Timing in the Garden of God

When I think about Jesus recently, I think about time. I think about what I do with it and how the way I spend it affects His heart. I think about how with the current state of things, time in the present, takes precedence over the past or the future.

I think about society and how unmalleable people are when it comes to dissenting opinions. Entitlement is king and people don’t want their rights infringed upon if it makes things inconvenient now. This attitude is present in the poor and priveleged alike. People who are upper middle class and well off made out really well over the last two years. Sure the current recession might equalize some of that, but people made and saved a lot of money prior to now.

I say this also with the knowledge that people rich and poor also need rest. Somehow we must reserve time for rest and look foward to rest. Even if now, is not the time to rest, somewhere within the now should be the foward looking vision of the hope of rest. Even if I am working hard now, though I have paused to read this, rest is to be on my mind.

Now, in the present, where God can most easily be accessed by those of us who are bound by time is what I also think God cares about when it comes to human creation. He cares about obedience, bearing burdens, loving enemies, preserving life, and does not mind calling His children to risk their comfortability and resources to arrive at salvation and joy to the full. The Christian call to share in suffering with a willingness to offer ourselves as living sacrifices has not changed for the ones that confess Jesus as Lord. We do it because He is worthy, not because it is convenient.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day by Arthur B. Davies on  artnet

And the moment I must follow is now, if my identity is rooted in love in Christ. Nothing has changed in the now.

A return to the Garden of God, a mind fixed on things above and the Kingdom of God has a full view of rest not restlessness, which is interesting because when I think of Jesus, I think of the Scriptural promise that he now lives to make intercession for us.

There is not a moment, where Jesus is not pleading our case, living as our respresentation within the Trinity as the One who asks for mercy for us from the Father, who further also asks for the Father to give good gifts to His children, to provide for us and for our children. Part of our work and partnership in intercession is also a willingness to find and receive the strength in the now to be a source of rest for those that are weary and without hope in the world. This too is part of our call in the now, until the Kingdom comes in fullness on earth as it is in Heaven.

Practically speaking there are thousand of creative ways of doing this and ways to expend energy in doing this without the rest of the world ever knowing we’re doing it. There are ways to follow Jesus in obscurity that are far more valuable and less time consuming and probably more rest rewarding than crafting a social media image or chasing wealth.

The last thing I feel I should write about the timing in the Garden of God or time spent with and for Jesus is that the idea of wasting time looks way different in the Kingdom than in the world. I believe wasting time in a good way with Jesus involves things like going for an edifying walk, singing a song that no one will ever hear, writing Jesus a poem that no one will ever read, sitting with a grieving friend, or celebrating a friends success or achievement. I think things that the world glorifies as productivity is actually destroying others, busyness, profiteering, even legal ways we do this that have the tertiary affect of exploiting the poor.

When a group of people asked John the Baptist what the fruits of bearing with repentance are in the present, what he chose to address was all the ways the poor are exploited and the ways in which humans with priveleged positions try to get more money out of people. See Luke 3:4-14.

What Jesus never rebukes and rather encourages is the way we spend our time visiting and caring for the poor and oppressed and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:34-40

Where can we begin? In prayer. God may you grant me rest and then strength to bring rest, alleviate burdens so that the labor in love I perform will be like walking with you in the cool of the day. I love you Jesus because you loved me first.

Refining and Ashes

When an entire city is destroyed by fire, it is the resiliency of a people that is left to rebuild. In 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome destroyed more than 2/3 of the city under Emperor Nero. He sought to blame the Christians for the fire because they were easy scapegoats. They were already unpopular among the populace.

3 months after the fire, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down according to Church tradition and apocryphal texts. Tradition and theory are all we have in relation to the fire and Peter’s martyrdom. Both of these events don’t rest in the realm of truth.

I reflect on Peter often because of his impetuosity, his quickness to react, his overt emotion and his ability/spirit empowered unction to bounce back and be useful.

