Poulsbo-ing, the Beginning

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            We’ve been addressing a particular trajectory to our lives.

Longing/Desire           Awakening/Awareness       Union/Formation

We’re going to backwards engineer the gospel. We’re going to do this in a couple ways. We’ll read a few key scriptures, lean into some key concepts and hopefully come out with a more suitable language for gospel enterprise than has typically been presented.

Something a little yummier.

Genesis 3:1-13: Original Sin Is Secondary Fixation

So, what is “original sin?”

Why do you think the serpent went first to the woman? I had a short-lived career in sales. My training was clear. Always aim for the decision-maker, the alpha in any group. The serpent needed to break the hard one first. Destroy the tougher of the two.

It well knew that Adam would cave like a frightened little boy (which, of course, he did). When approached, Eve perfectly parrots what God had just told them. She remembered word for word God’s explicit instructions.

Women listen. They remember. Best of all, they fight well when cornered. She puts up a good struggle against the serpent’s clever quips and subtleties. She dodges and weaves with a sense of duty and obligation. Responsibility.

But, alas, in the end she succumbs.

But she fought well first! Adam, dumb shit-head that he was, says not a word when she hands him the fruit. Drooling and hungry, he says not a word. He just eats. One can hear the serpent thinking to itself, “hmm, no challenge there.”

Sin entered the world when lesser longings became enshrined as fully satisfactory to the human experience. We would forever experience a distance between what we long for, struggle for, and our actual experience. It’s really more about idolatry than pride. When anything less than simple communion with God is the object of our affections, we will remain disaffected, distant, sick, unhappy.

There’s much unhelpful language floating about with regard to the process of our becoming. I want to address some of that.

In this process, there are some bible words that we need to reclaim from the smelly hallways of fundamentalism, in order to make them once again winsome and helpful. And, just before we do that, let me ask your thoughts on something. What is original sin? Choosing as the object of your affection and adoration anything less than God. It’s really more about idolatry.

I want to get at this by means of a picture. I call it the concentric circles of longing:

The Concentric Circles of Longing.jpg

Sin. There are numerous terms in the scriptures that speak of those thoughts, intentions, or actions which separate us from God and our truest selves. Can we name a few of them? (Hint: there are 33!).

Sin. Trespass. Offence. Iniquity. Transgression. Wrong-doing.

I want to address the most common one: sin. In Greek, it is: Αμαρτία (Hamartia).

It occurs 174 times in the New Testament! It is an archery term. It means essentially to “miss the mark.” This is actually a positive term in many ways. It is less dismissive of our humanity than we’ve made it to be. In fact, it suggests that in our longing for union, we often shoot awry. The arrows of our longing are misspent on wrong or insufficient targets.

But at least we’re aiming at something! God comes to improve our aim by shooting the arrows for us!

Temptation. The Greek for temptation is, πειρασμός (peirasmós). It means “to prove” or “test,” or “try.” It has both negative and positive usage throughout the scriptures. To be tempted is to be presented with options that fulfill desire. Choosing those options determines the course and quality of life thereafter.

Salvation. The word salvation comes from the Latin salvare, “to save.”  The Greek equivalent is “soteria.” Salvation doesn’t always have to do with theology. Salvation is the act of saving from sin or evil, or even just from an unpleasant or harmful situation. It is a much broader term in Greek than we often think of in English. Inherent in soteria are a restoration to a state of safety, soundness, health and well-being as well as preservation from danger or destruction. It carries with it the ideas of deliverance, rescue, redemption.

We’ve made a term aimed at our wholeness into a transactional matter between an angry, tribal god and the sinners he can’t wait to destroy. Sadly, the gospel has become as simple as, “You’re horrible. Jesus isn’t. Believe that and get to go somewhere nice forever. Don’t, and you’re doomed. Forever.” That’s how much we’ve diminished the term. It’s latin root, salve, aims more at healing than anything. It pictures the broader healing ministry of Jesus whose touch brings healing, physically and otherwise.

Holiness. In Hebrew, qedesh. A word that biblically speaking is a concept of beauty has become anathema because of being coopted by those who, one, are anything but and two, have wed the term to certain unbiblical litmus tests: social conservatism or progressivism, nationalism, talking point politics, and political position and power, good manners, etc. It’s the exact issue Jesus faced in the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. It has once again become a stultifying term with little to recommend it.

