Timing in the Garden of God

When I think about Jesus recently, I think about time. I think about what I do with it and how the way I spend it affects His heart. I think about how with the current state of things, time in the present, takes precedence over the past or the future.

I think about society and how unmalleable people are when it comes to dissenting opinions. Entitlement is king and people don’t want their rights infringed upon if it makes things inconvenient now. This attitude is present in the poor and priveleged alike. People who are upper middle class and well off made out really well over the last two years. Sure the current recession might equalize some of that, but people made and saved a lot of money prior to now.

I say this also with the knowledge that people rich and poor also need rest. Somehow we must reserve time for rest and look foward to rest. Even if now, is not the time to rest, somewhere within the now should be the foward looking vision of the hope of rest. Even if I am working hard now, though I have paused to read this, rest is to be on my mind.

Now, in the present, where God can most easily be accessed by those of us who are bound by time is what I also think God cares about when it comes to human creation. He cares about obedience, bearing burdens, loving enemies, preserving life, and does not mind calling His children to risk their comfortability and resources to arrive at salvation and joy to the full. The Christian call to share in suffering with a willingness to offer ourselves as living sacrifices has not changed for the ones that confess Jesus as Lord. We do it because He is worthy, not because it is convenient.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day by Arthur B. Davies on  artnet

And the moment I must follow is now, if my identity is rooted in love in Christ. Nothing has changed in the now.

A return to the Garden of God, a mind fixed on things above and the Kingdom of God has a full view of rest not restlessness, which is interesting because when I think of Jesus, I think of the Scriptural promise that he now lives to make intercession for us.

There is not a moment, where Jesus is not pleading our case, living as our respresentation within the Trinity as the One who asks for mercy for us from the Father, who further also asks for the Father to give good gifts to His children, to provide for us and for our children. Part of our work and partnership in intercession is also a willingness to find and receive the strength in the now to be a source of rest for those that are weary and without hope in the world. This too is part of our call in the now, until the Kingdom comes in fullness on earth as it is in Heaven.

Practically speaking there are thousand of creative ways of doing this and ways to expend energy in doing this without the rest of the world ever knowing we’re doing it. There are ways to follow Jesus in obscurity that are far more valuable and less time consuming and probably more rest rewarding than crafting a social media image or chasing wealth.

The last thing I feel I should write about the timing in the Garden of God or time spent with and for Jesus is that the idea of wasting time looks way different in the Kingdom than in the world. I believe wasting time in a good way with Jesus involves things like going for an edifying walk, singing a song that no one will ever hear, writing Jesus a poem that no one will ever read, sitting with a grieving friend, or celebrating a friends success or achievement. I think things that the world glorifies as productivity is actually destroying others, busyness, profiteering, even legal ways we do this that have the tertiary affect of exploiting the poor.

When a group of people asked John the Baptist what the fruits of bearing with repentance are in the present, what he chose to address was all the ways the poor are exploited and the ways in which humans with priveleged positions try to get more money out of people. See Luke 3:4-14.

What Jesus never rebukes and rather encourages is the way we spend our time visiting and caring for the poor and oppressed and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:34-40

Where can we begin? In prayer. God may you grant me rest and then strength to bring rest, alleviate burdens so that the labor in love I perform will be like walking with you in the cool of the day. I love you Jesus because you loved me first.

Refining and Ashes

When an entire city is destroyed by fire, it is the resiliency of a people that is left to rebuild. In 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome destroyed more than 2/3 of the city under Emperor Nero. He sought to blame the Christians for the fire because they were easy scapegoats. They were already unpopular among the populace.

3 months after the fire, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down according to Church tradition and apocryphal texts. Tradition and theory are all we have in relation to the fire and Peter’s martyrdom. Both of these events don’t rest in the realm of truth.

I reflect on Peter often because of his impetuosity, his quickness to react, his overt emotion and his ability/spirit empowered unction to bounce back and be useful.

I reflect on fires now to remind us of what fires do; they destroy, consume, reveal what lasts and in some rare cases of Scripture fire does nothing. People are in it and protected by God. It is used as a metaphor for the spreading of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

And sometimes fire is used to test the life we build on top of our faith:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Will what we have done in this life survive a testing fire? What interests me is: how in the world do I know the caliber of resources I have built with will remain? What if I don’t have interest in building something with the wrong kind of materials?

I’m fairly certain, Paul is writing about the Christians part in the work of ministry and building up the Church. And I’m also fairly certain that most of what people in the West call ministry will be burned up. A reward will be given for what lasts and loss will be felt for what doesn’t despite us still being saved.

