Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A poem

Days like this I want everyone to see
You love them like you love me
Show them, embrace them, let your sunshine
Hit their eyes and open them like mine
No one could deny your bliss
When your nose presses into his
Why be hidden from your children
Why love and stay  hidden from them
If you would, come out and play
Especially on a day like today

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This is the Ladies' Room

I walked into the ladies' room at a movie theater earlier today. A pretty asian girl was reapplying makeup at the mirror. She laughed at me. I froze. My body was frozen and my mind raced and my life reconnected with itself from earlier. I've been in a ladies' room before and everytime it's happened I've had an out of body experience, red cheeks, and an experience like floating in a pool of embarrasment as a waterfall of realization pummels me and I drown.  She laughed at me and I left. I went to the safety of urinals behind door number two. I began to laugh at myself. I tried to remember if I had said anything seconds earlier, if the laughing girl had been laughing at something ridiculous I had said, hoping to save face. I think I may have said, "whoops, this isn't right," or something painfully obvious. I took longer than usual in the men's room, hoping to miss the worst-possible-scenario of us both walking out of our respective rooms into the lobby of a small independent movie theater and having to make small talk. What would I even say? How immasculating. It's hilarious how quickly every ounce of confidence I have can be swept away. It's not  a big deal. It's hilarious. 

Adrenaline shoots through you when you make a mistake. People try so hard to be cool, but all you have to do is walk into the wrong door and every square foot of cool which you've cultivated over twenty seven years of life can be burned to the ground. My mistake today wasn't a big deal. Social mores and I guess decoram stipulate which toilet room I have to use, not a moral authority. True embarrasment, humiliation, is a much more serious thing. It can lead to a life of regret or hiding as everyone seems to want to poke fun at something you can't control. I didn't have that experience in high school. Not that I was better than people who were being made fun of, but I just got lucky. I didn't screw up. I didn't have "an accident" in PE and get ridiculed for it for the better part of half a decade afterwards (that happened at my school to one kid). I kept my head down enough to not stand out in any way that might get my head on the chopping block of mercilous high school razzing.

We aren't naturally very nice to one another. The idea of making someone seem less than human in order to reaffirm the herd's superiority is as old as cavemen. We still do it. Anyone different, weird, or even unlucky is subject to our derision. Heaven forbid something embarrasing happens to someone we don't like. We pounce like Hyenas on a freshly wounded wildebeast. We are so insecure in our skin we have to cut the skin of others in order to feel anything at all. It's all so much effort. Trying to be cool, trying to make someone feel worse, trying to be RIGHT, it's all such a waste of time. 

Learning to be secure is learning to fly. It's in being ourselves we find our freedom, our voice, and we learn how to play our part on earth. If you feel like you're working too hard at being a good person, you're right. If you feel you're trying too hard to fit in, you're right. Be yourself. It is my belief God created us to be ourselves. St. Irenaeus, besides having an amazing beard, was also responsible for one of my favorite sayings: "The Glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God." Just behold God like the mystic in you wants to do anyway. It's your heart's desire. You're hard-wired to long to participate in the divine nature and it's easy. Relax and just breathe Him in. Worry and embarrasment and shame are hard. Love and Joy and Peace are easy.

It's also totally fine to laugh at someone when he walks into the ladies' room.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

God Bless Johnny Cash: A Theology of Suffering

What do you do when you've never really had a tough life and you see a man almost die in front of you from being homeless and cold? What good do your worship choruses on Sunday do on Wednesday when you are stopped by a man with one eye who smells like he crawled out of a gin bottle to ask you for 75 cents? What do I say when a panhandler tells me his name is Paul, but sometimes he acts like Saul?

Maybe I'm a little like Saul sometimes too.

It's been said that Americans don't have a theology of suffering. Most people don't even know what that phrase means, so I guess I can say it's true. Your theology of suffering is how you see suffering in light of the truths of God's love and your experience of it both through scripture and experience. Sometimes being able to exegete life is more important than being able to exegete the Bible when it comes to suffering. When the worst happens, you really don't want to hear about all things working together for the good of those who are loved by Him and called according to His purposes. It really doesn't help the crap in your life in that moment. When you're homeless, a tract doesn't feed you. It doesn't give you a fix for the raging craving that surges through your veins and compels you to seek out the next hit. What do you do with that?

Nihilism starts to creep in if you aren't careful. You start to believe that everything is destined to fail and that life is miserable. You could also become a theological escape artist who dismisses suffering as "part of life in a fallen world" while your hope remains in the good life to come. One glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away. Just a few more weary days and then--I'll fly away.

Seems like that's a cop-out.

Right now I'm reading Cash by Johnny Cash. His last autobiography, Cash goes through his entire life and all he has learned. He goes through all the pain in his life--both the pains he experienced himself and the pain he put on the shoulders of others through his addictions and ego. Throughout the entire book, there is a thread of light being sewn into the story of Cash's life. His suffering, his pain, was all real and most of it brought upon his head by his own actions. Yet, there was redemption. His family and friends and pastors were always ready to usher him back into the light--where he belonged. He seemed to always know God was right there by his side, protecting him and waiting for him to make a choice to return.


At the end of his life, Johnny Cash recorded several albums with producer Rick Rubin. These albums featured a stripped-down, raw sound and Cash's popularity soared. Why? Because people relate to the gravel in his voice. When Cash sang a song, it grabbed you somewhere deep. He could cover a song and make it sound like he lived those words. His music resonates with hipsters and hippies and cowboys because it is real. His theology of suffering was one we can all relate to. Suffering is a necessary part of life. It is a part of a fallen world. But suffering is not the whole story. There is a light that the darkness cannot overcome. God is light. God is always there in our suffering. God is made strong in our weakness, and God can use our most feeble state to build us into the best version of ourselves. Cash isn't Cash without his struggles. Life is full of pain, but God is great--and God is good. Cash is boring without the parts about his addiction. Your story is going to involve suffering, but grace is there too.

God bless Johnny Cash. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Friends, Dance Parties, and Holiness

Your body tells you what it needs. It tells you when you are hungry or thirsty, when you need something salty, when you need something sweet. It also tells you to go to bed. Learning to listen to your body is key to living a healthy life. Your soul tells you what it needs too. Sometimes you need a wave, sometimes you need to breathe mountain air, sometimes you need to see friends, sometimes you need to clear the furniture out and put on 90's one-hit wonders. Learning to listen to your soul is important. 

Talk to that guy.
Smile at that girl.

Take

A

Break.

This past weekend was one of the best weekends I can remember. Farmer's markets, old friends, new friends, college football, bike rides, and furniture assembly. I did everything I wanted to do, but the best thing was allowing my mind to rest for an entire day this Saturday. Me and my friend/brother Skot, a man so close to my heart, needed some help putting some patio furniture together. Laughing and screwing up patio furniture and then getting it right and then watching LSU get beat, me and Skot "wasted" a tremendous amount of time on Saturday. I was at his house literally all day. When his wife Jamie got home, she cooked us dinner and then more friends showed up, so we had a dance party.

The next day I woke up with a miserable cold. If having fun Saturday made me sick on Sunday, it was worth it. The pastor at Denver United church was talking about how we as small stones are being built into a church. How we, like the Israelites crossing the Jordan, need to pile our stones to point future generations to where God has taken us. If you have a moment of clarity after an amazing day, and you realize how The Lord gave you rest, make a point to mark it. Write a journal or something. Don't forget it. 

There will come a day where you need markers to look back on to make sure God is still with you. Days like this weekend are proof to me of God's love for me and His desire to surround me with brothers and sisters who love me. 

God is great, but God is also good. He is looking out for you. He wants you to relax, calm down, take a break, rest, and see how good He is. 

