Advent 2021.14 – “Welcome Home”

First and foremost, advent is about time. It’s a season, a process of days and nights where we prepare our hearts and lives for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah.

But this morning I found myself thinking of Advent as a metaphorical place as well, and to the degree that Jesus’ arrival on earth really represents an arrival of God’s Kingdom, it kinda makes sense.

Though the Kingdom is not a physical place, so to speak (the Kingdom comes through the person, teachings and actions of Jesus), the image of a place sometimes helps me.

So let’s think about Advent as a place… A place (like the Kingdom) of hope, or peace, of love, of kindness and compassion.

And a place of “Something New.”

And this place comes every 365 days because, well, I need a repetition of newness, because the “Old” (meaning, the way the world always seems to work) has a pull on me. So I need this reoccurring Advent to help me jettison the baggage I tend to accumulate over the year, and also to help me keep practicing living in, or “putting on”, this newness.

Advent reminds me that, as much good and beauty there is in the this world—and Im trying to get better at finding and recognizing it—there is still another place that calls to me and beckons me.

Like a home.

This place is not really “heaven”. Again, let’s call it what Jesus calls it: “The Kingdom.”

So there is this Kingdom, this place where Jesus Messiah rules and reigns for God, in love and compassion, in “Shalom.”

That Kingdom is the place that I believe that ultimately I’m fit for, though I’m still preparing myself for it.

Every once in a while, I get a taste of this new place, and when I do it feels like coming home in the best possible way.

The new place says, “Rest”

… It says, “You are loved just as you are,

It says, “Come in and sit down and tell me everything”

It says, “All is well and all will be well” (Or in more contemporary and groovy terms, “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz everything little thing is gonna be alright..”)

It’s a place of connection, of roundedness, of laughter and celebration, and as I said, I have tasted it. The taste seldom lasts that long, but …

*I have been there. *

But the strangest thing happens.

Even though I recognize this place as “home,” and my soul truly does find significant rest there, I also tend to leave it.

By my own choice.

Because ironically—paradoxically—while I am drawn to it and I hunger for it, there’s a part of me that feels uncomfortable there, and so I choose to leave and go back to “old places” that I unfortunately tend to know a little better.

Places of performance, of comparison, of jealousy and envy, of doubt, of resentment… of pain.

This is an odd thing.

So… This Advent comes around once a year to remind me of the New Place, and to give me an opportunity, once again, to practice living in the New Place—the Kingdom.

To imagine it. To reignite my understanding and vision of what life in the New Place could be.

To also think about what holds me back, or draws me back to the old place, and to practice (again, that word) leaving behind all of the things, beliefs, and values that are no longer necessary in the New Place.

It’s not that these things, beliefs, and values are all “bad”, much less “evil.” It’s just that they are not needed in The Kingdom.

What a celebration! What a reality!

Living in this New Place; living in God’s Kingdom, NOW. A gift: We get to try on the Kingdom of God, now.

(And all this without physically dying.)

Living into a new reality. With new values, new understandings, new behaviors.

So this Advent, let me say, “Welcome Home.”

Advent 2021.13 – The Necessity of a Baby

A friend of mine was telling me a story of a time he was at a conference, and he heard a preacher/speaker say that if Jesus came through the door right then that everyone one in the room would immediately fall to their knees, overcome with his might and majesty.

Just a couple days ago I was listening to the last episode of the podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” and I heard Mark Driscoll say something similar. Referring to an image of Jesus out of Revelation (an interpretation that I’d probably disagree with), Driscoll remarked that beating Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman troops before his execution was “the last beating he would ever take,” and that when Jesus came back (again from an image in the book of Revelation), he’d be like a bad-ass, avenging angel.

Well.

For a long time, I probably thought and believed the same way. I read the same passages in Revelation, and had similar reactions. There was a part of me that struggled to reconcile Jesus as the very presence of God on earth with the suffering, the meekness, the weakness that he seemed to willing embrace in the gospels.

(He displayed extraordinary courage, faith, and conviction as well, but that’s another story for another day.)

But I realize now that my ideas about God, Jesus, and in particular ”power and strength” were clouded by a limited understanding.

For me, I’ve come to understand that, actually, to be God is to be willing to empty yourself, to be weak.

Maybe to be “strong,” in a Biblical sense is to be unafraid of weakness.

Saint Paul writes about this idea in Philippians, when he says that precisely because Jesus was God, he did not consider himself equal to God.

