Pay Attention to your Roots

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I’m not an arborist, but I sure like to contemplate on the strength and character of trees.  They have an ancient resiliency that fascinates me.  The changing color of Autumn leaves this time of year or the fresh blooms of Spring are but symptoms of what goes on beneath the surface of the ground for trees.  It’s their root systems that fascinate me.  The roots are what solidify their firm foundation and give it lasting structure.  The roots are also what absorbs the nutrients needed for growth, development and self-healing.  They live in a harmony of the beauty of the present day and the preparation for the storms of tomorrow.  They are present-future in their outlook.

Our culture does not celebrate rootedness.  The ‘good’ life is sold to us as a bag of goods about life above the surface.  What makes us feel good today?  Fleeting beauty, instant results, quick fixes when things get difficult, just move on.

Is there anything you root yourself in that gives you foundation and structure?  What is present in your life that promotes your personal growth?  Where are you intentional about your development as a better human?  As you live today, are you also going deep to anchor down for the storms of tomorrow so that they don’t bring total destruction?  Specifically, what are the nutrients you need and how do you put yourself in a space to absorb them?

No one will do this for you.  If you’ve given over your life, choices and personal freedoms to the fashions and news of the day, they will not care for you when the storms of life come.  Our consumer culture is set on a lie, selling you things you don’t need that never offer contentment so that you come back for yet more.  It is a cycle of discontentment by design.  It serves them, not you.  You are not entitled to the glitter and promises of the ‘good’ life but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a ‘good’ life.

I am learning in my old age to pay attention to my roots.  To not listen to the noise of the culture and instead go deeper in my reflection, contemplation and experience of truth in this Creation.  I find that in Faith, in Ancient Scriptures, in worship of the Divine, in Prayer, in observing Creation, in laughing with friends, in spending quality time with family, in music that moves me, in reading poetry and writing that is ‘outside the box’.  Those bring nutrients that strengthen the root system below the surface of my life.

I am presently in a storm above the surface, but the root system below me is yet growing and that brings me a great sense of satisfaction.  Pay attention to the deep places, it will serve you well in the storms of life.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.” -Romans 8:18-21 (The Message)

The Storm of God

“1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.” (Genesis 1 The Message)

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Over chaos, over deep water, over soups of nothingness, over bottomless emptiness, over the abyss .  . . over me.  

The Hebrew term to describe what God did is translated “Ruach Elohim”.  It was the Ruach Elohim that hovered over the chaos, it was the Ruach Elohim that brooded over it like a bird, it was the Ruach Elohim that provided it’s covering.  In English we could call this “the Spirit of God” or “the Breath of God” that was hovering and brooding.  Ruach is not a tame Hebrew term though, it isn’t boxed in with out mortal understanding.  The Ruach is not tame, it is not safe, it is not containable.  It can’t be limited to political slogans or vain conceits, it is the immutable and creative Spirit of God and it isn’t safe.  For me, The Ruach of Elohim is a Great and Mighty Storm, it is the Storm of God.   . . . And I need it.

I need to know that the Ruach Elohim is over my chaos, over my unrelenting abyss of thoughts and emotions, over my fears, over my confusions, over my dark nights . . . I need His powerful Storm over me.  It is the immutable Storm of God that hovers over me, broods over me, creates through me, lives in me, abides within me.  I need to know that His Storm is deeper and grander than the storms in me.  I don’t want safety, I want truth and I want all of it.  I want to know and be known as it was intended before anything else was.  I want to live in the Spirit of creativity, I want to worship at the pools of original life.  No religion, no man-made systems, I want the stuff, the real stuff and all of it.  I don’t want safe, I want the Ruach Elohim.

Join me, find your truth.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1 NIV)

Where are the Peacemakers?

peace“Blessed are the peacemakers,
 for they will be called children of God.” -Matthew 5:9

I am pretty outward and vocal that I am a person of faith.  To be specific, I am a follower of Jesus and the Ancient Scriptures.  I have journeyed long and far with the questions and seekings of my heart and soul and these are the conclusions I have come to.  The ways of Jesus are what make sense to me, are what have captured my heart and imagination and are in harmony with my created intention.  It is in him that I have found peace, the kind of peace that satisfies.  I don’t need to prove him, I don’t need to defend him, I just know that I come alive when my heart and mind is aligned with him.

