living the way

Jesus’ message is nothing if not practical. He never leaves his teaching circling a theological airport or lost in abstraction. His message is always targeted on how we live and choose in this very moment. These audio messages intend to help us live our spirituality where rubber and road meet.

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.

 

Ducks and Swans

Dave Brisbin 8.14.22
Most of us have heard the phrase, “ugly duckling,” but most of us no longer know the story from which it comes. We may think it refers to a face only a mother could love, but The Ugly Duckling was a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale published in 1843. After a mother duck’s eggs hatch, there is one duckling unlike all the rest, who is verbally and physically abused because of his looks. He goes through a series of isolating and humiliating incidents until, when fully grown, throws himself into a flock of swans preferring death to further rejection. He’s amazed that he is fully accepted until he sees his reflection in the water and realizes he’s been a swan all along.

When Andersen was asked if he’d ever write his autobiography, he said it was already done. A tall, ugly boy with a big nose and feet, he was cruelly mocked and teased, but in addition to his musical and writing talents, there was evidence he was the illegitimate son of the king of Denmark. The swan was not just metaphor for inner beauty and talent, but also for royal blood.

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Beyond ugly ducklings, there is Cinderella, The Frog Prince, and numberless stories on the same theme from ancient times to today. Luke Skywalker is secretly a Jedi knight. Neo in The Matrix is secretly “the one” who can wake humanity from slavery. Jesus is an ugly duckling too. A Cinderella born into abject poverty, raised in Nazareth—of which Nathaniel asks, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” He is unrecognized, despised, ultimately killed, but not before he finds his true identity, his royal blood and the power to wake humanity to the good news. What news?

That we’re all swans. The slipper fits. We’re knights, secret royalty. That the journey Jesus took to truth is a journey we can all take. That when Jesus says “you will do the things you see me do,” he means that whenever we wish, we can take up the human task of realizing that though we don’t yet see it in ourselves, as children of our Father, the king, royal blood flows in us as well. That even in the admission of our powerlessness, this good news alone can wake us from the slavery of our fears.

 

Questions as Answers

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.

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Jesus is much more interested in questions than answers and is perfectly comfortable with questions serving as answers. Life is made of uncertainty. The questions we most profoundly want answered are unknowable in this life. Jesus knows that the life he lives and envisions for each of us doesn’t flow from answer to answer, but from question to more incisive question. Direct, declarative statements as answers don’t take us on journeys, and Jesus is all about engagement in a process of questioning that constantly refines the scope of what is true.

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.

 

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.

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.

Freedom of Vulnerability

Dave Brisbin 7.25.21
What’s the most important verse in scripture? That could be endlessly debated and ultimately impossible to answer unless asked this way: what is the most important verse in scripture to you? And once it becomes personal, it most likely becomes a moving target as well. Different verses have been signatures for me, changing over time, and recently, Luke 23:34 has been persistently growing in importance: Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.

Not particularly warm, and mildly condescending at first glance, but this tiny prayer from Jesus on the cross as he’s being tortured and executed, is huge in implication. It points to a willingness to remain fully vulnerable—undefended, open, compassionate—that under such circumstances is almost beyond belief. And it points to the real meaning of the cross itself: not appeasing an angry God with a blood sacrifice, but displaying perfect love in human form…because love is vulnerability, undefended openness in action, or it’s not love at all.

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Christians often think of Jesus as God to the exclusion of his humanity, but scripture is clear that Jesus was fully human, and Jesus tells us himself that we humans are meant to do what he has done: display perfect love through our vulnerability. But how to maintain vulnerability in the face of the attacks of another? Jesus tells us in the second part of his prayer: recognizing our shared humanity in the limiting fears, compulsions, and core beliefs on which we unconsciously act. That until we are aware enough, we literally don’t know what we are doing as we do the harm we do. In Aramaic, freedom and forgiveness are the same word. To be released is forgiveness, and to forgive is to set ourselves free of victimhood and fear. But we can’t forgive without becoming vulnerable again. Ultimate freedom is found in the vulnerability of forgiveness, which we’ll never know until we do the work awareness requires and begin to know what it is we are doing.
 

When Life Seems Overwhelming

Frank Billman 7.18.21
We all have those times in our lives when we get hit hard with tragedy or difficult life events. Sometimes they come in waves and leave us breathless and wondering how to even begin to process them or move forward. In those difficult times we can find ourselves getting overwhelmed by sadness, despair, grief and depression. So how do we deal with this? How do we find our hope and our connection with God? It takes a conscious choice and action that is often uncomfortable in order to find our way back to a place of hope and even spiritual connection.

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Three things that help are 1) Keep showing up to our daily routine. Many times it’s hard just to put one foot in front of the other and attend to our daily needs and routine but this is critical to finding a path out. In the 12 step program we call it taking opposite action. I don’t necessarily feel like doing these things but I do them because it’s the right and appropriate thing to do. 2) Keep showing up to our community. We need to feel the strength, love and encouragement we get from the people in our community. They help us remember what is truly important in life–our friends and our relationships with each other. 3) Keep showing up to God. I can only find God’s peace when I seek His company. He is truly the key to my peace and my happiness. If I seek His presence regularly during these times they become more bearable and eventually I find through His grace the acceptance needed to heal. None of this is a quick and easy process but it’s the path to dealing with life when it feels like it’s too much to bear.
 

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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.

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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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