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.

Going Where Hope is

Last December I wrote in my phone, “In a way, I went blind; I went where the hope was.” At the time, I was waiting to hear back about a job. I was in tension with many things that a year later I still sit in tension with. Some things could not bear under the tension and broke.

As I write this, my mom sent me a very lengthy mom text that was both silly and sad in regards to the day when she became well advanced in age and how she would like to be cared for.

It was actually super encouraging, a well thought out treatise of how she would like to be cared for, very straight forward, very specific and explained how it will meet her perceived needs. It seemed like it came from someone who knows what they want.

A Lily Among Thorns” (Song 2:2) | MY DAILY GOSPEL

I admire it because it seemed reasonable and easy to meet the kind of expectations she laid out. While I say her expectations are reasonable, I have no idea if I will be able to meet any of them 10 years from now or sooner or later. I only can meet expectations for the now. For those people or places or things that don’t know what they want or need now, it makes it very difficult, somewhat impossible to know how to help.

There was and have been times when I could very easily articulate what I’ve wanted or thought I needed. Even in doing so, sometimes those wants and needs don’t get met. Need and want are both qualitative terms. It’s too reductionary or just plain false to say all we need is food water and shelter. Our humanness need much more than what merely keeps the body alive. We need things, people, places of safety that help sustain our joy which is ultimately grounded in Christ. Sure those things, relationships and places can be shaken, hopefully without being broken.

Today, my soul is aware that it is both surrounded by color yet covered under the weight of a veiled cloudiness that has kept me cold, achy and tired. I need a win. Grades are due, my energy is sapped. I have been lost at home. Yet tangible hope must be found somewhere. There must be a direction in which I can go and find it or the things that can give breath to hope: joy, love, some sense of rest.

I need a direction, an aim, a God of hope, a divine intervention that can fill in the gaps of all the margin I have been unable to handle in the wake of feeling shaky and uncertain about the misplaced affection in which I have hoped. I wish God would make decisions for me when I feel life has become too exhausting. I have too much to give to be tired. I’m going still a little unsure about what I see.

Best if Used By

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

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

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

and plant just to die and multiply

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

or if that lodestar, the love verb or love noun

is actually found somewhere else.

Maybe in the bowels

working itself up into the loins

turning and twisting and begging to express its guts

waiting for the courage just in case its met with rejection

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

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

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

too much like love in dealing with flaws

that I might actually see in another being perfected

with generous eyes, with acceptance, with something dangerous

Hope _-__—-_—- the lingering kind

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

Take the Shot

Easter came, Easter went. Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Day.

I have been thinking about wounds, resentment, humility, Jesus, dying, living and forgetting myself.

And as I was thinking about this yesterday, I thought about self-pity because a lot of privileged white reformed guys have been trying to tell me how bad it is. I agree its bad. It’s the product of the sin of pride revealing itself when things don’t go well. When things are going well most privileged white reformed guys are just arrogant, but they don’t like to talk about that sin as much because it hits too close too home.

Photo Courtesy of Richard Van De Water

As I was thinking about this I felt the Lord impress upon me a question:

“When was the last time you took a hit for someone that was really hard to recover from?”

That question, is the question that Jesus willingly walks into time and time again, inconveniencing Himself, foregoing riches and opportunity in order to bring salvation and a Kingdom to the kids (us).

That question is also what Peter faces prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Peter thinks he will be able to answer with selfless action. When the rubber meets the road he does not.

When the rubber meets the road I do not.

I have not taken hits because I have too good a memory of what hits feel like. It’s easier to take a hit for someone when you feel strong or calloused or when you don’t see them coming. It might be harder to get up in these cases, but it’s easier to take the hit.

Jesus took the blow unflinchingly, knowing it was coming, remaining tender. That’s why it’s impossible to save ourselves. We will always shield the blow when there is doubt about the damage.

What if we don’t recover?

That’s the fear, right? What if the damage dealt to my heart because of your sin towards me, my sin towards you, my sin towards myself, what if I deal the blow that I can’t recover from? What if I take the risk and it was not in faith and it all falls apart? What if, nay when I fail again, what if I just can’t will myself to get up?

To get ahead of that, the only way I know how is to take God at His Word.

Then it hit me:

Every time Peter is about to royally screw up, Judas too, Jesus lets them know. Jesus lets Peter know there is hope on the other side. (He lets Judas know it was better he’d not been born). Jesus promises us hope on the other side and through His Spirit He promises to speak to our heart, our mind, to surround a seed of faith with hope so that we will endure even if what we’ve sown dies.

Some of what we sow, it is a sheer mercy that it dies and bears no fruit.

Which is why I’m praying over what I’m sowing and if you want what your sowing.

Lord Jesus, may I sow according to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh, the ones that are rooted in self-preservation and tries to grasp too tightly. Let me scatter the seeds and trust and do the work with joy and hope (eager expectation of good). Let me lose myself in You and sow good seed into others. Let me be generous not looking out for my own interests but considering others better than myself. Thank you for being good, gently and lowly in Your Lordship. I am need of Someone less harsh than myself.