If Jesus would have been less than God, he would have grasped at a human conception of “God,” including power, strength, might (and probably a strong tendency to “smite enemies”).

But that’s not who Jesus is. And it’s not who God is.

And, by God’s definition, it’s not what power is.

What’s the point?

First, the point is that if Jesus walked into a room that you were in, I’m not sure you’d fall over, struck by laser beam lights.

(Actually, you it’s entirely possible you would not even notice that he walked in.)

But if you did notice him, you’d probably be aware of how much space he made for people. How he was unafraid of letting others talk.

Because power like this is utterly unafraid of what I call “weakness.”

Second, the point is that, in light of all of this, how could God not choose to show up on earth in all of the vulnerability of a human baby, utterly dependent on his mother for food and nourishment, needing others for his protection.

Makes me think.

Advent 2021.12 – This Advent Will Not Fix Me

As much as I’ve enjoyed writing (and thanks to all of you who have encouraged me), I need to remember that this Advent will not fix me.

I can think of Advent as a tool, something that is useful for me, but the in and of itself the tool will not fix me.

I can read my Advent devotional, and go on and on about the church calendar, and better Bible interpretation, and better theology…

But none of that will fix me.

I can pick up all the tools of spiritual transformation, but if my heart is not willingly surrendered, they won’t work, at least that much.

Before all the tools, I have to acknowledge—as deeply as I can, on a soul-level—that there is no way that I can fix myself.

Though I pick up the tools, I must remember that it is God’s Spirit that fixes me, shapes me, molds me.

There is a tremendous humility in that, and I have to come back to it over and over and over again.

Advent 2021.5 – Time to Get Started

One thing that I like about Advent is that it actually marks the beginning of the calendar of the church.

Time is an important thing. Some say it’s the most prized currency (along with our attention) of the age.

Culturally, we are arriving at the end of the year.

Spiritually, this is our beginning. Our start.

And I live in this “in-between” space, with culture on one hand and my spiritual life on the other.

So as I watch things wind down and prepare for the marking of another year, I am also starting a journey of Spirit. Advent, to Epiphany, to Lent, to Pentecost, and on and on.

For me, this spiritual journey, this different rhythm is important.

I am not simply a child of this culture. I am a child of the Church, born of Spirit.

This Advent, as a marker of “beginning” I decided to start another one year Bible reading plan.

(I just completed a two-year cycle of lectionary readings, which took me through most of the Bible in two years, and also repeating the Psalms roughly every month or so. This year, I’m again using the “M’Cheyne Plan”, which will take me through all of the Old Testament once, and the Psalms and all of the New Testament twice.)

So instead of starting my reading plan on Jan 1, I began it on November 28.

Pro Tip: It’s not too late to start something for yourself.

Advent 2021.3 – Opposites

Depending on what Christian tradition you grew up in, each week in Advent represents something different. Mostly I grew up with some version of: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love (four weeks).

These are all “warm, fuzzy” words. Everyone nods their heads and says, “Yeah, those are great ideas.”

But an examination of my own life would show that actually trying to live these out is another thing altogether.

It’s actually pretty difficult to try to make words and concepts like hope, peace, joy, and love some kind of guiding lights and principles for living.

So much so that it’s tempting to dismiss them as impossible, impractical, and out of touch with reality.

But think about the opposites.

What if Advent was about preparing for a Kingdom of despair and cynicism (for hope), strife and war (for peace), bitterness and anxiety (for joy), and fear and hatred (for love)?

Just listing those out is a wake-up call for me, because well, I find myself easily slipping into those attitudes on a daily basis.

What’s more, sometimes it seems like the voices of the culture around me (coming from all sides of the political aisle) actually encourages and endorses those “Advent opposites.”

But for me the idea of living in despair, strife, bitterness, anxiety, fear, etc. is really not a life a want.

So today—again—I’ll choose the Advent of Jesus. The Advent of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Advent of the Kingdom of God.

Something New (ish)

(Sent this out via Facebook yesterday because I was having some technology issues.)

Hey all

First of all, I wanted to say thanks to all of you for being so generous with your time and attention, and choosing to read my thoughts and scribblings over the years!

I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be trying some new content out over these next weeks and months; I would love for you to be a part of this new season with me!

To begin with, I’m going to be experimenting more with some audio teaching. It may evolve into a podcast, but for now, feel free to give this a listen. It’s a short reflection piece on Jeremiah 29

In addition—just because you’re awesome—I’ve recorded a cover of a song that has been a real blessing to me for the last year or so. Check it out over on my YouTube channel (or just click here). 

Lastly, I wanted to let you know that I have a record coming out in just a week or so. It’s a collection of eight new songs, and I can’t wait to share them with you! Keep tabs on the release date (like everything else in our world right now, things like shipping times are a little up in the air) through my Facebook Page and/or Instagram

There will be some more exciting changes coming soon, so stay tuned, but for now please just know that I’m grateful for all of you who have taken the time to read and comment through the years. 

Take care!

What Works for Me, Part 7: Into My Life

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to lay out, in simple terms, the core components and ideas of my spirituality. While it probably seems overly-simplistic to a lot of folks, I’m currently finding that the best things are actually quite simple (though they are seldom “easy”), and their simplicity helps combat my deep tendency to overly-complicate things.

So, to wrap up everything, I’d like to just describe, more or less, how I live it out during a typical day. (Though it can be debated if there’s any such thing as a “typical day”, I’m a creature of habit, so I try very hard to “hard-bake” these activities into my life. I believe that they put me in the best position to make it from day to day, to give me the best chance to have meaningful connections with other people, to contribute to the world in meaningful ways, and to be just a little bit better today than I was yesterday).

Again, not much of this routine is complicated or complex; they are just simple activities and behaviors repeated over time, with a certain degree of intentionality and focus.

MORNING

My morning starts pretty much the same each day: I get up around 4:30AM, I make myself a cup of coffee with my AeroPress, drink about 8 ounces of water, and then go sit down at my desk. I do a very brief reading (takes usually less than 45 seconds), and then I immediately go into a 20 minute session of centering prayer.

If you’re not familiar with centering prayer I would definitely encourage you to investigate it. I struggled with prayer my entire life until I discovered this method, and it has helped me experience God more deeply. Without going into the specifics of the technique, the GOAL of centering prayer is for me to surrender my life and my will over to the power of God as best and as completely as I can.

(And, in case you’re wondering, I have virtually never had a problem with spending 20 minutes in silent prayer before 5AM. I can’t explain it, but somehow I remain alert and focused, even at this early hour.)

After that I do a quick session of journaling (based loosely on the 5-Minute Journal, but a little more streamlined). Basically I write (by hand-I try to stay off of screens entirely during the morning hours) the date, a quote or song lyric that I may have woke up with, 2-3 gratitudes, my intention for the day (usually something like “humility”, or “peace,” or “openness”), and then the absolute priorities for my life, which are currently (1) recovery, (2) family, and (3) vocation.

After that I will review my calendar for the day, do a brief creative writing exercise, and maybe so a small amount of spiritual reading, but then I go out to the kitchen and see if there’s anything I can clean up or put away before anyone else gets up. It’s an easy way that I can get out of my own head, and begin to serve others at an early part of my day.

EVENING

To be honest, I have always struggled to maintain a SET and established “reset” time in the afternoon and evening. I’m making progress, but I still have a ways to go in getting the habit and routine cemented into my life. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that these “PM Resets” are absolutely critical for me in my life every day, so I am striving to implement an afternoon session of Centering Prayer—or at least a period of intentional silence—around 4 or 4:30 every day, and then also an end of day reflection/evaluation (sometimes called an “Examen” in other faith traditions).

Towards the end of my day (but ideally before I get in bed), I just constructively review my day. I take a few deep breaths, and with a posture of gratitude and acceptance, I run through everything I did throughout the day, including the people I met, the places I went and the things I did, but ALSO my emotional reactions and even my intentions. I make little notes in my journal as I go of anything that stands out, both bad and—critically for me—good.

I also ask myself a few basic questions:

  • Was I kind and loving to everyone?
  • Was I mindful of others, and of how I could serve them?
  • Was I self-centered?
  • Was I focused on myself?
  • Do I owe an apology to anyone? (If I do, I try to write that down and address the situation as soon as I can the next day, if not sooner.)

Where I have struggled, I ask God to help me do better. Where I have managed to be reasonably loving and others-centered, I express gratitude.

It’s important for me to not do this in such a way that triggers any shame. Instead, what I am looking for is an HONEST evaluation—good and bad—of my existence during my day, and then a tangible action (asking God to help me do better, or making an apology, or celebrating, etc.)

After this, I am usually able to go to bed with a clear conscience and a sense that I have “sealed this day”, and can rest and prepare for the next one.

THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Between my set times of prayer and reflection, I seek to monitor myself as I move through my day. When I am wrong, I simply admit it (QUICKLY), apologize if necessary, and move on.

(NOTE: Without fail I encounter people and situationswho are frustrating to me. When I can, I need to remember that I cannot control others’ behavior and reactions. I CAN ONLY CONTROL MYSELF, so it’s up to me to monitor ME, not them. On one hand, this is incredibly difficult to do, because I have to release my desire to control others’ behavior. On the other hand, this is incredibly liberating, because it means that I always have SOMETHING that I can do to “deal with” any situation.)

So on the whole, this is what works for me. It’s simple, it’s easy, and anyone can do it. Not everyone does, but that’s okay. It’s saving ME, and I hear rumors from family and friends that it ACTUALLY may be working—that I really am, somehow, becoming slightly less self-centered, slightly less angry, slightly less fearful, and more compassionate, more gentle, more kind.

And I will take that.

For Today, Just This

We like to believe that salvation and forgiveness happens in Jerusalem, at the cross (and then in the empty tomb).

However, the ancients—the fathers and mothers of my faith tradition—knew a secret that I tend to forget (and that the modern church neglects to remind me):

My salvation begins with the arrival of God in human form. When the Creator chooses to enter fully into the broken, limited, imperfect form of His creation, something powerful has happened:

Namely, that nothing in my life—no brokenness, or imperfection, or bad choice—can keep God from me.

(And this happens BEFORE I speak any words of regret, or contrition!)

When God chooses to take on human form, He declares: I can deal with human life; I do not need to condemn it, or reject it. I accept it, so that it can be changed into something more powerful and beautiful than anyone can imagine.

I wish I could say it better than John Chrysostom, but I cannot. These words haunt me, encourage me, challenge me, and remind me that I am ALREADY saved

You could do a lot worse today (or over the next few days) than to just sit with these words and their meaning:

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side—a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

To Him, then who out of confusion has wrought a clear path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom (349-407), “The Joys of Christmas” (emphasis added)

Merry Christmas everyone.

What Came With Abram

The Bible is filled with story after story of men and women following the Voice of God—either literally or metaphorically—into places of ambiguity, trust and surrender.

Mostly it begins with Abram who is told to leave his family and his father’s household and to go a land God will “show him” (Genesis 12).

And, almost unbelievably, Abram decides to go for it and trust the Voice.

But you know what else came with Abram?

HIMSELF.

I don’t know what all Abram left behind in his father’s house, but I can guarantee that what he did NOT leave behind was his own brokenness.

If Abram was self-righteous and greedy in Ur, he was self-righteous and greedy all the way to Canaan.

If he was given to anger and isolation in Ur, he took that with him to Canaan.

It’s tempting to think that we can change something “out there”—even in the name of FOLLOWING GOD—and so fix the problems that have plagued us (and therefore, plagued the ones around us), but that’s not really the way life works.

And “the way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

Because, you see, the problem is not “out there”, with our circumstances, our job, our family, our grouchy co-workers, fellow students or friends.

No, the problem is “in here,” in OUR hearts and souls.

Which come with us no matter where we go.

The bad news is that there is no place too far that we can go to get away from ourselves.

The good news is that no matter where we go, we always have an OPPORTUNITY to work on the problem.

There is deep, deep spiritual wisdom in the idea that whenever I’m disturbed, the problem is with ME, not with anyone else, or what’s going on around me. I have to examine MY heart, MY soul and mind, in order to regain my peace so that I may be of service to God and to others.

Because Rumi.

Haven’t written anything here for a while….

No excuses (so don’t look for any) … 

My sleep is slowly returning to normal, which also means that I’m beginning to wake up, on my own, quite early. 

I love the early morning dark. 

(I find that morning “I just woke up” darkness is so much different than night-time “I’m up WAY too late” darkness.)

Anyway, read this as the sun was coming up: 

The whole early is a form for truth.
When someone does not feel grateful
to that, the forms appear to be as he feels.
They mirror his anger, his greed, and his fear.
Make peace with the universe. Take joy in it.

It will turn to gold. Resurrection
will be now. Every moment,
a new beauty. -“Green Ears”

Loved that. I’m trying to make peace with the universe. I know that’s where the resurrection is, where the beauty is.