I reflect on fires now to remind us of what fires do; they destroy, consume, reveal what lasts and in some rare cases of Scripture fire does nothing. People are in it and protected by God. It is used as a metaphor for the spreading of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

And sometimes fire is used to test the life we build on top of our faith:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Will what we have done in this life survive a testing fire? What interests me is: how in the world do I know the caliber of resources I have built with will remain? What if I don’t have interest in building something with the wrong kind of materials?

I’m fairly certain, Paul is writing about the Christians part in the work of ministry and building up the Church. And I’m also fairly certain that most of what people in the West call ministry will be burned up. A reward will be given for what lasts and loss will be felt for what doesn’t despite us still being saved.

At this stage of life, I am not sure what will be left. I’m not sure if it is the work I have done for the upbuilding of the Church that has burned away or my trust in things working out for my good while trying to do it (Admittedly, I don’t know if I’m trying hard to do it). I can still tacitly believe that God is doing and working good for others, but I have been unable to reconcile my own paralysis, lack of confidence and seeming inability to let go of hurt and rejection over what I perceive is my calling and personhood. I am stuck.

As I was driving in my car on the phone with my mom, I shared my frustration over interviewing at schools, frustration about church life, frustration with the cyclical nature of hurt from the same people and the inability to cope with the fact that I still feel perpetually stuck. And she said, “Could it be God is refining you?”

To switch I swiftly replied, “For 3 years?! I don’t need any more refining. There is soon to be nothing left but ashes.”

To which I heard the Spirit more swiftly reply, “If that is all that is left, I will trade you even that for beauty.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

I don’t know if there is a poetic, prophetic text in Scripture that is more filled with hope. Jesus reads this passage in the Temple and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At the same time, I read this passage and wonder: when? How in the midst of being stuck, held captive, strung along, grieved, in despair do we just get out? Does this only come in the resurrection? Does it actually happen now? Is there actually a sense of communion and love and safety in the assembling of the faithful?

Maybe. Jesus thought there would be.

Maybe, when I’m sufficiently refined, we can trade up for beauty.

My Father, the Hero

About 6 years ago, at Pennington Assembly of God, members of the staff recorded videos of our fathers listening to us answering questions about what it was like to be raised and loved by our dads and the instances in which we as sons did things that were unbecoming of the fearfully wonderful men we would become. We showed it on Father’s Day. Here’s the link

I think about that season of ministry and feeling energy and creativity flowing in ways that felt lighter and funny. I think somewhere deep in the heart of God is the comedy of the Father. And I think the Church has not yet fully realized the God that has plenty of Dad jokes at His disposal.

I recognize after working this past year in education in an underprivileged school how many students lives in single family homes, most of which without fathers in the household. I recognize further how rare it is for a student to live in a single family household solely raised by their father.

The national statistics suggest that only 16% of children raised in single parent homes live in a household with a single father. Of all total household arrangements less than 5% of households contain a single dad. In my classroom of roughly 15 students, I only know of one was raised by a single-father. These statistics and my experience has made me more aware of how rare my own experience is of spending a large portion of my childhood raised by my dad.

In 4th grade my dad got an apartment in the same community as my grandmother. Our third floor two bedroom apartment was in a different school zone, but my dad requested permission for me to continue to attend the elementary school I was enrolled in. He also got permission for me to attend a Middle School where the majority of my elementary age friends would attend. I still have the letter he wrote to the school board as a reminder of his diligence to make sure there would be conistency in my life.

My dad modeled consistency well in his diligence at work and playing softball. He allowed me to play sports and trusted me to carry out my own schoolwork. My dad trusted me with a sense of independence and creativity and always supported me. He paid me and my brother’s way through college and always made sure we had everything we needed to be given the best chance to succeed.

