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.

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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

Temporary Flights, Indiscernible Heights

731E86F3-D5BF-45A4-9D6F-D144A5D2F680I’m somewhere in the air floating, waiting to land. This wasn’t the plan, but this is where I am. God may have called an audible.

I still am not sure this is where I am supposed to be but God has promised to be with me.

And my soul has grown quiet. The one thing this season has done is simplified my soul. That does not mean that temptation is not sometimes loud or that the weight is less heavy. But I’m learning to tread softer. I’m learning to make less noise when things don’t go as planned. And I’m accepting I might not know God as well as I thought.

I’m also having to accept that my intuition regarding people cannot be ignored. That doesn’t mean I have to speak bad about them or slander them which I have been guilty of. It just means I have to accept that some people’s character is just unattractive, not becoming and in need of transformation.

I thought a year of chaplaincy would mark me more. While it may have helped keep me tender, it did not thicken my skin. Nothing has hardened to help protect myself as a result. So little if anything can bulletproof you from loss.

I should give you an update. The amount of doors that have closed or never opened for ministry in the last few months have been humbling. And where I find myself is on a construction project in Atlantic City, installing power lines via helicopter. It is a job so foreign to chaplaincy, yet perhaps not so foreign.

I replaced someone who was beloved and died tragically far too young.

I took this while interviewing for somewhat of a dream job doing campus ministry at Princeton University ministering to college students across the street from the church I came to know Jesus in. It would have felt like it brought my endeavors full circle, instead like opportunities before it, I interviewed more than once and came close.

Now, my job is new and can be isolating and my heart is grieved, not so much by the job, more so how out of control it all has felt. I am on God’s time which is less urgent than we can imagine; the only thing that has a time stamp of “now” on it is salvation and reconciliation in relationship to the Father. God’s preeminent priority is our hearts.

I’m starting to believe God only cares about our vocation so long as it does not keep us from Him and the calling and creativity in our lives, by which we give Him glory.

For me that is writing, preaching, teaching, listening to the way people are loved by God, persevering through suffering and experiencing joy.

I need more of the last one. I need more of the hope that there is indeed a thread knitting us together in love and purpose to see the Kingdom established on earth as in Heaven.

I also need help and hope for life itself.

EDD42FEF-82F4-4DDB-9FEB-96C1563CDDF5Because dangling through this season, I am looking down and don’t recognize where I should land. I don’t even know if I can guarantee a safe landing. This job gives me a chance to figure out where I want to land, and that makes me sad because no one else is surveying up here with me.

There are only cherished voices shouting up to come back down or to stay where I am. It is lonely in the clouds and I have never been too confident about landings.

I also don’t know how high up I am or will go before I come back down. I feel lower than those tethered and planted in the ground and I want to be planted somewhere. So I reach. I write, I wait, I hope I land and not drift away.

 

 

Mood Disorder-ly Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

A Short Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willing But So Weak

I had one of those deathbed Jesus moments last week. I was with a patient while they died whom was reconciled to God the week before. I did not save the man, all I did was remind him that God was willing to forgive him because of the work of Jesus Christ.

All I could write, after the patient expired just prior to 3:00 AM was, “I watched a man live.” Dying and living and dying and living again. This is what we profess as Christians. We reincarnate twice as new versions of ourselves. The first time we likely look no different(spiritual new birth). The last time we are promised a glorified body to house an eternal spirit.

In between we die a thousand little deaths, with a thousand degrees of heartbreak, with a thousand more disappointments, mingled with hundreds of thousands of things to be grateful for. Our life becomes challenged by what we are willing to focus on. Do we choose to focus on that which brings us life and light or the things that remind us of our dark and weakness?

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What we focus on dictates how we live out our salvation. Will I barely make it through each day or will I function in faith and confidence in the power of the Spirit?

My first learning goal in chaplaincy formation was to become comfortable with death/loss. I’m changing it to become more acquainted with resurrection life after death and loss. Little joy is to be found in the losing and the dying, perhaps none. The hope of the resurrection is what our lives need when we are consumed by our own weakness. The alternative is to fixate on our dying disappointments that intrude on our endeavor to live and love.

