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Is Our Fire Grace or Compulsion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Radiant Hope of Weeping

I watched It’s a Wonderful Life last weekend with some amazing friends in a theatre. Writing that sentence feels like I am confessing to a crime based on the state of the world right now. But I’m merely giving context to my most recent relationship with tears. I would say the amount I cried was just under the inappropriate amount for a movie. What that exact amount is, who’s to say? If I was judging, I would say I snuck in just enough tears to be considered a stable, regulated, adult male who is in touch with his feelings. Maybe I’m idealizing, but this is my blog and you’re just reading it. 

I think the film was a good exercise in hope. When you have received the subject of your hope, you cease to be in need of hope to have it. You may however need some measure of hope to keep it. Yet, when we have attained something, we quickly move into the assumption that we will retain it. In other words, hope floats above the surface expectant that it will catch something underneath the surface. Once the thing hoped for comes to the surface, we no longer have need of hope. We, instead, need the unction to receive it.

Which is why I believe hope is anticipatory joy. I’ve heard hope described as the joyful expectation of something good, which I kind of buy into. I’m almost fully bought into that definition as long as what we don’t imagine is a child waiting on a shortish line to ride a rollercoaster, or kids on Christmas morning, or a bride and groom on their wedding day. In other words I don’t think hope can be defined by surface joy. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. I don’t think Jesus was giddy in anticipation of His betrayal, arrest or crucifixion. I do think he was eager/anxious to share a meal with his disciples beforehand in anticipation of sharing that meal again and anew in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Which brings me to the illustration in Scripture of hope as an anchor. Anchors go deep, to keep you steady on the surface. To keep you steady amidst the swirling uncertain movement around you, despite the inability to entirely protect what is within you. Hope in its depths might reveal itself through tears, through trembling.

Jesus' Feet – God's Grace ~ God's Glory!

Luke 7:36-50, A woman who is a sinner walks into someone else’s household to anoint Jesus’ feet, weeping on them, kissing them, wiping them off with her hair, and anointing them with ointment. Imagine if today you were throwing a party and a woman uninvited comes in whose only descriptor is that she is of disreputable character. This is an opinion shared by most of the people there except your other guest who is the most kind, gentle and intriguing person at the party, who also has a secret. He is God, unbeknownst to the guests, unbeknownst to you the host. Would you not also be curious what this woman could possibly want instead of what your other guest know about the woman?

And what she wants is what I want to write about and to think about:

  1. At base line, she might have just wanted to show honor and gratitude to Jesus. I believe the base of Christian hope is we want to honor who we believe God to be freely in the face of a world that can be cruel and judgmental while ignoring their own darkness. She recognized Jesus’ light and beauty and hoped to be able to honor it.
  2. Maybe she was able to foresee forgiveness and was hoping to be offered that at all costs. If by an act of grace she was able to see and expect that, it would seem her faith in fact has saved her. She was forgiven; she got what she hoped for. But wave of the hand forgiveness as much as it may lift the weight of guilt what I think humans are after is actually a bit more than forgiveness which leads me to what I think she was hoping for.
  3. Friendship. Context is important. Luke 7:34-35 is actually where this story should start. Jesus states that his reputation among the crowds and religious leaders is that “he is a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is justified by her children (or by what she bears, produces).” Ironically the story that follows is Jesus in the house of Pharisee who is approached by a woman who is a sinner, a woman who perhaps has heard a rumor that Jesus might also want to be her friend.

Catharsis, Neurosis, Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus to the cross.

Lose your life to find it.

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

Sing with what we Got: Habakkuk 3

What we have in Christ is so much more than what we’ve lost.

This might be hard to believe, harder to feel, and sometimes we are not at all able to see it, perhaps even moreso now in this season. Which means now more than ever remembering and hearing what God has done is so necessary.

“O Lord, I have heard report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in hte midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk 3:2

The starting point of faith is believing what we have heard. Romans 10:13-15 reminds us that faith is formed in us by receiving through revelation the Communicated Word. This in itself is a gift.

But why is good news resisted rather than received? Broken promises, crushing disappointment, dashed expectations. Sometimes these things happen because we are unreasonable in what we expected, hoped, or thought we needed. Sometimes they are completely reasonable expectations, and we have been failed because the world and people are broken. Sometimes the why behind the failure is crystal clear and most times no explanation is sufficient.

