How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.

The Chasm Depth: A Metaphor Before I Move

I had this unction this year that God was doing something deep inside me, that we were digging into a depth we had yet to venture. And in that place I would find something I was not prepared to face until we got there.

I remember assuming that when we arrived at what God was digging at, I would find water. I expected a geyser to come out or at least a trickling of some sort.

But what I think I’ve found instead, is a chasm.

This bothers me. We had been digging and preparing a work, just to find a dark void. I was hoping that I would immediately see what I was getting when we reached the depth. I expected immediate overflowing, not darkness and new challenge.

I have felt that I am both experiencing and entering a season of abundance, which I warily declare, because outwardly it could look like I’m starting at a deficit.

But God is patient and generous and knew what I was getting myself into and has prepared me for this moment. He has prepared me for an accelerated depth. But why downward, why now-ward?

As quickly as I ask why, I remember that the past 3 years has taught me the why matters so little. More importantly than the why is the will. Will I follow if I know hardly anything?  I have repeatedly tried to say yes while struggling with all my own sin and burdens.

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We dug and we prepared and I’m looking down and I feel with everything within me that God, the good Father would not ask me to jump to my death or to be deserted.

And then I felt this question pop into my head: “Do you want to jump or fall in?”

The undercurrent of that question that I heard was this: “Either way this is where you are going because this is what we have prepared for.”

Up until the past 2 weeks I have been eager for a lot of things. I have looked forward to moving, to starting a new work, to leave behind some things, to celebrate victories and growth, to conquer some sin and weakness; then I became very acquainted with something all too familiar.

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With fear, more specifically the fear of not being able to guarantee the outcome of my choices. Without that guarantee I become tempted to resort back to familiar choices.

When you or I choose fear or sin, there is a part of us that knows even if that choice is bad or terrible, at least it is familiar and we can predict the outcome. Sin feels like death or disappointment which gives me some deceived solace that my failure is my own and in my control rather than left to chance. It feels better than failing while obeying, which might tempt me to blame God in anger.

This is a real temptation in the face of getting bad news about your father’s health or having to leave behind the potential for romance or missing your favorite friendships or job security.

For now though, I know that if I must go, I might as well jump.

And I might as well jump because I believe in a God who does miracles and wonders all the while clinging to the hope that what God has for me is better than me trying to hold tightly to my desire in these moments.

So I want to prophesy over myself and perhaps over you, a word. And the word is one word in Hebrew: The word is Tehom. It is a word that describes a large depth of water, specifically waters existing at a depth that is hard to reach. And from this depth, one of my favorite verses in the psalms exists.

Psalm 42:7:

“Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.”

It conjures up an image of an inverted waterfall pouring out of the earth to create a wave sweeping over us, but it is not wave of harm or destruction. It is a wave of love and song and joy.

This is the chasm depth I’m believing I’m jumping into.

After being in that depth, I could be carried out in a wave.

The word Tehom also is a symbol for creation in and of the world. This is the deep that darkness hovers over in Genesis  And from the deep creation begins to fill the void, as God speaks.

That is what I believe God is speaking over you: God and your creativity is filling the empty and dark spaces. It is part of God perfecting you through the sacrifice and work of Jesus. Darkness has no place to hover when the void is filled with God’s work.

Thank you reader/friend for stepping into this work with me.

*Note: Forgive me if the metaphor is too convoluted. I lean into unnecessary complexity too much on occasion.

Saying Bye to My Mistress Pro-Wrestling

Authors Note* In British English Mistress means teacher.

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Last Autograph I ever signed as Jimmy Pipes

On February 22nd, 2013 I began my professional wrestling training at Back Breakers Training Center in Scranton, PA. I was trained by head trainer and owner Justyn Glory, and at that time, assistant trainer Jon Redbeard. I started the same day as my training partner Claudio Taglianni.

Being a pro-wrestler was my dream from the ages 3-18 . I backyard wrestled with my friends Bill and Tim Maticic throughout high school. We moved furniture and mattresses to their backyard to wrestle for 2 hours after school and before their mom got home so she wouldn’t know we used the furniture. We filmed it. One time I taped over a one hour portion of my families cross-country road trip to California by accident.

My first memory as a child is pro-wrestling. I saw it on TV. My parents bought me a ring with action figures and that fueled the fire. We would vacation to Wildwood each year where wrestling shows would run on the boardwalk. At one show, I met King Kong Bundy and took a picture with him in the ring. At another show the now deceased Chris Candido took a trading card I had of his likeness and traded me a signed picture of his ring valet in a swimsuit. I’ve since thrown it away.

To be honest, I always preferred going to indie shows in gyms or outdside than to WWF/E events because I wanted to meet wrestlers not just watch them. I wanted to get in the ring not take a picture in front of it. As a teenager, I was obsessed. I wrestled in high school hoping it would get me in shape for when I began training.

