You don’t have to be here

I’ve been trying to open every Sunday morning at the church where I pastor with a simple phrase, 

”you don’t have to be here” 

For a lot of people, religion in an organized sense is seen as an act of obligation. There are many things that led to this. Culture, anxiety, an emphasis of ideology over humanity; you name it.  But the simple reality is there is no one at Branches expecting or forcing you to show up (if you sense there is, let me know!)

However, saying you don’t have to be here is not negating the beauty of being there. When the obligation dies, the opportunity for appreciation floods in.

Between the popcorn we have popping in the back,

those experiencing homelessness and those making six figures pouring each other coffee and hugging each other,

the families hanging around afterwards with their kids laughing and playing...

It’s beautiful. And it’s also not “necessary.” Which, I believe, makes it all the more beautiful. 

You wont see me begging you to come to church. I believe the divine is flowing and showing up anywhere and everywhere if we take the time to pay attention.

Any religion. Any person. Any meal. Whatever it might be, the insistence of God is there.

But I also know that when obligation dies, the entity doesn’t have to. In fact, I think that’s when the entity can actually truly be an authentic representation of what harmony and serenity can look like.

Because in that shift toward appreciation over obligation, the entity moves to a place where people can be authentically themselves. It becomes a place where humans can enter uniquely as they are without feeling like they have to measure up to something. It’s in that dynamic that individuals can appreciate a bigger reality they are all in the flow of. The homeless man, the mentally ill patient from across the street, the bank executive and the north side elementary student alike.

If anything, we need more physical gatherings like that nowadays.  

Narrative homiletic

The study of preaching is one that has gone on for hundreds of years. One such segment focuses on looking at something called The Narative Homiletic. In this approach, a speaker takes listeners on a journey in which the transformational message, aka thesis, isn’t revealed until the very end. 

It’s interesting how this plays out though.  

The point of a narrative is for it to traverse across an expanse — to show people an unfolding story ultimately headed somewhere. I find this to be a beautiful style of speaking. But I’d also ask the simple question, 

Where does the narrative end? 

Is it a place of wide-open freedom? Asking people to run wild in the field of new found knowledge?  

Or is it a place of strict and tangible idea? Prescription that people can latch onto rather than actually pursue themselves?  

We as humans tend to like black and white thought. We want to land on strict takeaway. A message that flows with a clear takeaway enables us to not put forth the work of actually tasting the reality ourselves.  

But I would argue a good sermon is one that, through its narrative and the destination it leads to, actually forces the listener into a wider and broader space.

You take people on a journey that is the river, and that journey empties into the ocean. And as uncomfortable and frustrating as that can be for a listener, it’s the invitation into interaction that can actually provide transformation.

It’s parable over commandment.

If we are to create our own narrative, it’s through the experience that we are pushed into having. Not the answer that is given. 

Give yourself the shivers

Part of my job is attempting to speak to something of meaning and transformation nearly every week. Which... Crazy. Yes.

It’s become very clear quite quickly that the only way you can speak to meaning and transformation is through actually encountering meaning and transformation yourself. There needs to be reality and testimony tied to such things. You can only fake it for so long when you’re talking about being transformed. When it’s faked, eventually people will catch on that the supposed transformation being talked about is actually simple theory guised behind fancy facts and quotes.

I was listening to a podcast with Jack Johnson. He shared the lyrics of a buddy of his named John Craigie. Here’s what Craigie said,

 You gotta give yourself the shivers before you can give ‘em to someone else.

I mean... come on. How good is THAT?! 

But the most difficult part about speaking on transformation and meaning is the guilt that comes from personally seaking out moments that embody transformative and meaningful reality for yourself.

Why aren’t you doing x, y and z? 

What do you even do? 

Why aren’t you sitting in front of the computer more? 

But to be honest in your work means not choosing to abide by the assumptions everyone else lives by. Because you’re trying to transform that context. Give it new meaning. And in order to do that you need to seek out the beautiful, the message beneath the surface, the miraculous in the common. Or, in the wise words of John Craigie via the mouth of Jack Johnson,

You gotta give yourself the shivers before you can give ‘em to someone else

Ron

I have friends who are against the church in the traditional meet-at-a-certain-time-and-place reality that it can be. They see it as outdated and irrelevant and harmful.

And it totally can be.

But I’m not there I don’t think — even after much deconstruction. I see why they are, and sometimes I can be. But I was reminded again today why I’m not. And there’s one main reason why.

Ron.

The church I’m a pastor at recently moved to a rougher neighborhood in our city. Across the street from our building is a care home for people with severe mental illness. We’ve had many of their residents pop in on Sunday mornings, but Ron is the most consistent.

I’m not totally sure what happened to him, but it appears he has a brain injury of some sort. He asks repetitive questions and for money and bibles every Sunday. I think he thinks the Bible is a series. He told me he finished the last one I gave him after a week and wants the next one. I contemplated telling him to write it...

