2022 Archives

The Feel of Freedom

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.

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The scriptures paint a very different picture. Over and over, spiritual freedom is not tied to unemcumbrance, but its opposite: slavery and servitude. To be set free by truth is to become a slave of God and everyone in our path—in that culture, an indentured servant or bond slave who voluntarily pledges life and freedom as repayment for a debt. Spiritual freedom is not unencumbrance, but the freedom to submit gratefully and fearlessly, to lay down our lives for another’s life and welfare, to know we are free because we can give our freedom away just as freely.

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.

 

Unalienable Right

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.

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Ancient Jews understood their journey as a nation as the journey of a single person, that the macro mirrors and maps the micro, and here, our Declaration of Independence may help map our own interior journeys. The Declaration speaks of political bands that should exist only as long as they serve all parties, of self-evident truths of equality, and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. That people will suffer as long as they can before they take up the cause of fundamental change…as it should be. Revolutions make things much worse before better.

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.

 

Sweet Emotion

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.

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Emotions aren’t bad; they must be deeply felt and used as windows to unconscious drives and fears that help guide us to growth. But if we identify with them, think they are “true,” we become lost, acting out emotional triggers, hurting people while feeling justified and virtuous the entire time. We literally don’t know what we’re doing. The goal of ancient Christians was to unidentify enough to become unoffendable to the threat of negative emotion and to graduate past the “consolations” of positive emotions into the “desolations” of a faith that needs no external support.

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.

Father Overflowing

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.

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The names we use for God mirror our concepts of God, so instead of Ab, Jesus used Abba, which adds a feminine ending, a unity of transcendent father and immanent mother, a balance of power and intimacy with whom we can both be in awe and in love. Then in his model prayer, Jesus uses another name: “Our Father who art in heaven,” in Aramaic: abwoon d’bashmaya. In abwoon, AB, strong leader of the house, is joined with WN, the security of life that continues, presenting a genderless cosmic parent who causes the flow of birthing, creation. The D and B prefixes in d’bashmaya show God not living in heaven but identified with heaven as the visible face of God’s inner essence…the heavens, the universe, show us who our Father is.

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.

 

Divine Admixture

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.

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Jesus knows the first step to walking his Way is to realign our thinking, open eyes to new possibilities. This summarizes most of his teaching, but most incisively, at the last supper, hours before his death, he tells his friends he has a new commandment: to love each other as he has loved them—that everyone will know them by their love. It’s love that defines us, not intellectual belief, theology, doctrine, ritual: those aspects of religion are either ushering us toward the experience of degreeless love or just in the way.

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.

Doing without Measuring

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.

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But does that mean there is absolutely nothing to do once we realize our accomplishments don’t matter to God’s love? Absolutely not. Jesus’ Way, the only way to the experience of God’s love, is the hardest work you will ever do. But “doing” along Jesus’ way is of a different order: it also has no degree. We imagine going up to meet God somewhere on high, and we check our progress by measuring how far we’ve risen. But Jesus is showing us that we can’t go up to meet God because as long as we’re looking up, we’re measuring. If we don’t first go down from the ego’s imaginings of grandeur, we’ll never embrace the servanthood, humility, and vulnerability of the unassuming God Jesus personifies. This doing is an un-accomplishing, selling off our obsession with accomplishment until we can see a love that never measures a thing.

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.

Ecclesiastes Moments

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.

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To be honest, Francis didn’t change institutional Catholicism any more than Jesus changed institutional Judaism a millennium before. But both of them provided the model and permission for those within the institution to have equally shattering and transforming moments of their own. At the end of his life a millennium before Jesus, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that all the wealth, power, fame, and pleasure he has amassed as king of Israel is meaningless, striving after the wind. Death levels the playing field and wipes out physical accomplishment. True meaning flows to us only when we are present enough to enjoy who we are, what we are doing, and whom we are with at any given moment.

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.

 

Becoming Convinced

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.

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So we can be convinced and uncertain at the same time? Conviction and certainty seem like synonyms but look very different hanging on a human. Certainty is an intellectual agreement that is only mind deep, reinforces intolerance of uncertainty and anything that doesn’t agree. Deep down, the mind knows the assumptions made, and fear remains. Conviction is a house built on bedrock, a choice informed by intimate experience, and though unprovable in the mind, creates trust that directs decisions and regulates emotion as sure as the steps of a mountain goat.

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.

 

Our Mother

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.

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Hochkmah, God’s wisdom, is personified as female in the book of Proverbs, and the Hebrew words for spirit and kingdom, ruach and malkutha, are both feminine, meaning we could literally refer to God’s spirit as she and kingdom as queendom. Scripture often portrays God as female: in childbirth, nursing or comforting her child, a protective mother bear or bird covering chicks with her wings. In Hosea, God takes her people in her arms, picks them up and holds them to her cheek, feeds them and cares for them with affection. In the gospels, Jesus always leads with touch, connection, affection before teaching and instruction, showing us it’s only when we have experienced the compassion of our Mother in our day to day lives that we can begin to understand the love of our Father at all.

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.

 

Lord, Lord

Dave Brisbin 5.1.22
It’s amazing how differently we hear things depending on our emotional and intellectual investments. Sometimes when counseling couples, I actually see words changing meaning in the air between one partner’s lips and the other’s ears. It’s all about what we’re prepared to understand. We hear what we’re prepared to hear. It’s the same with scripture.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that not everyone who calls out, “Lord, Lord, we’ve prophesied and done miracles in your name,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. And to put a really fine point on it, he finishes with: “I never knew you: depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Focused on afterlife as reward, and accomplishment and performance as the prerequisite for God’s favor, we immediately hear Jesus talking about our day of judgment with God—heaven or hell. But final and permanent damnation based on a principle we may have not even understood? That would violate everything Jesus lives out and says about the nature of God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness. Whatever this saying means, it’s not that.

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To know in Hebrew/Aramaic doesn’t mean understanding facts. God knowing us, we knowing God, is about intimate experience, as only long time together without defense or pretense can create. Jesus is telling us that our investment in accomplishment and grandiosity is the opposite of and blockage to the intimacy that changes us from the inside out—the knowing of one thing: the allness of God’s love. Until we intimately know that love, nothing Jesus says will make sense.

This saying isn’t about the afterlife and final judgment of God at all. Jesus’ kingdom is always here and now, and we are crying Lord, Lord, each and every day we desire to experience the fulfillment Jesus calls kingdom. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness is a direct quote from Psalm 6, but there, David tells us that those confronted with their dysfunction turn from their lawlessness, literally repent. Jesus isn’t judging here. He’s confronting. Trying to help us change direction and repent our way back into the intimacy of kingdom.

 

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