But God doesn’t break promises. One of my favorite lines from the song “You Pour Out Mercy” by Luke Wood goes: “All man’s empty promises lie broken at Your feet, but You have never broken One.”

And it is in the confidence of God’s unbroken promise that Habakkuk rejoices even sings out to God despite less than ideal circumstances, circumstances where the Israelites have been invaded:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls. yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s’ he makes me tread on my high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Song is a weapon against temptation to sin and temptation to despair. Song is how King David stirred his soul from a stupor. Song is how we share our voices in unity. Song gives melody to our prayer and displays passion in our power. Song is the sound and sign that let’s the world know we are alive and ready to love.

It’s what we’ve got.

Watching, Waiting, Woes: Habakkuk 2

It might be hard to believe or receive, but one could make the case that prayer is the most effective gift given to humanity to bring about change. Some would rather attribute change to talent, charisma, and strong work ethic, but more often than not, it is the prayers of those in right standing with God, coupled with obedience to what is shared in the time of intimate conversation (prayer) that make lasting and loving change.

Yet the world is changing. Public opinion over all sorts of issues and sins are sliding. Loud voices are clamoring, some for true justice, some so steeped in darkness that they are completely blinded to right and wrong. Things also seemed to change without prayer.

Yet prayer serves to keep us aligned with the heart of God on what is right and what is wrong.

And here in Habakkuk chapter 2, Habakkuk volunteers his services to stand as a watchman. He volunteers to see injustice, pray and wait:

I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1

And summarized in the rest of Habakkuk 2, this is what the Lord says regarding what Habakkuk sees.

Woe 1: to the one who collects what does not belong to him (predatory loans, stealing, drug dealing, tax shelters, money laundering)

Woe 2: to the one who dishonestly gains wealth (slavery, exploitation, harsh labor)

Woe 3: to the one who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice (pillaging, hurting your neighbor)

Woe 4: to the one who drugs another for lust and sex (porn industry, sex trafficking, rape, sexual assault)

Woe 5: to the one who trusts in idols (nationalism, the proud and selfish)

All of the consequences coming to those who participate in injustice without repentance will contain destruction.

Lest He be accused, these consequences are no darker than the acts that precipitated them. In fact the consequences are lighter. God bringing low things that were built upon another’s suffering are meant to be brought down, and God Himself patiently waits for those to turn from their wickedness in order to potentially make restitution.

Restitution, a word that should become synonomous with Christianity. It perhaps is what is required of us in order to be genuinely repentant. It is what might be spoken to our heart and soul when we listen, after we ask for forgiveness. But is often neglected in order to maintain what has made us comfortable or so one might keep what they stole.

As Christians we need to move further in maturity, to not only be absolved of our guilt and sin and shame but move on to restoring that which was never ours to have.

And to be more than okay with any potential inconvenience.

To say it another way if I can quote Blink 182, after the watching, the waiting and the commiserating comes partnership with God in restoration.

My Friend Joseph

I have often thought that I have the best friends anyone can ask for. The quality and quantity of genuine friendships I have could keep a person full. And I have often desired to write a blog post about each one of my friends in a way that would highlight and honor them.

Today, it felt appropriate to write about my friend Joe. First some interesting facts:

  • I met Joe in Middle School gym class (met is a loose term because I am not quite sure we had more than a few passing words).
  • The next time I saw Joe was at Capital Assembly of God in Hamilton, New Jersey, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2007. When I approached him, I am not sure he remembered me at all from Middle School.
  • A little over a year ago Joe moved into his first apartment
  • Joe has texted me everyday since the beginning of the pandemic to ask me if I am okay, except for a brief period where his phone needed to be fixed in which he appologized for not being able to check in.
  • Joe also texts me on most every holiday and every daylight savings change over and any time we are in a heat wave to make sure I stay hydrated. And every time he has received an attendance award at work. And every time he goes to an event that has to do with comic books, and most vacations he sends me pictures half of which are selfies.
  • In 2007 and 2008, I invited Joe to a few events (one event, either an an open mic night or Christmas Party, he said was the best night of his life) at the church I grew up in, Nassau Christian center in Princeton, since about that time he has taken a bus from Trenton to Princeton to continue attending there, though I have not attended since 2011.

