These top 5’s are really something. Not sure how they are hitting, but this one should be delightful for the purpose of reflection on the preeminent relationship in my life and the reason for existence. It also will serve as an interesting exercise in what I consider to be moments in markers in my relationship with Christ, God Himself.
5. When I was in high school I was at Taco Bell with my friend Andy Hoehn. We were on the wrestling team together and we were having a conversation about God. I wish I could describe the details but suffice it to say it was a conversation about why I believed that Jesus was my Savior. I remember being so delighted to share my faith that I immediately prayed that the conversation would be fruitful. It wasn’t long after pulling onto Quakerbridge Road that I was overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. I remember feeling chills and not really knowing what happened at the time and later learned to appreciate my experience and the value of speaking in tongues.
4. My freshman year of college I went to a two night concert featuring a worship artist named Jason Upton. It was particularly powerful because he ministered through the Scripture from Malachi about turning hearts of the father to their children and hearts of children to their fathers. I remember this being a moment of healing in my own heart where I felt like I could begin to see and heal aspects of my relationship with my own dad. I remember those worship services softening my heart in ways I did not imagine possible.
3. My last semester of grad school I had this crisis of what to do and where to go after I finished. I remember being parked on a hill on Mulberry Street in Scranton, PA with a milkshake or ice cream cone in my hand. I said to myself, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I have no idea what I’m becoming.” And in what felt like an instantaneous response to my spirit, I felt I heard the voice of God whisper to my mind, “I love who you are becoming.” I remember feeling both broken and encouraged to keep going which I believe sustained me in my next season of life on the farm and obtaining ministerial credentials.
2. My entire season of chaplaincy residency was an intense season of God stretching my faith and understanding new dimensions how God is faithful and sustaining even in death. I don’t think I fully understood how much death is connected to life and how important grief is in our ability to keep going. I also learned how delaying grief can keep one stuck. As a whole I don’t know if I daily felt tangible grace to do difficult things as much as I experienced as a hospital chaplain.
1. Valentine’s Day of my freshman year of college, my best friend Ben and I had a conversation until 2 am where at the end of it we had prayed for him to accept the Jesus as Lord and Savior. I have had a few other experiences in which I have been with people as they professed belief or confessed for the first time. I also connect this experience to baptism, the public declaration of faith. I believe there is a tangible joy to be experienced when I see people meet and choose to follow Jesus.
Last weekend I had a terrifying experience with panic and water. I decided to swim a good distance out into the ocean where I thought there was a sandbar. I saw 4 kids pretty far out and I assumed they were standing on a sandbar. They were coming back in and I was swimming out past them and the water kept getting deeper. I would push myself down to see how deep it was and when I got to about 9 feet, I concluded there might not actually be a sandbar in the direction I was swimming.
Here was my problem, I was already exhausted. Normally, when I am in the ocean I have a board and fins so I can swim fast and I can float easily. This time I had neither and was very far from shore. My other problem was I began to panic so reality was distorted. My arms were burning my heart was racing and I was contemplating screaming for my life to my friends on shore. But honestly I was so far out I felt like they would not get to me in time.
I’m writing this so I didn’t drown. I kept swimming while praying and thinking about how this would be a terrible way to go. Occasionally I would check to see if I could touch the bottom. My depth perception also did not seem to allow me to believe I was getting any closer to shore. So I swam and treaded and panicked some more wondering if I was being carried further out. But then as I swam and swam I put my foot under and about a foot lower than my body was the ground and I realized I had made progress towards shore.
So I swam a little more and hyper ventillated while I stood on solid ground with my head above water. No waves, no wind just water and ground and my terrified mind.
I know someone who drowned once. It was a surreal terrifying tragic experience. It was surreal because I felt the Lord had woken me up one morning during college to urgently pray from Psalm 18 that He lifts me out of deep waters not knowing why. I got a call later that morning from my friend Gabe which I missed and the Lord told me to intercede so I prayed until I got a hold of him. As it would turn out, on a canoe trip one of their friends whom I did not know so well drowned in the cold water after the canoe tipped over. Gabe, my friend Anthony and his brother, all of which I knew for most of my childhood survived. We had planned to canoe to this island and camp there. I remember I was planning to join them when we talked about it when I was home on break.
