No Church for Young Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is mythology.

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

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

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

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

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

Money is a part of this mythology.

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

Money is a part of this mythology.

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

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

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

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

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

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

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

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

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

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

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

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

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

Jesus is part of this mythology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on is a part of this mythology.

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

Moving back is a part of this mythology.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

James Passaro

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.

Love Theories II: Coming and Going

It is leaving Heaven

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

it is eyes fixed while awaiting the gaze of the beloved

it is resolute patience, incomparable kindness,

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it is the greatest guard

it is the hopeful guardian

it is the eternal guard

of the heart

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

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

It is returning to Heaven, leaving an army behind

It is coming from Heaven with an army behind

It is making  it’s home with us forever

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

It does not regret what it endured

it was it’s joy to give us everything

it waits for our everything

Love Theories: Not Soup nor Slumber

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It can’t be stirred in a pot until it tastes better
Can’t be set a top a stove to heat up
Can’t be baked at 450 and set before us to satisfy our hunger
It can’t be shaken out of slumber or kissed alive like a fairy tale

It’s timing is a mystery when it chooses to awaken, when it chooses to be given

It must be wait upon, served when ready, not served when wanted

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It is not self-seeking, it doesn’t wave you off, it doesn’t point you in the wrong direction, it doesn’t see the opportunity you provide, before it sees you

It doesn’t try to perfect your body before it takes you as it’s own, it doesn’t let you go when you can’t make yourself well. It doesn’t ignore your call or get back to you only when convenient

Love is not convenience, it’s not angry when it’s presently healing and freeing others; it rejoices in that kind

It reciprocates goodness, does not hedge its bets or hedge its heart; it entrusts itself to potential hurt recognizing that it cannot fail even when wounded.

Love is the overcoming currency of the world, yet it never insists payment

But when it’s missing you will hear it, you will see it, you will see the blood in its absence, carry the dejection in darkness, feel the rage when it is replaced with indifference

Love is not another lecture, though it will endure far longer than one

Love will never lose its luster, though it will fall frequently to wash feet

Love isn’t interested in leverage, it holds loosely and is delighted to walk along

Love when perfected eliminates fear, brings near, keeps here

When love lays down or conquers, it looks the same because it leaves a wake of life

When love awakens, we are full

 

Don’t Bury Your Underwear

What in the world now? Have you resorted to click bait? Meh no.

There is a story in Jeremiah 13 where God tells Jeremiah the prophet to buy some underwear (a linen loincloth/girdle) and to not wash it (dip it in water). This is an odd way to start a chapter.

God then commands Jeremiah, after wearing his underwear to go hide it in the cleft of a rock by the Euphrates. Many days (who quite knows how many?) go by and Jeremiah is told by God to go dig it back up because the water of the Euphrates filled up and got the underwear stuck somewhere in the rocks.

And as you might expect the underwear was useless. It was dirty stained, presumably torn, Scripture says spoiled, good for nothing.

Interpretation suggests that Israel and Judah were made to cling to God, a people made to  be the praise and glory of God, but they did not listen, followed their own hearts, turned to other gods and became like dirty underwear. Most scholars believe this was a vision Jeremiah had because it would seem a long way to travel from Jerusalem to the Euphrates just to bury some underwear. I’m prone to agree.

The irony is, the underwear is not dirtied because it clings to private places or defiled by who is wearing it. It becomes dirty or spoiled by being hidden and buried rather than worn (used for its intended purpose). That would be loyalty and would not require rebuke.

What might you be burying or hiding that is meant to keep you close to God?

 

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The lengths I may go to bury what God gives or commands me to get can be disheartening. My heart’s inclination  to get what I think I want (following my own heart) has left me at times feeling like my underwear is good for nothing, like I’ve been left naked for a little while.

But there is an alternative, don’t bury your underwear, in a New Testament parable shared by Jesus states, don’t bury a talent (currency), rather, use your gift to serve the Lord. I’m making a consolidated effort to do that more with my writing this season.

My underwear is my writing and hopefully you see that it is clean and useful, and I hope it’s helping me cling to the Lord.

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. 

What’s God’s Endgame?

You may have heard about this movie coming out called Avengers: Endgame. It’s one of those low budget independent films, trying to win some film festival awards. I bought tickets to it for the first showing at 5 pm tomorrow. I’m pretty excited about it. You’re probably not going to see it or hear about it much, but I’m hoping to enjoy it.

I’m done pandering…https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_190403144228-avengers-endgame-thumb-imax-poster.jpg

I don’t mean to spoil the previous movie Infinity War, but it basically ended with a whole bunch of characters ceasing to exist, and lest we think the concept or conclusion is unique, the world, or humanity or a day of reckoning is a fairly played out blockbuster movie trope.

Everyone is trying to save the world. Recently corporations who previously were less pretentious about wanting to make money off its consumers have found ways to leverage ads to toot their own horns about being heroes. And I know why they do it. Western culture buys into a desire to appear to be as good of people as possible whilst still satisfying self as our chief end.

