Real Butter…a post by Tom

Recently I journeyed with a 100-year-old woman as she neared death. When she died the family shared memories and reflections on her storied life. I find it fascinating how people focus in and remember the small things over the big. One of the grandchildren, of whom she was particularly fond, recalled going over to her grandma’s small apartment for movie night to eat popcorn made with REAL BUTTER. The grandmother did not have much materially speaking. She lived alone and worked as a waitress. However, when her grandkids came over she used REAL BUTTER! The children were accustomed to margarine at home but with grandma there was REAL BUTTER and this was astonishingly good and decadent.  The granddaughter, a successful professional on the West Coast, flew in and couldn’t stop talking about butter.  Among other things her candy dish was also exquisitely stocked with very good hard candies, the kind with fancy crinkly wrappers. These are the small lavish touches that can change everything. What are the ways we can reflect God extravagance towards us for others? How can we be lavish toward loved ones in small simple ways? Do we have to let a scarcity mentality dominate even our popcorn? It is in the small things that our lavishness or stinginess can shine. When it comes to us, God uses REAL GRACE lavishly.

Ephesians 1:7

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.

Escaping the Matrix…a post by Jim

 

God created us to be a complex mix of biology and experience. We are embodied souls who have minds that inevitably draw us into relationships. Gregory Boyd calls this complex interface a matrix (Escaping the Matrix). He explains what he means by saying, biologically, we are given billions of neurons that connect via trillions of neuro synapsis. We are also given the manner by which the brain is constructed to function (e.g. neurons firing together wire together). God created us this way and it is “very good” (and incredibly complex!).

Now what gets registered in our God-given neuro structures occurs within and through our relational experience with our world and particularly with other persons. The most primitive structuring of the neuro system is organized emotionally around experiences. It is the foundation for our earliest representation of ourselves and others and our outside world (i.e. how I see me, how I see you, how I see you seeing me). This takes place in and through our relationships be they safe (which leads to trust) or unsafe (which leads to mistrust).

Through our primitive emotional experiences and representations structured in early neuro mapping we are also learning, within this early mapping, our relational strategies of engaging others (i.e. primary attachment patterns). Our earliest neuro mapping is prior to the development of conscious cognitive self-reflection. It relies on our emotional experiences within our key relationships and becomes our ‘script’ for how we do relationships.

Because the nature of neurological mapping within our emergent self is so profoundly influenced by our emotional experience, to expect mere cognitive notions to be the fundamental means of transformation is ‘misguided’ (in light of God’s foundational created order of the human soul). So when we think about transformation we are entering the world of memory and imagination and emotion. There simply must be a new and better ‘order’ of things that captures our souls with its astounding beauty. And we must have experiences that re-order the false representations that we have inevitably developed in a fallen world.

This is where the Gospel story of God pursuing and drawing us to himself in Christ becomes crucial for change. IN Christ a ‘new’ order has come, changing the distorted reality of the fallen (created) order of things. IN Christ we can escape the old matrix of mistrust and distorted representations (e.g. of what ‘father’ means to us if we had a difficult dad). IN Christ we are introduced to the true reality of God being FOR us. IN Christ we find ourselves in the new community of faith that re-presents our deepest images of what it means to be loved and valued.

I Desire therefore I Am…a post by Jim

“What do you want me to do for you?” This was Jesus’ question to the blind man. Why ask that question. Isn’t it obvious what the man would want? It is. But Jesus asks about his desire because he knows it is critical for us to own and name and take responsibility for our desires. We must pay attention to our desires because they tell us something VERY important in the Christian life. Desire, more than our cognition, volition, or conscience, define what we believe is true, good, and beautiful.

Last week a community of devoted souls met for the fifth retreat of eight in the experience we call A Deeper Journey. It was a great couple of days of discussion around the topic of DESIRE. Rich and I proposed two basic propositions: 1) all of us have deep desires and 2) it really helps if our desires are motivating us in our Christian walk rather than working against us.

The desires we have look backward and forward. By means of memory desire have a reference point for what is true, good, and beautiful. The memories of our own experience (e.g a really good steak in the past sets the trajectory of the steak I want tonight!) as well as the primal memory we have of the Garden (“He has set eternity in our hearts” in Ecclesiastes 3:11). Desire needs memory to look backward to help tell us what is something really worth wanting. And by means of imagination desire has a future orientation. We image what the true, good, and beautiful could be in our future. It is ultimately a longing for heaven.

But both memory and imagination can create a lot of pain when we desire. We didn’t get what we wanted and we may not get what we hope for. So whenever we live alive with desire we can expect to feel both the delight of fulfilled desires and the pain of unmet desires. No wonder Ronald Rolheiser said Christian spirituality is what we do with desire. It must be informed by the history and heart of Scripture if desire is to be our ally in our walk with Christ.

