2021 Archives

Love is the Law

Dave Brisbin 9.19.21
Have you ever considered the power of your unconscious thoughts? Unconscious thoughts are like your bones. You cover your bones with muscle, skin, hair, and makeup, but though you never see them, it’s all about the bones. Your bones create your true form. Unconscious thoughts, core beliefs we have accepted since childhood, assumptions about life that family, education, and culture have hammered down are the skeletal structure on which everything we think we know hangs.

Unconscious thoughts create our true form, so even when we have consciously decided we want to change and follow a new gospel, changing our bones is not straightforward, quick, or easy. But following a way of life as radically different as Jesus’ Way to Kingdom requires just that: a fundamental change of our unconscious worldview. And primarily, we unconsciously view life and God through law—that obedience to law equals acceptance, and disobedience, punishment. It has been ever thus, and these legal bones outline the true shape of our view of world and relationship.

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So if Jesus is to take us on a ride to Kingdom, he first has to help us jettison our unconscious baggage. He says that he’s not revoking the law but fulfilling it in love because the whole law comes down to love—of God and each other. He says that the law is only in force, necessary, until heaven and earth pass away, which in Aramaic means to cross boundaries or limits, to merge together. When we can see the spiritual unity of heaven beneath the physical diversity of earth—the unseen bones of all creation, we don’t need law anymore. With law written on our hearts, whatever we do fulfills the law’s intent, if not its letter. The law exists only to help us make heaven and earth pass away, merge in our hearts—to see that love is the law…never rules. The purpose of a fish trap is to catch a fish; when the fish is caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of law is to catch God’s righteousness: unity. When unity is caught, the law is forgotten. Where can I find someone who has forgotten law? That’s someone I want to obey.

Light of the World

Dave Brisbin 9.12.21
With two great metaphors, Jesus shows us the effect a person has on everyone near, once they have come to see life through God’s eyes. Salt and light. As modern Westerners, salt makes no sense until we look back to see what it meant to ancient life before refrigeration and antibiotics. But light seems to make perfect sense right away. We think we know what Jesus means, which is probably worse. By thinking Jesus is only talking about the brightness and illumination, the goodness we associate with light, we’ll miss the depth of his meaning.

First, in the Genesis creation story, the earth is formless, void, and covered in darkness until God creates light on the first day. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word translated as darkness doesn’t necessarily mean blackness, but chaos, disorder, non-functioning, unusable. God brings light: order, harmony, intelligence, support for life. The word translated as created also means to build, differentiate or allocate roles. God separates light and dark, day and night, land and water, male and female and makes them functional in supporting life. The sun is not created until day four, so harmony and functionality are primary meanings.

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Second, the darkness precedes the light, is older than the light. Curved, mysterious forces like wind and water precede the straight, ordered rays of sunlight. Each one of us must take this path if we want to follow Jesus’ Way. Enlightenment is only achieved by first descending into endarkenment, being willing to sell off whatever straight-lined, intellectual order we think we control in order to experience the mystery and disturbance of unknowing necessary for seeing truth as it really is. Like salt, light is also the ability to support life. Not just doing good things for others, but to make sense of life, give meaning, purpose, connection to life. We are this salt and light, but only if we are willing to first experience the darkness that comes before the dawn.

Salt of the Earth

Dave Brisbin 9.5.21
In the poetic manner of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts by painting a portrait of the person who has become the Kingdom of Heaven…not entered or possessed it, but has actually come to embody God’s “reign,” God’s will being done on earth. His deepest purpose and pleasure: humility, connection, faithfulness—lived out in human form.

Jesus then transitions to show us the effect such people have on the lives and communities around them with two of his most famous metaphors. Salt and light.

When Jesus says a Kingdom person is the light of the world, that makes sense to us. There’s enough cultural overlap for us to see light as symbolizing an obviously positive effect. But what about salt? Why would Jesus choose salt alongside light? For most of us living a culture built on technology that includes refrigeration and antibiotics, salt has been relegated to table seasoning. But in the ancient world, salt was life itself.

