Mr. Rogers Cat Stevens and Bosco the Bear

“Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there”

Saw that Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers film yesterday. It was odd in good ways, nostalgic and started with forgiveness moving to generosity, then to kindness.

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I’m not a movie critic but the films pacing was patient. It was the first time in a long time or perhaps ever, when I thought throughout the movie, “that’s who I want to be.”

There was a particular scene where Mr. Rogers is on the phone with this guy Lloyd (who the movie is really about) and says, “This conversation is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”

And I was reminded of Jesus and how the practice of patience and presence is what perfects us. Letting patience have its perfect work in the midst of testing and trial leads us to love. Jesus found opportunity in the pain while putting up boundaries towards evil ideologies and that which would try to cast doubt on His identity.

A major problem, perhaps not new to humanity is: the world would have us tolerate attacks and lies about individual identity by allowing people to self-identify, while they stumble through trial and pain until they forget themselves rather than find the Creator. Mr. Rogers teaches us, collective identity (the neighborhood) always informs, even may heal individual identity.

The difficulty with identifying on our own or in reaction to our pain rather than to truth is the distortion of self and a further movement into the depths of brokenness, even darkness. That’s why any attempts to gender reassign or maintaining a loose sexual ethic does not breed liberty. People become less recognizable, self-doubt increases, as does anxiety, and it always effects more than the self.

This, I believe, is why Mr. Rogers places the focus on the feeling. He says the feeling is real and he refuses to demonize sadness or anger, even fear. while celebrating joy with the sober knowledge that the other core emotions desperately need expression in order to remain tender in solidarity with creation.

How those feelings/emotions are expressed is our opportunity to become generous with our time,  recognizing time is a currency that none of us can buy more of. We can’t work harder or become more efficient to procure more time than someone else. All we can do is be more mindful how we spend it, how we express emotion in relation to the other.

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.”

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Cat Stevens’ song “On the Road to Find Out,” is featured in the film and I loved Cat Stevens as a teenager. So much so that we had a stray runt of the litter cat that lived outside our house who I named Cat Stevens. He was 1 of 3 siblings but was the only one that would let us pet him and he had this tick where once you’d pet him, if you grabbed his tail as you pet him, he would immediately turn around and want to be pet again.

Cat Stevens, likely burnt by the music industry, perhaps burnt by the 60’s and 70’s and a bout with tuberculosis went on wild journey of self-discovery, landing in Islam. He is not American which seems important and might be the reason that his searching led him to obscurity rather than at a grasp for more popularity. That could likewise just be a socio-religious facet that also would separate Islam from Christian evangelicalism. Cat Stevens reminds me of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi in his lyrics that are usually spiritually searching, mixed with romantic hope, and familial reconciliation, all of which were within him, seemingly prior to his conversion.

Familial reconciliation with shimmers of romantic hope encompass the film as well, but spiritual searching is left on the outs, likely to keep it palatable for the masses. 

Trying to make a non-controversial film where kindness and forgiveness is celebrated while still being of substance and quality and touching on little to no religious themes seems almost impossible in the current climate, but I think it managed well enough.

Lastly, sticking with the cat theme, there is Daniel Tiger, the disheveled puppet turned kids cartoon that bore an essence or life of his own through Mr. Rogers hands. Habakkuk suggests the hands is where the power of God is, and I would suggest the things we hold and handle are the things we animate. It’s how we get babies and toddlers to eat vegetables, by fooling them into thinking they are swallowing an airplane as if they are Godzilla.

There is a scene where Mr. Rogers puts Daniel Tiger on his hand and talks to Lloyd in Fred’s apartment. It seems silly until you realize why. Sometimes facing your pain in the imaginary realm makes it feel safer to face in present. It might just give you the courage to face the real place or person that has hurt us. 

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I had/have a bear. I’ve written about him before, Bosco, married with a child, who I shared a bed with until high school. When I was 16 or so he lived in my closet because I needed to mature away from him, until I went to college and brought him with me there as well. My junior year he married and my senior year he had a child. I talked to Bosco, Bosco had a voice and he was the expression of my lost innocence. He was the stuffed animal given to me my first Christmas by my great aunt. He was given permission by my kindergarten teacher to be brought to class whenever I wanted after my parents were going through a divorce. He is who I talked to about my confusion and who I sought for rescue when I could not hear God answer my prayers.

