Author: The Bridge Faith Community

Echo

On my other blog (lovewithacapitall.com) I write about documentaries and songs and tv shows and politics – it’s not that much different than here, I suppose. This post will be a break from our Gospel response series and might be posted on both sites. It’s about a documentary and it’s about creativity and Jesus and should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need,  For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.  And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

What We Hold Close

This is a post written by Natalie Roy called What We Hold Close. I don’t usually share emails or posts here unless I do, and this is one of those rare, special times. And then, next week, we’ll talk about “dirty fuel” and “punishing ourselves,” in the service of transformation. (We are already very familiar with the broken concept of “negative goals.”)

“I love a clean house.  I  clean and clean and clean some more especially when hosting guests at home.  I would notice when my partner would walk into the house I would get agitated… “take your shoes off!” and “make sure to not mess anything!”  Yet, the moment the guest would arrive, it would be “don’t worry about your shoes! Come on in and make yourself at home!” 

Oh yes.  Sometimes I am so very out of touch.

But don’t we ALL do this? 

We treat those on the periphery sometimes with much more compassion and grace than those we hold dearest and closest.

And often, the one we treat the worst, is ourselves.

We are hard on ourselves.  And don’t we do this under the false guise that if we are hard enough on ourselves we will stay motivated or be fixed or be better or more.  It is something called “dirty fuel”, when we are motivated in opposition to something such as our own unworthiness.  

Do we not trust that without such strict force we would evolve?  Do we think we are only as good as how much we are willing to punish ourselves into it?

Motivating towards negative goals is both harming and unsustainable.  Motivating from a place of needing to be better will always lead to negative consequence or giving up.  It will lead to “what’s the use” or “why me”, “nothing is ever enough.” 

Something interesting came up in my yoga class today.  I was thinking about anatomy and how our extremities can move faster than the body parts closer to our core.  So I can move my fingers more quickly than my shoulder, and my shoulder can move more quickly then my heart. 

So we can discern that lasting change, on the things we REALLY care about can sometimes be a long game.  Transformation takes time.  It happens choice by choice, day by day.  The idea of an overnight success is a fallacy.  What can shift (and lightening fast) is your perception, your mindset, and your feelings.  And those we have to continue choosing each and every day. 

We change our lifestyle to change our lives.”

I guess this snuck up on me and hit me over the head so hard is that I have lately been running on “dirty fuel” so much, and when she writes that it will lead to a mindset of “nothing is ever enough,” I am laid bare. I’ve never met Natalie Roy, but I think there’s an above average chance that she knows exactly who I am. Maybe she has been reading my email or my journals – the parts I don’t let anybody see. (Ok, just kidding, there aren’t any parts I don’t let anybody see.) The point is, I don’t know her, but she certainly knows me.

We’ve been exploring our response to the Good News of the Gospel. It’s a motivation based on who we are and what we can do – not the opposite. It’s a “clean fuel.” It’s a yes. This is an absolutely vital distinction and I owe Natalie Roy a big, sweet thank you for helping me remember what I already knew.

Dancing

Last week, I said we were going to “talk about obedience and sin in this context” and I’m not sure that was the best idea because I have no idea what that conversation was supposed to be. Maybe this comes with age – I’m older than I used to be, you know.

Anyway, this series began with this:

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

In this gorgeous prayer, the first implication is that we notice and appreciate the many blessings we have been given, the second; that we are thankful. The big question is, do we? Are we?

Or are we simply entitled consumers?

I think the Bible is ordered the way it is because without the condition, the gift means nothing, it’s our birthright/what we deserve, and what response could that demand? Besides shopping for more, I mean? What can it, or you, do for me? The wise philosopher Kurt Cobain once famously screamed, “Here we are now, entertain us.” I wonder if he ever knew how right on he was, or would be 30 years later. That song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was released in 1991 and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment or a characteristic of a lived well lived, but it seems that’s how we took it.

I don’t have to tell you I love that song. Once, I played the iconic music video at our Sunday service. I’ll never forget watching an elderly man exit his car to visit the Bridge that morning, knowing what he would hear & see, so far from what he was expecting (surely much farther than he would be willing to go)…and 1 hour later watching him hurry away without a word to anyone, never to return. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about that. I do know exactly how I feel about the song, though.  

So. How do we perceive our lives or the groups & communities to which we belong? As products that have a duty to satisfy us? Is the purpose of everything only found in what benefit it can provide or how it makes me feel?

And if those answers are ‘yes,’ what do we do when those products inevitably disappoint? When our spouse or partner or supervisor or group leader or pastor;) or coach or neighbor offends us or makes us uncomfortable or makes a decision we don’t agree with or takes a tone of voice or doesn’t return our call or disciplines us, then what? Of course, we move on. We take our talents and expectations down the road to the next new model. And then the next. And then the next. You get the point, nothing on earth is perfect. Nothing on earth will always satisfy. (Except maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”)

In the Genesis account of Creation, the people are given many responsibilities (work, tend, care for, reproduce, etc) – as far as that goes, the plants and animals are given the ability to do the same. This is before the ‘fall’ in chapter 3. That’s interesting because in a state of shalom (peace, harmony), the point was never for us to sit idle and be entertained or passively stimulated. The point was active participation, then as it is now. Maybe the ideal role of my wife isn’t to feed me grapes or quench my every thirst, as much as I might like it to be. Maybe my church isn’t supposed to be a tv program or rock show. Maybe the people in my life aren’t just commodities to be used up and abandoned. Maybe all of these things were intended to be much closer to actually dancing (instead of just watching from the sideline), all of us sweaty and exhilarated because we’ve all lost track of who gave what (because we’re all giving and receiving all we have) and we’re too busy truly living to even stop to consider if we’re ‘satisfied.’

