Weakly

Who do I say I love

When I say “I love you, my God”?

What kind of force

or Being or less

Are you my God?

Weakly

Faintly

You draw me, you call

Without power

Without strength

But in love, You are Love!

And I am on to you!

I am on to you!

I am on to you!

You’re love.  I am on to you.

A fragment

…a fragment of a 19th century German poem,

How should I name the Most High? A god doesn’t love what doesn’t fit,

And to grab onto this little fragment, our own joy would be too small.

We must then, mainly, keep silent; names for god are lacking.

Heart’s beat and yet speech remains behind?

My Favorite Reading from 2008

Ten books this year that I found worthwhile and inspirational…

While I do not agree with all the conclusions that the various authors come to (if they come to one at all), I was challenged by each of their perspectives and offerings.

These books were both prescriptive towards a new reality in my life, and descriptive of existing realties.  Some of them were read multiple times–others only once. Some from last year made it onto the list–mainly because they continued to have a deepening or enjoyable effect in my life. And some that I just finished are here as well (maybe they’ll go on next years list too).

I hope you Enjoy and have a chance to check them out in the coming months:

10.

This is an incredible collection of spiritual and mystical poems.  They are from another faith tradition, but don’t let that scare you off, besides inspiring greater understanding we also find that there are many things we share in common.  Hafiz articulates a God who is found in every laugh and tear.  The poetry extends beyond cognitive thought and hints at things that are beyond our ability to grasp…they turn us towards the Divine.

 

 

9.

Rollins gives, perhaps rather strangely, a lot of people hope.  I know so many who find themselves on the fringe–on the outskirts of belief or faith–but Rollins invites them to move beyond the mundane questions about God’s existence but to actually give God birth in our lives. He asks us to allow the miracle of God to be our own transformed lives.  At the same time Rollins puts forward a basic thought: faithfulness to God will always look like unfaithfulness to religious form.  This will be hard for many within their tradition to swallow–but those already outside, it seems to connect. I loved it.  

8.

I read Kester Brewins book last year, in fact it was the last book I read in 2007.  I feel as if I have lived it in 2008.  This book is one of my all time favorites.  It is written like poetry or a prayer escaping the lips of a hopeful yet hurting child.  There is a sense of wonder in these pages that invites the reader to wait on God, to discover the new thing God is doing and to dig ones hands into the grimy, often dirty, work of living towards a shared community as followers of Jesus.  Really this is a brilliant work.  I can’t say enough about it and even recently demanded that a friend and co-pioneer here in Portland read it.  I wish I could force every church planter, visionary, and co-worker to do so as well.  

7.  

I met Carl McColman this summer and had no clue who he was outside of a mutual friend’s recommendation. After our dinner together I realized that I wanted to spend copious amounts of time with this brother in Christ.  His history is rich and varied. His path of conversion is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever heard. And his generosity of spirit is intoxicating without being purely a free for all.  More than anything though, he brings all of this to a book he wrote over a decade ago.  This is a book for all spiritual seekers. It helps to articulate a path that neither negates nor excludes faith traditions, but rather affirms and invites people to recognize our great need for honest exploration of that which is beyond the here and now.  I have Christian and non-Christian friends alike I would love to loan this book to, provided I get it back. ;)

6.

Reading this book while flying 30,000 feet above the ground was a dizzying experience. I finished it between the round-trip flights to a speaking engagement in the midwest. It left me breathless.  First, it is a good mystery, or rather three of them. 1) the disappearance of God in the Hebrew Bible 2) The Madness of Niechze 3) The connection of Cabbala and the Big Bang.  For any student of Scripture who has ever noticed the peculiar problem of “the disappearance of God” between Genesis and Daniel, this is a must read.  I was always troubled by the overt involvement of God in human affairs up front, only to be completely absent (not even mentioned) in the book Esther.  Why?  This is one of the questions Friedman seeks to answer.  He also delves into a completely bizarre connection between Nietchze and Doestoevsky…in the end the man who proclaimed God was dead actually believed himself to have become God.  And then finally the last section explores what Medieval Jewish mystics seemed to know about the beginning and ending of the universe that scientists are just now catching up with.  All in all this book was riveting. I ended up have a quasi-spiritual experience akin to being slain in the Spirit but in the middle of the Denver airport. Incredibly powerful–and bizarre.  Still, an incredibly challenging and altering book about unexpected subjects from an unlikely source.   

5.