These facts give some context for my favorite story about Joe, a story I cherish and offer you to cherish as well in order to convey the depths of friendship, solidarity, and in general what human beings are capable of.

In the summer/fall of 2008, Joe sent me an email asking if he could attend my college graduation in 2010 (yes, you read that right, 2 years in advance) which was in Virginia because “he had never attended a college graduation and would not be going to college himself.” I responded kindly and briefly, “Yes, Joe. I’d love to have you at my graduation.”

Truth be told I laughed and figured he would forget but I am a sucker for sentiment so it touched me that he asked. A year and half later after minimal interactions because the summer of 2009 I spent in Russia, Joe began to make preparations and reached out again seeing if he could still come to my graduation.

I offered to arrange transportation, but he said his dad would be driving him the 5 hours to come. He would arrive the Friday night before, but did not give me a time. When May rolled around, Joe showed up a little before dinner the day before my graduation. He came to Texas Roadhouse with my dad and my dad’s then fiance now wife Lorraine. I don’t remember what Joe ordered but I do remember about halfway through his meal, he took a 5 minute break to read a comic book he brought with him to the restaurant. It made me smile.

After dinner, we went back to my apartment where many of my friends had gathered just to hang out and laugh. Some of my friends wanted to get ice cream; I oddly enough was tired and didn’t want to go so Joe went with my friends. They came back within the hour and Joe suggested we watch, I believe Cars on DVD, which I narrowly avoided by convincing him that we would not have time to watch it. He understood and we continued to hang until about midnight.

I think that was a bit late for Joe, so he let me know he was tired and I agreed since I had an early morning to graduate the next day. So I said goodbye to friends and we got ready for bed.

Now I admit I should have been a better host and offered my room, but I was in college and just assumed people would be comfortable crashing on couches. I offered the couch and Joe politely declined. I then asked, “would you like to sleep in my bed and use my room?”

No sooner had the words left my mouth, Joe was in my room and seemingly tapped out for the night. I slept on the couch and it made me smile.

The next day was the graduation rigmarole, and I took pictures with my friends. I think Joe was in every picture. After pictures we went back to my apartment to figure out lunch and get Joe packed up. My mom came with me into the apartment, and I had left my cap and gown in my room, where Joe had slept. My mom and I were sitting on the living room couch where we could see into my room and I saw Joe pick up my cap and look at it.

I turned to my mom and said, “10 bucks, Joe asks if he can have my cap.” She said through slight laughter, “No, he won’t ask that.” I replied, “I know Joe; if he asks I’m giving it to him.”

A few seconds later Joe walks out and says, “Hey Jimmy, do you think I can have this?” Looking over at my mom I smiled, then back at Joe, “Yeah Joe, you can have it.”

Joe’s father had stayed in a hotel and took Joe back to New Jersey after my graduation lunch. It was one of the kindest things someone had ever done for me.

Since 2010, I maybe have seen Joe 3 times. I remember trying to invite him to a Marvel movie a few years back but he declined because he only likes DC comics even though they make far worse movies.

Every time Joe would drive in my car, he would bring Cd’s. I remember one time listening to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on loop an entire car ride. I remember feeling giddy inside seeing how many times he would hit the back button. It helped that it’s a great song honestly.

I have never had a sad moment with Joe. Joe is the kind of person that not only is it better when he’s around, but he is also always encouraging. Joe is not wealthy, not priveleged and is unassuming and generous. Joe has great parents and a sister that I may have met once who lives in Missouri. And Joe is my friend.

From Left to Right: Victor, Derek, Me, JOE!!!!!

The only other picture I have of Joe, he’s in the background with the Mets hat and sunglasses. He loves the Mets!

A Louder Morning

“There was an open tomb, evidence of light, a resurrected savior, thought to be a gardener, a foot race and a folded cloth. Could this be the start of a new covenant? Then His appearing to a few, then to us all. Bright but visible, so very like Himself, reassuring us, breathing on us, feeding us after conquering grave and cleansing sin. We rejoice, rejoice loudly. We tell others even those that have not seen. And He comes to them to. He always shows up It was finished; now life begins again”

chimney_rock_sunrise_service

It is the Resurrection day. Jesus left his tomb nice and tidy. I imagine Jesus folding his burial cloths with a smile thinking, it might be a silly little piece of foreshadowing to leave these  here in a folded pile, build some suspense for whoever finds them. As if to say, that was a nice little rest for a bit but I won’t be needing this bloody sheet anymore. It was nice while it housed my body for a few.

