practice. (Phil. 4:8)

And as I think about those things, and anything else, I put it to the light to see if its real and enduring and loving and if it is not I must do the work to discard it. I do not tolerate the sin in my own life before I claim to have any authority or power to speak into someone else’s.

There is a difference between sharing your struggle, story or victory and trying to use said struggle, story or victory to bring healing to someone else.

But hopefully until then, we allow our heart (the seat of our intentions, imaginations and affections) be continually cleansed by the Truth and reality of a relationship with a good God who offered His Son’s blood. Imagine that.

Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.