Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas New Years Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Tricola Transitions 2011

To our Dear Friends and Family,

A lot has changed in our lives recently, so we wanted to give you an update. In 2009, we moved to Boise where Brad and Heather were co-pastoring at the Friends Church. Levi Matthew joined our lives (surprise!) on April 5, 2011. Soon after Levi’s birth, we made the difficult decision to resign from our pastoral position and move to Camas. We found that the church was not the fit we hoped it would be. We really value the experience we had there and the relationships we built. We are happy to be back in the beauty and relentless green of the northwest, where we feel more at home and can see family and friends (and we are not missing the arduous drive over the Blue Mountains this winter).

We have settled into the Camas community nicely. The Tricolas moved into the second floor of the Goecks’ house (Heather’s parents) and are thankful that there is room in the Inn for this growing family. We have been integrated into the life of the Camas Friends Church community. We value the rich Quaker tradition and core values of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. We have found support and collaboration with this church community. Brad enjoys working at the Laundry Love project, leading music, and preaching.

Heather got a job that works perfectly for our family. She is teaching math at Union High School in Camas. Its proximity to our home, the engaged (mostly), quirky, and fun students, and the supportive staff make her work a joy. She is truly grateful for being able to balance meaningful work with a rich family life. This summer, Brad finished his Master’s degree in Ministry Leadership from George Fox Seminary. He is relieved-glad-sad to be finished. Brad really appreciated the experience and is grateful for his family’s support when he was busy with all the books and essays and online posts. Brad is beginning to see many rewarding and challenging life pieces come together. As a very active, hands-on dad (is there any other way to change diapers?), Brad also makes time for work that he finds engaging and fulfilling. He enjoys posting on his blog ( if you’re interested). In this new year, Brad will add administrative and pastoral work with Camas Friends, and an online facilitator position with George Fox Seminary, to his job as an enrichment instructor with the YMCA. Brad and Heather hope to find that Work-Life balance that seems so elusive. It will take simplicity, restraint, discernment, and God’s grace. We think it’s worth it. The Tricola children agree.

Braden started Kindergarten. His teacher has them learning tons, but is still able to nurture and inspire a love of learning. He’s beginning to read more fluently using a combination of strategies like sight words, chunking, and context clues. It’s so much fun to see it all starting to come together. His teacher describes Braden as imaginative, an outside-the-box thinker, and a pleasure to have in class. He has found a few kindred spirits that have become good friends. Zachariah is vibrant and good-natured. Even when he is in trouble, he often has a smile on his face. Zac makes beautiful art work and has a great sense of humor. In their recent church Christmas program, Zac and Braden both charmed the socks off the audience, singing out with gusto and hamming it up. Braden and Zac have been wonderful big brothers. When Levi is cranky, they are sometimes the only ones who can comfort him with their silly faces and noises. Levi is a sweet, social baby. He is starting to copy words and actions, like clicking his tongue. He is a boy who knows what he wants and works hard to get it, climbing up entire staircases or crawling through tiny spaces. Our three boys (mom is completely outnumbered!) bring such delight and energy to our lives.

Thank you for being a part of our story. We hope many blessings come your way this year.

With much love,

Heather, Brad, Braden, Zachariah, and Levi

The Ghost of Christmas Presence

Twenty years ago, on this day, at approximately this time, on the eve of Christmas Eve, I was woken by the ghost of Christmas Present. Actually, I just woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. Do you ever have one of those nights? Now, if this happens to me it's usually either because I had too much caffeine too late in the day or because there's something stressful on my mind. But as a nine year old child, I didn't have much access to caffeine or experience with stress.

I was just too excited about Christmas (Eve). Also, I had developed a small sleeping disorder. Someone with authority had told me that in order to get to sleep I needed to let every part of my body fall asleep. I would lay in my bed and begin with my toes and work my way up to my head and out to my fingertips. Okay feet, fall asleep. ankles... Inevitably, before I made it to my neck I would have an itch of some kind that of course needed scratching and I would have to start all over again. I never wondered how I had managed to sleep so well before knowing about this trick. I never considered scrapping it entirely.

On this aforementioned Christmas Eve eve, I had tried all the tricks. Nothing worked. I made some pathetic attempts to pass the time. Television - channels with static, blank screens and one black and white "classic". So I turned to more industrious entertainment. I tried to make Christmas ornaments using the metal lids from mason jars. I figured I could punch holes in the shapes of stars, angels, whatever. The noise when I hammered the nail on the metal lid was difficult to suppress. I went outside, but the silent night just made the hammering seem ridiculously loud. Eventually I just gave up. These were the longest and most agonizing 5 hours of my childhood.

Anticipation. Sometimes the involuntary tensing of muscles before your older brother gives you a wet willy, dead leg, or monkey bump. Sometimes it's the need for sleep and the suspicion that an itch is coming. Sometimes it's the giddy expectation of Christmas mirth and merriment. I know much of my life is lived in a place of anticipation. Sometimes it takes the form of dread. Sometimes excitement. I'm beginning to suspect that maybe I spend too much time in this space. But it seems the ghost of Christmas Future won't stop visiting me, won't leave me alone, won't just let me be. And if not him, the ghost of Christmas past reminding me of awkward moments, missteps, regrets.

I recently heard about a woman who was released from the company of past and future. I heard her story on one of my favorite podcasts - Radiolab. This woman, a brain scientist actually, woke up one day with a throbbing headache behind her left eye. An ache that turned out to be a stroke. Eventually this stroke, that happened in the left hemisphere of her brain, made it impossible for her to access thinking. She was aware of her body, her experience, but she had no access to her past memories or future worries. Both of which are controlled by the left hemisphere.

I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me, what is going on?” And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and — total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.

She describes her experience as sheer joy. All the brain chatter gone. Years of regret, stressors, emotional baggage, gone. All she experienced was the present. Eventually she regained her functions which is what made it possible to give talks and interviews and share about her experience. When asked in the interview which she thought was more important - the thinking, processing, remembering, analyzing part of the brain or the sheer experience part, she couldn't answer. She couldn't decide. And this from a scientist. But she spoke like a poet, with such tender nostalgia for those few moments of complete experience.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, this master teacher, begins his book this way: "Vapor! Vapor! Everything is vapor!" I used to think that this meant that the teacher was saying that life was meaningless (as some versions interpret it). But I wonder if maybe I completely missed his point. Maybe, coming to grips with the vaporous reality of life actually infuses it with meaning. I lie in bed and think. And my brain fools me into thinking their is a real thing called the past and that there is this very real thing called the future. And I am usually, at any given moment oblivious to the present moment. This fleeting, vaporous moment.

It's like this: I love my children. I love the different stages they are in - 5, 3, and 8 months. But I know that I can't freeze time. I can't keep them young and innocent (?) forever. It's actually because of this, because they are changing and growing that our moments together are so valuable. It's what makes you want to squeeze out every last drop of sheer experience you can.

Small children seem to do this so naturally. That's one of the things we admire and love so much about them. This is one of the blessings of being with children. We are able to relive the sheer experience and wonder of life through their eyes. Maybe this is what Jesus meant about needing to become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God. A kingdom that can't be dissected, analyzed, built, or controlled. No, the language of the New Testament is that of receiving and entering in. Simply receiving and entering in. Sheer experience. That holy ghost of Christmas Presence.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent: Being John Baptist

This Sunday I will be preaching from the assigned Lectionary calender. This week is the third week of Advent. The passage is John 1:6-8, 19-28 - the story of John Baptist. The question I am asking myself in preparation is, what does this passage have to do with Advent? Well, the word Advent means a kind of waiting for a momentous event. So, as a start, let's remember that John the Baptist was the "Voice crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord! Prepare a pathway for Him!"

John was down in the river baptizing everyone. People were confessing their sins (odd?) to him and he was dunking them in the Jordan river. They came to be babtized and they also came to hear him preach. Luke records "a sample of Johns Preaching." "You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God's coming judgment? Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don't just say, we're safe..." Not exactly the kinds of sermons that attract Joel Osteen sized crowds. So far, I'm not exactly getting filled with Christmas cheer.

Matthew and Mark go out of their way to point out some of the wierd things about John the Baptist. He ate locust and wild honey. He wore camel fur. These little tidbits take up valuable gospel space and seem to add very little to the narrative. Could Matt and Mark just not help themselves? Like your trying to describe someone with a very distinguishing feature...a large mole let's say. "You know, she's kind of medium height, blue eyes, brown know, the one with the huge mole on her nose." "Oh, her, why didn't you just say so."

