the beatitudes

The first lines of the Sermon on the Mount have been called the Beatitudes for centuries. They paint a beautiful picture of the finished product–what someone who is living in Kindgom looks like, feels like, acts like, loves like. But rendering each of these snapshots back into its original language bring surprising results and brand new vistas and realizations of just what Jesus meant by Kingdom.

Download an Aramaic paraphrase of all nine Beatitudes

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Singing to the Corn

Dave Brisbin | 11.12.17
It often helps to hear deep spiritual truths as expressed in faith traditions other than our own. We can become so familiar with our own traditional expressions that we don’t hear them anymore…they become enveloped in colloquial meaning and lose the ability to shock us into deeper awareness. And we do need to be shocked. Native Americans did not put their energy into buildings or infrastructure. They didn’t value the physical trappings of Western societies and lived nomadically within the systems nature provided. They saw life, meaning, and purpose from a vastly different perspective—one that Jesus was trying to convey as well. 

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When Crowfoot, the great Blackfoot chief says, “What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset,” when Waheenee of the Hidatsa tribe writes, “Often in summer I rise at daybreak and steal out to the corn fields, and as I hoe the corn I sing to it, as we did when I was young,” they are speaking of the meaning of life encapsulated in the immersion in a singular act in a specific moment. All life and meaning coming to a single point of awareness. Jesus would call this Kingdom, and if we can’t learn to sing to the corn again, we won’t really know what he means.

Life Happens

Dave Brisbin | 11.5.17
Maria Montessori said that play is the work of the child. She recognized that the playful activities of childhood influence the pattern of the connection between nerve cells in the brain, the development of motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, creativity, emotional wellness, problem solving. And if play is the work of the child, then toys are the tools. And yet, the child knows nothing of this. The child just plays, and all this development happens in the background as by-product. John Lennon wrote in a song that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. As adults, we often dismiss the play of the child as meaningless childhood expression, missing the deeper significance. 

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In the same way, we miss the deeper significance of life because we take our work and tools literally and not as the play and toys they really are. Our work and tools have no real intrinsic meaning. Everything we build with our hands and tools will be lost in time. But what comes as by-product, from a direction in which we were never looking, is the eternal, deep truth-understanding of life—as we simply show up day after day, working, striving for excellence, taking care of customers, co-workers, family, friends. If play is the work of the child, then work is the play of the adult, and once we realize that the real meaning of life is what happens as process rather than outcome, we can really start to live.

Repentance Without Regret

Dave Brisbin | 10.29.17
A nationally-known pastor writes of a sea change earlier in his life when he realized that he was no longer on a path he recognized or thought would lead where he really wanted to go. He wrote that he believed that we have a far too narrow view of repentance, that it meant “to think,” and he had much to rethink and repent. But if we really look at the etymology of the word repentance through five different languages, ancient and modern, we find that repentance is vastly broader than simply feeling regret or rethinking. 

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French, Latin, and Greek all stand between us and the original Hebrew that forms a major theme in Jesus’ teaching. The first words Jesus speaks in Mark is, “The waiting is over. The kingdom is here. Repent and believe the good news.” But when we look at repentance fully, we find not just a word, a single meaning, but an active process, another threeness that takes us from the sorrow of a path not taken to the renewing of mind that overcomes the fear of choosing altogether new directions. And it’s right there that Paul picks up the story and tells us of the kind of wounded sorrow that moves us toward a repentance that moves without any regret at all.

Out of Control

Dave Brisbin | 10.22.17
Looking at the record of increasing human awareness of the intimacy of God’s spirit recorded in scripture: from a wild, fearful presence on a mountaintop, to the shepherd-like pillars of cloud and fire leading the people of Israel, to the cloud standing outside the tent speaking to Moses, to that presence settling on and filling the tent and eventually the temple, to filling Jesus at his baptism, to the apostles at Pentecost…what of us? How do we move from the awareness of Spirit standing outside our tent to resting on and filling us as well? How do we receive the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean? And how do we know if we have that filling? 

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There are clues all over scripture to guide us, but only if we really pay attention to the context, to the backstory, to the larger experience of the people that show us what it really means to ask and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Much more than a verbal asking, a spoken prayer—and much more than the speaking of tongues, the awareness of God’s presence filling our tabernacle is life changing on every level.

Quo Vadis

Dave Brisbin | 10.15.17
At the end of John’s Last Supper account, Peter asks Jesus in the Latin version, “Quo vadis, domine?” Where are you going, Lord? Isn’t that the question we’ve all been asking since the very beginning and are still asking now? We’re still asking because a question this large, that encompasses all of life and all it means to be human, is not answered in a conversation. It’s not answered verbally at all, but in the actual following after…once we have discerned a general direction. And what is that direction? If we are willing to look at scripture in a different way, from Genesis to Revelation, the direction the Lord is going becomes apparent. 

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Looking at the Hebrew description of Presence, sometimes called shekinah glory—where and when it descends and where and when it is removed—we begin to see that it’s not the Presence that is changing, but our perception of where to look. If we can entertain the notion that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures together contain the record of the evolution of faith in a people collectively, the deep insights of certain individuals among them, both the problem and the solution, a description of where we have come from and where we’re going, then we will be prepared to see the where the Lord is going and to follow after in an ever-expanding experience of his Presence.

