Dave Brisbin 12.5.21
What are you trained to see that others miss? If you’re trained in art and art history, when you look at a painting you can see color, palette, composition, technique down to the brushstrokes. You can place a painting in its genre and era, maybe assess its importance and value as others pass by without a second glance. If you’re trained in architecture, you see a building very differently from others. If trained in music, sports, mathematics, fashion, horses, dogs, cats…if you choose to spend enough time with another person, when someone asks what you see in that guy, it’s obviously something others have missed.
We’ve all heard the adage that seeing is believing, but the truth is that we can all look at the same thing and see or believe different things about it. Or not see it at all. Some things need to be believed before they can be seen—we have to be prepared to see them, the real significance of them.
Too Big to Grasp
Dave Brisbin 11.21.21
Some ideas are just too big to fit into our minds all at once. We can understand the meaning of the words, but not the significance. The number trillion is thrown about these days the way a billion was a few years ago, the way a million was a generation ago. You can count a million seconds in twelve days, but counting to a billion would take thirty-two years. Breathtaking, until you learn that counting to a trillion would take thirty-two thousand years…
Jesus’ concept of kingdom is like this: contradicts our worldview and experience of life so deeply that even understanding the words, the reality remains out of reach until we take the first tentative steps toward experiencing it. As encapsulated in the Lord’s Prayer—not a prayer to be recited but an expression of the intention to live life prayerfully—we are being asked to release everything we have used to save ourselves in order to be saved by what we’ve not yet considered. That kind of vulnerability and the trust it implies are too big to grasp with our minds and must seep into our hearts by another way.
Teach Us to Pray
Dave Brisbin 11.14.21
There was something different about the way Jesus prayed. His friends watched him, watched other religious leaders. They saw their Jewish teachers praying in the marketplace or temple court in full view of the people, saw gentiles praying loud and long, entreating their gods over and over with petitions. Then they saw Jesus, after a grueling day teaching and healing, disappear into the hills sometimes for days, or wake to find him already gone, returning later with the energy and enthusiasm for another grueling day.
The difference was so stark, it finally pushed them to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” What is it you do out there in the wilderness for hours or days on end? What is it you do that brings you back to us restored? He tells them not to make a show, to retreat into their secret place, to use few words since the Father knows what they need before they ask. Then he gives them five simple lines. How does that work? How do five lines of prayer take us deep into the secret space of our wilderness and occupy us for hours or days on end?
Giving Like Wind
Dave Brisbin 11.7.21
How do you measure your own righteousness? Kind of loaded word. Maybe “rightness” is better. Do you even think about your rightness spiritually? How you measure up, how you’re progressing, what God thinks of you? The religious authorities of Jesus’ day had it all worked out. They measured their righteousness in three ways: how much money they gave to the temple treasury, how much they prayed, and how often they fasted.
Of course, they made sure everyone knew how much they were giving, praying, and fasting by making a show of every act of ritual righteousness. After all, what good was being righteous if no one knew about it? If it couldn’t benefit you in some way? For a religious leader to act and teach this way naturally puts him or her squarely in Jesus’ crosshairs as he works to redefine how we see our rightness with God.
Rising Sun Falling Rain
Dave Brisbin 10.31.21
Most of us realize we’re imperfect. Some of us are even willing to admit it. When Jesus tells us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, some of us are immediately off trying to follow every rule…perfectly. Some give up after a while, and others don’t even try. But if we’re going to take Jesus seriously, how can we be imperfect and perfect at the same time?
Right before he tells us to be perfect, he tells us to love our enemies, because our Father causes the sun to rise and rain to fall on those who are good or not, righteous or not. In the way of the poet, Jesus doesn’t spell it out—layering image on image to bring us to an inevitable conclusion. The way the Father is perfect is that he causes the sun to rise and rain to fall on everyone because they are here breathing and for no other reason. Before we can be imperfect and perfect at the same time, we need to learn to love and hate at the same time.
The Second Mile
Jesus is not here to make us safe. Jesus is here to make us free. We can’t have both at the same time because freedom and security are inversely proportional—as one goes up, the other goes down. We give up freedom to feel safe, and the freer we are, the more exposed and vulnerable. Without Jesus’ priorities deeply set, we willfully miss his message in our obsessive desire for security.
