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The Christian celebration of Christmas is all about incarnation. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it means (in the Flesh). It’s the notion that non-physical reality manifests itself in the material world. Christians talk about God coming to the world enrobed in humanity and this is depicted in the story of Jesus. Enter the pregnant virgin, a hotel without capacity and a magical star that brings people together for a surprisingly humble starting point for a king within a feeding trough. The Christmas story is the world’s most famous story about incarnation, but it is not the only one. This idea has not only appeared in other faith systems, but it is engrained in every atom of the universe.
Churches all across this country will take time to focus on proving the historical accuracy of nativity story. For them, the truer this 2000 year old story, the more likely a modern person is to believe it. I’m no longer convinced that is the best path, for me, the issue is not historical accuracy. It really doesn’t matter how many scholars agree. It doesn’t matter if we can trace the star back through astrological data. While the modern mind might find it interesting to learn about ancient history through archaeology that validates the biblical texts, these all fail to relocate the incarnation into the soul of the person.
Incarnation must be experienced, not studied. It is not an argument to win, nor a position to defend, it is an experienced or it is powerless.
The encouragement I would like to offer modern Christianity is to no longer truncate the incarnation into a small, particular container of the historical Jesus story of 2000 years ago. You see, no one living today has ever met Jesus in person. Every possible experience a modern person has ever had with Jesus has been “virtual.” The only Jesus people know today is the “incarnate experience”, not mental agreement to historical data.
This is where it gets interesting.
Because the church has almost exclusively focused on one particular expression of the incarnation, it conveniently divides people up into two categories based upon their mental attestation to this historical story. Unfortunately, because the incarnation has been truncated in this way, the church does not recognize nor validate other incarnation experiences. This greatly limits the worlds ability to see incarnation in all of its diverse expressions.
For example, when we say that the incarnation is God in the flesh we are not just talking about the particular story of Jesus being both a man and God. We are also saying in a general sense that non-physical reality has made its way into the material world. Incarnation is not a contest between the particular and the universal, it is the marriage of the two.
If we grasp this, then the world dramatically changes and our incarnation experiences potentiate radically. This means that the experience of God in the flesh emerges from behind all things.
- The idea for a new business, service or product.
- The inspiration to overcome challenges or struggles.
- The impetus to connect or reconnect with others.
- The elation that comes from that song at just the right time.
- The clarity that emerged during a difficult time.
- When the sun warms more than our bodies.
- The sense that nothing is missing from a moment.
- When the love of two people begets a life.
Any movement between the abstract and the concrete, or the non-physical and the material is an expression of incarnation. Incarnation is God coming to us or through us in AND as our very life.
This means that all humanity experiences the incarnation. Not just Christians.
Now I know some of my devout audience will sort of bristle at this at first. So let me add a biblical justification for those who need to see this through that particular lens. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 that he doesn’t want us to be ignorant and then he goes on to tell his Jewish listeners that the thing that sustained their ancestors (the rock that poured out water in the desert) was Christ.
Abraham is said to be a man of tremendous faith (Hebrews 11) because he believed God. The promise (non-physical) became his son Isaac (material). Abraham was not a Christian. He existed long before Judaism had any laws or was even formed. He was just a man with faith, like so many today. The incarnation was coming then, it was experienced over an over throughout human history and within sacred text, it was typified in Jesus, and it continues every moment, everywhere, everyday.
This shouldn’t be surprising. We are made in God’s likeness, we are breathed in by God (Genesis 2:7), or the spirit of God animates us.
For my Christian brothers and sisters, I hope you will take the particular incarnation story and begin to widen your lens to see just how many ways this story has been told in the universal sense. By doing so you will begin to recognize and validate the work of God in others and the world.
For my brothers and sisters who do not share the Christian faith as it is typically defined, I hope you will appreciate the work of incarnation in your own lives and in the world and that you will take seriously the particular story of Jesus. By doing so you will begin to recognize and validate the work of God in others and the world.
May you take the incarnation of Christmas to every moment of your life.
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There are many emergency situations that cause a person to lose or diminish their capacity for breath. As you know, this quickly becomes a life or death situation. For some of these situations, a first responder can take their own breath and blow it into the mouth and lungs of the suffering person and this practice will sustain and recover the life of that person.