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

the gospel of me

I promised we’d discuss the “prosperity” (or “name and claim” or “health and wealth”) gospel his week, so here we are. This ideology is, as the Great Theologian Wikipedia writes, a “religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.

The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.”

The first obvious questions are if God’s definitions of blessing, well-being, success, security and prosperity are the same as ours? Even a casual reading of the Bible would suggest there is a better than average chance that they are not. Maybe God’s primary hopes for us aren’t exploding bank accounts and increasing mountains of material possessions, maybe the blessings are not quite so temporal. And the next batch of (admittedly cynical) questions revolve around the shockingly consistent penchant for human religious systems to tie spiritual giftedness to monetary donations. 

It’s not these questions we’ll talk about here, now.

It is the inversion of the Divine order of condition/grace/response into a simple if-then equation. If we give enough money, do enough, have enough faith, then He will give us whatever we want. If we put in the proper amount, say the right words, run fast enough, we will get what we order; a sort-of spiritual Amazon.

But what’s the proper amount? What is enough? 

I was visiting in a church once where the congregation laid hands on a member with a late-stage cancer and proclaimed if he had enough faith, he’d be healed. If he didn’t…well, he wouldn’t. He died within the month. Since he didn’t measure up, I wonder how much he needed? 

No wonder we’re all riddled with anxiety. We’re all trying to be good enough (of anything, of everything), but it’s a rigged game. Where’s enough? Where’s the bar? How will I know if I’ve reached it? If we don’t get our notion of prosperity or success, then it’s our fault, we’re guilty, overcome with shame. That’s terrible, but perhaps even more damaging is if we do, then it’s also our fault. We did it!!! We ARE that awesome!! 

This is ultimately a gospel of ME. The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus alone. This gospel is Jesus plus me and my work, my trying, my earning, and that is no gospel at all. The word gospel means “good news” and this isn’t good news, it’s the same news. It’s exactly how your job, your country and your world, work. This isn’t even news. 

On if-then equations: They are very often practically useful and true (If I do more push-ups, then I will get stronger. If I eat more cake, then I will gain weight), but I think we misuse them in a spiritual sense. The Bible is full of commands and if we follow them, then we will benefit. If we stop lying, then we will be free of the consequences of those lies. We won’t drag that baggage around, we won’t have those broken relationships, we won’t carry the worry that they’ll find out or endure the wrath when they do. We live a far more peaceful life. So we naturally think there are strings attached. IF we follow His commands, THEN He will love us, accept us, and bless us.      

This is pretty understandable, but the Gospel gives us a different if-then scenario. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we will WANT to respond in love towards Him and everything that is His. Given that He loves, accepts, rescues, blesses us, that reality releases us from all of the anxiety that comes with climbing The Ladder Of Enough and we are free, truly free, to do what we’ve been created to do all along; give everything to Him and fly.

New Look

The world looks very different in the context of a global pandemic, right? Our community is no different. As we open physically on Sunday, July 19 at 10:30am, there will be some new precautions in place. (In no particular order)

1. Physical Contact. We have been a very physical community (hugs, holding hands, etc) and that will have to change, to a certain extent. There will be no prayer circle to close the service, for the time being. On a personal level, each person will decide for themselves: we will have stickers immediately inside the front doors (red = no contact, yellow = talking, but little/no touching, green = touching ok) for each person to pick up and wear. That way, you don’t have to ask or answer a million times, we all can see.

2. Physical Distance. We have a large enough space that we can sit a comfortable distance apart. There will be people in orange Bridge t-shirts to help you find a seat if you are new or would like some assistance.

3. Singing. We will sing. Gisy will be in the front, so we can space accordingly.

4. Masks. Masks are required by PA state mandate. We understand there are exceptions – we are not an enforcement agency – but we do value compliance with the governmental authorities over a rebellious spirit.

5. Children. For the time being, there will be no separate children’s ministry. There will, however, be individual activities available for kids during the message. (The pastor has a tendency to go on FOREVER!!!)

6. Food/Drink. There will be no food/drink/coffee provided, with 1 exception: there will be individual water bottles for you. You are welcome to bring your own, we’re simply trying to avoid (as much as we can) shared handles, utensils, etc. and small spaces to congregate.

7. Cleaning. There are a variety of new cleaning procedures. If you want to know what they are, specifically, you can ask me and I would be happy to give details. The only one we will ask is that if you use the bathroom, please use the provided materials to wipe down any places you contact.

8. The Narthex. We love to hang out in the Narthex and talk, but for now, the doors to the sanctuary will be open at 10am. Again, for the time being, small spaces to congregate are not the greatest idea and we will do our best to avoid them.

Last: Planet Fitness brands itself a “Judgment Free Zone“ and so will we. Each one of us has decisions to make, in regard to this pandemic and the level of caution we choose. We have no idea why each one of us is making the decisions we do, we don’t know what their individual concerns are, we don’t know their motivations, so we will not project our ideas onto them. We are each making informed, careful decisions based on our information, values, priorities and individual risk factors. We are opening with the precautions we’ve decided upon using the same criteria. Let’s give each other some grace as we all are navigating terrain none of us have faced before. We might make mistakes, and maybe we’ll change our minds, but I assure you, (corporately and individually) it is not because of a lack of love, prayer, thought, or care.

If you will not be with us, in person (for whatever reason), we will remain on Facebook Live at 10:30am in Sunday mornings. The Bridge is much more than the building, it is all who call it home.

With all of that said, I welcome you back to the Bridge. I can’t think of anything more important in uncertain times like these than a faith community, and I really can’t think of a better one than you. I’ll see you Sunday!!!!