In 2006, I went to an outdoor wrestling event at Burlington County Community College put on by the United Wrestling Coalition (UWC) because my friends Dave and Jen Puca’s aunt and uncle were the promoters. After the show, a wrestler body slammed me in the ring, and they let me run the ropes.

Ironically, my last match 12 years later was in a UWC ring.

But at 18, one conversation in my grandma’s basement while lifting weights with my brother had me decide I would go away to college instead wrestling school. When I went to college I stopped watching wrestling, gave up on the “dream” and occasionally checked in on my hobby.

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That time Keating painted my face

And I can say wholeheartedly, I was glad. I met Jesus in a new and powerful way, so my heart and entire life became spoken for. In many ways, I no longer needed wrestling.

In 2013, I wouldn’t say I needed wrestling either, but I needed to find myself. At that point in time, I was living clouded and made decisions from memory. Time and circumstance conveniently allowed me to train so I did. And for months I was depressed while I trained. I trained out of obligation not out of joy, convincing myself that as I committed to action the joy would come.

Wrestling gave me something to do and was a way to cope with pain. Wrestling became a teacher and a confidence builder. So I trained for 7 months and had my first match in August of 2013 with my training partner Claudio.

I wrestled while studying theology. I wanted to embrace pacifism but wrestled with the contradiction of engaging in a performance of fighting. I often questioned why I would pro-wrestle as a hobby while endeavoring to become a minister and was at times frustrated by the fact that it seemed to complicate me unnecessarily. At that time, my identity was fragile enough to confuse myself.

But I enjoyed improvising a story in 6-12 minutes. I loved the idea of portraying a character who was a lounge singer, who made lavish claims that he was a platinum artist but could not sing very well. I loved the idea of wearing a singlet backwards and painting a tuxedo pattern on it so it would look vaguely realistic under a sport coat and fedora.

I loved having creative freedom within the context of not having to decide how long of a story to tell or who won or lost. It works well with my personality because I am the type of person that colors in the lines not draws the picture. You give me parameters and I will push the creative boundary, but don’t give me a blank canvas.

Wrestling slowly helped me be able to dream again and was my creative outlet when my heart struggled to find an outlet.

But wrestling also reminded me that even as character who was arrogant, I couldn’t lay aside empathy. I think Jimmy Pipes was always accidentally endearing. Children and old people didn’t like seeing him get beat up or lose. But he also didn’t necessarily deserve to win.

Wrestling also taught me about love. I had countless friends and family support my hobby, even at times I did not expect them to. Some will never care about wrestling, but they care about me. I had a girlfriend who went to several shows with 20-25 people in attendance to see me even though she disliked wrestling.  Wrestling provided  opportunities for me to see that people who love me embrace some of my eccentricities.

Wrestling also taught me that I don’t have to matter on a platform. There is far more value to what happens behind the curtain than in front of it: showing respect to fellow wrestlers, thanking promoters and bookers for opportunities, helping each other improve, receiving criticism. There is also far more value to what is done outside the ring than inside: Signing autographs for kids, talking to fans, taking pictures with them so they have something to remember you by.

The things pro-wrestling taught me are in part the things that make it easy for me to walk away from it. Wrestling helped me to realize that all of the important things exist outside of wrestling. Because wrestling is just a performance. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s not the greatest thing ever. It was an outlet and there are better outlets. For me there are better causes and callings.

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The Jackson clan at Coplay, PA AWF

In my mind I’m leaving behind something I enjoyed in exchange for many somethings I will enjoy more and make a bigger difference with. I can say goodbye easily because I’m infinitely more excited about what I’m saying hello to.

So how do I summarize and highlight my last 5 years. With a list of fun facts:

 

  • I only wrestled 58 professional matches which is not a lot, nor is it an admirable accomplishment. A pro-wrestler that reads that would question how serious I was (I would answer not serious, I always called it a hobby).
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    Olde Wrestling Ohio Photo Cred: Jeff Colb Photography

    I wrestled in 2 states (PA, NJ), performed in 3 (OH).

  • I won 1 title, the UWC US title and held it for about 6 months. I lost it in UWC’s 1000th match for their promotion to my friend Definitely Donnie. I wrestled Donnie (Matt) 4 of those 58 matches.
  • My name Jimmy Pipes has appeared in at least 5 issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. This is a bigger deal to me than it should be, but I like things in writing so I get giddy thinking about it.
  • One of my matches on YouTube has over 3,000 views largely b/c of the “gay pro-wrestling fan community”, but only that one match because the other guy in it was more attractive than me… I’m guessing.
  • I got to perform for Olde Wrestling in Ohio, which was also a huge deal to me because I loved the originality of their promotion.  I love their graphic design (Check them out https://www.oldewrestling.com/)
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    Myself, Mr Ooh La La and his manager

    I wrestled Mr. Ooh La La, an indie wrestling veteran who once talked to me for an hour after a show in PA giving me advice, feedback and sharing his story. Our match was the easiest match I ever wrestled and was extremely fun.