I admit that, for many of these reasons, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the word for many years. It so reeks of theological condescension and smugness that there’s little life left in it.

I had the opportunity to work alongside Dallas Willard a few years ago. He was fond of saying that holiness is the idea that we’ve become so Christlike in our thoughts and behaviours that God can trust us to be good. In fact, he said that true biblical holiness, wherein our total person was being brought under the loving captivity of Christ, made us responsible / response-able to act in ways that shine the light of Christ into the lives of others.

Now THAT’S an idea I can live with! Augustine said that the sum total of our lives is to love God and do whatever we want. Holiness, where our longings are being recaptured, redirected, and reoriented toward God. Holiness equals freedom.

Heaven. Does anyone know the Greek word for ‘heaven?’ It’s παράδεισος (paradeisos), or paradise. We’ve taken this term meant to convey the abode of God; the incorporeal, incommunicable, ineffable nature of God into one of mere geography. We live now on earth. We’re gonna live then either in heaven or hell. It’s an extremely limited, linear way of seeing God. It places God on a simple timeline and in a certain place.

Do you wanna know what “paradise” actually means? It’s originally a Persian word used for an orchard or park, and it means with/alongside God, or the gods!

Heaven is less a “place” than it is a “mode of being.” It is not a “where” as much as it is a “how.” We become eternal inasmuch as we hang out with one who is eternal: God. That God lives both in and outside of the time/space continuum. God is not tethered as we are to our geography and our clocks.

Taken together, these four terms form a rather alluring invitation to look into our deepest longing and let the Spirit address it in meaningful, life-changing ways! Sin becomes the failure of even our best efforts to find union outside of God’s intervention on our behalf. As we learn to humbly acquiesce to God in that endeavour, we find rescue: salvation. In turn, that leads us gradually forward to a place in which we more readily aim at what is best, and find it in God’s name, to the end that we live increasingly as God does: eternally. We live as God does, in paradise. In union with God and everyone else.

John 3:16-17

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This is a hinge of scripture. It is the fulcrum in the balance of eternity. Much of western Christianity, which is squarely built on shame/guilt motif, spends all its time trying to escape our sinfulness into our sainthood. The resurrection has become the central doctrine and everything serves it. Increasingly, I believe the Incarnation to be the lynch pin.

We long for union with God, but not before God longed for the same. Ours is predicated on God’s. We wouldn’t know desire unless it wasn’t first birthed in the heart of the God whose desire for us risked the destruction of God’s only son.

We must see our desire for love, for community, for wholeness against the backdrop of the God whose longing heart makes such longings possible and gives them context.

Our deepest longings are met in God’s longing for us. It’s that simple.

There’s one more word that makes me cringe a little. It’s a word we love in our culture: obedience. In our own spiritual development, many of us get stuck right here. In fact, much of American Christianity is solidly stuck in the very elementary language of ownership, authority, rulership, and the expectations of obedience.

            Friends, obedience, as important and biblical as it is, is almost the lowest form of relationship we can have with anybody, let alone God! When two people have formed an indissoluble bond of love and trust, when would it ever be appropriate to use the language of obedience? Instead, we would use the language of sacrificial self-giving, of loving acquiescence, of complete surrender, of mutuality and reciprocity. There is no quid pro quo. There is no ledger of benefits or liabilities of disobedience. There is only love and respect and the longing to protect that longing in the other.

Obedience is easy next to longing. One can grit one’s teeth and obey. But, to face one’s deepest fears and desires, uncertain of how God will come to us, is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope.

Longing – Awakening – Union. It is the basis for all true spirituality, whatever its religious underpinnings. In each of these three posts from our CFDM retreat, I’ve included a typically glorious poem by John O’Donohue, Irish mystic. One of the lines says this: “May the one you long for long for you.”

In our Christian journey, this is a statement for which there need never be uncertainty. For God so longed for the world, that he gave…

May we learn to do the same.