We take our breathing for granted. It is so automatic that we lose consciousness of it. We usually have no awareness of our airflow until the moment when we can’t get enough of it. Breathing is the process of inspiration (breathing in) and expiration (breathing out). There is much scientific information about our parasympathetic nervous system, brain stem, or other biological realities that could be added, but even so, the corpus of what can be learned about breathing cannot be found in the empirical space.
You see, science doesn’t usually view expiration or inspiration as dying. It will not deny that if these two opposite exchanges ever stop, then death will occur, but it doesn’t see breathing out as dying because they assume or presuppose the breathing response function. This post will show you how to gain awareness that life is not automatic.
Nearly all spiritual practices ask a person to sit quietly, to be still, and to focus on one’s breathing. Meditation, centering prayer and even relaxation techniques all use breathing to anchor oneself into a particular place of awareness. Breathing is like the X and Y coordinates on a graph, there is the horizontal (biology) and the vertical (spiritual) aspects.
Breathing is spiritual because we know that the Greek word for breath or wind and the word for Spirit are the same thing (John 3:6-8). Breath comes and ushers in a new and restorative life and a sense of well-being. Breath becomes toxic if it is held. Breath is intended to go out to infill another. The same Argon gas that is in our oxygen has been in circulation for thousands of years. The same spirit/breath that brought life to the ancients is breathing life to us. As Rob Bell would say, “You don’t have a spiritual life, you ARE a spiritual life.”
Since the day we were born until the day our bodies die, we are not just breathing. We are being breathed. We experience a spiritual mouth to mouth resuscitation though we are often oblivious to the Source. Ever wonder from where does our breath come? Spirit or breath is our Source of life. Breathing or Spirit IS life. (It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is of no help at all.” John 6:6) We don’t posses it, it is given to us each moment. It is a constant outpouring to us. We can’t keep it, it must be given back.
Life is borrowed.
Think about the implications of this. If what I’m saying is true, then the Maker of life has been coming to us, sustaining us, holding us, keeping us (Psalm 121:1-8). If this is true, then the source of all of life is profoundly benevolent. It didn’t pull back from us when we were in our darkest day. (If anything we may look at our darkest day as the one when this process of Spirit giving life to flesh was interrupted.) It didn’t judge us despite our stubbornness or rebellion. When we went of the deep end, life didn’t. In our biggest sins or failures, Life was there breathing into us. It sustains us even when we do the most horrible things. If we want to know what God is like, look over the track record of our breathing, He/She has been in our face every moment, whether we are conscious of it or not.
For some of us, this thought may not sit very well. Some of us don’t like the notion of God staring us in the face and breathing into us. This insults our sense of perception of autonomy and we prefer to jettison this idea as untrue or unscientific.
If that is you, can I ask you to try and sit with this idea rather than toss it out? Really take in this idea. If you want to see just how much control you really have, then hold your breath or refuse to take in air (just for a moment), do you want to be the kind of person who takes the air and rejects or ignores the source? In a moment when you draw that breath from the benevolent, generous, Source, sit with it. Sit long enough to gain awareness that you want to leave (we all do at first). Sit long enough to ask yourself why this idea makes you feel so uncomfortable. Sit long enough to get that false inner voice to stop calling you silly, or superstitious, our unscientific. Don’t run. Don’t squirm off the bubble. Just sit. Don’t puff up with pride and certainty. Notice your defensiveness, your arguments, your calculations and distractions. See if you can experience this breath, this Spirit just a few more minutes.
If you do, you will be doing deeply spiritual work. You will learn why an early name for God’s people was Israel or “Strives with God.” (Genesis 32:28) Every ugly thing, every excuse, every lie, every bad thought, every fouled motive, every distraction, and every false pretense will start to bubble to the surface over time. Along with it will come all the great and bright moments where your true self shined through. Sit with each one. Breath them in, then let them all go as you exhale. Give it (by breathing it out) to this unending benevolence that is coming to you and then watch how love fills its place.
This practice won’t make you weird. It will make you into the most authentic YOU. It will bring about true humility.