I wept on him, wrestled with him; he was the safe place for my anger and sadness. He was who I clutched when I was afraid. Perhaps, the Old Testament would label him an idol, but I did not worship him though I was desperate to keep him, and couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him. I created his family, which was large. He was the oldest which meant he could keep all the others safe. 

If you did a case study of my relationship to this bear and my attachment to it, you could from our interactions trace pain and problems and could  likely rewrite a story that would have been much more picturesque if you just removed every occasion that would have led me back to this safety object.

Powerless, that bear, yet sometimes has felt safer than God. That bear is where I last left him and there have been times I have left him and had to rely on others to get me back to him. After college he came with me to my grandmother’s and then probably through the 10 moves season and even traveled to Charleston. Now he is at my brother’s in Chester. He hasn’t seen his family but once in probably 7 years.

Powerful that God, yet there is no better place than with Him, God has never left and there have been times I tried to leave Him and had to rely on others to get me back to Him. I hope to find more beautiful days to come with Him.

Mood Disorder-ly Conduct

Mood disorders color our decisions but also color our consequences. We must take ownership of our actions even when temptation takes us out of our own mind. They might blind individuals to consequences who give in to impulsivity, or it might accentuate a consequence allowing it to loom much larger than the consequence may in fact be.

This is the danger within the lie, but also the double edge sword. Some people can bounce back from minor mistakes and extend grace to themselves. Some people with certain kinds of mood disorders lose the proper balance. They might extend massive amounts of apparent grace towards people when it is unrequited and have great difficulty in accepting or extending this grace to themselves.

This out of balance endeavor typically leads to worsening matters through bad decisions that continue in an unhelpful pattern. A person with a mood disorder who has been wronged might be desperate to try to right the wrong, that they commit additional wrongs to themselves with good intentions. They try to extend what could be kindness, but it ends up being unnecessarily costly.

So much time has been spent in recent years within some circles trying to explore the why behind conduct. Sometimes trying to place a reason why we do things is helpful, but I have often found it exhausting.

While I do believe much conduct to be symptomatic of the mood/mentality one is in, it is absolutely, necessary to take responsibility for conduct which can often be helped by either medication or a cognitive therapeutic plan that is in place when/if the wave of despair arrives.

A Short Story

Too many holiday’s growing up were colored by my mother’s mental illness. So many of my good memories from 8-18 are lost to traumatic moments where I would leave her home crying while my brother remained the steady voice of reason. One holiday, either Christmas or her birthday we visited and tried to celebrate.

My grandmother who was in her late 80’s had soiled herself on the couch and my mom over-exaggerated. There was frustration, and then sadness, and in her anxiety, she kept muttering, “Another Mother’s Day, another Mother’s Day,” likely because something had happened on Mother’s Day where I had left in tears while my mother was distraught. And I probably started to weep because I never could just contain my feelings. I always wanted her to just keep from being anxious or not say something that would make me sad, but I could never just control myself in those moments, control my emotions and actions of uncontrollable sobbing.

I have spent so much of adult life trying to manage feelings, some time going to therapy to recognize feelings and not giving in to them and staying composed in hard situations. I cry far less (maybe more so than I’m comfortable with in the past few months but still less for now).

But I actually cannot seem to cry with patients in the hospital. It’s not that I don’t find their stories sad or that I don’t want to cry, I just can’t physically bring myself to. For pain to be real to me it has to last longer than a few moments I spend with strangers. I have to feel like I’m not being counted on. But it’s also a result of the way I view my own tears. I believe probably a lie that no one needs my tears, because I no longer find them helpful for someone else, or I find them to be the currency I have stored up to figure out and forgive myself.

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Either way my mood, my emotion can never be an excuse for a lack of self-control; either we control our emotions and mood through medication or cognitive therapy or we do neither, but that makes me culpable. Either way the only one responsible for our self-control is us as the individual.

The order to our conduct comes through a will submitted to God’s and acting honorably, obediently, in sincerity. There is help available to walk this out. There is help available now. God is our ever-present help in our time of need.

Quit Nice

I’m continuing with a theme of pulling back a curtain of pretension. Perhaps my recent posts have provided some insight into an unintentional social experiment that is now becoming more intentional. I’ve chosen to cut back significantly on being nice.web_logo_large

In part, this might be a reaction to the smiley, often pretentious culture that the south gets billed for. But also because niceness defined as agreeable, pleasant and satisfactory is not enough. If you swim in this territory, I find you relinquish identity, vulnerability and the ability to tell people “no” or let them go.