“Lord, make me to be a person of deep desires. Help me to be aware of them, to name them, to feel them and ultimately to surrender them to you. Amen.”

Let’s Get Physical…a post by Jim

A couple months ago I wrote a post about the importance our bodies in spiritual formation. I’m coming back to the same topic because I just can’t get it out of my mind (and my body!). What Your Body Knows about God (Rob Moll …If you are interested in more on the body and its impact on formation I strongly encourage you to read it) is also at work in my reflections on the body. As I have read it (and pay attention to my own experience) I am more and more convinced that our bodies REALLY influence the trajectory of Christian transformation.

For example, spiritual disciplines are “activities within our power which bring us to a point we can do what at present we cannot do by direct effort” (Dallas Willard). Disciplines shape us so that we become the kind of people and do the kinds of things that Jesus wants of us. They change our being through our doing. Habits of the body shape habits of the heart. Grow in love, patience, hope, goodness and the like involve disciplined actions of our bodies. If I want to develop a kind heart I need to practice regular acts of kindness.

Neurologists tells us that what most fundamentally drives us is not directly accessible to us (no matter how solid our thoughts or determined our volition). Our instinctive feelings and emotions matter far more than rational ideas. This is not to say our frontal lobes aren’t important in regulating emotions and actions. Thank God we can reflect on and reverse a course of action that will get us in trouble. But Christian transformation will need the help of emotions that are sensitive to what is true, good and beautiful (from God’s perspective).

And that is where the body comes in. Emotions are body states. Spiritual disciplines that involve our bodies shape the emotional (instinctive) reactions we are likely to have. Any time we can instinctively follow God we will be in better shape than relying only on the executive, cognitive center to make us follow God. Rather than needing to choose them we can become people who desire them.

As any top athlete or musician will tell us, training the body to instinctive do at the highest level takes time. But a great game or great music requires people who have disciplined their bodies so that they can do something great. As Christians we cannot overlook the importance of our bodies in play the game/music of being loved and loving God, others, and ourselves.

Every Body Matters…a post by Jim

Recently CrossPoint hosted Cohort #4 of our Soul Care Institute. About 25 soul care persons (pastors, small group leaders, counselors, coaches, etc.) are committed to meeting eight times over the course of two years to discuss matters that are crucial to Christian soul care. Over the course of the two and a half days we have some wonderful discussions and clarifications.

The topic for this cohort is “The Embodied Soul.” We explored the nature and role of the body in the process of sanctification. While we know we are to keep our bodies from sin we often do not spend much time thinking about how our bodies contribute to our growing connection with God and others. Our ‘body theology’ is often a little weak. But it shouldn’t be.

Our very salvation hinges on a human body. That is what the earliest church counsels and creeds made clear. Without Jesus being incarnate in actual human flesh there is no hope for salvation. The human body is that important in God’s plan of redemption.

The body is that important in God’s plan of sanctification as well. Our glorious, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, ‘earthy’, engendered, enlivened by the ‘breath of God’, developing, ‘home of the soul’, capable and needy, emotion impacted body KEEPS THE SCORE in our journey through life and in our relationships with others.

Maybe you might pay extra attention to your body today. And if you really want to see the impact of the body in your life and relationships, do a ‘Body History’. Reflect on what your body has experienced and done over the course of your life. What might God be inviting you to in light of what your body has lived?

Memories and Relationships (Part 5)

How we interpret our memories gives us a self-identity. The way we ‘edit’ the events and emotions of our past has a great impact on how we understand ourselves in the present. And our self-understanding impacts the way we engage in all our relationships. Some memories are so powerful and or pervasive that they are critical in determining who we are. Continue Reading

Imagination – Memory, Feeling and Interpretation (Part 4)

God created our brain in such a way that it captures images. Our memory gives us access to images from the past. Every image we remember is marinated in feelings. So if I (Rich) ask you to tell me about your favorite vacation you will give me an explanation of your images. The explanation of your images is your interpretation of the re-presentation of what you lived on vacation. The interpretation is guided by the feelings affixed to the memory of your vacation. Now this interpretation reality is very, very important. Continue Reading

Imagination – Memories and Feelings (Part 3)

In addition to memories, there is another element that is an essential building block in the world of our imagination. The brain is designed to re-present reality through images and every image that we remember has feelings associated with it. We cannot stop that from happening. We are designed to re-present reality through images. And the image is influenced or shaded by feelings. Continue Reading

Imagination and Memories (Part 2)

​Our memory and imagination are intimately related. Memories that shape our souls are not abstract, they are concrete images.  Memories are mental images that re-present to our minds what has occurred in the past. If I (Rich) ask you to tell me about your favorite childhood vacation, or your worst childhood day in school you are not going to give me an abstract explanation. You will tell me a story, and you are telling me a story from the retrieved mental images in your brain that re-present in image form what you lived.  Continue Reading