Inspiration will now mean something. New life will mean something. You will see things in different ways. Truth will be true on an entirely other level. You will experience resuscitation. And you will love the proximity of the Source. Then open your eyes to see all the people in the world who have sat in the same place. Explore how many expressions there are of this single experience.
Then get ready for the ride of your life.
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The end of the year is a very busy and even stressful time. Rhetoric spikes as people defend their preferred “Holiday” greetings and salutations. It’s a time when multiple religions and traditions cross paths and I would like to look at this intersection to explore a deeper truth.
All of our preferences bubble to the surface during this time. Our preferences make us more defensive–even competitive.
Whether we are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or an Islamic New year,a prophet’s birthday, or equinox we all feel as though we have some sort of special rite or status. Deep down we all want our team to win. As Americans, Christmas is by far the commercial success story and it is tied to many of our countries traditions. But let’s remember that Jesus wasn’t born in December. Most holidays are conservative or competitive cover-up for pagan celebrations of the Winter solstice (shortest day of the year). So if any of us rely too heavily on our history as a basis for our preferences, eventually we will be disappointed by our findings.
What can we learn if we pull back and put on our wide-angle lens?
We need to recognize that the winter is a sort of death and we have a tremendous dependence upon the sun for its warmth and provision. Coldness is cozy only when it’s shared with those we love. The cold and dark help us to appreciate our interdependence. Gathering together allows us to regroup after a hard year. We have one eye looking back on the loss of the year and one eye toward the optimism of new life emerging in the coming year. We all are part of a larger rhythm. We scatter and we gather. Let’s look closer at this.
We all love our families and close friends. The end of the year allows us from a social perspective to prioritize our reconnection to each other. In this sense, holidays are the excuse or basis to gather. Our traditions connect us to a lineage or history. All of our ancestors were refugees in search of a better life. They scattered and gathered. Is it any wonder that every faith system and tradition shares this vital aspect. It is how people groups, religions, corporations or tribes breathe. Inspiration and expiration, gather and scatter. We all follow the pattern of the cosmos (I like to say ‘creation’).
Every atom expands and contracts. Every cell. Every plant. Every insect and animal. Every river. All oceans. All mountains. Our atmosphere. Our planet. Our solar system. Every star. (I told you we needed a wide-angle lens)
This is all the same endless energy. All this energy surfaces during the holiday season. It’s multi-dimensional. Now lets go one more click further.
Light is a brilliant expression of this energy. This is the juncture where science and faith converge. Think about it. An immeasurable power that can never be diminished, that takes countless forms, makes us, powers us, helps us, and will never leave us. If we are able to see this then we need not only thank science, but every system of faith as well because we have the light to see. Intelligence. Consciousness. Light. Get it?
- Hanukkah is the festival of lights. It is the gradual increase of light during the darkest time of the year. “And the word of the Lord will be to them line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little…” (Isaiah 28:13) What will this light illuminate for you?
- In Islam there is the An-Nur, “God is the light of the Heavens and the Earth”. He is the one who is seen and makes other things seen too. What will this light Illuminate for you?
- Christmas is the time when “Those who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2,6) “As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) What will this light illuminate for you?
You see folks, the real conversation here is all about our connection to The Light, not to the light distribution system. If our thinking is darkened by pride, competition, and having more or being more than others, then I’m sorry to say that we are bearing very little light. The light takes us beyond our teams, our traditions, and our categories. The Light brings unity and diversity together into something more than the sum of its parts. Light illuminates a collective.
Those who are light bearers will bring a fire that both illuminates and warms the cold and dark places not only in our own consciousness, but in all aspects of our hurting world. Those who share this mission, share in something far bigger than any holiday tradition. They are gathering a scattered world. Those defined by such light, such energy, are those who are called out from the dark. We are told they are the ecclesia (called-out ones). Also known as the Church.
This season, I encourage you to pay very close attention to that little thing inside you that deeply years for connection, for unity, for joy. If you can see it, then you possess some illumination. Use it to light your sphere of influence. The world is waiting for you.
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Polarities exist everywhere. In politics we have the Republicans and Democrats. In sports, we have winners and losers. In business we have the successful and the failures. In religion, we have the sinner and the saint. In quantum physics we have super symmetry or chaos theory. In health we have conventional medicine or holistic well-being.
