A Longing Revisited

Rob and Rae, happiest where things are oldest.

As a faith-type guy, some would consider me a bit blurry, outside-the-lines. Generally speaking, I make theologians nervous. Well, the heaven ‘n hell type ones. The most fun happens at the periphery anyway, so we’ll call it good!

As a writer, some might think me a one trick pony, writing incessantly on matters of mayhem and mystics and the marauding spirits of days gone by. Auch, a little chaos never hurt anyone. Really. Right?

I’m fairly banal, all things considered. Eccentric, yes. But harmless. I’m a fairly decent bloke with a thing or two to say about matters spiritual, the crazy conundrums of Celtica, and a harangue or two when the mood takes me. And, amid the din of voices speaking into that life can be heard a single word, rising like Charlie Brown’s enigmatic pumpkin out of the misty soil of my life.

Longing.

One cannot be a contemplative, a mystic, and certainly no Celt, without referring to it ad nauseam. It’s the fodder of our trade. The raw materials of a life lived deeply and well. The whole gospel enterprise can be said to be birthed from the longing heart of God. “For God so longed for us all, that (s)he gave….”

We Enneagram 4s can prattle on about many things. But, anything at all that touches those regions of heart and passion and the long list of indefinable wonders housed in the deep places of our souls? Yeah, that’s our wheelhouse, baby. Let me at it. Leave the how-to manuals and protocols and methodologies to the corporate types. Once they’re finished showing us how to multitask (gag), and get the most out of our days (yawn), we’ll bring the paint job, prog-hipster-coffeehouse banter and acoustic song-craft to speak life back into the emptiness they leave behind.

With that rambling, far too self-aware set up, I get to the task at hand. I want to share a new story that is unfolding. It’s actually an old story with a brand new face. My wife and I are answering a decades-long call, a longing, to move to Britain. I’ve droned on about this longing on many occasions and in different ways. But, the bottom line is that, by summer of next year, we will be making a new home somewhere in Britain.

For greater context, I include below a letter we just mailed out to my congregation. It gives a bit more detail. Thankfully, it doesn’t ramble anywhere near as much as I. (But rambling is what I do.)

                                                                                     Thursday, September 5, 2019

Dear friends,

Serve Globally is the foreign missions arm of the ECC. It partners with local churches and organizations around the world. In Europe, they’re involved in church planting and growth, engaging the arts, spiritual formation, evangelism in a post-Christian context, leadership development, ministry to exploited and/or trafficked individuals, and engagement with refugees and immigrants.

Even before Rae and I met, we both felt called to the UK. Thirty years ago, just before our first anniversary, we worked together in an under-privileged area of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The church wanted us to stay. We desperately wanted to stay. For a year afterwards we prayed and obsessed about returning, but encountered several administrative issues. So, we had a baby instead!

Last July we both knew God was calling us away to something else. We knocked on the door with the denomination to consider church planting. At mid-Winter this year, on a whim, I asked everyone, everywhere if we had any Covenant connections in the UK. At that time, I made a brief contact with Letha Kerl, one of the European coordinators. On March 23, we were supposed to meet with the director of church planting for the PNW to proceed with an evaluation. Because it took three months to arrange that meeting, a desire not to waste his time produced a check in our spirits.

We weren’t free to revisit the call until the final phase of empty-nesting ended. With our boys relocated and established in Calgary, on March 23rd we had a Skype call with Letha and her husband, John. By the end of that call, we were urged to apply to Serve Globally and deepen the discernment process. The more we delved into the paperwork, the more obvious it became that God was leading us back to the UK, and to revisit a call that has never gone away.

Born in Wales, Rae is a British citizen and plans to find a job in her field. She recently attended a worldwide Geographic Information Tech conference where she tirelessly networked and made some wonderful UK connections. Upon discerning with the Kerls, we think it best to live where Rae finds a job. My own ministry will spring from there.

In establishing a Covenant presence in the UK, we don’t go as competition with existing churches. We are invited instead to bolster and support them. One avenue I’m pursuing is working in spiritual formation and the arts with Renovaré UK.  Renovaré is a Christian non-profit organization that is ecumenical in breadth. It encourages Christians to seek continual renewal through spiritual exercises, spiritual gifts, and acts of service. I’m well acquainted with the organization having served for many years at retreats with most of their key people. My master’s degree follows the Renovaré platform.