Drowning is scary to think about. Nobody drowns without a fight. But also we don’t drown unless we are in over our heads.
The last two years have felt like this. I feel I am in over my head barely catching my breath. Teaching has felt like this, church has felt like this, relationships have felt like this, life and death has felt like this. Though I feel I have developed endurance. In some cruel and sick way, I feel like I can get used to feeling like I’m drowning, like I’m barely breathing at all times. Sometimes I foolishly believe that it will feel like a leisurely swim, Like I will be able to just enjoy myself on the water. Literally that has happened. I have enjoyed time on the water with my board.
Metaphorically, I feel like the water has lured me in time and time again, and the water itself can seem pretty calm and serene, but it gets deep or all of a sudden I feel like somebody has loaded me down with a ton of weight and said “hold this while you’re barely keeping yourself above the surface.”
And then panic sets in, every sunday at 3 pm, I feel anxiety. Every time I feel rejection from the same places, every time I hope things will get better. In addition, every lame aphorism or cheap optimism that suggests I should fake it until things get better or until I change has proved a vain help.
And the truth is, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a better alternative. I don’t even know what brings healing. It honestly often feels like the best that can be done is to accept that these broken things might never be fixed. Where is the God who lifts me out of deep waters?
Would you lift me? Please, I’m not trying to stay in this place where I cannot breathe anymore. I need a wide place, an open pasture, a place where my body and mind and soul can find a rest that woud be lasting, like a month to breathe, to work yes, but also rest, to love and be loved. To delight in something good.
I don’t want to drown or even fear the threat of drowning. I want a tangible hope and peace and joy that doesn’t come with feeling choked by thorns and thistles or pain and sorrow or emotional and mental trauma.
I want to be led beside still waters rather than in deep water with my head sunk, gasping for air.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”
If you came here looking for an answer or insight for how to deal with broken heartedness, I will state out the gate that I will make no such attempt at an answer. In fact, I’m not even certain if anything I write and share publicly today is real, true or right.
This is for the one, two or handful of people who have experienced a hope so adequately destroyed that their imagination, their very heart has suffered a deafening silence, a death and is left asking “is what has killed this part of me a result of love or a hatred confused as love? What has caused the death of my heart?”
Since this post will be mostly sad, I will offer at the outset a word of hope from Scripture paraphrased, “every seed must die in order to grow.” It is possible something can grow from death. It’s also possible something may not.
I should also mention: most deaths are not pretty. Maybe that’s not even right. All deaths are not pretty.
In order to demonstrate this I will describe what the death of a heart feels like:
It feels like spending a fair amount of time convulsing because there is a pain in the form of a straight line running seemingly down the center of your heart, like it has been perfectly impaled by something thin and small. Like the death itself was placed there gently, almost in stealth to where you can lie down to rest but can no longer dream. I had dreamed and imagined hundreds of things it seemed before the death only to now feel silence. In a way, the pain is not intolerable. It is not excruciating, in a sense it is not even pain because it is death, it is the absence of life; pain being an unfortunate or perhaps generous aspect of life is no longer present. It also feels like I have no energy to verbally speak, that audible words mean almost nothing during death, which is why it is strange that I feel I could write about this feeling and experience forever.
I am distinguishing here between heart death and heartbreak. It is moving past pain almost immediately to the nothing/numb that I think distinguishes the two. Heart death is categorized by its inability to dream.
Yet, the death of my heart is still being grieved by the rest of my body. The rest of my body is aware that the seat of my imagination (the heart) and the place where love was professed is no longer in operation. It is quiet, and somehow that makes sense since scripture declares that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. When it was alive, love could declare itself; in death one can’t articulate verbally what to even think or do or be or how it all exactly happened.
Also, heart death is impossible to anticipate when there is still lingering hope.
