Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Intensity, Intimacy, and Incarnation

Intimacy, Intensity, and the Incarnation

December 18, 2012
Dr. James R. Brooks

A while ago, I saw a headline about intimacy and intensity.  I did not read the entire article, but the gist was that our society is more about intense experience than it is about intimate experience.  I resonate with that reality.  Not that I affirm it, but I get what they portray.

The easy first look is media.  Social media or reality television, the gambit confronts us with intense experience.  The quick hitting head line that grabs our attention away from other things and focuses us upon the source that sold the advertising.  Could be a cynical view of mine.

What of our daily relationships outside our home?  With social media as the sequa to water cooler talk and parking lot gossip, are our daily relationships more intense or intimate?  At happy hour, do we garner more attention if we have the “scoop”?  In a more helpful vane, when a co-worker’s “insert relative title” is dying of “insert terminal illness” do we all respond to the intense moment with an out pouring of our own intense compassion?  Compassion is rarely wrong.  However, what does intense experience lack?

Like a sugar high, intense experience has a down side.  The first felt by many is the lonely dark of night.  When our “fb” friends all go to sleep and the kids are at their other parent and the sun is long down and the house is quiet and the infomercials are bleeding into static and we stare at the blank ceiling then the vacuum left behind by the intense experience rattles our souls.  Like a chain smoker, we crave yet another intense experience.  Why?

Do intense experiences distract us from the call for intimacy?  The grand adventure that gives us tales to regale our water cooler co-workers might be a distraction from intimacy.  A life as a cheerleader who rallies the team to yet another amazing happy hour, winery trip, zip line, 5k / 10k / 13.1 or 26.2 charity run could be a distraction.  As much as I thirst for the edge moments where I see God most clearly, at times striving for the edge is itself a distraction from what we could discover.

Intimate experiences are intense and yet different.  Intimacy demands a vulnerability not necessary in intensity.  Where pornography seems more about intensity, a healthy marital relationship of 50 years shares a profound intimacy.  Intimacy demands more of and provides more for the participants.  A power of intimacy is the ability to enjoy intensity while equally embracing when intensity is lacking.   Intimacy is found when we return to our “other” assured acceptance for who we are not what we’ve done nor what has been done to us.  Even more, in spite of what we have done and what has been done to us, intimate relationships (lover or friend) receive us well.

Though I could continue volumes regarding intimacy, we are in the Christmas season.  Soon we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that event, God becomes incarnate among us in a new way.  

Merriam-Webster says of “incarnate”...
a : invested with bodily and especially human nature and form

b : made manifest or comprehensible : embodied incarnate

We are made in God’s image.  As incarnate, God becomes our image so that we might comprehend God.  What a gift beyond intensity and intimacy.

Intensity can be the experience of our shadow’s edge.
Intimacy can be the experience of our redeemed wholeness.
Incarnation can be the experience of divine eternity.

At the edge of the water, much life resides.  The lion and the lamb come to drink.  We make the sand castles that celebrate both our creativity and finitude.

In the pasture of redeemed wholeness life giving relationships flourish.  In the earthy cycle of seasons, life in the pasture grows.  Across the ages, we discover each other as is only possible over time and accessibility.  Given opportunity, we each redeem relationship and are redeemed by those to whom we relate.

In a manger eons ago, the Most High God, Creator of All, Thou Who breathed life into the dust was born a fragile baby at the mercy of the chaotic world you and I know to well.  Incarnation full of trust beyond the bounds of intimacy was born.  Incarnation with story and star beyond the intensity of embellishment was born.  The mystery and magic, excellency and eternity of divine incarnation known as much for the lack of language as by the perfection of known meaning.  

Not the last will I write of these three kings in our lives: intensity, intimacy, incarnation.  The strings of these kings strike many a cord to be sung in future blog.

As we approach this holy night so silent, I pray we grow from intensity to more intimate relationships.  And may God become incarnate in the midst of our intimacy.

And may God bless us everyone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflection

November 2012

(I wish to begin by apologizing for the mixed metaphors, and other errors of formal writing.  I was moved to mix metaphors to engage other linguistic features and to enliven the imagination through dissonance and minor chords.)

Giving thanks can be a powerful and life-giving discipline.

Giving thanks is an activity so different than taking or consuming.  It is an action so akin to generosity.  Yet, it reflects on what has been had, enjoy, etc.  More importantly, it points to a relationship.  Giving thanks is a participation in relationship.  A thank you note moves the relationship forward from the blessing remembered toward an encounter to be cherished.