Clear out your furniture. Dance to some terrible music. Eat a good meal. Don't check your email for a while. Just be still for a bit, and you'll see God. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Suchness and Is-ness is Serious Business

I'm not a Buddhist, but I like the things many of them say, and I like the way they think. The teachings of Zen and other walks of Buddhism have a ton of treasures for those of us who may not subscribe to the totality. Recently, I have been--how to articulate this--overcome spiritually with new ideas. The thing about these new ideas, is they were a lot like older thoughts I had, but I just didn't know what to call them. The idea of 'Thin Places' from Celtic Christian mysticism, places where heaven and earth are just a little closer than in other places, that's something I'd always known to be true, I just didn't know what it was called. I'm still reading everything I can about 'thin places,' because I think it's going to be a life changing discovery. Another topic I'm working through now is the Buddhist concept of tathatā, or "suchness." The fellas over at wikipedia define it as, "the appreciation of the true nature of reality at any given moment." 

This recognition of the beauty of reality while at the same time understanding moments as fleeting and precious is a beautiful teaching, and one we Westerners need desperately. Life is as short and as long as this breath, we can't take it for granted. Finding the connection to the beauty of a flower or tree with your own suchness is an all-important step towards Truth.

The Truth is that God is in all things, waiting for you to see Him. Maybe He sets the bush on fire to get your attention, but maybe He's in the bush already, waiting for you to notice. Normal, non-burning, bushes are extraordinary in their own right. The more you see God in the external world, the closer you get to seeing Him in the internal world--you. 

Christian thinkers have been on this for a long time. One of my favorite, Meister Eckhart, said: “What is life? God’s being is my life. If my life is God’s being, then God’s existence must be my existence and God’s is-ness is my is-ness, neither less nor more.” 

God's is-ness is my is-ness.

This is what inviting "Jesus to live in your heart" must mean. He's there, but maybe He has been all along and we just fail to notice Him. Grace isn't invasive, but it is powerful. Once you stop resisting Grace, it seems to find its way everywhere, and you start seeing it everywhere. Once you stop waiting for God to do the miraculous, you start realizing He is doing the miraculous.

I'm reading a book called Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning and it is challenging, encouraging, and rearranging my mind. In it, he writes, "To be aware and alert to the presence of God manifested in a piece of music heard on the car radio, a daffodil, a kiss, an encouraging word from a friend, a thunderstorm, a newborn baby, a sunrise or sunset, a rainbow, or the magnificent lines on the face of an old lobster fisherman requires an inner freedom from self created through prayer. Gratefulness is born of a prayerfulness that helps us notice the magnalia Dei, the marvels of God—the crossing of the Red Sea, the pillar and fire, and so forth." 

One Zen master wrote, "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes. All is a miracle."

In everywhere we look, in everyone we meet, in every blade of grass, we find God. We appreciate the suchness of life, the reality of Truth as it suffocates us in a big hug. The sights and smells of the world add to the experience of God in everything. The same God who created all things, and is in all things, and holds all things together loves you so much to make flowers pretty. The universe displays God's glory, and You are the fullest expression of God's glory--the glory of The Lord which was revealed in the coming of His Son who exists in the same person and of the same substance as God who loves you enough to make cool breezes on hot days. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

God is not mad: What I believe about jesus and Why it's Important

I think we have entered into a strange time in American Christianity. I know that isn't a super revolutionary thought or a new idea, but I really think if we take the time to assess the landscape of our faith we will notice how bizarre it has all become. 

In America, politics and sports are beginning to become so similar people cheer for political parties the way they do NFL teams--with no regard for policies or morality, but simply judging success on wins and losses. This stinks. It stinks because allegiances to political parties at the expense of the common good is moronic. It stinks because nothing can get done in a representative democracy as long as no one is willing to work with members of the other "team." It stinks because it is seeping into our spirituality.

I'm noticing a celebrity-worship culture brewing in modern Christianity. People are becoming followers of this one guy or that guy and saying everything the other guy says is crap because he isn't on our team. People only buy books written by people they already agree with and criticize the things the other side writes without ever reading a page of the very book they are criticizing. That's intentional ignorance! You can't abandon reason and logic just because your "leader" says this other author is a "heretic." 

I have several friends who have come from a place where they felt God was mad at them. This is troubling to me. It's troubling because of what I KNOW God to be. George Macdonald, an author who influenced the life and work of C.S. Lewis once said that he believed that God is just like Jesus. Think about that statement. God is just like Jesus.

Why is that controversial?

Why is that revolutionary?

Why would I even blog about that statement?

Because too many of us are convinced Jesus snuck out of heaven to save us from angry Mr. God, who would rather kill us all than let us into His presence. Why do we think that? Because there are a lot of people (some of them really smart people) who make a lot of money writing about how we should live in fear of God's holy wrath and how we should consider ourselves lucky because Jesus saved us from this wrath which God is going to pour out on all the poor jokers who weren't picked to be in the club in the first place.

I believe that God is just like Jesus.

Jesus loved everyone He came across. Jesus looked at a man being executed for his criminal lifestyle and told Him "see ya in Heaven, brah." Jesus asked God to forgive the people who were killing Him. Dallas Willard once said to a room I was in, "Don't be surprised to see those Roman soldiers in heaven." Jesus breaks down walls between heaven and earth, heaven and hell, good and bad, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, because HE LOVES US. Christ's love for us is the motivating factor--the gas in the engine--of everything He does. 

I believe God is just like Jesus.

God's motivating factor is His inexplicable, downright silly love for creatures who resist His grace and love every single day of their lives. He loves us. I can't tell you why, but I can tell you that I have been overcome by this Love and have come to know it on a personal level. It is deep and rich, thick and bold, it smells and feels and is vivid and fills up all of my senses all of the time. God's love for me is the only thing I really know. It doesn't make any sense, but it comforts me. I can't figure out why anyone, much less the Infinite and Immortal One would love me, but HE DOES. 

And He LOVES you. He loves the snot out of you. Don't try to reason with this love. It's a tidal wave of grace and your insecurities are the last palm trees blowing in the wind. He loves you. He isn't mad at you. He probably should be, but He isn't: Grace. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Will and Skill

God isn't a genie. 

I've been told that my entire life. You can't simply ask God for a Ferrari and expect one in your driveway when you open your eyes. Besides, do you have any idea the amount of insurance you'd have to pay on a Ferrari? Do you really want that? Instead, I was told to ask God for things that would allow me to better serve Him. We see this in the garden when our example of contentment, Jesus, asks for the end of his suffering, and then concedes that He'd rather the Father's will be done, than His own. 

How fascinating.

Just a few chapters before (Luke 11), we see Christ tell his disciples to ask for anything, because those who ask will receive, those who seek will find, and to those who knock the door will be opened. So ask for whatever, because God will give it to you? 

God is all around us. If there is one thing I've tried to express on this page it is a life of spiritual fulfillment is a life spent in pursuit of the presence of the Divine who is all around us all the time. God's will is moving forward and is the single most progressive, catalytic, and unstoppable force in the universe. My will--or your will--is fleeting and can be changed by what we had for lunch. Asking God to give you your will and expecting Him to do so is both a good idea and a bad idea. God promises to grant us the desires of our hearts. Jesus says if we are persistent in asking, it will be given to us. The funny thing about this promise is it's contingent on how close we are to God in the first place.

The closer you are to God, the more you find a peculiar transformation taking place. Your will and His will are becoming more and more similar. His will is becoming like your will, your will is becoming like His will until the two are nearly indistinguishable from one another. At that point, your contentment with all things will be so great that asking for change in the trivial or mundane won't cross your mind, and the things which you do ask for will be the things God has been waiting to give you all along. 

God wants your will.

When the bush spoke to Moses, God asked him "what is in your hand, Moses?" (Ex. 4:2) It was a staff, because Moses tended sheep for a living. Moses was a professional leader of ornery, stubborn, stupid creatures long before he did it as a mission from God. The Lord had prepared Moses with skills and talents he could use to better serve the Kingdom and bring about God's will. It just took an argument with a shrub to convince him. 

