Dave Brisbin 5.28.23 Pentecost
Jesus heals two blind men with spit, and there’s been endless speculation why Jesus would use such a strange way to heal. Passing a man born blind on the Sabbath, Jesus spits on the ground, kneads the dirt into mud, applies it to the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash. Why the spit and dirt?
To heal with a simple word, would not break the unwritten rules prohibiting work on the Sabbath as taught and enforced by the Pharisees. But kneading the saliva and dirt did. Jesus is going out of his way to put mud in the eye of these rules that had grown exponentially to such a burden on the people as to subvert the intent of the written Law. To imply that God was just about obedience to an inflexible system of ritual justification, obliterated the degreeless love that Jesus represented.
Jesus was spat upon, had to descend, lose everything it meant to be himself before rising to new life. We all must endure the same loss before rising to the Pentecost moment when we finally see clearly that we’re healed. Jesus’ followers saw him only dimly, clinging to their beliefs about law and justice restored when Jesus and they would rise to power. But Jesus is showing that obedience as a form of control is not enough. Only in the humiliating loss of all sense of personal power can we clearly see the truth of a love that obliterates law.
Dave Brisbin 5.21.23
Last week someone asked how I would reimagine church. What would I change? We had just passed our 16th anniversary as a church—I said that’s exactly what we did sixteen years ago. We were a subversive lot back then, wanted to make a big statement about our differences. I was twenty years into study of Jesus from a Hebrew/Aramaic perspective and a personal contemplative journey. Our leadership group had formed around those principles, so we wanted our statement centered on those differences.
We didn’t want to call ourselves Christian or church; those terms were loaded, descriptive of a different worldview. We wanted to de-emphasize theology in favor of personal experience in contemplative practice, using theology to limit our error rather than make absolute statements—embrace the uncertainty, paradox of this life. We wanted our gatherings (not services) to be EPIC—experiential, participatory, image-based, communal. We experimented. We started as a recovery church that also worshipped together, working with addicts and alcoholics, trying to stand the model of community church on its head. We saw ourselves chasing the effect of God’s love on our daily lives rather than a theological cause, answering both the necessary steps of early recovery and Jesus’ Aramaic Way. We saw everyone as recovering from something.
What were we saying yes to sixteen years ago when we reimagined?
We said yes to having everything we thought we knew about ourselves, life, reimagined church and our ability to build it, challenged, dissolved. Loss of certainty, broken hearts, shattered faith. But as we kept showing up, what grew back after the wildfires was recovery. Miracles we never saw coming. We said yes to life unredacted, unadorned, unclothed. Would I say yes all over again? In a heartbeat.
Dave Brisbin 5.14.23
Patriarchal and paternal. Two words descending from the Latin word pater/father, but a patriarchal system is one that is male dominated and a paternal system is one where leadership—male or female—restricts the autonomy of people supposedly for their own good. Our country began shamefully patriarchal but not paternal—the states jealously guarded their freedoms. Today we’re much less patriarchal but more and more paternal, losing freedom in the name of the common good.
Whether you feel this is appropriate is not so much the point on Mother’s Day as the role women are playing. The assumption has always been that if women were in charge of things, there’d be more balance, and the world wouldn’t be such a mess. But as women take more seats of power, is anything really changing, or does power make men and women look the same? Is matriarchy as toxic as patriarchy and equally paternal?
Making our government and churches more equitable means more than the number of seats occupied by men and women. The Hebrew mind couldn’t conceive of God apart from a perfect balance of father and mother—masculine and feminine, justice and mercy, knowledge and wisdom, logic and intuition, performance and acceptance, accomplishment and intimacy. Until we meet Mother God ourselves, we’ll never know Father God. Until we who occupy seats of power become more perfect parents, our institutions will remain toxic and paternal, whether patriarchal, matriarchal, or anywhere in between.
