What’s Changed?

I’ve been asking the question lately, how much anger is too much anger? How much am I allowed to have that is considered righteous before it crosses into the mental murder that is sin? And how do things or people change? What causes them to subtly become different, less engaging, less or more caring?

Coming off the heels of the anniversary of the Reformation, which many laud as a great turning point of the Church, we can nostalgically assume this happened in such a way that Luther peacefully nailed something to a door and walked away to start a return to true and pure religion before God the Father. But Luther was pissed. Luther was angry about a lot of things he saw around him, some of which were not in the slightest helpful, some of them reformed the Church.

St. Augustine said that, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Some of us are so conditioned that anger is bad that any sign of it we just alert ourselves to the fact that anger is present and we ignore it and try to subdue it as quickly as possible so long as we are not actually confronted by what in fact might be wrong. Lying is wrong, coercion and using people is wrong, manipulating circumstances and people is wrong, exploiting church members to increase one or a few peoples wealth and status is wrong.

But if something is wrong and we allow ourselves to understand our anger rather than immediately quell a God-given emotion we might gain the courage to do something. We must do something with our anger. People say strength restrained is the definition of meekness. However, anger restrained may protect a persons sensibilities, but it might change nothing. People love to point to Jesus flipping tables in the temple. It’s a good story. Jesus is mad and he does something about it. He’s mad that people have turned a place of worship into a place of profit (In modern times we have found a way to make worship music itself profitable. It’s a strange world in which we live).

But sitting in and with anger can be dangerous. It can cause us to do the wrong thing. It can push us to a place where we destroy rather than transform or restore. Jesus’ anger sought to restore the temple to its proper place.

Peter got angry, or so I imagine, when he took a wild sword swing at someones head. This anger was less helpful seeing as he tried to kill someone.

But the other beautiful daughter is courage.

My roommate Caleb calls me the conduit of courage. I call him the conduit of joy. I carry around a cowardly lion notebook and have the cowardly lion action figure on my shelf that I bought in Portland as a souvenir of a time I went there. Why? To remind myself to be courageous. To take steps of faith and to hope in the midst of the perception of rejection. I have required courage to make many of the decisions I have made in my life.

I find it increasingly difficult to do so every time I take a step of faith and fall. But anger alone doesn’t bring us to the point of seeing things change. Courage is what is required to insure that things do not remain as they are.

Courage creates a catalyst for change. Some things need changing. Courage is required for change. Courage defined is the ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief. The only way for courage to be present is to simultaneously coexist with fear, pain or grief. Quite honestly, when you are doing something right without fear, pain or grief you don’t need courage, you are merely being a self-aware human being.

It was said of Jesus that he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, and he courageously stepped into rejection and disappointment among his own for the sake of love.

Love is having the courage to give up yourself, acting in the hope of a transformative good for the ones whom which you have deep affection.

What changes is choosing courage.

For When Your Head is Cut Off

Recalibrating.

Taking a deep breadth

becoming smaller, but hoping not to retreat so far inward that I’m unable to live free.

I feel I’m still trying to find my way back to some sort of stable center. The last time I wrote I had a fair amount of responses all supportive and seemingly filled with empathy.

Things can be both cathartic and filled with consequence.

And while I am not yet aware of any obvious consequence, they inevitably come.

People get defensive, have their own versions of their history and experience and futures.

In the gospel of Mark 6:14-29, Mark recounts John the Baptists beheading. It’s interesting because what prompts Marks retelling of the beheading is this assumption that John is raised from the dead and performing miracles. I’m not sure if there was precedent for this or folklore in which someone was raised from the dead before, but this is the mythology people believed.

Herod had John beheaded and believed John was raised from the dead and doing what Jesus was in fact doing. Then without much more commentary we pivot to how John was beheaded.

It was a story of John confronting Herod for marrying his brother’s wife which got him arrested leading to a sensual dance from Herod’s step daughter that leads to the request for John’s head. People in power hate to be confronted. But perhaps even more, as evidenced by this story, people associated with the people in power hate it even more (Looking at you Trump supporters *wink*).

We love creating heroes out of people who yield hard power, who are suave with manipulation.

In Mark’s account, it is clear who the villains and heroes are. The heroes come from the oppressed. The heroes plead the cause of the oppressed, the broken, the sinner. I’m just not sure that is happening in many churches. I see a lot of pleading the cause of the healthy and wealthy and put together.

But John was a locust, honey, sackcloth, ashes and not put together kind of guy. A forerunner. A man who died for the cause, for a cause that he even had his doubts about while he was in prison. He sent out disciples to find assurance that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messiah. He had moments of doubt from inside a prison cell, unable to tell if in fact he had prepared the way.