In adulthood, I have appreciated my relationship with my dad more over the last decade. I don’t necessarily feel any sense of a cats in the cradle situation even though I did move away and move back to New Jersey several times. My fondest memories include my dad attending professional wrestling events in Wrightstown and our standing games of pool in the basement while listening to classic rock on CD or as of more recently his jukebox. In some ways fatherhood and sonship gives me the sense that it can get easier as you get older. That could just be because I have been single and have not been preoccupied with a family of my own.

I’ve also learned new things about my dads character, his resilience and optimism in the face of difficulty and illness. I have often wondered over the past 3-4 years how he has demonstrated hope and joy in spite of the suffering in his body. His demonstration has given me courage and hope and has required me to trust more in the hope that God sees me and guides me in my own times of suffering and disappointment.

Fortunately, today is also a cause for celebration, to celebrate my dad for being here, for being a great father and loving me and my brother well. And while there is more to write and more to praise, for now I’ll simply say:

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

The Night We Walked on Water

Impetuosity is a word I have often heard associated with Peter. It is a word that would seem to accurately describe James and John (the Sons of Thunder) when their inclination was to call fire down from Heaven to burn a city. I think that impetuosity has two sides. Often we are so preoccupied with one way of thinking that when something that runs contrary to it enters the picture we or I become very quick to disregard my care for the thing that stands at odds with me.

But what if that thing is less clear than an enemy or an outright rejection? What if that thing that frustrates us is a storm or uncertainty or someone who cares for us that is not necessarily trying to hurt us? What do we do with our angst?

When Peter walks on water, his boat and the people on it were aggressively rowing against wind and waves. I’m prone to think that the disciples, determined to cross the lake were doing what they felt was their only option. Strive against the wind on the boat.

FreeBibleimages :: Jesus walks on the water :: When Peter sees Jesus walking  on the water, he wants to do the same (Matthew 14:22-33)

Jesus who is walking on the water is either unfazed by the wind and waves or has authority enough to calmly walk among them.

And then the disciples, Peter included, see a Jesus whom they mistake for a ghost. And Peter has a thought after calling out to Jesus, who identifies Himself as the man who walks on water. Peter thinks he can identify with Christ by also walking on water.

But this too was an impulsive thought. Not long after he walks on water, he falls into it and immediately cries out for help. Equally immediate is Jesus’ response of reaching out his hand to help.

I wonder how Peter would reflect back on that story:

“We were rowing, going nowhere. I still don’t know why he sent us ahead into the wind knowing we would struggle. Then we saw him walking; it seemed like He had no intention to come to us, that he was willing to sneak past us. Maybe, it was all about Him wanting us to reach out, to cry for help. So we did, although I wanted to be with Him, to be like Him. But it seemed so impossible. Even when I stepped onto the water it seemed impossible. Even as I took a few steps it was hard to believe. It is still hard to believe. I walked with Him on water for a moment, and followed Him into all sorts of things I did not know. That was His constant thread of drawing me nearer to love, to trust in Him without the guarantee of anything else. Even my own faith is subject to sifting. But Jesus, He’s real, He caught me. He’s kept me.”

Spiderman and the Journey Into Obscurity

“I never knew you. Depart from me.”

This is the violence of rejection.

It is not arbitrary when Jesus says this in Matthew 7. It comes as a result of a series of statements that imply the independence of individuals who are motivated by the pursuit of glory and honor and superiority at the expense of relationships.

And in a way Jesus is describing a type of journey toward an obscurity that has sought recognition from all the wrong places or at least the wrong reasons to the neglect of being known by God.

Yet, there is another type of obscurity, a voluntary kind that Jesus seemingly lives out and another kind that is thrust upon us as a gift or an opportuntiy to be humbled.

Both require humility, one is certainly easier and met with much less resistance. The challenge of willingly becoming obscure is in part due to the fear of being forgotten or the fear of loss or becoming lost to one’s self. We don’t volunteer our hiddenness because we are afraid someone else will surpass us. John the Baptist knew well the difficulty, but knew the greater difficulty of staying in the place of prominence when it was time to move on.