What makes heart death even more deceptive and harmful is that the memory is still active. I still have my thoughts and now those are left unguarded by the heart who at least when it was alive could color the thoughts hopefully or reframe them in love. The heart is the thing that scripture tells us to guard, “Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flows the springs of life.” Another potential translation of that verse could be: the reason to guard the heart is that from it can escape all that is living. In other words if you don’t guard the heart diligently, life, who you are, your grasp over your identity will escape you and you’ll succumb to death. So be careful how you share it.
I will admit I was not careful. I knew to be careful. My mind knew, but I chose not to be. And in choosing not to be, death came, which brings me to my next interesting tidbit.
The last 4 years I have encountered much external death. It almost feels I invited it when I decided to do a residency as a chaplain. It was as if I literally said to myself, you know what I should begin to experience in my 30’s that will help my pastoral ministry pursuit: death. So I encountered it, and ironically enough I was so unfamiliar with it or what to do with it that the first time I was called into a room where a patient was dying I assumed they were already dead and attempted to console the family even though the patient was barely alive. Now I feel so familiar with it, when it has come I have resolved that there is nothing left to do. Nothing carries the same meaning after someone or something dies. Everything that you do without the person you’ve lost is somehow different, less interesting.
It was helpful though, because you can choose to prepare for facing death or you can choose not to, and I can honestly say, whichever you choose I am not certain it helps much either way. That’s confusing though isn’t it. The preparation can’t prepare you so why prepare? The preparation we do is in allowing ourselves to feel, and in allowing ourselves to feel, we find we are carried through. I don’t think anyone can really know how they will respond to loss, and I don’t know if we ever actually accept loss before the loss occurs. Now we can decide how we will grieve loss, but when we are the ones dying, once death comes you no longer grieve, which is why again I don’t think my heart is grieving. I think it is dead, and my body may be grieving its loss and some of my body is angry, some of it sad, and some of it doesn’t know what happened.
My body is feeling feelings, yet my heart is numb or more accurately not alive. It is now buried like a seed waiting again to grow. In a sense it has arrived at a place it is most comfortable. It has been granted a reset, yet my body and my memory remembers. And in that memory and the way my body responds comes with a new opportunity to guard.
Think Groot in the Guardians of Galaxy. He becomes replanted. The fear in that is one wonders: what does a new heart actually entail? Do I have to mature my love all over again? Do I trust my heart or my body with someone else in the future? Or do I sit in death and continue to live life absent of imagination? If you sit with a dead heart, you have less work to do but perhaps less life to live. Unfortunately, you can’t escape your memory, you can hope it doesn’t color your future, but your memory may cause pain in the rest of your body and you may be confronted with how to then cope.
For me, the temptation becomes replace pain with more pain and the desire to cause more pain as a form of vengeance. (What is vengeance? Not violence in this case, but emotionally tearing someone down to the point in which their entirely reality and perception of themselves is blurred) But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord. All we can really do is hope the Lord exposes the darkness and that He will grant light to help what is dead.
And this is where perhaps the last reminder I have is helpful, though equally as sad. There are things worse than death. When suffering is prolonged, when you can no longer eat, your body stops healing itself, and you become no longer recognizable, when the cancer takes its toll and all your energy is sapped and you can no longer find help or comfort, I do believe death becomes a mercy for all involved. Eventually the body agrees with everything else and says to itself I can no longer handle this and the burden on others is too heavy to bear the extent of suffering it is enduring, and then death becomes a release.
This also is heart death. At some point, the only way forward through the persistent choices and emotional harm, distortion of reality and condemnation from those around you has to be death even if it is not your choice. It may feel like murder, but if that is what people want, if that is what the crowd demands and there is no intercessor, the only way forward is death.
(I should emphasize here since all this talk of death could be triggering and concerning and since we are coming off of national suicide prevention week, the utmost importance is that you find the courage, support, and self-love in order to endeavor to keep on living in the most literal sense, to not un-life ourselves even it feels like it has been done to us)
And the way through death must be more life or at least, the hope for life on the other side. But where does the hope come from if not from the heart. It resides in the heart but it always comes from the one Who creates it. God in Christ, the author of Hope, finisher of Faith, entirely encompassed as Love. And God Himself can do it because God Himself incarnated Himself in flesh to die so that we all may live even though we suffer.
