How can you not like a book that begins in the prologue with this quote?41okvydm4rl_sl500_aa240_

It is about a God of surprises, of One who comes in ordinary and the seamy.  It is about a God who will goose you.  It is about mystical moments when clearly the only thing that finally matters is this God who will never leave us alone, especially in the ordinary and angular places of life.  It is, I hope, a spirituality for unspiritual people.

A God that will goose you… what  a refreshing picture.  This book, Earthy Mysticism by Tex Sample is a breath of fresh air.  What it inspired me again was the idea that there is a God of surprises, a God who deals with the icky affairs of life.  It reminds me that the Old Testament is akin more to a modern day soap opera than the highly refined religiousness that we like to imprint on it.  And that is my life and the lives of those around me.  

Tex shares stories of his life that hint at the tragedy and injustices and hopes and dreams that real life is made of.

The sub title for this book is titled, “Spiritually for Unspiritual People”.  If one thing that I am convinced of is that there are very few spiritual people.  Come on, let’s just admit the reality, we are unspiritual people.  The life stories represented in this book rekindles the hope for a spirituality that would come regardless of my deservedness.  A spirituality that is and intersects life in unexpected places.

Tex shares a story about the height of the civil rights movement.  He tells his experience of joining Martin Luther King on his march from Selma to Montgomery.  This story is amazing, a must read for sure.  Another chapter ends like this…

Protest implies that the world is meant to be different.  The world is not created for futility and death.  It is not a place finally of cynicism and despair.  The silence and absence of God point to a different destiny, a different aim for the world.  Death, bondage and alienation do not have the last word.  The world doe snot end that way.  In this strange and paradoxical sense, I see God’s grieving, absent Silence as good news.

That is good news that we need to hear more from.

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A hardline Hindu organisation, known for its opposition to “corrupting” Western food imports, is planning to launch a new soft drink made from cow’s urine, often seen as sacred in parts of India.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, said the bovine beverage is undergoing laboratory tests for the next 2 to 3 months but did not give a specific date for its commercial release.

The flavour is not yet known, but the RSS said the liquid produced by Hinduism’s revered holy cows is being mixed with products such as aloe vera and gooseberry to fight diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Hmmm, and what flavors will they come out with?  Dr. Hayer, Cow Zero, Utters-Up, Bovine Dew?

But really is this just another disguised attempt at using fundamentalist and religious fervor to conceal the true motive of capitalism?  Never mind throwing in the health benefits angle.  Who ever these guys are they are brilliant.  Combining hate for the West, religious idealism and health consciousness.  Wow, now that is a recipe for instant success.  One just has to get past the part about drinking cow urine…

We may scoff at such products.  But are our Jesus dolls, scripture mints(at least they are sugar free) and the latest Purpose Driven Life for Your Grandchildren installment any different.  We package things that sell.  What really is the difference between cow urine soda or the talking Jesus doll?  Don’t both use our religious sentiments to sell a products.  

And this is the one reason why christianity and capitalism should always walk away from each other and not beside each other, holding hands, walking into the sunset.  For if christianity and capitalism walk embracingly into the sunset, I fear that the darkness will be a night that we may not survive.  At least as we know it.  And maybe that is a good thing…

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I received my son’s school newsletter and it had the following compelling information…

Of course, who hasn’t felt better after tending their tomato plants or walking in the park? But a growing body of scientific studies suggests even passive contact, like glimpsing nature from the window of a speeding car or looking at a picture of nature, can be as therapeutic as physically being in the midst of it. The bottom line: Nature can provide nurture — for the young, old, healthy, and sick. It can nurture those in a car, a hospital, a dorm room, and even a prison.

The problem is that directed attention is a finite resource-everyone has expiereinced the fatigue of taking a test or a big project at work.  Attention restoration theory suggests that walks in nature and views of green space capture our involuntary attention, giving our directed attention a needed rest.  ” We advocate that children be given views of green space from the classroom,”  Dr. Faber Taylor said.  ” We’ve done research on children in public housing that shows the ones who have a green view perform better on a broad range of tasks.”  

Why does nature have this kind of power?

“We have two kinds of attention,” says Andrea Faber Taylor, an environmental psychologist and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “Directed, attention, which we use when driving or doing our taxes, for example, is effortful and gets tired. When directed attention is fatigued, we feel trashed and it’s hard to make good decisions and to inhibit one’s impulses.

