All posts by Chris Marshall

Living from the Front Porch

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I have a hunch that you are like me, you’ve gotten really good over time at living a disconnected life.  You are super at faking it, you excel at putting up the front that ‘you got this’ and ‘this is fine, we’re fine’.  Well, are you fine?  Do you feel at home and at rest in this one ‘wild and precious’ life as Mary Oliver puts it?  Are you comfortable in your own skin?  Do you feel powerful?  Is your inner life settled, is it at rest?  Do you experience a deep abiding contentment regardless of how much or how little you have on the outside?  Is your heart healed and free?

We know what the opposite experience is of these soul questions don’t we?  Anxiety, depression, disconnection, loneliness, despair, loss of hope, hurt, suffering, loss, scattered thoughts, bondage, discontentment.  In my 45 years of life on this orbiting planet, I’m learning that the answers for me reside in living and leading from the Front Porch.  The Front Porch for me is a metaphor for a way of living that involves things like rest, self-awareness, invitation, hospitality, healing, truth, deep community, nourishment, power and many more experiences that make my heart feel at home.

When I’m living from the Front Porch, this is where I connect to the One who made me and gives my life context.  This is the space of deep  healing and intimacy.  The Front Porch is a spiritual reality for me and I’d like to give it away to others who may find it helpful.

Life is not about the ‘next’ thing, it’s about finding a reality we can connect to that never changes.  Everything in this world changes and breeds anxiety.  There is a place we can find the satisfaction and contentment our souls long for that never changes.  This is what I call living from the Front Porch.

“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.” –Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

To Pilgrim in 2018

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Our world screams hyper-activity, uber-productivity, high energy, stress induced anxiety necessitating record breaking amounts of mood altering meds and magic pills.  This world screams the values of wealth, comfort, convenience and excess as the recipe for happiness and fulfillment.  The consumer-slavery model convinces you to create bills and debts to things you don’t need (but feel entitled to) so that every waking minute and second of your days exists to push coins in the direction of your creditors in the pursuit of this American Dream.

Here’s my problem with the American Dream:  it’s not old enough.  It might be the historian or the theologian in me, but I marvel at the primal connections of our forefathers/mothers who lived lives of deep community, deep meaning and deep mystery of old.  I’m not interested in a life w/out air-conditioning, a cold space to keep my meat and proteins so they don’t spoil or without my Jeep but there are some simplicities I am interested in that I can learn from the past.  Mostly that my life is not defined on things I produce which in turn give me value, but my life has value because of who I am and who I belong to.  Primal community, I am who I belong to.  I have value because the One who made me bestowed upon me value as his son before I ever ‘did’ anything in this world.  I have value not by what I add to my community, but because of their deep love and affection for me.

I  have a conversational relationship with the One I call ‘God’.  I perceive him to be the God of the Ancient Scriptures, I access him through a divine connection with Jesus the Christ and his Spirit, I experience him to be the very Son of God having resurrected from the dead.  By definition that puts his words and prompts in another category.   I’ve been asking for a ‘word’ for 2018 and the one I hear back in my spirit is ‘Pilgrim’.  I think the Spirit wants to lead me on a pilgrimage and wants me to perceive my circumstances as a pilgrim.  This life, this world, is something I am just passing through.  It doesn’t define me.  If I don’t ‘crush it’ in 2018, it doesn’t take away from my primal identity and connection as a Pilgrim passing through.  I am defined by who I belong to and what He is teaching me, not by anything that I am accomplishing.

Takes the pressure off and turns the joy up.  Cheers to your Pilgrimage!

“But your loss brought you here to walk under one name and one name only, and to find the guise under which all loss can live; remember, you were given that name every day along the way, remember, you were greeted as such, and treated as such and you needed no other name, other people seemed to know you even before you gave up being a shadow on the road and came into the light, even before you sat down, broke bread and drank wine, wiped the wind-tears from your eyes; pilgrim they called you, pilgrim they called you again and again.  Pilgrim.”  – ‘Camino’, poem by David Whyte

 

Advent and why Bette Midler is full of @#$%

bette

Sing it with me now:  (insert corny 80’s Casio synthesizer melody here)

God is watching us . . . God is watching us . . . God is watching us . . . from a distance”

Bull-pucky Betty!  This is in fact the entire point of Christmas, it was not a distant event. It was in fact historically and geographically here.  The great conspiracy of Christmas is that God is in reality no longer distant but IMMANUEL . . . God with us.  He didn’t leave us to our darkness in the silent night, he didn’t leave us without peace on earth, he didn’t leave us and the 3 kings to figure it out amongst ourselves.  The entire point of Advent is waiting for an arrival, He is not distant, He is present.  Hope is here.