The Anabaptists have slowly, quietly, been tending to the treasury of actually taking Jesus seriously for hundreds of years now.  My wife is Mennonite as well as some of my best friends.  Though it has become, in many aspects, largely cultural–devoid of the original prophetic voice calling for radical apprenticeship to Jesus via the Sermon on the Mount, there are those who would reclaim that voice. Lee Camp is one of them.  He wrote this book as a more popularized and updated version of John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”.  This book is at once accessibly written and extrutiatingly demanding.  Still, while inviting us to take Jesus far more seriously than we probably ever have–Camp also asks us NOT to take OURSELVES so seriously.  This is a message we need to hear more than ever.  (AND, if the book weren’t already worth it, I would pay the $15 just for the Appendix’, full of Mennonite/Anabaptist creeds, and spiritual practices to be utilized personally and communally).  

4.  

For anyone who enjoyed Frost or Hirsch’s past offerings, “Exiles” or “The Shape of Things to Come”, you are going to LOVE this book.  ReJESUS is prophetic, calling us to discover, as they say it in their subtitle, “a WILD messiah for a missional church”.  Jesus, to these authors, is a flesh and blood figure who offered hope for his world and in Spirit offers hope for ours today as well.  The book is a critique of laissez faire market place Christianity, while at the same time, affirming the biblical rendering of the person of Jesus.  Once again they beautifully express the need for the church to engage the Mission of God on this earth and to discover the radical claims of Jesus for the present moment.  It is faith renewing.  It was for me.  

3.

Fact is perhaps best described by fiction.  Eons ago, back when Gen X still was mostly unnamed and we didn’t know who we were turning out to be, Douglas Coupland was elucidating the sense of isolation and desperate spiritual desire that the first generation without God was living with. The book is really a collection of short stories each focussing on different characters and situations. Still, a single thread runs through this small volume, hopelessness inspiring hope.  I recommend it because it describes the people I’ve met and am meeting.  People who are tired of running. People who are searching without realizing it.  It’s entertaining but its much bigger than that.  It’s descriptive.

2.  

The National (a band) sings about being “half awake in a fake empire”.  Chuck Klosterman is such a person.  He sees the connectedness of everything–from “Saved by the Bell” to internet porn to Frosted Flakes.  This book will make you believe that the “merchants of cool” (the shady marketeers who are engineering a culture of consumers who will buy their products) are real…and have been so for a very long time.  It will also make you realize the peculiar pit fall of being postmodern–something that Klosterman continually addresses and critiques.  In the final essay which happens to be on the topic of the once wildly popular “Left Behind” series in evangelical Christianity, he says why he admires fundamentalists. I found his reason interesting: “They’re probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture–the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”  Because, while he freely admits he’s a product of the mind numbing culture strewn between 1975-2005, Klosterman sees that there MUST BE MORE than pluralistic pliability–there are absolutes…even if we’ve been absolutely confused about them.  Very funny book. Very entertaining and insightful into the culture at large.

1.

The subtitle of this book defines for me something that has been, and continues to be, an arduous and at times perilous journey: reconnecting your spirit without disconnecting your mind.  To embrace mystical spirituality that affirms the Bigness of God, the unknowability of God–who can only be known in the breaking point of Spirit and Body, while at the same time exploring actively the mental ramifications of knowing ABOUT God in my mind–this is the challenge that Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in SF, seeks to do.  He’s well qualified to do it too.  His church in San Francisco has been trying to find a “third way” between spiritual fundamentalism and secular post-modernism for years.  To his critics he is just another heir to the ooey-gooey hippies but to those who are being radically healed of pessimism  and spiritual lack Alan Jones is on to something (in the same way that Jesus was ;)).  This book ministered to me.  It wouldn’t have 2 years ago. It may not in the next year. But where I am today–it helped me reaffirm my commitment to life in the Way of Jesus, to His followers and indeed to all of humanity, and to moving in Spirit and Truth.  People who find themselves disappointed or wounded, on their way out or maybe even on their way in, will love this book.  People wanting to understand those of us who I’ve just described should probably give it a read too.  This year, this book is really the one about a Christianity worth believing–Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All.

Early Morning Hymnal

  I’ve been starting my mornings and then continuing my days with poetry. Poems tend to hint at things that can’t be seen straight on.  They elucidate the hazy feeling of Being.  I for one struggle through them, feeling confined by their lines, symmetry, and schemes; only to be opened up to another world in reflection. Here are a couple of poems out of books I’ve been enjoying lately.

