Five Books That (Re) Shaped My Spirituality

I don’t know if you’re looking for something to read (I know I always am), but I thought I’d share some reads that have been pretty foundational in my life.

These five books really were responsible for some “left turns” in my life. They marked pretty large “sea changes” in my spirituality and belief. If you’re looking for something to challenge (and maybe even change) you, maybe pick them up and give them a read. Let me know what you think.

  1. Signature of Jesus. This book really changed the whole game for me. I’ve written about this before, but I just can’t begin to describe how much this book impacted me when I first read it. It called me deeper, beyond merely nodding “yes” (or shaking my head “no”) on a Sunday to a life of pursuing the rabbi from Nazareth. (Note: I’m still stumbling along.)
  2. Adam’s Return. I actually just read this a couple years back, but this was one of my initial exposures to Richard Rohr. More significantly, however, this was a powerful description of mature, Biblical masculinity. Though I read a lot of the popular evangelical attempts at this (Wild at Heart being the most popular), there was something in them that didn’t ring true to me. I could understand the barbarian/warrior metaphors but I also felt like they had a tendency to be destructive in my life. Rohr takes masculinity to the place where it most needs to go: to the cross and into the baptismal waters with Christ, and shows how our masculinity needs to be transformed—particularly in the vein of ego surrender and death to self—so that we can grow (old?) gracefully.
  3. The Illumined Heart. This little book was my introduction to the Eastern Orthodoxy. It was also a pretty significant step forward in my quest for a practical spirituality, an approach to faith that can be lived out in every day life.
  4. Surprised by Hope. Though I’d read a couple NT Wright books before, this was really the first one that catalyzed my understanding of his theology and started to re-shape my own. To be brief, Wright refutes the “practical gnosticism” in the church today that states that our ultimate destination is some kind of disembodied heaven. Wright reminds us that the Biblical view is that of resurrection. Our bodies matter; this world matters. When you understand that the point is not for us to be burned up, or that God’s just not going to throw the earth onto a trash heap, you realize that what you do now—whether it’s justice or art, discipleship, or service—has implications into eternity.
  5. The Divine Conspiracy. This book is a bit deep, and not always the easiest read, but this book planted inside me the revolutionary truth that Jesus wants to live his life through me. Spirituality is not “out there”, and Christianity is not something that is only lived through “special people” or “holy lives.” Rather, my life, right now, is where God wishes to take up residence.

So there they are. If you’re looking to open yourself up to some new ideas and/or new approaches to God and spirituality, I challenge you to dig into one (or more) of these.

Let me know how that works out for you…

Beck Spills Some Musical Truth

“It’s never for the glory, it’s for the satisfaction of blowing up a gig. a lot of people are satisfied with a video. Those who aren’t satisfied with a video will buy the album, and then there’s a few who get the album who will go to the show. That’s where it’s human beings, and that’s what we live for. That’s where it gets sick. If it’s all on video or all on record everything is proper and everyone is minding their manners. We like to get in there and cause a commotion. That’s music; that’s the way it’s meant to be.” Beck.

I love this quote. It actually came off of a show called Sessions at West 54th that used to air back in the 90s. It featured really great bands and musicians  playing absolutely live and in the round. It was an intimate venue that allowed great artists to put killer abilities on display.

At some level I will always be a live musician. I used to be intimidated by the studio, but got over that fear (thanks to a lot of work with a metronome, amongst other things), but it still always comes down to the live event, the exchange of sweat and blood and volume and energy that happens when you’re just pouring it out on a stage, and people are soaking it up and nodding their heads up and down and moving with energy. It’s always great to just let the moment take you, to throw aside perfection in favor of the power of a moment.

That’s still where it’s at.

Moses died.

Deuteronomy—and particularly the end of that book—is one of my favorite sections of the Bible. I find it fascinating.

Moses is THE man of God. THE prophet. Even the end of Deuteronomy says that there’s never been a prophet in Israel since him. No one since has seen God’s face.