Poulsbo-ing, part 2

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My first installment involving Poulsbo-ing introduced the trajectory seen and experienced in all true spirituality: Longing – Awakening – Union and back again. There, I remarked on what I believe to be my existential preparedness to speak on the topic of longing. Not because I’m the most learned guy on the subject. I can’t readily quote all the heavy weights. Largely because I can speak from my own experience of how longing and its fulfillment (or not) has helped me find some good tools for navigating its heavy currents.

Having read many books on this particular topic, I have to say that my personal favourite is the pivotal work by Catholic theologian, Ronald Rolheiser, entitled The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. At the beginning of chapter one he implants the following poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“The Holy Longing”

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,

Because the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.

 

In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you

when you see the silent candle burning.

 

Now you are no longer caught

in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making

sweeps you upward.

 

Distance does not make you falter,

now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.

 

And so long as you haven’t experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.

Rolheiser makes the astounding claim that everyone has a spirituality of some kind. It is either constructive or destructive. But, we have one all the same. And, long before we do anything explicitly religious at all, we have to do something about the fire that burns within us.

What we do with that fire, how we channel it, is our spirituality.

What shapes, motivates, and inspires our actions is our spirituality. And what shapes our actions is basically what shapes our desire. Spirituality concerns what we do with desire, how we channel our eros, our animus; our innermost being. Anytime we begin to wake up to the fire that burns in us, we come in contact with that which holds the key to our (dis)content. We begin to awaken to something in us beyond our understanding and control.

What we do with that discontent is our spirituality.

Rolheiser calls desire our fundamental dis-ease. Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard once defined a saint as someone who can “will the one thing.” Have you heard that before? Such a beautiful, succinct definition. Rolheiser goes on to compare the spiritualities of Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin. One managed to capture and focus her eros into a place of integration: the one thing. The other never did. She fell apart, dissipated, and her eros ended up killing her at age 27.

Most of us fall somewhere in between: Princess Diana. Both erotic and spiritual mixed together in a constant battle between the two. 

All things speak to our desire. Some more than others. I’ve often wondered why I’m more readily drawn to movies, books, or stand-up comedy than I am to a bible study or lecture? I wonder if it has anything to do with our topic?

The latter typically (and rather sadly I should add) appeals to our heads, our duty. The former tends to speak more quickly and directly to our passions, our desire; to our life. I believe Eldredge, in his book, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Always Dreamed of reminds us that “Hollywood has mastered the art of speaking to the human predicament.”

In fact, I think movies and art in general speak gospel much more forcefully and accurately to us than those self-proclaimed prophets of the good news, many of whom are basically just peddling one more idea in a saturated marketplace of ideas. Just more information, rather than inspiration leading to transformation.

Longing is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope. Sometimes we can fool ourselves and others that we live in contentment. More often, it is the mute resignation in the face of muted desire. Our hopes have been dashed so often, that we’ve given up hope but called it contentment.

Either way, our invitation is to awaken to the fire that burns within us. It is a fire burning in hope of union with God and all others. It is the root of all genuine spirituality. 

An exercise in awakening: A Visio Divina of The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Longing – Awakening – Union: the story of the Prodigal Son is a gorgeous microcosm of this process. A young man, impetuous, head-strong, very like many of us were when we were younger (or not!), seeks to satisfy his desires in less than helpful ways. In short order he begins to struggle and finds himself in dire straits. What is it that convinces him to return? Not repentance! That happens later.

Desperation.

Few stories are as emblematic of misappropriation of the heart’s desires as this one. It is found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. A veritable cavalcade of longings, the immediate, abused, misunderstood, and immature desires of a younger son; the unrequited, unspoken, hidden, forgotten, ignored desires of an older son; and the aching, bewildered, vulnerable, yearning desires of a doting father. This story has it all. 

It is a tale of awakening. Awakening to the many levels of longing to which the heart is privy. The entanglements of those levels, and the deepest longing of all, aroused in different ways in different people – for union with God and others.

As many have before, gaze deeply, slowly, prayerfully into it.

What do the characters tell us about themselves?

How does spiritual longing reveal itself in each one?

Where are you in relation to the father?

Do you feel yourself moving in a particular direction? Toward or away from a particular character in the drama?

What stands in the way of your becoming the father? 