THE SEED CRACKED OPEN

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?”

That was before the seed 

Cracked open.

Now I am certain:

There are two of us housed 

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”  –Hafiz

 

We must not portray you in king’s robes,

you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes

we take the same gold for scepter and crown

that has disguised you through the ages.

piously we produce our images of you

till they stand around you like a thousand walls.

And when our hearts would simply open,

our fervent hands hide You.–Rilke

 

Amen.

a song

Jesus as teachernaked, poor I come to u. casting all my cares on u. master, won’t u teach me your ways? wretched, blind I run to u. pressing on towards knowing u. master won’t u teach me your ways?

take me on! take me on! i gladly lay down my life–following u.

touch my eyes and I will see. touch my lips and I will speak. master won’t u teach me your ways?

take me on! take me on! i gladly lay down my life–following u. following u.

words and silence

Words
Divine Creative
Conspiring, Imagining, Liberating
Incarnate activity numbly paralyzed
self-satisfying mummifying miming
mute ignorance
Silence

Last thought of the day…

Mystery
unseeable Song
crescendoing anthems rise
leaving me punched silent
clouded.

The Artist Heart

God is an artist…that’s almost needless to say…

It is increasingly common to hear that we, being created in the image of a creator, are also artists…

But try telling that to an accountant at Price Waterhouse Cooper who sees nothing artistic in his job (which is truly JUST a job–he’s equally passionless about numbers as he is for the arts) and nothing artistic in his heart.

Try telling that to the pragmatist 43 year old too busy (and to sensible) to wonder if a writer, a poet, a singer, a painter of  panoramic  themescapes, lies in their cold soul.

Try telling that to the numb, calloused, exhausted, burnt out, nervously attention deficient God fearer…who, truth be told, really doesn’t even identify God as an artist…well–perhaps with a grrrreat stretch of what that word means…maybe then…maybe…

And, I’m beginning to think that word NUMB is actually a wonderful word for it all.  Our culture–the dominate western culture of “competence and competition” is disaffected by grief–we are vaccinated from tears and tragedy; a far cry from the wailing dirge of a New Orleans slave saunter of sadness for the loss of a loved one.  We are so removed from grief that we even theologize away God Incarnates grief. I have heard friends, good friends, report that Jesus couldn’t have possibly wept (at least not for anything more than show) at Lazarus’ burial…that wouldn’t make sense…because our God, like our fantasy of our self, cannot feel, cannot be punctured by the horrible mundane disaster that is this livingness. We are NUMB…and as Gilmore and Waters (Pink Floyd) said, “comfortably numb” at that.

Numbness, particularly to grief and the ordinary tragedy ongoing around us, it what prevents us from enjoying the artist heart of God and in ourselves.  One creator said that “writing is easy, simply cut open a vein and bleed”…because art is simply feeling…tapping in to the deep undercurrents of fear, frustration, hope, hallelujah hilarity, exhileration, empathy, friendship, loneliness, terror, efulgent and bursting love…etc…art is just touching that heart in ourselves and in God.

Brueggeman says that “art is the only thing which the empire cannot co-opt, cannot steal, cannot understand”, therefore we are not to be managers (those who focus on the mechanical Marthaing of realities) but imaginers.  Not managers but imaginers.  Dreamers. Tricksters and troubadors. Singers of songs and painters of God’s presence…  In those expressions God Himself will be expressed. He will not only be honored, but his good dream will expand in fabulous fiction but also in fact.

So…I dare you what I have been daring myself to become of late…an artist.  A professional “bleeder”…pipelining in to the Creator’s throbbing searching heart and annoucing it as my own.  A creator.

A people called to be creators.

Dare.

Just As

just as your hand closes around on mine

and the words come like backfires of a cold ignition

just as I thought I saw an arrow–did you

run away?

it’s our daughters and sons bleeding again

singing out their pirate anthems of Mercy and Justice and and and and

something more! Something more than this…

The democratic Temples aching for relief, the stock market sold and locked away

the sounds of yesterday pleading with the theory of tomorrow

And the wounded feet of a sojourner savior gathering the least of these

“A New World!” and “Prepare the Way!”…how blessed are those feet?

The feet that oil anoints and glistens against tiny beacons

waiting for funeral

Oh Divine suffering love…conquering all…conquering my culture and my context with

a Word–beauty of your heart.

just as we sit and whisper what should be shouted

just as it was before…

just as…just as…just as.

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