Ron squats in a prayerful position at the back of the church and sometimes out front if it’s not too cold. He takes in all the comings and goings of people as they walk into and out of the building. And he does it with the warmest smile and a glow in his eyes that, when I reflect on Sunday afternoons, make me want to cry in deep appreciation and awe for the river of divinity that can flow out of a person, who just a couple months ago, would have been seen as a wayward stranger.

He’s probably in his 60’s and puts about 6 sugars and 5 creams in his coffee. He uses 4 different mugs every Sunday. He has a love of mountain dew so strong that it rivals the cravings of a 15 year old. 

The vast majority of people showing up on Sunday mornings would never encounter Ron in any other circumstance. Except for the context of a church service — that although happens in a building — does it’s best to focus on open doors rather than its erected walls. And slowly but surely, I’ve watched Ron and other church goers meet and talk and hug and laugh and tear up side by side and converse and shake hands and pour coffee for one another. These interactions don’t make any sense within traditional social expectation. But it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, truly. And I believe it happens because, for just over an hour every week, there’s a room where this is the expectation. And slowly but surely, this expectation (hopefully) walls out the doors to the day to day.

All this to say - I believe in the church and it’s Sunday time at 10am at a building at 1804 w. Broadway. Because I believe in the power of people like Ron and people like Alan hugging one another. People from two completely different parts of the same town. Who otherwise may have never crossed paths. But do so in the similar pursuit of stepping beyond themselves.

doors

Some quotes from Wikipedia regarding doors,

 - Often doors have locking mechanisms to ensure that only some people can open them.

- Doors can have devices such as knockers or doorbells by which people outside can announce their presence and summon someone either to open the door for them or give permission to open and enter.

- Apart from providing access into and out of a space, doors can have the secondary functions of ensuring privacy by preventing unwanted attention from outsiders

- Doors may have aesthetic, symbolic, ritualistic purposes.To be given the key to a door can signify a change in status from outsider to insider.

Some quotes about organized religion.  

 - Often beliefs have locking mechanisms to ensure that only some people can open them.

- Religions can have devices such as knockers (creeds) or doorbells (dogma) by which people outside can announce their presence and summon someone either to open the door for them or give permission to open and enter.

- Apart from providing access into and out of a space, church buildings can have the secondary functions of ensuring privacy by preventing unwanted attention from outsiders

- Sunday mornings may have aesthetic, symbolic, ritualistic purposes.To be given the key to a door can signify a change in status from outsider to insider.

Doors can let people in and they can keep people out. What have we done with the doors or our churches? And why, I might add, does an ideology that follows the way, the truth and the life of a guy who was chased out of the temple nearly every time he spoke exist within a one today? 

Church can be a beautiful reminder of what to seek in the actual temple of the Divine - reality outside the temple. Or it can be a manipulator that causes us to think that God has walls.

God, I believe, is always the door leading to the wider spaces beyond. No codes or keys required.  

 

the way of wind and water

Beneath Spokane there is a large reservoir that contains water that the city uses. A kindergartner is using some right now as he sips from the fountain outside his class. Above Spokane right now there are clouds. Those clouds contain water that will soon be descending rapidly toward residents, one in particular named Ronald who is meandering through the streets when suddenly his vision is obstructed by a drop hitting his glasses. To Spokane’s south there are the rolling hills of the Palouse. On the grass of the Palouse sit tiny specks of water droplets that are the result of an automatic sprinkler that seems to have forgotten that it’s January and that it’s cold and that all that needs watering is fast asleep. To the east of Spokane are the large lakes of the Idaho panhandle, Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille. On the northeast corner of lake Coeur d’ Alene a few ducks paddle with their feet in search of a mid-afternoon snack. To the north of Spokane are the Selkirk mountains. Snowy rolling peaks where skiers shoot down runs. The skis of one skier named Kevin pick up snow from the higher elevations. Kevin kicks off his ski’s and walks back to his car. The snow melts and wets the roof of his Rav4 as he drives back home. The water rolls down his windshield and he presses the wipers for a clearing of view. To the west of Spokane flows the mighty Columbia. A little south too, I suppose. The large river has over a hundred rivers and creeks that empty into it. One such emptying sees a trout tumble into the much larger body of water. Disoriented, the trout gives itself to the way of the river. A river that ultimately empties itself into the largest body of water, the Pacific. Flowing through Spokane is the Spokane river. This came from lake Coeur d’Alene to the east and will flow to the Columbia to the west. A trout or two may tumble from it as well.