Kindness however which Scripture admonishes us towards is to be generous and considerate of the other but also for ourselves.

When was the last time you were generous or considerate to yourself in order to better serve another?

Sometimes being generous and mindful of your own being requires confronting or outright rejecting the behavior of someone else. I’m confident that Jesus did this and continues to do this with relationships. Reject destructive behavior in order to restore relationship. I bold-faced the important part in case you don’t like the rejection of the destructive behaviors piece.

I did not come up with this advice. I had to be told this by my friend Hannah. Hannah is awesome. She’s a straight-forward woman who has her Masters in Theology, watches pro-wrestling, likes the Yankees, Super-Heroes, Harry Potter, Disney, cats and dogs and doesn’t tolerate BS and will let you know if you are trying to feed it to her. She’s engaged and if I don’t go to her wedding she would murder me mentally.

I don’t want Hannah to do that, in part because I am mildly fearful of her but also because Hannah is both honest and cares. I wouldn’t call her nice honestly, she also  wouldn’t want to be called nice. But she does take ownership of what’s hers and recognizes misuse and selfishness.

She isn’t afraid to tell you to cut people out, which I have now had to do twice in the last month. She isn’t afraid to tell you to stop doing something and don’t do that again because when you do it you suck. Those things don’t feel nice but they might be right.

It’s something we are empowered to do without changing our internal identity. You can still be an extremely loving and loyal Jesus follower without being overly nice. In fact you do this better when you refuse to subject yourself to the unchecked mistreatment from another human, especially a Christian.

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.

Mommy and Dad (as you are in my phone) I Hope I get this Right

I’m so naïve. It didn’t take long. I wept for the first time today, and it wasn’t because I visited a church during an emotional service where they were saying goodbye to some people they really love, to send them to Burundi perhaps indefinitely. I didn’t weep because I was confronted with my own darkness, sin, and fears although that would not have surprised me.

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I broke because I am naïve and spent $26.00 on a signed copy of comedian Louie Anderson’s book “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother but You Can Read Them Too.” Louie Anderson plays a mom, as a man, on the TV show Baskets, a show I have developed a strange affinity for the past few years. I bought the book hoping to laugh. Instead, I read the intro and bawled my eyes out (won’t say for how long).

Yet this shouldn’t surprise me or you because, it is commonly stated that often comedy is birthed from a place of pain. Being able to laugh at the tragic or the familiarly uncomfortable is what allows us to cope. In this book, Louie writes to his mother who is 25 years deceased to recount to her his successes and his regrets as expresses his desires to speak to his mother face to face.

This utterly broke me because it touched on a very raw and vulnerable area of my heart that I have battled with over the last 2 weeks: the leaving behind of those who have known me longest and the fear of losing time that could have been spent with them, spent searching their soul.

It became suddenly real during one of my recent visits to my grandma. After all she is 92 and while healthy, I feared moving now would leave me with less time with her or worse the last time with her. And it became suddenly more real a week out when my dad was quickly and suddenly diagnosed with leukemia and started chemo 2 days before my move.

This news and uncertainty kind of cast this fog or shadow over the move or more so just me. Rather than being able to adequately process it all, I tried to drown it all out or at least find relief because nothing seemed to make sense even if it all made sense. I felt absent in my mind. When decisions become uncertain for me, it’s easy to forget yourself, forget who God has called you to be and sadly forget the intimacy that comes from a relationship with God. I feel like I was underwater slowly forgetting all of it.

It’s easy to turn my back on God when I feel like He has become the author of my distress. And that lie and the forgetfulness that the Devil also exists and is a liar contributed to the fog I lingered in too long.

And while I’m exiting the fog or the darkness of my descent, I now, weep. I weep despite hearing from my parents and brother that they are proud, despite consistently trying to sink back into this place of trust that God will care for the things that I seemingly cannot. I weep because I know how time works and I know it can feel unforgiving or like something slipped through my fingers. And I weep because of my lack of access.

My love language is Quality Time, occupying space with the people I love is important to me, and the new distance is scary.  And the distance becomes scarier without guarantees. I can’t cut this deal with God where I promise I’ll do a good job so long as nothing changes at home. I mostly can’t promise that because I can’t promise to do a good job.