Faber Taylor says the best way to restore directed attention is by giving it a rest and relying on our second type of attention.

“Involuntary attention is what we use when we stop thinking in an effortful way, like when we watch a fire or meditate,” she says. “Looking at nature is soothing and undemanding of our attention. This uses our involuntary attention, enabling directed attention to rest and recover.”

If you are a typical Western evangelical you are likely experiencing Direct Attention Fatigue.  You have heard so many sermons, teachings, things to do and things not to do, ways of praying, ways of not praying.  If you are a faithful church goer that means you have heard on average of 52 sermons each year.  If you have been in the church for 20 years that means that you have heard approximately 1040 sermons (this does not include Sunday evening services, podcasts, books, tapes and the list goes on).  WE ARE TIRED, FATIGUED, THEOLOGICALLY STUFFED TO THE GILLS.  

What we need is some Attention Restoration.  

It appears that God also believes in the Attention Restoration Theory.  If you begin to look at the places where God interacts and reveals himself it consistently surrounded by nature themes.

-Walking with Adam and Eve in a garden

-Moses and 10 commandments given on top of a mountain

-Jesus baptism in the middle of a flowing river

-Transfiguration on top of hill

-Teaching moments with his disciples on a boat in the middle of a terrific storm, on a hillside sharing the beatitudes, 

Our churches need some green space.  Some park benches void of all calls to new methods, ways and the latest 40 day do this and everything will be better. Our brains need some rest and our eyes need to be re-engaged again.

We serve a God who says taste and see.  Not read and think.  

Dr. Faber Taylor notes that in adults, there is also evidence that a green view is beneficial.  “Most people recognize the pattern,” she notes.  “For so long we have ignored the effect our physical environments have on our ability to pay attention.”

If our physical environment does have a profound effect our our ability to pay attention what would this means for the architecture of our churches, bible schools and seminaries, even our homes?  Most evangelical churches and seminaries are closed, cold and windowless boxes.  (in fact now that I think of it, not one of the numerous churches I have attended had windows of any sort)  

What kind of “Green space” could be incorporated into our sacred spaces?

Did you see Barack Obama’s infomercial last night?  What did you think?  Was it on the level of selling the perfect set of ginsu knives promising the impossible?  Or did it provide you with some hope. Some sense that things could be different.  

Maybe cynicism has creeped in for some of you.  Thoughts of why try… why when we know that politics is a mire of muddy pigs dressed up in fancy suits. To be honest, I don’t know if the next president, whoever it may be, can bring true reform and change.  But one thing that Obama’s hopefulmercial gave me back again was a sense of hope in relation to the Church. 

Hope, is the possibility of seeing what God sees and having God’s thoughts, feelings and actions infiltrate into the core of my being.  

The question is, do I have hope that things can be different?  Can there be communities who reflect the image and character of God?  Will there be people who stand for radical love, inclusive hospitality and social reconciliation.  

Has middle classness, individual consumerism, safety and security so inoculated the christian church that we have become blind to the calling and dream of God in this world.  Maybe.  My resposnse out of fear is… why even try.  “Give in to the dark side, Luke”.  Just stay on automatic pilot in my individual world where safety and security are the throne and scepter of my life.  

But then Barack Obama’s pirated the network airwaves to spread his message of “What if…”.  And this is the reason I feel that Obama will win.  There are enough Americans who are willing to let a relatively unexperienced person be president because we want some with enough resonance and vision to dream “What if”.  But i digress onto my political soapbox.

“What if…” there were a people who took the words of Jesus seriously and practiced with their lives…

-RADICAL HOSPITALITY

-INCLUSIVE LOVE

-PEACE AND LOOKING FOR GOD’S JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD OF INJUSTICE

-REDEEMING RECONCILIATION

-DOWNWARD MOBILITY

Hope says, God sees all of these things and today I want to see my world and my culture as He sees it.

Hope says, that God has called out a people to live out this radical and subversive life as a light to all the world of what God’s Life looks like in a world of flesh and blood, suffering and pain, failures and disappointments.

Hope speaks.  What is Hope saying to you today?

The things I love in life… I love my hammock.  I love to lay suspended and yet held.  I love my ipod holder in my truck.  Such a wonderful organizational device.  

