“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.
“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
― Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God
I shared in my last post about the gift of being in this unemployed place of uncertainty and vulnerability. There is certainly a lot to learn and enjoy in it. But I’m not going to sugar-coat that it’s always what my perspective or attitude is. Other times it can just be really hard and unsettling. I’m not unlike you, I want to be in control of my surroundings, my future and my options. But I am in a season presently in life where all of what I used to rely upon as security is no longer secure. My wife and I are holding tight to simple and core truths about who we are, who our God is and that the future is secure in him and his provision over us. We are challenged and cross-pressured to believe in things we can’t see and not lose hope. We are not the first people to find ourselves here, it’s just our story today.
I lost some faith this week, I got discouraged. Met with our accountant last week to do our 2016 taxes for us personally and the businesses we are trying to get off the ground. I had the figures stare back at me on paper like a bully on the playground. How little income I had in 2016 and how much of our personal investment I put in the coffee business that is 100% loss at the moment (of course most businesses lose $ in their first couple years). All my identity of being a provider for my family for 23 years was being challenged. The accusing voices started of what a failure I must be, how much I’ve let everyone down and the helplessness of not being able to correct the ship immediately. Defeated, discouraged, disappointed . . . what do we with these emotions? Where do we take these lies that bounce around in our head and seek to intimidate us into total surrender?
Today I went for a walk in the woods to listen. I spent several hours walking and sitting. I listened, I listened to the babbling brook, I listened to the waving branches of the trees over me, I listened to the cracking of broken sticks under my boots, I listened to the hawks overhead and I listened for the voice of the One who made me and marks my days. I started out somewhat lost, feeling disconnected and anxious. And then He spoke and it was hard to compose myself. He said: “stop trusting in bank statements and financial tables, learn to ruthlessly trust me.” The voice went on, told me to look around, look at the eco-systems of life and complexities all around me. They don’t worry, they don’t fret, they are taken care of. How much more will I be taken care of.
I was reminded that we are at the dawn of the Lenten season of the Church, where we are to be stripped away of all our preoccupations and distractions to find ourselves in Him. We can locate ourselves in his suffering and thus share with him our deepest longings and shortcomings. We don’t have to wear our fears like a cloak, we can put it on him and hide ourselves in him. In his creation, in his ever presence, in the Spirit that broods over the earth and bubbles up in the brooks and streams. If we ruthlessly trust him, we can find our confidence in him. This is a place of surrender, vulnerability and exposed nakedness. But we came into this life naked, and naked sometimes we still find ourselves. We ruthlessly trust not because we are masochists, but because we believe foundational aspects of his nature: goodness, faithfulness, sustenance, mercy and eternal love.
We are being asked to ruthlessly trust . . . we are ALL being asked to ruthlessly trust. What’s on the other side of that door? Let’s open it and find out, but it starts with trust. #Gulp
“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” ― George Carlin
Self-talk is a tricky thing and we all do it. The messages that bounce around between our ears play a huge role in the behavior that comes out of the rest of our body. These agreements tell us how to perceive the reality of the world around us. They can dictate if we think we are winning or losing at this thing called life. They filter our values and point us to what we think is true. It is in this private world that we may unknowingly deceive ourselves and thus limit who we can become. There is a kind of beauty when the lies we once held true crash like a window-pane all around us and invite us into an opportunity to reconstruct what is our core truth and understanding of who we really are and why we are here anyways. Here are my typical bullies of untruth:
I don’t have enough –Myth of Scarcity, sounds like this, tell me if you’ve heard this song: If I just had ‘X’ then I would be happy. If I had as much as ‘X’ then I would be as happy as they are. Everyone else seems to have ‘X’ except for me. The only thing between me loving my life and me not being left-out is ‘X’. The consumer hyper-marketing messages all around us only re-establish the stronghold of this kind of falsehood. The ‘X’ is a job, more money, a vehicle, a partner, a raise, a home, a place at a table you are presently not at, a greener pasture etc. The lie is that I don’t have what I need to be fulfilled right now. That with more I’d be okay, but with my present reality, the recipe just doesn’t bake the cake.
