2019 Archives

Blessed Assurance

Dave Brisbin 12.29.19
Anticipating a new year and new decade, how best to prepare and direct ourselves? How best to find the hope, peace, and assurance we need to remain undeterred and undistracted amid the noise and chaos of another year? Coming from an unexpected direction, I get a phone call from a licensed clinical psychologist, a PhD who had a near death experience that was so profound that he had to write about it, asking if I would be willing to read his manuscript. His story stood out among other such experiences I’ve read in its sincere attempt at objectively describing what is inherently a radically subjective and ultimately inexpressible experience—an experience of pure presence, of God’s presence—yet completely devoid of religious imagery. And most interestingly, his description matched in some cases almost word for word the experiences of the mystics and contemplatives who have written for millennia.

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Whether external circumstances like illness or accident bring us to the point where ego is completely stripped, or whether we live our contemplative practice to point we can voluntarily go to the same place, there is a common experience of the peace and assurance that all is well when we get beneath our conscious thought stream that is constantly telling us otherwise and maintaining the illusion of aloneness. That is the hope and blessed assurance we need to approach this new year, the conviction of knowing that ultimately everything is always and will always be well.

Our Story

theeffect  12.22.19
theeffect’s Christmas service as a seamless presentation of music and story combines the scripture passages of Jesus’ nativity with original and curated writing, all centering on the incredible story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 between the trenches of the Western Front of World War One in Belgium and northern France. A spontaneous ceasefire in which muddy, exhausted soldiers were able to see themselves in the muddy, exhausted soldiers sometimes only fifty yards away across No Man’s Land. And though wearing different uniforms, these soldiers found the same humanity, hopes, and dreams that Christmas promised nineteen hundred years before and still promises today.

Star of Bethlehem

Dave Brisbin 12.15.19

Has the Star of Bethlehem ever fascinated you? The Star that led the Magi to Jesus…what was it really? A miraculous star that appeared and behaved like no other star ever did or could? Or a natural, but perfectly or supernaturally timed astronomical event like a comet, supernova, conjunction of planets or some other anomaly as many scholars have suggested? But even such events, if natural, could never behave as Matthew describes the Star behaving:  going before the Magi, unseen by Herod and his advisors, and then stopping and standing over the place of Jesus’ birth. Is there any possible astronomical event that could account for all Matthew’s details? In our continued look at the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, we look at the Star like a forensic detective sifting through the clues left in the gospel to see what may actually have happened. And surprisingly, if we’re willing to look in a direction that is often forbidden in modern, Western Christianity, we find there is one that does.

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If we’re willing to widen our view of scripture, there is an astronomical event that fits the date of Jesus’ birth, not as we celebrate it, but when it historically must happened, and accounts for all the other seemingly miraculous details Matthew relates—but only if we look through astrological eyes. Astrology in the bible? Not as we understand that term today, but yes, absolutely. Or course we can’t know for sure that this is our Star, but it’s a beautiful thing whenever our scripture and historical fact line up and point us in the same direction.

Anawim of Christmas

Dave Brisbin 12.08.19
There’s a word little known in Western Christianity that was a foundation of Hebrew spirituality, appearing throughout both Old and New Testaments. Anawim, plural for anawv in Hebrew, literally means to “bow down” but by extension means lowly, poor, oppressed, or marginalized. But more than that, it refers to people who have accepted this position in life, see themselves as vulnerable and dependent, and are grateful for all provision—realizing that ultimately they must rely on God rather than themselves for sustenance. The humility, submission, and grateful vulnerability of the anawim were understood as the ideal attitude toward life and God, and that it was primarily an interior attitude of heart that was easier to attain if physically poor as well, but available to even the wealthiest. The anawim are held up as the inheritors of God’s kingdom from the Psalms to the Beatitudes, and all the great figures of faith in scripture are anawim at heart regardless of their station in life.

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Mary and Joseph are most especially anawim, and at Christmas, we recognize that Jesus is born anawim as well. It is the full message of Christmas that Jesus “emptied” himself to be born as an infant no one would recognize as exceptional except those who were also anawim. The shepherds were anawim inside and out—the genius of the Magi is that they were deeply anawim despite their wealth, knowledge, and power. The full message of Christmas is that our God is anawim, treasures those attributes, and that we’ll never recognize him as he is until we become anawim as well.

The Gifts of the Magi

Dave Brisbin 12.01.19
Why is there so much depression and anxiety at Christmas? One psychologist writes that there are three reasons: the demands of time, preparation, activities, and finances; family dysfunctional issues that are highlighted during the season; and inability to meet expectations placed on us both physically and emotionally. When you think about it, we first experience Christmas as children—learn what our culture says it’s supposed to be through a child’s eyes. And it’s a perfect storm for children: from three feet off the ground, the lights, decorations, candy, treats, magical beliefs, gifts, suspense, and anticipation create a breathless wonder. How do we expect to recreate all that through our adult eyes, looking at a different world from six feet off the ground? To recreate Christmas as our hearts remember it, is to recreate the world in our hearts as the child sees it.