51GqyevRtBL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_We still market our perception of “goodness” with statements or rather visual expressions of “sex sells.” Now advertises are testing the waters of whether or not “service sells” which leads to a new end which I believe we’ll see play itself out more in the political arena in the statement suggestive of “salvation sells.”

I don’t think people will necessarily peddle the word salvation (in the Orthodox Christian paradoxical sense) but the hope of redeeming and righting of the wrongs of the other side/enemy through politics or human effort is the platform on which humanity is destroying each other.

But then there is God’s Endgame.

On His (Jesus’) shoulders rests a Kingdom that is not passing away. In this Kingdom is the Intercessor who is coming to reign.

Jesus’ Endgame started on the Cross declaring “It is finished,” paying off a seemingly infinite death with His blood. The end of His life leading to the His Resurrection marked the victory over death the grave and the principalities and powers of the age though they still seem to have a pretty significant foothold.

But to what end does this game continue. What are we or rather what is God waiting for. God is clearly patient, God has not destroyed this place, nor I believe God will.

Let me share with you a passage to chew on from Matthew 24:13-14:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Two marks of genuine faith are endurance and proclamation. Announcing goodness (Advertising) and Endurance (Quality Assurance). I likely should apologize comparing a life of faith to a Product but in part that is what we are. We are products, creations, children, seed of Heavenly Father because we were purchased through the blood of the Son.

I could write a long explanation through the rest of this blog, poetic, reflective, but God caught me dead in my tracks with this:

You are God’s Endgame.

Jesus reconciling humanity (you and I very much included) to God through Himself no matter how long it takes for us to accept, receive or walk in daily.

I was the joy set before Him and Christ is my exceedingly great reward.

It’s taking a lot longer than 3 hours on a Big Screen to play out, but it’s worth it if the End is my heart fully given over to the Alpha and Omega, Captain of our Faith, Avenger of Heaven, Perfecter of our Faith, Yahweh’s Son, Iron sharpening Iron Godman, child of the Marveling Mary, Lord of the Universe, Jesus Christ.

You, Jesus are the only One who saved the world

You, Jesus the only One to save me

I’ve been rescued by your Love

May my faith be held steady and be made ready

To endure until the End

*Don’t spoil the movie*

 

 

 

Wrestling with Blessing

I’ve often reflected how I tend to be doing the best when I’m writing the most. This is typically true of anyone when they are expressing themselves creatively. We usually are feeling our best when we are fruitful and multiplying, freely expressing our identity through our gifting’s as we believe those gifts to be blessings.

Rarely do we feel our best when we are being pruned (losing part of what we thought was ourselves) or refined  (having our edges or unclean parts exposed and burned away) or disciplined (being taught how to navigate away from wrong into the right)

As I’ve been reading through Genesis and coming up on 5 months in chaplaincy, I find myself still wrestling, perhaps still restless. But in the midst of wrestling with myself and God, I’m faced with my choice. And it’s not so much a choice for vocation or for status as much as choice for disposition. I must choose joy and happiness. Admittedly, that has been historically challenging for me.

I often pin myself under the weight of sadness and introspection and often find the confused muddy version of Jimmy or James or Jim, whichever name they are calling me nowadays, trying to hear what name God is calling me nowadays. Still beloved, I hope?

How did I become so fragile?

How did I become so stubborn?

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I ask myself as I’m coming up on a ford (see story of Jacob) and the Angel of the Lord has challenged me to fight awaiting to see if I will ask for a blessing. The Lord doesn’t punch or slap. God doesn’t seek the knockout blow for his children. But God does test endurance awaiting our appeal for mercy or victory or surrender.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve asked. I’ve asked for blessing, yelled for the cursing to go away, persisted for healing. I still feel my wounds and am tempted to inflict the worst ones on myself, and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be my own affliction and expect to make it through, wrestling day in and day out hoping the blessing actually sticks. For those of us that are guilty of fighting with ourselves, there is a need to learn the rhythm of grace and self-compassion.

I have this assignment I earned myself: To write about my dreams, which is ironic because some of my friends recently told me they are making dream boards. When I think of the word dream, my gut reaction is anger, then sadness, then stuck.

I don’t know how to stop my nightmares, so how does anyone expect me to make my dreams come true?

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I’ve had so many dreams, believed so many promises, flooded pages with hopes lost:

lost the hopes, lost the pages, lost parts of myself, let go of the dreams.

 

But not God, God’s not lost in the wrestling. God is there in it, and God has overcome me, and I admittedly can do nothing without the Father.  Nor do I really want to.