This will be at least a year in preparing. We don’t see ourselves departing until roughly this time next year as we raise the needed support for myself, dispose of most of our possessions, and get our house ready to put on the market. As well, we have a Missions Equipping Training Event next June at North Park Seminary.

We are planning a fact-finding reconnaissance trip to France and Britain at the end of October. In Paris, we will meet with another Serve Globally couple working with arts and spiritual formation. Then, we travel with them to a retreat in Sête, France, where we will meet the rest of the Europe team. I will be leading worship and Rae has been invited to work on an online mapping product for them.  From there we have many meetings lined up in London, Aylesbury, Edinburgh, and possibly Glasgow. We hope that it will bear fruit for both Rae and I in focusing our respective call.

Thank you for your faithfulness to our family, your ongoing friendships, and for participating with us in this time of prayer, seeking, and discernment. We have deeply loved this church. I believe it has loved us. Since we’d be honoured for Yakima Covenant Church to be our official sending body, you’d not be losing an employee as much as gaining a missionary instead! We pray that as we embark on this adventure together, we will all find places of refreshing in the Spirit and renewal in our shared Christian journey.

This story map, made by my geographer wife is much more fun, interactive way of saying some of the same things.

Thanks to you, my readers, for hanging in there with me and letting me toss around my longings in your faces for these years. You’re brave souls, all.

Your friend in the mystery, R

The Saving Power of Beauty – A Navajo Blessing

You can find this gorgeous prayer here. But, innerwoven requested a special backstage pass as well. Enjoy.

Chaco-Canyon-NM-Photo-Philip-Greenspan.jpgWalking in Beauty: Closing Prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

Hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shideigi hózhóogo naasháa doo
T’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa doo
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
 Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’

Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me

I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.

I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.

I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.

I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.

I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

My words will be beautiful…

_________________________________________

Linguistic Note: The word “Hozho”  in  Dine’  (roughly translated) Concept of Balance and Beauty. Consideration of the nature of the universe, the world, and man, and the nature of time and space, creation, growth, motion, order, control, and the life cycle includes all these other Navajo concepts expressed in terms quite impossible to translate into English.   Some Navajos might prefer the term: “Nizhoni” meaning  ‘just beauty.”

* * * * * *

Written by Robert S. Drake, for Tom Holm, PhD, University of Arizona American Indian Graduate Studies Program, Native American Religions and Spirituality.

From Laura Jean Truman

After Business Hours Bar.jpgOn her website she self-describes in the following way:

“Laura Jean is an Atlanta based writer, itinerant chaplain, and amateur mystic. She lives and writes in the in-between places of queerness, loving Jesus, and rediscovering the Bible after fundamentalism.”

She’s becoming a favourite blogger/human of mine. She’s smart, insightful, brave, witty, and honest. I hope you like her as much as I. 

Here’s her latest piece: “The Gospel of Being Human.” Brilliant.

Unfolding…

Good morning, dear souls. My frequency of posting has been lacking of late. There are some good reasons for this, which shall be made clear in coming weeks.

For now, a brief meditation on sub-realities versus actualities. Peace to you all.Unfolding....jpg

Once More into the Familiar

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Picture found here

We never come to the same place twice. Either the place has changed, if only a little. Or, more likely, we have. The hiraeth of soul that has so often dogged my steps has reemerged of late. But the hound on my doorstep isn’t the one I kept around for many years while waiting for something else to show up.

I’ve received the gift of self in recent years. The much more confident, goof-ballish, boisterous extraverted-introvert I was as a boy has reasserted himself into a picture that had become a bit smudgy. I’d gone from an emerging oil painting of youth to a broody graphite sketch with too little detail to offer much picture to anyone. Especially myself.

I make no apology for the change in myself. In my writing. My demeanour. It is part and parcel of the journey with a God who refuses to let us stay too long in places we’re tempted to think are entirely who we are. Once we begin to feel a bit too comfortable, God steps in to f**k up the status quo and help us carry on the search.

We are found in the seeking. It is the looking itself that defines our spirituality. Once we think we’ve ‘found’ God, God will dive into a new game of hide-‘n-seek, if only to remind us that God is God and we are not.

The great hope is that, he or she to whom we are ever returning is one to whom we might actually want to return. So, with a few of these things in mind, what follows is a brief journal entry from last Sunday, July 7th:

* * * * *

“Oh soul, my soul, where have you gone? Oh life’s pericope, trope of being, lattice of heaven. God’s bathroom mirror. I can see God shaving for work through the tiny crack in the door. It brings such comfort and reminds me that, more than anything else, God is a friend. Ruler of the normal and unexceptional. Lord of the forgotten and easily missed. Master of ‘meh.’ All the more remarkable for his/her unremarkability. 

