Dave Brisbin 7.17.22
We are fixated on answers. Our collective intolerance of uncertainty feeds a deep need to find absolute answers to all our questions, to be right while pointing out those who are wrong, to pretend that life can be made risk-free if we just know enough of the right stuff. Our minds become the tip of the spear that we believe will save us from our fears. This may work well for the physical sciences and train schedules, but when it comes to matters of spirit, we need to think again.
Do you know how many questions Jesus asks in the gospels? It’s amazing that people actually count these things, but nice that we can look them up. Jesus asks 307 questions. More importantly, 183 questions are asked of him. Of those 183, he directly answers…three. Just three. For every question Jesus answers directly, he literally asks a hundred. He answers every question of course, but most often with another question. Sometimes with a story or an object lesson. But every answer is geared to stop questioners in their tracks, stop the logical flow to which they are addicted by challenging the often unconscious assumptions that drive the questions themselves.
Every indirect answer Jesus gives, every story and non-sequitur, every question-as-answer is an opportunity to see into a world based on love instead of logic, where the rules of our assumptions about life are exposed as roadblocks to the life we long to live. Even when Jesus is simply asked where he is staying for the night, his answer, come and see, is an invitation to experience what can never be expressed in an answer made of words.
Dave Brisbin 7.10.22
What is the goal of our spiritual journeys? How would you answer for yours? Peace, love, enlightenment, wisdom, salvation? It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been clearer about Jesus’ answer to the question: that following his Way to the Father allows us to know the truth, and that truth will make us free. Freedom is the ultimate goal, because without freedom from the fear that is part of human nature, we will never risk dropping all our defenses—the only way to experience Father, love without degrees or prerequisite.
There’s a catch: what is this freedom? What does it feel like? How do we know we’re talking about the same freedom Jesus tells us comes from knowing truth? In our culture, freedom is unencumbrance from anything that would limit our ability to say and do whatever we want, whenever we want. Our movie heroes are the antithesis of the modern middleclass—burdened by mortgages, debt, desk jobs, families, grinding daily and weekly routine. Movie heroes appear and disappear, ride into town, save the day, then ride back out with us looking wistfully after. Unencumbered by any responsibility other than their own code of conduct, they can never put down roots, become tied to relationship, family, place. To tie them to anything would make them just like us.
To be completely unencumbered is to be completely alone. The freedom to which Jesus is leading, comes from experiencing the truth that all that matters in this life is the connection our freedom buys when it allow us to lay down our defenses and experience what happens next.
Dave Brisbin 7.3.22
The 4th of July comes round again at a time when faith in our country has been deeply shaken. We are questioning our most enduring institutions right down to the Constitution and Founding Fathers’ motives and wisdom, with some saying we need to scrap the whole thing and start over. Second American Revolution. Considering the angst, seems appropriate to paraphrase Winston Churchill: the US is the worst country ever built by humans—except for all the other ones.
Our country is flawed, of course. Though I’m convinced history will show we have been a force for much more good than evil, if we are committed to rising above the triggering of emotion, obsessive thought, special interest, and personal bias, we can occupy liminal space, the threshold between camps, and see clearly enough to praise and criticize as needed to make us better. Rising above personal triggers—that’s easier said. But fighting this interior revolution must happen first if we’re to wage an exterior one with any hope of leaving people better than found.
Jefferson is channeling Jesus who told us to count the cost before going all in, but until we’re willing to question everything and let go of all we say we believe, we’ll never see which “bands” holding us in place no longer serve us in experiencing our ultimate unalienable right: a love that changes everything.
Our flawed founding fathers did exactly this. Even as we question their flawed convictions, let’s not dismiss their journey, the process by which we must become convinced ourselves.
Dave Brisbin 6.26.22
If you’re serious about following a spiritual path, you have two major roadblocks to overcome: your mind and your body. Your mind, storehouse for the dualism of your egoic consciousness, constantly talks to you—comparing, contrasting, judging. Your body, storehouse of your emotions, drives unconscious behavior patterns with childhood conditioning, memories, guilt, shame. Necessary for survival, but left unchecked, mind and body keep us in a narcissistic bubble, apart from others and the reality of the moment.