Signs

Dave Brisbin | 10.8.17
Ever notice how it seems to take longer to get somewhere you’ve never been than to get back again? Why is that? Watching every turn, wondering if you missed one, if there’ll be a street sign, how much longer…? I always like to look at a map of the whole route before letting the GPS lady lead me around by the nose. There is a certain amount of anxiety involved in going somewhere for the first time that is relieved once we have some idea of the overall shape of the journey. And what’s true for external journeys is certainly true for interior ones as well. We are always looking for signs and prophecies, plans and God’s will to help us see the way before we actually travel the way.

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But what Jesus is constantly telling us is that we won’t get the kind of sign we’re looking for if what we’re looking for is certainty. All we get is the “sign of Jonah,” the general shape of the Way that descends into the belly of the beast before it ever leads anywhere else. Jesus is saying that life is shaped like this, that the nature of the journey doesn’t require certainty or even clarity, and if you persist in clinging to those obsessions, you’ll never open to the trust that really is the engine of the only Way to Father.

The Gift of Subtraction

Dave Brisbin | 10.1.17
Meister Eckhart said that the spiritual life is much more about subtraction than addition, but what does that mean? Many spiritual teachers have spoken about the fact that life is divided into halves, but what is the distinction? Putting the two together, the first half of life is about building the physical platform for survival, happiness, meaning, purpose, identity—it’s about acquisition both physically and emotionally…about addition. The second half is about undoing all that, about the subtraction of layer after layer of manufactured identity and the illusion of certainty. It’s about coming full circle back to the garden where we play with Presence in the cool of the evening and become vulnerably secure in trust. But what does a second half of life journey cost and look like? 

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How do we know we’re in it? Here, Paul comes to the rescue with a beautiful moment of vulnerability and self-disclosure at Romans 7. In a passage that has traditionally been hard to understand, in this context, we see Paul showing us the push and pull, the disorientation and frustration of moving from the first half practice of law-following as righteous addition to the gift of finally letting go of the effort to be good enough, subtracting our way into the weakness that makes us strong in God’s embrace.

The Art of Waiting

Dave Brisbin | 9.17.17
If you’re waiting for anything, you’re not herenow—you’re projected somewhere into an imagined future. And if you’re not herenow, then you’re not in Kingdom, not on Jesus’ Way. Life is like music and dance: you’re either making it or you’re not…if you’re waiting for it, you’re not making it. And yet, as long as we’re breathing here, time appears to us as a sequence of events, past, present, future, and we really do need to learn from the past and anticipate and prepare for the future. How do we do that and remain in Kingdom if life is made up of a combination of now and then, being/doing…and waiting? 

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There’s an art to waiting, a way to wait that keeps us grounded herenow and on Jesus’ Way, and the key to understanding how Jesus is telling us to wait lies in the ancient customs of the Jewish wedding traditions. To understand prophetic and apocalyptic scripture as well as the simple moments of your day begins with knowing how a young Jewish bride waited for her new life as wife and mother between her betrothal and wedding. And then to understand why both Israel and the church understood themselves as God’s bride living between heaven and earth, between life herenow and new life anticipated any moment is to begin to practice the art of waiting.

Outrunning the Rules

Dave Brisbin | 9.10.17
Anyone who’s played football had to learn the playbook and how to run the plays in the book, but the real play of football begins where the playbook ends. What do you do when the playbook has delivered you the ball, put it in your hands, and now it’s just you, a field full of linebackers, and a goal line? A great chef begins where the recipe ends and jazz players are defined by the music they make beyond the printed page. It’s a great irony that the church has traditionally told us that God will bless us if we just obey the rules, the law…especially considering that Jesus spent most of his precious time trying to tell us and show us that we can only begin to see the blessings God is constantly showering on our lives once we outrun the rules: 

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transcend them, graduate beyond them, fulfill them by becoming them—living with their original intent written on our hearts. Until and unless we begin to see that Jesus is trying to grow us up and over mere acquisition and obedience as the means to God’s love and approval, we’ll never experience the freedom of simply running downfield with abandon, the ability to make a feast out of whatever ingredients each moment provides, or the creativity in flowing with music that has never been written, and will exist only as long as we are playing.

Kingdom of Presence

Dave Brisbin | 9.3.17
A pastor once told me that the pulpit is the last bastion of uninterrupted speech in America. That may be true, and monologues have their place and power, but from time to time we like to have “Conversations” on Sunday mornings, times when we can interact as a group—ask questions and make comments, tell personal stories—sometimes open ended and sometimes directed. Today, directed a bit, realizing that how for the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the “via negativa,” the ancient, Christian tradition of descent, of letting go of whatever is false in our lives may have created an overly negative view of Jesus’ Way, it seemed to good time to talk about what willingness to let go actually brings into our lives. 

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Letting go of more and more of what is false is really a letting go of fear, and letting go of fear finally allows us to see what is real before us. And what is real is Presence. What does this presence feel like and how do we experience it in everyday life? We all throw in to discuss.

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