It’s easy for us to forget that the message of Jesus and the entire Bible come from an intensely Hebrew context and worldview. Jesus was a Jew teaching Jews, and bringing the words of scripture back to their original Hebrew language and setting, understanding what the first Jewish hearers of those words would have understood, is the closest we can come to their original intent.
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 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 5.1.22
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.
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.
Dave Brisbin 4.24.22
Jesus gave us just one Way to experience the oneness of the Father, which when followed looks like presence, emotional regulation, and vulnerability. But this Way remains elusive because it’s nothing less than the complete deconstruction of our egoic consciousness—everything we think we are and have—in favor of a truth we can only see when everything false is removed. Very hard to do, and Jesus says few go by the narrow road to new life, rebirth.
Our churches haven’t been teaching this Way; it’s a tough sell. We don’t want to hear about a path that doesn’t ascend straight to prosperity or salvation, that curves down into the depths of ourselves, painfully purging until we can see where we really need to go. Everything in us wants a kinder, gentler way, a miracle cure or a savior we can passively accept. But without the healing that only a dive into our deepest fears can bring, we will always be looking for something or someone to do for us what we can only do for ourselves: become vulnerable enough to experience the love that casts out fear.
Until we submit to the realities of Jesus’ Way, we will never see that we were born “saved,” that is, loved and accepted as perfectly as we can ever be. Jesus’ Way is the way of remembering who we are and have always been…beloved. Remembering our belovedness means letting go of everything that says otherwise, and until we do, no shepherd, no matter how good can lead us past the wolves.
Dave Brisbin 4.17.22
It has always struck me that the gospels tell us nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. The central event around which Christianity orbits is left entirely offstage. The gospels pick up the story after the resurrection has occurred and focus not on the event itself, but the effect it has on Jesus’ friends. The gospels are telling us, with their own gaze, where to look, what is important to see.
What we see is that none of Jesus’ closest friends recognize him when they first see him again. They watched him die. They buried him. Regardless of what he taught, they fully expected him to stay buried and stay dead. The gospels are showing us that the miracle of resurrection in our lives is not an external event, but a process of recognizing the miraculous. That we all see what we expect to see until something breaks the spell of rational limitation.
We only know someone when we’ve experienced them in intimate detail, and Jesus’ friends had to re-experience that intimacy with him to prove his identity to themselves. Same with us. As long as resurrection remains huge and transcendent, it remains distant, a thought in our heads. But the moment we begin to see the risen Lord in the most intimate details of everyday life, we realize, as Jesus’ friends slowly did, that we can’t seek the living among the dead. Life is motion; set belief is static. We will never find our God among motionless thoughts in our heads. Only among the living.
That’s us, the living, the moving ones. When we’re ready, we will find our risen, living God in each face we encounter and embrace or not at all.
Dave Brisbin 4.10.22
Our fears define us, make us see everything through the pain of our unmet wants and needs—or the compulsive need to hold on to what we think we already have. If we’re afraid of change, it’s because we’re invested in our status quo and see change as a threat to our powerbase. If we’re afraid of no change, we feel marginalized and oppressed, victims looking for a savior to fix our problems.
Einstein said we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Seems obvious, but each of us is stuck trying to use conscious and unconscious tools created by our fears to fix problems also created by fear. This is really the point of Palm Sunday: when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the people see him as either savior or threat based on their fears. But Jesus is neither and both, a true paradox, and he weeps that his people couldn’t remain in the tension of his paradox long enough to recognize what he was really bringing: the invitation to a way of seeing past their fears.
Jesus is not riding into our lives to save us from oppression or fix our problems. He’s here to save us from the fear that keeps that oppression and those problems in place, and until we let Jesus threaten all we’ve built out of fear, he can’t save us from fear itself. The truth Jesus brings can and will make us free—by threatening everything made of fear on which we rely.
Jesus is my savior and my threat…but not necessarily in that order.
Dave Brisbin 4.3.22
When we were kids, my sister did a paint-by-numbers of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. You remember those…a canvas board with a printed outline of an image, jigsaw-puzzled into numbered patches to correspond with paint colors. She worked day by day, filling in the patches with the right colors, and when she was done, if you stood about a block away, the colors fused into a whole in your eyes the way digital sound fuses in your ears.
