2016 Archives

Mangers and Inns

Dave Brisbin | 12.11.16
In the run up to Christmas, what does the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew have to tell us that is relevant to our day to day lives and choices? Especially, what are the details in those narratives that, understood from a first century, Jewish point of view, can not only make the story real, but clue us in to the central principles the authors were trying to convey? When we know what the word that has been translated as “inn” really means—start erasing our modern western concepts—the story takes on new life. 

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The essential details of mangers and inns begin pointing us in the right direction: toward the personal character and circumstances of Jesus and his family, their status as “anawim” those so destitute that they have only God as their provider…dependent, vulnerable, yet fully grateful and present even to their poverty. Francis of Assisi, who 800 years ago returned himself and his followers to the state of anawim, was also the first to recreate a nativity scene, a full nativity play, in order to recreate the experience of mangers and inns in a truly life-transforming way.

The Micro Life

Dave Brisbin | 12.4.16
With all the big news happening constantly, especially leading up to and from the presidential election, it’s easy to get caught up in the all these pressing macro events and even obsess over them, become the stereotypical political junkie, environmental junkie, or whatever. But regardless of what is happening in the macro, our lives are always lived in the micro—one moment and one person at a time. Often, focus on the macro becomes a way of avoiding our real life’s work in the micro. What is our basic purpose in human life?

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What does Jesus have to say about our priorities and where our emphasis should be placed? If he’s really telling us that the quality of our lives is always determined by the quality of our micro relationships and our ability to be fully present to them, then questions and choices become much sharper in focus.

Circle Dance

Dave Brisbin | 11.27.16
Coming off Thanksgiving and probably the loudest family gathering ever, I realized that the gratitude we all felt and hadn’t quite put into words, was being expressed through sheer volume: through the day long dance of family members moving in and out of conversations and laughter and food and games. It was a constant motion, a giving and receiving that blurred into one thing that I suppose we could describe as family or love or long-familiar relationship. When we look at God from a Christian point of view, we’ve been asked to see three persons in one God, but what does that mean, and why is it important? What does it offer each of us day in and out? 

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The early church fathers come to the rescue here, giving us the word that for them came closest to what they saw when they looked at God: “perichoresis.” It literally means “circle dance” in Greek, and when we think of the ancient Greek traditional dances, whirling and turning so fast that individual dancers blur into one constant motion, we begin to see the point. Love needs a beloved; giving needs a receiver. If God is love, then God is already and has always been a blur of motion where love and beloved, giving and gratitude blur into one thing, one God. And in that notion of constant motion, we can see where we fit in, where we can enter the dance and be one with the blur.

Stark Raving Honesty

Dave Brisbin | 11.20.16
When a person gets up to accept and award or honor, whether a politician to a movie star, I’ve always wondered what exactly is meant when he or she inevitably says they are “humbled” to accept this award. That statement can be authentically heartfelt and can mean many things, but if we really break down what humility means, is it really humble? What is humility and why does Jesus hold it as such a primary value? In Jesus’ stories and parables, it is obvious to scholars that he is tapping into the ancient Jewish tradition of the “anawim…” those who are poor and lowly, meek and gentle, those who have been oppressed and marginalized to the point that they have nowhere left to turn except directly to God. 

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Jesus was born anawim to anawim parents, and what he’s really pointing to is that we are all really anawim, completely dependent on God for every breath, if we would only see the truth. And that is the real point: that as AA puts it, humility really is stark raving honesty—the ability to see ourselves as we really are. Completely dependent and imperfect, yet completely loved and accepted at the same time.

Changelings

Dave Brisbin | 11.13.16
Nearing the end of a year of almost constant change, worn out, ready for some sort of plateau or break in the action, the realization reaffirms that there is no plateau. There is no time in life that change isn’t constantly in process. Sit for a few minutes and watch the shadows move across your living room—subtle reminder of just how fast things are really moving in our lives. Most of us don’t like change, but if we’re not changing and moving, we’re not part of the action of God’s spirit, which is always in motion, always bringing change. 

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How can we know if we’re resisting change in our lives? It can be pretty sneaky the way resistance creeps in and takes over our character, but there are three clues implied in scripture that we can use to apply to ourselves and see whether we’re free to blow about with God’s wind or if our heels are leaving dark skid marks behind us.

