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In the Garden

Dave Brisbin 11.20.22
Do you know how many creation stories there are in the bible? Two… Surprised? How many flood stories? Two. There are many “doublets” or repetitions of stories in the bible that scholars attribute to a near literary certainty that, apart from the epistles of the New Testament, the books of the bible weren’t written as an author would write a novel, but compiled as a film documentary would compile sources to weave a story.

These ancient Hebrews books as we’ve come to know them, comprise various sources that scholars have reconstructed using internal clues: the specific name of God being used, language dating from different periods, discrepancies in details. In the Genesis creation story, the two traditions are simply laid side by side with no attempt to harmonize; the differing details weren’t meant to be harmonized. Six days or one day, God hovering over chaos or starting with land and mist, man created last and all at once as a race or first with just one man and woman. We want to resolve these differences into one true story, but the differences themselves tell the truth of the story.

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Until we lose our obsession with literal readings of sacred books, we’ll miss their intent. We can’t know God, how God relates to us until we see God as both transcendent creator speaking the cosmos and all life into existence from on high—and a craftsman getting hands dirty fashioning one man out of mud and clay, breathing life into his nostrils, waiting to see what he will call the animals in the garden…intimately connected. And we can’t know ourselves until we see that we are both the final pinnacle of God’s creation, royal figures, God’s image representing God’s rule on earth, and also vulnerable, fallible servants in the garden who don’t even know we’re naked.

We think only one thing can be true at a time. The ancients knew better. That life is a paradox of seeming contradiction that tells a whole truth. Until we can embrace the mystery at the heart of life, we can’t follow the Way of Jesus, the vulnerable relinquishing in the second half of life that leads us back to the Source. Our first home. In the garden.

 

Fishermen and Businessmen

Dave Brisbin 11.13.22
A businessman watches a fisherman come in with a great catch. Asks how long it took to catch so much. Only a short while. Why not stay out longer and catch more? It’s enough to feed his family for the day: he gets up early to fish, plays with his children, takes a nap with his wife, then plays guitar at night with friends. The businessman schools the fisherman to stay out longer, catch more, sell, save, buy more boats, build distribution companies, invest in stocks, and after twenty or twenty five years, retire to do exactly what he is doing each day right now.

Why doesn’t the businessman see the obvious? Why isn’t the fisherman tempted by the businessman’s plan? The businessman represents the first half of life with its focus on deriving meaning from acquisition. The fisherman represents the second half of life with its realization that lasting meaning only comes from within, not from circumstance. The fisherman takes what is needed each day from an inexhaustible sea, feels no need to own storehouses, trusts the sea and doesn’t fear the future. For the businessman, each day’s work is calculated to create a specific outcome. Against all contingencies, he must carve out and protect assets he hopes will avert the possible futures he fears.

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The story is contrasting two phases of life. One is not wrong and the other right—both are necessary and complementary. We begin life in the simplicity of the child, grow into the complexity of the adult, and if we’re aware and willing, fall back into the simplicity of the elder. The fisherman may more represent the child than the elder—someone who intuitively loves simplicity—but for Jesus, the child holds the wisdom of the elder. For us, invested in complexity, this is hard to accept.

How many of us really admire the fisherman? Isn’t he a poster boy for lost potential? First half mentality can never see the wisdom of the second half, yet second half mentality includes the first half…as a tool for living physical life, not an identity. The difference between the businessman and fisherman is a vanquished ego. We can’t acquire that. It can only be relinquished.

 

Eternity in our Hearts

Dave Brisbin 11.6.22
William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, flew to space on a private suborbital flight a year ago, and like many astronauts, had a profound, worldview-shattering experience. Space was “unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth—deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Everything I had thought was wrong, everything I had expected to see was wrong.” Leaving the spacecraft after landing, he wept, and it took him some time to realize that he “was in grief for the Earth.”

He saw Earth as we can never see it from the surface: an isolated, fragile spot of warmth and life set against vast darkness. On the surface, if we don’t like one spot, we can move to another, assume inexhaustible resources, distract ourselves, and take our home for granted. But from space, the realization that all we have and are, all human history and experience, love and life exists in just one spot, on one little ball hanging in a vacuum, reveals…there is no backup.

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Shatner received a gift, a view of home and life with an intensity few of us get this side of death. But even earthbound, peak events, great suffering, great love, imminent death can pull back the curtain. At the end of his life as king, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, having looked for meaning in pleasure, wealth, accomplishment, wisdom, has the shattering insight that none of it mattered. That in the face of the death we all share, everything we have and are is contained in just one moment, one spot on a planet with no backup. If we can’t find meaning herenow, it doesn’t exist—because nothing does anywhere else.

