message archive

Audio recordings of messages from Sunday and some Tuesday Recovery Gatherings are archived here for downloading or streaming. You can browse current year messages below from most recent to oldest, or select a category for specific years or one of our “boxed sets,” message series on specific topics.

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Moments Like These

Dave Brisbin 11.26.23
My good friend these past eight years, a committed member of our faith community, Bob Lang, died last week. I was at his house the night before with his wife and daughter and again the next day after he had passed. Staying connected to him and his family during his illness, I was very glad that last night to have been able to say in his ear all I wanted him to know, hoping he could hear and understand. He leaves a big hole in my breakfast schedule, the conversations we’d have, and accepting that he’s no longer callable will take some time.

Moments like these call so much into question, maybe everything that matters to us as fragile humans. What is Bob doing now? Who is he with? Anyone at all? Does he know the answers to all the questions I have, that every human has ever had since we started this whole thing? Most of us are well steeped in religious and cultural doctrine, but moments like these have the power to strip all that away, undistract us, question everything we think we know and lay bare the reality of what we can’t.

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Truth is, there’s no certainty about the unseen parts of life. By definition, they are unprovable. Unseen, we can say they don’t exist, or we can let what we do see convince us of something more. Fear makes us crave certainty, but certainty is only mind deep; conviction goes all the way to the bone. We choose our convictions out of the experience of our lives—not as a certainty, but as the basis of how we live. Now. Not then.

All we have is now. All Bob has is now. I’m convinced it’s the same now, shared, at different frequencies.

Moments like these have convinced me that choosing to live based on love is to feel love’s eternal quality. That we come from love and return to it, that we as part of love are never lost, just change form. Like energy and matter, we remain constant while constantly changing. I’m convinced that Bob is not lost, just unseen to me. We often say that the dead are still present and alive in our hearts, but I’m becoming convinced that our hearts, tuned to the frequency of presence, can make us aware of unseen life in our one, shared now…moments like these.

The Path to Grateful

Dave Brisbin 11.19.23
Important government official comes to a renowned Zen master and says, “Teach me the ways of Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” It’s more command than request. The master smiles, saying, “Let’s discuss it over tea.” When the tea is ready, he pours for his guest, and pours until the cup begins to overflow, creeping across the table until it runs off onto the man’s robes. He jumps up, “Stop! Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master smiles again, “You are like this cup. So full, nothing can be added. Come back when your cup is empty. Come back with an empty mind.”

As modern, Western people, our cups are now so full, overflowing with digital data, that a study has shown our attention spans have dropped from twelve seconds in 2000 before the mobile revolution to eight seconds today. Considering that goldfish have demonstrated attention spans of nine seconds, we have fallen below goldfish in our ability to hold the moment, to simply be present to what is rather than what projects on our screens and our minds.

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Why does this matter and what does it have to do with gratitude? Gratitude is more than mere thankfulness. It begins there, but journeys on to a life altering attitude and way of living connected to gifts we could never give ourselves. Gratitude is dependent upon presence, the ability to get all our preconceptions out of the way, clear our minds of distracting thoughts by immersing in what is right before us.

We can’t create gratitude, seek it directly or count blessings into it. Gratitude is what happens when we let go of the complexity in our minds in favor of the simplicity of an instant. It’s an umbrella term that covers all the positive emotions and excludes the rest. You can’t be grateful and anything negative at the same time. It’s a physical, mental, emotional impossibility. Maybe gratitude isn’t a thing itself, but the absence of anything that distracts from the ongoing gift—what it feels like to let the moment we’re in be enough for us, realize that anything added or taken away would only diminish.

Gratitude is what we call what we feel when we empty our cup and graduate from goldfish.

 

Fearing Not

Dave Brisbin 11.12.23
You can understand much of human behavior by remembering that we are fragile little creatures living under a death sentence trying to survive and somehow thrive. Fear makes us crave certainty and control, which don’t exist in life but drive our thoughts and behavior in predictable directions, including our religious obsession with prophecy and end times speculation. All enthusiastically doomed to frustration.