Wedding Party

Dave Brisbin | 11.6.16
Walking my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day was just about everything I could have hoped for in such a moment. She was absolute beautiful in her dress, her mother and I love her groom, the setting and preparations couldn’t have been better. But even in a perfect moment such as this, I was of course aware of fractures between families and family members that had remained either unresolved or unspoken for years, and yet as the evening unfolded, there were moments of reconnection and reconciliation that deepened the experience. I couldn’t help thinking of all the mistakes we’d all made over the past twenty five years, all the hurts and resentments, anger that somehow led to this perfect moment of reconnection. 

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We need to look again at our notion of sin and failure if we’re ever going to see what Jesus is telling us about Good News and the shape of the Way to his Father. Julian of Norwich, a medieval contemplative writer and visionary tells us that “sin is behovely,” meaning useful or necessary to the experience of God’s love. Is there a place in God’s plan even for our sins and failings? Paul seems to think so as he guides us away from law and into the realm of radical grace.

Paradox: Living in Both/And

Frank Billman | 10.30.16
The Bible contains many mysteries or seeming paradoxes as it seek to describe our relationship and walk with God. Unfortunately, many of us who have been in church for a while have learned the “answers” to these mysteries. How do we re-enter a state of awe and amazement if we feel we have the answers to all the questions? How do we embrace the statement by Brennan Manning who said, “I wouldn’t want a God I could comprehend?” How will we ever be able to accept God’s unconditional love and unmerited grace—which are the greatest mysteries of all—if we can’t find a way to rest in the unexplainable?

Wax On, Wax Off

Dave Brisbin | 10.23.16
Why does Jesus speak in such paradoxical terms? Why is he always taking the world as we know it and turning it upside down, inside out, and backside front? There seems to be a way of seeing life from the Father’s perspective that turns it all around in a way that is essential to our spiritual growth and identity. Some people call this moving from a first half of life to a second half of life spirituality. The first half of life dealing with the external tasks and details of accomplishment and acquisition, of identity building from the outside in, and the second half learning to see the deeper task within the task, the universal task that builds identity from inside out. 

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Second half spirituality understands that while the external task is ultimately unimportant in itself, the process of doing it, and doing it well, accomplishes an inner task that is eternally important. Just as the master in the Karate Kid makes his student wax cars in a very specific way—it’s not well-waxed cars that are the goal: it’s the ingrained movement, the muscle memory gained for a very different purpose that will take the kid where he really wants to go.

An Ecclesiastes State of Mind

Dave Brisbin | 10.16.16
One of the most fundamental truths of life is that it all happens, is all contained, in one moment: this moment, this day. Like a person with amnesia who wakes every morning with memory washed, each of us must learn and live everything necessary to fulfill our purpose as humans in the space of just one day, one life, one generation. But because we have the capacity to think beyond the moment—into the abstract, into yesterday and tomorrow, and because we fear the finality of our deaths in this life, we project purpose and meaning into the future, into a legacy that exceeds our own space and time. We want to be remembered, revered, to make a mark that will last. We live our lives working to build, accomplish, impress, and grow, and we do this until we realize none of that matters, that what matters remains elusive in spite of all effort. 

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In his book, Ecclesiastes, Solomon poetically expresses these concepts in his ruthless search for what is truly meaningful. And though the book at first glance reads as a deeply depressing and hopeless view of the human condition, little gems punctuate the raw reality of his observations. These gems, when uncovered, are our signposts to real, simple, and immediate purpose and meaning. To the realization that after all, this life is not an exterior journey, but an interior one that is always bounded by this moment, this day, and this generation.

Points Along the Way

Dave Brisbin | 10.9.16
Any look at the contemplative way has to include a close look at what since Thomas Merton in the fifties has been called the “false self.” This sense of personal identity is based on the emotional programs for happiness and survival born out of basic human need and nature and as a by-product of self-awareness/consciousness. But it is tailored to each individual by our hurts and traumas, primarily from early life where our deepest fears, attitudes, and worldview are formed. How can we identify this false self that, just as the sun obliterates the nighttime stars, obliterates the true self that remains purely connected to God’s presence deep within. 

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Looking at Pauls’s comments in Romans and Philippians; at the offline and online practice of meditation, centering prayer, and mindfulness; at the church’s and AA’s steps of self-examination and confession, we come closer and closer to Jesus’ goal of bringing us to the freedom that only comes from knowing the truth. And the truth is, that the voice that talks to us in our heads, the emotions that trigger us to compulsive behavior patterns, is not who we really are. Who we really are is a Kingdom resident waiting to happen, like a tree in winter waiting for the thaw of spring.

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