At this stage of life, I am not sure what will be left. I’m not sure if it is the work I have done for the upbuilding of the Church that has burned away or my trust in things working out for my good while trying to do it (Admittedly, I don’t know if I’m trying hard to do it). I can still tacitly believe that God is doing and working good for others, but I have been unable to reconcile my own paralysis, lack of confidence and seeming inability to let go of hurt and rejection over what I perceive is my calling and personhood. I am stuck.

As I was driving in my car on the phone with my mom, I shared my frustration over interviewing at schools, frustration about church life, frustration with the cyclical nature of hurt from the same people and the inability to cope with the fact that I still feel perpetually stuck. And she said, “Could it be God is refining you?”

To switch I swiftly replied, “For 3 years?! I don’t need any more refining. There is soon to be nothing left but ashes.”

To which I heard the Spirit more swiftly reply, “If that is all that is left, I will trade you even that for beauty.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

I don’t know if there is a poetic, prophetic text in Scripture that is more filled with hope. Jesus reads this passage in the Temple and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At the same time, I read this passage and wonder: when? How in the midst of being stuck, held captive, strung along, grieved, in despair do we just get out? Does this only come in the resurrection? Does it actually happen now? Is there actually a sense of communion and love and safety in the assembling of the faithful?

Maybe. Jesus thought there would be.

Maybe, when I’m sufficiently refined, we can trade up for beauty.

If You Continue…

In late February of 2013, I began training to be a professional wrestler. It came after putting a dream I had growing up, on hold for about 7 years. Really, on hold is not the right word, more like out of my mind what I thought was completely. But it’s amazing what the right place at the right time, at a season of life where other things lost their meaning can provide for a person.

As it turned out, the initial excitement of training only lasted a few weeks, and as I was gripped by a season of depression, training just wasn’t giving me any sense of joy. But I remember having a thought for several months. I remember thinking, “If this dream was something that was a part of a my life and brought me joy for so long, one day if I persist long enough this might just bring me joy again.”

Whether or not that thought worked or was sustaining, I’m not sure I can tell or remember. What I do remember is that I continued until 2018 (with almost a full year break in 2015-2016) when I moved to South Carolina.

It was then I continued in a new direction with a new set of expectations and goals with an invigorated sense of purpose that I believed was grounded in a call from God. If any of that interests you, this blog chronicles much of that journey, or you can ask me for a rambling, long winded, inchorent babbling version where the only hope is that I will shut down in the middle of it in order for it to come to a succinct but albeit inconclusive end.

This is quite a long introduction to say a few words on the topic of continuing on in one’s faith. To start I present a scripture:

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:21-23

I have been struck by the conditionality of Paul’s words. To expound on the supremacy of Christ just prior, and to follow the verses above by proclaiming that Paul rejoices to share in sufferings, he seems to say “in your reconciliation you could stop or move on from your hope, the same hope that was meant to be an anchor to your soul; you could cut ties with.”

Can You Beat This Quiz on Female Video Game Characters? > Fandom Spotlite

He puts forth the condition of cutting ties in a sandwich by way of reminder of a former alienation and enmity brought about by evil behavior. He also reminds us that the way God presents you now is as holy an pure and without blemish unable to be accused and that there is unimaginable possibilities in the hope of the gospel. Even still there in the middle is an “if you continue in your faith.”

And what makes us want to not continue is hardly ever what one might think actually could. The New Testament seems to be strongly convinced that persecution would not stop followers of Jesus from continuing. The writers seem far more convinced that false doctrine leading to false beliefs is far more likely to lead believers astray than persecution. There is almost this assumption/guarentee of persecution, whereas false doctrine/teaching has to be entertained, has to find a willing ear. And this according to the New Testament is far greater catalyst in the turn towards no longer continuing than anything else I can think of.

I think the reason people turn to false beliefs is due to palpability. There is something in what is being believed that is easier or more conducive to living life a certain way than if they kept a grasp on truth. Anything to avoid the disruption of comfortability or status. But to continue on in faith, means saying yes to who (Jesus) you barely know and what you may have not have the faintest grasp of what is involved (the works prepared to do beforehand).

If we want to follow Jesus, expecting the upending of sensibilities is what we signed up for; alongside it is a steadfast promise that we will be kept and loved and forgiven upon confession and our efforts to continue to turn from darkness toward delight in Jesus.

Will you continue? What do you believe that is convenient but untrue? What do I believe that keeps me comfortable yet unwilling to look foolish in faith? Who am I continuing for? and what do I need to do with the ministry of reconicliation God has entrusted to me as an ambassador of the kingdom? So many answers to these questions I know in part, or hardly at all, but in choosing to continue, I establish myself in hope.

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.”