But let's assume that perhaps this description of John goes beyond the novelty. John was an ascetic. A man of the dessert. A man of simplicity and sacrifice. Some say he lived in the very strict community of Essenes in Qumran. Was it this solitude, simplicity, sacrifice that gave him the strength and focus to speak truth to power, to relgious and royal alike. Like Jesus, it eventually got him killed.

Come to think of it, John shares a lot of commonalities with Jesus. Miraculous conception (his parents were too old to conceive). They were cousins. Both had disciples (some scholars think that Jesus may have actually been John's disciple before beginning his ministry). They preached a similar message. They both preached "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near." They both denounced the pharisees, calling them a "brood of vipers." Both spent time in the wilderness. Together they retell parts of Exodus story. God's people passing through the Jordan River toward the promised land, Jesus passes through the river and then spends 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.

Another interesting thing to note is that when Jesus' ministry started, John's didn't end. In fact there was some competition, at least among the disciples. John's disciples say to him, "Teacher, that man you baptized, the one you called Messiah, now he's baptizing people and everyone is going over there instead of coming to us."

I wonder if people were actually getting Jesus and John confused. "Who are you?" people asked John. "Are you Elijah?" "No." Are you the prophet? "No." "Are you the Messiah?" "I am not." "Then who are you?" "A Voice..." When Jesus asks Peter who do you think I am Peter answers, some say you are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say a Prophet." "Who do you say that I am," Jesus asks. "You are the Messiah. I wonder what it was like to be John, the older cousin of Jesus. His whole focus in life is to point to the coming one. But the problem is, when the annointed one, the messiah comes, he doesn't subscribe to the same program as John. He does a number of unexpected things.

After Jesus really gets rolling (disciples, Healing many, Sermon on the Mount, Disciples sent out) John sends one of disciples and he asks Jesus, "Are you really the Messiah we've been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else." Ouch! Jesus' response is this: "God blesses those who are not offended by me." He says look, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the dead are raised to life, and the good news is preached to the poor." Basically, what more do you want?!

Jesus goes on to point out some of the differences and how the crowds are pitting John and Jesus against each other. Jesus says, "John the Baptist didn't drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, 'He's demon possessed!' And I the Son of Man feast and drink and you say, 'He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst kind of sinners!'"

John was a great man. Jesus says so. "Not a weak reed moved about by every little breath of wind (paraphrased)." He was disciplined. "But the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of God is more important than he is," Jesus says. What could Jesus possibly mean by this? Was John missing something? Maybe he was confused that Jesus did not come to deny life as John himself had chosen to. Jesus came to bring life and life abundant. He drank and feasted and was friends with "notorious sinners." John was ready to sacrifice everything for his convictions. He even proclaims that he isn't worthy to be the servant of Messiah Jesus. but then Jesus himself doesn't seem to share all of his convictions.

Has this ever happened to you? You find God making friends with your enemies. The neatly constructed world that you have created for yourself about what good or bad people do or don't do begins to crumble. John defined holiness as not being defiled by the world. Jesus defined holiness as a radical openness, solidarity and transformation of the world.

Despite some of the awkward dynamics of Jesus' and Johns relationship, I think Jesus loved him dearly. He may have connected and identified more with John than anyone. They probably played together as children, went on pilgrimage together. They both went into the ministry. They were both destined for greatness. I wonder if Jesus looked to John as a colleague of sorts. When Jesus hears of John's death Matthew says he "he went out to a remote area to be alone."

So Advent. Christmas. Right. Hmmm... Let me think. Well, we can learn from John. That kind of expectancy and simplicity and solitude put John in the place where he wasn't going to miss Jesus' coming. But we also learn form Jesus and Johns interactions that thought the Kingdom life will often look like sacrifice, if we look deeper we find that it's more a celebration and participation in the zoe, abundant, GodLife. The simplicity, sacrifice, solitude help us to strip away the distractions, the lies, the traps that keep us from truth and beauty and life.

So my friends, slow down, watch out, breath in, give away, give up, wake up, lighten up, open up, make believe, eat drink and be merry!

Related Posts from Brad
Thoughts on Advent: Waiting
top ten winter activities
Dreaming of a Quaker Christmas

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brad's Top Ten List: Winter Activities

Well, it's that time of year again! Jill Frost nipping at your nose, trying to fit way too many ornaments on your tree, Egg Nog I.V. attached, procrastinating Christmas shopping, funny hats, feeling guilty about not keeping "Christ in Christmas," everyone wishing for snow and then everyone complaining about snow. Winter!

Well, my seasonal tradition (beginning last season) is to blog about my top ten favorite season activities. Here goes:

Top Ten Winter Activities
10. Christmas Music: This year, I broke my normal promise of waiting until after Thanksgiving. This is the year of the Indie Christmas Album. Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the Lion, Death Cab for Cutie to name a few, have come out with Holiday albums in the last few years. I am definitely diggin these sounds. My Pandora is set to Sufjan Stevens Holiday right now in fact (smile). Other favorites include Burl Ives, Jewel, Norah Jones, and you guessed it, Miriah Carey - THAT'S RIGHT I SAID IT! Miriah Carey's voice can grill a cheese sandwich. Mariah Carey's voice can cure cancer cells. Mariah Carey's voice can power a small generator. Miriah Carey's voice can cut through fog! Holy Night she's good!

9. Reading: Blanket? Check. Toasty fire? Check. Thick novel? Check. Just finished Jonathon Franzen's Corrections and before that Freedom. Now I am working my way though The Brothers Karamazov.

8. Christmas Lights: I remember growing up you could always could on certain houses to keep up their lighting traditions. Some blinking lights, another an odd teal color, an old barn with a ringing bell. Then about twelve years ago things started getting really trendy. It started with the icicle lights. Everyone had to have them. At the drug store I worked at we kept selling out. Out went the large multi-color, primary color 80's style lights of my childhood. In came blowup, light-up yard decorations. For me, the cheesier the better. One popular neigbhorhood to visit is Portland's Peacock Lane I'm not sure if it's worth all the hype and traffic. I prefer winding around my local neigbhorhoods with some hot cocoa saying ooooh and aaaw and preeeetty!

7. Snow Shoeing: Mount hood has a number of great spots. The further you go up the mountain the more expensive the shoe rentals. Meadowlark Ski and Snowboard rents snowshoes for $15 a day. For trail suggestions click here

6. The Grotto: The official, Catholic name for the Grotto is the National Sancuary of our Sorrowful Mother. But don't let that fool you, it's a great holiday destination. Around Christmas time, it's a one-stop-extravaganza-palluza of Holiday cheer. Lights, Manger animals, Live Music (vocal and instrumental), and a lit up, narrator "stations of the manger" tour. If you are the last person in Portland who has never gone it is worth the trip. This is actually a great place to visit when it's not in Holiday mode, when you can access the 62 acre botanical and shrine garden.

5. The Beach: I know, this one seems a little counterintuitive. But in the Northwest, sometimes you can have more mild weather at the coast than inland. My friends and I have a nine (?) year tradition of heading to Cannon Beach on New Years Eve. It's really a perfect day. Walking the beach, grabbing coffee at Bella's whist playing Settlers, then dinner at a local pub. My family and I spent last weekend at Twin Rocks camp in Rockaway Beach, OR. I was playing Frisbee, barefoot and in my tee-shirt. We witnessed a few brave souls even jump into the ocean. They all claimed, "it's not too bad." I'll just take their word for it.

4. My Birthday: Decemeber 21st, the first official day of winter. A lot of people ask me if it's hard having a birthday so close to Christmas. Really, it's never been much of a problem for me. Sure, sometimes I get the birthday/Christmas combo present. Sometimes my birthday is overshadowed by Christmas. But I know that Jesus understands. I mean, his birthday is like on Christmas. Man that would be tough. "Oh what's this...Myrrh? Just what a baby needs... Oh, it's a Birthday/Christmas present. I bet he got that a lot.

3. Impromptu Snow Fights: The best ones are never planned. They just happen. Someone throws a snowball, someone puts snow down your shirt, someone gets tackled. Running, slipping, throwing frantically. That perfect throw, thwap! Then everyone all red and cold coming in for hot cocoa.

2. Getting Snowed In: Being on "snow time" is different from any other time. Can't go to work, or school, or anywhere. But it's way better than being stuck. It feels a lot more like being freed.

1. Christmas and Christmas Eve. I love that it's really more of a two day holiday. Once, as a child on Christmas eve, eve I was so excited I woke up at 2am and couldn't go back to sleep. I'm no quite that giddy anymore, but I get to relive that magic all over with my kids who are that perfect age to share Christmas with.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is It Sticking?