Jesus is always exposing and deconstructing the legal walls we build for security at the expense of the freedom to simply relate to each other in love. As barbaric as an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth may sound to us today, it still makes us feel safe because it promises that any breach in the walls of our safety will be repaid in kind, that mutually assured destruction will be a deterrent to those who would threaten our security.
Dave Brisbin 10.17.21
Is texting OMG—shorthand for oh my God—taking the Lord’s name in vain? Blasphemous, unlawful? Many Christians will answer yes and yes. But a group of Jewish high school students said they just use it instead of an exclamation point and don’t feel God is involved at all, that OMG stands for oh my gosh anyway. Now gosh and golly have been polite euphemisms for God since the 1700s—can’t expect high school students to know that.
Those who answer yes and yes will say that OMG breaks the third commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. (Use of King James for scary emphasis.) But the context of the commandment points to legal contracts, which at the time were “signed,” sworn with their highest authority—God’s name. To break such an agreement was taking the Lord’s name in vain, making it worthless, and no society can survive losing respect for its highest authority. But Jesus takes this a step further, saying swear no oath at all, that yes or no is sufficient, recognizing that for an honest person no oath is necessary, and for a dishonest person, no oath is enough. Be honest, decent, true to your word, and law has already been fulfilled.
When Two are One
Dave Brisbin 10.10.21
Nearly thirty years ago, my fiancé and I asked our Pastor if he would marry us. I can only imagine how our faces looked when he said no because we’d both been married before, and he didn’t know that we had the biblical justification for our divorces. The church’s reading of Jesus’ sayings on divorce and remarriage was that the only legitimate reason for divorce was adultery, without which any remarriage was an act of adultery as well.
Already in church leadership and pastoral training, he further told me that a leader in the church had to be the husband of just one wife, which they interpreted from Paul’s sayings as being in a series rather than all at once. I remember wondering just when they planned on telling me all this. Having seen pastors send wives back into abusive relationships, which seemed risky and wrong, I’d rationalized it as making every attempt to save marriages. I didn’t realize how deep the scriptural rabbit hole went until I fell in myself.
Dave Brisbin 10.03.21
Stepping off stage after speaking, a woman leads another young woman by the hand who sees only the floor in front of her feet as they approach. The first asks if I would speak to her friend. Without meeting my eyes, she slowly tells of a friend since childhood who married a Jewish man and converted to Judaism, then after a long depression had just committed suicide. She loved her friend very much and was afraid she was now in hell. Rejecting Christianity, committing suicide—two third strikes in a row. When she finally did look at me, the pain was heartbreaking, pleading for an alternative, a way of doing the math that didn’t add up to the answer she feared.
How would you have answered?
A question like this is only difficult from a legal perspective where breaking certain rules requires God’s eternal indifference. Indifference. After all, even God can’t stay mad forever, can he? Jesus literally killed himself showing us his new math: the sum of a relationship that never rests on law plus the sum of a law that never rests on rules—a quality of heart that rules could help form, but only lovingkindness beyond any sense of duty could fulfill.
Dave Brisbin 9.26.21
Desperate for a different outcome, a mother asks me to visit her son in county jail on a drug charge. Visiting an inmate is much like the movies: huge sterile waiting space, walls an unnamable yellowish beige green, bolted down metal benches, stenciled black numbers over an endless wall of doors. Waiting. Lots of waiting. A flat male voice calling my name and two numbers. One for the door, one for the window. Through the door, long corridor with windows on both sides, bolted stools before each with small acoustic panels between that give a bit of break between visitors but no privacy. All the voices of all the conversations ringing through the corridor.
I sit before my window waiting again, struck by the energy in the rows. Women dressed their best—hair, eyes, makeup—parents, grandparents, children as if at family dinner on my side of the glass, all orange jumpsuits on the other. Laughter, pitched voices, Spanish, English, hands not holding the handset waving with the words. I catch a young woman leaning forward almost to the glass. The intensity, tone of voice, soft laughter…she was sitting across white tablecloth and candlelight with her man. Leaning right past window and handset, there was no offense, no charges, just her man. At that moment, she was completely orange colorblind.