Maybe I Never Knew

I am coming up on the 10 year anniversary of the start of this blog. I started it after a breakup while I was working in the highest paying job I’ve ever had on a natural gas pipeline project in Northeast PA. I was processing my sense of home, sense of meaningful work, sense of calling, sense of family and if I’m honest a kind of second loss of innocence.

To say I was disillusioned would be accurate. Despite, the disillusionment, there would have been a lot of things I would have said I knew. I knew who I loved, I knew I wanted ministry to be my vocation, I knew I wanted to write and learn more about the things of God. I knew I wanted to create a sense of home. Slowly but surely and it is hard to say whether it was more slow than sure, I began to learn that I was less sure about what I knew. I’ve become somewhat familiar with that cycle.

Limitless Wave - Road To The Unknown - YouTube

I’ve also become familiar with confusion and the internalization of others uncertainty and how damaging we can allow it to be. How easy and tempting it is to let other’s insecurity and poor witness influence our mind through the wounds of our heart. The feeling of not knowing how to cope with being judged or ignored by people who call themselves Christians even if it is in their immaturity, is exhausting.

I am tempted to hide or at least retreat inward in hopes of finding a genuine version of myself that is not prone to being subject to false judgment or neglect. They don’t know what they do.

Maybe most people don’t know what they are doing or how they are doing in the pain they inflict. I have found most people don’t think about any long term consequences of their short term actions. What I’ve also found is most people have no interest in making restitution for their actions yet want the forgiveness. Some take it a step further and feel entitlement to be absolved of any earthly consequence even if it means the termination of unity.

We’d rather be rid of people than reconcile, which if we wanted to, could make the case for mental murder. When in reality, reconciliation and closeness and to be known is what we were created for and if we are being honest, yearn for. We’d rather keep up pretensions of being nice, put together people than admit to ourselves and others that we harbor hatred and lack compassion yet want intimacy and connection.

Which brings me to another thing I’m not sure I know. Do I know God? Do I feel like what I’ve read or lived is still true in my experience living in the “christian” south? Maybe, instead, God lacks compassion and harbors hatred. Maybe in a desire to prove a point or to prove his omnipotence, He subjects us to suffering and disappointment and enjoys doing it. This would be a hard turn from Orthodox Christianity and what it claims is true of God, that He is good, that He is love (as if love cannot coexist with hatred, rejection, and harm… see crucifixion) and that He has made a way for all rather than some (cue universalism question). I could articulate the Way and why it has to be this way because of the fallen nature of humanity and why I and you need a Savior. I even feel a tangible presence of what I believe to be God in my life, that He speaks through life and Scripture if in fact He is present.

What I begin to doubt is whether I know the same God that other Christians claim to know. Some individual’s claims about the Jesus they know, and the out-workings of their life are exploitive, in pursuit of isolation and disunity, nit-picky and narrow. If the way is narrow, it is because it is through only one person Christ, not because of a rigid picture of perfection that we must live. Yet Jesus in Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (an impossible command). Why does he do this? Likely, so we would cast off the restraints of trusting in ourselves and desperately cling to trusting in Him who can save and does save.

But do I know this? Does it change the way I live and relate to the Church and the world? Do I also forgive with such consistent, yet painful abandon that I take on wounds rather than revenge and subject them to the healing of Christ in hopes that we would all be healed rather than continue to carry and cause hurt.

I think I try; I think I know, yet I also know my try and effort is not what does the work. Christ does and God knows that is enough.

Spiderman and the Journey Into Obscurity

“I never knew you. Depart from me.”

This is the violence of rejection.

It is not arbitrary when Jesus says this in Matthew 7. It comes as a result of a series of statements that imply the independence of individuals who are motivated by the pursuit of glory and honor and superiority at the expense of relationships.

And in a way Jesus is describing a type of journey toward an obscurity that has sought recognition from all the wrong places or at least the wrong reasons to the neglect of being known by God.

Yet, there is another type of obscurity, a voluntary kind that Jesus seemingly lives out and another kind that is thrust upon us as a gift or an opportuntiy to be humbled.