You might find it intriguing. God did not prevent the death of my heart. Even though He was asked to protect it, asked to change it, to transform it, to redirect all love and affection, He still watched the death happen, the crushing and by people who the very heart that was crushed, formerly loved. God, the Father allowed, stood by and watched and seemingly turned His face away, perhaps not in disgust of the person suffering but turned His face away from the affliction as it also grieved His very heart. As it was too painful for you, it was painful for Him to watch, and while He let it happen, He also being God must have had a way to make it work together for good in love otherwise He would just be cruel and as disconnected from His creation as His creation is disconnected from themselves and inflicts harm and hatred on each other. But He cannot be cruel or disconnected based on what He says about Himself.
While I can describe a theological prescription as to how God deals with heart death and death itself, we might still ask, well what are we to do? What is my part in dealing with a dead heart?
And here is my solution:
At least do nothing differently.
If you feel like you loved well at one point, now, in the absence of your heart, keep doing what you were doing before. Don’t change your routine, or start thinking the worst of yourself, blaming or embracing a condemnation that wasn’t true. Little can hurt you anymore, so don’t begin to hurt yourself. Now you are free again to love who you are becoming. Do nothing but tolerate love as it comes. You don’t need to force something to happen.
You can’t hard work yourself back to life.
I don’t know if your heart has ever died, but if you’re reading this, you are still alive and something worth loving is still left.
Every year, the cycle of my life seems to carry so much wait (and weight) in August. Maybe it is the last push of summer. Maybe it is because so many of the cycles of my life have revolved around education or some new endeavor. Or maybe I got stuck in a loop.
The lyrics above are to a song I wrote back in 2016. You can see a rare video of me singing it back when I recorded it here. Then you can evaluate my singing voice and come to new conclusions. Regardless, those lyrics came from a place 3 years prior at the beginning of August which wound up being the final page of a complex relationship.
Since then, the month of August has been a month in which I started grad school, started a chaplaincy residency, ended a chaplaincy residency, started teaching. It has fallen in seasons of transition. Life transitions are usually challenging in themselves, but when transitions are accompanied by grief and loss and perceived abandonment they can feel impossible to get through.
This August is no different. I have felt nauseous for 2 weeks straight. Sometimes my body feels like its trembling, like I’m going through some kind of withdrawal. I have been searching for a name for what’s happened. It’s not grief. It’s something more intense. It’s whatever the emotional pain someone heaps on you as your grieving that makes you question reality is called.
Is there a word for that?
Is it gaslighting?
Maybe but not entirely.
It is fear but not the reverential good kind. It’s the kind that has you on high alert that makes you kind of wary of many interactions. And that creates a fight to capture an accurate identity instead of one being crafted through false accusation.
And so in these conditions we recover. People who have endured much worse and the loss of much more find a way to recover. Sometimes it takes a very very long time and the only way they recover is to find new hope.
So I’m preparing to newly hope. And if hope can no longer be found here, it is time to go. And if time to go means a quicker recovery then there is a good in the goodbye.
I hope you too can recover from your wounds and losses in this season friends.
About 6 years ago, at Pennington Assembly of God, members of the staff recorded videos of our fathers listening to us answering questions about what it was like to be raised and loved by our dads and the instances in which we as sons did things that were unbecoming of the fearfully wonderful men we would become. We showed it on Father’s Day. Here’s the link
I think about that season of ministry and feeling energy and creativity flowing in ways that felt lighter and funny. I think somewhere deep in the heart of God is the comedy of the Father. And I think the Church has not yet fully realized the God that has plenty of Dad jokes at His disposal.
I recognize after working this past year in education in an underprivileged school how many students lives in single family homes, most of which without fathers in the household. I recognize further how rare it is for a student to live in a single family household solely raised by their father.