I Am So Weak

Admittedly, amid this endeavor, I am so weak. I am increasingly more aware of my sin-f-illness, accruing the debt of its deadly wages.

When will I stop paying what I cannot afford to give?

Are there any riches I have saved in an eternal account toward the wealth of knowing Christ?

If I have any wealth from heaven, I would like to invest it in service to the Bridegroom Christ who is both my Creditor and Debt Payer, in the prospect of marriage and family, in service to the Bride, the Church. Treading on bankruptcy in Spirit does not seem to offer the generous hand I hope to give.

Yet here I am, a chaplain, who prays daily with people teetering between their first life and final breath, some trying to make restitution for their next inhale, hoping to love better or love more or love longer. I try to assist them in their desire as I forget my own failure to also love better, love more and love longer. Only to become more self-aware of ineptitude in the torment of my own ego.

I am willing to experience more freedom and wholeness at any cost. But does it ever cease to feel like I grasp at ethereal concepts? I want reality, but I am weak. I want love and to give it, but I am weak. I want to let go, but I am weak. I need help because I am weak. But I am willing for the Spirit of Christ to intervene. Maranatha

Wealthy Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy…”

I believe you can tell how rich and deep someone’s faith is by how generous they are with mercy. I believe this because according to God’s sense of justice, people deserve harsh consequences for their wrongs, yet God is slow to deal judgment. In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul lays out what God’s rich mercy has meant for us. Destined for death as subjects of God’s wrath, we obtain a wealth of mercy, so we would experience the glory of relationship with God the Father.

Mercy pays a debt.

Mercy endures your wrong and the pain it caused, and instead of delegating the punishment we deserve to us, it says, “I’m withholding what you deserve in this moment because I desire to keep what we had prior to your wrong.”

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I also believe for me and for many, mercy is harder to understand than grace. We associate grace as a gift for the helpless. With grace we are given something we have not earned. With mercy we exercise supreme self-control to not give someone what they have earned. A person has earned my anger even my extrication, yet I choose to process my pain, surrender it to Jesus, and offer consistent love in return.

While mercy is a gift, it is not a given or a guarantee, but Jesus compels us to store up a treasure of mercy guarded by thick skin while maintaining tenderness of heart. Mercy while giving the appearance of being trampled on is displayed by the one who has not been conquered or consumed by someone else’s hurt. It requires a resolve of strength and transparency that is soaked in a peace that can only come from the Word and breath of God.

Mercy is costly.

And often we don’t know the price tag the person who delegates it has paid. And sometimes we take for granted how much it is worth when we fail to see the value in the one offering it. Humanity does this in abundance with the common mercy that God maintains in patience with a fallen world.

Mercy absorbs rejection.

Yet mercy also abhors rejection because to reject mercy is to choose suffering. I am presented with an option in relation to God the Father and the other. I choose to receive a freely given mercy or I choose to stew in the suffering of my own sin. This second option is not viable, it is not reliable.

Mercy is my only hope.

I don’t know if you can say mercy is your only hope, but I am willing to bet it is whether you are aware or not. My only view of survival let alone thriving or revival is through mercy. I need a mercy that triumphs over judgment because my pronouncement over my actions is to abandon self. But God so rich in mercy…

Mercy is free for the one willing to receive it

The only way to be liberal with mercy is for either God or you or someone else to pay the cost.

Who will you let pay that cost?

Quit Nice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

Foolish Loyalists And Prophets

Now is as good a time as any to question which of your loyalties are hindering you. It’s also a good time to question the messages you’re listening to. I’m not talking about becoming a paranoid cynical skeptic because those kinds of people tend to lean into the most uncomfortable, unhelpful assumptions of their paranoia.

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What I am calling into question is what we are quick to believe and who we are quick to defend. Our current American climate I think supplies some evidence to the danger of our foolishness. It’s too easy to take a side of what we feel are our only options. And we become staunch about our side glossing over its potential or obvious evil.

It’s amazing confounding how quick we are willing to discard accountability if it will delay our desire, whether we’ve questioned the validity of our desire or not. It’s amazing confounding how quick we are to demand justice from an institution that consistently proves to us is broken and flawed. It’s disheartening to see how we (me included) so often subject our faith in Jesus to the performance of people.