But “if you lose your life… for my sake.”

This is the echo and refrain and invitation that I am having to remind myself. Am I willing to become lost in Christ which ultimately will find me found?

Am I willing to give up the little I have accumulated even the little in which I feel adequately known to have eternal riches and an identity formed by the Father of all good things?

I have been unwilling. I have fought to establish independence and sought my own justification. I have cried out and reached out to largely be ignored and I have been unwilling to be forgotten.

So I have functioned as a ghost. Scaring, maybe even intimidating the ones who have ignored and disregarded me only to find that ghosts can’t receive healing.

Returning to the places and people that have wounded you without regard for restituion does no one any good by reappearing. This I think is also the point of the resurrection. There is no evidence that Jesus reappears to his murderers.

He shows up for the ones who actually want Him.

That, I think is an important way to live. Showing up for those who want you. By want you, I mean those willing to spend time with you in reciprocation and love not the ones who want to use you.

I think this is Peter Parker’s dilemma to a degree. Can I do more good by being unknown than known? I don’t know if it was adequately worked out in this most recent movie because he chooses to be completely unknown not as Spiderman but as Peter Parker and that seems strange. Spiderman does not become obscured, meaning people still know Spiderman exists, and he does good. But the identity of Spiderman is obscured. This carries over into Peter Parker being forgotten which I think sends the wrong message to a generation already consumed with putting forth an idealized version of their identity.

I don’t know if it is actually worth laying down who you are for a heroic masked or plastic version of ourselves. I think just about everyone is already doing that. This is part of the nuance of obscurity.

It allows us to find out who actually wants us around not for our heroics or even for our mistakes but for who wants to love us well because we exist and are capable of reciprocating genuine love and affection. We obscure the mask in an attempt to have a genuine expression of our identity and being known. We lay aside pretension in order to discover the gift of the person that is a free and true version of themselves even amidst their own wounds and ongoing healing.

In a way we have to separate ourselves from our masks, which in itself is a version of obscurity usually hiding the genuine and often messy, but somehow also allows us to give off an idealized version of what we are capable of. The mask allows us to say, look how beautiful, picturesque and rich my life and your life can be often neglecting the beauty of contentedness.

If we were content would we feel the need to boast, or waiver in indecision, or desperately try to garner a following?

In obscurity, we learn how to be content, how to be known to the ones that matter and are willing to reciprocate love and we are free enough to continue to walk when we are wounded by our enemies.

Reconstructing a Crushed Spirit

In my 8th grade Social Studies class, I am teaching (talking to myself) about Reconstruction. It’s interesting how this period of American history still feels like a largely incomplete endeavor.

One slide in particular that stuck out was the ones defining the word reconstruction. I have not taken the time to think about the definition since starting this blog 10 years ago.

Reconstruction is defined as a thing that has been rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed, whether that is a country or an ideology of an American ideal or a person or victim of circumstance, the act of reconstruction seeks reparation.

US Congress could use Reconstruction-era civil rights powers to protect  black lives today

Another definition is: an impression, model, or re-enactment of a past event formed from available evidence. Some re-enactments are simply displays of what happened; some re-enactments seem to play out with similar consequence by recreating damage or destruction.

I find some semblance of evidence in my life for all the definitions included in reconstruction.

It might come as a surprise to you, but I am a rather sensitive person. I would not say I am saddened easily. I would say I am grieved by things longer and express my grief with greater intensity than most.

I would also suggest I am easily susceptible in getting stuck in cycles of hope and high expectations of individuals and institutions and become disillusioned by abuse and neglect. I’ve become especially sensitive to the way humans use and exploit others to achieve their own ends, whilst veiling an honest assessment of what has been done.

To be fair, I think some do this to avoid the reality of their choices so that they don’t have to take a step in making restitution. People love to gain power and wealth through exploitation and hope for a wave of the hand forgiveness. Or in some cases, individuals just want to construct a narrative where they are a hero and “good” despite how they’ve used others for their gain and prosperity.