Giving thanks names our best experience of poverty.  A poverty of self-reliance is the experience of thou who givest thanks.  Our thanksgiving is our nod to our need for the other.  The other of our community that raised us, educated us, employed us, encouraged us.  The other of our God who created, saved, and sustains us.  Giving thanks denies our boot straps a hand up.  As much as naming the very reality of our existence in a web of relationships, giving thanks labels the possibility pregnant in the push and pull of each strand of the web that embraces our lives.  

Giving thanks lifts up the one expressing abundance.  Those who bless us are sharing their own experience of abundance.  Loving others is always an experience of the abundance of love that grows as it is given away.  Giving thanks is a naming of the angels in our lives.  

Giving thanks to God on a daily basis is life giving.  On a daily basis we assume a position of poverty that has the potential to create in us a vulnerability to the transformative and renewing love of God.  Giving thanks is our soul prostrate before our creator.  More than a position of rest and respect, our prostrate soul is focused upon the source of eternal life.  Our thankful praise of God is our claim that God’s abundance ultimately drives away the worries of scarcity.  As truly as Jesus was raised from the dead, so does the abundance of God’s love overcome the fear created by scarcity.

More than a season for turkey and twinkies, though that would be tasty, Thanksgiving is a discipline that is powerful and life-giving!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


God scooped up some dirt and BREATHED life into us...

and Breath is such an experience.

Too often we fail to acknowledge, recognize, notice the power of each breath.

We notice when breathe is beyond us
       When our scuba tank is low
       When our allergies are bad
       When we need an oxygen mask, all day
       When those we love take their last breathe.

With so many breaths we speak words
       of shame and harm
       of hope and love
       of no meaning, a waste of our existence
       that reveal our brokenness, our wholeness, our desire

We blow out candles with our breath
       kisses across great expanse

Whistle while we work, play and while away the day
       to annoy our sibling or fill a silent space
       to call a pet or flirt a bit

With cheeks full and lips pursed
       running full speed, swimming laps, pedaling hard
       creation of a new life

Waft the scents of life
       fresh backed cookies kindle childhood memories
       perfume noticed while nuzzling a neck
       parent aroma remembered when assurance wished

Whoosh of air
       meditative breath
       renact the creative moment
       spirit in and spirit out

Main street, noon day, mid week, ordinary time
       breath still special?
       God gave, you chose

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Thank God we will NOT live forever on this planet!!!

Dmitry Itskov, a Russian billionaire, is pursuing immortality through the 2045 Initiative, which he founded last year.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/28/dmitry-itskov-2045-initiative_n_1836678.html)

For some time I have been musing about how lucky we are that God’s promise of eternal life is NOT Earth bound.  Then I read about Mr. Itskov and his research into immortality.  It is an interesting concept.   What if we could transfer the essential bits of us into a renewable container?

One thought of mine is that “forever” is a very long time.  To reach immortality would place a very high goal on the renewable container and the environment wherein the container exists.  Even a Hostess Twinkie has a shelf life, yes?

A second thought is that this planet is rather flawed.  Blame who you wish, but it is a real struggle to enjoy life here.  Rich or poor, lottery winner or other, this world is dangerous.  Do you want to live forever in the place where you might go from “top of the heap” to “pond scum” multiple times in an immortal life?  It would give a new definition to “retirement” and “golden years.”

A third and maybe more profound thought dreams about the transformation necessary to enjoy an immortal life.  Imagine the stress you felt yesterday being with you for all eternity.  Imagine the guilt that haunts you daily.  What of the way your past has skewed your present.  Want to live with that for eternity?

Lately my golf game has included a decent tee shot and an enjoyable shot from 100 yds out.  The shot after my tee shot is too often my ruin.  Would I keep playing the game if I thought I would never improve my second shot?

Would you want to be immortal if you had to bring the stress, guilt, oppression with you?

We might master the mechanics of immortality.  We might.

The transformation required to appreciate, enjoy, thrive in an immortal existence is something of God and God alone.

Institutional church may have not met your needs.  Thankfully the institutional church changes over time.  Thankfully the institutional church does forever attempt to connect individuals with communities that seek the One who transforms us for an immortal life.

God gave us dominion over the world.  Like our friend the Russian billionaire, we might master the mechanics of an immortal life.  Will that take you back to the garden?

Relax ... let God sooth your soul and allow God your lifetime to prepare you for a life immortal.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Worth Your Life?

