2018 Archives

A Study in Presence

Dave Brisbin | 10.14.18
Last Thursday was a tale of two hospitals. First a trip to a prominent children’s hospital to speak to the director and manager of spiritual care about new programs they are initiating for patients, families, and clinical caregivers. I am struck by the unhurried presence of the two I meet. Unhurried, gracious, taking their time with me, as if I were the only person in their world until the moment they have to move on to their next meetings. From there, I drive forty miles to visit an elderly friend in critical care in a massive hospital downtown. Darker, more serious, not for kids. I walk into the darkened room and she asks what brought me all the way downtown. I say, only you, dear. I’m here just for you. She says, oh isn’t that wonderful? And we talk and hold hands and seven minutes later, she asks what brought me all the way downtown, and I realize her memory has reset itself. Still carrying the unhurried presence of the last hospital, I choose to enter her world and simply say, only you, dear. I’m here just for you, and she says, oh isn’t that wonderful? We repeat this every seven minutes for the 45 minutes I’m with her, and I have just as much a thrill in telling her as she does receiving the news.

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I have been given the gift of presence voluntarily by two practiced professionals and involuntarily by my friend for whom I am the only person in her world for seven minutes at a time. It’s a study in presence that stays with me as I turn to see how Jesus handled presence, the steps he took to create and maintain, and I find five stories all back to back in one chapter of Luke—chapter five. Reading between the lines of stories that don’t tell but simply show, I find six lessons in the practice of presence that allow us to enter into the world as Jesus sees it, if only for seven minutes at a time.

Running with Swimmies

Dave Brisbin | 10.7.18
Sometimes insightful messages come in sets of threes, it seems. Or maybe it’s that as the first time goes right over our heads, second brings awareness, and the third really hits home, we’re just sensitive to the threeness of things. I suppose it’s always our choice to see life as either a series of coincidences or having divine influence or somewhere in between. And that’s the point: how we see the events in our lives and our place in them is a choice. Any worldview we choose will answer some questions and beg others, but whether we hit an objective accuracy we could never prove anyway, some views of life are just more fun. A series of events of the past week from a trip to the zoo to the homecoming greeting by our pet dog, to an email from a friend in crisis telling the story of a young boy running into the pool with his swimmies on, a pattern of experiences and images formed with an impact that seemed to far outweigh mere coincidence. 

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Jesus always points to children as the emblems of kingdom, but more than that, when we dig beneath some limiting translations, we find that he’s really saying that kingdom is us and we are kingdom when we look at life in a particular way—a way that makes us look like children. Whether to see the threeness of this last week as God’s guiding hand is my choice. And yours as well. But whatever the mechanics of life, some choices are just much more fun and childlike. Kingdomlike.

God’s Juggler

Frank Billman | 9.30.18
Through the study of the mystics and contemplatives we’ve been conducting both on Sundays and midweek, we’ve covered several historical personalities. Several of them have been studied by staff and members of our community, and several of those chose to present in first person, even dressed for the part to bring home the fact that these storied saints of the church were simply flesh and blood people who answered life’s circumstances with a fierce desire to know God completely. Here, Frank Billman, one of our recovery pastors, takes on the persona of Frances of Assisi, and presents him as the humble man who saw himself as a poor but beautiful part of God’s creation and never lost the childlike quality and wonder that made him call himself and his followers, God’s jugglers.


Dave Brisbin | 9.23.18
Every now and again we stop presenting new material so we can consolidate our thinking and just have a conversation. Starting with the theme of contemplative life that we’ve been discussing for several weeks and placing it in the larger circle of perfect love, we set out. Our goal is not to provide absolute answers to any given question. When it comes to issues of faith, no such certainty is possible. We’re just talking through issues and providing educated viewpoints to consider together. You never know what’s going to come when you hand the mic to someone in the room, so take a listen and find out… there may be questions you’ve been asking as well.

Just Enough

Dave Brisbin | 9.16.18
Movies are our dominant storytelling media these days, and though we can say it’s a shame people aren’t reading as much anymore, sometimes the combination of a great script, great actors, and great pictures really brings a message home. Spinning the dial, I came across the movie Jackie and became involved in the story of Jackie Kennedy coping with the first seven days after the assassination of her husband/president. But what riveted me was the series of scenes between her and a priest counselor in which she asked the classic questions of grief, loss, and life in general. She questions God and his cruelty, she questions her actions and what she did to deserve the trauma and pain, and she questions her life as she reveals she’d been praying every night to die. The priest carefully tries to steer her down a middle course between the extremes of an indifferent God and one who actively creates or allows pain, but ultimately confesses there are no answers. 

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Delivered by the great actor John Hurt just weeks before his own death to pancreatic cancer, a death he knew was coming, makes even more pointed the truth that at its most mature, our spiritual journey ceases as a search for rational answers that aren’t coming—and becomes a conscious immersion in moments we may not understand, but that God in his infinite wisdom has made sure are just enough for us.

Contemplative Way

Dave Brisbin | 9.9.18
Speaking more from a personal point of view, Pastor Dave talks about how the recent series on the contemplative journey and lives of mystics in the Christian tradition has stirred up emotional memories of his own journey and the questions they pose on the nature of the deep desire in some of us to engage this journey at all costs. Where does this desire come from? Why is it so strong in some of us and not others? How is it sustained? And most importantly, where do we direct it and nurture it into a conscious contact with God and each other? As always, we go to Jesus and see that he had a very defined Way of bringing his people to their Father, and it roughly breaks down into four main areas of growth: healing, teaching, mentoring, and serving. 

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When the desire in us becomes strong enough, we become ready to stop being victims and start healing at least enough to build a stable platform for learning about a Way of living that changes everything. Then at some point the student becomes ready to actually engage the Way with a mentor who can guide and provide accountability until the student becomes the teacher and can serve. This is the contemplative way, the Way of Jesus that takes us from fearful brokenness to an assured humility and willingness to be openly vulnerable in our moment by moment experience.