  • My Godfather Jimi Beam, designed the logo on my trunks. I am so thankful for his life, he was one of the funniest, happiest people I have ever met.
  • Current WWE champion AJ Styles put me in an arm bar at a seminar while his sweatpants were falling way to low below his waist.
  • My last seminar was with the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, who also was the first wrestler I ever met when I was 7. His seminar was a waste of $60 but such is life. He loves Jesus so that’s enough.
  • I got booked once because someone said I could actually sing. I was booked to sing the national anthem which I sung part of. It was interrupted when a wrestler knelt during the anthem. It was in a church. It was the weirdest show I’ve ever been to.
  • My last match was with Fredo Majors for the UWC Heavyweight title. I lost, but it felt like I won with how many friends who came out and my dad being there. Fredo and Bobby Banks were hilarious and the crowd was phenomenal.

It’s easy for me to be done when I believe God is laying out so many more great things for me to walk into. But I still want to honor this part of the journey, mostly the people I met along the way. But I am also grateful to God for remembering my childhood dream and allowing me to live it out in some small way. But the next set out of dreams to live out… not something I can say goodbye too.

Wait For It

5 months through 2018, I have accomplished 5 of 18 of my goals for 2018.

  • Go to India
  • Go to the Royal Rumble with my brother
  • Land a standing back-flip again
  • Teach through Book of Revelation
  • See Hamilton on Broadway/ (and Avengers Infinity War)

This Saturday 6/2 I will accomplish my 6th.

  • Wrestle my last wrestling match (Give up the hobby)

4 other goals are in progress and are can be reasonably completed

  • Bond with Dad and brother (Rangers Game)
  • Read more books for pleasure (Lord of the Rings Series, Poems that Make Grown Women Cry, The Last Arrow)
  • Obey my next big ministry step (Chaplaincy)
  • move once in less

4 other need considerable improvement

  • Legitimately clean up my diet
  • Introduce 3 people to Jesus
  • have more fun with my grandma
  • more time in prayer and worship

The other 4 hopefully will happen

  • go to another concert (maybe 2)
  • take another hiking trip (with Brian and Josh)
  • let myself find romance
  • 18- I haven’t decided what this one is yet

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Goals have this way of lingering in a state of being within reach and waiting for an opportunity to accomplish them.

I went to see Hamilton on Broadway this week. In reflecting on the show, there were two things that surprised me.

I came away liking Aaron Burr’s character and the actor that played him most.

The song I was most excited to hear live, Satisfied, was overshadowed for by Wait for It.

I liked Wait for It most because it explores when one waits for opportunity or potentially watching life pass by as opposed to grinding and fighting for what you think what you want.

It plays well with Burr’s internal struggle of his evaluation of an underdog, immigrant, in Alexander Hamilton. He questions how and why Hamilton keeps taking opportunities that Burr assumed were meant for him while Burr plays it safe in the middle.

It also plays well with Hamilton’s My Shot, which in the end lends itself to the suggestion that Hamilton throws away his shot in a duel when Burr does not. Burr’s shot hits leading me to wonder, “Is this what Burr was waiting for?”

What I love most about the story Lin Manuel Miranda chooses to tell is the power of moments to make legacies, the power of choices and the choices of others to shape our future.

In the last 30 minutes of the show, Hamilton is depicted as a humbled man who throws away his shot whose legacy is only preserved by his wife Eliza and her sister Angelica.

It’s the most powerful moment for me.

The woman he hurts the most, chooses forgiveness and chooses to tell a version of the story that makes beauty out of his life by living a better story.

I love how these women are portrayed in spite of the time in which they lived, and I love how powerful it portrays the foreigner. I love how it challenges entitlement but it also explores the power of unction to overcome.

I would argue though, that the unction to overcome as an underdog and entitlement to hold onto what you feel you deserve are two sides of the same coin. One is trying to take, the other is trying to keep, both are subject to grasping at power.

And as I reflect I realize something about myself. At some point in my life, I chose to be the type of person that persistently surrenders areas of my life that others might perceive as powerful.

And I do this because I have a belief whether it is true or not that my power is found in the time, mercy and forgiveness I offer to others. And I find this painful.

I find it most painful when it affects my hope or rather when it exposes that my hope has been misplaced or when my hope has been deferred.

I hate that the pain that shakes my hope feels and affects my chemical composition more than any other pain. I hate how it sends me into introspection searching high and low for where I went wrong only to potentially realize that what I was looking for doesn’t exist.

Somehow its easier to accept that I did something wrong to affect my hope rather than accept that there was nothing I could do to keep it right.

But to end this Wait for It piece on a positive note, the truth about hope is it is resilient and versatile because you can shift its place. Hope in what demonstrates to you that it won’t leave once it arrives. Then wait for it.