Both require humility, one is certainly easier and met with much less resistance. The challenge of willingly becoming obscure is in part due to the fear of being forgotten or the fear of loss or becoming lost to one’s self. We don’t volunteer our hiddenness because we are afraid someone else will surpass us. John the Baptist knew well the difficulty, but knew the greater difficulty of staying in the place of prominence when it was time to move on.

But “if you lose your life… for my sake.”

This is the echo and refrain and invitation that I am having to remind myself. Am I willing to become lost in Christ which ultimately will find me found?

Am I willing to give up the little I have accumulated even the little in which I feel adequately known to have eternal riches and an identity formed by the Father of all good things?

I have been unwilling. I have fought to establish independence and sought my own justification. I have cried out and reached out to largely be ignored and I have been unwilling to be forgotten.

So I have functioned as a ghost. Scaring, maybe even intimidating the ones who have ignored and disregarded me only to find that ghosts can’t receive healing.

Returning to the places and people that have wounded you without regard for restituion does no one any good by reappearing. This I think is also the point of the resurrection. There is no evidence that Jesus reappears to his murderers.

He shows up for the ones who actually want Him.

That, I think is an important way to live. Showing up for those who want you. By want you, I mean those willing to spend time with you in reciprocation and love not the ones who want to use you.

I think this is Peter Parker’s dilemma to a degree. Can I do more good by being unknown than known? I don’t know if it was adequately worked out in this most recent movie because he chooses to be completely unknown not as Spiderman but as Peter Parker and that seems strange. Spiderman does not become obscured, meaning people still know Spiderman exists, and he does good. But the identity of Spiderman is obscured. This carries over into Peter Parker being forgotten which I think sends the wrong message to a generation already consumed with putting forth an idealized version of their identity.

I don’t know if it is actually worth laying down who you are for a heroic masked or plastic version of ourselves. I think just about everyone is already doing that. This is part of the nuance of obscurity.

It allows us to find out who actually wants us around not for our heroics or even for our mistakes but for who wants to love us well because we exist and are capable of reciprocating genuine love and affection. We obscure the mask in an attempt to have a genuine expression of our identity and being known. We lay aside pretension in order to discover the gift of the person that is a free and true version of themselves even amidst their own wounds and ongoing healing.

In a way we have to separate ourselves from our masks, which in itself is a version of obscurity usually hiding the genuine and often messy, but somehow also allows us to give off an idealized version of what we are capable of. The mask allows us to say, look how beautiful, picturesque and rich my life and your life can be often neglecting the beauty of contentedness.

If we were content would we feel the need to boast, or waiver in indecision, or desperately try to garner a following?

In obscurity, we learn how to be content, how to be known to the ones that matter and are willing to reciprocate love and we are free enough to continue to walk when we are wounded by our enemies.

Prose: Simple-Hearted

In the spring, it became apparent we had lost each other for quite some time. I had become rote in my ability to disappoint. You had become distant before and after discussion on top of discussion. Together we suffered and our affection caught glaucoma. Nearness and touch gave way to a glance that at times was familiar and others was as unwelcome as a strangers gaze.

I placed my baggage on a chair at the table and asked you where you woud like to start. Should we start with mine or yours? Would you like to dump it all out at once and sort through it or take it out one piece at a time until it becomes intolerable?

Desire carried us then to lighten each other’s load

How patient are you now?

I find we both can be patient, depending on how generous we are feeling and if our longing for something else abates in order to notice each others need for tenderness.

Together, yet separately, we crafted versions of one another that were neither true in regard to our selfish motives nor the overtly romantic notions of who we wanted each other to be.

And this too gave way to accepting the imperfect person standing there doing dishes, taking out trash, folding clothes, leaving clothes on the ground, scrubbing the toilet, leaving hair in the sink, crankiness, irritability, depression, with the one whom we chose to at one time make a home with. Whom we recently have forgotten to make a home with. Who will care for us in our neglect?

I have refined you and you me, or at least, we have been useful in the process. It was not our usefulness that made us or kept us face to face. It was our hearts circulating willingess to lay down parts of the self to inherit much of the other, and there we were able to return.

To the smiles, the giggles, to the hands we hold across the table and the breath we both hear and have frequently felt intimately, and it is the many moments in the delight of familiarity that we find each others eyes again and again.

And there simple hearts are known.

Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.