2018 Archives

Eternal Aliveness

Dave Brisbin | 8.5.18
Had a dream the other night. Kind of like a flying dream, same feeling, but I was back in college, on campus in a cavernous common room with no furniture and students sitting in groups or alone on white, polished floor. Looking down, socks no shoes, when I realized how smoothly I could glide on the floor, I began ice skating around the room faster and faster between and around the groups of student, wind in my face, so free. Later, outside, immersed in the beauty of the campus, talking to a student about classes, I realized I had no idea what he was talking about—I hadn’t been attending any classes at all. The sense of freedom and absence of responsibility was a stark contrast to my waking life. Thought I was functioning and managing well through an extended time of loss, but my dream showed another level of life that I was no longer experiencing. How is life supposed to be lived? 

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Western Christianity has looked at Jesus most often as the “man of sorrows” focusing on his passion and death for our sins. But is there another view of Jesus that looks more like ice skating in our socks? Looking at possibly the most famous single verse in the New Testament, John 3:16, there is a clue. And when we realize that the Aramaic word Jesus used for the world God so loved and the eternal nature of the life we find in him is the same word, “alma,” we realize that the life Jesus is pointing toward is not about quantity, life that lasts eternally, but quality, life that is eternally alive—starting right here an now. And rather than being of man of sorrows, Jesus was a man of eternal aliveness.

Meaning and Circumstance

Dave Brisbin | 7.22.18
Most often, we attach meaning to circumstance. We view accidents of birth—where, when, how, and to whom we are born—as significant, along with our own accomplishments and external events that affect us. We attach good or bad labels to our circumstances based on the level of pain they bring. But when we think on even the worst things that have happened to us, if enough time has passed, if we have continued to breathe and live, we tend to find that even the worst circumstances have created cherished outcomes we never saw coming, or possibly could not have come any other way. When Paul writes to the Romans that God causes all things to work together for good, he lists a couple of stipulations that we really need to pay attention to: not always or for everyone, but for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. But what does that mean, exactly? Turns out that if you consider the verses before and after this famous verse, Paul defines who loves God and how, how they are married to God’s purpose. 

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And when all is said and done, loving God is essentially the same as being called to his purpose. If we’re living in the hope that saves, breathing through whatever circumstances present…we can’t lose. And then the reality dawns that meaning isn’t what we take out of our circumstances, but what we put in to them—into our relationships with God and each other. And once we know that we can have that meaning in any circumstance and moment of our lives, we can say with Paul that we’ve learned to be content in all circumstance.

Shoulder Taps

Dave Brisbin | 7.15.18
I almost don’t pick up the phone; it’s been ringing all day. Just getting into work flow again and don’t recognize the number…I watch it for several rings then grudgingly tap the screen. It’s a young Marine with a fellow corpsman driving around looking for and calling churches near the base. You’re the only one to answer the phone, he says, and goes on to tell me they are being deployed the next day for the first time and just wanted someone to pray with who “knew what they were doing…” There was a moment somewhere during this exchange when all the resistance and worry about work not getting done and any other distracting thoughts fell to the floor, and I knew exactly what I was going to do, couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Do you know our address? Yes. What’s your ETA? Five minutes. Give me fifteen. What an honor to have picked up the phone, to have been at the right place and time when these two young men rode by. Jesus speaks of service, makes it a centerpiece of his ministry and worldview, and so we have made it a centerpiece of ours as well in a typically institutional way—with organizations, agendas, and mission statements. But is there another face of service to which Jesus is pointing? 

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I’ve always been puzzled by the story in John 11 of Jesus raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus’ decisions and reactions just don’t seem to track. Why did he wait two more days to travel to his friend who was sick? And if he knew he was going to raise him, why did he weep with his sister just before? I see a video where a man speaks of “shoulder taps,” moments when it seems God is directing our attention to a need right in front of us, a need eclipsing all others by mere proximity. Maybe Jesus is pointing to a more organic and seamless view of service as simply being aware and present enough, open and vulnerable enough to feel the tap—to know exactly what to do when either an unknown number or a best friend calls.