The national statistics suggest that only 16% of children raised in single parent homes live in a household with a single father. Of all total household arrangements less than 5% of households contain a single dad. In my classroom of roughly 15 students, I only know of one was raised by a single-father. These statistics and my experience has made me more aware of how rare my own experience is of spending a large portion of my childhood raised by my dad.
In 4th grade my dad got an apartment in the same community as my grandmother. Our third floor two bedroom apartment was in a different school zone, but my dad requested permission for me to continue to attend the elementary school I was enrolled in. He also got permission for me to attend a Middle School where the majority of my elementary age friends would attend. I still have the letter he wrote to the school board as a reminder of his diligence to make sure there would be conistency in my life.
My dad modeled consistency well in his diligence at work and playing softball. He allowed me to play sports and trusted me to carry out my own schoolwork. My dad trusted me with a sense of independence and creativity and always supported me. He paid me and my brother’s way through college and always made sure we had everything we needed to be given the best chance to succeed.
In adulthood, I have appreciated my relationship with my dad more over the last decade. I don’t necessarily feel any sense of a cats in the cradle situation even though I did move away and move back to New Jersey several times. My fondest memories include my dad attending professional wrestling events in Wrightstown and our standing games of pool in the basement while listening to classic rock on CD or as of more recently his jukebox. In some ways fatherhood and sonship gives me the sense that it can get easier as you get older. That could just be because I have been single and have not been preoccupied with a family of my own.
I’ve also learned new things about my dads character, his resilience and optimism in the face of difficulty and illness. I have often wondered over the past 3-4 years how he has demonstrated hope and joy in spite of the suffering in his body. His demonstration has given me courage and hope and has required me to trust more in the hope that God sees me and guides me in my own times of suffering and disappointment.
Fortunately, today is also a cause for celebration, to celebrate my dad for being here, for being a great father and loving me and my brother well. And while there is more to write and more to praise, for now I’ll simply say:
Hello friend, I don’t know what you might be carrying lately. I also don’t know if what you are carrying is much heavier or signicantly lighter than you are imagining. I don’t know even know if your indecision is the product of you not actually knowing or if you feel so trapped where you are that it is hard to imagine a joy filled future.
I don’t necessarily see all you are dealing with nor do I know it. I don’t know the extent of your illness, your weakness, what the cause is of you being less present or barely awake. I can’t really imagine the toll it has taken on your mind but I do know the toll things have taken on my own heart and my own mind. I also know that the times when I am overwhelmed by the feeling of an unmet expectation, that I should have known or should have been better, I know that comparison hurts and that condemnation further kills or isolates the hope inside me.
Beloved, you need that hope inside you. You cannot under any circumstance surrender hope; now the direction of our hope might change, but you cannot discard it. You must remain faithful to hope. It is the anchor.
Also, you must lean into love. I imagine you have felt like the things or the people you expected love from have let you down, maybe often and maybe seemingly beyond recovery. You might sense that the love that once came from a certain place or someone has grown cold or despondent to your needs. I am sorry for that. I don’t know why love grows cold. I don’t know why it can be so hard to conjure, why our hearts can feel love sick or that our very love is somehow sick or ill and unable to give with the generosity we desire it to give. I think we always suspect that love will be transformative and sustaining.
Perfect love does this, the kind that drives out all of our fears. That kind only comes from God. A love like that must be divine, otherworldly, beyond human comprehension. But that is the love we need friend, probably in this moment, a love that has no desire to abandon, a love that does not waiver in its intensity, a love that does not suddenly come to a halt or push you aside or forget you exist. A love that keeps you in the center of its imagination. That love requires a perfect person in order to be a perfect love.
Yet we also must have a love for the imperfect. Somehow you are trying to maintain a strength to be able to love those who have hurt you, to love even your enemy. You have engaged in a seemingly impossible endeavor. It has tired you out. It feels like you cannot force forgiveness, you cannot force holiness and it seems easier to return to the dark comforts of addiction or slow death rather than deal with the disappointment of feeling alive in love just to have it sucked out of you, just to have it go unreciprocated or for it to feel like it no longer has the power to change you, revive you, keep you.