(Now, Jesus changes all of this, but that’s another story.)

But what’s so fascinating about Deuteronomy is that Moses knows he’s going to die, and this is his “curtain call.” He is LITERALLY standing on the edge of the land of Canaan, the “Promised Land,” and Israel is about to enter.

But not him.

Because of a lack of judgment, a bad decision, etc., Moses will not be entering in with the people. God has told him that he will die on the border.

I try to put myself in Moses’ shoes: I’d be so angry and hurt. Faithful for how long: 40 years? 50?

Confronting Pharaoh, THE leader of THE super power…

Leading people out of slavery with no plan or map except YHWH will go with us…

Adminstering justice to an entire people…

Navigating years in the wilderness…

But God says, “no.”

To my mind, this simply isn’t fair.

My world doesn’t work this way.

I wonder if Moses railed against God. I wonder if he second guessed him. I wonder if he went to Lifeway and bought books about discerning God’s will because, “This just doesn’t make any sense.”

I wonder if decided (a la the prosperity gospel) that he just didn’t have enough faith. Did he send some money to Osteen to show that he really did believe?

I guess not.

In what’s one of the most amazing passages in the Bible, God guides Moses up the mountain and he gets a vision of “the whole land” that Israel will possess.

(Israel doesn’t even get this vision of the whole land; human perspective doesn’t allow for that.)

But then Moses—in defiance of our “bigger and better ministry”; the prosperity gospel; the idea that we always see the trend line go up and to the right—lays down and dies.

He is “gathered to his ancestors”. (What a beautiful phrase.)

Moses’ acceptance and submission of his reality is an amazing challenge to me. I think of how much I am attached too, the results that I think I “must” have.

The story of Moses reminds me that I may not see the end of many (any?) of the stories I write. And that’s okay.

PS Deuteronomy 34 tells us that the LORD—YHWH himself—buries Moses. What a statement of intimacy and friendship!

I guess in the end, Moses doesn’t get to see the “mission” completed, but the relationship he has with his God stays intact and thriving to the very end.

Words, Pt. 3: “Confess”

In a way, “confess” isn’t all that difficult to understand. At its heart, it simply means to agree with. 

Put into a spiritual (Christian) setting, it most often has to do with our brokenness, our limitations, our “sin.”

If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just an will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

On the surface, this all seems fairly straightforward.

However, if you delve just a little bit deeper into the human psyche and our spirituality, a deeper and fuller implication of “confess” begins to emerge.

For those of us who make some sort of practice of “confession”, it’s easy to keep things at a “just-me-and-Jesus” level. This form of spirituality means that confession remains largely in the realm of a personal, private, individualistic spirituality: we mess up, we confess to God, and then we go on with our lives, reminded that we are forgiven and loved.

The only problem with this approach is that it leaves our pride largely intact. 

More than ever, I think that pride is the thing that hamstrings us more than anything else. It’s the brokenness that keeps us from  admitting that we are not, in fact, “all that,” and that we actually need some help. 

When “confession” is relegated to the private sphere, the “stronghold” of pride is unchecked.

This form confession doesn’t really demand anything of us.

So what’s the alternative?

Simply put, consider inviting someone else into your confession, into your brokenness. 

Make your confession a three-way affair: you, God, and another human being: someone who is able to see you at your (almost?) worst, with warts and all.

In this way, “confession” becomes a powerful weapon in the war against our pride.

The various 12 Step traditions (AA, etc.) have long since understood how important it is for human beings to deal with their pride, and maybe it’s time for the church to recover some of what it has lost over time: namely the discipline of confession.

I’m not calling for the installation of confession booths in evangelical churches, but I think it would be worth it to see our pride dismantled and shattered as we bare our souls to each other.

(Note: Confession like this does not need to be shame-based. The point is never to shame someone into worshiping. Rather, the point of confession is to embrace humility, which is ultimately just being “right-sized” in the world: human beings are seldom the worst of the worst, but they are also not without brokenness. Confession is simply a way that we remind ourselves that we are ultimately human, and therefore imperfect. Or maybe even better: that we are imperfect, and therefore ultimately human.)