Deeper Healing

Dave Brisbin | 7.8.18
Think of all the debates and fights between Christians. Among Christians. Between Christians and non-Christians. What are they all about? Truth? Ethics, morality, law, doctrine, church practice or style, social issues? For Christians, if it’s Scripture that informs us of truth, then every fight—whatever it’s about— is ultimately about Scripture. What we believe about Scripture dictates both what we think we know of truth and how we think we need to go about defending it. But the Bible is primarily a spiritual book conveying spiritual truths and building an awareness of unseen significance in life. Yet we focus and fight over the physical accuracy of issues like creation, church practice, numbers, dates, and of course miracles and miraculous healings. Jesus presented his healing miracles as proof of the authenticity of his ministry, “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them…” We immediately question whether these events actually happened, but from a spiritual perspective that is much less important than what they can teach us herenow. 

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Taking any debate off the table, even assuming Jesus’ healings literally occurred, is there a deeper layer of meaning that points toward a truth beyond physical accuracy? Truth is, any physical healing is really only a temporary reprieve—from the moment we are born, we are all slowly dying. So even as Jesus heals what is temporary, he is also pointing to what endures, inviting us to partner with him in his greatest miracle…to be truly living while we are dying.

Revolution for One

Dave Brisbin | 7.1.18
When did Christianity actually begin? It would be easy to say at Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, Easter. But was Christianity as we know it present during Jesus’ life? Even Easter was a “silent” event. It happened while Jesus’ followers were sleeping or at least staring at the ceiling that night. Afterwards, they didn’t recognize him when they first saw him, and it took some time for them to come to terms with their new reality. One scholar maintains that Christianity began the moment Jesus’ first followers recognized the full impact of his resurrection—fully realized what it meant that he was alive. That was certainly the moment or series of moments after which they moved out in a new boldness and began revolutionizing the Roman world. But before that revolution could take place, each faithful follower, in the period between Easter and Pentecost, had an experience nothing short of an interior revolution—a radical overthrowing of his or her previous concept of reality. It was an interior micro revolution that preceded the exterior macro revolution to come. 

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But can we also move in reverse? Can we look at the details of a macro revolution to see how they mirror and map the personal revolutions we all need to engage in order to grow along Jesus’ Way? Approaching July 4, looking again at the words of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s words bring key concepts to bear that are true for all revolutions, national and personal, and can help us discern when we’re getting close to our own interior revolt, when to act, when not to act, and when we’ve let the moment pass.nd our way back to the presence of our God and the ability to make the risky decisions that will eventually shake our world as well.

Broken Windows

Dave Brisbin | 6.24.18
In times of difficult life transitions, when the uncertainty factor is blowing the top off the thermometer, questions of how to proceed become really urgent. But coupling these transitions and the seemingly risky decisions that come along for the ride with a perceived loss of connection with God, spirit, relational connection, can be paralyzing. When the pain is great, it seems to us that the solution must be great as well. We look for sensational—big, top-down fixes or breakthroughs. We think we need to hear God’s voice in a way we haven’t before, pray for clarity, find a big missing piece somewhere out there to alleviate the insecurity. There is a theory in criminology called “broken windows” that believes taking care of even the smallest signs of criminal activity or social disorder—fixing broken windows—creates an environment where even serious crime is less likely to happen. And where it’s been implemented, it seems to work. In other words, if you want to create big changes, you start with the little issues, the day to day broken windows in your city or in your life. 

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Looking at Jesus’ life both in what is stated he taught in the gospels and just as importantly, what is left out in his 18 “lost” years shows a Jesus taking care of the smallest details on his way to a ministry that would shake a world. By identifying and working through our broken windows, no matter how insignificant they seem, we can find our way back to the presence of our God and the ability to make the risky decisions that will eventually shake our world as well.

Father’s Face

Dave Brisbin | 6.17.18
On Father’s Day: Though the ancient Hebrews who wrote our scripture always referred to God in the masculine as Ab/Father, there is much in scripture that also refers to a feminine nature as well. Hebrews understood that God encompassed both ab and em, father and mother—both are embedded in their language, sacred writings, and world view. But here in the modern West, looking at scripture more literally as we do, God as father eclipses God as mother and presents us with the unbalanced view of God primarily as king, judge, executioner, administrator—all the functions of ab at the expense of the mercy, compassion, intimacy, humility, and vulnerability of God as em/mother. But Jesus comes to our rescue with an ingenious solution: “Abba.” This word for father carried the intimacy, familiarity, and belovedness of a child for her daddy and by using it, Jesus was conveying that he had seen his father’s face and news was good about the nature of our relationship with him. 