Admittedly oversimplified, the West has been in love with the mind, rational thought, for the past three hundred years since the Enlightenment, but in in the last fifty or so, has fallen in love with the body, with emotion. Emotion has become the sign of being authentic and in touch, empathetic and compassionate. Arguments now appeal to emotion, drowning out rational thought with feelings. Society needs a balance, but ancient wisdom tradition knows that true spiritual formation means intentionally detaching from thought and emotion, finding a deeper self and wordless connection to ultimate presence.
In a society devolving into the chaos of pure emotion, that sees opponents not intellectually as misguided, but emotionally as evil, deserving disdain, hatred, and eventually violence, we start with what we can actually control—ourselves. To build awareness to the point we can see emotions for the tools to growth they are and choose what is loving regardless of what we feel.
Dave Brisbin 6.19.22
Physical survival depends on how well we manage and compete for finite resources, a zero sum situation in which there’s only so much oil in the ground, and our share always comes out of someone else’s. Winners and losers. So we can be forgiven for embedding a scarcity mentality so deeply in our psyches that we pin it on God as well—keeping us forever fearful and defended, the opposite of the vulnerable connection love requires.
Our concept of God is all-important. It orders our view of life and relationship, meaning, purpose, identity. It regulates our fear. Or not. Jesus knows this and works hard to draw his people away from the anthropomorphic images of God as Ab—father in Hebrew that carries images of the fierce tribal leader presented in early Hebrew scripture and the legal judge presented by the Pharisees and other first century contemporaries.
Science tells us there are up to 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe with up to 700 billion stars in even a small galaxy like our Milky Way. Most stars have planets, if like Earth, contain up to a trillion species with billions or trillions of life forms each. The universe tells us our God is insanely extravagant, abundant beyond belief. No scarcity. No zero sum. God is an inexhaustible, overflowing love of life. Can’t diminish it; can’t earn it. Admission is free and every seat is front row center. Once we experience that, we know there is nothing to fear.
Dave Brisbin 6.12.22
I’ve developed a three year rule: if you’ve been with someone for three years and still not sure you can commit, answer is no. Not absolute, but after three years, if you’ve been up close and paying attention undefendedly, you’ve seen enough to know a person’s nature.
It’s the same with God.
A mistake we make is thinking that Jesus’ Way is the way to heaven, the way to God’s approval. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus’ way is not a way to something, it’s the way to experience what’s already here. It is the only process by which we can become undefended enough, vulnerable and unself-conscious enough to experience and be convinced of God’s nature—pure connection, unity. Until we know that love without degree is who God is and the basis of our relationship, life will be too scary to stay undefended very long.
The early church understood. Their daily lives were characterized by care for each other that reflected their experience of God. Followers in the first three centuries after the crucifixion wrote that “how they love one another” was the “brand” others saw on them, a people with a “divine admixture,” humans mixed with God. The Romans could not extinguish such a church even after three centuries of persecution, so they extinguished it in the fourth century, not by force…by making it their state religion. When power replaced love as the admixture, there was suddenly something to defend, and church lost sight of love.
Degreeless love needs no defense. Defendedness can only see degree. Never the love.
Dave Brisbin 6.5.22
Anything that can’t be measured always looks the same. Think on that for a second. All our minds really do is measure. Compare, contrast, create differences and distinctions. Without something to measure against, the measureless thing always looks the same: far out at sea—featureless water in all directions, cloudless sky, starfield. Always look the same.
God’s love has no degree. Can’t be measured by anything that can. Always looks the same to whomever is looking regardless of accomplishment. Knowing God’s nature and love is knowing that we can’t impress God with our accomplishments, can’t earn a place or a higher place, that each of us is God’s favorite and most beloved human because we’re here breathing and for no other reason. In a field of degreeless love, every point is mathematically dead center, and any other position is meaningless. Doesn’t exist.