I think this is a lot of what prophetic ministry is, preparing the way with a humble uncertainty of whether or not I am right. I think it can devolve into some sentimental metaphors that become hard to comprehend or know what to do with. But John was clear in his message, “Look for and toward another (Jesus), and turn from your sin, humble yourselves, and get cleansed. He’s coming with the Spirit.”

He was clear about where the hope lies.

And he had to be because he lost his head.

And we hear nothing about the psyche of John leading up to that moment.

And I think that silence is good because there was nothing left to say. He prepared a way and then Jesus came.

One thing is certain for me after this last season. I need Jesus to come, by His Spirit and do something only He can do because I have come to the end of myself.

No Church for Young Me

In early September of 2011, I was sitting at my desk in the church office probably making a flyer on Paint for a youth event. My pastor and boss came in and I’m sure said something important, but I’m not sure what it was. 4 minutes later I was crying underneath my desk after being screamed at by a lunatic and fired. The secretary came in because she was 6 feet away while this all happened and said, “One day you will laugh about all this.”

In the years that followed I may have laughed about it, but the trauma of that season of my life took a lot of counseling and processing that 10 years later I still carry with me into my mythology of failing to be a minister.

Speaking of which you did not wish me a happy 10 year anniversary to the first and only job I’ve ever been let go from.

Brene Brown says you should not put publicly on a platform what you have not privately healed of. I agree. I also have given up caring about Brene Brown’s philosophy.

So two roads diverge in a yellow wood and I’ve chosen the one I shouldn’t go down because the one I’ve been down has produced a cycle that I can’t afford to live through again.

I felt called into ministry my senior year of college a few months before graduation. Really it was in and around February of 2010, shortly after I shared some words at my grandmothers funeral. Upon graduation in May, I applied to grad schools and prayed during a very confusing season of life. There was a recession, jobs were scarce and I was unsettled moving back to New Jersey. On top of that, just about daily for 6 months I felt in prayer the Lord say paraphrased, “you will be a pastor by the time you are 23.” I told no one. I just waited and tried to be faithful.

And to be honest, I was pretty faithful. I was also pretty naive. I was hired by a church in February of 2011, 2 days after my 23rd birthday. At 23, I was too young to know about hiring strategies or tax laws for non-profits. I thought the church was being generous paying me $20.00 an hour 20 hours a week, unbeknownst to me there was an unspoken expectation that I work more than that which was not so subtly hinted to me by the associate pastor (who was being paid in a housing allowance while collecting unemployment so as to work the system and so the church would not have to pay tax on the allowance).

By 24, 4 months after I was fired I began to understand. I had thought the only sins a young minister had to look out for was pornography and adultery. I slowly became aware of non-denominational churches functioning as tax shelters for wealthy Wall Street traders and for others who had questionable ways of earning money. I found out after being led to believe that the church “couldn’t afford my position right now anyway, so you should stay and we might hire you back,” meant the pastor hired his daughter for my job. That daughter who I eventually dated and whose brother I hired for a lucrative natural gas project that I stumbled into while staying connected to the church.

This is mythology.

After serving for 3 months at another church in Shrewsbury as a young adults ___________, (fill in the blank, at that point I did not know when you were allowed to use the word pastor) I abruptly left ministry to take a job not in ministry with my calling in question. During that time, two pastors who knew I felt called into ministry instead of asking how I was doing or when I would plan to pursue my calling wanted me to try and get jobs for their kids. One pastor reached out to me asking me to get him a job. Word travels fast when you make money, even if you are working long hours in the middle of nowhere, people want in. (By the way a lot of this post will deal with money, it’s a running thread throughout church history. What are we serving?)

During that time, I was tithing $600 a week. I tithed $15,000 in 6 months at age 24. It was more than 10% because while I was not “doing” ministry, I still believed in the work of ministry.

I quit though because my life was falling apart. Thankfully, I had a church to support me, a church not without problems, a church not without issues that I felt were suspect, but I knew they cared for me. My friends and pastors let me live with them while I was in grad school and gave me time to heal while I studied Catholic theology and wrestled on weekends, while occasionally given opportunity to preach on Sundays and try to recover while attempting to lead a youth group on Wednesday along with some other really great leaders. I think we had more leaders than students. That felt like love.

But I left. I can’t remember why. Maybe to get licensed and ordained, maybe because I wanted a job in ministry and didn’t see an opportunity. Maybe I just can’t stay in one place, maybe I just run from everything.