There's nothing wrong with being talented, even if your talents lie in a realm people consider "secular." Do you know what the Hebrew word for "spiritual life" was? There wasn't one. In Moses' day, the idea that one aspect of your life was spiritual and another was secular wouldn't have made sense. The ancients understood better than us the idea of a holistic experience of God in our mundane, daily lives. 

If you can't experience God in what you are doing for a living, either you aren't being faithful to the way you were wired, or you aren't working with your eyes open. God loves you and made you exactly who He wants you to be. When you do your best at what you're skilled at doing, God is delighted.

God wants your skill.

We need businessmen and women, dancers, politicians, yoga instructors, lawyers, baristas, doctors, and artists who live their lives and do their jobs while loving others as they want to be loved, turning the other cheek, giving without expecting repayment, and bringing justice and reconciliation to a world desperate for it. 


                                  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Contentment Through a Different Lens

There once was a man who had a son. One day, he bought his son a pony. The man said to a Zen master, "Isn't this great!"
The Zen master responded with "We'll see."
A few days later his son was riding the pony, and the pony bucked the boy to the ground, breaking his leg. The father said, "Oh no, what a tragedy!"
The Zen master said, "We'll see."
A few weeks later a war had started with the neighboring village, an army recruiter came by the boy's house, but left because the boy still had a broken leg. Many young men were dying every day in this war, so the father was relieved his son didn't have to fight. He said, "Isn't this fortunate!"
The Zen master said, "We'll see."

This story is a famous one. It has been used to talk people down from despair and remind others to calm down with their excitement. For some, it's a dangerous example of stoicism. To me, it has challenged my thinking on contentment to the core.

Each person will go through significant ups and downs in life. Every follower of Jesus has been Peter on the mount of transfiguration, wanting to stay forever in the intimate presence of the Divine. The problem is, we have all also felt like Jesus on the cross--begging God to reveal Himself in our dark moments and suffering.

What does the story of the boy and the pony mean for the follower of Jesus? Do we practice "managed expectations" to the point we are never excited by nor frustrated about anything? Going through life without emotional response seems like painting without color. God gave us emotion in order to keep life from being milquetoast.

At the same time, there's a beautiful contentment found in the story. Nothing seems too bad or too great for the Zen master. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would fly off the handle at a parking ticket or an overcooked burger.

It's difficult to be content with your situation in life if you view yourself through the lens of facebook. Everyone of my facebook friends seems to be having either the greatest day ever or is severely depressed. No one ever posts "pretty average day" on facebook. Because of this, our human nature and its need for comparison has a field day with facebook statuses. We are either doing much better or much worse than everyone we see, and we forget how phony the entire process of posting on facebook actually is. The secret to contentment is being self-aware, and unchanged by what is happening in anyone else's life.

Always our example, Jesus Christ talked about and modeled perfect contentment in all things. It was His contentment, obedience, and love which held him to a cross for us. He taught us to look at the flowers and birds and to understand God takes care of their every need. Our prayer "give us this day our daily bread" is a statement both of our contentment with only what we need for today, but also our willingness to rely on God's daily provision.

Contentment, as modeled by Christ is the melting away of the self and the immersion of our souls in the daily mercies of a loving, creating, moving Father who will make sure we are OK. It's human nature to look at what others have and wish it was ours. It's human nature to want better things in our lives. It's Christ to live in the knowledge that God didn't reach out to us to make us a sensation, but to make us His. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Do Whatever He Tells You To Do

I spoke at a church the other day. In preparing this talk, I was going to lean heavily on a talk I gave on Ephesians 2 in which I compare the bringing together of Jews and Gentiles together in one new Body to the bringing together of coffee grounds and hot water in one new product of French pressed coffee. This was all well and good, but then I prayed about it.

Over the course of weeks preparing this message, I began feeling led to talk about John 2. I wanted to make the connection with Jesus turning water into wine to the coffee from earlier, further showing Christ as the Wall-busting conquerer of the universe. I wanted to show Christ breaking down the man-made barriers between people and religion and ethnicity. God wanted me to show these things to this congregation.

But He also wanted me to show something else.

I've read John 2 hundreds if not thousands of times. The crazy thing about Scripture is that no matter how many times you read a verse, the Lord can still grab you by the collar whenever He wants. I was planning on having only two points in this talk, but God wanted three. John 2:5 says that Mary went to the servants and told them "Do whatever he tells you to do." That's the whole verse, but it wrecked me.

Every day we are like the servants in John 2. Every day we are confronted with memories and examples from our past which tell us to simply do whatever Jesus tells us to do. Too often we focus on commandments and laws and morality while worrying we are doing something we aren't supposed to be doing. Even worse, we spend energy telling others to stop doing what we think they aren't supposed to be doing. What Mary tells us servants is to worry more about doing exactly what Jesus is telling us to do, not worrying about morality or judging others, just focusing on our obedience to the daily movement of the Spirit.

The problem with doing what Jesus tells us to do, is it requires us to listen. We aren't good at that. We are really good at telling Jesus what we want, thanking Him for making us good, or asking Him to do what we want Him to do. We should learn to sit and listen. We should learn to cultivate an attitude of obedience. The more we obey what Christ tells us to do TODAY, the more He will give us to do tomorrow. We have an opportunity to join with Christ's continuing reconciliation of all things unto Himself, and all we have to do is listen to our lover's call, and act accordingly. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Life-Prayer


This Sunday, in every church in America, there is going to be someone talking about his or her prayer-life. maybe not the pastor, but someone. He or she will approach someone else and ask them about their prayer-life.

"How's your prayer-life?"

Prayer is important. In fact it is so important I didn't want to write this at all. I didn't feel qualified nor good enough at it to write about prayer. I mean, there are times in my life where I feel my prayers bounce back off the ceiling and hit me hot in the face. Useless words spouted at a God who is either not listening or just doesn't care?

What if there was more to prayer than talking to God? Not that talking to God isn't crucial, because it is, but what if that was just a part of the story? In Ephesians 2, Paul tells the church at Ephesus they are God's poem, his workmanship, his masterpiece. If that's the case, there might be more required than just a few whispers towards the ceiling before bed.
Most great musicians will tell you they don't know how a song works before they play it in front of an audience. Sinatra used to bring a crowd of people into the studio when he was recording. It helped him to see the people react to the song. Dylan used to do a similar thing. I once saw a documentary on Jay-Z making the Black Album and he was bringing two or three people into the studio with him just to listen to the beats he was choosing between. He knew if it didn't play in front of a crowd, it didn't play.

Maybe there's a part of prayer that's more like that. Maybe prayer plays in front of a crowd more than in a quiet room. Not in a "look at me, are you seeing this?" way, but in a "are you SEEING this?" way. Maybe prayer is part of the mystical union we have with one another which allows us to feel what someone else is feeling, to experience pain and joy with someone, and to learn from someone else's mistakes.

Just like any other healthy relationship, we need to spend time alone with one another. The nature of that time alone with God is extremely important, and as I talked about earlier, you don't actually have to be in solitude with God to have solitude with God.

There's nothing worse than someone bragging about their alone time with God. The public life-prayer is for other people, to encourage fellow Christians and to bring us closer to a true understanding of the above-all in-all through-all Savior we worship. We need a little spiritual PDA. The time you spend with God alone, the things you say, the things you do--some of that stuff needs to stay private.

Don't kiss and tell.

I once read an article in a surfing magazine that basically said surfing along is only honorable if you don't tell anyone about it. Prayer and fasting are done best when you don't tell anyone about them. How many books or blogs (hopefully not this one) are really just some person telling you how awesome his or her spiritual life is, hoping you think he or she is super pious? 

