De bon aire: Old French used to describe a gentleman of good disposition.
Debonair: A man of confidence, style and charm.
Whichever form of the word you choose to describe Jake, you can’t go wrong, as both more than aptly describe the man who has come to be one of my dearest friends. As a Christian you come to be wary of the voices you listen to, and the people who give you counsel, but I can confidently say Jake is one of the few people who I allow to speak with authority in my life, because he is truly a man after God’s own heart. That and he is the first to tell me what to/what not to wear on a date lol.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him in person; a rarity, as we are never on the same continent for more than a few weeks at a time. But this Wednesday, we sat in Trattoria Dell’Arte, right opposite Carnegie Hall, talking about life, faith, and his recent debut as the Debonair Disciple.
I could probably write a thesis on you myself, but for the sake of our readers, who is Jake?
*Laughs* I hate that question so much. I feel like I can’t always answer it satisfactorily because there are a lot of different aspects of me that I take for granted and they are best highlighted in interactions with me and seeing me in situations. But for the sake of this interview, I think Jake is someone who is passionate about life. And living a full life. I believe in curating a life that is beautiful.
What IS a Full Life?
A full life is, in my opinion, one that is balanced. So, I believe human beings exist as tripartite beings – comprising of body, soul, spirit – and living a full life is ensuring that those three parts are being taken care of at all times. Obviously, it can’t always be perfect, but ensuring that wherever you’re heading, you’re always factoring in the well-being of those three parts of your being. I believe that one’s spiritual well-being is tied to their relationship with God. So for me, for example, my spiritual well-being is achieved when I feel in sync with God and His heart. That comes for me after I have read my bible and received yet another revelation of His love and power. It could be mind-blowing or a simple reminder but I prize such moments greatly. It also comes from praying – especially when it’s not rushed and from what I call ‘soaking’ which is when I just blast worship music and lie on my bed for an hour or two just having random conversations with God about my life, global and local politics, society, cultures and people. As for the well-being of my soul, that is achieved through hanging out with people who give me life, reading exciting materials on things I’m passionate about like Africa-related affairs, fashion, fitness and human behavior. Basically, my soul is fed doing whatever I consider fun and brings me peace of mind. When it comes to the well-being of my body, I find that that is achieved through cardio, lifting weights and eating healthy – but obviously delicious – meals. Oh, and dressing well, because life is too short not to look good. *Laughs*
Ain’t that right? lol. Is that where the Debonair Disciple came from? This desire to find balance in body and soul?
Yea, basically. So the Debonair Disciple is my men’s fashion and lifestyle page. I found that a lot of people would ask me what I was wearing or where I got it from or how I put it together. And so I wanted to help with that. It used to frustrate me when people would say to me, ‘I could never pull that off’. So one of the things I wanted to achieve with the page was to inspire people to try new things and to give them the necessary pointers so they approached dressing up with confidence that they were not committing any laughable fashion faux pas. I’m particularly partial to smart and formal clothing, and I think that was intensified during the year I was doing my Masters degree at Cambridge. It was a quite conservative town, and I couldn’t exactly wear my ripped jeans to the formal halls, so I started to have to perfect my smart and business casual look complete with penny loafers and all of that. And it became fun. But I’ve really always enjoyed dressing nicely. I don’t see myself going directly into fashion – at least not now – so this is my way of using my God-given eye for style to contribute something to the world.
The lifestyle and travel bit came naturally as well because I love traveling and exploring new restaurants and places and if I had a penny for the number of times people asked me “Where are you?” on snapchat and IG, I’d have more money to book even more restaurant tables and trips. Haha. However, I’m not a food critic so the recommendations I make are more about sharing the ambiance and experience. I recommend places basically based on how they made me feel.
I may eventually take a turn on the page to talk about my faith, but I’m not sure just yet because I don’t want it to be yet another Christian blog. I think sometimes we need to invest in covert ministry so people can see other things about you and be drawn to you as a person first. With that, through personal interaction, you can actually show them your faith. A lot of times in the world we live in a lot of conversations are polarizing, so until you’ve entered people’s hearts in a certain way, you can’t have conversations with them. I want to maximize the number of real interpersonal one-on-one conversations I have with people about my faith instead of just speaking on a platform. That may change along the line if I feel led, but now it is what it is.