Now I will linger around this earth walking through walls standing in well manicured grounds and on the beaches appearing to those that still don’t quite understand. I will show up amidst their clamoring and questioning and I will reveal to them that which will change the way they live forever. Promise fulfilled, your eternity paid for and secure; power and joy accessible through the Kingdom of Christ.

And with this new light, we see in a new way as we are reminded

of that which we can smile about: friendship, fellowship, family, life, breath, that which we take for granted: food, shelter clothes, too many comforts, comparatively exorbitant wealth. But above all else reconciliation to God, the privilege to be seen as forgiven and righteous and able to approach God in communion. We are held and kept by the Godhead. The Spirit indwells us. We will be more than okay. He directs our steps, our paths, forges unity in the Church, comforts us and the world in our suffering and affliction, and seals the promise of a Kingdom coming that will look a lot different than this current fallen state. We are forgiven, loved given new mercy without measure as we humbly receive it.

The sun came up today. The mercy is real today. And because of the resurrection, we can pray assured that we are heard so we might as well ask boldly and listen willingly.

A Silenter Night

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not in the Wind, We are the Wind

What an interesting time for an interesting and interested God. A God that is not idle but who remains an eternal intercessor in Christ. A God that we may feel is silent about circumstance yet still resounds about who He is.

John 3:8 reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Metaphorically, Jesus draws a comparison between the wind and those born of the Spirit. And it is interesting that Jesus would draw this comparison because wind can only be evidenced by the things it is moving. How do you see wind without seeing something else moved by it? Jesus acknowledges that we hear it.

Scientifically speaking, in a wild oversimplification, wind comes through temperature and pressure changes. Thus the expression winds of change is interesting because wind itself is the result of change not necessarily the cause of it.

We are the wind. Or rather we are like the wind. We are the products of the change of being born anew, born again, now learning and adapting through the Spirit to our current environment.

The time and circumstance in which we find ourselves now, does not change our identity or our ability to be present and to embody the life giving Spirit in and to the world.

Wind-palm-trees-golf-course-Hawaii-Maui

But!!!! There is more. Being born of the Spirit, according to John 3:8, means that it is impossible to be in the wrong place. The question that I plague myself with and need to let go of is: am I in the right place to fulfill the will of God? And the answer to that is, Yes! If you’re breathing moving and having your being, you and I are in the right place. Whether or not our lives are bent towards obedience is a different question. So the question I need to be preoccupied with is, “Lord, how do I love you and others right where I am right now? Help me stay yielded and in step with you. I want to move like the wind with You.”

Even the wind and waves obey Him, so must I. I must obey because that is where I will find my heart delighting. That is where I want my heart to delight and how to delight others and in some cases disappoint others. (there are power and principalities that would like us to fail)

Yesterday I went for a bike ride down the shore for about an hour. It was the first exercise I have done in almost 2 months. It was phenomenal. It was a breezy ride along the bay in very wealthy neighborhoods. On my way home I stopped outside a church that had a prayer labyrinth (imagine a giant circle with a maze painted path on it).

It moved me because that labyrinth was much like a stone labyrinth in the prayer garden at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina where I started my chaplaincy residency. It was the perfect place to pray and walk. For the first time in months, I prayed with passion and confidence in who God is. I’m sorry it has been that long.

But something amazing happened at the end of the labyrinth. These labyrinths start on the outskirts of a circle and have their ending point in the center. It took about 3-4 minutes to walk. But as soon as I hit the center I paused briefly and turned toward the church steeple and was hit with several successive massive gusts of wind. These winds moved me multiple times while I stood facing it.

I tried to speak to the wind to stop it. I verbally spoke, “God, how am I supposed to hear you when the wind is so loud?” The Spirit replied, “The wind won’t keep you from hearing my voice, and I don’t need the wind to move you.” It was sustained and kept moving me affirming that I too am born of the Spirit. In Him we move, we breathe, we have our being. Let us, the Church billow with blessing.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?