Beneath Spokane are the roots of an oak at Manito park that formed from seeds that littered themself into place thanks to wind that blew though the area 84 years ago. Above Spokane an airplane is bouncing about and some flyer is wiping sweaty palms on jeans because the wind isn’t wanting to be nice to the worries of this troubled passenger as the flight descends. To the south of Spokane, over those same Palouse hills, there are very few trees so wind picks up steam and knocks the hat off a chick pea farmer walking out to his car to head to the grocery store because his wife is out of sugar and wants to make cookies and he’ll do anything for a cookie. To the east of Spokane wind knocks over a ponderosa pine that had been dead for some time but finally gave way between the heaviness of the snow and the breeze pushing through. A squirrel had just hopped form the branch of the tree and looks back as it collapses to the earth and doesn’t understand but also feels quite powerful all of a sudden. To the north of Spokane a person steps outside without their coat zipped up, the wind whooshes into their open coat and they are immediately overcome with a chill and say “fuck” accidentally and their seven year old looks up at them, eyes expanding and says “oooooohhh.” To the west of Spokane in the barrenness of central Washington one of the many tumbleweeds occupying the landscape scurries out onto I-90 and goes underneath a 2005 white Chevy Malibu and makes the subtlest of noises as it’s caught under the car and will continue to do so. The driver has finally had enough and pulls off at the Moses Lake exit with the Starbucks and orders a mocha only to forget why they had stopped and gets back onto I-90 only to hear the tumbleweed again. Through Spokane the wind knocks a cubed garden plot off a second story balcony and falls into an alley in front of an Australian shepherd and its owner. They both look at each other and the owner gives the Aussie a treat for its near peril and awards himself one too, but the human kind.

In Israel about 2000ish year ago Jesus told some priest that the way of God is best seen in the way of wind and water. And the priest didn’t get it.

Out of the Rain

Recycled rain washed itself over rotating car tire. It was 11pm, Tillamook pass, and the sloshing of wet pavement and rubber was muffled alongside static coming through the radio. Reception on the phone was faded, leaving unoccupied frequency and the sound of the drivers progress all that was left to enter into the car passengers ears. This rain had come in from the pacific. Having formed from the ocean some 1200 miles out, it now pestered the windshield and was tossed aside by dedicated wipers. 

The soil off to the side of the road was less resistant to the liquid traveller from the west. It received it in its bounty. Drinking up the water in a way it had grown accustomed. Soil saw itself as the caddy to the trees. They soaked up the water so the pines could reveal the personality of the trodden on ground. Not much was observable when it came to soil, but soil knew that many would stop for the tree. It was symbiotic. And so the drinking of the oceans gift continued. Soil had heard murmurings of wisemen that bore gifts and travelled long distances for a boy, how much wiser the ocean off the Oregon coast must be. Traveling and bearing and giving gifts almost daily. 

That’s appreciation. 

The car with the static radio neared the top of the pass now. Signs with “chain on” areas occupied the side of the road. A dead deer lay beneath one of the signs. About 9 hours earlier the deer wasn’t dead but was running through the forest to the south of the road. It was being chased by a hunter out of season. Already wounded from a miscalculated shot, it darted out into the road and was hit by a semi truck. This hunter had not missed its mark — the center of the road. It was right where it wanted to be. And suddenly a deer occupied the space of its weapon. The semi kept going, the hunter stood 15 yards tucked back in the woods and felt sadness and vile for the pursuit. The easier the death, the harder to bear witness.

Static car had leveled out on a plateau in the road. The sloshing tires loosened their love affair with the pavement and became drawn nearer to the water. Participating in the great miracle, the car drove atop a liquid surface, like the christ had walked. And there was no doubt here. The car did not sink back down, it kept right along in its oneness way with water. 

Driver was jolted from unconscious routine. Knuckles white now, steering slightly right, they realized control was no longer theirs. Trying to stop, now half a mile past the deer, they instead slid. Now off the road they veered to the left. Static was replaced by screaming from the passenger.

Up above this scene, an insomniac squirrel watched in curiosity. Until suddenly it was jolted from its tree when the lit monster crashed into it below. Sleepless squirrel fell down and landed on the car with a thud and was insomniac no more. It participated with the soil in being cloaked in the gift from the pacific. As did the deer killed by the hunterless hunter. As did the car with the static. Baptism baptism baptism. 

But not so for the driver and the passenger. They remained inside, the knocking of the gift puttering atop the roof as they too fell asleep. Dry and receiving no gifts

habitual

There are good habits and there are bad habits and there are unconscious habits. It’s interesting to think about how an unconscious habit moves into the lens of good or bad. At what point does the unconscious reach a point of acknowledgment? Is it the force of the acknowledgment — the context in which the habit becomes conscious — that yields the classification of good or bad that the habit goes on to hold? Would a different sets of circumstances tied to to the revelation of the habit reorient the way the habit it viewed?

Our first and immediate interpretation of reality has a lot to do with the next move in the series of actions we chose to partake. And those actions become the story that we write. Too much first and immediate without contemplation can have you pretty far down a particular road pretty fast.

Perhaps sometimes we need to slow down and interpret our interpretation of how we chose to do things — to ask why alongside what.