Regardless I moved back to Jersey working on a farm, served the local church to prepare to get licensed in a denomination I both love yet confuses me. The process was both unnecessarily complicated and entirely too easy. My licensing meeting was supposed to consist of an interview with 3 people to assess whether or not to affirm my calling into ministry. One person did not show up, one person was 40 minutes late, and one it was at his church and had known me for 5 years. The only question they really wanted to hammer out was to understand how much of my tithe was to go to the district.

Money is a part of this mythology.

I eventually got hired by a church, part-time 10 hours a week doing a job I was more or less doing for a year and a half. It was supposed to happen 6 months earlier but I think they were debating whether to hire me at $10 an hour for 12 hours a week or $12 an hour for 10 hours a week which is a bout $6,000 a year which is about how much the church spent on one Trunk or Treat Event which took about 6 minutes to approve. Needless to say I did not feel very valued or very much in relationship with some pretty key people so that stint on staff did not last very long.

Money is a part of this mythology.

People place value on things by attaching a dollar to them or they in place of money attach value to things by offering something more valuable in its place namely: love. If you can offer that, genuine care, genuine empathy, movement towards an individual they might be more inclined to stay or reciprocate generously. They might actually grow and heal and be gentle if you love them well.

Or maybe not, they probably won’t. People don’t change that much. I don’t change that much. I’m still just a young angry and bitter former minister who is too intense to settle down with.

I put my head down worked a job for 2 years, taught ministry classes at night, wrestled, led small groups and tried to be content to have the license of minister without a position. Until I turned 30 and had a quarter life crisis (I’m living til 120 now apparently), moved to South Carolina to do hospital chaplaincy for a year so I could say I did ministry full time for the first time in my life, during a season when a lot of things around me seemed to be breaking, including my year in Charleston at church.

I will revisit this here. Mostly to say if you made it here, that you don’t want me in your church. You don’t. I’m not helpful. I’m critical. I’m burned out and I haven’t even started yet. I’m insightful but it probably won’t help or lead to any lasting change. I’m reflective and for a few moments you might be impressed, but you’ll just find that it’s not really doing me any good. It makes for barely readable blog content that is mostly just complaining. To add to the mess, I’ll probably write about the mess in a public space so people will reach out to tell me you probably shouldn’t post that.

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

I visited Charleston in January 2018 to interview for a chaplaincy residency at a hospital. I visited a church that I loved. They preached about the gifts of the Spirit which I also love. The people standing in front of me prayed for me at the end of service. 3 weeks later someone on staff at the church called me to follow up and offered a place to stay when I came back to look for an apartment. That was an empty promise because when I reached out to that person, they were no longer on staff, were on staff at a different church and rescinded his offer to help.

Notre-Dame cathedral fire: 5 facts to know about the Paris church |  Options, The Edge

I reached out directly to the church who also could not help, which I’ve come to learn is not true. They just did not want to help a stranger which is fine.

I visit in May, hear a fellow chaplain give his testimony, find my reason to move so I move and work as a chaplain in Charleston. I fully immerse in the church. The first person on the first Sunday I met at a going away party for the associate pastor was a worship leader, get connected with people playing soccer, get involved in a Sunday school on the Gospel of John, join a group that meets at 6 am led by an elder, try one small group, join another led by someone on staff that just ends one day without any follow-up or attempt to reach out to the people in it.

In my year at the church, 3 people on staff leave or are let go from their positions. I interview at the church starting in early May, given a job description, talk about living arrangements, interview with one elder who calls me a unicorn, preach a two service Sunday, get oddly confronted by the church secretary right before I’m about to preach during a prayer meeting prior to service. Somebody else apologizes on her behalf right before service is about to start.

Messy ministry is a part of this mythology.

Then I get a phone call from the lead pastor the day before I’m about to go to a 4 day General Council for my denomination saying the church is not in a position to hire me. Now that sounds fine and dandy, but the position and timing in which I was left made it extremely difficult. I had 3 weeks left of residency and 1 month left of a lease and to commit to staying in a place without a job and feeling left high and dry by your church is not a recipe for knowing what to do next. 2 weeks after being told I would not be hired an elder from the church approached me and says “Congrats, I here your coming on staff in two weeks.”

I think that made things worse, the confusion, the lack of communication, the not knowing who was a part of the decision making, the lack of knowing who knows anything and the frustration around not knowing who to talk to for fear of saying something wrong. So I left with the impression that I was unwanted. Where is Jesus in all of this?

Jesus is part of this mythology.

That’s a good question. Jesus is the forgiver of tax evaders and exploiting pastors. Jesus is the forgiver of neglectful shepherds and elders and those who have no business leading a church.