I live in a nation that is deeply divided, but it is not the divisions of proper patriotism or partisan politics that grieve me, it’s the replacement of our ancient faith with a civil religion of nationalistic fervor of which there can be only one Caesar.  We can not serve both God and man, so one must take the throne.  We get to choose and the fruit of our lives will indicate who or what is on the throne.   What comes out of our mouth is the state of our heart.

What I read on my social media timelines are full of vitrol and hate for the ‘other’ and much of it in the name of a brand of American Christianity that doesn’t resemble the scandal of the Cross.  The ardent participation in the power structures of the Empire of our day do not reflect the ways of Jesus; the Son of man, the friend of sinners, the suffering servant nor the Prince of Peace.  He didn’t seek to acquire power, but by his own transformation to be like his Father, he acted powerfully.  His power was quite literally not of this world and therefore could differentiate from the conflicts of the Empire of his day and serve and love all his neighbors.

Where are the peacemakers?  Where are the ones who do not belong to this world and therefore have the capacity and burden to love all of those in this world of which we are called to serve?  We are defined not by power positions, but by love and service to all our neighbors.  Peacemaking is not an option, it is our inherited identity under the Cross.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  

 

Let Your Life Speak

questions“Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that it is indeed possible to live a life other than one’s own.  Fearful that I was doing just that – but uncertain about the deeper, truer life I sensed hidden inside of me, uncertain whether it was real or trustworthy or within reach – I would snap awake in the middle of the night and stare long hours at the ceiling.” – Parker Palmer

Is the life you are living the highest version of you? 

I truly enjoy pub culture.  I like to be in the places where the crossroads of life and my neighbors are intersecting.  It’s been almost 20 years since I was a vocational pastor but it is in these simple and human spaces in my community where I can perhaps be my best self as a sort of pastoral voice.  This past Saturday evening I found myself in an hour or longer conversation with a 31 yr. old young Dad of 2 who was finishing up a 13 hr. work day and in our conversation began lamenting that he thinks he’s doing it wrong.  He is making a lot of $ for 60 hrs. of work a week but he’s missing his kids lives altogether.  Big house and new cars but cancelled vacations because work owned his time.  He was asking himself deep questions if the rat race he was running was worth it in the end.  He gave me permission to speak into his life and we talked about the freedom of living more simply, that meaning is created it isn’t bought and the reality that we are going to die, the only thing left is to decide how we want to live.  No one can choose that for us.  If we let work choose it, we won’t live the life we were created to embody.  We became friends and hope to continue the conversation, he said “I don’t meet people like you.”  I think that was a compliment, I pray the deep questions haunted his dreams.  😉

What are the questions that keep you up at night?  What is bubbling below the surface of your true identity trying to break through the ice of your surface self you let everyone else see?   Are you living a life to make others happy, enslaved to the unspoken oughts and shoulds of their judgments and perceptions?  In your resting times, do you experience freedom and peace, or does your heart and mind race in anxiety?  Are you asking yourself the big questions about life?  We only get one.

Let your life speak, seek the highest version of your true self.  That is where freedom, truth, power and peace come from.  I’m always glad to have that conversation.

 

Why Live in Community? . . . to offset the lies

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Life in community is no less than a neccessity for us – it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think.  Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life.  Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty – a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists.  We acknowledge God as this Source. . . . We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.” -Eberhard Arnold

Those of us who were born into the American story have been told a lie since the day we were born in verbal and then mostly non-verbal cues from our cultural narrative.  We are a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ kind of people, we highly value the rugged individual. The lone ranger is an American icon.  We want to believe that we can do it all on our own.  We want to be self-sufficient islands of comfort, security, confidence, freedom and power.  But in reality we are not.  We are vulnerable, at times insecure, second-guessing and not self-sufficient at all, rather we have a tendency to look for love in all the wrong places.  We put on the mask that we have it all together so that other’s can’t see our weakness and vulnerabilities.

