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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.