That’s good. I can definitely relate to that. So Mr. Debonair, what’s been your favorite experience so far?
What comes to mind most recently is my trip to Cannes. My friends and I were there for a night and it was an unforgettable one! You can read all about it on IG. But if I had to pick a favorite experience overall, I’d say it was my four years in NYC at Columbia University. They were the best four years of my life. And then my year at Cambridge was another amazing year. So basically, the collective experience of 2010-2015 has been the best of my life.
What made them the best? Was it the people? Because from what I’m hearing there’s this consistent narrative about your love for interacting with people.
Yes, it’s about the people – about the meaningful friendships and the impact I was able to make. I remember when I was leaving Columbia this girl I had never spoken to before came up to me and said, “Thanks for your presence here. You didn’t realize how much you impacted me, and I’ve never spoken to you before, but thanks for being who you are. You really brought something special to Columbia.” I loved that because I think Columbia gave me the opportunity to invest in people’s lives as myself. And what I realized when I got to Cambridge was that I could do that anywhere. The victory for me is when people allow me to be their friend and invest in them and be there for them emotionally. My experience at Columbia made me realize that my calling is to people – to be a living and active representation of Christ in their lives. And when I don’t have the opportunity to do that, I feel very redundant.
So going along this narrative of the importance of people and connecting with them, I think one of the hardest things for Christians in general is interacting with people who don’t necessarily believe what they do, or if they believe, they don’t follow the same tenets as we do. And I have my own ways in which I navigate that, but you being such a people person, how do you reconcile (and you may not even have to) who you are as a Christian, with being this very sociable person who wants to pour into and love on everyone?
One of the scriptures that informs my life is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. In the Message translation (MSG), it says:
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
For me, I know I am called to all kinds of people at various points on the faith spectrum. When you get to know me, you get to know who I am and what I believe but you also get to know that I love and respect you regardless of what you believe. This creates spaces for open dialogue allowing people to share their experiences with me and vice versa. I realize that when such spaces are created, I get more of a chance to share my faith with people because they know that I am sharing my true experience with them and not just some religious dogma I have been indoctrinated into believing. We may not see eye to eye on everything, and we may disagree, but in the end we can love – or at least respect – each other. I firmly believe that you really cannot command people as to how to live their lives, neither can you argue people into faith. So I’m here to facilitate a revelation, not to win an argument. Your life announces a lot more than your words do, so I’m more focused on living in a way that allows people to realize that God actually makes your life infinitely more beautiful and fulfilling, and if they need a friend to be with them or assist them should they ever choose to be on that journey, I am that friend and I’m always available.
That’s really good Jake. So, going back to the Full Life. Let’s talk about the body. I know you’re big on health and fitness, but I also know that there was a point in your life when your fitness became unhealthy. I think something I’ve struggled with and continue to deal with is body dysmorphia, and realizing that I have used health and fitness in a way that was unhealthy in order to deal with my body insecurity. Care to share your experience?
In 2014 I randomly won a general fitness check up at my gym. I’d been lifting since 2007- when I was 16 – so in my eyes,despite my poor diet, I was the epitome of healthy and fit. But then I did the test and the guy said to me, ‘You’re actually quite unhealthy and on your way to diabetes if you don’t lose weight.’ And I was like, “What are you talking about?” So I had to go on a whole journey of checking what I was putting in my body and I realized that there was a complex I had developed growing up that stemmed from the fact that growing up, everyone looked at me as this lanky effeminate little boy, and to combat that perception I started lifting. I wanted to be the macho alpha male looking type. It actually did start out as a healthy thing because I wasn’t good at any sport and I needed to get my exercise in somehow, but then it turned into an idol. It became ‘I need to look this way to fit in with the kind of perception I want people to have of me.’ Then I came to America, and everyone here is bigger, so I went the extra mile because now I wanted to be the biggest person in the room.
But with this news about impending diabetes, I realized that if I wasn’t confident in myself and how I came across, it would always show regardless of how big and muscular I became. I was not going to die because of a wrong perception of me and so I started asking God for healing from the inside of my mind and the emotional scars of my past. This came with me losing the unhealthy weight I had held on to. Now I’m healthier, I enjoy running…and I have abs. lol. #winning
What do you think God is teaching you in this season?