I cannot assure you of the timing in which it all gets better or in which it all makes sense or when the stories converge to have a continuation that is filled with purpose. I think somehow it does, that in the deep mystery of God and of our own lives that we can be contented to know that we are not trapped in an unhappy accident of existence. Rather, the love by whom and for whom and through whom you were created has made you to be a source of wonder in the world. I hope today you know that you are the reward.
In late February of 2013, I began training to be a professional wrestler. It came after putting a dream I had growing up, on hold for about 7 years. Really, on hold is not the right word, more like out of my mind what I thought was completely. But it’s amazing what the right place at the right time, at a season of life where other things lost their meaning can provide for a person.
As it turned out, the initial excitement of training only lasted a few weeks, and as I was gripped by a season of depression, training just wasn’t giving me any sense of joy. But I remember having a thought for several months. I remember thinking, “If this dream was something that was a part of a my life and brought me joy for so long, one day if I persist long enough this might just bring me joy again.”
Whether or not that thought worked or was sustaining, I’m not sure I can tell or remember. What I do remember is that I continued until 2018 (with almost a full year break in 2015-2016) when I moved to South Carolina.
It was then I continued in a new direction with a new set of expectations and goals with an invigorated sense of purpose that I believed was grounded in a call from God. If any of that interests you, this blog chronicles much of that journey, or you can ask me for a rambling, long winded, inchorent babbling version where the only hope is that I will shut down in the middle of it in order for it to come to a succinct but albeit inconclusive end.
This is quite a long introduction to say a few words on the topic of continuing on in one’s faith. To start I present a scripture:
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
I have been struck by the conditionality of Paul’s words. To expound on the supremacy of Christ just prior, and to follow the verses above by proclaiming that Paul rejoices to share in sufferings, he seems to say “in your reconciliation you could stop or move on from your hope, the same hope that was meant to be an anchor to your soul; you could cut ties with.”
He puts forth the condition of cutting ties in a sandwich by way of reminder of a former alienation and enmity brought about by evil behavior. He also reminds us that the way God presents you now is as holy an pure and without blemish unable to be accused and that there is unimaginable possibilities in the hope of the gospel. Even still there in the middle is an “if you continue in your faith.”
And what makes us want to not continue is hardly ever what one might think actually could. The New Testament seems to be strongly convinced that persecution would not stop followers of Jesus from continuing. The writers seem far more convinced that false doctrine leading to false beliefs is far more likely to lead believers astray than persecution. There is almost this assumption/guarentee of persecution, whereas false doctrine/teaching has to be entertained, has to find a willing ear. And this according to the New Testament is far greater catalyst in the turn towards no longer continuing than anything else I can think of.
I think the reason people turn to false beliefs is due to palpability. There is something in what is being believed that is easier or more conducive to living life a certain way than if they kept a grasp on truth. Anything to avoid the disruption of comfortability or status. But to continue on in faith, means saying yes to who (Jesus) you barely know and what you may have not have the faintest grasp of what is involved (the works prepared to do beforehand).
If we want to follow Jesus, expecting the upending of sensibilities is what we signed up for; alongside it is a steadfast promise that we will be kept and loved and forgiven upon confession and our efforts to continue to turn from darkness toward delight in Jesus.
Will you continue? What do you believe that is convenient but untrue? What do I believe that keeps me comfortable yet unwilling to look foolish in faith? Who am I continuing for? and what do I need to do with the ministry of reconicliation God has entrusted to me as an ambassador of the kingdom? So many answers to these questions I know in part, or hardly at all, but in choosing to continue, I establish myself in hope.
My urgency to write might in part be due to my angst, in part due to the fact that I have not blogged in over 3 months which usually is not a great indicator. I learned a new word today: longanimity. It is derived from Latin, meaning “long soul,” but essentially means patience in sufffering.