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When did he see his father’s face? Contrary to the common view of Western Christianity, the gospels imply that it was during an intense struggle, a wrestling in the wilderness where Jesus stripped his life down to the ground in order to see what was really true. The shape of this wrestling is mirrored over and over in scripture, in Jacob, Moses, and even Philip as they struggle to see their father’s face. It will be no less a wrestling for us to put down whatever we carry that blocks our view so that we can move from ab to abba and see both father and mother in our father’s face.

Happy Warrior

Dave Brisbin | 6.10.18
My wife tells me she keeps seeing the number 11:11 everywhere. I start seeing 11:11 as well. She does some research and finds that seeing repeating numbers is a “thing,” a phenomenon sometimes called “angel numbers,” with an intricate system of meaning based on numerological values. But since any actual meaning can’t be verified or falsified, it’s all easy to dismiss, even mock as mere coincidence or selective perception—as it probably is, factually. But seeing the numbers has become a touch point for me and my wife, a running connection between us, a reminder of a greater unseen world, a source of playful attention and smiles, a call to prayer and a return to center. Seeing, being aware of these numbers has become full of meaning for me and my wife—it’s become a middle way, a third way through the details of life. A business coach has me read a book giving permission to be completely obsessed with business success, which appears to stand in complete contradiction to the contemplative principles I’ve studied for decades, calling us to a quiet center and a detachment from outcome. 

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And though it would be easy—and comforting—for me to dismiss, even mock that celebration of “obsession” so that I didn’t have to stretch to consider it, I’m thinking there is a third, middle way between these two poles, any two poles that life presents. Jesus tells us the last shall be first, to take the seat at the foot of the table, and yet his life was radical and extreme and his family thought he was crazily obsessed when he began his ministry. Where we think we may have to choose between being an obsessive warrior and a happy contemplative, maybe our tradition is really showing us the middle way of the happy warrior.

A Momentary Kingdom

Dave Brisbin | 6.3.18
Dialogue from movie: “You’ll never believe what just happened!” “If it’s bad news, I generally do believe it…” Unfortunately true. Why is it that we generally do believe the bad news over the good? If you think on it, we’re shaped much more by the hurts and traumas we’ve experienced in life than by the joys and pleasures. Pain demands strategies for survival that we build from earliest childhood—strategies that become perceptions, attitudes, behavior, and beliefs that are sturdy and persist indefinitely after the painful circumstances are gone. How do we pull our personal pendulums back to a centered position? In Romans, Paul speaks of presenting ourselves as living sacrifices and renewing our minds to prove God’s will. What does that mean? How does it help? To put that into practical terms is to line it up with Jesus at Matthew 6, when he tells us not to worry about the future but to seek Kingdom first, right now. 

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Putting it all together is to realize that all life is always today and that the Kingdom to which Jesus and Paul are pointing is always now/today as well—in fact it’s a momentary Kingdom. The choice to renew our minds and behavior and attitudes is always now, always a moment by moment proposition. There is no super switch we throw or prayer we say to enter Kingdom once and for all. There is only this moment and the choice we make to be fully here, present to God’s spirit infused in each other and everything around us or not. It’s like a string of pearls—it only becomes a necklace the moment there are more pearls than string.

Loving the Oscillation

Dave Brisbin | 5.27.18
I’ve watched a friend over the nearly ten years I’ve known her, fight her way back from the depths of traumatic loss to new life only to find out that she has cancer. When we last connect, she’s just coming out of eight hours of chemo. Eight hours for one treatment. I had no idea it could take so long. You’d think after all the years down and the all years climbing back up to new job, house, friends, and fiancé, there’d be some sort of plateau for a while at least, but the crest for her was just the beginning of the next trough, and the oscillation continues. One week out of Pentecost, it’s important to realize that it was ever thus. We want to believe that when we attain a peak experience like the filling of the Spirit at Pentecost, things will stay peaked from that point on. But that’s not the picture scripture is painting. 

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Looking at Peter after Pentecost, Paul after Damascus, David after Goliath, Elijah after Carmel, peaks that should have remained only form the crest that defines the next valley in their experience…and the oscillation continues. There is nothing wrong with the shape or our lives, the shape of the oscillation. There is nothing they or my friend or we have done wrong to deserve it, but not to expect it, amplifies it. Life will always carry us up and down as we live here between heaven and earth, and the mark of the truly successful life is the one that has learned to love the oscillation. Or if that’s not fully possible, to at least learn to love through the oscillation.

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