Graven Images

Dave Brisbin | 9.2.18
In the first and second of the Ten Commandments and many other places in the scriptures, God tells his people that he is their only God and that they are prohibited from making any carved images—what King James called graven images—of him or any of the gods of the near east pantheon because he is a jealous God who will visit iniquity on the people who defy him to the third and fourth generations. As we are looking at the contemplative practice of coming to know God intimately, how are we to deal with a passage like this? The image of a jealous God visiting iniquity on innocent generations seems the antithesis of a God who looks so different in Jesus’ eyes, life, and message. As we peer through the Hebrew context, words take on different meanings, but primarily, to understand the scope of graven images really points us in better directions. To carve an image is to literally set it in stone, presenting a false view of a transcendent God and killing the experience of a living relationship. But we do the same with our mental and verbal images, and we do the same with our written word-images as well. 

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As far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything down, kept all his teaching and interaction freely moving in real time. Were his words experienced only as oral tradition for the next two to three generations perhaps to avoid the veneration of a static manuscript in place of the living relationship it described? When our knowing of God is not based in graven images made out of any possible material—even thoughts and words—but in a living, daily experience of presence balanced with knowledge of scripture understood through Hebrew eyes, we find a jealous God who is no longer threatening, but consistently and exactly who Jesus portrayed him to be.


Dave Brisbin | 8.26.18
Some twenty five plus years ago, as I was attempting to go into bible battle over a particular interpretation with a Franciscan priest. He held up his hand in the universal stop sign and said, “All I can tell you is what I’m convinced of. You go become convinced of what you’re convinced of.” Coming through my mindset then, it seemed like a complete copout. But later and after all these years, I realize it’s the only thing one human can say to another in matters of faith and spirit. In our fear, we want to be certain, absolute about everything including the things that can never be absolute without ceasing to be what they are—articles of faith that exist only in the presence of mystery. But those of us who sincerely seek the truth that Jesus said would make us free come to understand that such truth can’t be proven in words or diagrams that feed the fear, but in the experience of truth-as-a-person that feeds the heart. 

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And those same seekers, like pioneers or astronauts taking first steps into uncharted territory, experience truth as if for the first time and yet with the sameness that unchanging truth demands. Holding the conviction of the contemplatives and mystics in the Christian tradition against the conviction of Paul in the New Testament, we encounter a record of experience with a God who always sees us as if for the first time. As we guilt over our mistakes and sins of the past and worry over our imagined unworthiness in the future, our Father sees only the person standing in his moment, the only moment that exists. It’s as if he takes a snapshot of who we are right now and loves us, however scarred or unfinished, simply because we’re there in his presence—as if there is no other information that exists. Because the only moment that exists already contains all there is. If we’re in that moment with God, we are one with all there is, and all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.


Dave Brisbin | 8.19.18
Watching the birds come and go in our backyard, I have my favorites. The finches and hummingbirds, the doves who do more walking than flying… Then I see this jet black bird with fire engine red wings and think wouldn’t it be great to wait for the perfect mix of birds, then throw a net over the whole thing—one big aviary with all my faves that I could see any/every time I looked out. But next thought is that the moment the net goes over, I’m responsible for those birds, feeding and cleaning, and the thought after that was that there would never again be the widening smile over a bird I’d never seen before or the gratitude that the birds chose our yard over all the others. Deep down, we all know the presence of a friend is infinitely more valuable than that of a prisoner, 

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yet we throw mental nets over our lives and relationships, trying to hold on to just the right mix of circumstances and people, just the right view of theology and scripture that will throw a net over a God who may not otherwise choose our yard. Those who wrote our scriptures have a lot to say about this. They called God’s spirit, ruach: wind, breath, spirit all at the same time, but defined by motion. God’s spirit is always in motion or it’s not God’s spirit. To throw a net over, to try to hold God still is to miss the whole point of relationship—that it needs to be freely given and received. If it can’t be that, it’s not worth having.

The M Word

Dave Brisbin | 8.12.18
As a church that believes in, teaches, and practices a contemplative way of life, we take a certain amount of criticism from certain Christian circles. And as we are about to begin a workshop series looking at the lives and practice of some of the great mystics of the Christian tradition, there have been concerns raised both online and in our community. Why? What’s the controversy in the church at large over this issue? Contemplatives and mystics both believe that direct connection with God is possible right here and now, but not in words or rational thought. Believing that God “speaks” in pure presence, we must learn that language—be purely present ourselves, “rest in God”—to connect with his spirit using the tools of silence and solitude, mindfulness, meditation, and non-verbal prayer among others. 

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We use the terms contemplative and mystic almost interchangeably, but a mystic is generally regarded as a contemplative who also has ecstatic spiritual experiences such as visions, dreams, and sometimes euphoric responses to God’s presence. The controversy stems from whether these practices are scriptural, whether they move outside or even against the Biblical framework. So being as fair and clear as possible, given our own point of view, let’s look at what contemplation and mysticism are and are not, and what exactly the Bible says about both. With no attempt to persuade, we won’t be giving answers, but the evidence may surprise you. And hopefully comfort or at least relax you.

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Embedded in the fun and laughter of each of our gatherings and events is the connection and accountability as well as the structure, discipline, and opportunity for service that authentic community is all about. We help create programs for physical support, emotional recovery, and spiritual formation that can meet any person’s needs. Such programs work at two levels: first to address a person’s physical and emotional stability—clinical, financial, relational,professional—anything that distracts from working on the second level: true spiritual formation centered around the contemplative way of life defined by an original Hebrew understanding of the message of Jesus.

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