But it’s not an excuse for the fucking mess that leaders are making of a generation of people they are supposed to be shepherding. The guise of pastoring in place of building a platform for their inflated egos. Hiring graphic designers and videographers to put them on a screen to gather a following for themselves and their gain and their prosperous ease whilst hiring incestuously calling it the family of god when in reality it is hiring just family.

There is a fucking pandemic in the church and its not just covid and it’s not who is deciding to wear masks or not. Its every church elder board deciding it needs a video team instead of equipping Gods people to do the work of ministry. Take a long minute or maybe the next month to look inward and evaluate how good of job you are doing equipping your people instead of evaluating how good of job you are at reaching people through some online metric.

So if you are a pastor or know a pastor and haven’t taken a minute to evaluate whether you’ve put platform above people, then fuck your platform. I hope it burns. I hope the money from your book sales burn. I hope you enjoy the riches you are storing up on earth while you missed out on advancing the Lord’s Kingdom for the sake of your own. I hope your own ego can’t withstand the weight of judgment for your pastoral neglect in favor of your hunger for fame and to be heard.

“Wow! You sound angry.” I’m not angry enough. You’re not angry enough. Our emphasis on media as our vehicle is like the praying on street corners that Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for. Jesus didn’t ask us to broadcast our services or our prayer meetings especially when you are failing to equip the people that are gathering.

I’m angry over the rhetoric the church spouts and the lack of follow through it embodies. If I am the least of these, find a way to love me. If I have offended you or have you worried, do not reach out to me. I will be fine.

I left Charleston in September of 2019 wounded and worried. I withdrew from a night shift chaplaincy job at a children’s hospital to apply for a campus ministry job at Princeton University which led to another 2 months of being strung along just to be left without an explanation. I worked quietly close to 60 hours a week to drive 2 hours one way on Mondays to teach another theology class, hoping to find a sense of community and place to plant myself, hoping that place was Charleston.

Moving on is a part of this mythology.

I moved back to Charleston and another ministry interview process that lasted from the beginning of October to Mid-December. At this stage my sense of calling was in question. I felt unsupported and very unseen at the church I returned to that had already rejected me for a job. There was no recognition of pastoral calling and plenty of false promises of opportunity with no follow through.

Moving back is a part of this mythology.

Perhaps I am just disagreeable, unteachable and have regressed into complete immaturity shrouded by my own bitterness, unable to find anything good in the local church. That’s fine, give up on me, don’t affirm my calling and the Church will still go on because it is and has always been so much bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than the fumbling around of charismatic personalities and the people in awe of them that don’t bother to look or care about the failures and damage they cause in their wake. Someone will pick up the pieces. Jesus will pick up the pieces, piece by piece, maybe with the help of a good therapist and plenty of medication and a good hiatus from ministry and the church in order to learn your lesson young man.

Maybe You’ve gone to prepare a place for me somewhere or maybe you’ll let me burn.

**** I debated the title of this blog. No Church for Young Men, but I didn’t want to give the impression that the church has by any means been anywhere near a safe place for women. It probably has been even less so and there have historically and still presently less opportunities for work and more opportunities for disappointment for women. I also do have the self-awareness that my church trauma is probably nowhere near the church trauma of others. However, if we are playing the game of good deeds outweighing the bad, I don’t think I have caused nearly as much church trauma that I have experienced. I am more than willing to own and reconcile my wrongs in the process. But the purpose of this post was not to own my wrongs as much as to put on blast the ones of the church and the institution that has made the promise of family and safety and has often been a place of self-promotion and sectarianism even within the walls of a single building.

If you would like to dialogue over these issues. I’m willing to dialogue. I do not want sympathy nor correction. I am very aware of the problematic nature of posting something so harsh. I made a choice. This is how I’ve chosen to celebrate 10 years of trauma in ministry and to reconcile my current place in the church and how friends, enemies and acquaintances have chosen to perceive me in light of there own experience of me rather than empathetically relating to my lived mythology.

My hope for myself is to one day to be able to see this all in a much different light and to rejoice at the work of the Holy Spirt and the Kingdom of Heaven in my life and the world. Today, as of now I see dimly if at all and am still very much broken by the fact that very little in my experience with church, people in positions of authority, relationships with many sisters in Christ have become volatile, manipulative and seemingly impossible to tolerate. There might be more to come or perhaps my maturity and humility will allow the space to process in a better more healthy more private way.

Thanks,

James Passaro

On The Loss of a Friend

The last time David sees Jonathan the son of King Saul, they kiss, they weep and David mourns knowing he will never see him again and says, “The love of Jonathan surpassed my love for women.” David had quite a few wives.