First snow today. A little anticlimactic. First snows usually are. My niece (4) and son (3) and I watched the big puffy flakes falling and whirling around. "Can we make a snowman?" Zac asked. "No, there's not enough snow to make a snowman," I said. "It's not really sticking." "Sticking?" Zac asked-laughed.

We live in a part of the world that is very close to getting loads of snow, but rarely does. Lots of rainy days in the high 30's. Or cold clear nights in the 20's. But the ingredients for snow have to be just right and we are usually just out of reach. As I child my brother Jesse and I became careful students of snow, and paid close attention to whether or not it was sticking. For it to stick the snow needs to be dry enough, and the weather needs to be cold enough. Some surfaces stick better than others. Wet pavement, gravel, grass not so great at the beginning. Car roofs, mailboxes, fallen logs, seem to fair better. The trick is really getting that first layer of snow going, then the accumulation can happen.

In my life there are so many things that I learn about, and so much if it doesn't stick in any meaningful way. This is one of the great frustrations of my life. Sermons, books, classes, conversations, forgotten. I hear you forget 80% of what you learn just by the end of the day! I read a book a few years ago called Made to Stick. The authors studied and presented a compelling case as to why some ideas survive and others die. They had some helpful acronym that I can't quite remember now (ha!). SUCCESS: Simplicity, Unexpected, Concrete, something, something, stories, etc. I try to remember (some of these) when i am writing, preaching, pitching an idea.

On the other hand, there are some things I wish I could unstick. Urban legends, rumors, ways of thinking, that tape playing in my head, an embarrassing moment from middle school, rejections, lies about myself, judgments about others, shallow thinking. Stuck. Mark Twain once famously said, "A lie can get half way around the world before truth has a chance to get its pants on." Or was it boots?

I sometimes wonder if spirituality is more about unlearning that it is about learning. When we unlearn some of the above mentioned, it seems like the environment, the conditions for learning Truth just kind of emerge. What are some other ingredients or conditions that make it possible or impossible to learn and grow and find wholeness? How does God's Spirit begin to break through?

St. Augustine wrote about his dramatic experience in his Confessions
You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.

This gasping is what some religious people call a conversion. Sometimes I think it's more about conversion(s), awakening(s), gasp(s), enlightening(s). These moments that not only change us but also change the way we see everything else. Game-Changers. The no-going-back experiences. Most of these transitions are unsettling and uncomfortable in the interim. They feel like being thrown out of the comfort and certainty of the garden. They feel a little like dying. We can't unknow what we learned from the tree of knowledge and we need to go through the flaming sword to eventually find a kind of second simplicity, as Richard Roar calls it. But I digress...

Maybe connecting this back to where I began. Snow. Sticking. Conditions. It seems that we live in a time and place of unprecedented resources and opportunities for learning, but perhaps no culture has been as shallow, empty, neurotic, depressed. Why? (This is where I find the snow metaphor breaking down, so I won't try to stretch it beyond it capability). There is a kind of momentum, an accumulation that can happen at certain points in our lives. Right? I think a radical openness to new possibilities and new ways of thinking is a terrifying, dangerous, and essential ingredient in the life of the Spirit. A second and related ingredient I have found is an utter reliance. When we are in control, we are so busy holding on to that control that anything we do to better ourselves will be ego-driven and doomed to failure. We will be too busy trying to prop up our own agendas and ways of thinking for any real transformation to happen. Which brings me to the last ingredient (certainly there are more), suffering. The discomfort, pain, failing, falling of life that brings with it the potential for real and lasting change.

Like Jesus, the Saints, the Mystics, say over and over again: The way up is down. The way forward is back. The last will be first. The poor are blessed. Those who die will live. The meek will inherit the earth. The way to find it is to lose it. Those who mourn will be comforted. The way to the Kingdom is to become like a child. This is the kind of good, tilled up, soil that Jesus says is needed to produce an abundant crop, to stick.

Related Posts by Brad
Advent and Pregnancy
Dreaming of a Quaker Christmas

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thinksgiving: Some Thoughts Loosely Related to Thanksgiving (Part 1)

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank." -Dante Gabriel Rossetti, English painter & poet (1828 - 1882)

Let's start off with a Quiz question...
What percentage of the 45 million turkeys eaten this thanksgiving were conceived by artificial insemination? Any guesses? Basically, close to one hundred percent. Apparently the Broad Breasted Turkeys that we like to eat so much, have been bred for larger breasts and cannot...errr... procreate. Our favorite white meat makes it impossible for the male turkeys to, well, do it. A little food for thought while your gobbling down next week.

Moving on...
Every Thanksgiving there is an unspoken competition with the brothers and my dad. Who can consume the most food. Every year my dad wins. This man will finish three heaping plates of food without breaking a sweat and still have room for dessert. If you have never eaten competitively before, you might not know that there is something, we in the biz, like to call "Hitting The Wall." This is when your body tells your brain, you need to stop eating or else! Most sane people know to stop before reaching the wall... But, for me, if you don't at least approach the wall, thanksgiving never happened! For the past five years or so, I stand in the food line and critique my brothers' food choices. When they load up on the mashed potatoes, I tell them, "Don't underestimate the potatoes!" And every year they tell me, "You always say that." I shake my head and say things like, "Rookie move." "Amateur." To my credit they do always underestimate those potatoes. But I can't blame em.

Thanksgiving is such a funny thing. The way we give thanks to God or the cosmos or whatever is to glutton ourselves with as much food as humanly possible. (Insert lengthy social commentary here). Don't get me wrong, I love it. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving where everyone had to ration themselves to make sure there was enough to go around? There is something great about basking in an economy of abundance. It just feels good, celebratory, right.

Going Deeper...
Giving thanks is such an important spiritual discipline for me. One that I don't practice often enough. Giving thanks helps to ground me in the here and now. Helps me to be present. Helps me to experience a deep and abiding sense of gratitude. The greatest joy comes when I am surprised by gratitude the moment it happens. No expectations. Just some simple moment that I am present to and my experience and my awareness of gratitude collide. I guess this is what artists call beauty, the religious call holiness, the mystics call oneness, psychologists call wholeness. But mostly the trend is, not being aware. Not being thankful. This poem I came across really resonated with me. It seems to express a similar sentiment:

The Day Beauty Divorced Meaning
Their friends looked shocked — said not possible, said how sad. The trees carried on with their treeish lives — stately except when they shed their silly dandruff of birds. And the ocean did what oceans mostly do — suspended almost everything, dropped one small ship, or two. The day beauty divorced meaning, someone picked a flower, a fight, a flight. Someone got on a boat. A closet lost its suitcases. Someone was snowed in, someone else on. The sun went down and all it was, was night. -Leslie Harrison

Giving thanks helps me to slow down, to be aware, to be present to not take for granted the simple and profound gifts of life. It keeps me from believing the myths of... If only... Someday... If they would just... If I could... These myths are frightfully powerful to keep me away from experiencing the depths of joy or pain. These myths numb me from experiencing reality. But giving thanks, especially in the moment, helps me reconcile beauty and meaning...for the moment.

Related Posts From Brad
Food: A Tasteful Theology
Food: A Tasteful Theology (part 2)
Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Makes Home, Home?

I'm a part of a book group right now that's reading a book called Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr. Roar's premise is that in the first half of life we create the containers of who we are, our sense of self, our identities. In the second half of life (if we have done the first half well), we begin to find the meaningful contents that the container is meant to hold.

The question our facilitator asked last week was, "What is home?" People shared about their own homes growing up - the weather and landscape and geography. Is that home? The physical descriptions? Maybe in part. I come from the fairly small town of Woodland, Wa...well actually we grew up in the rural territory 15 miles East of Woodland known by those who live there (and only those) as Ariel. So physically speaking that is kind of home to me. The Cedars and Douglas Fir, the relentless green. Black Berries Briers and Ivy crawling over everything. I can't seem to get it out of my system. When I lived in Alaska, and Central Washington, and Idaho, I couldn't seem to get that relentless green out of my system. It is beauty and comfort and it just feels right. It is a measuring rod and a point of reference. I might find other landscapes beautiful, occasionally even more beautiful, but almost always with the caveat, "in their own way." Like, the desert is beautiful... in it's own way.

