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.
Dave Brisbin 1.1.23
First apartment Marian and I rented was near a nature reserve, and a colony of turkey vultures roosted in the tops of the eucalyptus all around us. Most people complained about the mess on the sidewalks, but I loved them. Waiting every morning for the sun to heat the updrafts that would take them aloft, like business people waiting for the train, they went to the office every day, all day, back home with the lowering sun. Day after day, seasons, weekends, holidays made no difference. No sense of time or the arbitrary lines we draw to mark our calendars.
On New Year’s Day, we celebrate an arbitrary line. A line drawn differently in different cultures at different times in history. In the West, we think of time as a series of line segments, but the new year we celebrate is really a circle. The universe is made of circles. Circles within circles. Stars, planets, orbits, rotations, all scribing the circles we call days, months, years, seasons. The earth has no more sense of time than a turkey vulture, but we do, and in the language of Jesus, when a circle is completed as on New Year’s Day, it is g’mar, perfected. 2022 is now a perfect year. Complete. Fulfilled.
Perfection is not about working a process to a perfect result, but about the effect that process has on us…even if the result is imperfect. Outcome is irrelevant to the perfection of Jesus and James. We are perfected when we come full circle, home to our eucalyptus, having learned to be more fully present and aware, to more perfectly embrace whatever and whomever shares our homecoming. No matter how imperfect.
Dave Brisbin 11.27.22
The older I get, the simpler things look. I used to love complexity. All the words, diagrams, contingencies, choices. Now I love that my wardrobe has come down to one basic uniform—black shirt, jeans, alternating pairs of shoes. And I love that I’m caring less what anyone thinks about my fashion choices. I’m convinced that the things in life that remain complicated are less important than things that don’t. And becoming aware of the complexity to which I remain attached is one way of knowing where my stone is not yet smooth.
Jesus was a master of simplicity. Pared everything down to the fewest possible words. An image or metaphor. We imagine God’s kingdom to be filled with laws, rules, doctrine, rituals, good works. Those are all parts but not the point. Jesus boils it down to one thing. Love. Of God and each other—which in turn become one thing in the act of loving. Seek that and all else will be added. Live that and all else is commentary. And when we do, what does that feel like? Just one thing.
The one thing to which Jesus is pointing feels like gratitude. Gratitude is what love feels like. We can’t be grateful and angry at the same time. Or insecure, envious, victimized. Gratitude embraces the humility of receivership, acknowledges a gift we could not give ourselves. We can’t manufacture gratitude. We become it when we let go of the complexity of entitlement. It’s that simple. And that difficult at the same time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.