I Gave Up Hope for Lent

I was holding on to so little of it to begin with. With the best of intentions we try to do things we think will be good. I could give you a map of my hope and it would be a very clear map of the things I’ve hoped for and the path I intended to set out on to get there. You could give me your clear map, and together we could look at our maps and feel it all seems so plainly obvious, what we hope for and what we hope to be and to become.

What is very unclear is the path we’ve taken toward our very clear articulations of hope.

I go back and read journals from years back, because I’ve kept so many, used so much ink on something that so little of will ever be read again other than by me. The only person who finds value and disappointment in them. You’d think by how much I wrote I was preparing to be important. I read them and think huh, your goals have been largely unchanged the past 10 years, and then I think huh you’ve accomplished so many more things you never wrote down and gave up on rather than things you’ve claimed you’ve wanted.

More often than not I get the good things I have not hoped for and it leaves me asking why do I hope for things? If everything will work out so arbitrarily why hope just to have your heart feel sick at the thought of having such wildly wrong expectations of things seemingly so simple.

I actually think if we really boiled down what humans want and hope for, it is all essentially identical. I’m sure Jerry Seinfeld has a bit on this. But if its a certain car, its just a metal and motor shaped a different way. If it’s a house its just would and brick and stone shaped a different size with a different look with different decor.

Some of us want love, family and if none of that, then a way to be content until we find our way out.

So if we all want the same things, why am I giving up hope? I read something in one of those journals that in 2017 one of my goals was: “to be the most gentle man I know, to stop fighting for anything, to forsake frustrations and why me’s.” In other words to take whatever comes and be okay with it without letting it ruin me.

Image result for Ash Wednesday

I hope too much in things or people who let me down. I have too high of expectations even when some expectations for things are comparatively low, they have proven still too high.

I give up my hope, it is God’s. God can do with it what He pleases. Maybe I will get it back when this whole thing is over.

Ashes for beauty after all.

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.

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.

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?

Mary

It’s hard to imagine the heart failing of someone who loved me so well. 

Maybe she was finally convinced we’d be okay without her. Maybe her body was just finished; certainly not her mind. Maybe it was just time. 59775954_646730895794525_4785438645509160960_n

I think I’ve learned you can prepare to make an end of living, but not death, for the moment or moments between life and life. The middle space that grief takes up. You can plan logistics of funerals and finances and forgiveness, but you can’t take a pulse of grief and parcel out emotional energy or therapy sessions to navigate the middle piece of what loss will leave in its wake. Because of this we ritualize. We have ceremonies, and sift through possessions and pictures, some of us hoping the deceased will visit us.

And after the rituals we return to life and vocation hoping the deceased will visit us. And then we form more community, hopefully enlarge our families and churches, hoping the deceased will visit us. But Jesus doesn’t want the deceased to visit us because Jesus doesn’t want death. He wants living and living abundantly, and Jesus wants the living to gather and in time the formerly dead to be seen in light of the resurrection with a glorious newness. It’s my only real consolation.

Any other emotional appeasement is not a hope I’m interested in. Merely being at rest or ending suffering is not enough. Life gained in full in the glory of Christ as a Christian has become the bare minimum of my desire, but it is also the ultimate.  It’s what I wait for and allows me to mourn as one not without hope. Because that hope also has the power to end or comfort me in my mourning.

Now I turn to Mary, my grandmother:

You didn’t leave me, you stayed with me for a season.

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It’s hard to accept your gone when you remembered our visits and held me to my words. You kept track of the time like you knew it was short but looked forward in time like you’d live forever. It wasn’t a lie; it was you weaving the story I think you knew I wanted.

I was as proud as you were while wrapping your bingo nickels

I’ll cherish the smirk you gave me the last time I “stole” your cookie.

And even though your hand won’t hold back I’ll try to hold your heart. Lord Have mercy

You were too busy living, enjoying simplicity to worry about dying. Christ have mercy

You were showing me, I believe, that death is not something to worry about. Like Jesus, it is something we can be angry about and mourn, but it mustn’t be something that hinders living or the hope of resurrection. Death might be inevitable, but death is defeated, and I’m currently becoming okay with the fact that it was your turn to pass through it, into glory. Lord have mercy.

When I spoke with Gabe in February or March, of my visit to you in January, he felt I spoke of you like one should speak of their spouse. I wanted to you to meet her (I mean, I’d like to meet her, but I wanted you to meet her), not that I needed your approval, just so I could share you with her and her with you. I mourn that. I own that. I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure anything changes because of this, but my imagination placed you there at the celebration. If you have time, please come with the Lord. Invite friends. Christ have mercy

Thanks for all you’ve given me, it would be impossible to repay you or even out the scale of love. I think you would want it that way. You win gram, but we are probably close to even in Pokeno. Lord have mercy.

I thought you might live forever, and now you will. To Christ be the glory.