So how do we do it? Survive and thrive under such conditions? Since human experience never changes, we can look to the ancients, not for what we can know with certainty, but for how we can live in uncertainty without fear. Throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures, there is one overarching metaphor for life lived here between heaven and earth—the Hebrew wedding tradition…from the bride’s point of view. Seems strange at first, but consider that a Hebrew girl was betrothed to a man she may have never met in a ceremony called the kiddushin. Her groom would then leave her to build the chadar, their apartment at his father’s house where they would consummate and live out their marriage. He could be gone a year or more, returning without notice, surprising the bride to carry her home for the nissu’in, the wedding ceremony.

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Imagine the bride living between kiddushin and nissu’in…excited anticipation of her new life deepening the awareness that she must leave everything she’s ever known and loved, all while knowing that at any moment everything could change. All human history and life are lived in the uncertainty between betrothal and consummation, promise and fulfillment, birth and death. The bride is living the paradox of balancing now and not yet—anticipating the excitement of new life, working toward change without ever losing immersion in the moment and relationships now.

Immersion now, even as we anticipate not yet, teaches us that all moments are equally sacred. That all moments, now and not yet, are the same moment once entered, and the uncertainty we fear resolves only and always now in the connection we make and maintain—the only certainty we’ll ever experience with the power to cast out fear.

 

What Love Requires

Dave Brisbin 11.5.23
I’ve continued to receive questions about the war in Israel and related issues, and one of them was very specific and raised an ethical nightmare of conflicting moral imperatives. Got me thinking of the competing ethical systems I learned in school: categorical imperatives—universal laws and duties that are self-contained and always morally right without regard to consequences vs utilitarianism—actions that are morally right when they produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people vs virtue ethics—the what would Jesus do question of looking to an ideal virtue agent to show us right action.

Each one has its pros and cons, and we probably need all three to regulate the excesses of the others, but what would Jesus do presents an interesting question for those of us trying to follow his teaching. First off, we can’t apply what would Jesus do to macro situations—Jesus was always teaching in the context of micro relationships and individual hearts. But a friend told me his reaction to the macro war was so personally devastating that he “googled Gandhi” to find, an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind, and Jesus in the gospels, do not treat evil with evil, but rather with love. My friend’s clear use of virtue ethics helped him reframe, return home from macro confusion and despair.

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Jesus is much more situational than categorical in his ethics. Since he can’t ask what Jesus would do, in asking what the Father would do, he focuses on what love requires in any situation rather than what is categorically right. But to know what love requires, itself requires pure presence—awareness to really see the situation as it is, all who share it as they are.

When Jesus gets the devastating news that his dear friend Lazarus is dying, he stays two more days where he is, teaching and healing. Did love require delay to create the greatest good for greatest number or was he just lost in presence? When he arrives, he knows love requires a deep conversation with Martha, but with Mary, he simply weeps. What love requires can cut through volumes of ethical philosophy, but only if we’re fully present first.

 

A Promised Land

Dave Brisbin 10.29.23
The Israel-Palestine war is kicking up a lot of questions. How did we get here? Why for four or five generations has there been an active volcano in Israel/Palestine that can erupt at any moment? Israelis, Palestinians, and the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all claim the land. Whose land is it? Who is the occupier? Can we make any sense by looking at history?

Jews have continuously occupied what is now Israel/Palestine for at least 3,000 years. Arabs have occupied the same land for the last 1,400, side by side with Jews. For most of that time, the land was taken and controlled by a parade of foreign occupiers: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, and finally the British. There has never been a formal Palestinian state and no Jewish state since 63 BCE. Rome renamed their province of Judea, Syria Palestina, about 135 CE after the second Jewish-Roman war that finally purged most Jews from the land. The name stuck.

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But 100 years ago, at the end of WWI, Britain took control of the area and supported a declaration calling for a Jewish national home in Palestine, opening the door to Jewish migration and creating tension and conflict with the Arab population. Twenty years and another world war later, Britain withdrew its control of Palestine in 1948, and the newly-formed UN approved a partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Arabs rejected it; Israel declared independence; Arabs attacked; Israel defended and won most of the land partitioned to Palestinians, then purged those Arabs from their homes. The stage was set for the constant conflict of the past 75 years.

Both Jews and Arabs have ancient claims to the land. But land is always occupied by the winner of the last fight, and Jews and Arabs have taken and retaken this land over millennia. Whose land is it now and what can we do from the sidelines? We can start by admitting that history is not decisive, that all people have a right to a place to stand, and that we can’t afford to reflexively take sides and fall into the same patterns of hatred that lead to atrocities we abhor.