That's dumb.

I hope this is an honest account about how little I have it all together. That said, while prayer is beneficial when done in secret, your life-prayer is public. Your actions should be love letters to God or at least sappy texts sent in the middle of the night.

Prayer is done in secret, in your head. Life is done on the world stage. Prayer is your behind the scenes director's commentary to life. you can't be good at one without getting better at the other. 

But still. Don't be that guy. Don't try to make people think you're "super-spiritual guy" at the expense of the truth. It's lame. More importantly, it robs us of our joy and takes away from what is actually happening when we unite our spirits to God's in prayer.

You're like wood. Fire wood. When you put wood in a fire it burns. The wood ceases to be wood and becomes something else entirely. Some of it becomes ash. Some becomes charcoal, but most of the wood becomes fire. Prayer is you putting yourself in God's fire, knowing you will be changed. Knowing the Divine will consume you and transform you into Himself.
Don't you want a prayer life like that?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Losing a Hero

"The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind on God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. "When I awake, I am still with thee" (Psalm 139:18). The thoughts are as travelers in the mind. David's thoughts kept heaven-road. "I am still with Thee." God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory?... A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge." --Dallas Willard
Sometimes in life we have people we have never met who make an enormous impact on our lives. Think of how many kids wear number 23 in sports having never met Michael Jordan, having never even seen him play in person. For me, I actually got to meet my hero. In the winter of 2010, I was in seminary in Denver and took a class taught by Dallas Willard, distinguished philosophy professor at the University of Southern California. Dr. Willard wrote most of my favorite books in the world. The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, Hearing God, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and other books and papers of his have transformed my view of God, my relationship with Christ, and my life.

Dallas Willard went to be with Jesus yesterday at age 77. Cancer took him from this world and into the next, but it didn't win, because Dallas Willard finally received total communion with the God who he described so beautifully.

Other than direct relatives of mine, no one had a greater impact on my spiritual development than Willard. When I met him, I was craving a deeper relationship with the Lord, but had no idea how my philosophical, abstract thinking could fit into what I thought was the frigid, rigid world of modern theology. His class opened my mind further.

His last words on this earth were "Thank you." His humility, grace, and thankfulness even in death are envious. The way he lived his life and the way he wrote are equally envious. He showed me it was OK to think, and more than OK to think outside the box. In a world in which Christians are growing apart, building up defenses against one another, and bolstering theological arguments against perceived attacks on their "truth," Willard remained steadfast. He wrote from the heart. He ignored joining sides with petty arguments and instead continued to do what he did best: lead people like me into a deeper relationship with a forming and transforming God. He kept his head when everyone around him was losing theirs--a man Kipling would be proud of. He not only knew there was more to God than systematic theology could ever show, and he did the best to show HOW much more. He knew the difference between legalism and living a life guided by devotion to the Spirit, and he wrote extensively on the subject of the all-consuming Grace which he found so surprising.

He was my hero. We are worse off today because he isn't around. His God is, and the Savior he loved is still working in weirdos like me, making us see Jesus more clearly through the words of giants like Willard.


 
 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rethinking Truth

I loved the movie 'Lincoln.' If you haven't seen it, there's no excuse for you to be reading this blog. You have something to do. If you have seen it, you'll remember the scene in which the President recalls a bit of Euclidian mathematics as a proof for human equality.

Abraham Lincoln, in the film, refers to this proof from Euclid: "Two things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." I remember hearing this proof in a logic class in college, and even then seeing its uses in my daily life.

Logic is a terrific servant, but can be a terrible master in regards to theology. We have to remember not to constrain a poly-dimensional being, in this case God, to the three or four dimensions in which we operate. God doesn't feel the constraints of the river of time, so any talk of "pre" or "post" in regards to God can become burdensome and rob Him of His mystery and other-ness. In the same way, any argument which doesn't take into account the ways in which God has operated throughout history or the Scriptures is equally flawed. Which is why we must tread lightly and humbly in attempting to understand such a vast and lofty being.

Back to Euclid's proof. What can we use this for in terms of thinking about God? Does this have any theological significance for us, and does it help our understanding of Jesus? I think the implications of this proof are endless, but I'd like to take a look at one statement Jesus makes and go exploring.

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Jesus is the way. The way is Jesus. Jesus is truth. Truth is Jesus. Jesus is Life. Life is Jesus. Using transitive relation we get the above set of statements. The second set is the one that I find most interesting. Truth is Jesus and Jesus is Truth, so Jesus and Truth are equal to one another. All that is truth is equal to Jesus. Now, there's no way to "prove" this statement, but to a person who believes Christ's statement in John 14, or the Bible itself, Jesus presents an extremely interesting notion of Truth. This notion is basically a hypothetical syllogism because it is contingent on someone accepting an unprovable premise, namely the reliability of the Bible. If you accept Jesus, you must accept what He says about Himself. If you accept what He says about Himself, you accept that all that anywhere there is truth, there is Jesus--even if that truth exists outside of the realm of traditional Christianity or organized faith.

Please don't skip the rest of the article and burn me at the stake just yet.

This slope isn't as slippery as you might think and it doesn't necessarily lead to any heresies I can think of off the top of my head. Instead, it should allow us as believers in Christ to better relate to those outside of the faith and allow us to see God working even in things we once considered to be opposed to Him. Colossians 1:15-20 should always be our guide when thinking of the risen Christ--the One who is above all things, in all things, and in whom all things hold together.

We have to encourage people to seek the truth in whatever way they choose, knowing and trusting that if they truly seek Truth, they will find Him. This sounds dangerous, but if you accept Jesus at His words, there is nothing more certain than those seeking Truth are on the path to Jesus, even if they remain unaware to that fact. Allow me to frame this more carefully: Jesus is the absolute Truth and those earnestly looking for truth based on deviations from His absolute Truth will--if they stay faithful to finding Truth (Jeremiah 29:13)--find Jesus waiting for them with open arms. This isn't universalism, it's an understanding of life based on both John 14 and Matthew 7:7, "...seek and you will find..."

With open minds and hearts ready to accept rather than reject, we can begin to move through the world in the same way He did, knowing anything else equal to truth is necessarily equal to Him. Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on truths, but has the clearest image of Truth. We have to be careful not to fall into a quagmire of relativism, but also to be more aware of our similarities than our differences with all people. Just because we have found Truth doesn't give us license to judge, condemn, or impair any other person in their search. In fact, we are called to be lights in the world. Lights show people the way to Truth, allowing them to see more clearly that which they seek, allowing them to understand what confounds them, and allowing them to see Christ as the way instead of Christians in the way.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rediscovering Wonder

How much do you believe in miracles? Everyone who says he or she is a Christian is someone who believes in miracles to some extent, or do they? I mean, you believe that a man died and then rose from the dead.

You believe that this man was actually also God.
You believe that the death and resurrection of this God-man atoned for the sins of mankind.

So already, everytime you attend a church service and profess belief in this miracle, you should be thought of as a person who believes in miracles.

Until someone claims God healed their cancer.
Until someone tells you God spoke to them.
Until someone tells you God is calling them to do something drastic.

Why do we suspend our belief in a supernatural God who does supernatural things when that God helps us or someone in our group of friends? If a man walked into your church and announced that God had healed his wife of cancer miraculously, would your first thought be "Well, God gave doctors their gifts and talents so in a way that might be true?" If so, repent of that.

We believe in two worlds, a physical and a spiritual. We believe in a mystical, eastern faith based on the facts of God's transcendence into the natural order and beyond the natural order. We believe in a Savior who, after He rose from the dead, told His followers they would do and see greater things than He.

St. Francis once saved a village from a wolf who was menacing the villagers. He approached the wolf in the woods and spoke to it, making an arrangement with it to not attack the villagers or their livestock if they promised to put food out for it. "Brother wolf," as St. Francis called him, bowed to Francis and placed his paw in the saint's hand as a sign of agreement.