I’m at a point where I’m struggling to find the direction where God wants to take me on my career and God is using that to teach me a lot about gratitude, and how to do away with entitlement. You see, as a child of God I tend to feel very entitled to having the best in life but things have not been going according to my plan at all and through that I’m learning that Christ is first and foremost my reward.
Through this career battle, I’m also learning that I cannot run away from my purpose or negotiate with my passions and not end up burnt out and unfulfilled. I have tried the whole exerting yourself thing to find outcomes. I’ve taken do your best and let God do the rest to a whole other self-righteous level, trust me, but I had to dial back because I realized that there’s no point in waking up and rushing to get somewhere for 9am if you’re not chasing after God. This is literally fresh perspective – I’m talking about the last 6 hours. LOL. And I will definitely have more to say on that in a year or two, but for now I’m just like, “Thank you Daddy God for how far you’ve brought me, and thank you even more that you’re not going to leave me here.”
About not knowing where you’re going to go: one of the hardest things I suffer with and people ask me about is, how do I deal with this thing where everyone else seems to be moving forward, and I’m just here trusting God? How do you deal with that tension of being still and trusting for direction when everyone else is running?
I dunno. lol. I’m upset for parts of almost every day. And I know this isn’t where God wants me to be, but He’s helping me work through it. All I can say is that I’m learning now more than ever how much I struggle with comparison. And I didn’t think I did before because I was doing my own thing. But as you grow older your value in the world is measured in very very few ways so if you don’t feel you measure up by these few standards society sets – especially standards set for men – then you have to learn to lean on your identity in God.
I definitely identify, and I think it’s why I wrote that piece on comparison. Because the question for us as Christians is, where are we placing value? We’re living out purpose. And living purpose is sooooo much different from just living. We could do anything. But we don’t want to just do anything. We want to do what God created us to do. And that makes it doubly hard, because you can move, but you always want to move in the direction God has for you. If we truly want to be successful by God’s standard, then we can’t just do anything.
But enough about that. What do you find most rewarding in life?
You know, when I was graduating Columbia, my mother asked me what had me feeling so fulfilled. And to be honest when I thought about it, it wasn’t the academics or what I had received. It was mainly because of the impact I had made on people’s lives. Of all the things that I get in my life, there’s nothing that fulfills me more or makes my heart glad as much as realizing that I’ve made an impact in someone’s life. So I know that whatever success looks like to me, it will not happen without people attached to it. That whole ‘your network is your net worth’ thing? It has such a deeper meaning to me. It’s not just about using people, but actually about how I will actually obtain my self-actualization from pouring out as much as I know into them.
So I always like to end these interviews with the same question: How do you balance your Slayed with your Saved? How do you balance who you are as an individual – your passions, your loves, your hates, your desires – with who God has called you to be and with your faith?
I think it’s really about identifying things about myself and situations I find myself in and being who I believe Jesus would be in it, because Jesus is in everything. And I love that as Christians we see things through the inspiration of a Holy Spirit who knows us personally and deeply so we can actually pick up our Bibles and get revelation completely for us, tailored to us, because God knew He would create us and put things in His word to direct our uniqueness.
A typical example is me realizing that I really like planning events and bringing people together to have a good time and enjoy life. And to realize more and more that that’s exactly who Jesus was on Earth. He was the person who turned water into wine at the wedding party, and always gathered and joined people for meals and to share in the experience that is life. He was, and still is, a gatherer. And when I read about Jesus ascending into heaven and saying ‘I’m going to prepare a place for you’, I see someone who has gone ahead of us to plan the biggest party of all time. And He is STILL in the process of planning because he is that kind of party planner. lol. That was exciting to me, to see Jesus share my passions.
So more and more, the fullness I seek in life is propelled by how I see Jesus pursuing the same things. It’s really about finding the word that speaks to who I am, and standing on that. And so the Slayed and Saved reconcile themselves. I see Jesus in it and I do it with him.
To find out more about Jake, and his deep passion for life and people, you can follow him on IG, @thedebonairdisciple