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt van Rijn. Created 1663-1669

Closing Prayer

“Holy One, our Abba, in all our comings and goings, be alone, our deepest longing.”

Numbers ‘n Such

I’m fifty-six today.

On one level it matters little. I mean, with that many candles on a cake, it really puts the ‘numb’ back in numbers. On another level however, I’m glad to be officially closer to sixty now than fifty. I’m glad to be any number at all, really.

I recall turning fifty and the mind-f*** that was. It seemed to come like an unexpected twister on unsuspecting prairie. Boom! Half a century. Five decades. Just like that, using “mid-life” was no longer a usable phrase, at least with any honesty. That is unless I expect to outlive everyone else born in 1963. And, trust me, that’s not an attractive option in my case. 

I’ve called the fifties the f**k it decade. By the time one gets here, one has at least a modicum of self-respect, something resembling a “life”, a sexy partner with whom to share said life and best of all, I still have bowel control even if I don’t have the same over my mouth. Hmm, the jokes are endless…

To turn over another birthday leaf on one’s tree of life should make for a decent enough quilt. And, given the potential for disaster in anyone’s life, getting the opportunity to turn over anything at all is a bonus, I figure. With this many leaves Adam and Eve could have knit themselves forest floor leisure suits, stylin’ it up at Chez Eden.

Numbers. We make a big deal of them, don’t we? We affix expectations, mostly unspoken, to each decade. When younger, every age comes with its presets. Its presentations and problems. First successful toilet ventures (this returns in later life I’m told). First pubes. First love. First kiss. First _____ (this disappears in later life I’m told). First heart-break. First job. First child. First mortgage (not as fun as it sounds). First promotion. First AARP mail (again, not as fun as it sounds).

We squint our eyes and raise our unibrow at the forty-year-old man still living in his mother’s basement. The forty year old woman still unmarried – or worse – without children (the nerve!). The twenty-year-old still grazing among the high school sheep, basking in their glory days glow. 

We even make movies of such things. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin pokes fun at he who has yet to fun poke. Thankfully, the film had at least some range and didn’t descend into the reductio ad absurdum that a man’s worth is based on his first non-solo orgasm. (Says the the man now in his thirty-second year with the other half of the same).

North American society is no different than any other when it comes to the numbers game. Ours is just more cryptic about what we consider “normal human behaviour” at a given age. We’ve lost many tribal rites of passage like native vision quests, or African communal wedding night celebrations (thank God!). Instead of bar mitzvah, we prefer bar hopping. Instead of sweat lodges, we prefer frat houses. Instead of tribal dancing, we prefer table dancing.

But, it’s all good I suppose. The intention is there even if the best means are not. 

So, I wonder what rites of passage are left for a guy solidly in late middle age? Is it my job now to prepare those for others? If so, wouldn’t that be another rite of passage for me as for another? Because rites of passage are tribal in nature, designed to bring youth ever deeper into a protective sheath of community, how would that even work for those like me?

This much I know. I couldn’t care less about the numbers, well, unless writing about it on the worldwide web counts for as much. Nevertheless, I awoke this morning to draw breath for another day. My twenty-thousand, four hundred and fortieth as luck and providence would have it. I awake to a beautiful Welsh girl every morning, have the joy of fathering two amazing young men, a satisfying career, a home, great friends, a growing faith into which I can settle and rummage for warmth, and the standard promises of my white, male priviledge (I’m a work in progress here).

Numbers. They’re fabrications really. And yet, they’re not. They offer some sense of significance in a world bent on removing it. Fifty-six may not be a fancy-pants age like forty, or eighteen, or one hundred. It’s a little faceless on the surface. But it’s not without charm and promise.

I’ve been granted another year. One. More. Year. I’m no Mother Teresa (I don’t have the balls she did). I’m no Martin Luther King, Jr. (too pale). I’m no Vasco de Gama (I get lost on my way to the bathroom). 

I’m Robert Alan Rife. Human. Husband. Lover. Father. Friend. Disciple. Human…wait, I said that. 

Best of all, I am happy. Numbers? Bring ’em. I’m ready.

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Taken when I wasn’t ready…by me.

 

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

“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.