Son of man. That’s how Jesus loved to describe himself. Of all the venerable, honest, or descriptive titles he could have used, this was the one to which he was most drawn. He used it more than any other. That alone tells me all I need to know about this God I pursue. Who pursues me. 

This is no pagan god more interested in f***ing my wife than helping me in any way. This is not the tribal god of some prehistoric people, full of fear and terror of the great, dark world more attributable to earth than heaven. The God I serve is the God I love. Who loves me.

Why should God and love be together in one entity? God has no responsibility toward love of any kind. By definition, God could be merely a passing, disinterested peripheral glance. He/She could be a fearsome, destructive, despair-inducing monster bent on nothing more than her/her own pleasure and aggrandizement. A despot. Self-centered and terrifying. Wait, that’s more us!

Instead, this God holds in his/her arms the leper, the cheater, the whore, and the little child. He/She rebukes the great and restores the sinner. God breaks those who declare themselves unbreakable and repairs those they have broken. Today, I grasp again this familiar hand of this familiar God. (S)he never let go of mine. I’ve merely rediscovered the playground. (S)he’s been watching me/us from the sidelines, encouraging me to run, take risks, try new things, learn the feel of the cosmos in my hands.

His/Her gaze is all I’ve ever needed.

 

“Words of hope…”

America loves its Independence Day. Any country born through the birth canal of revolution would say the same. But, instead of bemoaning the cognitive dissonances inherent in such a celebration, especially this year, I give this space to the far better thoughts of uncle Tom, Merton that is. 65929224_2112233278898794_4942820785698897920_n.jpg

In the Covenant: Curiosity Wed to Certainty

Image may contain: 8 people, including Robert Rife, Erica Cox, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom and Dave Bonselaar, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Covenant Theology classmates – partners in curiosity and certainty

I’ve spent a lot of time seeking. Looking. Perusing. Questioning. And then smiling when I found what I was looking for (or thought I was looking for), whining when I didn’t. Either way, I loved the pursuit.

I am at root a ridiculously curious guy. A poster-boy seeker. The entire world is fascinating to me in some way. As a kid I collected everything from rocket and dinosaur models to rocks, books, musical instruments, record albums (remember those?), jade things, Scotland trinkets and memorabilia, maps, miniature totem poles, strange friends, and much more. I was fascinated by astronomy, theoretical physics, geology, ornithology, folklore and mythology, quantum mechanics, languages and cultures, world religions, time travel, metaphysics, and the funky ideas of weird people.

I never doubted the universe was a grand, spacious, and basically good place. It was a veritable playground of cool stuff to discover; full of mystery and mayhem and magic and material to gaze upon and wonder. I saw God everywhere. And I believed God saw me. We had a thing. Buddies. It was a sort of comfort between two schoolyard pals with utter trust for one another.

I knew no theology, at least in any book learnin’ way. I had no language with which to describe this experience, this thirst. My discoveries of the world gave me all the words I needed to understand what hidden hands might have molded it all into being. I was perfectly happy just being curious and finding out stuff on an as needed basis. With anything close to an answer, I was gifted with a hundred new and better questions that got me started all over again.

That curiosity grew into something rather epic by the time I made it to high school. A gangly, broody, class-clowny, artsy guy, I was clever enough to hang out with most kids. But, I was more interested in the periphery. It was one great social experiment. Like a chameleon, I changed to suit my environment and, like a sponge, soaked up all I could. 

I hung out everywhere. Belonged nowhere. It was fun. It was lonely. It was confusing. But, it all led somewhere. I was about to make a huge discovery, perhaps the biggest yet. Christianity. Not God necessarily. I knew God already. Well, someone I believed to be God. I suppose I met God, specified in Jesus; Jesus, housed in the church.

At first it was deliriously wonderful. I made the assumption, perhaps erroneously, that I was finally among kindred spirits with whom I might share the wonders I’d seen in the visible world. More so, perhaps this was where all my fellow curiousers were to be found. My peeps. This was to prove only partly true.

Those early days were full of acquiescing to the authority of church teaching and the closely protected parameters into which it was meant to be understood. I gobbled it up like I had everything else. My gigantic study bible became a holy junk-drawer for copious margin notes, underlining, highlighting, circling, questions to pursue, books and articles for further study. The Internet would have been handy back then!