I know many of you are going to immediately draw the line at becoming God's Dr. Doolittle. Most of you will probably say this story is bogus. The story of Francis and the wolf of Gubbio is one of the most well-known stories of the saint. It was recorded by historians of his day as well as other events from his life. That said, if we throw out stories like this one, how much of Saint Francis' life are we to throw out? If the same historians who recorded this story as "history" also wrote other, more "believable" stories about St. Francis, do we throw those stories out too?

St. Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, healed a paralyzed man. That story is recorded in the book of Acts. Do we believe that story simply because it's canonical? Do we throw out any miracle that didn't occur in the Bible because someone with "the Apostle" before his name didn't write about it? Did God just stop doing miracles?

I believe in miracles. As I attempt to curb my cynicism and embrace the mystical, I am learning more about the God I serve: a God who really enjoys invading the natural world and shaking things up a bit. This God has acted throughout history and the Bible is record of those actions. This God didn't stop acting because John finished writing Revelation and so there was nothing more to be done. This God is continuing the work that STARTED on the cross, and is not content with allowing people to live mundane, fruitless lives devoid of wonder or mystery.

Run back to it. Run back to the child-like acceptance of miracles. Return to the mystery of God's continual dance throughout space and time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

People are Confused

The more news coverage I watch concerning the aftermath of the explosions in Boston a few days ago, the more I realize how confused people are. Too many of us have confused violence with "peace-making."

Trust me, this isn't me taking the time to get on my pacifist soap-box and chastise anyone looking for violent revenge for these heinous acts. That would be inappropriate. The person or group of people behind these attacks have already made it clear how confused they are. Nothing else is apparent except this unmistakable fact: this attack accomplished nothing. The people of Boston didn't cower in fear, they responded with courage. The US didn't disintegrate into a panic, life continued the next day as scheduled for many of us.

In almost every mass demonstration of homicidal lunacy such as this one, the frivolous and useless nature of the attack never seems to cross the mind of the attacker. The Centennial Park bomb in Atlanta was a horrific crime, yet people continue to use that park and enjoy it while the bomber will spend the rest of his life in a dark cell underground in Colorado. The OKC bomb was the most brutal act of domestic terror in the history of the nation, yet the story didn't end with the government being overthrown or the people of Oklahoma cowering in terror. Any mind that is warped enough to think blowing up innocent people is going to accomplish anything positive is beyond the understanding of reality.

The sensationalist nature of the news coverage isn't new either. This is business as usual. The world continued to spin, the sun came up in the east again, and the news continued to rush to be the first to report something as fact without confirming it.

I guess what I am trying to convey with this post is this: violence can't win. No ideal is worth killing people over. Nothing is accomplished with attacks on the innocent. Most importantly, there is something, someone, who holds all things together and He gets the final say. His final say will be one of Love, Mercy, and Compassion because the new Kingdom--the one I already serve in this life--has no room for bombs or bombers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wisdom From a Master



I have many spiritual directors in my life, and many of them are dead. I think it is still necessary and important to read the ancient writings of spiritual masters because the human life hasn't changed nearly as much as we might think. People haven't gotten more in tune with reality even though we have more information and more complicated relationships and more ways to eat frozen yogurt.

Taking the hand of an ancient wisdom is a way to slow your life down a step or two, joining with centuries of other seekers in learning from masters sent to us from the Master. One of these people is a man named Thomas à Kempis. He wrote a book in the 1400's called The Imitation of Christ that will knock you on your tail.

Recently I was thinking about the act of living in solitude in a world full of noise. I'm not sure if a life of complete solitude is the healthiest life for a Christian to live, nor am I sure it achieves the task charged to the follower in Christ's commission to spread the good news of God's redeeming love for every single person. However, solitude and meditation are extremely important for any spiritual life. The monks, and people like Thomas à Kempis knew that and found complete communion with Christ in their solitude. In his writing, I may have found the balance needed to solve my problem. In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas, in a fit of inspiration, describes what he calls "the interior life." A life of solitude is possible even among community. A life of solitude is possible even in a crowd.

Thomas reminds us that the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21), so turn inward and find God. Learn to despise external things and you'll see the blessings of the Lord and the Kingdom of God come upon you. If we are devoted inwardly, we will see Christ. Thomas wrote, "His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed."

Too often we concern ourselves with busyness. Too often the schedule-makers and gate-keepers rob us of our joy. Thomas says, "a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals." Nothing is too important that it cannot wait for the spiritual person to collect him or herself and maintain a well-ordered union with the Kingdom. Christ told us to live by the Word of God and not to worry about the externals because He will take care of us. Discontent, my old nemesis, again rears its head. You can sum up the past few months in my spiritual journey as a battle for contentment, a struggle for satisfaction in the now, and a wrestling match with wanderlust.

This world cares about deadlines and schedules and reports, not the Kingdom. It's important to be useful and faithful where God has you, but not more important than your inner connection with God. A truly interior man or woman is free from uncontrolled emotions and has the ability to turn immediately to God, rise above the noise, and find peace. Isn't that worth fighting for with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our strength? When you are full of the Kingdom of God, you'll overflow and the "good deeds" we earnestly try to accomplish will be much easier to find. Interior joy can only be found if we tie our affection for the things of the world to a giant rock and throw it into the crystal clear ocean of Grace.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

On the Death of My Tomato Plants (chop wood, carry water)

I planted them less than three weeks ago and it looks like they won't make it. It was foolish to try to use an area which receives such little sun to try to grow tomatoes, but it was the only spot available. Now, their leaves which were green when planted are beginning to whither and droop. I couldn't have been more faithful in my watering and care for them, I just wish there was more I could have done.

Gardening is therapeutic, but risky. There's no guarantee of growth in the real world. Picking up tomatoes year-round at the grocery store robs you of the knowledge, the understanding, of how those tomatoes came to be there.

Useless disciplines and rituals are useful. Getting up everyday, watering the garden, and turning the soil is useful to my soul. Do I need these plants to grow? No, I live in America and have access to strawberries and tomatoes whenever I want. Do I need to work the garden? Yes.

Lent is a season of self-denial. We practice deprivation in hopes of a closer relationship with God and a closer understanding of Christ's sacrifice for us. We don't do this because God asked us to--He didn't. Hebrews 7 says the law of works-righteousness is useless for bringing about perfection. With that in mind, it would seem weird to practice "useless" rituals and follow "useless" self-imposed rules in order to get close to a God who set us free from laws and rituals.

You don't buy someone a gift because they asked for it. That's not love. A man doesn't buy a woman a ring because she demands a ring, that's an unhealthy relationship. However, a man will buy a woman a ring because he loves her and because she hasn't asked for it. GK Chesterton says it better:
Men will ask what selfish sort of woman it must have been who ruthlessly exacted tribute in the form of flowers, or what an avaricious creature she can have been to demand solid gold in the form of a ring; just as they ask what cruel kind of God can have demanded sacrifice and self denial. They will have lost the clue to all that lovers have meant by love; and will not understand that it was because the thing was not demanded that it was done.
The Master Himself said those who have been forgiven little love little (Luke 7:47) and I've been forgiven a whole heap. It's the one who knows he can't repay his debt who forever is paying it. These disciplines, including gardening, are roads to enlightenment. The mundane, when done repeatedly, has the mark of God on it.
Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
This Zen proverb is truth. The mundane tasks are roads to enlightenment for the enlightened. If you see God in every tomato plant, planting them brings enlightenment. If you find God in a walk outside, each step--right then left--brings enlightenment. To live is Christ. Life is in Christ. Look for Him in your morning commute, in your workout, in your meals, and you'll find Him. Eventually, you will sound to your friends like you're singing the old Christmas song, "Do you see what I see?" as you experience the reality which is waiting to be revealed to you, a reality of two worlds collided in one beautiful event. A daily Easter. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What is more important?