I also can’t just have access to friendships quickly like I had at home. There are so few people in my life, like the Lane’s or the Victor’s or the Andrew Millins that I can call and expect to hear back from or see quickly. There are so rare friends like the ADK squad or the Daniel’s that I rest in assurance that they have me in their prayers and thoughts.

And while my first fear is based on what I could miss at home, my second fear is based on what I could miss here. I’m so afraid to fail at this. I’m so afraid to find out that the first ministry position I was let go from now 7 years ago got it right, and I’m not cut out for vocational ministry. I’m afraid to lay behind things that I was good at and comfortable with only to find out I sabotage the things I feel called to.

I’m afraid of it because I feel like that success and failure is in my hands. And my hands are soft, except for callouses on my upper palms where I hold weights. I have soft hands for someone who worked on a farm and in construction yet doesn’t give a dime about how firm a handshake I have.

And while I very strongly believe my hands were called and created to minister to the hurting and the growing, I weep over the sense of my self-constructed inhibition. I weep over my doubts about God’s plan and that the only measurement of success  that matters in eternity is faithfulness to love and live as Christ.

And I’m also afraid to screw up my new relationships/friendships. I’m so concerned about giving an honest rendition of James/Jimmy Passaro that I often don’t know where to begin. Do I share too much? Did they see me lick my fingers while eating(thanks Dad)? Did I accidentally say something that offended someone? Am I too needy, too worried? Did I listen enough? Did I listen so much that I forgot to share? Am I still in a fog/ in a “wonder where I am” place?

I think what I realize as I read this book and as I look at me in the mirror is:  I am my parents. I learned my disposition and ticks and qualities from them, yet I still have this unique essence that hasn’t changed since childhood.

On Sunday I probably met 40 new people. I even went back to church at night at 4:30 to attend a going away pizza and ice cream party for people from the Church who I never met, only invited through a generic come one out from the pastor from the stage that morning.

Then I played soccer afterwards with more new people from 7-8:45. That is exactly what 4-6-year old Jimmy would have done. He would have just gone anywhere and I tried to meet as many people as possible until he found someone he just clicked with. He would have done this to try to forget the loudness sometime scariness of home.

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Back then it was the loudness and scariness of disunity, now it is the quietness and scariness of the potential loneliness. And that can be scarier unless our okay with yourself. If you have healthy self-worth and a perspective of your purpose, being alone is not so daunting. But if you question that and are alone that isolation can be destructive.

So for the next week until I start work, I have some good practice ahead of me. Learn to live alone while maintaining contact at home while trying to meet new friends without scaring people away and becoming too self-reflective about whether or not I am presentable or worth love from other new people.

God I hope I get this right.

 

 

When You Get Long Notice

In August of 2013 my boss Jeff, gave me less than 2 weeks to decide if I wanted to move from our job in New Jersey to work on a natural gas pipeline project in Pennsylvania. After talking to everyone I knew, I moved. I lived in Jeff’s trailer on a pull out couch for 2 weeks, then found an apartment.

I made the transition because of the trust I had in my boss. I valued our relationship and enjoyed working for him more than the company we worked for. I also knew he would help me succeed in a position that was way over my head.

It was a quick transition. I only owned clothes and a car so there wasn’t much in a material sense to figure out. Despite this, I still found ways to make things in my life complex. (Stories for another time)

When I went to college I was accepted to JMU off the wait list in June, visited the school for the first time in July, and started in August. That was a relatively quick transition because I assumed I was going to Towson, in Maryland.

When I moved back to Jersey, that was also a quick transition which allowed me to work and live on a farm in Pennington.

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I have chosen to live most of my life in such a way that long-term planning is either unnecessary or inconvenient. However, that does not correlate in my mind to not knowing what I want.

I normally am confident about what I want but often do not have a clue how to get to it, or I naively assume the way to get to it, will allow me to carve my own path.

And in that approach, I’ve found a lot of detours and unexpected stops while giving the appearance of wandering.

But I’ve also collected stories, which is what I value second only, to relationships.

I’ll give you a fact that will give you some insight: I will do just about anything that would not compromise my relationship with Jesus, if it means that I will acquire an intriguingly unique story.

When you understand this about me, I think, I become more relatable and easier to understand.

But what do I mean by an intriguingly unique story?