I am not enough – Myth of Mattering, sounds like this, tell me if this rings true:I am not as good as ‘X’, I’m not as smart as ‘X’, I’m not as accomplished as ‘X’, I’m not as talented as ‘X’, ‘X’ seems to get all the breaks, no one would choose me, if people knew the truth about me they wouldn’t be interested. The lie is that I don’t matter, everyone else matters more. What the world measures as valuable is all the things that I don’t have or embody. If I was more like ‘X’ then I’d finally be valued and okay.
This is enough – Myth of a Closed Future, sounds like this, tell me if you’ve seen this movie: Tomorrow will be just like today, this is all there is, things will never get better, since I failed before I will always fail in the future, things just don’t work out for me, I better accept the tyranny of the present because nothing is going to change. The future is a closed opportunity, it is only more of the same. Accept reality, the future is closed, this is all there is.
What if I told you none of these are true? Like you, I am on a journey of deeper discovery about who I am and what this world is all about. For the past 15-20 years I would have labeled myself a chief cynic, a realist who coldly, and harshly just dealt with the way things were. Pains, disappointments and perceived failed attempts convinced me that these lies were true. What I didn’t know was that my agreements with these falsehoods actually created a system of thinking that was a self-fulfilled prophecy. I believed them to be true so that is how I behaved, I acted, I reacted, I perceived how my world was developing. A more careful examination tells a different story.
I am a faith guy so I start with the truth I was created and placed in a world that has always been enough to sustain and multiply a diverse creation of unbelievable beauty. The creation feeds on itself in a unique design where life creates more life and never tires of it’s recreation. The creation has all I ever needed, nothing leaves me in want. When I was created, I was designed with both a certain amount of unique giftings as well as some limitations (not weaknesses). I don’t carry all the Creator’s strengths, but I have some of them and I’m at my best when I am reflecting his identity in how he created me. There isn’t another me, there is me in this time, in this place, in this community to matter in ways I have even yet to discover. As Dallas Willard put it, ‘as water is meant to run downhill, so you were destined to count’. The future is not closed, it is ripe with abundant opportunity to learn more, grow more, discover more, love more, create more, enjoy more, serve more and experience more. If there is breath yet in me, the future is pregnant with a birthing of the next opportunity to be uniquely me. The lies have the stench of death, the truth smells like hope.
What if I told you that you have enough, that you are enough, that the future is open with opportunity? Would you believe me?
“18-21 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.
22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s withinus. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” – Romans 8:18-25 (The Message)
The most notable of leaders tend to be extroverts with personalities of charisma that charm their followers towards the mission and purpose at hand. The greater their charisma, the higher the pedestal we exalt them upon towards an idealized model of what we all want to become. These leaders become great at performing in the outer world but perhaps also become effective at ignoring their inner life. Innocently and seemingly to our nature as humans, we set up these leaders for a long tumble off that pedestal if they in turn are not acutely aware of the danger of the stage of influence. If the leader does not confront the monsters within, the stage of influence can become a place of delusion and self-importance where the leader is not spreading freedom to their followers but actually a thorny path of doing more harm than good.
“Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.” (Palmer, p. 80-81)
I’ve been re-reading Parker J. Palmer’s “Let your Life Speak”, and in his conclusion for vocational leaders, he proposed 5 inner monsters leaders need to be acutely self-aware of:
Insecurity about identity and worth – not knowing ‘who’ we are or ultimately ‘whose’ we are as the very children of a loving God.
Obsessed with competition – believing falsely that the universe is a battleground and hostile to human interests as opposed to a belief that all things are working together for good.
Functional atheism – the delusion that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This shadow leads to burnout and resentment, I’ve been here far too many times in my life.
Fear of the natural ‘chaos’ of life – we believe that good leadership is about controlling and eliminating chaos as opposed to allowing it to lead us to greater creativity and break-through.
Denial of death itself – not letting things that have run their course have a natural death, holding everyone hostage to a day gone by where there is no longer any life. Ultimately this is fear of failure instead of seeing the new data as an opportunity for clarity for the next break through.