There's a terrible trend in modern Christianity. Actually, to call this trend "modern" is misleading, because its roots are as old as Aristotle. Western philosophy would have you believe in two worlds: heaven and earth. God and the angels and all the faithful departed are in heaven, while we are far, far away toiling on earth in our mortal flesh.

This wasn't the philosophy of Jesus. First century Palestine wasn't a place concerned with the future. Jesus was talking to people trying to survive. Jesus spoke of heaven and hell briefly, but He spent the bulk of His time here on earth teaching people how to survive and thrive. Life to the fullest--Jesus' self-proclaimed reason for coming, doesn't start after death.

Focusing on the future, especially the afterlife, robs you of the most precious thing in the world: this moment. No breath is more important than the one you are currently taking. No world is more perfectly suited to you than the one in which you already live. Besides, if we are to take Ephesians 1:10 seriously, Jesus has already united heaven and earth anyway. As citizens of heaven, each breath brings you closer to God. You can't breathe tomorrow's air yet.

Living in the moment, what I call "momentous living," solves a lot of life's problems. Jesus rebuked worrying by asking if worriers if they can add a single hour to their life (Luke 12:25). They can't. Worrying is a waste of time you cant get back. Jesus' masterful example of contentment is on display here. There's no reason to worry about anything in this life, unless you want to make a habit out of doubting God's provision.

Easy for me to say, right? I have enough money to eat every day, and my light bill stays paid. I really don't have any major problems, so it's easy for me to not worry about the future, right?

I have a hard time being content in what I find myself doing. I am constantly wanting new places, new things, new experiences, I am constantly daydreaming about made-up future events. Daydreaming and worrying look different, but have the same problem. Both are vandals to the present. Both despise your contentment and joy and will stop at nothing to see your eyes darkened with dissatisfaction.

You're in heaven! Right now! It may not feel that way, but it is. God's presence is yours for the asking. You have access to worlds of joy in this moment if you decide to take it captive for the loving gaze of the Father. An hour spent in silent contemplation of God's beauty is worth more than a day spent planning for the future. A content life is the garden in which joy digs deep roots.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wall-Buster

In Ephesians 1:10, Paul summarizes the reason behind Christ’s coming to earth as to bring all things together, both heavenly things and earthly things, in Him. Christ has brought all things together, creating a new Kingdom for us to walk through in our daily lives. The Kingdom of heaven, the eternal Kingdom of our Father, is here on this earth now for us. We are to live lives which spread the word and works of this Kingdom.

In Ephesians 2, we see another dividing wall breaking down. Paul talks to the Gentiles in Ephesus, reminding them they were cut off from the covenant of promise. This covenant was given in Genesis 12 to Abraham. God promised Abraham He would bless all people through him—that promise is being fulfilled now in us. Christ brought near those who were far away and gave peace to the Jews who were already near.

An important point here is Paul makes it clear the Jews needed Jesus as well. They had forgotten to become a blessing to the world and were instead becoming focused on man-made laws and traditions. Their religion was getting in the way of what God wanted to do through them. Jesus is bigger than traditions, He is bigger than religion, and just like the veil in the Temple was torn in two, the dividing wall between man-made groups is torn down by the resurrected Savior. His love overflows the walls we create. He also took away the need to be at-odds or antagonistic towards one another because Christ makes peace. He is always our example and is showing us a better, more peaceful way to live.

Too often we settle in to our cliques and forget to continue to reach out to new people. When we make new friends, our life is blessed by them. When we add new people to our groups, our groups are made better, more diverse, and more unique. Life isn’t meant to be lived in a bubble, in a clique, or in exclusivity. Instead, we need to be modeling Christ’s wall-busting love in our daily activity.

Coffee is a passion of mine. When you add the perfect amount of ground coffee to the right amount of hot water, magic happens. Ground coffee by itself isn’t very good. It is bitter and basically useless. Hot water can make you gag. It isn’t refreshing and no one drinks it by itself. However, these two elements joined together make a new thing which blesses my morning.

In the same way, God took the Israelites, a group which had become stagnant and unwilling to move beyond man-made legalism and brought in the Gentiles, a group cut off from the covenants and without any knowledge of God, and made them into something new. For too long the "people of God" thought their status was an exclusive right. They thought they had punched their ticket to escape this life into a new status in the next. God is concerned with this life, and with blessing all people. This new creation--the Church-- is God’s poem, as Ephesians 2:10 says in the Greek, it exists to bless the world in the ways God had planned from the beginning.

Be a blessing. Live a life focused on your status as on mission for an eternal Kingdom which you can experience here and now. Break down walls because of the walls that have been broken down for you. Most importantly, be filled with love that can’t be contained by rules or restrictions or religion.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fish in Sea, Sea in Fish


Today I was overwhelmed for almost an hour by a thought. This happens to me quite a bit. Basically I was paralyzed in contemplative wonder at an idea so perfect and mysterious I was unable to do anything until the idea ran its course. 

My favorite band is called mewithoutYou, and they are my favorite band because the lead singer, Aaron Weiss, is one of the best writers I've ever read. His lyrics are challenging, creative, and directly in line with what God is showing me in my own life. mewithoutYou is a welcome companion to me on my journey. Today, I was listening to their song "The Dryness and the Rain" and one of the lines stopped me in my tracks.

"A fish swims in the sea while the sea is, in a certain sense, contained within the fish!"

What a mystery. The reason this struck me so completely is how it relates to one of the themes of the New Testament scriptures. Many times St. Paul refers to believers as "in Christ" and then other times, he and other writers will refer to "Christ in you." We are in Him and He is in us, just like the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish. The believer doesn't just move through a world of visible and invisible obstacles, the believer moves through Christ. I move through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, while Christ resides inside of me working on me.

Not only that, but St. Paul also says, "to live IS Christ, to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose." (Phil. 1:21-22) Life is Christ, death is being wholly with Christ, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. There's nothing else around worth paying any attention to once you realize what you already have. Like the poet Neruda said to his subject "My words become stained with your love/ you occupy everything, you occupy everything/ I am making them into an endless necklace/ for your white hands, smooth as grapes." That should be our prayer each day. Christ occupies everything, and our desire should simply be to live up to our already-attained status as "in Him," while we continue to investigate what that fully means. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Interior Exercise

"I'm going to throw up the next time down the field."

It had been a long time since I had played a full-speed game of ultimate frisbee. It's been a long time since I've played a full-speed game of anything. My workouts now include riding my bike, yoga, or maybe a jog, but those aren't the same as playing an actual sport. My cousin Charlie, my roommate John Adam "J. Barrelroll," and I went to the park by our apartment to throw a frisbee around. We do this quite a bit. When the weather is as nice as it was in Dallas last weekend, you have to take advantage of it. 

We threw a few times, mostly laughing at how difficult the windy day made any throw, and were talking about walking back when a guy approached us and wanted to know if we wanted in on a game of ultimate. He and his buddies play every week. They were wearing athletic clothes and cleats, we were wearing chaco sandals and khaki shorts. We agreed to play with these guys, knowing we would be the worst players on the field.

Within seconds I was winded. Around the third or fourth time down the field I knew I was going to have to play a "YMCA ball"-style game here: picking the moments to run full speed and then basically walking around the rest of the time, like old men playing hoops at a YMCA. 

Ascesis is a word used often in Christian history. It's a word that means self-denial, self-restraint, or the ability to deny your desires in order to better control your impulses. It comes from the Greek word for exercise. Spiritual disciplines are like physical exercise. You have to learn to control yourself so you are prepared for both the weight of trials and the joy of God's calling for your life. The ascetic is one who has exercised himself to the point he can handle what God has for him, and can resist what the world throws his way. In the same way I need to trim some physical fat from my midsection, I also need to trim spiritual fat. An early church father Evagrius of Pontus once wrote, "Spiritual fat is the obtuseness with which evil cloaks the intelligence." 