Here’s what I don’t mean: I don’t mean skydiving, I don’t mean adrenaline rushes, I don’t necessarily mean achievements although sometimes they coincide.

What I do mean is: I want this experience to shape me, I want who I’m with to tangibly make a positive difference in my character, in my heart. I want this experience to be something I carry internally and when I tell it, others feel it. I want them to feel like that story mattered even if it was ridiculous or seemed unnecessary.

And I mean: Jesus.

Jesus’ story is the opposite of most of my stories. He always had the long-game in mind. If there were stoppage time in His game, He would offer as much stoppage time as possible so as to extend an offer of salvation to as many as possible. Jesus’ story doesn’t end but is marked by specific moments that have humongous implications for the ones He loves.

Jesus’ story is simultaneously linear, yet not bound by time, it is interconnected while bringing people in, whom we would not expect. This is especially true in the Gospels. Jesus stops for people simply because they are people. And this is why I love Him.

This is why I want to be like Him. He is so generous in love, so secure in the love of his Father, God, that he can take an extended pause from his journey and goals to make the person in front of Him a part of the journey.

Jesus leaves a mark and makes every person better. So if you’ve ever met a Christian and thought, “Wow that person says they’re a Christian and is a miserable human being.” I would suggest imagining how much more destructive and  miserable that person would be without Jesus.

But Jesus’ mission and work while in part is instantaneous also has eternity in mind. The work being done is a long notice kind of work. It is also a work that he thoroughly enjoys.

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On the Long Notice

This long notice kind of work has only recently started to make sense for me. Perhaps it’s due to my 7 months of anticipating a move in location and vocation is now 12 days away, and it feels more real.

It is only recently that I’m making sense of my journey, that I’m leaning in to what it looks like to engage in tangible ministry in the day-to-day. I am also recently learning to be okay with the length. Or rather I’m learning to be okay with time and process and flexibility. I’m reminded of why Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 starts with “Love is patient,” when he sets out to describe love.

Because love whether for yourself, for someone else, even for God requires adjusting over time to a process of choosing.

Even Jesus who gave us long notice that he would return for his bride the Church understood the value of our waiting. There is something in the process that increases our love. There is something in the anticipation that strengthens our resolve to press on.

Which is why I hopefully am becoming the type of person that trust God’s love in his seemingly long notice. I am in good hands; I don’t need to rush.

On Giving Long Notice

I gave my job 2 months notice which was more than enough time for my title and position. I gave that much notice as an exercise in trust, plus if they fired me I would have last-minute went to Italy with a few of my best friends. I also tried to give ample time to the people I would be leaving because this transition has always felt too real.

Although this week, after visiting my grandma, it became all too apparent. Time does not stop for me. I can request all the more time I want, but even with long notice as the moment approached to go, it continues to feel like there isn’t time enough.

In the same breadth, I have so much time. I have had time every night this week to go to a 2-hour worship service after work.

There is a lesson in giving long notice. When you give notice you extend an offer of your time, and you learn a lot about who you want to spend your time with.

And I think what happens when you begin to spend that time with those you give it to, you find out how much people value you and how much you value them.

For me… in this season… I have found riches.

What do I do with these blank pages?

makale-yaz-para-kazanIn 2010 I wrote to be funny, more specifically I wrote comedic fiction for a class to counterbalance writing my thesis on Islamic extremism in Southern Russia and what exactly that looked like.

But what I was most proud of is a story called the Cheesebringer, which was a dumb coming of age story about college graduate who landed a dream job delivering cheese. It was sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, poetry. A whole chapter takes place in a port-o-potty at a festival. It had a cliff-hanger ending. The sequel was going to be a rom-com called The Bridewinner but I was too heartbroken (heart shooken) to write “funny” by the time I finished.

What I normally do with blank pages is entertain myself, sometimes others, and if you have ever read this blog I try to write reflectively about how God rebuilds us and loves us into something beautiful. I usually fill my blank pages with things that inspire me from Scripture.

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I also try fairly hard and hopefully, nobly, to live my life the way I hope I’m filling those same pages.

But I’m nearing a part of my story that God has warned me about. I’m 30 years old and I’m moving; I’m starting a career/season that in many ways I can’t prepare for the day-to-day. And I’m also in a tender-hearted place.

I’m about to say bye to so many people I love, so many people I love being able to see with regularity. I’m about to say hello to people I will grow to love and see with regularity. I’m about to try to love people I will meet for a moment and might watch them leave the next.