Is that home? A reference point. A place to leave and return to. A place that shapes us, nurtures us. A place that you can't get out of your system, even if you want to. For me, home wasn't always a happy place, but as a kid, I did what all kids do, I survived. I edited my own little world, to create a safe place. One escape that I loved was TV. From ages 4-6 I folded my clothes and put them under my pillow every night before I went to bed so that I could get up at 6am, get ready in 5 minutes and watch as many morning cartoons as I could. We only got about 3 channels, and one of the channels had morning cartoons from 6am-8am. This was before Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. Oh, how I would have filled my days with hours of blissful cartoon watching... But Alas, when Perry Mason, or The News or whatever came on, I knew that I would need to find another activity. Another safe little world for me was found in nature. My brother Jesse and I would spend hours of unsupervised time, exploring creeks, climbing trees, playing in the cow pasture. One such time ending with a cow pie fight that I got the worst of. In the Summer, we would look for snakes and lizards all afternoon and evening, lifting up boards and tires and shaking the tall grass in the field behind our house. It was usually a catch a release program, but sometimes we would keep them and "train" them. I still believe that we really did train a few. The red-racers and rubber boas were especially amiable (not sure if those are the scientific names).

What is home? Is it something that is predictable, stable, permanent. I know that for many, when their parents move, they feel really angry and bitter. Like, How dare you. I don't care that I've moved out and live in another state! You can't just move. Because there is something comforting to know that home is there for us whenever we want it. And if we can't, we feel dis-placed and un-settled. Holidays capture this sense of home, perhaps better than anything. The rituals (we live in a ritual-starved culture!) bring us comfort and a sense of security. When my wife and I got married this was one of the big stresses on our marriage - Whose traditions do we continue? Where do we celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter?

I think that many, especially from my generation, suffer from a kind of perpetual home-sickness. Having never really established a sense of home, we struggle to ever establish a sense of identity. We are like lost children in the desert (which is kind of beautiful, in its own kind of way). We seek to define ourselves with this desperate and exhausting pursuit of proving ourselves to the world through our branding, our Facebook stati, our jobs, our cars, our homes, our education, our gadgets. Endless striving, trying to prove our worth, and never quite feeling "at home" in our own skin. We are so ready to leave home, make our own way, discover ourselves, but we don't even have a sense of what home is. And we struggle to know how to then create that sense of place for our children.

Where does this home-sickness come from? A think a big part of this, is that we never established a sense of home. As much as young people often want to reject rituals, traditions, permanence, and structures they are probably really healthy and necessary. They may feel stifling or restrictive, at the time, but later (just like my parents warned me) I'll thank them. However, another part of home-sickness is natural and necessary. we learn from almost every great story, every myth - that the hero must ultimately leave home - The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Fievel Goes West, Finding Nemo, The Predator, Home Alone 2... In every story the Hero must leave home and go on his quest. Must leave home, go on a quest, and return home or establish a new home, a new community. This tension between the home/community and the leaving/quest/adventure is something I think many (young) people feel. We leave, we explore, we have our adventure, but all the while feeling an inescapable pull back to the familiar, the nostalgic...Home. Where you feel safe and accepted, in your element and wholly yourself.

I hope to create a sense of home for my sons (even though we have moved a lot). A place of ritual, rules, structure, nurture, predictability, safety. I want to raise them in a church tradition that can give them the language and container to help them make sense of this world. And I know that someday they will resent and rebel and reject much of what we have created for them. They will want to leave, to go on their own Odyssey to discover what they are made of. And that is good.

I guess this realization gives me more sympathy for God, who is always getting accused of one or the other extreme: Either a God who just wants us to be happy and have whatever we want and doesn't really care what we do or don't do. Or a God who is a ridged, moralist, rule stickler who doesn't want us to have any fun. But maybe God actually gets it. Maybe God gets that we need rules and structure and law and order in order to establish a sense of place, home, identity. And maybe God gets that we will eat the apple, leave the garden, struggle, return, suffer, love, hate, suffer more, succeed, fail, hope, despair, desire, on and on...and this is good. Maybe this is how we find our way. Maybe This is just how it goes on this big, messy, beautiful world that we call Home.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I was watching Colbert last night and first learned about Jesus-Ween - the latest attempt by (a small group of) Christians to suck what joy there is out of something and replace it with unsolicited cheesiness. My fist reaction was an audible groan. Apparently, the suggestion by this group is to dress up all in white and hand out Bibles and Christian Tracts. This is a perfect opportunity for unsuspecting children who otherwise might actually be quite fond of church and Jesus to turn them off at an early age. I mean, the gospel means the good news, right? So in my way of thinking it should sound like good news, or at least have a reasonable possiblity of sounding like good news. Not..."What've got to be kidding me."

I mean, I remember rejecting actual candy as a trick-or-treater. Those coned shaped orange things. Ugh! And word travels fast. In my small hometown if someone was giving out king sized candy bars, come November 1st, the entire 3rd grade knew about it. Other neighborhoods we knew to stay away from because they would stiff you with like one laughy-taffy or a loose bag of caramel corn that we were pretty sure was laced with something. This was, after all part of the thrill of Halloween - It might taste delicious, might kill you! Every year my parents gave us the speech about how people might be trying to poison us, or put razor bladed in apples, and every year I wondered, if this is so incredibly dangerous why are you just sending us out to wander strange dark streets? I was pretty sure, at the time that my odds of dying were probablty like 1 in 3.

When I was growing up we celebrated Halloween. We didn't know it was Satan's Holiday. We simply didn't know better. We just thought it was fun to dress up and GET CANDY! Although my parents did have some kind of rule against dressing up as a devil or demon, which made that option sound the most appealing. I can remember my Christian friend tell me about how his family didn't believe in Halloween but that they had a Harvest Party where they played games and got loads of candy. I remember him telling me how fun it was, and it sounded a little forced. He was Apostolic Lutheran, so all I knew about his religion was that his family didn't have a TV. Which meant that when he came over to my house watching TV was the most appealing option. All this to say, I had my doubts about how much fun they were really having.

The first few years, our costumes consisted of things we could readily find around the house. My parents had the double gift of being both thrifty and also not crafty. So I'm pretty sure my first two costumes were hobo and pirate. All I really remember is that both required smearing coffee grounds on my face, which to me at the time was incredibly gross. And I remember my mom being weirdly persistent. Like she knew my costume was basically awful but that she believed the coffee grounds could save it. Like it was basically me wearing a stocking hat. But add a few coffee grounds and whalla! Instant Hobo. And as a side note, where have all the hobos gone? I don't mean homeless people, I'm talking hobos. Everything they own in a bag on a stick, walking the railways, singing Jimmy Crack Corn.

When my kids got old enough to celebrate Halloween I was faced with the question: Is this something that we want to do as a family? My gut was telling me yes. My wife was one of those Harvest Party people (put your hands in the air), and it turns out she loved Harvest parties almost as much as my friend pretended to. The other problem was, we just really didn't (don't) eat candy. So having them "earn" a whole bag of candy seemed like a bad idea. But, we decided that we were going to do it, and my wife went trick-or-treating for the first time. And the kids through the years have had either homemade (but actually good) or Goodwill costumes. I think the reason we decided to go along and do the Halloween thing, is that we're probably weird enough as it is, so when we get a chance to do something fairly normal, where we get to go out and meet our neighbors, we do it. Also, the kids Halloween candy keeps me supplied with Snickers and Baby Ruth's for most the year. Most of the candy we end of throwing away right before the next Halloween. And then we repeat the pattern all over again.

I don't know if there is some proper Christian response to Halloween. But I find it funny that originally it was Christians that kind of started this whole thing with All Saints Day It was probably synthesizing some pagan Holiday related to the Harvest. And now it's Christians who are rejecting Halloween and celebrating with Harvest Parties? But this is what I think. If you can be normal in ways that don't matter, that's probably a good idea, and if you can be peculiar and set apart in ways that do matter, that's probably a good idea. It seems like we often reject some fairly innocuous things and don't even know we are buying into more insidiousness things like materialism and consumerism.

If you are ready, here are last years reflections about the war on Christmas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Autumn Things to do in the NW

I love seasons. But it's funny how often I am living at least one season into the future. When it's winter I crave the warmth and sunshine and fragrances of spring. In the spring, I look forward to swimming and freedom and camping of summer. By the end of summer, I am missing the crisp mornings, colorful leaves, and Chi tea of autumn. In autumn, I think about snowflakes and Christmas lights, singing songs with my brothers, and toasty fires.

So, here is my post dedicated to Fall. As I look out my window right now into the hills and forest below, I see the alders' and cottonwoods' yellow and orange offset by the steady, relentless green of the Douglas Fir. It's compile...the greatest list... of Fall Stuff ever experienced (in the greater Portland Area, by me).