When the Weather Can Radically Change Your Life

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain www.wikipedia.org

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain http://www.wikipedia.org

A couple of my favorite “odd” history books were written by a guy named Erik Durschmied. One was called The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed HistoryThe other book was called The Weather Factor: How Nature Has Changed History. Both were about how seemingly “unrelated things” (random chance or weather patterns) can forever and unalterably change the course of history.

Before Jesus is crucified, he tells his followers that he is going to send them another “counselor” who will help them in a variety of ways (John 14-15). He’s talking here about the Holy Spirit, who comes in fantastic power in Acts 2, and at that point takes up residence in God’s people (the church). If you read Acts, and even most of Paul, you find that the Holy Spirit is really the thing for us today. It’s the presence of Jesus with us (and in us!), and is the power for the church to achieve his work in the world.

When the Spirit is at work in our lives, we are able to see more, be more, and do more than we would otherwise. As Paul says, this is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. 

And we have access to that.

Wha?

Sadly, it seems that most of us don’t even approach that level of power and freedom in our lives. Instead, we limp around in our sins, content to screw up, confess, and repent, and wonder when (or better yet, ifwe will ever “get better” and be able to live a life that we see occasionally in the New Testament: a life that can suffer gracefully, that can forgive lavishly, that can give freely, that can dream radically.

Where do we start to get that kind of life?

Recently, I heard a professor give this metaphor.

One of the Biblical images (and words) for the Spirit is “wind” (Hebrew ruach). Now, Wind has a pretty peculiar, but somewhat predictable, behavior. Weather systems are made up of “high pressure” and “low pressure” systems; these variable levels of pressure force weather and wind around the environment in a constantly moving and evolving system.

Now here’s the interesting part…

Weather, or “wind”, always flows from “high pressure to “low pressure. The absence of volume, or pressure causes air to flow—sometimes quite intensely—into the area of low pressure.

If you want the wind to flow into your life, you have to create a low pressure atmosphere in your life. 

So, what creates low pressure atmosphere?

You have to get rid of what’s occupying the space. 

You have to get rid of yourself. 

Self—our ego, our preoccupations, our demands, our agendas, etc., etc.—keeps our lives in a “high pressure situation.” There’s simply no room for the Spirit to come in.

This is repentance on a whole different level.

This a willing abandonment of our need for security, esteem, approval, and anything else apart from God.

Confess your sins? Yes.

Repent? Yes. Absolutely, but make sure your repentance involves an abandonment of your ego, and your demand to have your way in the world.

Then the wind can come in. Then the Spirit flows in. It’s as if God says, Finally, this is something—someone—I can work with.

… Like a Hurricane

Recently, I made a mistake.

A big one.

Those are enough details for now, but it left me thinking about love and forgiveness.

Now, my wife is not perfect, but repeatedly I’ve been blown away, overwhelmed, by her ability to forgive and love me in spite of my faults. She is a fierce lover, and when she is loyal, she is loyal. 

It’s a withering love. And it’s difficult to stand.

In the midst of this, I realized that there is something inside of me that absolutely wants to flee this kind of love. I have a hunch I’m not the only one. I have a theory that this condition is more human than I’d like to admit.

What is it inside of us that makes us flee this kind of acceptance?

It’s obviously similar to the love that Christ has for us/me. To look into the face of a love that is totally accepting and forgiving is excruciating sometimes. We want to hide and run because of all the bad that we have done, but there is something there that says we must stand in it and take it, like a fierce rainstorm.

That’s what love is. That’s what love can be… A hurricane. 

Love him, or hate him, Saint Paul must have learned to stand in that hurricane. Here was a man who had people—innocent people—killed, and then later sought those people out in community, as one of them. Moreover, before that he had to stand in the face of Jesus and accept that love.