And it has dawned on me, heavily, painfully, that so many of these pages I don’t get to hold the pen for, most of these pages more so now than ever I am watching being written. Because to carry the metaphor to its authentic conclusion, I am the page.

I am having to trust, to relinquish my nervousness, to give my heart to Jesus and say, I don’t know it well enough, but you do, and you led me this direction, at this time, even though everything here and now is so so good.

Why do things get so good just before I’m about to go?

I ask this like it always happens this way. But it doesn’t. In fact, I never would have imagined that every month in 2018 would get better, but somehow it has for me. Not only has it gotten better, I’m often asking why I am going all the while knowing I’m called to go.

I’m aware that I’m not running away because I would never want to run away from this season of life. Yet, with these pages, though it has been building for 7 months, feels like, on one side of the open book is my life here in New Jerse, and without much of a transition, I will wind up on the next page in South Carolina.

Is that how every transition actually is? One day we just wake up and after all the preparation, we’re just in a new place and it was everything before and after that actually changed us.

Some of you I wish I could take with me. I wish you would pop into these pages as effortlessly and as enjoyably as I feel you do now. I wish our names or the pronouns that pertain to us would continually occupy the same sentences again and again day in and day out.

And maybe they will again soon.

For now, I’m blank. But God knows what to do with these pages.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

1 John 3:2

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

 

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.

The Cutting Gospel: Separating the Should and Should Not

John 18:1-27- Imagine the Divine Impulse

Have you ever been disappointed in yourself after acting on impulse? Considering how frequently in the Gospels Peter acts on impulse, I imagine he was disappointed in himself often.

But I am convinced that our impulsive action in ignorance does not disappoint God as much as it disappoints us. I’m not suggesting God is less disappointed when our impulse to sin is acted upon with a sense of knowing. I believe that disappoints God more than it disappoints us, but I could be convinced otherwise.

There is something about acting in ignorance, with good intentions, that I think Jesus has a large degree of empathy for. And I think the Gospel of John does a perfect job of showing us a Jesus that cares most about reconciliation and administering the grace to keep going.

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Jesus is about to be arrested. He knows this. When the ones coming to arrest him approach him Jesus steps towards them and asks them “Who is it you want?” He asks a question but really he is making an authoritative statement. In asking, he is actually showing them that He is the one they want.

John paints us a picture of a Jesus that is steps into his mission willingly. And those bold steps cause the party seeking to arrest him to fall over.

I believe when we take steps in faith Jesus causes us to knock down our doubters and our doubts.

Jesus steps towards his arrest with confidence. And though he knocks down his doubters and enemies, he does not stop his eager friend with a sword who supposes he is lending support.

After the act Jesus says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

See Jesus does offer rebuke, and in other gospels, he heals the ear of the man who Peter slices at. But Jesus does not have time for our impulsive decisions and our denials. In fact, while we sit there and deny or rush to act, Jesus takes the burden of truth and opposition to His will upon Himself. In His strength, he waits for our surrender through our posture of receiving.

In a span of 12 verses, Peter denies Jesus 3 times. In the span of one evening Peter goes from getting his feet washed to taking a sword in his hand. He goes from believing it is not within him to deny Jesus to executing what he did not desire.

But what would this story look like if Peter did nothing? What would the end of this book look like if Peter did not chop an ear off and did not deny? Or what if John left it all out?

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Without Peter, I don’t think I would fully understand the grace of Jesus and His appreciation for radical faith. I don’t think I would learn the difference between the divine impulse and the carnal (fleshly) impulse.

Because the divine impulse is one that follows Jesus not one that fights for Jesus. It is recognizing that Jesus fought for and bought me, which now means I obey in love.

It shows me that Jesus is able to sever my mistakes and my sin from my identity. Peter denies, but Jesus prevents denial from defining Peter. Peter denies and is spared while Jesus speaks truth and is slapped.

And God allows this to awaken the heart of Peter, of you, and of me to gaze at Jesus in life, death and resurrection in order to know that obedience to what God has called us to leads to eternal joy and the experience of genuine love.

But what happens first is crucifixion. Specifically Jesus’ crucifixion. Specifically, the imagination of God working itself out in human history to display to all that God’s plan, action, and work not only could not be stopped but worked out for the good of all so our imagination and purpose would be fulfilled in Him.

More on that next time.