Brad's Top Ten Autumn Things to do in the Northwest
10. Corn Maze: Besides the opportunity to make some really corny (yes.) jokes... ("are you stalking me?" "Man, you are talking my ear off," "I'm having an amazing time...") a corn maze is a great one-stop-everything-you-love-about-fall-topia-extravaganza. We went to the Bi-Zi Farm in Vancouver, WA last weekend and shucked the husk off that thing! Corn Maze, pumpkins, blue grass band, hay ride, they even threw in a free hot beverage! Of course Sauvie Island is another popular destination and has the first Portland Corn Maze.

9. Pumpkins: Step one, picking out the pumpkin. We all have our own rubric for what makes a good pumpkin. Small ones, tall ones, bright ones, green ones. Sometimes I wonder do we pick the pumpkin, or does the pumpkin pick us? The bring it home and carve it up (not too soon, as this sets the rotting process in motion). Kids love getting hands on, scooping out the guts, drawing faces, roasting the seeds (some pumpkins are sold specifically for the better seeds. Make this a whole fun-filled evening with pumpkin milkshakes, pie, seeds...all from your very own pumpkins.

8. Hiking: I know that some people think spring or summer, but I think autumn is the best time for hiking. Leaves, crackling underfoot, crisp mornings, leaves changing color, Fall is the best time to be in the forest, and when you are hiking in the NW, we're talking forest. A few recommendations for Autumn hikes: Beacon Rock State Park, a 30 minute drive from Portland/Vancouver has some beautiful trails, waterfalls, and overlooks of the Columbia River Gorge. The rock itself is a fun hike, but if you park in the day park area you will find even some even better hikes. Second, anywhere off the Historic Columbia River Highway in the Gorge.

7. Scenic Drives: The Historic Columbia River Highway from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls would be a perfect day trip. Don't forget to pop in to Mcmenamins Edgefield in Troutdale for a bite or a pint.

6. Parks: My favorite Fall park pick is Lewisville Park in Battleground, WA. This is the counties oldest park. It includes 154 rustic acres of beautiful deciduous trees, trails, river views, playgrounds. A second choice might be Lake Sacagawia in Longiew, WA.

5. Cedar Creek Gristmill: (Pictured Above) If you do decide to head out to Lewisville Park (which I thoroughly recommend, you can take some beautiful backroads from there to the Cedar Creek Gristmill. They open every weekend in the afternoon to show how this functioning mill works today. Powered by a mountain stream, huge belts and pulleys turn and churn to produce flour and cornmeal. And on October 29th at the Aplle Cider Pressing, they will turn 8,000 lbs of apples into fresh delicious cider.

4. Music: Jon Foreman's (of Switchfoot) Fall and Winter. It is this wonderfully understated, mellow, haunting album that somehow captures the flavors and undertones of this season without the use of any glib cliches. Or if you're looking for a great local band check out Despair by Portland band Come Gather Round Us , a folksy, indie, rock band led by husband wife team Sebastian and Catherine. Check out my concert review here.

3. Movies/Shows: Confession/Suggestion...Gilmore Girls, any season. Very Fall. Very cozy, small town. Funny, heartwarming, witty, entertaining. Seven seasons. They had a good run. Movie...Charlie Brown and Snoopy, The Great Pumpkin

2. Coffee Shops: Hmmm... My picks would be Cafe Piccolo in Camas (if you live in my hometown) and Vivace Coffeehouse and Creperie in Portland, Alphabet District. Or, you could stay home and make your own Fall/Winter hot bevies. Try this one: Heat up half or quarter cup of eggnog in the microwave. Mix that with a steaming cup of strong Chi Tea. Very yummy

1. Leaves: This one's simple. Get some young kids, a rake, and a big leafy/post-leafy tree. Make a huge pile and jump in. Also, throwing huge hand fulls and letting them fall on you is fun. Take lots of pictures!

Related Posts from Brad:
Funny Church Potluck Interviews

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Wall and the Egg

This last week I was listening to some radio program and I heard this fascinating quote from a Japanese Novelist named Haruki Murakami . He had the Jerusalem Award for literature. He traveled to Jerusalem to give this speech. He was warned not to go. He was told that if he accepted the award people would boycott his books. "The reason for this was the fierce battle raging in Gaza - more than a thousand had lost their lives, many of them unarmed citizens children and old people," he explained to the crowd. The reason he did come was this, to give this one personal message. He said that when he writes books he has this expression carved into the wall of his mind. It goes like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?”

I read the extended version of this quote today as a part of a sermon I gave at Camas Friends Church because it spoke to me so fiercely. I guess I could insert for myself, what good would a pastor be, who spoke messages standing with the wall. My message came from Exodus 23, which has some pretty incredible passages about how we are to treat the poor and vulnerable: "You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard." When I started studying the Old Testament, one of things that really surprised me was to find a God who cares a lot about the poor and oppressed and vulnerable. One who cares about justice. Deuteronomy 15 goes into even more detail with this Seventh Year of Freedom commandment. "Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts." The passage goes on to say "do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor.You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be." The reason they are to be so generous is simple. "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt..."

I recently heard that something like 85% of people root for the underdog. People have studied this. All other things being equal, a huge percentage of people root for the underdog. It kind of makes sense right. Like if they better team wins, that's supposed to happen, so not a lot of emotional payoff. And if they lose then you're really steamed. But the cost/reward equation for the underdog has the possibility of a big emotional payoff if your guy/team/egg wins and little disappointment if they lose.

But sometimes something quite predictable happens. When we are the wall, we root against the egg. We root for the wall. Can you imagine letting the egg win. I mean, c'mon you're a wall. I can remember when I played basketball that it was far more frightening going against a much worse team that it was to go against a better team. And I can remember that once our team got pretty good then the pressure to win and to perform increased. We had to protect and defend. We weren't just some scrappy team fighting for a win. We had a record. One year we were undefeated at home! So when some struggling team came to play at our court... Our coach had all these diabolical ways to make us perform. He would tell us about what he had overheard the other team saying about us. How they thought they were going to cream us (that's how we talked back then, a lot of cream and whipping). And he would work us into a rabid frenzy until we were ready to come and and show no mercy. Sometimes it felt good to be the overdog.

I actually wonder if this isn't that uncommon. People and nations forgetting what it's like to be the alien, the oppressed, the underdog. Isiah and Micah and a bunch of other prophets chastise Israel for this very thing. In one passage God says "I hate your festivals with all my being. God says, your offerings are detestable to me. When you pray to me, I am not listening." And the reason God gives is simple, they are not seeking justice. God says in this same passage, "Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

And when I read Jesus' words about whose side he stood on, it's really no surprise that he got himself killed. Jesus was pretty unapologetic. Blessed are the poor, the hungry the insulted. Woe to the rich, the well-fed, the well-spoken-of.

(More from Haruki Murakami about the Wall and the Egg):
What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor. This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others - coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong - and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together. Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Motorcycle Driving Test

Yesterday Heather and I went to Vancouver to take our motorcycle drive test. Well, for us it was technically a scooter test. Same test. We got to the Licensing place and found the part of the parking lot where the course would be set up. A group of about fifteen guys began to gather. A few others have scooters like we do, some sport bikes, some big Harleys. We segregated into our various groups, swapping tips and asking about MPG and CC's.

These were mostly tough guy types. Except the funny thing about this experience is that they really weren't. At least not yet. These established, tough guys were sort of reduced to that awkward pre-drivers licence state of nervousness and vulnerability. With the rest of us looking on, the instructor could announce, you did not pass! You are not in the cool, tough guy club! (Since I was on a scooter I wasn't really even in the running). I loved all the nervous blustering comments. "Well, I'll go first, I'm not worried!" the first guy said with a little too much bravado. When he finished, he asked, "did I pass?" When the instructor said yes, he got this silly grin on his face like he just scored a date with the Homecoming Queen. "Not worried?" I guffawed under my breath. In the course of about an hour, we had quickly formed this little community. When someone failed, we shared in their pain. When they passed we celebrated with them.

Many didn't pass. One guy spilled his bike and got his leg caught under it. He couldn't get it off without assistance and he kept accidentally revving the engine really loudly. He said with a mixture of disappointment, shame, and maybe a little hope, "I guess that means I didn't pass." "Yeah." Was the only response the instructor could muster. We all avoided eye contact. We didn't want to share in his shame. Or maybe we wanted to save face. Whatever. He left as quickly as he could.

It was such an interesting experience because if I had seen these guys riding around in any other setting I would just assume that they were all badass dudes. But I was confronted with the awkward reality that they (read: we) were really, for the most part, just big kids wanting to play on our new toy.