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The human body is about sixty percent salt water, same salinity as seawater, and humans and mammals can’t function without salt in their diet. Salt is one of the five basic tastes, but also has the ability to bring out other flavors and add zest to food. Salt kills bacteria. Ancient people didn’t know about bacteria, but knew that salting meat, fruits, and vegetables preserved them and rubbing salt in their wounds healed them. If soil is too acidic to grow crops, salt can be used as fertilizer to balance pH. Salt was so critical to ancient life that it was used as currency—traded equally for gold, silver, fine linen. Treaties were ratified with salt. Temple sacrifices and anointing oil were salted as the symbol of faithfulness, purity, fertility. To purify and preserve life, fertilize new life, add zest and security to life. Jesus’ first followers would have immediately followed his metaphor. Who is salt in your life? Who binds your wounds, both physical and emotional? Who encourages you and open doors of new possibility? Who makes you laugh and leaves you better at each encounter? And who would say this of you? When we become Kingdom in ourselves, we become salt in others at the very same time.

Wake Up Call

Dave Brisbin 8.29.21
Ever watch a movie where you were missing every third word, maybe because of accents, fast dialog, or low volume? At first you listen harder. Then your mind tries to make meaning by contextually stitching the edges of what you did hear together. Eventually you just give up and watch something else. This is essentially what happens when we read ancient scripture and especially the teachings of Jesus concentrated in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not that we don’t have the right words in our modern translations—the bible is the best preserved and most researched ancient text in the world. We have the right words; we just don’t know what they mean anymore.

We read a line like the first Beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We don’t realize that the four key words and phrases—blessed, poor in spirit, for theirs, kingdom of heaven—all have idiomatic, cultural, or layered meanings dramatically different than the literal understanding in English. Taking those off the table, we’re left with “are” and “is” as the only words we actually understand.

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It’s one thing to know that we don’t know every third word of dialog and remain confused; it’s much worse to think that we do. When we mentally stitch meaning together, we do it through the lens of our worldview, our most basic assumptions of the way life and the world work. And for us as Westerners, that is legal and literal. When we apply a legal and literal understanding to a masterpiece of Eastern spirituality, at best, the Sermon becomes irrelevant—an impossibly absurd set of commands and concepts. We give up and go watch something else. At worst, it becomes abusive, as non-literal, spiritual concepts are turned into religious doctrine and law. The Beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount are not rules to try to obey or impossible standards that can’t be obeyed—serving to make us passively dependent. They are a wake up call to a new reality: that a God who is humble, connected, and undiverted is calling us to the same attitudes that will absolutely change our worldview.

Becoming Kingdom

Dave Brisbin 8.22.21
Remember those Russian nesting dolls? Matryoshka dolls, one inside the other, smaller and smaller, but each containing the whole doll. In terms of Jesus’ teaching, the Bible is like this: open the Bible and find the New Testament, and inside that, the gospel of Matthew. Inside Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount, and inside the Sermon, the Lord’s Prayer. Each one smaller, but containing the whole.

If you were stranded on the proverbial desert island with just the Sermon on the Mount, you’d have not only all of Jesus’ teaching, but the core of all the prophets before him. The first Jewish followers understood the Sermon as the foundation of the Way of Jesus and of theirs as well. Used it as a catechism, memorized it, internalized it, passed it on by oral tradition for thirty to fifty years until finally written down in Matthew.

The Sermon hasn’t changed since Matthew, but our view has. The church hasn’t known what to do with the Sermon for some sixteen hundred years, since we stopped looking at it in the way it was first delivered. If we’re willing, it can be our foundation again, clarifying and focusing again in a way so needed today as more and more people needlessly leave Jesus in search of authentic spirituality…because the church doesn’t know what to do with the Sermon.

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The Sermon can reclaim its proper place in our lives if we’re willing to see it again through the eyes of poet Jesus: not defining literal truth as much as evoking a life of radical change, as a balance between knowing and loving, unlearning enough to know how to love enough to see what is uncontained in words. The Sermon only makes sense within the context of the Kingdom of Heaven, the reign of God’s unity right herenow, the quality of life of someone who has become Kingdom—not a code of conduct to obey, but the gradual acceptance of a gift we could never give ourselves. We don’t enter or possess this Kingdom, that is poet-speak for realizing Kingdom in ourselves as we intentionally live our Way into seeing life through Father’s eyes.