They are led to believe that their confession is enough when what is in fact is required is restitution. And as a result they leave the oppressed without the very thing they’ve taken from them.

I’m a fan of exposing darkness to the light so damage can be healed. I’m also for tangible ways to restore relationship and to better the person who has been hurt.

What I’m finding is that humans are either ill equipped or unable to or simply refuse to make restitution. We rely on God, a miracle, or put our hope in a community that we pray will make a merciful or gracious judgment.

And if these things don’t come in the way we expect, we perhaps learn to become content in our present suffering. And I think that is a more realistic description of what a life led by Jesus looks like. We share in a suffering that does not steal our joy. Or to see it another way, we make a radical choice of joy amidst our suffering. I’d rather suffer with and for you than to be without you. That is the way of Jesus.

But to suffer by you or because of you may require less of my commitment and simply my forgiveness. Our forgiveness which is my responsibility for my own reconstruction might never yield restoration of relationship. Some things are not guaranteed. Jesus and Stephen can offer forgiveness to their murderers without guarantee that it will be received.

Reconstructing starts I think by not crushing yourself under the weight of holding onto anger bitterness and withholding forgiveness.

Freeing myself from the need for revenge or even from what I want allows me to rebuild with what I have. And that requires an assessment of what is left. And it might be with much less than you expected, but where else can we go if who we have in Christ is promised to be enough.

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.

For When Your Head is Cut Off

Recalibrating.

Taking a deep breadth

becoming smaller, but hoping not to retreat so far inward that I’m unable to live free.

I feel I’m still trying to find my way back to some sort of stable center. The last time I wrote I had a fair amount of responses all supportive and seemingly filled with empathy.

Things can be both cathartic and filled with consequence.

And while I am not yet aware of any obvious consequence, they inevitably come.

People get defensive, have their own versions of their history and experience and futures.

In the gospel of Mark 6:14-29, Mark recounts John the Baptists beheading. It’s interesting because what prompts Marks retelling of the beheading is this assumption that John is raised from the dead and performing miracles. I’m not sure if there was precedent for this or folklore in which someone was raised from the dead before, but this is the mythology people believed.

Herod had John beheaded and believed John was raised from the dead and doing what Jesus was in fact doing. Then without much more commentary we pivot to how John was beheaded.

It was a story of John confronting Herod for marrying his brother’s wife which got him arrested leading to a sensual dance from Herod’s step daughter that leads to the request for John’s head. People in power hate to be confronted. But perhaps even more, as evidenced by this story, people associated with the people in power hate it even more (Looking at you Trump supporters *wink*).

We love creating heroes out of people who yield hard power, who are suave with manipulation.

In Mark’s account, it is clear who the villains and heroes are. The heroes come from the oppressed. The heroes plead the cause of the oppressed, the broken, the sinner. I’m just not sure that is happening in many churches. I see a lot of pleading the cause of the healthy and wealthy and put together.

But John was a locust, honey, sackcloth, ashes and not put together kind of guy. A forerunner. A man who died for the cause, for a cause that he even had his doubts about while he was in prison. He sent out disciples to find assurance that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messiah. He had moments of doubt from inside a prison cell, unable to tell if in fact he had prepared the way.

I think this is a lot of what prophetic ministry is, preparing the way with a humble uncertainty of whether or not I am right. I think it can devolve into some sentimental metaphors that become hard to comprehend or know what to do with. But John was clear in his message, “Look for and toward another (Jesus), and turn from your sin, humble yourselves, and get cleansed. He’s coming with the Spirit.”

He was clear about where the hope lies.

And he had to be because he lost his head.

And we hear nothing about the psyche of John leading up to that moment.

And I think that silence is good because there was nothing left to say. He prepared a way and then Jesus came.

One thing is certain for me after this last season. I need Jesus to come, by His Spirit and do something only He can do because I have come to the end of myself.

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