The Incarnation of Jesus is an invasion on a Kingdom scale.  It was not to coo in a manger and soil his swaddling clothes, the baby came to take over completely and without rival.  For unto us the child was born for this reason:  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)   From that time on, the Incarnation started an invasion of the Divine and He has never left.  He is not distant, He is not watching from a distance, He is here and Now ready to enter in the chaos of your silent night and infect it with blinding light. 

Sorry Bette, the chords and words sound flowery and soothing, but in fact leave us with no hope in the now.  The idea that the power and point of Christianity is for a place far away and a time far off in the future where we get to go to someday after we die is a lie of travesty proportions.  This robs Christmas of a throne-taking baby.  He didn’t come to be cute, He didn’t come to point to a future time, He came to take over now!

Aaaaaaaannndd . . . wait for it . . . we get to be a part of it!  This is the ‘love your neighbor’ part.  When we participate in the kind of life He designed, one filled with hope, unwavering love and service to our neighbors, we are enacting this ‘Kingdom come on earth as it IS in heaven’.  Heaven came to earth in the form of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and left with us all the keys to the Kingdom and access to the portals of heavenly power and freedom.  We don’t have to wait anymore, Heaven is not a far off place we go to after we die, it’s a life we can live now.   God is not watching us from a distance, He is indwelling within us NOW.

We have access now through the Son . . . don’t settle for anything less than fullness.  Christmas is Kingdom Come, Hope is Kingdom Come all year long.  

Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He longs for our presence. And he is inviting you and me to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created.” – Richard Foster

Advent 2017: I was lied to growing up in church

sad_love-heartbreak“Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He longs for our presence. And he is inviting you and me to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created.” – Richard Foster

I was lied to growing up in the church.  Can you relate?  Most of the sermons and teaching I remember hearing agreed with the same themes I heard  in side conversations around the pews and the whispers in the hallways.  The theme that dominated my early construct of who this mysterious God was and what he was like was that he was mad at me.  He was disappointed in my lack of ‘having it together’, he was ashamed of my worldly ways, he condemned my thoughts and my questions as rebellion against his holiness.  If and when I got my act together, then I could have a seat at the table if I behaved.  God was the judge and he wasn’t pleased with me.

This was a God who was distant, far away, untouchable by the untouchables.  Religion is a box of shame.

This construct simply was a lie meant to control and keep God at a distance. This is not at all the God I have come to know and be known by.  The reality of Christmas, the theme of Advent, is an aching of God to overcome all barriers and connect with His creation again.   Here is the Gospel of Advent . . . Here is the good news of Christmas . . . Here is the Truth . . . God is not mad at us, He just misses us!  He literally does not want to live without us.  THIS is the theme of Immanuel, ‘God with us’ because he doesn’t want to be without us.

He aches over our distance and HE closed the distance.  He’s not asking us to meet him halfway, He went the whole way.  He’s asking us to stop running, to stop and turn into His love.  His love is like the warmth of a crackling fire with your stocking on his mantle with YOUR name on it.  You are welcome at His table, You quite simply belong to Him and He can’t and won’t live without you, THAT is why He came.

He’s not mad, He just misses you.  He aches for you.  Stop and notice Him today.  Be embraced, stop running, find your home there.  This is not religion, this is Kingdom Come.

I’m going to be writing on this theme for the season of Advent this 2017, come along for the journey.

 

 

Hurry Back to Me, My Wild Callin’ . . . (Flogging Molly)

callingFor years I have preached and taught this idea . . . “dreams are something you have, ‘callings’ are something that have you.”  