To this day one of the best chapters I have ever read in a book comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves in his chapter on friendship/phileo love. His argument is that while friendship is not the kind of love that is necessary for human survival, friendship is the kind of love that makes life worth living, that adds joy to life.

I think about this when I think of Jesus when he calls his disciples friends. Friends allow friends to know what they are up to and what their intentions are and this can be both fun and freeing. Friends agree to be a part of each other in adventure and interests.

This is the reason why I think losing a friend is so hard to bear. Friends are people we have given ourselves to in a social contract of complete choice. I have chosen to allow you in and you have chosen to allow me in. Obviously friendships can vary in depth of intensity and intimacy. The ones we have given more of ourselves to usually require a deeper level of commitment, accountability and trust.

If a friendship becomes too intimate without honesty it becomes confusing.

How to Get Over the Loss of a Friend | Psychic 2 Tarot

If a friendship becomes too committed without accountability and boundaries, it can become codependent and toxic.

If a friendship has trust without intimacy it is unbalanced and susceptible to collapse on an unknown foundation.

Here is the other side of friendship that is unlike affectionate familial love or romantic love. Those two require commitment to exist and sustain and to break commitment is neglectful. You fail to fulfill obligation and covenant in the case of family and love/marriage if you walk away. In friendship, that social contract can end without demand. Mourning is probably necessary, but friendship has no obligation because what it was based on in the beginning was mutual agreement.

This becomes slightly complicated in the context of the family of God. We can’t entirely walk away from family when we have the same Father so we have to learn to simply coexist despite the end of friendship because the implication and demand of the kingdom is to love even if a friend has become an enemy. The kingdom can have enemies even from within (David and Saul). Christians have in the past been known to kill each other over doctrine. Now they kill one another with ostracism or with bad doctrine rather than over it.

You might be wondering if you’ve made it this far, how do friendships end? In David and Jonathan’s case the urgency of their lives on different plains of trajectory and Jonathan’s eventual death marked the end of their friendship. The book of Acts gives us a picture of people who parted ways but there is no indication of if they considered one another friends or merely partners.

The fact that it does not seem that it was an easy parting of ways does suggest that there was some level of relationship that made it difficult to separate. But in 2021, it is easy to maintain friendship with people I rarely see.

It takes effort to end friendships in the Kingdom, concentrated intentionality to avoid people you see with regularity. Somehow despite that concentrated effort, it is unavoidable apparently to not coexist as family. So instead we occupy space as family in light of the reasons that we have chosen to abdicate friendship.

Here are some of the reasons we make the choice to abdicate friendship:

-betrayal abandonment (John Mark, presumably the writer of the gospel of Mark is for a period of time uninvited by the apostle Paul to travel with their missionary party because of a perceived abandonment) When people feel like they were left in a moment when they needed partnership, they have an easier time leaving behind friendship.

-exploitation/being used, while this is something we tolerate in most areas, work, church, service, without much thought, within the context of friends, there is mutual expression of give and take that often goes un-communicated among friends. There is usually a self awareness that comes with this give and take and usually an acknowledgement when the balance is tilted in one direction. But there comes a point when someone perceives they have given too much or too much has been taken and a boundary has been crossed.

-discontentment with what or who you have, one of the complaints I hear most often among friend groups is people not liking when other people ask, “who is going?” Because of an abundance of options or social equity which I have discussed previously people try to evaluate who will be at places in light of many “good” options. It’s weird and in a way it’s still using people. I only ask who’s going to avoid people.

-triangles, whether they be romantic triangles or relational triangles, these are breeding grounds for miscommunication and hidden motives. Someone is usually hiding something and avoiding something in order for the triangle to break its bond. As is the case with triangles one person is usually left to be the side that gets dropped. This in some ways can strengthen the bond of friendship/codependency of the remaining sides.

-death, often the most permanent but also preserving of the friendship. When we mutually lose a friend there is a shared understanding of fondness with which the person is remembered. Death is a loss but one outside of our control. This in some way makes it the most tolerable if we are able to accept that there was nothing we could have done. And so we have the potential to mourn without the uncertainty of what could have been done differently.

Why even write or talk about a topic? Why even give voice or expression to the loss and process it in a public way. Because I think this loss is in some ways inevitable. We are prone to mistreat and use one another for our own benefit. We are prone to miscommunicate and say something hurtful. We are prone to walk away to pursue a greater desire or perceived need. And we are prone to exploit people until they become no longer useful to us.