Between Knowing and Loving

Dave Brisbin 8.15.21
Some six hundred years ago, in what has become a classic of Western spirituality, the anonymous English author of The Cloud of Unknowing is trying to show us the only way we can approach God: “No one can fully comprehend the uncreated God with knowledge, but each one, in a different way, can grasp him fully through love.” This love, understood as pure presence and connection, can only be experienced in the silence beneath words and the rational thought that speaks them.

But even this pure experience must still take place within the context of scripture, ethics, and the needs of our own human relationships so that our experience of love doesn’t become so subjective and inward that it actually becomes abusive. It’s a balance between knowing and loving that takes us to God’s presence, a balance between the concepts and teachings that limit error, and the love-as-presence that is unlimited enough to embrace God as God really is.

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Jesus as poet and teacher shows us this balance especially clearly in his Sermon on the Mount. At the same time he’s using the tools of poetry: metaphor, hyperbole, figures of speech, imagery, humor to evoke the experience of presence, he’s also laying out concrete commands that ground us in human relationship: how to pray, loving the enemy, letting go of judgment and worry. It’s the balance between knowing and loving in a poetic package aimed at an audience with no real ability to write. The Sermon is poetry meant to be easily remembered in its original language—to be repeatedly spoken or sung out loud, memorized and passed on in an oral tradition like the Songlines of Australia’s Aborigines. A portable spirituality that we can never lose because we ourselves have become the book. Poetry aimed at the ear and not the eye, at hands and feet rather than head balances us between passive thought and love in action—between love as free and immersive as the air we breathe, and the desire to steadily work our Way to the vulnerability and gratitude that are the only Way to embrace an unseen gift as it really is.

Contemplative Poetry

Dave Brisbin 8.8.21
Have you ever thought of Jesus of Nazareth as a poet? I just asked a roomful of attendees on Sunday morning and got no takers. Truth is, we were not taught and don’t think of Jesus as poet. Jesus remains more or less an extension of ourselves: sharing enough of our values, attributes, and worldview to be comfortable. Truth is, Jesus was outrageously uncomfortable to his own people; how much more should he be to us?

The Sermon on the Mount, probably used as a catechism for the early church, reads almost as if in code to our ears. Illogical nonsense. Why? Because the Sermon is poetry and doesn’t play by literal, logical rules. And even if it’s not technically poetry, it functions as poetry just the same. Metaphor, symbolism, hyperbole, imagery, story, parable, unresolved paradox… Jesus is speaking as poet with the same mission as a poet: to point toward truth that can’t be directly uttered, to recreate sensations, evoke responses, and elicit the desire to engage our own experience, build our own conviction.

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When we say that Jesus was a contemplative and a mystic—one who approaches God primarily through presence and not intellect—where can we find that recorded in the gospels? You won’t find the word contemplation anywhere in the bible, but it is evoked everywhere. When Jesus points to birds in the air or a child at play, the almost frenetic activity completely focused only on the moment at hand is the mindfulness of contemplation, and the lesson not to worry, take thought of tomorrow because this day is sufficient, brings the stillness of contentment home. When prayer is moved out of the marketplace into solitude, out of words and into silence, when we pray for the simplicity of the bread of our need this day, we are called to all that contemplation is. Jesus as poet frees us from our minds to become poets ourselves, if not in word, in deed and attitude. Until we start to read Jesus as a poet, we will miss the core of his teaching in a fog of literalism. And miss seeing the world through his Father’s eyes.

Freedom of Vulnerability

Dave Brisbin 7.25.21
What’s the most important verse in scripture? That could be endlessly debated and ultimately impossible to answer unless asked this way: what is the most important verse in scripture to you? And once it becomes personal, it most likely becomes a moving target as well. Different verses have been signatures for me, changing over time, and recently, Luke 23:34 has been persistently growing in importance: Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.

Not particularly warm, and mildly condescending at first glance, but this tiny prayer from Jesus on the cross as he’s being tortured and executed, is huge in implication. It points to a willingness to remain fully vulnerable—undefended, open, compassionate—that under such circumstances is almost beyond belief. And it points to the real meaning of the cross itself: not appeasing an angry God with a blood sacrifice, but displaying perfect love in human form…because love is vulnerability, undefended openness in action, or it’s not love at all.