But I love all of these things for what they do for me.  They are the objects of my utility and that is why I love them.  I use them therefore I love them. (likely a poor definition of love and really not love at all)

I came to the realization that I may think God thinks the same way about me.  Why do I think this?  Is it because the Big Wigs who hear God tell me that God needs me as the blare horn of the impending dangers of hell or that I need to be a student of God’s word in order to give ‘right’ answers to the unsuspecting Jehovah Witnesses that come across my door.

Utility, use, work.  Soon the Bible becomes the Sears Roebuck tool catalog of the 100 uses a Christian can be to God and I becomes God’s Leatherman of multi-use tools that he can utilize in any situation.

But what if,  what if my conceptions of who God is are wrong.  What if the theology buffs who graduated from their theology schools are wrong.  

What if I am not the object of God’s utility.

But rather the subject of God’s Love.

No longer a third party tool that God uses to uses to accomplish His purposes and then puts back in the tool shed, until the day another ‘non-Christian’ steps onto the scene.  

Rather I am the subject of God’s love.  

Here is a great question to ask God.  God what are you into?  God in your spare time, what do you think of? God what do you dream of when you are inbetween helping my favorite team win the Superbowl and helping me find a heavenly sent parking spot at Walmart?

This is what I think his answer would be.  

You.  You are the subject of my love.  

You are the one I spent eternity dreaming about.  

Not for what you could do for me, but what you would be to me

And that baffles me.  That confounds every sensible and religious bone in my body.  My meritocraty, my earning God’s favor and blessing, all an unbearable chainsaw noise to the God who is screaming with the feriocity of His love.  “STOP, stop living a life in relation to me as one out of utility and become the subject of my love.”

And so the question begs, will I take my ear plugs out, turn off the buzz saw of my workings, doings and yearnings and listen? 

In the midst of some turbulent financial times I am going to post some relevant thoughts.  I really would like to hear from people on how they are living more contentedly, simply and within budgetary restraints.  I do believe it is exactly in these times that the Church needs to be vocal and prominent in their communities bringing hope in the midst of despair.  So please share on any thoughts or community ideas that you are trying or would like to try.

I am thinking of putting on a seminar that would deal with some of the more practical things in relation to hard times.  So any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

An Excerpt from Contentment: A Way to True Happiness by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl explore a seemingly rare state of being — contentment. In this excerpt they explore the pattern of inflation and deflation and posit that contentment lies in the middle way.

“Inflation is a distorted sense of who we are. Modern people have a psychological tendency to inflate like a balloon. The slang expression ‘he is just full of hot air’ captures this experience. When inflated, we think and act as if we are more than we really are; we are filled with high expectations, sometimes even arrogance. Anything that interferes with our willful desire feels like a disappointment.

“Modern life pushes us to inflate. Our progress-orientated, ‘bigger is better,’ consumer-driven society celebrates ‘too-muchness.’ A recent bumper sticker was succinct in expressing this attitude: ‘The one who ends up with the most toys wins.’ The West has been busy for decades teaching the world how to inflate; in some ways this has become the essence of being American. It is hard to part with something so ingrained as our power stance. . . .

“Any time we puff ourselves up — whether to gain attention, power, status, monetary reward, or love — there is a price. Every inflation is followed by a deflation, and then the hot air balloon comes crashing down. A deflation is thinking and acting as if you are less than you really are, a feeling of “not-enoughness.” . . .

“Inflations and deflations turn life into a wild ride of ‘too-muchness’ followed by ‘not-enoughness.’ They undermine our capacity for contentment. Contentment can be found only in the middle place, the point where you are neither inflated nor deflated. It requires you to be who you are, no more and no less. . . .

“Buddhists speak of the middle way and call this balancing act ‘walking the razor’s edge.’ It is precisely that middle place, where you are neither more nor less than you are, that is the holy place. Most people in the West don’t believe that the middle point is the solution; instead we want to inflate, grab hold of emotional ‘highs’ and force reality to go our way. But our appetite for ‘too-muchness’ only brings us ‘not-enoughness’ and keeps us in a painful cycle.

“To realize more contentment, it is essential to begin each day by reminding yourself to be just who you are — no more and no less.

“The glory of God is man fully alive.” – Saint Irenaeus

Is there anything more liberating, anything more freeing.

Be alive today.  Be who you are, fully expressed, fully you.

And to know that when you are fully human God gets the glory.

Amazing freedom!