The Teacher, from his shattering realization, wrote that God has set eternity in our hearts. The unremembered awareness that all time, all at once everything and everywhen exist within us and are only ever accessible now and here. Searching anywhere else is striving after the wind. Shatner said, “I hope I never recover from this.” That will be his choice. It is always ours as well.

 

Fearless Apocalypse

Dave Brisbin 10.30.22
It doesn’t take a prophet or a genius to see that the world is on a collision course with something out there. That everything can’t continue at this speed indefinitely. It’s a scary realization, and when we get scared, we start looking for something certain on which to stand. Which means I’ve been getting questions again on whether we are in the end times, whether the scriptures that describe them are true and when they will play out.

Short answer: I don’t know. Longer answer: no one can possibly know, no matter their years of study or absolute certainty. Jesus tells us flat out that no one knows the day or hour when such end times will occur—not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Couldn’t be more blunt, but Jesus gives a clue here that can help us make sense of apocalyptic passages. Fear drives us to imagine certainty, some illusion of control, missing that the purpose of these passages is not what—the certainty we crave—but how to live in uncertain times. Prophetic books tell us how to live to avert disaster; apocalyptic books tell us how to live after the disaster has occurred with continued hope and faith.

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When Jesus says the Father alone knows, that he will not drink another cup of wine until he returns, that he goes to prepare a place for us and promises to return with the blast of a trumpet, his way lit by the lamps of heaven to snatch us and lift us up to his Father’s house—he is using images from the Hebrew wedding tradition to show us how to live in uncertain times. A Hebrew bride must live the year or more between her betrothal and consummation anticipating being carried away at any moment to her new life while relishing every moment of the only life she has ever known.

Both Israel and the church have always seen themselves as brides of God—all human history and each individual life lived between betrothal at birth and consummation at death, between heaven and earth, now and not yet. We can’t know when or what, and that terrifies us, but we have been given how. How to live without fear. It’s all we can know with certainty, but with trust it’s all we need.

 

The Way of the Heart

Dave Brisbin 10.23.22
From third century Christian tradition…young hermit tells an elder: I know the objective of life, what God asks of us, and the best way of serving him—I’m just not capable of doing all that I should. The elder is quiet for while then says: You know about a city on the far side of the ocean, but you haven’t found a ship, loaded your bags, or crossed the sea. Why spend time imagining what it’s like to walk its streets? Knowing the objective of life and how to serve the Lord is not enough. Put into practice that which you think, and the way will be revealed all by itself.

Two hundred years earlier, the first Jewish followers of Jesus agreed. Calling themselves talmidey orha—Followers of the Way in Aramaic, they were making an emphatic statement. If their primary focus was on the Way Jesus lived and loved rather than the historical person himself, then their primary focus was on action rather than thought. A very Jewish trait. They were saying with their lives that they understood Jesus’ message to be a way of living, not just thinking or believing.

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Jesus said that we will be known as his followers by the way we love each other, that if we live as he lives and love as he loves we will do the things he has done and experience the truth that liberates. He is telling us flat out that our action defines us as followers, not our belief or belonging systems. He said he himself is the Way and Truth and Life and no one comes to the father but through him. This is the ultimate exclusionary statement for those of us who still see gospel as primarily a creed, a specific way of thinking and believing necessary for God’s approval, rather than the abandonment of self it takes to live the Way Jesus lived as necessary to realize we are approved already. Really good news.

The way of the mind—our thoughts and beliefs—can take us right to the door of the connected life Jesus calls Kingdom. But only Jesus’ Way—the way of the heart, contemplative practice—brings us through. It’s been seventeen hundred years since the Way of the heart identified Western Christians as followers of Jesus. It’s time.

 

Tragic Gap

Dave Brisbin 10.16.22
A wealthy man asks a Zen master to write a text that will inspire and remind him of his love and devotion for his family. The master returns with a beautiful calligraphy that reads: The father dies. The son dies. The grandson dies. The man is furious, but the master calmly tells him that this is his blessing. If his son died first, it would be devastating. If his grandson died, unbearable. But if his family disappears in this order, he will be blessed and his family will continue for generations.

There is a natural order that we see written in life or just in our own minds, and we are very attached to it as the way things should be. Any losses we suffer hurt, but when they violate the natural order, as the death of a child, we are devastated by both the loss itself and the offense against the natural order. We anguish and rage in a tragic gap between the way things are and the way we think they should be, a limit situation where we run headlong into the limit of our ability to control an outcome or even the narrative in our head.