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Christians often think of Jesus as God to the exclusion of his humanity, but scripture is clear that Jesus was fully human, and Jesus tells us himself that we humans are meant to do what he has done: display perfect love through our vulnerability. But how to maintain vulnerability in the face of the attacks of another? Jesus tells us in the second part of his prayer: recognizing our shared humanity in the limiting fears, compulsions, and core beliefs on which we unconsciously act. That until we are aware enough, we literally don’t know what we are doing as we do the harm we do. In Aramaic, freedom and forgiveness are the same word. To be released is forgiveness, and to forgive is to set ourselves free of victimhood and fear. But we can’t forgive without becoming vulnerable again. Ultimate freedom is found in the vulnerability of forgiveness, which we’ll never know until we do the work awareness requires and begin to know what it is we are doing.

When Life Seems Overwhelming

Frank Billman 7.18.21
We all have those times in our lives when we get hit hard with tragedy or difficult life events. Sometimes they come in waves and leave us breathless and wondering how to even begin to process them or move forward. In those difficult times we can find ourselves getting overwhelmed by sadness, despair, grief and depression. So how do we deal with this? How do we find our hope and our connection with God? It takes a conscious choice and action that is often uncomfortable in order to find our way back to a place of hope and even spiritual connection.

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Three things that help are 1) Keep showing up to our daily routine. Many times it’s hard just to put one foot in front of the other and attend to our daily needs and routine but this is critical to finding a path out. In the 12 step program we call it taking opposite action. I don’t necessarily feel like doing these things but I do them because it’s the right and appropriate thing to do. 2) Keep showing up to our community. We need to feel the strength, love and encouragement we get from the people in our community. They help us remember what is truly important in life–our friends and our relationships with each other. 3) Keep showing up to God. I can only find God’s peace when I seek His company. He is truly the key to my peace and my happiness. If I seek His presence regularly during these times they become more bearable and eventually I find through His grace the acceptance needed to heal. None of this is a quick and easy process but it’s the path to dealing with life when it feels like it’s too much to bear.

Real Revival

Dave Brisbin 7.11.21
We are fast on track to becoming a post-Christian country. Recent stats show that only 36% of the youngest among us, Millennials and Gen Z, have any church membership as opposed to Boomers at 58% and those born before 1946 at 66%. There is a generational changing of the guard, and for the first time, less than half the population are members of a church. Only one in three self-identified Christians actually attends church, and between four and seven thousand churches are closing every year.

Mere statistics can’t convey the very human anger, disgust, disillusionment, or apathy that accompanies these numbers, and many church leaders blame “cultural decay” or “changing values” for the decline. But others say those are just symptoms—that the cause is the loss of our first love, our passion for our faith. But why have we lost our passion? Is there a deeper cause for that as well? Viktor Frankl taught that all human life is pointed at meaning. With meaning, life is passionate and alive, because ultimate meaning is love.

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By the first century, Judaism had become a legal institution and had lost the ability to guide its people to ultimate meaning in life. Jesus rose up to revive it by breaking through institutional walls and back to meaning. By the fourth century the Church had become a state religion that simply demanded conformity to its own orthodoxy. The Desert Fathers and Mothers rose to revive it by creating their own communities pointed at meaning. By the twelfth century the church was the most powerful political force in the West, but Francis of Assisi rose to quietly start a revival, a movement that exposed the meaninglessness of the church’s power and gave meaning to the Reformation to come.

Five hundred years after the Reformation, the church has now been institutionalized for centuries, again demanding its own orthodoxy rather than guiding people to meaning. In the panic of seeing Christianity fade, there are many calls for revival, but most often they are calls to double down and shore up the traditional institution. The youngest among us have already declared with their feet that such institutions don’t answer their deepest questions of meaning. A real revival, one that can revive a fading church, is one that goes all the way back to Jesus or at least Francis, freeing people to find their way to meaning, to love, in all their circumstances. Only such people can create a church that inspires the passion of the search for ultimate meaning.

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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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Seeing ourselves as a learning and recovery community that worships together, the focus isn’t on Sunday morning alone, but on every day of the week as we gather for worship, healing and support workshops, studies, 12 step meetings, counseling and mentoring sessions, referral services, and social events. We maintain a food pantry for those needing more support, a recovery worship gathering, and child care for those with little ones.

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