Ascesis isn't devotion to a set of rules. Instead, proper spiritual exercise sets us free to live and act as the Spirit guides us. Our spirit becomes lithe and we move through the world with supernatural fluidity. When you feel it, you know. Another early mystic, Benedict of Nursia once wrote, "For as you advance gradually in a holy life and in faith, your heart is enlarged and you run the way of God's commandments in an ineffable sweetness of love." 

The great basketball stars don't think about over-working themselves during games. They've gotten in good enough shape fatigue doesn't even factor into their thinking. Instead, the greats are able to play the game with complete freedom and control of their abilities. Lebron James seems to move at a different speed than everyone around him, making snap decisions and expressing himself through a nearly poetic playing-style. In the same way, spiritual exercise like the observance of Lent or fasts will trim spiritual fat and allow us to move freely through God's love. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

To Live and Love Lent

Right now we are in the first week of the season of Lent. These 40 days of fasting, contemplation, and self-denial are always the most formational days of the year for me. I already feel God working in this year's season and am expectant of great things. My church has allowed me to write a Lenten reflection for each day of the season, which you can see here. Fasting and prayer and supplication to God mark the life of a penitent, trusting believer, but there is another quality of the faithful man which I lack and hope to acquire over the next 40 days.

Mindfulness.

Living with a mind full of the moment in which I find myself. I have a hard time being completely present in any moment. Call it ADD, call it 2013, call it the curse of the post-modern American life, but I am a million places at once and can't focus long enough to hear God.

I am struck by the account of the burning bush. Moses didn't take off his sandals because the ground all-the-sudden became holy, he took them off because he just realized it had been holy all along. How many times did Moses walk pass the bush before he saw it burning?

How many burning bushes have I walked past?

St. Anthony found God in the desert. I've done that too. The most spiritually significant week of my life was probably a week I spent in the deserts of west Texas fasting and praying. I felt God all around me and became upset with myself for not feeling Him that way all the time. Too often, I busy myself and blow right past Him. It's funny how good it feels to have an experience with God and how quickly I forget it and move on to the next thing.

God is always with me. No fact is more assured through Scripture and personal experience. God doesn't promise to constantly give us gifts, but He does promise to give us Himself. In Lent we remove things from our life to better realize the amazing gift his presence is. As Dallas Willard says, "Our contentment lies not in his presents but in the presence of the One whose presents they are." Or, as Thomas a Kempis wrote, "A wise lover regards not so much the gift of him who loves, as the love of him who gives. He esteems affection rather than valuables, and sets all gifts below the Beloved. A noble-minded lover rests not in the gift, but in Me above every gift."

I wish I didn't have to starve myself or change my life to experience the God who never leaves me, but that seems to be the case. God is always around me, and I have to remove my own walls to see Him. Learning to love Lent is learning to love the constant assurance of Immanuel, God-with-us. It is to cast aside the false reality of this material world and set our eyes on Jesus, the savior and lover of the world. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Against Judgmental Christians

If you don't currently own "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander" by Thomas Merton, you should. In fact, you should leave this page and immediately go to Amazon.com and buy it for yourself. I have read this book several times, and keep it around as a trusty companion. Merton was a modern mystic and his writings make him a sort of spiritual director for me as I seek to see what a mystic Christianity looks like in a world growing deeper and deeper into cynicism.

In one of his more convicting sections of this book, Merton poses the question as to how Christians can come to be so judgmental. This is the seminal question I have for modern Christianity as well, as it seems to be a constant complaint of non-believers. What is wrong with us? How is it possible for us to miss the point so horribly? Who are we, recipients of undeserved Grace, to call someone else a "sinner?"

In simpler terms, if a non-believer finds you judgmental, they are finding you unChristian. If you at any point think of yourself as better, more loved by God, or more worthy of eternal communion with the Creator, then you are lost.

You can't be convinced of Christ's sacrifice and free gift of a love you don't deserve if you act like you deserve it.

Grace is opposed to your judgement, it is against the idea we have of hierarchy of sin, and it transcends our theological nonsense about who is "in" or "out" of the Heaven we hope to escape to. Who is this grace for? Everyone. The worst offenders. The scum of the earth. The people we don't want to be friends with because they are "living in sin."

The one place all people are truly equal is at the bottom of an ocean of undeserved Grace.

Coming to understand Grace, the idea Jesus thought we were worth dying for even though we are decidedly not, is the hardest part of the Christian journey. Coming to understand everyone is equal to us in unworthiness--yet God loves all of us more than we can imagine, is the first step toward a complete and holistic understanding of our identity in Christ. We are all in need of reminding of the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, "Christ came to earth to save sinners, of whom I am foremost." At the same time, we must also remind ourselves of Christ's love for us, and his desire to call us brothers and sisters. The dichotomy of the Christian life is found right there. We are guilty of disrupting the Peace (shalom) God had planned for us and the world, yet God's love for us won't allow for that to be the last word. He makes a way for us to experience union with Christ, to be seen by God as in Christ, and to be with Him forever--starting right now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Persistence

Few things excite me more than reading about the lives of the Saints. I find encouragement and challenge in their stories of working for God. I find reason to believe in the possibility of heaven on earth, of being a co-laborer with Christ, and of experiencing the work of God in everything I see.

However, when I read stories of St. Teresa of Avila getting completely enraptured by the love of Jesus that she would write on the ground in an ecstatic fit, I get uncomfortable. Or when I read about her praying in front of people and just floating off the ground like David Blaine in Church, I begin to feel inadequate. I've walked closely with Jesus at times. Sometimes, I feel Him next to me in a way I can't describe without sounding a little kooky. I know what it's like to feel like Christ's breath is blowing on the back of my neck or His arms are literally wrapped around me.

But I ain't levitating in church, y'all.

St. Teresa challenges me and I have a tendency to get cynical when I read stories about her, but more and more I am struck by her humility. She could have been extremely removed from society, become a hermit, or become uninterested in this world. Instead, she chose to work for reform in her monastic order and bring more people into her way of looking at God. She would write about how to pray, instructing her followers on ways to pursue an experience of Christ's love. She also would go into great detail about her own shortcomings even to the point of saying she found it hard to find any virtue in herself at all. She found spiritual progress to be laborious and painful. It didn't come easy.

I can identify with that.

A woman who would levitate under the power of the Holy Spirit found spiritual progress difficult. No matter how far we progress in sanctification, we can always use reminders of the struggle inherent in following Jesus. The language used in Scripture isn't lollipops and roses. Not every day is going to be Friday. We are told to die to self, to take up our cross (an instrument of torture and death), to forsake the world in order to gain the eternal. If our eternal life begins the day we are born, and I believe wholeheartedly it does, we are given countless opportunities to feel glimpses of glory while still in skin. In order to attain the holistic experience of Grace I seek, I have to be persistent. I have to work. Not to earn love, because love is given freely and undeservedly, but to experience heaven. We have to be persistent and labor in order to experience something that is there for us all the time, waiting for us to strip away laws and rules and religious ideas in order to grab hold of it.

The work we must do is like building a fire. We don't do anything to make the fire burn the wood, but we must make a place where the fire is welcome to do what it does. Getting our hearts to a place where fire can burn us from the inside out is labor-intensive, but instead of building something it usually requires us to clear space.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Growing Tired of Cynicism

This morning in the USA Today, a full page advertisement simply read "Slavery Still Exists" and had a short description about how many people in our modern, progressive world are still enslaved. At the bottom of the page was a link to www.enditmovement.com, where more information can be found concerning the plight of modern slaves. I first heard of this movement a few months ago and then it got a lot of traction at the annual Passion conference when it was announced to thousands of young evangelicals all wanting to do their part to make a difference.