Our cities and suburbs are growing in population yet many are feeling more and more alone.  We’ve never in our history had more proximity to people and at the same time, we lead the world in anxiety meds and anti-depressants.  We have the opportunity to live in community but we choose to build up the walls and live lives of isolation in and near the other humans.  Community only works when you opt in.  Like an AA meeting, it’s voluntary and you come because you admit you have need.  You don’t want to be alone anymore.  You’ve tried the rugged individual American story and found yourself wanting.

One of my assumptions about humanity is that we were designed for community because the Source of all Creation designed it that way.  He by his nature and image is community:  Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  We were created in His image and therefore bear the mark of community.  We weren’t meant to live alone physically, emotionally or spiritually.  We were designed to be known, to be loved by others, to be safe even in our vulnerabilities.  We’ve been lied to, we weren’t meant to be individual American heroes, we were meant to find our meaning and purpose within the context of one another.

I’ve given up my life for the building of this kind of community.  I feel the brokenness of the world all around me, I long for my neighbors (not just the ones I live next to) to find the satisfaction of their soul’s desire.  I long for people to be delivered out of patterns of self-destruction, negativity, isolation, loneliness and mindsets of personal poverty.  Community is a powerful healer but it’s also really, really hard and messy and you have to opt in.

Love is the anti-dote to all the lies you are listening to.  In Community we speak the truth to one another.  I’ve learned I need it like I need air to breathe.  You were designed for it, jump in the deep end.

Good Wine Jesus

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“9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” -John 2:9-10

I have 3 theological degrees that I’ve worked hard on, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate.  I’ve put in a lot of time reading, studying, writing and thinking theologically over the years.  I’ve studied both the Old and New Testaments, the Ancient Scriptures in their original languages.  I’ve done a deep dive into ancient cultures, contexts and nuances that the narratives of the Bible come from for clear understanding.  After all of this, I’ve come to this very eloquent and pastoral conclusion:   Religion Sucks.

Often we take the deep mysteries and secrets to the life that Jesus came to reveal to us and turned them into petty religious systems of control, a fear of intimacy, a taming down of the recklessness of the Kingdom of God and a staunchly cold ordering of things shrouded in holy mystery.  Man-made fearful religions suck the life out of all things good.  There is an intelligent claim that God created all things but then we return the favor and create Him in our image.  A dumbing down of wonders far beyond us.

I just don’t want to lose the wonder of it all.  I don’t want to lose ‘Good Wine Jesus’.  The one who knows how to party. The one who is rooted in truth, walks around unaffected by the storms of life and anchors deep, I want to hold onto him.  The one who treats all the party-goers with grace, love, mercy and cares for the beauty of ‘the other’.  Doesn’t draw up borders, doesn’t stick to the cliques, doesn’t associate with the socially high in status, but makes a neighbor of everyone at the party.  He doesn’t draw attention to himself, he isn’t haughty, even his miracle is done in secret.  He listens, he connects, he celebrates, he loves, he has compassion, he spreads joy.  He is ‘Good Wine Jesus’.

I don’t know where you are today in your faith journey, or the questions your soul is asking of you in your world.  I just want to say as one who represents the Church at large, I’m sorry that Religion Sucks.  I’m experiencing a Good Wine Jesus today and I’d love to invite all to the party to enjoy and find satisfaction.  Cheers!

The American Dream . . . with a side of Jesus

xmas“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”  (Fight Club)

I had a chance this past week to hang out with folk from the Brethren Church  and in particular their church planting crew known as MissioChurch.   I like hanging around church planters because in general they aren’t normal, they typically are all a little ‘off’ in the head you know?  They have dreams buried in them that don’t allow them to accept status quo.  They are used to an identity in which they don’t always fit in with establishment.  It’s not rebellion, they aren’t against establishment, rather they believe that they exist to support and extend the reach of all things good about the Church and its’ service to the world.  It’s a holy kind of discontentment.  Church planters ask a lot of questions and aren’t afraid to live in the land of tension and discomfort.  They’ve worked hard to develop the skills in fact that allow them to thrive in such lands of in-between.