And these are things we do to our friends not just our enemies. Maybe we will think twice or think more deeply about the way we treat one another. Maybe we will pause to think if we are treating someone as collateral to gain traction with someone else. Maybe we will learn how to be more selfless in our affection and lay down our lives for friends.

There is no greater love.

Endships

I’m weary.

Are you weary?

I regret

Do you regret?

Fin | Hollywood aesthetic, Old hollywood movies, Old hollywood aesthetic

This is not a poem. Sorry, I just have little to give, to write. It’s hard to see light. It’s hard to see how all things are working together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes. It’s hard to know if I love Him, and it’s hard to know if I was called.

Maybe called and hung up on.

I fear this is becoming my identity. A man in the center of the end of things. A man that keeps trying to make things work that aren’t meant to work.

It’s funny for someone who has switched jobs as much as I have, how often I have tried to make some relationships work that just aren’t working, how often how I’ve stayed in and served churches that have taken more of my life than have given back.

I need to get better at endings. Letting go, saying goodbye and not carrying the weight of the ending.

Maybe when people and places say no, that is an invitation to wipe your feet and leave rather than keep knocking in order to try to prove you are worthy of their time and energy.

I was driving to work today listening to “Strings” by Misty Edwards on an album I frequently return to entitled Relentless and I said to God, “This just does not seem like kind of life that is bringing joy to the full, this does not seem like life with the Jesus I once knew. What do I do?”

The lyrics of that song:

Lord You have my heart (repeat)

And I’m searching for yours

Lord You have my thoughts (repeat

And I’m searching for yours

Lord You have my song (Repeat)

And I’m searching for yours

I’m so in love with You

I’m so in love with You

I’m so in love with You Jesus

I’m honestly not self aware enough to know if I am doing or being any of those things in the song. I just know I’m trying not to stop

Good Teacher

I wonder how often Jesus felt like there was something he wanted to say to his disciples but knew they were not ready to hear it. There are many instances in the gospels where Jesus says things, and there is not an immediate understanding of what He means or is getting at. And I think that is why the Word is a seed and once planted it needs time to develop (It also needs time to die, but perhaps that is a lesson for another time).

Hearing something once or many times might be just what we need in order to one day find that something has taken root and grown into something beautiful. Maybe in order to believe, we must hear or see with some measure of consistency in order for our heart to take hold of what we have heard.

Thus, trust when established is not blind but rather tested and perhaps I test God in his goodness more often than I think.

There is a story in the gospels (Luke 18:18-30) where somebody approaches Jesus and calls Him “Good Teacher,” to which Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” It’s a weird statement to make no… because He is God alone or rather God united 3 in 1.

But Jesus does not ask that why question to cast doubt in the mind of a wealthy ruler in regards to His identity as God incarnate. Instead, he asks the why to engender faith inside of a man who has been relying heavily on his performance.

Oh the things we want to earn. Yet I could just as easily say: “Oh the things we want to be given.”

It’s interesting how the whole story of this wealthy ruler starts with an interesting question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the great conundrum. He chooses to emphasize inheritance, something you usually receive based on position or identity at birth and precedes it with “what do I have to do?”

I could be wrong but I don’t think you can do, to inherit. I think you have to be someone to inherit.

A few moments later, Jesus quietly and subtly indicates that it’s hard for the rich, who are usually preoccupied with how hard they work to become wealthy, to enter the Kingdom of God. Then he addresses the concern of the disciples about how it is that anyone can be saved. And He reveals the secret, “It’s impossible for everyone except with God” (who alone is good and also happens to be Jesus).

To which Peter then basically says, “But look at all we have done (given up) to follow you.” This in some ways could also be read as look at all we have not done in order to follow you.

We Don't Get It, Part I: Good Teacher, Fix My Student | Circe Institute

And then Jesus points them back again subtly but using a big concept that what is preeminent is the why you do what you do.

Why do I (we) follow Jesus?

Why do I or don’t I believe?

He is God. He is Good. I am here, underperforming, always asking, wondering if I am capable of hanging my head and walking away or finding the courage to stay. I don’t know if I can say I have left all to follow, but I think I know that if I was relying on whatever good there was in me alone, I wasn’t getting very far.

The Prodigal Year

I’ve been reading and rereading this book for the past few months called The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, and it might be the best book I’ve ever read. It’s short, sincere and reflects on Scripture and a piece of art that moved Nouwen during a season in which he moved into a community that worked with individuals with learning disabilities.

In some ways I began reading this book at the perfect time. In other ways, I feel as if I had read this book sooner I would have understood the story known as the prodigal son and my own life better. After reading it, I am convinced that prodigal is not a good name for either son in the story. While I believe prodigal is a good description of the younger sons actions of spending his money wastefully, I don’t believe it is an accurate description of the son. A better description is simply: lost.