Contrast her experience filling in the patches with Da Vinci’s after a lifetime of preparation, an image in mind, planning composition and technique, grinding pigments, mixing colors, experiencing the flow of bringing something radically new into the world. The two are as far as night from day, east from west. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had created a paint-by-numbers spirituality and righteousness. All legalists do. They imagine that our most profound experiences in life can be digitized, reduced to numbers that if followed in the right sequence will create a product, an outcome: righteousness, justification, salvation.
Jesus is brutally clear that there is only one way to the flow of God’s spirit, and that Way is hard—requires stripping away everything we cling to out of fear that blocks the flow. When he says the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it, he’s not saying that most people are going to hell. He is saying there are no shortcuts, and few will take the time and disturbance to realize that both gate and way are a person and not a product, and never what we expect to find.
Dave Brisbin 3.27.22
Ever think about why you’re here? On this planet? Breathing? Maybe you have no idea, or maybe you have answers that will most likely have to do with accomplishment—things we do that give us a sense of meaning and purpose. But if Jesus and Brene Brown are right, we’re here to connect, to be at one with each other. All the rest is commentary.
Could it be that simple? Could human purpose have nothing to do with accomplishment, only how and whether we relate? Hard to process. We want to do something concrete, purposely control outcomes. But what would accomplishments mean in isolation, with no connection to share? Accomplishments are only meaningful in the context of connection. They end at our head stones, yet we chase them as ends in themselves. Truthfully, what we accomplish is important, but only as a meaning/purpose delivery device—a means for delivering connection.
Jesus and the ancients knew that climbing can’t acquire what can only be gifted; it moves us in the wrong direction. When you’ve fallen in love, did you have to work at it? Accomplish it? Complete the task by climbing into position? There’s a reason we speak of falling in love. It’s involuntary. We can work to avoid it, but we can’t make it happen. We can’t climb to heaven, ultimate purpose, either. We fall to heaven by letting go of everything that would break our fall. Until we let go and fall hard, we never realize why we’re here, never experience the connection that is heaven.
Dave Brisbin 3.20.22
I’ve been going on about Jesus as a poet. A great poet. And if that sounds strange and unfamiliar, how about considering that Jesus was a great psychologist too? Jesus deeply understands the human condition and human psychological development, and in the poetic language of his day and choosing, articulates a Way to psychological health and balance for which we all crave and pay big money these days.
Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness beautifully symbolize the three “energy centers” of Thomas Keating or Maslow’s deficiency needs—security and survival, esteem and affection, power and control. In earliest childhood, we develop unconscious, emotional programs to meet these needs that then emerge into consciousness as our attachments and aversions: things we like and don’t like, cling to for happiness or cling to not clinging to. Compulsive thought and behavior patterns are driven by these attachments and aversions, which create triggering events when frustrated in any way.
When Jesus says no parent, or God by extension, will give their child a stone if asked for a loaf of bread or a snake if asked for a fish, he is giving us first steps along the Way. Distinguishing between objects that may look similar from a distance—seeing which give live and which take it away—is how we build the awareness to see which of our cherished attachments and aversions are really meeting our most basic needs. No one gives up what they’ve clung to entire lives until they can see past compulsive snakes and stones to the freedom of sustained life that loaves and fish represent.
Dave Brisbin 3.13.22
Jesus is a very good poet. Like all good poets, he never tries to tell us what can’t be rationally told, but helps us sneak up on the feel of the experience. In short word-bursts full of image and metaphor, he shows us the effect of life lived as one with everyone and everything, while evoking the radical difference of the experience of getting there. He says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field,” and we’re lost in a sea of literalism. The man already had the treasure. Why hide it again? Why sell everything to buy the field?
Sometimes another tradition can come to our rescue, say the same thing in words unfamiliar enough to cut through centuries of assumptions and show us the truth in our own. Ancient Chinese tradition tells the story of a young disciple despairing that he’ll ever understand his teachers’ meaning. Old master tells him: “If you persist in trying to attain what is never attained (it is life’s gift); if you persist in making effort to obtain what effort cannot get; if you persist in reasoning about what cannot be understood, you will be destroyed by the very thing you seek. To know when to stop, to know when you can get no further by your own action. This is the right beginning.”
Poet Jesus knows that through mental effort and study we can find the treasure’s location. But it won’t matter. Concepts are easy. Until we stop acquiring and begin the painful process of selling everything that is inconsistent with the treasure, we’ll never own the field.
The treasure is nothing without the field. The field is where we live.