One of the speakers at this gathering transparently shared her story of downward progression from an idyllic life of “the American dream with a side of Jesus”.  Her and her husband had it all:  the stable high income jobs, a dream house on acreage, Pinterest quality decor, retirement investment strategies, social status, upward mobility . . . all that the American Dream is designed to be that comes with the white picket fence.  Her name is Shannan Martin and her book is entitled ‘Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted’.  What followed in their story was selling everything, moving into a low-income and broken neighborhood, taking a new job in the local jail, noticing their neighbors, getting involved in the justice causes of their community and adopting kids with little hope.  A life of beauty and hardship, a life that Jesus can’t exist on the side, he wants to be the main course of sustenance.

Here’s what I’m learning, the American Dream with a side of Jesus doesn’t work.  It’s completely unsatisfying.  The American Dream is not a big enough idea for me to give my blood, sweat and tears to. It’s a fool’s gold.  It’s slavery to a system of wants, false securities and anxiety-driven ambitions.  I know that I’m going to die, and none of the purchased commodities are coming with me, so what are the things that last I can invest into?  If I know I’m going to die, the only relevant question then is what do I want to live for?

Do you ask the big questions about your life?  Where does your satisfaction come from?  Whose opinion about you matters?  Who do you want to please?  What makes you come alive?  Does fear about the future dominate your brain-space more than living fully today?  Are the things you’re striving for going to live beyond your last breath?

The answers to our big questions reveal the things we worship, what we worship we become.  What I’m learning is God isn’t interested in being our side-piece.  He’s not insecure in the truth, power and freedom he offers so he’s not shy about what he wants:  he wants all of it.  He is the King and he wants singular allegiance.  We get to choose if we believe he is a good King and worthy of that place in our heart, mind, soul and life.  If we let him, he’ll do just about anything to break us down until we realize that he is all we need.  In him we can find our being and our moving.   Before there was ever a myth called the American Dream . . . He was.  If he brought all things into being then my created life finds purposed and wholeness in him.  To choose him is not foolishness, it’s deep abiding wisdom.  It’s what I’m choosing today, a singular allegiance to the One who made me.

“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” -Exodus 34:14

Suffering as a Great Teacher

suffering

“Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain.  We want to flee it at all costs.  But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently.  We become willing to to let it teach us.   We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or a curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment.  Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the One who can heal.”  –Henri Nouwen Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Pain?  Well, it sucks.  Physical/Emotional/Mental/Spiritual?  The whole family of unwanted visitors kinda sucks to have to greet at the doorstep of your heart and soul.  Once they show up, our instinct is to bid our time until they leave.  They are an obstacle to be avoided, a distraction to be waited out . . . rid ourselves of pain as soon as humanly possible.

Aren’t we Americans?  Aren’t we entitled to lives of life, liberty and the pursuit of all things happy?  We are consumers in this great mythology of the American Dream.  We consume attention, affection, influence and power . . . we in no way want to be denied.   We desire a life where we have needs and the world exists to meet them.  We are the fuzzy center of the world’s great resources, our satisfaction depends on it.  Mourning makes us poor, nothing American about that I don’t think.  Through pain-avoidance, we seek the easy victories, “growth without crisis, healing without pain” (Nouwen).  In pain avoidance, we may be ignoring one of life’s greatest teachers.  Suffering may have the marrow of life your bones need.

The big-boy lesson is not whether unkind things happen to us, but rather what does our ‘adulting’ look like for how we respond.  How do we relate to life’s circumstances?  If we can’t negotiate the terms of our suffering, then how do we choose to walk in them?  Do we rebel against the process, seek to avoid the pain, hole up and bid our time til the storm passes or look for the easy button?  Or do we submit to the process for the learning that it may bring?  Can we find the humility to recognize our limitations and our smallness in a cosmos that is vast and yet personal?