Advent: Background / Hope

Welcome to advent. A time of slowing in anticipation of something that is to come. Half of that is part of our everyday reality - things to come. The slowing part not so much. But it is also probably what we could learn most from. 

I’ve been on this kick lately of wanting to find beauty and meaning in the things I had to deconstruct and walk away from for awhile. I’m sure some of you can relate. I know some of you can because we’ve talked to each other about this process. Reconstruction. So even though awhile back I may have scoffed at the notion of discussing the traditional liturgy of hope, peace, joy, and love that’s associated with advent because that’s what always happens, I became empowered by them again. Here’s why.

When you view the Bible in a light of “this is what happened” you feel detached from it. And for a bit that can be fine. That’s where faith comes in, so they say. You put your faith in what happened. But that sounds a bit too much like the all-league high school pitcher who’s 46 now and still brings up how he had a no hitter going into the 6th inning against Berkeley back in 1989. If you’re so focused on what happened, you become detached from what’s happening. And even though it might not be that coveted no hitter, it could very well be the next thing you can tell people about. 

So how’s that relate to advent? I realized, along with the help of an author by the name of Alexander Shaia, that the beauty of advent is not just that it happened. But that it is, was and always has been happening. 

Because that’s the truth of anything worth its salt. It points up and out of itself to something of greater transformation and truth. All matter is a conduit to metaphor and story. It’s not the category that holds the truth, but the theme of that category. 

Which brings me back to hope, peace, joy and love. Historically, I’ve approached these words as detached from my own story, because they were attached to the historical story of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absurd beauty in that story. But the most beautiful aspect of that story, I believe, is that it’s our story too. It’s the story. It’s true because it’s true, if that makes sense.

So how is Christmas happening?

John and his meta-narrative, that’s how. When thinking of the Christmas story we likely go to Luke and Matthew because we are trained to look for the objective. But when we go to John, it’s clear that this isn’t the first time this whole incarnation thing happened. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

John 1

John, referencing Genesis and the creation story here, points to the idea that from the very beginning the incarnation was a reality. God chose to engage God’s self with the cosmos by creating. To create is not to be separate from, but to be intimately tied to. God becoming man in Jesus is a mirror to the reality that’s been true the whole time, just in a way we can relate to that much more. 

That light thing John mentions gets a whole new meaning when early Christians meet the Celts. The Celts had a big harvest festival on December 22. Not knowing exactly when Jesus was born, Pope Gregory rolled with that date too. Well not that date exactly, but one three days after. Want to know why? That’s the shortest day of the year. The sun is at its lowest for the Celts in their northern hemisphere life on December 22nd. Christmas was played 3 days after that day because the 25th would have been the first day one would have noticed the light coming again. 

Total darkness and three days later, the rising of the sun. Sound familiar? The coming of the light into the world with the sun is when we chose to celebrate the coming of the light in the world through the son. This also just so happens to be the Easter narrative. Darkness… leading to the son rising again. Three days later.

There are many takeaways here… The Christmas season is a reminder that the Christian tradition is not one of indoctrination, but integration. It’s not about taking God places, but discovering how God is already alive in those places.

And another takeaway… nature and the cosmos have been telling the truth from the beginning that the Gospels happen to exemplify. So… don’t be afraid of when aliens make contact. It wont be the end of faith, but the springboard to a new kind of interrogation. 

If it’s true in the cosmos, it’s true in the Christ.

So this whole light and Christ and God coming into the world was true the whole time. It happened, sure. But it’s also always been happening. And that whole incarnation thing? It’s happening right now. In wherever you are reading this and out on the street and down in Peru and everywhere else. Because we are now the bearers of that spirt. We are God wearing flesh now, if we are to believe the idea of us being the bearers of Christ. The bearers of the Divine flow of the universe. 

The difficult part is learning to believe that. 

And that’s where four ingredients tend to help. When you have ingredients you can have a recipe. And in having a recipe, you can have a result. And in paving the way for Christ on earth and in ourselves, what we’ve discovered is there are four elements at play. 

Hope

Peace

Joy

Love

Each of these have other things that sometimes go along with them. For example

Hope - Prophecy 

Peace - Angels 

Joy - Shepherds

Love - Magi

Again, this is a literal move. Having characters embody realities is something fine writers have been doing for millennia. 

One liturgical tradition tied to this is the advent wreath. The circular nature of it represents eternity. Traditionally, you light one candle at a time on the week that the topic is discussed with the final middle candle that represents Christ being lit on Christmas. Which I tend to think is wrong. That Christ candle should be lit first and lit on every single Sunday.That is, if we are to follow the Christmas according to John. Christ doesn’t show up on Christmas, Christ has been here all along. Christ is embodied throughout he person of Jesus, bit has been active since the beginning. Christ is not a future but a flow. So Christ should be the first and the final flame. The alpha and omega. The thing informing the other candles and resulting from them.