Tale of Two Healings
Dave Brisbin 5.7.23
A man has been ill for thirty-eight years. Ill enough that he’s spent all those years lying by a public pool begging for a living and waiting for a healing. Jesus comes by and asks him if he wishes to be well. After thirty-eight years, that should be insulting. The biggest no-brainer of all time. And yet, the man can’t simply say yes, exclamation point. He complains there is no one to help him get into the pool when the healing waters stir. But that’s not what Jesus asked.
What exactly did Jesus ask? In Aramaic, it would be something like tsaveh d’ethelem. Tsaveh is a form of tsevyana, the word we translate as will, but in the sense of desire, delight, pleasure, deepest purpose. Ethelem is complete wellness, wholeness, and health. Paul uses the word to denote sound doctrine, so we could say integrated—sound mind and body—just as shalom (peace) is really the greatest amount of connection, health, prosperity. Jesus’ question is all-encompassing: is your deepest purpose and desire to be whole, integrated, living in shalom, in kingdom?
Jesus heals the man anyway, but he doesn’t even ask his name or look for him afterwards to thank or follow. The deeper sickness remains. Jesus finds him later and tells him now that he’s well, don’t sin anymore so nothing worse happens. Jesus isn’t promising more disease as punishment, but making a central point. Sin isn’t unlawfulness to be punished…sin is disconnection itself. The man is physically healed, but more importantly has been given a chance for new relationship. Will he take it? Will we?
Dave Brisbin 4.30.23
It’s ironic that Jesus’ primary teaching, the one that defines his ministry and on which he spends nearly all his time, is the one we most misunderstand. Jesus is always talking about entering Kingdom, and of course we’re thinking about entering Heaven. Entering some Place. Or Space.
Entering kingdom is a metaphor. A physical image for a spiritual realignment. There is no place or space to kingdom. We don’t enter it. We become it. Pointing at the children Jesus’ friends were shooing away, Jesus instructed to let them through, for such as these are kingdom. The littlest ones, whose egos have not yet formed, are kingdom—have not yet learned not to be kingdom so have no need to re-become it.
The freedom of the truth Jesus offers is that who we really are can never be lost. Ever. Not even in death. Any identity imagined as separate from any other identity, God’s identity, is illusion, so to strip the illusion is to see that we and the Father are one: true identity. Jesus’ Way is relinquishing everything that can be relinquished until only that which can’t be relinquished remains. The point of any spiritual journey is to arrive at the ground of this irreducible presence, an identity that can’t be lost, but costs us everything to which we cling.
The first responders to a message like this are those who are already close to the ground. We call them humble. Jesus calls them children, for such as they are kingdom.
God’s Favorite Kid
Vernon Porter 4.23.23
Vernon Porter takes the pulpit to give us a good look at God’s love from another perspective. That we can’t outrun God’s goodness no matter what happens, however traumatic or how we feel about it. That God’s love is always present, and because of the peculiar nature of perfect love, we are all God’s favorite kid. Every single one of us.
Dave Brisbin 4.16.23
Met a prison chaplain who told me about needing to notify an inmate that his father had died, but when he called the inmate to his office, they were in count. Prisons count multiple times a day—inmates go to their cells and stand at their bunks until the count clears. Everything stops. No one moves. I realized we’d been in count for Lent, interiorly standing at our bunks, stopping distractions, counting out 40 days preparing for Easter. But by then, we were already in count again.
Jews begin counting days from the second day of Passover through seven weeks of seven, 49 days, with the fiftieth day marking the Feast of Weeks. These two festivals mark first the physical liberation of the people from Egypt and then their spiritual liberation as they received the Law, establishing a new relationship with God. A necessary gap, a period of adjustment lies between the two liberations—a gradual graduation from the comforting but limiting reliance on physical connection to the limitless expanse of pure spirit.
This is where we are now. In count between Easter and Pentecost.
The way to Pentecost begins at Calvary, the death of our physical certainty and reliance on rational thought. As we move through our grief over that loss, we begin to recognize that God didn’t die with our certainty, but still lives in the details of our daily lives in ways we hadn’t considered. And with that awareness, we’re in count to our Pentecost moment, the second liberation and birth, our embrace of pure spirit in physical life.