Is it easier to be good or to be great?  Recently I heard a commentary that suggested good is more difficult than great.  http://www.npr.org/2012/06/16/155026881/a-shriver-learns-its-harder-to-be-good-than-great
The comparison is not fair.  Great is to be aspired to, though it may only be reached occasionally.  Honestly, the literal realization of “great” is only occasional, maybe once a lifetime.
Good is a daily accomplishment.
We do so much daily.  Daily we make an impression.  Daily we make a difference.  Daily we are known.  Daily we are discovered.
Assuming that is so ... what are you DAILY?
Ask your children, co-workers, the barista at Starbucks, the cashier at Walmart, the drive-thru person at McDonalds.  What are you .. daily?
I am blessed to be born of my family of origin.  I was reminded of that blessing this past Father’s day.
I made at least two choices that have transformed my life.  In 1976 at the age of 9, I made the choice to be baptized.  In 1986, as a college student at Purdue University, I accepted my call to ordained ministry.  Those where “great” moments in my life.
What of the daily moments?  I was very intentional with the acceptance of my call to ordained ministry by asking this question of myself:  “In 40 years, what will be worth my life?  What can I do that I will feel is worth giving my life to?”  
That question implies a daily impact. 
How about you?  Daily, what will reflect accurately upon your life?  
Success?  Beauty?  Creativity?  Love?
1 Corinthians 13 = Love is the greatest of these....
John 3:16 = For God so loved the world ....
You have been blessed with such a life!  To what will you give it daily?  With whom will you share it daily?
Recalling Covey’s “7 Habits of Successful People” make an appointment on your calendar for everything that is worthy ... business, spouse, children, church in reverse order.  You will make you proud.  Be great at being good.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunset Moonrise

Sunset & Moonrise

May 28, 2012

Dr. James R. Brooks

How many ways could God have given us light?  The sunlight that helps our food grow, gives us a tan, and helps us to see.  How many ways might God have created light?
In my office, the light makes a sound.  The hum of the florescent lights is always there.  The artificial light is rather noisy.  A noise that is distracting and unsatisfying.
What if God had created the sun with an on and off switch?  Regardless the revolving and rotation of the planets, the sun would turn on and off periodically.  What a savings of energy!  The sun is an opulent source!  The sun is always giving its light regardless of who is looking.  Be we on the sunny side of the planet during its revolution or on the dark side, the sun is bright.  What a waste, we might say.
Might opulence be the key?  Or beauty and artistry could be the point.  God’s creative acts could be more than an efficient production.  God’s creation could be a revelation.  A revelation of God’s love for us.  
What if God’s creation was solely about meeting our need and simultaneously inspiring us to greater heights?
What then of a sunset?  A moment most days when we might reflect upon more than the revolving and rotation of our planet.  A moment most days that invites us to witness the amazing beauty of God’s creative acts.  The providing of light in such a delicate way that it produces a sunset and moonrise.
Thanks be to God for these precious experiences.  May we not take them for less than they are.  May we receive them in ways that inspire us to be more than we might.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Vine is more than Internet

John 15:1-8
The True Vine ≠ Internet 
In the book of Genesis we read that we are created in the image of God.  There is a plural in there that is often forgotten.  Regardless, we are in the image of God.
The plural denotes to me the connectivity of the experience.  
We, humans, create the internet.  The internet is an experience of interconnectivity.  That experience is much like that imaged by God.  The triune God is 3 in 1.  A monotheistic expression of community.  One God in three expressions.  One God presented to us in three different accessible manners.  Or ... One God in three forms to us and to God’s self.  To be one is to be in community ... to be in community is to be one.  As detailed as we might get with our trinitarian theory, community appears to be at the basis of God’s being.  
Let us consider God (Abba) and Jesus.  In the Gospels, those two characters seem to be at the closest communion yet individualized.  Jesus sends us the Spirit, so the dyad becomes the triad and we have a more profound community.
Leap a few thousand years, we created the internet.  From its onset in the late 1960s to today, the map of the internet is if anything connectivity.  From its onset, the internet has modeled connection via diverse and growing path ways.  
My question is if the internet images the connectivity that God models in us as an image of God?  Does the internet model the connectivity we crave in God?  As much as humans crave independence, we create a “network” of connection because we are modeled / made in the image of one who is all about relationship?
A difference is that we are also about control, so we create the internet to control connection.  Like the grape vine, God creates without the desire to control.  Rather, God creates with the desire to produce fruit ... clusters of grape from a tangled mess of branches.  
We desire the internet because of our need for control.  God desires the grape vine because of God’s lack of desire for control (thus the messy and tangled branches) rather a desire for fruit (the clusters of grapes from the green).  
May we produce much fruit (love relationships) and enjoy our life in the vine.
BONUS:    A bonus thought after listening to one of the Elders of my church read the scripture ... What a blessing that Jesus’ images us as branches of the vince that produce fruit.  What if Jesus had imaged us as the roots from which God drew nutrients to produce fruit?  What if we were imaged as the roots, hidden under ground with the dirt to give food to the vine?  Instead, God sees us as the ones who produce fruit for God’s glory!