Life became about not just consistent, but constant, church attendance. It was bible studies, prayer meetings, small group discussions, college and career cookouts and church campouts, discipleship training, evangelism training, and learning all those Christian songs I had no idea even existed. Friendships that once mattered now were to be discarded in the interest of holier pursuits. My extensive collection of apparently demonic record albums, totem poles, t-shirts, and socio-cultural ideas were summarily hurled into the salvation garbage bin. My life was changed. I knew it. Everyone around me knew it.

A problem began to present itself, however. Once one had a good enough handle on the manual for this Christian thing there seemed little left over for my curiosity, which only continued to grow. It grew well beyond the subject matter of my recent conversion.

I was still fascinated by other religions. Jesus was the only way. Alrighty, toss that.

Spirituality and metaphysics. Hellish new age nonsense. Okay, ditch that.

The far-flung reaches of space and the cosmos. Five days in the making. One for us. One left over to catch his breath. A few thousand years old. Headed for destruction. Fair enough, moving on.

My numerous artsy, gay friends with whom I’d always shared life and laughter. Distracted and damned, respectively. Hmm. Now what?

As I’ve grown older in years and wisdom (c’mon, work with me here), I’ve come to see that much of what passed for faith in my experience was saddled up to a rather small donkey called Evangelicalism. To be fair, that little steed was more accurately called Fundamentalism. But, as I’ve walked this faith road now for some thirty-five years, the former is, sadly, well suited to bed itself with the latter.

Why? One word: certainty. Well, one more word: information. For the post-Reformation, contemporary Evangelical, theology is the equivalent to the right information in pursuit of certainty of salvation. My problem? I’m not really interested in certainty. And, for me, information alone doth not wonder bring. I’m less interested in being a dictionary than I am a children’s pop-up book, full of surprises and gurgles of joy.

This is my longstanding love-hate relationship with Evangelicalism, at least as I’ve come to experience it. To overstate my case, it is like the cosmos being shoved through an eye-dropper. The vastness of God stuffed into a propositional, mechanistic framework designed for pragmatic outcomes. Like writing a paper about sex without ever getting laid.

The intervening years have seen my spiritual journey take me on a wild ride through numerous faith iterations and denominational platforms. I discovered, to my chagrin, that, again, I hung out everywhere, belonged nowhere. It was no less baffling than any other pursuit. At least, in some of those settings, hearty questions – many without good “answers” – were encouraged.

Theology that doesn’t breed curiosity is merely ideology with God words affixed to it. It is platitudinous porridge that shows all its ingredients at once in a quaint, glass bowl. If my only aim is to say some creed from memory and attach that to my existential experience of the cosmos, then religion isn’t for me. I’d rather just be a euphoria-seeking hippy who prefers singing to studying, casual running to constant repenting. At least “God” is big enough to handle my doubts, questions, fears, heresies, and all the rest that comes with being human.

Then, I met the Covenant. Well, the Evangelical Covenant Church to be specific. A spunky little group of exceedingly friendly folks (they were originally called Mission Friends) who love the bible, Jesus, personal conversion narratives, culture and justice, a broadly-lived gospel, and the freedom to disagree. Then, as a bonus, I discovered their love for good beer, wine, laughter, connection, and passion for peace in the family. And, better still, the overweening requirement of picture-perfect theology generally expected in denominational religioso, gives way to the well-lived in shoes of narrative theology. Questions that belie quick quips are tossed about like hacky-sacks. But, they never wander far from the few simple items which unite them.

So, in my journey of questioning everything, accepting little as definitive except the asking itself, I can still be more curious than certain. Or, stated differently, I’m certain enough of the main things to be footloose and fancy-free in the cosmos-at-large. The whole bibliocentric Evangelicalism thing is old for me. I think it will always feel like an ill-fitting hat, holding TV personality hair at bay.

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But, if that is where I’m to live and move and have my being, then I can think of no better place to do so than the Covenant.

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North Park University, Chicago – ECC book learnin’ headquarters

Lament – A Psalm About Faces

Last summer I was privileged to prepare and lead a class on the Psalms. A big part of the experience was, upon completion of our more “formal” study, we’d write our own Psalm. The class produced some powerfully moving, deeply personal works. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, mine came out as a Lament.

I share here that Psalm and encourage you to share some of your own work in the comments!