We only have one perfect savior, and it wasn’t someone in your family or the subject of your romantic affection, or your political or judicial candidate. This doesn’t mean we cease our loyalties or our prophecies.

It does mean, however, that every one of our loyalties and prophecies are foolish.

See the Apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of the Gospel and the foolishness of preaching as the sole way we receive our deliverance and salvation. The thought that God would have his son murdered as the way we come out of this thing eternally alive is a foolish yet an astounding reality.

The command to faithfully pursue the unity of faith within the Body, the Church despite our persistent division and struggle to love seems foolish especially in light of familiar and frequent accusation. But we need the exposing and expelling of darkness as we acknowledge our need for one another’s light. This is the eternal benefit of confession, another foolish invention of God.

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How does admitting my sins contain with it the potential for healing and restoration?

How does being immersed in water bear any evidence on our faith?

How does our love for one another provoke the love of the unfaithful?

 

I don’t have a succinct answer to any of these, but I also know from what I watch and what I read outside of Scripture is individuals we elect don’t know either. They are bound by constituencies, lobbyists and emotions probably more-so than most of us. And the worldly wisdom each of us espouse is flawed.

But Jesus, that sweet loyalty to Him and the foolish prophecy that He is busy reconciling the world to Himself patient for our devotion is audacious. It is real and raw, foolish but completely freeing. When I subtly perceive this kind of loyalty in others that forsakes every other affection, I am left convinced of the goodness and genuine love of God.

Our willingness to look foolish for the Gospel (knowing the true gospel required) contains a great reward. The reward is receiving and revelating love in greater ways.

You become rich in love.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

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

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

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

Why is that?

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

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

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

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

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

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

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

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

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

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

Atypical and the Typical

I’m watching this Netflix show Atypical. It’s on its 2nd season and it’s about a teenage boy with autism trying to figure out love and life while navigating his parents failing marriage. Every episode is sad but good. I imagine there are a dozen of shows like it but my friend Victor who is clinical therapist, college professor and an awesome person got me hooked on it.

IMG-0286I like it because it feels raw which isn’t the most helpful thing for me because life itself is as raw as can be right now. I’m around people who are dying, getting terrible news, and asking me questions about why they are suffering and why the world is the way it is. I twiddle my thumbs, listen, pray, basically do anything to avoid giving an answer that they likely wouldn’t remember 15 minutes after I leave the room.

But I do find that people do want me, more specifically a person, to hear them while they are in the hospital. They want a person who will petition God for them in calm sincerity.

Wouldn’t any of us want that? Don’t we though? I wanted that this morning in church because I hurt, and God sent a young man to pray for me, gently, calmly, letting me know he heard me. It made things better.

Made things better than what? I’ve been here only a month, how bad could it be? It’s not bad.

I’ve found this place to be familiar and difficult to adjust to. It’s hard to have the energy to connect when I spend most of my weekdays literally sitting and talking to people at their most vulnerable. I need to join a sports league. I need routine. I also need to relearn myself.

That is why they train you to be a chaplain. After spending two weeks talking to people and hearing their fears and desire for reconciliation and questions for God, you, unless you’re very numb or rather, I who is very not, find that I have a responsibility in the time I am not at work to be very careful to make sure I am well.atypical

I have found that: You become more self-aware and your feelings are heightened. You find that “alone-ness” is more palpable when your house is empty and quiet and lacks touch. You find when your sick even if its only for a day  that you are anxious about what you would do if it was more. You find that rejection from the opposite sex feels the same in a new place as it does in an old place.  But you also find out what you like. You find out you like being in the ocean on a body board for a little bit as often as possible. You find that you actually like movie theatres a lot. You find that any communication from friends is worth gold to you. You find reading and writing are so intricately apart of you that if feels like you’re dying if you’re not doing it.

So that was a long paragraph.

But I only have one more thing to write. Things aren’t bad at all actually. Things just are and sometimes we get bad news or news we didn’t want. We might find out time is running out on us, but God holds us in the time we have.

And while I hope I have a lot more of time, and I hope it still holds hope and love and family, I am called to remain faithful to Christ in today. This call to faithfulness I am finding is both typical and atypical.

 

 

How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.