I was confronted with how much of our image is really just careful branding. Try to look tough. Wear the right clothes. Drive the right motorcycle. Grow the right beard. But every so often we are awkwardly reminded of the frailty, insecurity, and vulnerability of others. And I think this shared human experience brings me comfort.

Oh...and btw Heather and I did both pass with high marks.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mind the Gap

So last week I preached a sermon at Camas Friends about a topic that is near and not so dear to my heart... the annoying gap between theory and practice (a title borrowed from This American Life). The topic was about Sabbath, the text Exodus(don't worry, I won't give you all the details). Sabbath, in Hebrew understanding is this kind of symbolic return to a time when cosmic harmony was a reality. On the seventh day, God rested and all was right with the world. Sabbath is meant to remind us of that reality and that possibility. This one big shot Theologian put it this way, “The seventh day celebrates the possibility that the grandeur of God’s cosmic designs may be matched by the commitment of creation to live in harmony within God’s world.” The first Sabbath was finally celebrated in the dessert right after God rained mysterious bread called Manna, literally translated "what-is-it." Sabbath is first mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis and isn't celebrated until after the Exodus, isn't that strange? Why all those chapters and centuries later?

The gap...

The gap between the ideal and the reality. The justice and harmony and beauty and freedom that we get a glimpse of in the creation poem is thrown in chaos by the Fall (whatever our theological perspectives are, we feel it don't we). T.S. Eliot writes about it this way:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow

Has something like this ever happened to you...You get really invested, you put your heart into something and then you experience the gap between theory and practice. You experience...the shadow, the let down. Sometimes it's just annoying. Sometimes it's heart wrenching. Sometimes, on a cosmic scale, it can be catastrophic. Like God has this big, ambitious, grand, beautiful, idea. Maybe the angels are thinking you’re crazyYou're seriously leaving this whole thing, the whole order of creation to these fragile furless creatures that can’t even keep themselves warm. Yes. God does. And yes...bad stuff happens. And this pattern keeps getting repeated… I mean on and on and on. Creation, Fall, Redemption. New creation, Fall, Redemption. The Ideal keeps getting squashed by The Reality and then the disappointment sets in. And this cycle would continue in our lives if God didn’t initiate Rescue, Redemption, New Possibilities, New Patterns… God keeps sneaking in and doing something shocking and beautiful to break us out of our patterns.

There is this group called Improv Everywhere. They create elaborate scenes that they call missions (really something between mission and prank). In one scene they coordinate droves of people getting out of cars with no pants. Then, suddenly another groups of people come on scene and start shouting pants for sale. We've got pants. Short ones, long ones...fat ones, skinny ones. In another mission, they stage a large fake audience for an unheard of band (unbeknownst to them) and shout and cheer as if they were the Beatles. In another they celebrate a guys birthday who they randomly pick out from a bar and call him Todd. Everyone knows Todd. They love Todd. They give him presents, a cake, hugs, high-fives. Girls are giving him phone numbers...He keep worrying that the real Todd is going to show up and catch him hugging his friends and blowing out his candles. At first Todd (real name Chris) tries to explain that he is not Todd, but eventually, he says, "It was pretty much my only option. I think that was the moment of the shift, was kind of realizing that I was like, OK, well, if they all think I'm Ted, then what the hell.”

The creator of Improv everywhere and one of its mad agents has this someone lofty goal for why they do what they do. He says, “I want to live in a world where anything can happen. ..It's like giving people a small, unexpected gift, and in the process, making the world seem a bit more enchanted.” -Gorge Just

Maybe God is like that… giving people small, or sometimes huge unexpected gifts…to show the world that anything can happen…and in these moments we are filled with hope and it seems like it really is within our reach. Jesus came with this sort of mission in mind to show people that world is far more enchanted than we have come to believe or in His worlds that the Kingdom of God is at hand, or within reach, or among us…

As for me, I know about my own tendencies toward reckless idealism. But, what are my options really? Should I just succumb to the bitter reality? I can remember so many times hearing about how things work in the real world. And something deep inside of me kind of recoils (maybe too strong a word).

After seven years of full time ministry, I am now in a gap place of sorts for myself. I have some space for thinking and dreaming. I also have all these good and lofty intentions about how I want to use my time, which leads to me then facing the reality of my own shadow, fragility, etc. But I can't help but wonder if, despite myself, God might have something up His proverbial sleeve, and I look forward to seeing what kind of pranks God might pull.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Camping...There's a point right?

I love camping...but why? One thing I love about camping is that it makes normal life feel way easier. I gain a new appreciation for simple things like a dishwasher, oven, bed. Camping really isn't easier, especially when you have three small children. It's a lot of work. Just trying to fit everything we would need for four nights into our little Saturn was an engineering feat. I decided for this last trip that I wasn't going to fall into my old pattern of hyping up the trip and having a lot of expectations and then being irritated and disappointed when things don't go my way. I decided to set the bar very low. I told myself that we would have almost no fun, relaxation, or peace. I said that this was simply a ridiculous experiment to see if we could even make it for the full four days.

I think this mental preparation was helpful for the success of the trip. I still had my breaking point moments, like when Levi just wouldn't stop crying or when the boys were being particularly crabby. But all in all it was a great trip. The weather was perfect (you might foggily remember that brief window). The scenery was beautiful. We were right on the lake and had this whole little peninsula to ourselves. Braden and Zac both swam in the lake for the first time (with life jackets). Heather thought it was too cold. It was. We pretended to be Proboscis Monkeys (those are the ones that swim and have funny noses). I loved watching my sons swimming an exploring and having an adventure. Another thing that occupied much of there time was picking huckleberries and salmon berries.

So what is it really that I love about camping? I think I love the pace, the rhythm, the rituals. You can do nothing while you're camping and you're doing something. You're camping. You can sit around the campfire in the morning sipping coffee, read a book down by the lake, put out a fishing pole, lay out in the sun, swim, tell stories, walk, make dinner, cook things on sticks, not shower, stare at something beautiful. All of these normal activities are somehow infused with meaning. They are somehow special, sometimes even sacred.

I was wondering out loud with Heather after the trip. Do people from other countries, countries with a lot of poverty go camping? Would they understand it at all. Or would it just make no sense whatsoever like so many other thing... like appetizers or 3.5 baths... Like would these folks wonder what the point is....of how we sort of like roughing it and being inconvenienced and how we like to give up all our luxuries.

I was reading about a wealthy family from California that gave up there life of luxury to move to Montana and life the rustic lifestyle. I guess they make a documentary of it. They built their own cabin, sewed their own clothes, make their own butter, stuff like that. At first the kids were totally against it. But the father felt like he needed to do something drastic or the family was going to be lost forever. After the year was up they asked the daughter which life she preferred. And with tears in her eyes she shared how she wished they could go back to their little ranch. That is the only time she remembered really being a family. Maybe that's what I love about camping.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Transition Reflections

Been feeling more private lately. Some big transitions. Not pastoring (professionally) anymore. Moved to Camas. Heather will be back to Teaching in the Fall. I've been giving myself a lot of permission to just take the Summer off (outside of my parental and domestic responsibilities). I guess this post is sort of the I don't really know what to say post after some big changes in our life. It's felt awkward. How much do I say? How many times can I have the same conversation? How public should I be? I tried to end my most recent pastoral call with integrity and grace. I can only pray that I was mostly successful in that.

I was talking to a pastor friend of mine who said it took her seven years until she had recovered from one particularly painful church pastorate. Seven years to be able to talk about it without getting defensive and then dumping on someone the whole painful experience. Seven years to find some objectivity. I don't know. Maybe I'm fine. Maybe seven years from now I will realize how difficult it was and I will find objectivity. I don't know. I was talking to some friends recently about my experience and she told me to stop being so nice, to stop defending the church. Honestly, I don't feel particularly hurt or burned. Maybe I do feel a little more jaded. A little more skeptical and cynical about church, politics, change, institutions, power. I always was a little cynical...but that's healthy right?

I saw some of our friends from BFC recently at our yearly Friends conference. I knew I was going to. I wondered how I would feel. Would it be awkward? Would I feel sad, glad, shame, disappointment, resentment? Some of the interactions felt more like joyful reunions. Most of the interactions were pretty superficial, which was fine for me. I didn't feel any really strong emotions. I was glad to see people. But it was a little bazaar... kind of like running into an ex-girlfriend. Everyone's smiling and being polite, but in that smiling and politeness nobody is saying how much things have changed, nobody is saying all the obvious, important, real things. What's the point really? I also saw many of my colleagues. Some were curious, some surprised, some didn't know what to say. I could see that they were wondering what had happened. Who broke up with who? What happened? We thought you guys were great together. Some wanted to know what I was up to now. What was my plan. I would shrug and say that I was playing with my kids, and going on lots of walks. Some thought that I was being funny or intentionally vague. Some tried to hide their embarrassment for me. Others smiled and nodded their silent validation.