I'm excited about the idea we might be the generation to finally put an end to the Sex-trade, to finally complete the work of emancipation that started hundreds of years ago. In 960, the Doge of Venice Pietro IV Candiano was the first Christian leader to abolish slavery legally. Since then we have been a people marked, for better or worse, by the way we respond to this call to set the captives free. In the United States, there was a time it was perfectly normal to think of slavery as a biblically justified practice, but we have fortunately progressed past those days and hopefully are standing on the threshold of a new collective consciousness of equality for all people.

A new problem has become apparent to me. It's a problem I see in myself and many of my peers. When I first heard about the End It movement, my initial reaction wasn't excitement, it was cynicism. "Oh, cool a movement," I thought, "let's see how long we're excited about this."

Cynicism is the worst enemy of Christian action. It seems harmless as we tweet derisive comments or make fun of someone for taking a chance or making a stand, but really we are just acting from a place of insecurity. We act like we know everything and anyone acting different from us--braver than us--is just some sort of weirdo. I'm the worst offender of this. I make fun of Christians in my head or out loud on a daily basis. I run down their ministries or think I have some better answer for how to do church when in actuality I'm just scared I'm not as brave as them.

Cynicism is pain disguised in fabricated wisdom or humor. We want to look like we have the answers so we make snarky comments about weirdos or anyone who doesn't fit into what we think is cool or acceptable behavior. When someone tells us about a "miracle" in their lives, we are quick to want to qualify the word "miracle" instead of rejoicing that to this person, Jesus' resurrection is still a daily reality.

The End It movement is a force for good in the world and cynicism is not. As I press on to understand more of how to live the mystical union I know Christianity to be, I have to put my cynicism to death. I have to completely surrender to the excitement of the new things God is doing in the world and I have to rejoice in daily miracles. Seeing God in everything is easy, but you have to be looking for Him.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Empty and Full

When I was in high school I once read the entire Bible. I would read a little bit every single night before I fell asleep and rarely missed a day. In fact, sometimes if I missed a day I would have a really hard time sleeping and would wake up in the middle of the night to read. I heard a lot of sermons about the importance of daily devotion to God, of having a "quiet time." All of those sermons came from a place of Truth and those speakers were trying to instill in me a desire to be devoted to God.

There's got to be more to it. Trying to contain a relationship with God in a 10 minute window is harder than taming a lion. The God that compelled some men to leave everything they had and move to caves in the desert is surely more than can be contained in your morning devotional. The prayers you recite before family meals and as you drift to sleep might seem to be a healthy level of communication, but there's so much you're missing.

A commitment to advanced prayer is a commitment to advanced joy. The first thing you have to do is challenge your beliefs. For me this comes easily. I'm naturally cynical and my unbelief can be hard to overcome. Comfort is the enemy of sanctification, so you have to challenge any form of comfort you feel. For me, reading uncomfortable books or watching videos that challenge beliefs I take for granted are ways I keep my faith on the forefront of my thinking. Even still, that won't bring you face to face with God the way one spiritual discipline will.

Don't eat.

Fasting removes your masks. It breaks down every wall between you and the Creator you've knowingly or unknowingly constructed and forces you to reconcile your hunger for food with your hunger for God. One of the desert fathers said that once we give in to gluttony, every other type of sin was sure to follow. To him, being able to control his desire for food taught him everything he needed to know about what he really "needed."

When I fast, I like to go on walks or spend time outside alone. I do this because fasting heightens my senses and my awareness of God around me, so being in His Creation will have a tremendous effect on the success of my fast. Listening to the wind blow through my ears while I pray and walk brings me to the feet of the loving Christ faster than a quick read through a chapter of Scripture in the morning ever could. God is out there, he is moving and speaking and easy to hear. When I remove something as "essential" as food from my life, I am compelled to see God more. There's just more room for Him.

Advanced prayer, advanced joy.

Breaking the fast can have as much of an effect on me as any moment of the fast. Celebration, eating and drinking and laughing with friends, is a reminder of the gifts God has given to me. The fast reminds you of how blessed you are, how much you have, and how little you did to deserve or earn it. You never know how good gas is until you have an empty tank, and you never appreciate a good meal until you are starving. God is present in absence, He works in your rest, and He sustains you because He loves you.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

There's Something About Him

We sat in a room in a hotel in Laguna Beach. Each of us had some gnawing creative ambition we were unable to capture on our own. Each of the 40-plus people sitting there was willing to participate openly in conversations aimed at helping other people figure out what it is they need to say. I had never met anyone in that room and yet felt connected to each of them within minutes of meeting them. We were from all over the country and came from different backgrounds, philosophies, and traditions yet something made it easy for us to get along.

I traveled over a thousand miles to talk to people about something I am trying to capture in a book. There's this desire inside of me to see a new Mysticism capture the Church and set the world on fire, and no one in that room thought I was weird. No one thought I was out of line or coming from left field. My hunger was matched by a room full of empty bellies, each of us looking to make the weak strong and explain Grace to a confused world. I can't count how many times someone would share his heart and I'd think, "this dude gets it."

We met because there is something about Jesus. Something makes Him so compelling, so captivating we have to tell people about Him. We find joy in the story of God, the single plan to save people through His son--a plan set in motion through the strangest of vessels. We find the need to focus on Jesus, to rediscover what Merton called "the End of all things." Without a focus on the End, our beginnings are useless. Without focusing on the Beginning Word, our ends won't ever come to be. How can he be the Beginning and the End? Somehow Jesus is the cause and the effect, the wheel and the road.

St. Bonaventure said that Christ is "both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages."

There's something about Him.

Something that can bring people together from all over the country to talk about this hunger in their bellies. Something that can make me want to sit in front of a keyboard and bleed for hours writing a book or blog post. Something that makes pastors stand in front of a crowd and tell them about a Love they are only beginning to understand themselves.

I sat in the Pacific trying to learn to surf. I wanted more than anything to stand on a surfboard and ride a wave into shore. That didn't quite happen. Even in the meager time I found myself up on a board, I felt a sensation unlike anything I've ever experienced, it was strikingly similar to the feeling I got hanging around a group committed to the "something" we see in Jesus. The feeling of complete surrender to a wave that is intent on finding the shore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bringing Many Sons to Glory

In the past few weeks, I have been around the world. I went to a country closed to Christian ministry and met with amazing students there. Daily I am reminded of how crazy the past year of my life has been and how unpredictable God's plans are. I was overwhelmed with this fact while sitting on the tarmac at the Doha, Qatar airport--I have no clue where I am headed in life. 
But that's a good thing. I have hitched my wagon to Jesus Christ and His teachings. From the standpoint of a mystic, nothing else is important once an encounter with the universal, unequaled, unconditional love of God has been made, and It's my desire to share this experience with as many as possible. Everyone should feel this love that shares in their pain, takes away their shame, and washes away their faults. While some would say Heaven and Hell are at stake, I am more worried that life itself is at stake.
This life. 
This day.
What you're doing right now is at stake. Your life is either drenched with grace or barren. Your self-worth is either tied up in meaningless accomplishments or is a testament to the beauty best expressed in Hebrews 2:10-11
God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.
Brothers and sisters! For too long people have preached a Christianity that is basically taking the chains that once bound you to sin and attaching them to a list of rules. There was nothing cool, fun, or original about this faith. It was the same series of rituals and laws that Jesus freed us from--that's what salvation was really all about. Now, I pray that people see Christianity for what it is: following Jesus. Your self-worth is tied to your status as a brother or sister to the perfect leader who was fit to bring us to salvation. As scary as it can be to drop what you are doing and follow Jesus, life will be better-and that is what is really at stake. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.