Friday, May 04, 2012

from the minister’s bookshelf . . .
I recently finished The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.  I was given the book as a gift.  Books are fabulous gifts because they are so much more than the pages caught between covers.  Such is the case with this book.
The Shack is not a book for the faint of heart.  The book contains subject matter that is difficult to read.  However, for those who are curious about or compelled to wrestle with issues of theodicy, such as why bad things happen to good people, this is a particularly helpful piece of reflection.
I was especially taken with Young’s portrayal or God.  Without giving away the book, Young has a fascinating way of explaining the relationship of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  As much, I was up lifted by Young’s construct of God / human relationship.  While not a classic in the artful use of language, it is a keeper for its approach to the content.  I recommend this book quite highly, and am thankful to the giver of the book to me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Who Is Being Blessed?

Who is blessing whom?  When I look into the eyes of a pet that seems to know only love and offer it a blessing, who is really blessing whom?  If you are a pet owner by choice, I think you know exactly what I intend.
Our congregation had never held a pet blessing celebration.  Our tradition has nothing official against such celebrations, nor anything particularly for such an event.  If you want to know more about that event, here is a link to the press release.
Nearly 30 pets were brought by almost 20 families to our first such celebration.  This even found only dogs and cats gathering.  It was a bit chilly.  From large and lumbering huskies and dobermans to small short haired kitties and bright eyed chihuahuas, we gathered beneath the sun on the front lawn.
After some opening remarks and a general prayer, I made the rounds to offer blessings.  As I approached, each owner introduced their pet.  And it was then that the magic truly happened.
I went straight for the pet, stooping or kneeling.  After a short greeting / sniffing, I would stroke the pet’s head feeling the soft fur.  With words that seem to ramble but full of intent I blessed the animal, their owner, the family and the relationship they share.  May God help the pet bring their family the joy God intended.
I was receiving so much joy in those moments, who was blessing who.  Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew, points to the birds of the air as models of faith.  They do not store up food but trust the creator.  These pets exhibited such trust in their owners, me and the scene.  Some might have been anxious but nary a one was ill behaved.  
Some weeks ago in worship, we discussed “thin spaces / moments”.  Those times when the distance between heaven and earth drawn thin.  A Celtic concept of moments when we experience God more fully than most of the moments of our lives.  
As I blessed the pets, I experienced a thinness between myself and the creator.  As I rose to give the pet owner a card with more blessing, their smile was like an affirmation of my experience.   A moment of magic was around us.
God has blessed us in many ways.  Through our pets we witness a model of faith.  Our pets are a declaration from God that creation is meant for our joy ... a fertile place for our faith to grow.  The relationship with our pets is a place for us to develop / hone the aptitude to love our neighbor and God.  
Thanks be to the one who gives us the responsibility and rejoicing as pet owners.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How does a color blind preacher express what is beyond words?  Epiphany is that season.  
Reading the various Gospel texts that relate to the season of Epiphany, I read authors at a loss.  How does one articulate in a few sentences the baptism of our Lord and Saviour?  How does one share with the reader what it was like when Jesus called the first disciples?  How does one place on paper the experience of the transfiguration of Jesus?  
I am color blind.  To me the world is not grey.  However, ask the optometrist how many of the dot charts I got right - 2 of 10.  The first time I held my dear’s hand was before Monet’s Waterlilies.  The massive triptyck that he spent years to create.  Did I see the same colors as her?  No.  Was the experience beyond words.  You know the answer.
When Andrew told Peter about Jesus, when Philip told Nathanael about Jesus ... it was beyond the words.  
When you share your faith, fear not of the words.  Fancy phrasing is not the key.  Proper pronouns do not succeed.  The authentic expression of that which transforms your life is inspiring.  
The first disciples were neither poets nor novelists.  Jesus called fisherman and tax collectors.  These are hardly the word smiths of their day.  And yet, the laid the foundation of a faith community that thrives today.  
The faithful are blessed to experience God in ways that are beyond words.  The moments when God blesses us, heals us, reconciles us, transforms us.... beyond words and yet our attempt to speak the experience is itself a powerful witness smiled upon by our Creator.
Blessed are those who dare to share the faith that feeds their souls.  Epiphany is the season of revelation.