As children we learn by putting things into two categories. Hot or cold. On or off. Good or bad. Touch or no-touch. As we grow older we gain more categories for things. We begin to learn that there is a space in-between the two extremes and we are introduced to continuums.
The space in the middle allows us to find balance in many areas. For example. I am neither a democrat nor a republican. I’m an independent. When I take a shower, I mix the extreme temperatures to find the most comfortable fit.
People who find their identity in the poles hate the middle. It takes a tremendous amount of commitment to hold to only one side of any argument. To do so means you must reject some aspects of the truth. This requires a particular kind of thinking. It requires dualistic thinking. In dualistic paradigms, all information that comes to a person is split into one of two buckets, usually right and wrong, good or bad, valid or invalid. To do this a person must be extremely certain. For dualistic thinkers, there is no neutrality. Their hardware only runs on kind of software.
Let’s switch gears and talk about belief in God. This is an area of extreme polarities.
Atheists despise the notion of God. They see it as an unprovable fable, not unlike the “Elf on the Shelf.” They see believers as those who just want to believe and would rather ignore the facts. They see them as unscientific.
Believers in God span countless religions. Each having their own particular expression or understanding about God. Their God-concept and associated belief systems provide them the required proof they need in order to believe, which just further begs the question for the atheist.
My question is this: Is there neutral ground for belief in God? Can we sort of believe?
My answer is Yes, if your talking about God. No, if you are talking about Religion. Religion is grounded in the poles and it’s message is to tell people that God is in the poles too. Thus to find God we must move out of the middle into one side of the discussion. We are told God is in religion and we essentially have to join if we are to meet him/her.
Thankfully, God is not confined to the container of religion. Early Christianity was not an alternative religion like it is today. The followers of Jesus did not abandon their religions, they reformed and completed them. The Jews still remained Jews but they understood the law and the covenant in a new way. The Romans and Greeks remained mostly pagan, but now had an example of how God’s power flows through people as they saw in the person of Jesus. In fact it was an uproar that the Yahweh (the God of the Jews) was now saving gentiles (non-Jews) without them having to convert to Judaism. They called this good news or the gospel.
So what does this look like today? What would it look like if this basic truth found its way into our modern world?
Today we still have the extremes. Both poles are alive and well and doing all they can to wield their gravitational pull on everyone. The people in the middle are my greatest interest. This is a vastly growing group of people. This is who they are:
- They are not controlled or governed by the force of either pole. They know that if there is a God, he/she is not exclusive to only a few people.
- These are people who are open to discuss and learn about God. But not willing to be sucked into only one limited expression.
- These are people who value the contribution of science without turning it into a religion of its own.
- They recognize they are people of faith, even if they themselves don’t fully know what that means.
- These are spiritual people who by some amazing reason, do not see the world in dualities. These people know there is always a third way.
- These are a humble people who accept that everyone is on a unique journey and they give allowances (grace) to others.
- They don’t impose their belief on others, but are students who can learn something from anyone. Their beliefs are never fixed.
- These are people who have been called out of extremes. They have crawled out of struggle, they sacrifice for others, they serve others, they love others.
You see person in the middle is not lukewarm, he or she is actually centered. A centered person always has a center. It’s an inner voice that calls, challenges, inspires, directs and fills. A middle person is tapped into the centering source. The energy that powers the universe. It was this power that is behind countless prophets, forefathers, leaders, coaches, teachers, artists and fringe. It’s the power that is within me and you. This power is not nameless. This is the power of true leadership. This is the power that is shaping the coming world. This is the power that overcomes all powers and rewrites the rules.
The power is God. It is the power of the Christ story which is retold in every atom of the universe. It is being retold in your life story. It doesn’t make you weird or mean that you have to listen to lame music or put a chrome fish on your car. It simply means you are being powered by love.
Now, do not conclude that I have come all this way to tie you down into modern Christianity. My goal is to repatriate true faith, not hijack our lives with religion. I want readers to know that that deep part of you, that thing inside you that you just know that you know that you know, is not entirely you.
It’s you empowered with God. If we start each day there, imagine how your day will change. What will be next? Your life, then mine, then ours, then everything.