The traditional first ingredient to the way of Christ is hope. Hope is, as I mentioned, represented through the prophets. Which makes sense. It was in there hope that we had the prophetic voice arise. They hoped for something that was to come. 

Hope would naturally come first, right? In order to have peace, joy and love, you need to first have a sense of hope. 

Growing up I played hockey. I had a phase the summer before I got into high school where shooting pucks in the backyard was all I ever did. I bought a sheet of plastic from a wholesale plastic retailer. Yep. That’s a thing. I taped the plastic sheet that was about 2 feet by 4 feet on my driveway and would shoot hour after hour after hour. I would tie gatorade bottles full of water to each of the two top corners and hit them over and over, watching water explode from them. My shot got so hard that I left dents in the posts and crossbar. And when I missed the net, I dented the garage door. Which caused my Dad to get mad. So then I opened the garage door and shot pucks and when I missed the net they soared through the garage and put holes in the wood wall at the back of there garage. I think at that point my Dad just got impressed. I had this hope of making the high school team as a freshman. High School hockey in Michigan is a big deal. But I didn’t make it. But did learn a simple lesson.

  • Hope is the result of a process

  • Hope begs the question “what’s being formed here?”

  • Hope is less a feeling and more a mode of being

  • Hope is the understanding that something is always being formed


We’ll be looking at Luke a lot over the course of this series. And there are a few unique qualities to Luke. Luke was written by a guy named Luke. I know, crazy! He was a doctor and a friend of Paul. Luke also was written in the year 80… which, for those doing the math, is 47 or so year after Jesus was around. 

Luke was also written to Jews and Gentiles who were hopeless because Jerusalem had fallen and the Romans had taken over like never before. So Luke is not writing to give a history, Luke is writing to give hope to people who are discouraged and burdened and don’t know how to keep going. Most likely, Luke had no idea how Jesus actually came into existence or how he was born. He gathered insight from some people, but more than anything, he wanted to create an origin story for this savior known as Jesus the Christ. 

And this origin story is one that Jews and Gentiles living in the reality of persecution could relate to. Because these were the elements it consisted of…

  • A young family forced to travel long distance from home because of an authoritative government. 

  • A family that had to give birth in a manger. 

  • A family that didn’t have much. 

  • A couple who had high standing, one in the line of David, one in the priestly class, who had to blindly trust this new and less glamorous way of life. 

The story Luke was writing about this saviors origin story was the story of those he was writing too in that day. There’s this Messiah who lived the exact same reality you’re living in now. And guess what? That messiah said that you are now his manifestation. Like Mary, you hold Christ within you. How are you going to chose to give birth to that reality in this less-than-ideal situation? It’s one thing to feel sorry for yourself, it’s another to bring life and love into the world.

Hope is solidarity. It’s I’ve been there too. And that’s what Luke is encouraging his readers to see. That there is a King who’s life is just like there’s. That even in the trashiest of situations, light is coming into the world. That they can give birth to Christ in their situations too. Hope isn’t passively expecting something to happen. Hope is living into the process of making it happen. It’s asking the question what is being formed in this dark cave that smells like donkey poop? Hope is a mode of being that says screw the feeling, I’m going to start living. Hope is recognizing that even in the dark, there’s a new sun that’s forming and starting to rise. 

Luke is looking to the past, even possible recreating the past a bit, to give hope to the present. That’s the origin of the Christmas story. Maybe you can do the same. 

What are the stories of your past that can give you hope for the present?

Humanity>Ideology: The Way of Jesus

Around the time of the 2016 presidential election, I was scrolling through twitter and saw a hopeful news report from a Chicago elementary school. The teacher of a fourth grade class had students label all the different types of people they could think of. Muslims, gays, black, white, latino/latina, etc. After naming as many as they could, the teacher had the students connect every identity to one arrow that pointed to one phrase that said,

You are welcome here

Teacher of the year award? Yes. I think absolutely. But something else I noticed is that the person who had retweeted this story added their own quick phrasing. A simple yet incredibly profound caption,

Humanity > Ideology

That two word phrase has sunk itself into me. It’s been two years since seeing it and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s so profound and yet so simple. It captures so much while saying saying so little.

And, what I love most about it, is the way it captures completely the essence of the ministry of Jesus the Christ — the teacher / way I still chose to put my faith in even after his legacy has been hijacked and manipulated by people with political motivation.

I’ve been a Christian my whole life. It’s a framework that has worn many different hats. A catholic school kid early on, rule following non-denom mega church kid for a bit, rebellious nihilist in college, and now (aspiring) mystic non-denom pastor. Christianity and I have ran the gamut together. And, thankfully, over the timeline of this relationship, this way of seeing the world, along with myself, have evolved.

I used to believe that it was my Christian identity that took precedent. Because I used to think people needed to be saved. Which really simply means they needed what I had. They needed my perspective on things. A disturbing reality and mindset of the direction western Christian thought took / at times is still taking. And one that is also incredibly egotistical.