A better description of this year for me is: lost. Not loss as much as lost. I still have much.

I think we can spend a lot of our resources and spend ourselves just to find we have not been moving towards home. Wastefulness is a perception.

A woman with an issue with blood had spent all she had in hopes to be made well, over the course of 12 years. It felt like a waste because she was not healed, until Jesus healed her and asked for nothing in return. A woman breaks an expensive jar of perfume on the feet of Jesus and Judas called it wasteful.

Eternity determines what is wasteful.

Jesus seeks the lost.

Do I?

This has been a very unpastoral year for me. I waited until the last 2 hours of my credentials lapsing to decide to renew them on December 31st at 10 PM to maintain the title of “Minister.” I don’t know if I panicked or if I felt that it was somehow important.

2 weeks prior to that, I withdrew my name from a ministry position at a church in downtown Charleston, and for the first time really said no to a position in ministry when I had no other immediate options for work. Going into the new year I also stopped reporting to my job at the US Postal Service (though I might technically still be employed) and withdrew my name for candidacy in joining the Secret Service (I’m starting to sound crazy).

I felt powerfully weak and wasteful…

and quite frankly disempowered.

Then I went to Hawaii with Rich (checking my privelege), only to find it very difficult to reconcile with community, myself, and the various brands of Western Christianity that we try to wear.

I have never felt less connected to a local church. I get anxiety going there sometimes not knowing if I will be reminded of my wounds or the feeling that I am only useful for my labor. I am unsure whether it is worse to feel used, unseen, unknown or ignored when all one wants is to be healed so they can have the energy to labor in the certainty of their identity as the Beloved.

To be lost is to forget the love of the Father and to a certain extent it does not matter how we got there or who or what circumstance we blame. What matters is: there is only one way back.

I would catch you up on the other jobs I worked, the other wounds I internalized, and what else I did this summer but you haven’t asked for them. But if you read this far, you are probably wondering: when do you come home? When do you rest in the somewhat certainty of beloved Sonship?

When do we choose a course that would say: “I will change my perspective to see this as blessing rather than hardship?”

The when… or rather how, I think happens as I accept the next step with humble trust, that my steps are being guided, my heart is being held, and the Spirit inside me will continue to bend my heart in affection towards King Jesus.

If this does not happen, it would all be waste.

P.S. I started my first year as an educator teaching 6th to 8th grade Exceptional Children Social Studies, Science, and Math. That’s what I’m “doing.”

Take the Shot

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Richard Van De Water

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

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

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

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

When the rubber meets the road I do not.

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

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

What if we don’t recover?

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

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

Then it hit me:

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

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

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

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

Vacations, Escapes, and Preparation

Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray- Preparation

Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals to holiday and rest- Vacation

Jesus went to the mountain, awoke early to be alone with His Father, went to the garden late at night to ask if the cup of suffering might be taken away- Escape.

By the most common historical estimates, I am now the same age that Jesus was when he died. From what we know about him vocationally, he was a carpenter and a teacher and whether or not he fished, he frequently knew where the fish were and may have been able to produce a catch by merely speaking a word.

He was/is a model of consistency, content to do very little of significance or success by a strictly worldly measurement. He had no home, no insurance policy, no tangible castle or kingdom that we have yet to see. He didn’t even leave behind a really great lasting table we can look at and iconize in a museum.

He left a story that He did not even write down, yet “by Him, for Him, through Him all things were made.”

And He left the world a Church (more specifically a gathering of those called or summoned). I won’t get into what this gathering is supposed to do, be, look like other than to say “every tribe and tongue worshipping Jesus as King.”

And if I were to add one thing which really is summed up by the word “King,” it’s that I’m not a king, a hero nor do I bring anything of great signicance to this kingdom other than my unique struggling to come to grips with my own existence.

I’m an heir certainly but an heir that has done nothing to earn that position. In fact, I’ve done plenty to garner a reason to lose that position.

Yet, I’m overly aware of the mission. And depending on the day, I might stir myself or allow myself to be stirred to participate in it with a trepidation that would make one think it was optional.

Which is why I think I spend time doing the things in the title of this post. I vacation, get away or take a break from the monotony, the stress, the brokenness I cause, reveal, and am seemingly helpless to fix. It’s why I escape; I go hide for a bit to recalibrate, to find a version of myself that will be bearable and perhaps helpful for the world or at least for the Church to again see. And it’s why I prepare, timidly praying things that I no longer have any idea if I should be asking for, wondering what else I can be courageously willing to lose in order to find the only One that keeps me and to temper my expectation in hope that I accurately perceive how to be obedient despite conflicting desires of the heart.