He could stand in the face of that storm. He was no longer a man with blood on his hands, with the lives of men, women, and children (!) on his conscience. He was simply a man who was now “In Christ”, and was inviting others to experience this same storm.

I know I’m not naturally wired for it. It makes me want to hide, to go numb, to retreat.

I guess I’m TRYING to learn to withstand it, but it is difficult.

Musically speaking, not that it is anything like this:

But maybe, it’s a bit like this:

peace

2015 Lenten Reflections

Well, we survived.

(At least for the most part.)

We have walked our walk, and made the 40-day journey. It began with Ash on skin and ended with an empty tomb.

We have reflected and yearned, gone hungry and sat in silence.

Some of us have woken up to even new areas of our lives where we are still “in bondage.”

But it’s over. We’re done. It’s Easter now, and time to engage with the power of God’s Spirit in a “resurrection life.” I’ve written about that before, but what I wanted to do for now is to jot down a few notes about my own 40-day journey, and maybe hear from you about yours.

MY SACRIFICE

When we started this journey, I encouraged you guys to thoughtfully choose something to give up, to “limit yourselves” in some way…

… I also encouraged you all to keep it a secret. 

I did that. I didn’t really tell anyone about my fast; however, since we are on the other side now, here’s what I did..

I decided to give up all media. That meant that for 6 days a week I watched no TV, listened to no music or podcasts, and visited no “news or entertainment” websites. Now, I had to do some of this for my work, so exceptions had to be made from time to time, but for the most part I was able to make this work. In the time that I gained back from this, I tried to add more prayer, and more reading of spiritual/theological books. On the “seventh day”, I “feasted,” meaning I listened to and watched whatever I wanted for 24 hours.

Here’s what I learned:

NO JOURNEY IS PERFECT

It’s hard to keep this up! As I said, I have to take in some media for my job, and sometimes that spilled over into mindless surfing for a few minutes until I could re-center. Further, sometimes I had to make decisions to be with my family—who were watcing a show of some kind—rather than maintain my fast.

There are always bumps in the road, but you have to constantly re-adust, re-commit and keep pesevering. It’s not going to be perfect, but you can still finish. The point is to not give up. Stay on the journey.

It’s easy to live in an “all-or-nothing” mentality, but spiritually-speaking it ultimately won’t get you very far. Spirituality is seldom (if ever) about “all or nothing.” It’s about staying centered in the midst of failure and disappointment. It’s about continuing to move forward even when you haven’t been perfect. It’s in the “in-between” places that we tend to grow the most.

YOU’D BE SURPRISED WHAT YOU DON’T MISS

As I began to “quiet down”, I was shocked with how much I simply wasn’t missing. Normally, I’m pretty addicted (maybe that’s the key word) to news websites, Tumblr, NPR, ESPN, etc., etc., but as I began to lower those voices, I was shocked with how much I didn’t miss those voices.

My normal life—my everyday conversations, interactions and all the challenges that sometimes accompanies them—were plenty to occupy my mind.

Sure, I missed some “big stories” (that somehow seldom seem to be as big as they first appear to be), but by and large people caught me up as was necessary.

I really didn’t miss all that much, and this was actually pretty surprising.

FASTING SOMETIMES EXPOSES MORE NEED FOR FASTING

When I first pulled back from some of the media I was engaging in, I dove into some fun theology books. However, a week or two into my journey, I suddenly had a nagging thought: “You know, books are a form of media as well.”

Well now…

What I began to realize was that sometimes ”surrending and getting quiet before God means really surrendering and getting quiet before GOd.” 

It doesn’t mean reading more Henri Nouwen.

Pulling back just a little sometimes exposes our need to pull back even more. We discover new ways in which we are distracting ourselves and refusing to listen to the deepest voice in our souls, the One that is calling us to our deepest, truest self.

There’s probably more, deeper things that happened during my time in the desert, but they may take a little time for me to process (and I may not even share them all here), but those were just a couple of things that I learned.

What about you? What was your Lenten season like?