But in rediscovering Jesus through rediscovering the Bible I’ve rediscovered the priority of one who aligns with Christ according to Jesus... and I believe that is making the human being you interact with take precedent over any ideology you may hold. Always.

Jesus was a Jew. Something we tend to forget. And perhaps the reason we forget that is because Jesus didn’t ever let that Jewish ideology be prioritized over the people her interacted with; unlike the Jewish leaders of his time. Jesus’s goal, it could be argued, was to help the Jewish people realign themselves with people rather than with law.

Jesus, whether it was with the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus in the tree, or any of his disciples, always interacted with the human, not the ideology he or they held. Jesus was not interested in proselytizing, Jesus was interested in seeing how ones story, however broken and burdened it may have been, could find a new trajectory. One built on hope, new found self-worth, and love.

The subversive message of an ideology based in Jesus is that it’s an ideology based in the reality of the individual lives of the humans we encounter. Whereas the dominant way of ideology today (and in Jesus’s day) is to quadrant us off into tribes, the ideology of Jesus is to not see tribe at all. But instead, to see the human completely.

The ideologies of his disciple’s varied widely, same with the ideologies of those he healed, spoke to, and drank wine with. But the one thing that united them all was their shared humanity. And that, I believe, was and is the reality of priority to Jesus.

The reality worth loving. Binding himself to. And being with.

Jesus sought out the human, not the ideology.

g-o-dless october

October is my month. There are many reasons for this, perhaps the most literal of which is that it’s the month of my birth. 

But more than that, October is a time when I feel most alive. The metaphors that occupy every tree branch, every field, every taste of pumpkin donut, they just GET ME.

Metaphor seems to be flowing in and out of me during this month of the year. And I happen to believe God, whatever he / she / it happens to be, is only encountered via the language of metaphor. 

So I’m challenging myself. 

I want to spend time exploring what’s going on around me. To see the miraculous occupying the common. To make metaphor and meaning from the the observations I make during this month I love. 

God tends to be a lot bigger when he exists outside his name (or the gender we’ve assigned to “him” too I should add). We are no different. Bundles of flesh with title attributed. But you are so much bigger than the 3-12 letter name you possess. That name is title attributed to the grab bag of all you are. So, I guess in that sense, this is my attempt to fill the grab bag of god with metaphor. Follow along if you like here - godless october.

Shooting Pucks

I’ve been frustrated lately. Because it seems like there is a swirling of ideas that like to exist slightly above the realm where thought becomes expression. As a kid, I would play hockey in the backyard unendingly. There’s this spot in a hockey net. The golden spot. It’s where the crossbar meets the post. If you can hit that little sliver of metal, you’re almost guaranteed a goal. Goalies can’t react in time. I would spend hours in my backyard shooting for this sliver. I’d go above it and the puck would dent the garage door. I’d go beneath it and the puck would go in the net, but at a point any goalie could grab with their glove. Over and over, hour after hour, I’d shoot at this spot. And then it began to click. Ting* Ting* Ting* over and over again the puck would hit that sweet spot. Leaving vulcanized rubber stains on the metal of the post. Of course there were still times the puck went over the net and times the puck would fall below the desired spot. This is the case for even the best of pros. But there was suddenly a greater predictability to where the puck was going. Predictability came from habit. And habit and predictability birthed consistency. 

Preaching is a bit like shooting those pucks. Hoping that they’ll land in the same spot, the spot that rings the truth you are hoping to communicate. But the difference is when it comes to preaching you can only shoot pucks about once a week, maybe. And you’re shooting them in-front of a bunch of other people accustomed to someone who got pretty good at hitting the sweet spot - where cross bar met post, where truth met charisma. 

But you have to keep shooting, I suppose. There’s no other option except throwing the stick down and turning away. But even if you do this, the net will still be there. As will the puck. As will the stick. The you, the message you possess, the people they are aimed to. None of that goes away if you turn away. It sticks around. 

So I suppose the only option, which, quite frankly, is the life giving one, is to simply keep shooting. Put a few dents in the garage door by going over, have a few week misses below the target. It’s fine. It’s the process. You’re learning.

Unknowing as Pleasure

When should I pick you up?

When does the dog have to be taken out again?

Where are the keys?

What’s going on this evening?

Who have I not reached out to in awhile?


These, or some variation of them, are all questions that we probably ask ourselves daily.  These type of questions are largely questions which have a chore-like presence about them. They are questions seeking quick answer so question can turn into solution. Questions without quick solutions tied to them aren’t the type of we let occupy our mind all too often. I’d venture to guess this is because we have become built on notions of efficiency rather than curiosity.


But tough luck. Because the robots are already far more efficient than we are.


Perhaps the reality of being human, being conscious, being aware - or whatever other “being _____” you want to call it, is a reality based on the questions not tied to quick and efficient solution. And perhaps so often feel stuck in monotony, because we ask the efficient solution based questions. Is not a robots life, a life built for these same questions we focus on, a monotonous one?