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This is Jesus’ message to us—that the Kingdom he’s leading us toward is only experienced from three feet off the ground, from the standing height of a child or the kneeling height of a servant. And the genius of the Magi is that for all their learning and power, they retained enough of the attitude of a child to recognize in a poverty stricken infant the king for whom they traveled so far. For us, as in the O. Henry story, The Gifts of the Magi, we see how our full presence to each other in love recreates the abandon of the child that recreates the Christmas our hearts remember.


Dave Brisbin 11.24.19
In the run up to Thanksgiving, we take a pause to ask if anyone knows who established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the first place. Our thoughts tend to go back to Pilgrims and Native Americans collaborating, but it was surprising to most that it was Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, who instituted Thanksgiving. This is ironic on two fronts: that Thanksgiving was born in the middle of the darkest period in American history, and born of Lincoln, a man of near constant depression at the most stressful time in his life. What allowed Lincoln, as he put it in his Thanksgiving proclamation, to see the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies, and the continued beauty of the land and its people outside the theater of conflict?

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And how did he continue to acknowledge the divine source of that beauty and fullness in spite of his own personal loss and that of the country? Gratitude is an amazing thing. People choose to embrace or not, it seems, based on their ability to see gifts all around them that they could never have given themselves. And even as they work hard to earn their way through life, entitlement never takes permanent residence in their hearts as they come to understand that though we may rearrange the furniture, the house is still a gift beyond our imagination.

What We Are Really Doing

Dave Brisbin 11.17.19
Launching a new book is a crazy process. An all-consuming process. A process that takes on a life of its own and sweeps author and marketing team up into a whirlwind of deadlines, strategy, tasks, and emotion. But what does it all really mean? A book hopefully has meaning poured into its pages, but once it becomes a product to be sold, is there any real meaning left— to it and the process of selling it? As with all the tasks, causes, careers, and activities of life, where is the meaning?

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Maria Montessori said that play is the work of the child, and toys are the tools of that work. We dismiss child’s play as inconsequential and look to our work in the adult world as significant and meaningful. But just as the real meaning of child’s play lies in the motor skills, socialization, and problem solving being learned, the real meaning of the processes of the adult world lies in the humility, vulnerability, interdependence, and connection in relationship that we are learning if we’re paying attention to the tasks within the tasks we engage. The tasks themselves are like the play and toys of the child—inherently meaningless. But if we become aware of the inner task, of what we’re really doing as we do what we are doing, then a whole new world of meaning opens to us.

Mystery or Mastery

Frank Billman 11.10.19
If you think about it, we eventually get what we’re looking for. But if we have an ironclad definition of what we’re looking for, we won’t accept anything, however true, if it doesn’t look like the image we already have in mind. A forgone conclusion, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. When it comes to things of faith, most of us have the image in mind of finding the certainty of a faith proven by scripture, church, creed, and doctrine—that if we just master those elements, we will have the certainty for which we crave. But on closer inspection, another image arises: that faith is not about certainty, but about embracing the mystery at the core of life and choosing and taking action as if certain things that can never be proven are actually true…becoming personally convinced along the way. We have lived under the assumption that mastery will take us to faith, but faith as defined by scripture is telling us to make friends with the mystery that will teach us to live in the fearless vulnerability of Kingdom.

Accepting the Challenge

Dave Brisbin 11.3.19
If we really accept Jesus’ original challenge to “sell” everything we think we know and cling to for support and survival, what happens? What changes? The short answer is that we descend into a time of voluntary disorientation and disturbance sometimes bordering on panic as we realize our whole worldview wasn’t actually reality but just a set of beliefs, a filter on the world that we chose for ourselves or was chosen for us. And once we’ve looked behind the curtain, everything changes. But to be more specific, if we’re looking at the church and our faith, what changes and in which direction? In his book, a Quaker pastor describes ten new ways to look at Christian faith and church—ways that are possible to see and accept only after we’ve let go of our preconceptions and inherited beliefs. Can we find support for these new directions in the teachings of Jesus? And if we can, then these new ways of looking at church aren’t new at all. They are the reflection of Jesus’ original intent that we can only see with the new eyes we grow on the other side of Jesus’ challenge.

Creatures of a Broken Heart

Dave Brisbin 10.27.19
In speaking about the pain and disturbance of breaking out into larger spheres of awareness—being born again intellectually and spiritually—an ancient Chinese philosopher says, “you can’t speak of ocean to a wellfrog, the creature of a narrow sphere; you can’t speak of ice to a summer insect, the creature of a season.” To that I would add, “you can’t speak of perfect love to a human being, the creature of a broken heart.” Our broken hearts, as surely as the frog’s well or insect’s lifespan, wall us off from something so far from our imagined reality as to be inconceivable. How is it possible for us to break through the hurt, trauma, and need for defensive posture just long enough to glimpse the ocean of God’s love?

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The quick answer is faith—reeling off from the book of Hebrews that without faith it is impossible to please God. But that verse, so often used as a club over the head of the slightest admission of doubt or vulnerability, as if faith was the power we wield over uncertainty and vulnerability, flies in the face of a careful look at what the writer of Hebrews is actually saying. Faith is not the end of doubt, but the beginning of trust—the action of living as if what we say we believe is actually and already true, which brings us out of the narrow birth canal of our limitations and into the bright hugeness of a bigger bite of truth.

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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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