The questions in my suffering often are:  What did I do wrong?  What’s the matter with me?  I become uberly self-critical, unkind towards myself and I lose the space of gratitude for the things I do have.  I could ask the question:  What can I learn in this?  How can this circumstance be a great teacher in my life?   Functionally I can greet the guest of Suffering differently and from a different place.  Not as a victim or an accuser of myself, but as a constant learner of wisdom and as one who is forever on a quest for a deeper experience of humanity.

Living graciously, gratefully and open to the learnings of life’s circumstances, I become free in my suffering and not a slave of it’s all encompassing powers.  The freedom of resurrection doesn’t come by avoiding the cross, it comes from the courage to embrace the cross differently.  The humility makes us small, but as we yield to the Great Teacher of Suffering, she makes us into something more beautiful and more free.  Don’t run from it, embrace it.

What you look at, You become

looking-glass-721“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” -Matthew 6:22-23

Part of Jesus’ genius teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is the stuff I’ve long believed to be secrets to the universe and humankind. It is against our nature typically, which is what makes the teaching genius.  Part of our design is that we are receptors of sights, sounds, smells and personal experiences that affect us and develops our inner world.  Our outer world directly influences our inner world.  What comes in is what goes out.  What we look at and pay attention to, becomes us.  We are products of our gaze and desire, it is those things that we worship.  So what are you looking at?  It is that thing that you worship and are becoming.

This past US election got me wired up, wrapped up, stressed out, anxiety driven and despondent.  The rhetoric, the hatred, the lowest forms of dialogue, the 24/7 frantic news streams, Facebook preaching, Twitter sewage etc.  It all fascinated me from a historic and culture perspective how we got here as a nation but it’s turned into its own animal.  The anxiety of the drama has become too expansive for me, as I’ve taken it in it has become me.  I’m turning off my gaze into these melodramas and debates, they don’t have the life I’m looking for and I don’t want that crap in my heart.  What I look at and pay attention to, I become.

I need to look at goodness, hope, generosity of spirit, kindness, mercy, freedom and love of neighbor.  Those are the things I want to become so those are the things I’m looking at and looking for today.  Join me.

If Mortals Die, will they Live Again?

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“If mortals die, will they live again?  All the days of my hard service, I will wait for my release to come.  You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.” -Job 14:14-15

I was first introduced to this set of verses from the ancient Scriptures from my good friend, Mark Palmer, who had verse 14 tattooed in Hebrew around his wrist like a bracelet.  “If mortals die, will they live again?”   For him, it reminded him of his place in life when he woke in the morning.  That he was mortal and God was God.  This gave context to his life.  Humility and Reverence gave his life structure.  When his wife died at the age of 26 with stomach cancer, this piece of Hebrew poetry from Job drove him deeper in understanding of his place in this dramatic cosmos we call life and then death.  He contemplated if mortals die, will they live again?

Not more than 2 years later, he himself contracted colon cancer.  As his body emaciated from the tumors and the results of poisonous chemotherapy, the hebrew tattoo morphed in it’s shape but it still cried out in full depth, “If mortals die, will they live again?”  Still grieving his young bride, he faced his own oncoming death at the age of 30.  Our last time together, about a week before he passed, he stared at that tattoo and said something like, ‘Marshall, this has real meaning.’  If mortals die, will they live again?  March 27, 2006, Palmer as a mortal died, challenging all of us left, does he live again?

You can go through all of your life and never ask this question.  You can graduate with degrees, you can work jobs, earn paychecks, pay bills, attend parties, seek happiness, raise families, complain, value temporary things, spend your life earning $ to ‘comfortably’ retire so you can collect shells on the beach, never experience contentment, lust for more etc. etc.   Dear mortal, in the end, is this a big enough idea?

If mortals die, will they live again?  The answer to this question gives your life context and meaning.  To this day, it still haunts me.  God is God, I am mortal.  We are not equals.  Though I don’t understand Him completely, I know my place. He alone holds all wisdom and blessing, I yield myself to it today.

May this question haunt you, too.  If mortals die, will they live again?

peace, Chris

 

Entrepreneur – Teacher – Writer – Pastor