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Call it moral distress—the conflict between what is and what should be, combined with the vulnerable powerlessness to bring the two together. Like burnout—responsibility without authority—we can only maintain so long before it eats us out from the inside with negative emotions, physical symptoms, and eventually cognitive distortions. We try to jump the gap by searching for rational answers or placing blame, anything to explain and relieve the violation…but there are no rational or emotional answers to the deep, existential questions raised there.

Jesus shows the way through the tragic gaps of life without losing identity or faith in the process. It’s the way of descent, becoming unattached, unidentified with the narratives in our minds that judge what should be. Those who were marginalized by life, the poor, those least invested in the status quo always followed Jesus first, were the most open to accept life just as it was with hope and gratitude. Because working for change without first accepting the limits of this day is just another tragic gap.

 

Choicelessness

Dave Brisbin 10.9.22
Thirty years ago, living alone, I was trying to be a monk in the city. Maintaining silence in apartment and car, reading all I could find on spiritual life, up at 5AM, prayerfully running through dark streets, meditation cool down by the community pool, back up to my apartment to journal, getting ready for work. Day in and out. Put that way, sounds like I knew what I was doing, had a sense of confidence in direction and growth.

A 1993 journal entry written after run and prayer asks, Where are you, Lord? Where do I go to listen? What do I listen for? How do I listen? Do I strain? Do I relax? Is it obvious? Subtle? Does it frustrate you that I am so deaf? A snapshot of the condition my condition was in: that despite all I was doing, I was not experiencing what I expected, feared I was doing it all wrong, anxious even despondent over ever getting it right. Yet the same entry also contained the seeds of answers breaking conscious ground—that God was not somewhere else to be found, but right in front of my face, trying to get my attention. That it wasn’t a matter of where to find God’s voice, but of thinning out eardrums too thick to hear the still, small voice already present.

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It would be years before such seeds grew into the full shape of a journey that was never about finding a voice, but thinning out distractions and attractions, expectations and fears that masked the always and ever Presence I was seeking. I didn’t need to understand what was happening as I showed up to all those runs and sits, only that I kept showing up. The fact of time spent in silence and solitude—allowing myself to diminish by choosing not to cling to my thoughts as the center of the universe, to let a wholly other perspective take center stage, was just the thinning out my ears needed to hear a voice that spoke without words.

To choose not to be distracted or dissuaded. To cultivate the daily experience of choiceless awareness was the shape of an inner journey that eventually convinced me I was already hearing God’s voice, but in a way I never expected, imagined, or even desired. Until I did.

 

Task Within the Task

Dave Brisbin 10.2.22
Remember the Karate Kid movie? Has to be the original from 1984. Kid asks the master to teach him karate, and the master tells him to wax his cars. But with this exact movement—wax on, wax off. When that’s done, sand the floor, paint the fence, all with very specific movements. After weeks, the kid is fed up with slave labor, screams at the master, and turns to leave. Then there’s this great moment where the master puts all those movements into context with the punches he throws, the kid deftly blocking each one with muscles hardened by the memory of each defensive motion.

Why didn’t the master tell the kid what he was really doing while he was doing all that work? Because the kid would have brought all he thought he knew about karate into the process and messed it all up. Only way to learn a pure motion is to separate the motion from the desired outcome, and only way to a desired outcome is to learn the pure motion. What a metaphor for life. What are we really doing when we do the things we do all day long? What really matters? What lasts?

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We have to believe that what we do matters, or life becomes intolerably absurd. But when we live long enough, we begin to question the meaning of all we do. How does it matter? Why does it matter? We need a moment with the master to put it all together, give us the context of a thrown punch to see how our muscles have hardened to a purpose, but not the one we first imagined. The tasks we do all day long are only temporal. They and their effects will end. But within those tasks is a deeper task that always points to the unseen connection between everything and everyone. When we can see that deeper task within, all our tasks become reinfused with lasting meaning.

Like the kid, if we focus too soon on the outcome we think really matters, we won’t practice pure movements long enough to build character and container for real meaning. But if we don’t eventually question the meaning of our movements, we’ll never learn that they are just containers for a deeper task—the one that shows us who we really are.

 

First Four Steps

Dave Brisbin 9.25.22
From the desert monastic communities of Egypt and Judea in the 4th century: a young monk asks his elder how he can come closer to God. Elder tells him to go to the cemetery and insult the dead. Dutifully he goes, and upon return the elder asks: did you go to the cemetery? Yes. Did you insult the dead? Yes. Did they respond to you? No. Now go back and praise the dead. Upon return: did they respond to you? No. When you can respond to the insults and praises of men the way the dead do, you will be closer to God.