I sat through that nights worship time and felt dry. The music team was great, but I had a hard time wanting to sing along. What was my problem? Did I doubt my own sincerity? The sincerity of the group sitting around me? Next, the the keynote speaker, our Superintendent, preached a great message. He talked about the body of Christ, community, unity that transcends diversity - all the powerful, inspiring, idealistic things that would usually stir me...and almost did.

Thanks for letting me process a little with you all, in such an odd public way. We'll see how I do getting back to my regular posting. I do want to reflect on a few things like: our families camping trip, how I got a scooter, my ten year reunion... etc.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A (not so) Modest Proposal

Today, in a coffee induced frenzy, during my devotional time, I scribbled down somethoughts that have been stirring in me for some time. What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to be a healthy church? What does that look like in the 21st century? What does it look like for Friends? Why does it seem impossible to get there?

My confession is that I have grown tired lately of talk, of vision statements, of platitudes, of teaching, of conferences, of meetings, of my own sermons... It's one thing to preach about something and everyone says, nice sermon. It's quite another to begin mobilizing around and organizing around something radical, challenging, something that will shake up the world...I'm also tired of reading church vision statements or statements of faith that say a lot without actually saying anything. It's like they exist to not offend the most people. Another confession is that I am a hopeless idealist who is better at dreaming and talking than actually doing. I lack the consistency and courage to stick to my convictions. I need Friends to join in the journey with...

But here goes anyway....

Brad's Top Ten List of Proposals

1. Christ-Centered: This one might not seem very controversial, but just try really teaching and living out Christ's teachings in your faith communities without sugar coating it. Jesus is a radical. Obeying his teachings takes trust, courage, hope, and love. Also, I believe that we must understand the rest of scripture in light of Christ's life and teaching. When there is an apparent tension, I go with what Jesus said about it.

2. Courage in Leadership: Leadership is an emotional, relational process of transformation toward a desired change. People say that change is hard. I agree and disagree. I think change happens whether we like it or not. Things are changing all the time. What worked and made sense in 1958 doesn't necessarily work in 2011. Change. More to the point, change takes courage. Leadership that is non-anxious when everyone else is freaking out, that can stay calm in the midst of hostility that models, encourages, organizes around vision and strength, that inspires, and challenges is essential for carrying out the mission of the church. Leadership should also work like an immune system against toxic elements that are reactive, fearful, or intent on sabotaging the transformation process. This is what Friedman calls a non-anxious, paradoxical, challenging presence.

3. Creativity in Worship and Service: The creative process can be life-giving, fresh, and soul-satisfying. However, for creativity to be unleashed and affirmed and to "work" a community must have an open, non-anxious, non-judgmental attitude. These communities will be expectant for the Spirit to move but will not have expectations as to how that has to look. These communities must be okay with things not going perfect, not being professional, even things failing. This is the creative process. The fear and pressure of failing will thwart 90% of the good ideas and best intentions of creative individuals in the church. Early Friends experimented with different kinds of worship and service and didn't feel confined to traditional expressions.

4. Contemplative Spirituality: A deep listening to the Spirit will lead us in profound, centered, and unexpected directions as a Christian community. Early Friends differentiated themselves from other radical dissenting organizations from their uncompromising conviction that Christ is present, intimate, available. This mystical union with Christ through the Spirit, empowered, guided, and sustained this community while other groups died out. Friends through the centuries have believes so strongly in the immediacy of Christ that they have organized their meetings for worship and for business around silence and listening to Christ's speaking and promptings.

5. Compassionate Ministry: Jesus says, "I desire mercy not sacrifice." Friends desire to be an instrument of God's healing and help for the poor and oppressed. We believe that Jesus stands in solidarity with the "least of these" and is actually present in and among these people. We will need to create space and support for these local and global opportunities in all spheres of the church - financial, structural, leadership, ministry, time, communication.

6. Consistency in Words and Actions: This is a big one. It is easy to say things that sound good and might stimulate generic support or mental ascent, but it is much more challenging to realign and orient an organization around core convictions. This will most likely require systemic change. We all know that adding one more thing to an already busy personal or church schedule just doesn't work. Their will need to be a reshuffling of priorities that will require courageous leadership and a community that does not feel entitled to their personal tastes and preferences. Having integrity in our churches means that we insist on asking the difficult questions like, Are our vision statement, mission statement and core values reflected in our budget? In the way our paid staff spends their time? In the kinds of structures we create? In the church calender? In the time we spend discussing in our meetings. In the emotional energy we spend? In how we measure success?

7. Community: When the Friends movement began they created a different religious category that scandalized England - friends. Friends of God, friends of one another, even friends of truth. These relationships were built on mutual love, trust, and respect. Equality was a guiding principle that had transforming effects on a global scale. To organize around relationships instead of institutions isn't always easy but it is our best hope for authentic community. These are communities that learn from one another as they participate in the ministry of listening, sharing, studying, and teaching. These are also communities that take seriously the reality of the diversity of gifts. They organize and mobilize based on these gifts and callings. In community, healthy structures are created to assist people in living out their interests, passions, callings, and giftings in their various contexts. In institutional churches staff are paid to lead and teach. In institutional churches the church is a meeting and a building. In institutional churches people are chosen to serve on prescribed committees and programs that may or may not fit their calling or gifting. They are asked to fill seats, pay dues (tithes), serve on committees.

8. Counter-Cultural
: Consumerism, commercialism, materialism - these are all values of Western culture that the church has (mostly) bought into. Friends communities practice values of simplicity, silence, plainness, peace, justice that stand in defiance of cultural norms. When everyone around us is calling for revenge, we call for understanding and love. When everyone around us is yelling more, bigger, faster - we whisper less, smaller, slower.

9. Critical:
As Friends we are no longer satisfied with our churches being "vendors of religious goods and services." We want to be active, engaged, participants of transformation. One of the necessary components to built into a community that desires transformative change is a reflective ecclesiology (theology of the church). The queries are a great way to ask the hard questions as a part of our daily, weekly, monthly rhythms together. To the degree that we are removing the plank from our own eyes, we may have the right and perhaps duty to speak a prophetic word to the Church and to our Culture. Early friends did not shy away from confronting institutions of power - church, military, government, royalty, corporations. The suffering and persecution that they experienced was expected, relished in, and galvanize their commitment resolve. Many of their critiques were made without saying a word. They refused to give "hat honor" to those in higher social classes. They were beaten and imprisoned for it. They called everyone thee and thou to demonstrate their conviction that everyone is equal.

10. Collaboration: I propose that Friends should look for more ways to collaborate with other organizations that are already doing good work in their communities and world. This will help us to free up our organizational and overhead costs and energies so that we can concentrate on the work. Also, these are great opportunities to work side by side with a diverse group of people. This kind of mission as participation is a great way to build relationships with others that we can learn from and dialogue with. We ought not look at service organizations, Christians organizations, other Friends organizations as competition but as potential collaborative partners. Within our churches, collaboration creates an atmosphere of equality and makes room for new ideas and new leadership. Instead of saying, "We want you to cooperate with us," we say, "We want to collaborate together as creative partners to see what God has for us as we move forward together."

Final Thoughts... Don't worry, I am an idealist but I know all the reasons why this won't work - Younger people are too flaky, older people don't get it, we're all too comfortable and complacent, it requires too much sacrifice, people will sabotage it, people will call you an insensitive troublemaker, church leaders will be afraid of losing members, members will say to themselves this isn't what I signed up for , attenders will call it too works based, elders will say, "be patient," fringers will flee, seekers will seek elsewhere, our measures of success won't fit the new (ancient)paradigm,(the more I hear, that numbers don't really matter, the more I am convinced that numbers really do matter for that group).

And yet... is it possible that this kind of vision is stirring in the hearts of a people tender to Jesus' message. Are there any deep, compassionate, radical, committed Friends out their who are foolhardy enough to hope for a new kind of church? A new kind of humanity. A new way of being Friends in this world?

(And yes...I am a sucker for both alliteration and the magic number ten.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What's a Muslim?