But we don’t like the big questions as much, do we? The questions of the philosophy class. Instead, we like knowing. We see knowing as the gateway to the efficiency we crave because efficiency has become the housing ground of purpose.


But I’d suggest purpose, as it pertains to human mortality, is actually housed some place else. And I believe that is the realm of wonder.


David James Duncan describes wonder as, “an unknowing experienced as pleasure.”


I don’t know about you, but my day to day routine doesn’t have much of these types of unknowingness built into it.


Even our religious systems nowadays, the places supposed to be catering to things such as wonder, are built on the security of knowing. Knwoing you’re saved. Knowing there’ll be a service every Sunday. Knowing you’ll hear a passage of scripture.


Unknowing as pleasure is foreign. We’ve been rebelling against it for centuries now. The scientist and the theologian both seek to explain, but how often do they sit in the moments where what they are seeking to explain is still unexplainable?


How often do you?


How often do I?


Perhaps it’s in those moments we experience a thawing of the burden monotony forces us to carry. Perhaps in those moments we fold into the vastness of it all. Perhaps in those moments it’s not always about the answer or the question, but the floating space in-between.

Movements versus categories

About two years ago, my then girlfriend, now wife, bought me a shirt. She was down in San Diego and saw it at a beachside surf shop. The brand was called Vissla and it had the words “creators and innovators” printed on the back. Vissla is a surf “company.” I put that word in quotes because Vissla doesn’t brand itself as a company but as a “movement.” A movement designed for those who create and those who innovate. Or those who like being associate with such things. They partner with artists, surfers, and others who innovate and create in their field which then gets others, like me, excited about the story their brand is coelscing itself around.

I’ve bought in. If you look in my wardrobe, you’ll see more Vissla clothing than just about any other brand. I like creation and innovation. I want to be in line with that trajectory and theme.

Vissla realized it could be a clothing company or it could be a movement that produces clothing. And the movement has caught steam and has worked.

There are a lot of things that are created to make something. But perhaps the successful mentality is the Vissla mentality — being something that happens to create.

You can have you pond or you can have your river. Ponds have boundaries on what and where and how they can be. Rivers carve and flow and move. I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of a movement far more than a stagnant monotony

The Coney Island Church

Growing up in Detroit, I was surrounded by Coney Islands. Athens Coney Island. Leo’s Coney Island. Kerbie’s Coney Island. Coney Islands were everywhere. And, if you’re outside of Detroit, you probably have no idea what I mean by any of this...

Coney Islands are a series of different restaurant chains. Each has, as you might expect, their own take on a “Coney Island” which is a type of chili-dog.  

But what Coney Islands are known for are their highly generic menus. You know what you are going to get when it comes to eating out at a Coney Island reataraunt. And it likely isn’t all that adventurous.  

Christianity in an organized sense, also known as “church,” often seems very Coney Island esque to me. For all the denominational variety (there are over 30,000 congregations now...) the presentation and feel is really quite similar.  

If you were to ask someone who is highly tied to the reality of church if all churches are similar, they’d surely say no. A Catholic service and Baptist service to them are polar opposites.  

In the same sense, if you ask a loyal patron of Leo’s Coney Island if it’s the same as Athens, they’d scoff and explain how they’re not even close. When really, whether church or Coney Island, it can all tend to be the same  

You need to experience something different than the Coney Island in order to realize how similar all the Coney Islands are. Just like you need to experience something different in order to notice how similar all churches can be.  

Theres a restaraunt in Chicago called Alinea. They have made desserts that you breathe in,  food that’s cooking on the plate in front of you but you don’t know it because it’s hiding under other food, and numerous other creative cuisine. They’ve reinvented what it means to eat at a restaurant.

Alinea is no Coney Island.

What would Alinea look like in church form? I’m excited to find out. 

Greyscaling my phone

I have a phone problem. I check it in any lull in conversation. If there are no notifications, I’ll seek out the dopamine they would’ve provided by opening an app and refreshing it. If there’s no new content, I’ll search for it in another app.  

It’s bad. And I sense the toll it takes on me. I feel exhausted and neglected when there’s nothing new.

I was with a friend the other day and we discussed this. The tendency we have to refresh the page, get the notification, etc. The dopamine that hits when we see something new on our phones is addicting. We’ve all heard this. We’re almost taught to be ashamed of it.

But by itself that feeling - that rush - it’s beautiful. It’s a powerful and transforming thing. But we’ve made it so common place via technology, that we’ve lost the depth of the beauty it is.

This friend of mine told me to try greyscaling my phone. To set it all in black and white essentially. You can do this fairly easily in your iPhone setting. Supposedly, a large part of the rush is the colors tied to notifications.  