I had a conversion-like experience at the age of 17, it was both spiritual and existential.  I felt alone, abandoned, abused and discarded.  But I had a personal-like experience with an unseen God.  It was like in a moment, He satisfied all of the questions my active mind was asking and then He showed up and quenched the thirst of my parched soul.  I may have felt true love for the first time that night.  I was suicidal, wrapped up in pain.  I put the pills down and chose to enter into relationship with this unseen God.

The moment I chose to receive this mysterious love, I received a “calling” that gripped my life and embedded a conviction to action that has defined me.   I chose to embody the life I always wished someone else had shown me.  I wanted to be the leader I never had.  This ‘calling’ has not made me famous or made me a fortune, in fact it has invited me into the world of anonymity and not fitting in within a world of competing values than that of the Kingdom of God.  But I’m mostly grateful because the things I have done and the things I have attempted, I did with a clear conscience and a desire to bring the world more of the goodness of the One who created us all.

I am now in a space of questioning my original ‘calling’.  Perhaps not so much in leaving it, but allowing it to grow out of it’s original cocoon and transform into something new.  Things are not as I suppose they would be but in their own way, they are quite beautiful.  I have no regrets and no complaints, but my heart desires to be free.  I want to see the future as a purposeful and heartfelt intention towards meaning and soulful work.  My life is at least more than half over, I want it all to count.  The darkness in this world needs light.

So ‘hurry back to me, my wild callin’, but not my old calling, a new one that I don’t have capacity to grab onto but rather one that is untamed and wants to grab a hold of me.  Life is a mystery, I don’t want a box of known outcomes, I want the adventure of discovery and deep learnings.  God cannot be tamed, He is wild, but I’ve learned He is good.  Hurry Back . . .

 

When Abuse is all the News . . . I believe you

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To the victims of abuse, I believe you.

From Roy Moore, to Harvey Weinstein, to Louis C.K., to President Trump, to Kevin Spacey to US Gymnasts  . . . . .  the news of sexual assault, sexual abuse and the misuse of power and influence is all the rage.  The human stories have become rhetoric in a mass of information culture wars and political ideologies.   To protect wealth, power, prestige and status, the accused double down in their darkness through the denials and shaming of victims.  There is not a perfect judge on earth, one day there will be reckoning for us all.   We get to choose what side we want to be on for that day of righteousness.

Thy hype, the rhetoric, the 24 hr news stories do something quite different for the survivors of abuse.  They are not news stories, they are auto-biographies.  The stories act as a trigger to latent memories when no one believed them.  The fresh written descriptors online about someone else’s horrific night cease being about the other and become a reliving of their own trauma.  PTSD and Secondary Trauma are unintentional consequences for the survivors when Abuse is all the news.   

They don’t see someone else’s story, they see their own again.  It’s memories of a face, of a room, of a time, of a smell, of a feeling, of a touch, of a boundary crossed, of powerlessness, of shame, of denial, of secrecy, of protection, of physical pain, of emotional confusion, of psychological hell, of cover-ups and perhaps most insidious of all the evil, the reliving that no one believed them.

If this is you, I am sorry.  I believe you.  You deserved more.  It wasn’t your fault.  The shame isn’t yours.  You can love again.  You are not alone.  You survived for a reason.  You are so much more than a survivor.  There is hope.

When Abuse is ALL THE NEWS . . . I believe you.  #metoo

The Sound and Value of Silence

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Celtic Daily Prayer – Today’s Meditation

“If I chose to hide you away, it is for a reason.
I have brought you to this place.
Drink in the silence. Seek solitude.

Listen to the silence.

It will teach you. It will build strength
Let others share it with you.
It is little to be found elsewhere.

Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.
Find silence. Find solitude – and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.”  –Frances J. Roberts

When you are in a great period of waiting as I am, there is a lot of time for silence.  I like to be active, the silence frankly scares me.  But silence is about growing up still I think.  Embrace what the silence has to say.  Go to battle with the thoughts and messages that are buried deep inside you that don’t call you the ‘beloved’.   The lies thrive in activity, silence has the power to tell you the truth.  Embrace the silence, wear it like a cloak, be immersed in deep truths.

The sound of silence is beauty, love, truth, peace and abounding contentment.  It is the way of the monk, try some ‘monking in the real world’.  Amidst the noise, embrace the silence.

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.