What we do along Jesus’ way—releasing, submitting, surrendering, trusting—is work that no one will ever see, congratulate, reward. It won’t matter. Once we stop measuring, the only reason to do anything is because it is our deepest purpose and pleasure to do so. When we can’t not do what God’s does all day long and twice on Sunday, we will at last know God and know what can’t be measured is why we’re here.
Dave Brisbin 5.29.22
In 1205, Francesco Bernardone, Francis of Assisi to us, had another worldview shattering moment. After a series of shattering events including being held prisoner of war and becoming deathly ill led him to renounce his father’s wealth and reconfirm his faith, he was praying in the crumbling chapel called San Damiano. In a vision, the painting of Jesus on the wooden panel cross spoke, telling him to rebuild God’s house, church, because it was falling into ruin.
Young Francis took the words as literally as most of us would have and began repairing the broken structure of San Damiano. He missed the metaphor that seems obvious now, but some moments are so shattering to our view of the world and our place in it, that they seem to require an immediate response. Francis did what was available and knowable, but after a few more such shattering moments, it wasn’t what he did, but who he became—in poverty, humility, humor, and connection to all living things—that reminded those in a wealthy and powerful church who Jesus was and what they were supposed to be reflecting.
An Ecclesiastes moment is a world and ego shattering epiphany that whittles us down past obsession with accomplishment and control to the liberation of pure presence. Most likely, we’ll need a series of them to break through, because until we see all meaning contained in just one continuous moment, we are not free enough to live it abundantly.
Dave Brisbin 5.15.22
After twenty-nine weeks studying the Sermon on the Mount, can we say in one sentence what this masterpiece is all about? If not, we’ll be lost in detail and miss its intent. Speaking strictly for myself, the Sermon is a radical exercise in deconstruction: a ruthless and unapologetic tearing down, upside downing, of the world we think we know: life and love, ethics and spirituality. Once we see Jesus working to break us through the limitations of our own minds—the thought and behavior patterns that keep us from the experience of full connection herenow—we have engaged the process he calls the Way.
When Jesus tells us that even if we do miraculous things in his name, we still may not know each other, have no intimate experience that makes us one in kingdom—he is trying to break our obsession with accomplishment, ultimately the accomplishment of certainty. In the fear that makes up the working of our conscious minds, certainty is the greatest prize. But certainty is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist in this life. Knowing God doesn’t mean being certain theologically, legally, doctrinally, or any other way. It means spending enough time out of our conscious minds to become convinced.
Jesus’ Sermon pulls back the curtain of manufactured certainty and forces us into the disturbance of realizing we just don’t know, can’t know the ultimate workings of life and God. But in the process of questioning everything we think we know, accepting uncertainty, we come to rely on a power greater than ourselves that convinces us we’re not alone.
Dave Brisbin 5.8.22
A woman who grew up in a painfully patriarchal Christian sect, told me she was uninterested in attending a Mother’s Day church service that simply gave roses to moms. She’s been trying to understand her place as a woman in a faith that seems to be all about men…subjugating women. Starting with God as Father.
We know all about our Father. Why is there no mention of our Mother in scripture? Scholars have speculated that ancient Hebrews prohibited all rituals of the polytheistic nature religions encircling them to keep Israel focused on this life and their one God. Hebrews were forbidden to communicate with the dead, embalm, mummify, or even touch a corpse. They prohibited the worship of any physical image of God including nature as goddess—mother earth. But if these intentions and their own patriarchal culture kept explicit mention of our Mother out of scripture, the essential balance of father and mother in God is as clear as we’re willing to see.
God is a perfect God only when justice and mercy, knowledge and wisdom, discipline and relationship, male and female, mother and father are equally honored and present. Without God’s matriarchy balancing us, anything we do, male or female, becomes just another patriarchy. Only our Mother guards our Father from the subjugation of others.