I did this and went back to the home screen on my phone and something literally seemed to empty out of me. It was a physical experience. Like a long satisfying exhale of emotion. All the red little numbers counting notifications in apps were dull and colorless. There wasn’t urgency. I felt relaxed and free.  

Think about how many colors you see on your phone screen. And how those fake colors, the digital lights, take away from the blue of the sky, the green of the trees, the yellow of the flowers.  

Something as simple as letting color only exist when we look up from our phones has had a profound impact on me. It’s a simple thing, but makes reality all that much more inviting and intriguing. 

the end and the beginning

The beginning of something is obviously not the entirety of its existence. Where would the end fall if that were the case? But using just those two words, beginning and end, is too narrow a scope. Because nothing is ever truly over just like nothing has ever truly begun. (Okay, maybe the universe. But that's it.)

Each breath is possible because of the previous breath. Each death ends up being the organic matter for new life. The end of one song on a playlist is the lead into the next. Beginnings and endings mean very little. Influences weave themselves into every new beginning and ultimately are what lead to the pursuit of a new end. 

With releasing a book, I've been thinking a lot about this. About how, by the time my book was made public for people to consume, I was so over it. It felt stale to me. I felt like I was beyond what I had said in it. I thought that phase, the phase I described in the book, was done and that I was onto something new.

There was trepidation tied to it being released. I almost didn't even publish it because I was so focused on the next thing. The new beginning. The idea as opposed to the physical pages before me.

But I realized that if that is how I would chose to view creativity, I'd never end up creating anything I would be able to put out in the world. Because what once was the focal point of my creativity inevitably will wash away in time to be replaced by the next thing. 

There is no end when it comes to creativity, and there is no beginning. The end of one phase or focus is what leads to the birth of the new phase or focus. And to disregard an ending is unfair to the new beginning. It is good to grow and evolve and become. But it is irresponsible to neglect where we have grown from to just focus on where we're going.

Doing so puts too much pressure on us to always move and never reflect. Action and contemplation must walk side by side. 

So if you're stuck wondering about the next thing, what is the thing that you are moving to the next from? What is the current? What is so tied to you that it almost feels stale? Whatever that is, it's probably a more improved version of what that was three years ago. Which makes it worth sharing. Which makes it worth publishing or painting or singing. 

Life is a series of steps. Not an end and a beginning. There are moments in-between way too nuanced to be labeled by such simple categories.

Uni-verse

The term verse is derived from the Latin word versus which means, “in the direction of.” Then the English and the French took this words and shaped it to mean, “a line of poetry or song.” Which essentially means the same thing. Because a single line, when seen in context,  ultimately points to the larger trajectory of a prose or song. 

And then there’s this term uni  which comes from the latin word unus which means, as you might have guessed, one . 

Which, when you put the two of these together you get the term uni-verse which is what we use to describe the very farthest scope we can fathom when it comes to existence.

Given what the roots of the word universe mean, we here on earth are somewhere in a far reaching trillion upon trillion light year wide reality that is a part of a single trajectory. A single direction. A single pursuit. 

But what is that pursuit? What is the one direction in which all of this is headed? 

Love hope freedom joy potential? 

Hurt pain shame anguish inability?  

We thought slavery was okay. Now we (mostly) don’t. We thought the demeaning of women was okay. Now we (mostly) don’t. We thought segregation based on ethnicity was okay. Now we (mostly) don’t. 

That one direction seems to be one of more acceptance. More unity. More affirmation.

And it also seems to leave the ones not willing to evolve, physically or in this new evolution of consciousness, behind. Buried somewhere in the fossil records of memory and shameful bigotry.  

 

Be like Auston Matthews

It’s playoff hockey season. Which, if you know me, you know is the time of year where I dance around the television yelling at the Washington Capitals. I’m Capitals obsessed. It’s borderline unhealthy.  

With that obsession comes listening / reading / watching any news I can about them. And today, while listening to NHL Network radio, I heard a blip about the Caps, and then the guy transitioned to the birthplace of a new Hockey creativity found in a player on the Toronto maple leafs.  

He talked about Auston Matthews, who grew up in Arizona without coaches that could coach to his talent. So it gave him the ability to learn and create himself. Without the bounds of what one is “supposed” to learn in their development as a hockey player. Which is, according to this Hockey analyst, what has allowed Matthews to be a premier player in the realm of creativity.  

Which made me think about this idea. About learning to do something without the bonds of learning how  to do something. Being interested in something but without the baggage of all the dogma that’s accumulated over the years of other people doing that same something. 

Too often I feel that an interest or way of thought I’d given a prescription. But think about how much more creative and fruitful a world where people who had interests could pursue those interests untethered. What would we learn? Whatever it is being pursued would certainly have to evolve. Just as Hockey is doing with the likes of Auston Matthews. 

Theology, painting, hockey, all of these things need people who are intrigued but are not bound to the way it’s supposed be done. Because it’s precisley those people who allow for evolution, growth, and a whole new paradigm to be birthed.