Among the Living
Dave Brisbin 4.9.23
What is the meaning of the Resurrection? Christians are all over the map, fighting and debating not so much that Jesus is risen and still lives, but how and for what purpose. Ultimately, such questions are a matter of faith, but where can we look for guidance? Scripture, of course. The gospels show us where to look, what’s important to see. While we focus on the supernatural miracle, fighting over what can never be proven historically, the gospels focus on the effect the Resurrection had on Jesus’ first followers—not the Resurrection event itself.
This is a huge distinction. The Resurrection happens offstage, and the story picks up afterward, following the tiny, unspectacular reactions of a few of Jesus’ closest friends. It tells us not to look at the miracle so much as how the miracle affects our own lives. The meaningful question isn’t whether or how we believe in the miracle, but what difference it makes that we believe. What can the reactions of Jesus’ friends teach us about that difference?
When the women come to the empty tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they are asked why they seek the living among the dead. Again scripture is telling us where to look. Set beliefs are snapshots—static, motionless, dead—no longer among the living. If we keep the meaning of Resurrection in our thoughts alone, Jesus is not there. Like ruha—spirit, breath, wind—Jesus is always in motion, our motion. Among the living…that’s us, the living. We find the risen Lord in each face and embrace, every moment of our lives. Or not at all.
The Eyes Have It
Dave Brisbin 4.2.23
Most of counseling is listening. Listening to stories that give you a snapshot of a person’s life at the moment, backstory, symptoms they are suffering, and some of the stressors causing the symptoms. But only some. The stressors we can self-identify are the ones we can see outside of ourselves—circumstances, events, relationships that are creating pressure or pain. When a person says they have no idea why they are feeling the way they do or their feelings are far too intense for the stressors they are experiencing, there are stressors inside themselves where they can’t be seen.
These inside, “endogenous” stressors lie in the unconscious as core beliefs about ourselves and life, programs for happiness and survival put in place unconsciously as necessary reactions to outside, “exogenous” stressors experienced from earliest childhood. These core beliefs define our reality for us in ways we’re not aware. They force us to live in a world that no longer exists with fears no longer real, now creating or exaggerating fears that create obsessive thought and compulsive behavior patterns that create disruption in relationships that create more external stressors. We can only see the world our unconscious defines for us, not free to live our moments as they really are.
Following Jesus’ Way of truth clears up the way we see life by stripping down our deepest, earliest beliefs. The ones that block our view of the truth that makes us free.
Dave Brisbin 3.26.23
Had an intense conversation with a child specialist at the hospital grieving her friend, a nurse on the floor who died that morning. Cancer. She was reeling from her friend’s death, and we talked through her feelings and regrets—the sadness, numbness, disbelief, inability to imagine that she’d never see her again. The regret that she didn’t reach out more, even though she knew the nurse would only minimize everything, refuse any help. Caught between should-haves and respecting an intense need for privacy in her friend.
Then almost incidentally, she said losing her friend had intensified her fear of death. That she’s always been afraid of death, but today was off the charts. She said it almost casually, the way we’d say we don’t like broccoli or baseball. A simple, known fact of her life that she’d come to accept. My ears went into overdrive. I asked why she feared death so intensely, but she couldn’t tell me, just has as long as she could remember. Was it a fear of hell or judgment in a religious sense? No, more just the thought of not being here anymore. Being anywhere. She was vaguely Christian, believed in God, but was no longer sure there was anything after this. Not being. With her family, here, in life.
To step out of our minds is to step into the reality of love.
Why do we assume death is any different? Irony is, we live for the moments we step out of our minds, yet fear the moment we step completely out of ourselves. But if we’re present enough, life and prayer can teach us there is connection that can’t be contained in our minds, but is always waiting for the moment we step out of ourselves. Our minds can’t know what that will be like. Our deepest selves know already.