Sketch found here

O Lord, God of faces, where now is your face?

And why have you hidden from us your gaze?

Where once we walked together,

now we thrash and reel and hack.

Darkness has become our only ally;

and hopelessness our truest friend.

 

For those of insolence and hatred rule over us;

the ruthless and ragged become our destroyer.

Therefore, falsehood and lies bind us;

and the absence of truth shackles us.

We have become party with wolves and savages,

those without conscience or care for the poor.

 

They lash out from behind empty eyes

to oppress the widow and orphan,

the immigrant and the voiceless.

All that is good, pleasing, and right is set aside;

truth and love are traded for lies and hate,

victim to the victimizers.

 

And through their shame have we become a byword,

a cause for mockery among the nations.

 

We hear them cry out in the streets,

and moan among the people of injustice against them.

But it is they who are unjust,

with lies have they clothed themselves.

 

How long, O Lord? How long

must we watch our children caged,

our future torn apart?

How much more treachery must we endure at their hands?

 

Save us, O God, from their filth;

release us from their grotesque machinations.

Turn your eyes toward us for we are weary and broken;

tearful and confused.

 

Find a place again among us where all that was good

can again be good; where the darkness again is dark.

 

Rise up, once more, gracious Lord, and be our protector;

the light behind our eyes,

the light behind our faces;

the face behind all faces.

 

For we are your people,

and you are our God.

A Day in Portland – A Brief Meditation on the Obvious

I think I’ll call this latest phase of my personal development, “observational spirituality.” It’s not particularly original. Kitschy, I suppose. Cutesy? Melodramatic? Perhaps all of that and more. But, at the risk of sounding dismissive of the apophatic theology or the sometimes borderline morose asceticism of some mysticism, I’m squarely in the “see ‘n say” life program. At least right now.

Homeless Man

My prayers are open-eyes, open-hands, double-takes, pen ‘n paper, q & a, and laced-up shoes. Prayer, even contemplative prayer, is on the move, seeking God from a moving center of gravity. 

Those who know me well but not normally affixed to the world of spirituality see this is as a return to normal, whatever that might be. God bless them. I think, on one level, they’re likely correct. My guess is what they mean is that Rob has become less esoteric and more fun to be around. Less spiritually obtuse, opaque, and more…reachable. 

Nothing could be truer. However, it might not be in the way they think. I haven’t given up on the ocean of mysticism and my belief that the truest theology isn’t what we think but what we perceive and experience and live. But I am on hiatus from a contemplative spirituality that, at times, merely perpetuated my need to run from the sharper edges of a life I couldn’t understand, let alone master.

This has profoundly impacted my poetry and writing. Much less moan ‘n groan, much more cry ‘n sigh. Less sad, more glad. Less whine, more wine (metaphorically, of course). Even my demeanour is changing. I’ve fully re-embraced the extravert who had lain dormant for many years while God messed around in my business.

So, a little exercise. What follows is a short journal entry from last weekend in Portland, Oregon. My wife and I were writing, as we often do. Mine became a simple celebration of what was right before me. It helps amplify in me a favourite word these days: notice.

* * * *

Blocks of mismatched, oddly coloured flats, like leftover Legos, greet me upon opening hotel curtains, themselves an unfortunate retro-seventies error in judgment. I open the window and partake of the wet air. This stuff is made for lungs that appreciate breathing like fine dining more than the dry, git ‘r done Yakima dust.

The cool, soppiness of a Portland sky is a cliff dive for me into a densely soft Yorkshire Pudding of nature carbs. Richly satisfying. Even if I had to pay for it later, it wouldn’t matter. I’m full and the landing is even softer than the jump itself.

The almost preternatural way I’ve always taken to the damp, concrete-smell of mossy earth and sky tells an old story. It is one I’m only beginning to understand. There’s something oddly familiar about wiping this outdoor bathroom mirror sky to catch a glimpse of someone I recognize in no other way. 

Not unlike many others, I live for these moments, moments of simple observation. Recognition of what is. Meditations upon the obvious. One discovers that, in discovering whatever lies just beyond our fingers, noses, tongues, and eyelashes provides ample fertilizer for the soul, which remains unseen.

So, in the interest of a better look, I pull down the blue-grey, clouded hat-sky upon my waiting head and tuck into the day.

Here it is, where everything meets, greets, and seats me. I do not need to look any deeper. It is already seeing me as I am. The rest, as they say, is gravy.

Thanks for being here with me. I need you all.