"What's a Muslim?" my 4-yr-old son Braden asked me in response to a conversation he overheard. In the next few moments I knew I had a choice - do I highlight the differences or the common ground? I knew that this was a potentially formative moment for my son. How do I hope Braden will interact with our Muslim friends and those he will meet in the future? I know about Jesus' warnings about not causing these little ones to stumble...something about a lake and a millstone...

I answered, "Well, Muslim people believe in one God, they believe in giving to the poor, and prayer. But they don't believe that Jesus is the special Son of God the same way we do." I thought that sounded pretty good; but then Braden asked the obvious question...

"But we're right aren't we?"

Hmmm... How to answer. I know he won't let me off the hook here. I said, "Of course I think I'm right, but so do people who believe differently than I do. And I think it's more important to be kind and respectful than it is to show others that we're right. Do you understand?"



I have to admit I have been a little surprised by the recent increase in hostility many in the media and in my life have expressed toward Muslims. I keep thinking that we are starting to move past our prejudices and irrational fears and I start to become hopeful. I just don't get it. I remember right after 9/11 being so impressed at our president's comments about Muslims. I remember good old Dubyuh saying that Islam is a religion of peace and that we should treat our Muslim neighbors kindly and that we should not try to retaliate against them personally or against their religious Mosques. At least that's how I remember it.

It's interesting to me how much hatred has been generated since the whole "Ground-Zero-Mosque controversy. The reason given by survivors and pundits for not allowing the building is because the sight is sacred ground. And yet to my knowledge their have been no organized efforts to clean up the surrounding area from drugs, prostitution, greed, etc.

In many ways I think it is fitting and strangely beautiful to think about a place where so much suffering and tragedy occurred as a sacred space. A similar controversy was raised in Auschwitz with the establishment of the Holocaust Memorial. A request was made to remove nearby Christian symbols. The Jewish people agreed this is a sacred space because so much suffering occurred. I believe that eventually some of the nearby monasteries were moved.

Jesus' words regarding these issues resonate so deeply with me - "Love your enemies." He says (essentially), "It's easy to love your friends, so what. Now loving your natural enemies that says something." Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus sometime surprise me by witnessing to the truth of these words. When natural enemies are able to see the humanity and the light of God in the other and can find healing and reconciliation, I find it endlessly beautiful. And when we obsess over the potential threats and the other-ness of our neighbor it is just so predictable and unoriginal and bleh. At least that's my gut response.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Absence Does and The Grass Isn't

For ten days my wife and children are visiting family in Camas, WA while I'm in Boise. I have responsibilities. It all made sense at the time, I had classes in Portland and Pastors Conference would be begin a week and a half later, so my family might as well stay behind, they wouldn't have to make the drive back to Boise and they could spend some extra time visiting friends and family. I'll be fine, I said. No biggie.

The truth is, I thought maybe I could use a little peace and quite. Things can get pretty hectic with pregnant wife, tw

o young boys, Graduate schooling, pastoral ministry. I thought maybe this would give me some time and focus I need to get some things done. I thought I might catch a few movies and see friends. Mostly, this has (so far) been a great reminder of how pathetic I am.

I feel myself reverting back to my old college days, leaving piles of clothes around, hair from shaving all around the sink, and consuming copious amounts of shows on Hulu. On Thursday my diet consisted of cereal, a microwave burrito and cereal.

Heather made this incredible collage banner thing that she hung in our room to surprise me. It has some of the letters and poems and notes and pictures from our years together.

Bottom line... I miss my family...a lot. I would trade in the bachelor life for all the chaos and demands and fighting... no contest. And then sometimes they even say really sweet things. Like my son Braden, 4, he said to me on the phone a couple of days ago, "Hi Dad. I just really wanted to connect with you."

So, I feel the pang of loss but it is good in a way. I can feel my affections sort of stewing. I think it will be good for us. It can be easy just to get used to having everyone around.

I wasn't going to do this...but I think I will make a spiritual parallel.

I wonder how often I feel the pang of long or absence from God but call it by a different name. Boredom. Hopelessness. Angst.

I recently heard that Mother Theresa felt completely and utterly abandoned by God for the last 59 years of her life. She wrote all about it in these gut wrenching letters to her spiritual director. As a very young woman she heard a inexplicable voice from God calling her to a ministry among the poorest of the poor. For 59 years she would wake up early every morning, spend an hour in contemplative prayer and then serve the sick and dying and poor in the poorest places in the world.

Do you know what her spiritual director said? That when she was immature God needed to speak in an audible voice. But it is a sign of deep and abiding faith that she didn't hear from God and yet was so faithful.

But, like Mother Theresa, I feel the ache of loss. I am stirred to know that the one day at the end of all things the at-one-ment of God will be fully experienced. And so we pray, Hey dad, I just really wanted to connect with you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Concert Review and Post-Concert Conversation

A few days ago I went to a concert in Nampa. The Flying M. A very cool place. The band, Come Gather Around Us, a husband and wife duo, were electric. Singing into the same microphone, while belting out, whispering out, emoting out captivating lyrics was at first a bit unsettling - their faces eight inches apart. But in a few minutes their loving gaze and obvious comfort on stage and in close proximity put me at ease and became like another instrument of their music. They sing-

"If you drink the blood of Christ and it makes you feel superior... then it's just wine..." And then they look at each other coyly, slyly.

Here's a sample from a live recording. A song called How Convenient.

Find more artists like Come Gather Round Us at Myspace Music

The show was a beautiful, memorizing, earthy, haunting experience. I woke up the next morning with one of their songs stuck, no lodged, so directly in my brain that the force of it kept me from going back to sleep. "God is calling (s)He's never satisfied. God is calling, (s)He's never satisfied."

(Check out youtube video. Loud pub, but notice how quiet it gets when they sing the chorus.)

After the concert I talked with half the band - Sebastian. He is a long hair, bearded Brit with a contagious smile that disarms you from his philosophically provocative lyrics and ideas. The last time we had met he was trying to evangelize my wife and a few other people to Universalism.

Sebastian is one of these guys who thinks of you as his friend after meeting you once and begins telling you stories even though you just met him. He touches your arm for emphasis and has so much energy and Charisma that you (read I) feel boring and uninsightful in his presence. Compared to how he seems to fully experience life, I felt like I was just going through the motions. I liked him immediately.

I began to tell him about some of my struggles in/with my church and he launched into an inspirational lecture(?) about not being discouraged and having resilience. Funny, this is usually the kind of talk I would expect (and mildly resent) from a seasoned pastor, but from him it was so fresh and unexpected that it just kind of worked.

He said, "You think you have it rough here, try starting a progressive church in England where nobody goes to church and there is an open hostility toward Christianity. Secularism is just so dominant." Then he told a story about when he was visiting his family a few years back. It was Boxer day (you know, the day after Christmas?) and he and his wife decided to visit this church near their family's home. It was beautiful and huge and historic. The grounds were pristine... picture perfect. They walked in and the priest (Anglican) was blessing his robes (his description). They seemed to have surprised him. "Did we come at the wrong time," they asked. "Oh, no, come sit down, we're just about to begin. Sit in the Choir loft so you can be closer." Then the Priest went about his liturgy- readings, sermon, etc. as if they weren't even there. He never made eye contact or acknowledged their presence. Sebastian firmly believed that the priest would have gone through the ceremony exactly the same even if nobody had shown. Afterward, he came up to the priest and said, "So, like, how are things going." The priest responded by saying how hard things are. Sebastian asked what things he had tried to reach people. His response was that he couldn't, he wasn't allowed to change things. Sebastian and I both wondered, what did he have to lose. *

Sebastian's story was intriguing - Would the priest really have gone on with the service if nobody had come? Was the priest really "not allowed" to change anything? Were their really golden candle sticks in the sanctuary while people were starving a few block away? (I didn't tell that part). It was also a surprisingly encouraging. What did he have to lose... What did he have to lose?

Sebastian, knowing nothing about my church, said, "You should expect, no assume, that their is darkness and brokenness in your church. But there is a difference between you and them. You always love. You respond to the darkness with love and forgiveness and light. You bring the darkness into the light, but you always love. That's what people really need. That's what people are hungry for. For passion and resilience."

"In church, everybody's always on their best behavior. Like, we don't judge. Bulls@#t. Of course we judge! We are horrible at judging. (He and his wife go to Imago Dei church in Portland). But we pretend like we don't judge. We're always on our best behavior. How can we be in community like that. how can we be family like that!?

Then after getting a little preachy (I thought that was my job?) he ended our conversation in his usual humble, open-hearted way... "What do I know. I'm 32 and I'm a driveling idiot."

*This isn't at all a critique on the Church of England. I actually like a lot of their theology and liturgy...They have N.T. Wright after all.