And I think amidst the vacation, escape and preparation, I find I don’t do even do those things well enough to passibly find entrance into the Kingdom by my own merit. I struggle with the apparently easy things, the things we are supposed to enjoy and delight in.

Maybe that’s a symptom of other things, something more chemical, something that could be easily medicated or maybe in Jesus’ day people put far less expectations on one another or had a more idealized version of community where they weren’t permitted to exploit or enslave one another to move up a tax bracket while their neighbors struggled to provide. They were willing to cancel debts, set people free, and recognized that any form of bondage was to be as temporary as possible, even obsolete (set the captives free). How well they executed that… well?

But there I go talking about some idealized institution or group of empowered people gathering together and forgetting myself, my complacency, my repentance and penance.

And my harshness… contrasted with Jesus’ gentleness. It is impossible to respond to Jesus’ rest when we are feeding the pressure (either self imposed or perceived from the outisde) of the demand to perform ourselves into something we want to be.

Some people are good with achievement and contented by promotion while I light both of those things on fire, while asking out loud, “what good is it?” while searching inside with the question, “am I good enough for…?”

And this is why I need Jesus, my rest, my refuge, my permanent vacation, my escape, my preparer, author, finisher, intercessor, brother, friend who said and demonstrated: “you were worth my blood, no greater love…”

And, then I am able to remember again.

I Don’t Like What God Says

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”- Jesus Luke 6:27-28

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Jesus Luke 17:33

“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” -Jesus Luke 17:4

These are some things that I don’t like that Jesus tells me. To say nothing of the assurance of suffering. Comingled with there are promises of joy(one of the many likebale things Jesus also says).

I don’t like when God asks His people to wait an unknown amount of time. I don’t love trying to interpret the voice of the Spirit when God seems content to leave me in His mystery.

But I do like God’s nearness, God’s presence and God’s faithfulness when I am not faithful, which is why I think it wise to hear what He says and trust it and cherish it, even if it is cutting.

Because it is cutting. God does not coddle our sensibilities and push us to harm ourselves into further disobedience. He is willing to remove the poison, the sin, the plank through pain if it must be so. Usually, it must be so. We covet our sin under our scars and try to keep them there.

I, in my subconbscious imagine saying, “I have healed sufficiently, and this frequent painful blemish of sin is under the skin, and it would be too risky to remove it completely. So I will tolerate it longer.”

But God with a sword from his mouth is prepared to cut. He bypasses our itching ears which desire the next piece of positive affirmation or self-help advice for something a bit more raw and real and lasting. Thus Luke 17:33 paraphrased. “You’re comfort is less of my interest than your surrender because when you surrender, holy comfort will come.” A comfort where we become contented rather than left striving for more.

Yet we fear. I fear losing the things I’ve built which at this point is…. *looks around, reminding self of the things left behind, multiple times, recalling how I usually end up asking why and worrying until the next thing inevitably comes*… a wonderful library of books in garages and storage units all over New Jersey, amassed a collection of wrestling memorabilia in similar places and what of the stocks, and the places I’ve been and the experiences that no one can take from me. Ultimately though, who cares, they are vapors and God will test it all in the fire.

When all or most of it burns and we are left with some ashes, Jesus walks up to ledge of Flat Earth Heaven, looks down on us and shouts, “I will trade you those for beauty.”

He trades dead ends for pastures and narrow paths. He bottles the tears we sow, and somehow some day reap joy. He expands our capacity to fall fully into reciprical give and take forgivness. And he acknowledges and has endured human suffering so we can be assured we are not alone in our experience. And He doesn’t rush to deliver us from the temporal if it doesn’t keep us fixed on the eternal.

Does Donald Trump have a God problem? - BBC News

Which is why I think about other things I don’t like, empty promises, exploiting individual hopes for plastic prosperous amalgams of something that sound Christian or Christlike but is actually shallow self-aggrandizement, the willingness to change the service/servant and friendship language in Scripture for leadership because it sounds more important. I don’t like the way we exalt the already proud and promising individuals instead of looking at the heart of the humbled.

But it doesn’t really matter what I like. Unlucky for me, it’s not what I like (to quote the opposite of a song lyric). God likes uncomfortable things. He likes things we overlook. He likes things that have been counted out and invites them to banquets. He also likes faithfulness in spite of reasons to give up. He likes people who take steps in faith and He rewards those who share in his suffering.

I don’t always like what God says, but I do love who He is because He is undeniably good.