I also want to dream even if it’s daunting. I want to serve Jesus even if the next step is un-seeable. I want to be able find romantic love even if  right now it’s latent. I want to be confident in Christ even if I capsize. I only want to wrestle with God if we both win. What I find in the love of God is: the dreams that come from the Lord are the ones that have staying power and are vivid. As a team we dream. I think God knew how much I’d like wrestling so God has incorporated it into my walk of faith. I find God won’t let go until He knows I am blessed and beloved.

 

The God and the Ghost of Present Christmas

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I read an Instagram post by Craig Groeschel about Christmas being a magnifier today.  (For those of you who don’t know who Craig Groeschel is, he’s one of those muscular pastors that talks about how he doesn’t have time to dress himself in the morning)  The intent of his post was to state how the holiday can take positive and negative emotions and circumstances and enlarge them. This is why it is so important to fix our attention and affection on Jesus as the center of our celebration especially when we bent toward the negative.

I enjoyed the encouragement and I agree. I actually was weirdly looking forward to working in the hospital on Christmas today. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe the escape, maybe to feel important, maybe to feel more or less alone?

It is lonely you know, being a ghost.

My friends came up with this little joke that I am everyone’s imaginary friend, but I myself am unaware of it. I like the concept, but that is not me. I am no ghost, although I try to be as transparent as one, when I can be, when the risk isn’t too much, when I’m not afraid of rejection or losing someone, when I’m safe, when I’m surrendered.

A patient’s husband said to me today, “You must feel good being able to help people as a chaplain and on Christmas.” I thought this statement curious because I wanted to say, “It feels okay, but that’s not why I do it.” I didn’t try this ministry out so I could merely feel good, although if you constructed a well enough argument I’d probably believe it.

I think I chose it to hopefully find God in it, desperate to find God in myself (the Spirit dwelling within). I think I chose it or rather God called and chose me, so I would live in the fear of the Lord and in the love of God. I think I chose it to be transparent about all my evident weaknesses and hoped I would find warm love in it. And yeah, maybe warm loyal love feels really good, but I often don’t feel that, which is why I wish I was a ghost sometimes.

I wish I was floating in and out of people’s lives unaffected by their pain, yet present to it and to them whenever I wished or they wished. I would be a source of comfort without the feeling. I would be present, without the awareness of when I’m not feeling a comforting touch or hug when I want to be hugged or close to someone.

To be a ghost seems to me to be without a need, to be a gift without holding onto one back. I felt like a ghost sometimes today. I felt like a guilt-ridden sinner sometimes today. I felt like one in need of love and redemption sometimes today.

I am one in need of Immanuel, God with us, and God in us by the Holy Ghost always today.

I need the God and the Ghost

Willing But So Weak

I had one of those deathbed Jesus moments last week. I was with a patient while they died whom was reconciled to God the week before. I did not save the man, all I did was remind him that God was willing to forgive him because of the work of Jesus Christ.

All I could write, after the patient expired just prior to 3:00 AM was, “I watched a man live.” Dying and living and dying and living again. This is what we profess as Christians. We reincarnate twice as new versions of ourselves. The first time we likely look no different(spiritual new birth). The last time we are promised a glorified body to house an eternal spirit.

In between we die a thousand little deaths, with a thousand degrees of heartbreak, with a thousand more disappointments, mingled with hundreds of thousands of things to be grateful for. Our life becomes challenged by what we are willing to focus on. Do we choose to focus on that which brings us life and light or the things that remind us of our dark and weakness?

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What we focus on dictates how we live out our salvation. Will I barely make it through each day or will I function in faith and confidence in the power of the Spirit?

My first learning goal in chaplaincy formation was to become comfortable with death/loss. I’m changing it to become more acquainted with resurrection life after death and loss. Little joy is to be found in the losing and the dying, perhaps none. The hope of the resurrection is what our lives need when we are consumed by our own weakness. The alternative is to fixate on our dying disappointments that intrude on our endeavor to live and love.

I Am So Weak

Admittedly, amid this endeavor, I am so weak. I am increasingly more aware of my sin-f-illness, accruing the debt of its deadly wages.

When will I stop paying what I cannot afford to give?

Are there any riches I have saved in an eternal account toward the wealth of knowing Christ?

If I have any wealth from heaven, I would like to invest it in service to the Bridegroom Christ who is both my Creditor and Debt Payer, in the prospect of marriage and family, in service to the Bride, the Church. Treading on bankruptcy in Spirit does not seem to offer the generous hand I hope to give.

Yet here I am, a chaplain, who prays daily with people teetering between their first life and final breath, some trying to make restitution for their next inhale, hoping to love better or love more or love longer. I try to assist them in their desire as I forget my own failure to also love better, love more and love longer. Only to become more self-aware of ineptitude in the torment of my own ego.

I am willing to experience more freedom and wholeness at any cost. But does it ever cease to feel like I grasp at ethereal concepts? I want reality, but I am weak. I want love and to give it, but I am weak. I want to let go, but I am weak. I need help because I am weak. But I am willing for the Spirit of Christ to intervene. Maranatha