The early church understood the value of unoffendability and unflatterability. Of learning that contentment, meaning, purpose, identity don’t depend on external opinion or circumstance, but a deep interior connection. Today, such values are not only lost, but our culture, both secular and religious, is built on noise, social approval, compulsive activity, and complexity. Re-establishing the deep interior connection Jesus calls being one with the Father means living salmon-like, swimming against the stream of our culture and our own minds

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Standing opposite the noise, social approval, activity, complexity of daily life, the Four S-es—silence, solitude, stillness, simplicity—are the launch pad for Jesus’ only Way to the Father. But their significance is much deeper than first glance. Silence is not just the absence of sound, but not thinking about the noise that is present. Solitude is not being alone, but alone with Presence, a sense of connection to something larger than self. Stillness is not just absence of activity, but detachment from the compulsive need for busyness. Simplicity is not absence of complexity, but no longer needing circumstances, opinions, possessions for personal validation.

Bringing these four states of being into our daily routine changes our fundamental relationship with life and each other in ways we can’t fully anticipate—only experience. Stepping away from internal and external noise, the need for activity, accomplishment, and possessions to show us who we are, builds a quiet confidence and humility, the ability to hear the utter silence of God’s voice.

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First Things

Dave Brisbin 9.18.22
A nurse, retiring after 44 years while also moving out of the home in which she raised her children, was feeling the anxiety of losing much of what had identified her entire adult life. I was telling her how important it would be to jump into the deep end of her new hometown, engage in community and really connect, when she flashed on her mother-in-law who had retired to Las Vegas seven years before. She had recently died, and the nurse was astounded by how many people attended the funeral…hundreds, including local store clerks and food servers.

In seven years, in a city the size of Las Vegas, imagine the kind of impression she must have made with even the most casual encounters. How she broke through the daily noise of life to leave people feeling seen, heard, validated, encouraged, loved. I wish I’d known her. I want to be her when I grow up.

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What does it take to overflow a funeral service? What does it take to have the kind of presence that leaves people better than we found them? First things first, it starts with awareness. Without awareness of our inherent connection with everyone who shares our moments, there is no presence. And in case we think awareness means thinking deeply about what we’re aware of, let’s stop and clarify. If we’re thinking about our awareness, we’re not fully aware. If we’re not fully aware, we’re not fully present. If this woman had been thinking, if I’m really nice to this cashier she will come to my funeral, the spell would have been broken, the connection unmade.

We can be aware of something without thinking about it. Without attaching words, naming it in our heads. To think about something separates us as from a picture in a frame. To be fully aware is to become what we are aware of. At first, most of us will need to consciously practice not thinking about our thoughts, but until we graduate mere consciousness, awareness always remains just around the corner. Awareness is not something we consciously do, it’s the state of being connected, a wordless presence that can’t be mistaken for anything less, even by store clerks and food servers in the midst of their busy days.

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Everyone is recovering from something… Admitting this is the first step in spiritual life, because any unfinished business in our lives–trauma, unforgiveness, fear-based perceptions–fosters compulsive behavior and keeps us from connecting spiritually and emotionally.

Since we’re all recovering, we accept everyone right as they are—no expiration dates or deadlines. We don’t tell anyone what to believe or do. We present points of view that we hope will engage seekers in their own journey; help them unlearn limiting perceptions, beliefs, and compulsions; give opportunities to get involved in community, building the trust we all need to find real identity, meaning, and purpose. In other words, to engage the transforming Way of living life that Jesus called Kingdom…non-religiously understood from a first century Hebrew point of view.

 

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Embedded in the fun and laughter of each of our gatherings and events is the connection and accountability as well as the structure, discipline, and opportunity for service that authentic community is all about. We help create programs for physical support, emotional recovery, and spiritual formation that can meet any person’s needs. Such programs work at two levels: first to address a person’s physical and emotional stability—clinical, financial, relational,professional—anything that distracts from working on the second level: true spiritual formation centered around the contemplative way of life defined by an original Hebrew understanding of the message of Jesus.

Rather than telling people what to believe or think, we model and encourage engagement in a personal and communal spiritual journey that allows people to experience their own worthiness of connection and acceptance, to find the freedom from underlying fears that brings real meaning and purpose into focus.

 

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Seeing ourselves as a learning and recovery community that worships together, the focus isn’t on Sunday morning alone, but on every day of the week as we gather for worship, healing and support workshops, studies, 12 step meetings, counseling and mentoring sessions, referral services, and social events. We maintain a food pantry for those needing more support, a recovery worship gathering, and child care for those with little ones.

Our Sunday gathering starts at 10AM and our Recovery gathering on Tuesdays at 7PM. Both gatherings include worship with one of the best worship bands in the area. See our monthly calendar and our Facebook page to stay in touch with what is happening each week. You can also sign up on our elist for email enews updates.

 

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