“A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.” (Parker, p. 78)
I resonate with all 5 of these inner monsters and I’m learning not to avoid them but to press right in on them and not let them control my inner life and heart. Pressing in on them, presses them down to a foundational grounding out of which we live, love and lead. Instead of saying ‘there are no monsters’, they may in fact be real, and they are ‘us’.
13 But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? 15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor — darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:13-18 A Korah Prayer of Heman)
I wonder what the Psalmist meant in this closing line . . . ‘darkness is my closest friend’. Simon and Garfunkel crooned out the same sentiment as the ‘sound of silence’. It is the dead of winter for all those seasonal affective disorder types, which might be a little of most of us. Experiences of darkness and loneliness are part of the human drama, but a friendship? This is an interesting perspective.
I think darkness has its’ part to play in the grand scheme of things. Think about the top 5 life lessons you have learned. How many of them came from incredibly painful but formative experiences? As humans we have built in mechanisms to avoid pain and hardship at all costs, but darkness has its’ place. Pain and suffering grow us up in ways self-help books cannot. Deeper maturity and character are often born out of opportunities to persevere and long suffer. How many times has darkness preceded the dawn in our lives? It is darkest just before the sun begins its’ rise of a new day.
As a person of faith, I have been at this place the psalmist is expressing many seasons in my life. My journal is filled with tear stained words on paper pouring my processing of darkness. In my crying out, I have repeated often the phrase: ‘God, if you don’t come through, there will be no coming through’. Somehow, he understands me at that level. He always shows up in that place of darkness . . . and then he does the extraordinary . . . he enters in. The God of blinding light . . . enters into my darkness. The God who with one word spoke light into being at it’s very creation . . . enters into my darkness. Why? Is it because he likes the darkness? I don’t think so, in my old age I’ve come to the conclusion that I just thinks he likes me. I know he has to ‘love’ me, but I’m learning at some level that I think he even likes me. The God of the universal cosmos, likes me, and enters in. He pays attention to me, though he must be quite busy. I receive these experiences as good news.
Can darkness be a friend? It’s not very fun, but if God enters in and shows up, you might want to wait out the pain. Pitch a tent, stoke a fire and hang out there a bit. You won’t be disappointed. It is darkness that precedes the dawn.
The Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, I’m not an astrophysicist, I’m not a rocket scientist. At best I’m a theologian or contemplative, at worst I’m just a dude. I’m reflecting on this from my perspective, I’m not making truth claims or posting theories based on expert knowledge. I know it’s just an attempt to illustrate a point and doesn’t in fact capture the entire picture of the galactic plane. Ok? . . . ok.
The Video: I find this video model fascinating for it’s contrast to our normal two dimensional understanding of how our universe revolves around the sun. Most of us get our imagery from 2D posters on our junior high science classroom of a ‘heliocentric’ (sun centered) universe which was a great advancement from the ancient days of a ‘geocentric’ (earth centered) understanding of the universe. There was a day when we literally thought and understood that the world revolved around us. That came from a time in Greek thought where philosophy ruled the day. Our starting point for reflection, contemplation and search for truth started with ourselves. So naturally, the world came to be about us.
It was the advancement of science that began to tell a different story. That the experience of gravity on earth did not mean that in fact then the earth was the center of gravity in the universe. Rather, it was far more complex than that. Rotation, axis and orbit can explain for the phenomenons we observe on earth and that it is the sun that is in fact the center of the big idea and the planets, systems and stars have a relational tie to it. Science helped us see that the world is in fact not about us, that we have a part to play in a much larger drama and we should have some humility and responsibility about that galactic relationship.
Philosophy to Science to now Technology. This video builds on the 2D heliocentric idea of the universe by taking it another step and illustrating that the better understanding of movement around the sun is to see it as ‘vortex’ motion of being intertwined amidst the solar winds as we orbit around the sun. The 3D model shown here is the ‘helical’ model. It invites us to understand the intertwining motion as even a more complex relationship we have at the ‘Macro’ level of how our universe works and then pushes us to reflect upon how we see this same design in our ‘Micro’ level life and creation all around us. To me, it’s fascinating.