I found it in a translation of Scripture of Ephesians 4:2 which usually translates longanimity as longsuffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of the call to salvation which is entirely strange. We are offered salvation from eternal torment and salvation to relationship with Jesus, only to share in His sufferings perhaps with a keener awareness of the suffering caused by our own sin and the common suffering of the human condition. In a sense, it feels like it gets worse before it gets better.
Perhaps, I have no better demonstration of the ability to endure suffering in the body in the last several years than the example of the perseverance of my own father. Since 2018, he has been fighting leukemia. During the fight, he has faced several other health complications that he has overcome by in large with an optimistic disposition (also in the midst of a global pandemic). His doctors and nurses praise his perspective, and I am frequently amazed by how resilient he is in the face of sickness.
What my father has demonstrated is the ability to bear with himself, one particular instance in which he was in the hospital for 6 weeks without visitors in the midst of Covid stands out most. Somehow he did not go insane, or if he did, he somehow managed to recover the sanity he had, although one could argue from his sense of humor and ability to somehow say inapprorpriate things that some of his sanity left him in the late 60’s early 70’s. It was a different generation. Nowadays people are going insane under the guise of rational thought and relativism.
Regardless, the longanimity that the apostle Paul writes about in Ephesian 4 not only has to do with the suffering we endure within ourselves. It deals with the suffering we endure as an evidence of our calling, in relation to bearing with others. Herein lies a whole new depth of suffering that the Church has done a particularly stellar job of ignoring. How so, one might ask.
We ignore the command to bear with one another in the ease in which we forgo reconciliation or when we act as a transient member of the Body that supposedly has life sustained by a unity of Spirit. It’s to easy to leave a church in America, by in large because there is a cornucopia of options and opinions (which could potentially function as evience of our disunity). If you prefer to have the positive spin, it is the evidence of the diversity in our expressions of worship. (Although in the south you would be hard pressed to make a case that diversity is something celebrated in many churches). Why, one might continue to ask.
Because of the neglect of Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort (or you could insert the word strive, although that is a word that the Church has grown to all but demonize despite it being commanded) to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace. My latin translation, uses the phrase Zealously strive, not in regards to earning our salvation but in regards to keeping a unity of Spirit bound by peace. In other words, try with everything you have to be united with brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps, now would be a good time to pause for a minute and think about what we zealously strive for.
I’ll go first, at this stage almost nothing. I strive for nothing. I would say for a long period I zealously strived to make ministry a vocation. I would say I have zealously strived in the much more distant past to make romantic relationships work. I have zealously strived in my writing. I have zealously strived in my fight against lust, in my struggle with seasons of depression, in the attempts to renew my mind with Scripture, in laboring in various jobs in seasons when I worked long hours, in seasons of prayer for revival on my college campus. But now, maybe I strive to survive this school year or maybe I’ve all but given up.
As much we are called to strive and bear with another in love, (these are not easy words, they demand much of our faithfulness, our complete humility, our complete gentlness, see Ephesians 4:2, they demand self-sacrifice, require a self-effacing that we might allow ourselves to fade into the background) there is a disarming word at the front of all the demands placed on us as a result of this one disarming word. That word is calling or if you prefer, a more gentle and perhaps a less angst inducing word, you can substitute invitation. An invitation to the divine call of salvation. God Himself has called out to us in the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ because He wanted me; He wanted us. He invites us, gently, humbly, not seeing equality with God as something to be grasped, yet saw the reconiciliation of humanity as something not only strived for or grasped but was willing to face death for the joy set before Him. That joy: us, sinful self-seeking us.
And amidst this invitaton is the invitation to hope. In every choice to endure suffering in our body or for another is hope, the anchor of the soul. So we hope, for my father’s continued hope and positive disposition, hope for our eventual renewed and whole mind, hope and courage to strive for reconciliation at all cost, hope to actually bear up under the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than ignore their suffering and plight for the sake of the maintenance of our own convenience, reputation or platform. Jesus left Heaven (He also returned and lives to make intercession for us). What do we leave for the sake of love?
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.