 

Sun and Rain

Dave Brisbin 10.22.23
In the last line of Matthew 5, Jesus says, therefore be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. Wow. Hearing that for the first time, would it spur you to work harder? Try to hit imagined thresholds? Or feel completely defeated? Shake your head and walk away? Most of us know we’re not perfect, that the human condition doesn’t allow, so exactly what is he asking?

Since Jesus said, “therefore,” we need to go back and see what that’s there for… Therefore connects back to the entire chapter as the how of this perfection, but especially to the immediate passage in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies. How are we supposed to love what we hate and what hates us? The original language helps. Enemy is not just a malicious adversary, but one who is not of our tribe, someone we don’t know, understand, trust, like.

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We’re to love our enemies as we love our neighbors—those close to us in proximity and relationship—and love our neighbors as ourselves, which still doesn’t imply affection, but at least basic human decency. Still, that word love trips us up. Even showing basic decency to those we consider indecent is too much. But there are two words for love that Jesus uses in Aramaic. When he says love your neighbor, he uses rehem, which is a love full of affection and devotion that flows as if from a deep wellspring. And when he says love your enemy, he uses ahab, which literally means to kindle a fire: gather dry, dead twigs and ruffage, carefully spark and blow and guard until a warming fire burns.

Loving our enemies is a process of becoming someone who experiences growing a love never thought possible with someone always thought unlovable. Such an impossibility comes as a perfect moment, a connection beyond those we normally experience that changes our view of love and life. Jesus is saying that even in our imperfection, we can feel our love, our decency, falling like sun and rain on those who deserve it or not, for whom we feel affection or not…just as perfectly as God’s. It’s a momentary union of imperfection and perfection, an experience of perfect love that can grow into a character that defines.

 

Second Mile

Dave Brisbin 10.15.23
It is absolutely, positively, unreservedly impossible to overestimate the impact of culture on language. Language is a child of culture and can only breathe in the culture that birthed it. When translated to another language, we’ve taken a fish out of water, trying to understand as it flops on the ground. If we want to know a fish, we have to get into the water. If true for modern languages, how much more for ancient ones, where not only culture, but history, science, and technology also affect meaning?

Cultures exist to bind people together, ensure survival by making group experience meaningful and cohesive. So first task of culture is to control behavior—make sure the behavior of individuals is not harmful to the group. We see that as a function of law, because modern Western society is based on what anthropologists call a guilt/innocence culture: order is maintained by creating and reinforcing feelings of guilt and expectation of punishment.

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But the ancient world, and much of the East to this day is based on honor and shame, not guilt and innocence: order is maintained through indoctrination of shame—loss of honor—and the threat of ostracism. Such cultures are collective: individuals exist to serve the group and bring either honor or shame to everyone in it. When shamed, the restoration of honor often through revenge, not punishment under law, restores balance. An honor/shame culture produced our Judeo/Christian scriptures and the impact of those texts can only be understood when we get into that water.

When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek if struck on the right, until we know this meant a backhand slap, a shaming insult that would require vengeance to restore honor, we can’t know what he was asking in terms of voluntary humility for the sake of relationship. And when he says to go a second mile after Roman officials commandeered you for the first, until we see the shame in oppression, we can’t know how everything Jesus is teaching about the assurance and fearless vulnerability of God’s love is never found in the first mile. Only a second mile, beyond honor and obligation, can show us that.

 

Yes and No

Dave Brisbin 10.8.23
How hard is it for you to say no? From telemarketers to employers, people on the street with signs to friends and family, there’s a psychological spectrum of difficulty. No one likes to give anyone the bad news of no, but if the difficulty is so great that it’s near-impossible, then we’ve shifted from concern for another to a form of codependency, concern for what another thinks of us. We’re all codependent to certain degrees, but when we can no longer simply say yes and no, there’s a problem.

In a recent group discussion, women said they thought it was harder for them to say no than men—that women are more relationally focused and taught to please others in a way men are not. But everyone had varying levels of difficulty: the introverts said the answer is always no, no matter how many times they say yes; one man said you should always say no first, because it’s much easier to change your mind later to yes; a woman said that her no was always softened, accompanied by an alternative; while another spoke of the virtues of “maybe.”

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Jesus said that yes or no are sufficient answers, you don’t need oaths or appeals to higher authority. In the context of formal contracts and proceedings, he spoke to a tradition that allowed people to legally break their promises depending on what authority they based their oath. God’s name was always binding, but lesser authorities were not. Jesus is saying we don’t need any higher authority than our own word to bind our promises once we have come to care about others as much as ourselves. Who is the person making the promise?

For an honest person, no oath is necessary—for a dishonest person, no oath is enough.

What does it take to be the person Jesus suggests? To simply say yes or no…why, only later if needed…takes someone who’s experienced an inner assurance of belonging and acceptance. Someone strong enough to say yes and carry it out; non-codependent enough to say no without loss of identity.

When we say yes to one thing, we say no to another. Yes and no, define us and the course of our lives. Jesus is showing us the freedom to choose with something other than fear.

 

Darker Before Dawn

Dave Brisbin 10.1.23
One of the most misinterpreted and misused passages in the Bible affects a foundational part of our personal lives. Jesus appears to tell us in Matthew that adultery is the only legitimate ground for divorce and anyone who remarries after divorce for any other reason commits adultery. In Mark and Luke Jesus seems to remove the exception: all remarriage after divorce is adultery. I’ve seen pastors send women back to abusive husbands, toxic marriages held together at all costs, divorced people leave the church in order to live their lives.

Is it legal to drink under the age of twenty-one?

We mentally add alcohol or the question is nonsense. We leave it out of the question because the context is clear. Same happens biblically, but we don’t know the context. Everyone in first century Israel knew there were five legal grounds for divorce, and adultery was not one of them. Proven adultery was punishable by death, not divorce. The matter of indecency Jesus cites that we have translated as adultery, meant bringing shame to the family, while the other four dealt with neglect, abuse, and infertility—common-sense responses to the realities of marriage in their culture.

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Jesus was asked: is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any matter? “Any matter” created a narrow legal question. One school of Pharisees maintained the “matter of indecency” as a single ground for divorce; another school broke it in two: indecency and “any matter,” which meant a husband who wanted another woman, could divorce his wife for any or no reason at all. When pressed to choose between the two, Jesus maintained a matter of indecency as one ground—a husband had to show just cause, and if he divorced for “any matter” in order to marry another, it was the same as adultery. Common decency. Common sense.

God’s purpose is always to bring together, make separate things one, peace out of chaos. This is the purpose of marriage as well. But if a marriage is chaotic, abusive, toxic, divorce may be the only way to create greater oneness later.

God knows this…that sometimes it has to get darker before the dawn. Jesus did too. How about us?

 

Power to Choose

Dave Brisbin 9.24.23
Co-facilitating a debrief for a medical team that was emotionally stressed by a case in which a baby died after drowning in his bathtub. And if that wasn’t traumatic enough, the mother was charged for leaving her baby alone in the tub while under the influence of drugs. As the staff is caring for the baby, the police are in the hospital room arresting the mother, cuffing her, taking her into custody. The medical staff know the baby will not make it and confront the police, asking that the mother be allowed to stay as long as her baby is alive. The police relent, but stand guard in the room and won’t uncuff the mother. She backs against the bed…trying to touch her baby.

It’s a classic clash of cultures between law enforcement and medical care. It’s not that the medical staff doesn’t know or care what the mother did; they are horrified. But where law enforcement sees the mother as offender and the room as a crime scene, the medical staff sees the offender as a mother and the room as a place of care. More broadly, it’s a clash between justice and mercy, macro and micro where neither side is wrong nor fully right in each other’s contexts. This mother must face the law and what justice demands, but as one nurse said, in that moment we needed to let her grieve over her baby.

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The medical team was in moral distress. Being constrained from doing what they believed was ethical at the bedside, they were outraged at the action of law enforcement, who were also constrained by the law, whatever they may have been feeling. But if we can understand the necessary shift between macro law and micro compassion, the need for both, we can more easily understand the actions of those working in a different context. In Matthew 5, Jesus shifts us from macro law to micro compassion over and over, showing us how we can live well between the two, fulfilling both.

Even as we accept macro constraints, we can still choose the character of our micro life—compassion, connection, respect. How we live under the law is always our choice. Jesus is giving us back the awareness of our own power to choose. No one can take that from us.

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