The Community Idea: Again, I’m not a scientist, it just interests me for it’s perspective and it’s revelation of truths. I highly value knowledge because it informs my real life. What I am an expert in is ‘community’. I’ve given my life and study to it for a couple decades now. My dissertation was on the loss of community in the American landscape and suggestions on how we might find our way again in it. I have often reflected and asserted that community is best understood as well as a ‘gravitational pull’. Community gets centered around something that pulls people together. Books, football, school, fashion, movies, coffee, wine, beer, lifestyles, interests, religion etc. The strength and longevity of the community depends upon the nature of the gravitational center. If a community forms around the celebration of the Winter Olympics, then it will be experienced once every 4 years and will cease after the closing ceremonies. If the community forms around biological family bonds, then barring relational scars, it goes from birth to death and we are in a vortex with each other for every event in between.
I do believe that community is a vortex of relational pull towards one another. Our lives can be intertwined in a very complex relationship and the longer the community is in that vortex, the stronger the relational pull. As a relational universe, the proximity increases, the gravity increases and the community gets closer and more intertwined as it moves together on a time continuum we call ‘life’.
14 years ago, my wife and I experimented by starting a spiritual community in our home with the stated assumption that the center of our gravitational pull would be Jesus and the Scriptures. The person of Jesus, his teachings, his life and his Spirit would be what we would organize our lives around and then let those things pull us together. We live individual, family and American suburban lives but we would confront that reality by choosing ‘community’ as our faith model. We didn’t want individual faith, we wanted a shared story. Ordinary Community was the result. This is what we call ‘church’.
Over the years, this gravitational pull has exponentially increased. The intertwining of our lives is a great contrast to the world’s ideals around us of a consumer lifestyle based on ‘avoiding boredom’ and individual wants. The pull into spiritual community has redefined family for us. We have a much larger network of brothers, sisters, spiritual cousins, aunts, uncles etc. Our kids only know ‘community’ as their gravitational center. This all may sound cultish, but it is the language of our Patriarch, that Jesus guy. (Cults are defined by hoarding resources, we give away 100% of our shared resources, again that Jesus guy told us to) Our lives are a moving vortex with one another as we spiral around Jesus and His Scriptures towards a more realized experience of Christian spiritual maturity. Our hope is that as we do that then we love our neighbors better, love our enemies better, serve our world better, experience wholeness/peace/joy better and in fact live in the truth of what our entire universe is all about. That we are eternal souls: created by God, resurrected by Jesus and called into a Spirit-filled life story together. That our lives have context with each other and the world all around us. Community is a messy vortex of intertwined motion, we spiral through life together and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)
Tonight I sat in the autumn air and took the time to up look into the night sky and ask myself why I don’t do that more often. The beauty of a clear night and the reality of sitting underneath a shining constellation of burning light from millions of years ago is a humbling thought. A lot of people ask me about my faith, my beliefs, my religion, my spirituality, my philosophy, my politic, my worldview etc. and in all of it for me it’s really quite simple: I believe there is a God and that I’m not Him.
This passage from the Hebrew Scriptures in Isaiah 40 where the author rests in the mystery that the God of his worship is a God who cannot be completely fathomed by human minds, He is truly other (i.e. Holy). This was my converting thought into my life of Christ following through the Scriptures. It wasn’t/isn’t a tradition I came from, it wasn’t a catchy slogan, it wasn’t wrapped in a politic, it wasn’t a program with 3 easy steps . . . it was the thought that I did not bring myself into being and that I’m not alone in this cosmos and life. There are purposes, there are truths, there are realities that are far beyond me and it’s best if I anchor my perspectives in such places.
This life is a vapor, here one day and gone the next. Much of what I see when I look around me is such chaos, manic pursuits that yield little to no satisfaction. It’s when I look up that I find connection to the Divine, to the God who made me and knows my name. It is in His understandings that I can not fully fathom that I strangely find myself at home in. This life is just a chapter of a larger story of who I am wrapped up in a Kingdom that never ends. I sit in awe and wonder at the night sky that is the handiwork of someone eternal, because at a soul level, I am also eternal in Him.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity