How to win…a post by Tom

“God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.” –Marcus Borg

“How to win” seems to dominate our attention be it sports, business, war, politics, an argument, or just in general the game of life. We all want to be happy, successful, secure, significant, competent, in control, and affirmed. These are not bad in and of themselves but when “winning” these becomes our emotional program for happiness, we are headed for trouble.

The cross shows us God’s way of winning his ultimate prize…us, the bride of Christ. He is with us in our darkest hour. When faced with our sin, He refuses to fight or flee but instead absorbs our alienation with an unconditional embrace of love. That is how God wins which is validated in the resurrection. That is also how you and I win which is validated in our relationships.  After all, the quality of our relationships determine the quality of our lives. As a chaplain, I can’t tell you the number of stories where people at the end of life spoke most highly of those relationships with people who were with them in their worst moments. These were the winning relationships. So let’s look again at the quote from Marcus Borg from three winning perspectives:

How God wins for us

  1. “God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.”

How God wins for me

  1. God is with me in my horror, my terror, my violence, and my suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for me.

How God wins for you through me!

  1. I am with you in your horror, your terror, your violence, and your suffering. I refuse to add to the evil and violence, but instead respond with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for you through me.

Say anything…a post by Tom

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

-Job 7:1-4, 6-7

 

Are these the words of a believer? Thankfully yes! These are words spoken by a man described in chapter one verse one as blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. How refreshing it is to know that even the best experience these low lows and can sometimes exegete life experiences just as well as an atheistic deadbeat poet. Yesterday I visited a friend dying of cancer. He has six months to live and is anxious to meet the Lord. He is a man of faith, hope, and love. At one point in the conversation he expressed that he was afraid his positivity and hope would run dry. He was afraid his witness would be compromised and so he asked me to tell him if I ever thought he was faking it. I gave him permission not to fake it and not to be cheery in the face of death. I gave him permission to say anything. Job gives us this permission. How refreshing to know that our relationship with God does not depend on us. When death calls, our Savior will carry us across the threshold regardless of how we think or feel. I suppose it is like me carrying my kids to bed. Sometimes they are kicking and screaming and other times they are peaceful and calm, neither case changes my love for them. How refreshing to know that when it comes to God I can say anything. What do you need to say today?

Who knew?…a post by Tom

The spiritual life is not easy. Our false self does not go down without a fight, and one to the death. This is a really inconvenient battle to wage when it is challenging enough to just live life.  Who really knew what we were signing up for in following Jesus and taking this journey seriously? Who really knew that the path would evolve and feel more like death and descent? The One Who guides us knows. Others who have gone before know. Be encouraged by the following quote from Joseph Benner an American Protestant mystic who seems to know.

You, My Beloved, who have consecrated yourself to Me, and are bending every effort to find union with Me, but instead have found apparently that every prop of the World’s support has been withdrawn or is being withdrawn, and that you are without money and without friends, and know not where to turn for human help.

Learn, My Blessed One, that you are very, very, close now, and that if you will only continue to abide in Me, letting my Word abide in you and guide you, resting and trusting absolutely in My Promise, I will very soon bring to you a Joy, a Fulfillment, a Peace, that human words and human minds cannot possibly picture.

For you have obeyed My Commands, and have trusted Me, and have sought first My Kingdom and My Righteousness, and therefore will I add all other things unto you, even those the World has denied you.

-Joseph Benner, The Impersonal Life

Here’s mud in your eye!…a post by Tom

“And who is he sir, that I may believe in him?  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you. He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.” – John 9:36-38

This past Sunday’s gospel reading from John 9:1-41 featured a beautiful and comical account of a man born blind healed by Jesus. The disciples inquired as to whether this man sinned or his parents so as to cause his malady. Jesus corrected their bad theology by saying his infirmity wasn’t divine retribution but divine opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus then spits on the ground and mixes mud and saliva, which is then smeared on the blind man’s eyes. This action was considered pagan, gross, shocking, and earthy. Yet this is the salve that Jesus uses to open the man’s sight. The story goes on to chronicle how troublesome this was to the religious leaders who thought they clearly saw God’s truth. They excommunicated the healed man because of his testimony. It was only after his excommunication that Jesus formally introduces Himself. Jesus came to give sight to the blind and expose the blindness of those who think they see.

We are born spiritually blind and stumble about trying to find happiness. We are prone to bad theology where infirmities are thought to be God’s punishment for sin. We are religiously sleepwalking. Often our spiritual awakening comes through gross, shocking, and earthy experiences whereby we are jolted by life. Life seems to spit and then rub dirt in our faces, sometimes to the degree that we feel like the mud soaked man in the blog picture!  Our spiritually blind egocentric vision for our lives is obstructed so we can then see the truth of God.  The cross is a shockingly grotesque, seemingly pagan (child sacrifice?), and earthy way to open our eyes to our condition, God’s beauty, and love for us. We know we see when we can strangely find beauty in such suffering. Mysteriously some of us don’t formally meet Jesus until after getting expelled or excommunicated from the religious tribes who claim to know. As the saying goes, “those who say do not know and those who know do not say.” I am also reminded of a quote from The Little Prince… “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Butterfly effect…a post by Tom

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

—Dean Jackson

God’s first revelation is nature.  In nature’s cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see the gospel in action right in front of us.  Our spiritual journey is no different, we must journey through stages of order, disorder, and reorder.  The journey of Jesus was meant to be followed and not just worshipped.   Leaning into our own order, disorder, and reorder while trusting the process when we are in unknown spiritual territory takes courage. Let’s learn from the journey of the butterfly and relate this to our own path.

A butterfly goes through four stages of life egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  To cross from one stage to the next involves great risk and change. A person on the spiritual path also goes through stages with each stage having a different goal.  Often these stages are separated by a dark night or crisis of faith which involve creative risk.

The first egg stage: tiny eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf as the caterpillar larva is protected and growing inside its membrane.  If we are lucky, we are born into a Christian home and given the protection and teaching to develop our childish and childlike faith.  If not, we find ourselves saddled with a spiritual restlessness and desiring we know not what nor where to find it.  Perhaps we find our way to a faith community that can do what our homes did not.

The second larva stage: when the egg hatches a larva emerges and has only one goal…to eat.  The larva grows into a fat juicy caterpillar. On the spiritual path, one could call this the conversion.  We are awakened to the gospel and have a personal encounter with Jesus.  We have hatched!  Now we have an insatiable hunger to know more and all we want to do is learn, learn, and learn.  This is the time when we can’t take in enough podcasts, sermons, Bible studies and church.  We amass theology and data about being a follower of Jesus.  And just like the heavy caterpillar, we might take ourselves very seriously and be heavy with self preoccupation. Most of us think this is the end game and most churches park the bus here, but there is more.

The third pupa stage: when the larva stops growing, it stops eating and then forms a chrysalis. This is a mysterious stage of development because from the outside it looks like the pupa is doing nothing, perhaps dead.  However, inside the cocoon the pupa is literally being digested and reformed into a butterfly.  The old parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a radical transformation or metamorphosis. On the spiritual path there comes a point when we have had enough with the Bible studies, prayer groups, sermons, and talking heads.  We may even think we are losing our faith.  From the outside it looks like the person has backslidden or fallen into unbelief.  However, inside the person is learning the contemplative path and resting in union with God beneath thoughts, imagination, and feelings.  Ask them to explain what is going on and they can’t. The mother and fathers of the church have called this ‘quies’ or holy resting.  The person just wants to rest in silence and solitude in the loving embrace of God.  The old parts of one’s religious heritage and beliefs are being digested and brought into a higher or fuller realization.  Symbols take on new meaning and belief systems become pointers to the mystery rather than an explanation of mystery.

The fourth butterfly stage:  when the pupa is done forming it hatches from the cocoon through a breathtaking process and a butterfly emerges.  The butterfly must struggle to emerge from the previous stage and then flap its vulnerable and soft wings to get the blood flowing into them.  Once it has rested and gotten the wings to cooperate, it flies!  The mission now is reproduction.  On the spiritual path we must put our contemplation into action.  We might have to break out of the denominational traditions we were brought up.  We might have to break free of limiting relationships and theology.  We will most certainly have to break free of our family system and cultural conditioning.  We graduate from first half of life spirituality into second half.  This takes enormous effort and struggle to emerge into a world and sometimes a religious landscape that doesn’t value contemplatives.  We dare to fly because now we have learned to take ourselves…lightly.   It is for freedom Christ set us free!  Our mission then is to help others in their own transformation.

Surely God is in this place…a post by Tom

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ –Genesis 28:16

Jacob was on the run from his brother who wanted to kill him. Jacob whose name means ‘deceiver’ had maneuvered himself into the patriarchal blessing and birthright by tricking his Dad and also taking advantage of his brother. As he was fleeing and making his way to his Uncle’s house he stopped to rest. It was in this vulnerable and exposed ‘in between space’ that he had a fantastic dream and awoke to his conclusion that God was there! He then called that space Bethel which means house of God.

The human condition is on the run. Plagued with fear, manipulation, maneuvering, and trickery we are running from something. We think we have to fool our way into God’s good graces and blessings. In doing so we make a mess of our lives and end up running from what is essential. Yet the funny and sad truth is that what we are running from and looking for is the same thing!

Sometimes it is in these ‘liminal’ spaces when we are in between relationships, jobs, locations, religions, political beliefs, or whatever that we actually stop to rest. It is in these spaces that we are finally vulnerable and exposed and God can get at us! What does he want to get at us with? His love and reminder of our birthright and blessing! We are the beloveds no matter what and His promises aren’t related to our behavior but to an unconditional covenant cut with Abraham by grace through faith and made reality through Jesus. It is our big brother Jesus, not Esau, who is chasing us to remind us of our birthright and blessing!

The shocking revelation of the New Testament is that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit a walking and breathing Bethel. That in each and every eternal moment God is in this place! The issue is that I am too preoccupied to know it. Thank God for those liminal spaces where this can be revealed. May I encounter each moment with childlike wonder and awe that God is in this place, especially when I am on the run.

Dark Night…a post by Tom

Jeremiah 20:7 (ESV)

                        O Lord, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

                        you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

                        I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

 

This is not what the prophet Jeremiah signed up for. He was doing everything he thought he was supposed to be doing. He was following God. He was getting pounded in the process. I love Jeremiah’s unabashedly bold and emotional words of honesty. It is one thing to feel that Satan has deceived you but God? Wow. This is truly a place of ultimate defeat and undoing. God has won and there are no moves left. Check mate.

Real growth happens in the dark. The seed must shed its protective covering and venture out exposed and vulnerable into the unknown. Intuitively being led to the surface it must grow through the darkness, the decomposing plant material, manure, and bugs. Was this what the seed signed up for when it dangled in the beautiful tree dancing in the sun and breeze? What was known inside the safe cocoon must be set aside. It must evolve and change at all costs or else Life will not go on.

All of us establish ways of relating to God that work in the beginning. But then this gets dramatically shifted. The Bible reading, prayers, songs, and relationships no longer feed the soul. Is something wrong or is something right? For sure something is being shed and something is being solidified. We might even feel ‘deceived’ by God because we thought we were doing the right thing and now everything seems so wrong. This is what is so unnerving about the Dark Night. The equation for life changes at a very profound level. Something is happening and we don’t have the categories for naming it and I can no longer hold my present experience. I must now be held. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”