Pew Note 12-8-16

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”


Dear Shadowland Family,

If you read Emily Groves’ email last week, you may remember this quote from her:

“I don’t remember well. In fact, I’ve never remembered well. I literally don’t recall my childhood prior to age 12 except for a handful of isolated events. And when it comes to remembering spiritual milestones and breakthroughs in my life, I’ve come to realize that I forget more often than I remember.”

I very much appreciate Emily’s admonition for us to “be a people who practice the discipline of remembering” I would like to build upon the idea that remembering is an essential trait of discipleship.

2 Peter 1:3-9 is a favorite passage and helps to remind me of the importance of remembering.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

There is a lot to glean from this passage. I find several key ideas about daily living in the kingdom of God.

God, the king, provides everything we need. When we enter the kingdom of God we surrender everything to His reign over our lives. We look to the king for not only sustenance but also protection and strength. Our days are shaped by our trust in our king.

In his kingdom we enjoy a relationship with the king that is deeply intimate. So much so that we are endowed with his very nature. He dwells within us. As we nurture that relationship, we will find relief from corruption and evil in our lives and increasingly enjoy the benefits of living under the reign of God our king.

Living in the kingdom of God brings the responsibility of being good subjects of the king. The fundamental trait of people living in the kingdom of God is that they are uncompromising in their trust of the king. For that trust to be demonstrated, we must use the knowledge and power he has given us to be effective and productive citizens of his kingdom. Our efforts are to be directed toward adding the qualities of goodness, knowledge, self- control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love to our trust of God.

If we are not seeing these qualities increasing in our lives, Peter says we are nearsighted and blind and have forgotten that our sins are forgiven. This is, for me, a critical aspect of understanding and living out the gospel in my life. As I consistently struggle with being a good citizen in God’s kingdom, what am I to do about my failures? And just as important, why do I keep failing?

In contrast to some Christian counsel on these questions which mostly insists that I “do better”, Peter defines the core problem: forgetting our sins are forgiven. Thus, rather than frantically running about doing better, or perhaps, giving up in despair, I need to remember and keep being reminded that my sins are forgiven. It is the power of the Gospel, the goods news, that enables and sustains me daily to be a good citizen of God’s kingdom.


I believe the need to remember and continually be reminded of our forgiveness explains why community (the body of Christ, church) is so important. In the absence of community, we give up the best source of and context for remembering our forgiveness. For that reason, I would suggest that an important metric for Shadowland is whether or not the Gospel is our centerpiece, and, to what extent every aspect of community life is in someway reminding me of the Gospel… my sins are forgiven. 



Recently, I came across a blog post I had written seven years ago. Below is an excerpt from that post. It is still relevant today.

It is the power of the Gospel, the goods news, that will enable and sustain me daily as a good citizen of God’s kingdom.
How does that look in my daily life? My struggles continue. I am trying to understand and experience the presence of God in every aspect of my life. I strive (?) to surrender to God’s reign over everything. It is my desire to simplify my life, materially and financially. I have resolved to make relationships a priority, both restoring and building existing ones as well as developing new ones. I fight my need to be in control and work and serve for selfish motives. I am intentionally seeking to experience the fruit of the Spirit in my life. I am frustrated with my search for community but convinced more than ever how much I need community. There is much more, but the paradox is that I feel more peace and contentment than at any other time of my life. I believe that comes not from the absence of struggles but from a more profound understanding and confidence in God’s love and the forgiveness that comes as a result.

Worship Not Performance

“Worship not performance”  If we don’t get worship right, our Christianity is going to be toxic. I really believe that the purpose of worshiping God is to lead us into authentic delight. It is a restoration of the wonder that we experience as children before we lose our innocence. God does not need our flattery, nor is God giving us a grade on how emphatically we say hallelujah. God just wants us to experience our belovedness and stop trying to prove ourselves worthy.

How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity

Pew Note 11-4-16

There is a visible horizon with Jesus, because there are things I can understand and affirm in the creeds and confessions. But there is no actual horizon. His love, grace and majesty are never ending. My theology is a map, not a photograph. A sail, not an anchor. Faith is a mystery, not a certainty, because I can never be certain that my mind has captured more than a glimpse of his glory. A hope, not a possession, because nothing I possess can hold the one who holds me.

Michael Spencer


The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! 

Richard Rohr’s article below challenges my default understanding of penal substitution as a necessity for salvation. The implications to our understanding of God are profound. I believe further examination is deserved.


A Nonviolent Atonement (At-One-Ment)
Wednesday, October 12, 2016



Jesus’ teachings seem to have been understood rather clearly during the first few hundred years after his death and resurrection. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common among his early followers. For example, the Didache, written around AD 90, calls readers to “share all things with your brother; and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish.” [1] At this time, Christianity was countercultural, untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

However, when the imperial edict of AD 313 elevated Christianity to a privileged position in the Roman Empire, the church increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and class. Morality became individualized and largely sexual. Formal Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call “religious life” began, and flourished, after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big church.

If you look at texts in the hundred years preceding 313, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. The army was killing Christians; Christians

In the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and the Dominicans were the Catholic Church’s debating society, as it were. We invariably took opposing positions in the great debates in the universities of Paris, Cologne, Bologna, and Oxford. Both opinions usually passed the tests of orthodoxy, although one was preferred. The Franciscans often ended up presenting the minority position in those days. I share this bit of history to show that my understanding of the atonement theory is not heretical or new, but has very traditional and orthodox foundations. In the thirteenth century the Catholic Church seemed to be more broad-minded than it became later. Like the United States’ Supreme Court, it could have both a majority and a minority opinion, and the minority position was not kicked out! It was just not taught in most seminaries. However, the Franciscans and other groups taught the minority position.

Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans agreed with the mainline position that some kind of debt had to be paid for human salvation. Many scriptures and the Jewish temple metaphors of sacrifice, price, propitiation, debt, and atonement do give this impression. But Franciscan teacher, Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308), who founded the theological chair at Oxford, said that Jesus wasn’t solving any problems by coming to earth and dying. Jesus wasn’t changing God’s mind about us; rather, Jesus was changing our minds about God. That, in a word, was our nonviolent at-one-ment theory. God did not need Jesus to die on the cross to decide to love humanity. God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation; the cross was just Love’s dramatic portrayal in space and time.

Scotus built his argument on the pre-existent Cosmic Christ described in Colossians and Ephesians. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who came forward in a moment of time so we could look upon “the One we had pierced” (John 19:37) and see God’s unconditional love for us, in spite of our failings.

The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift, and the idea of gift is much more transformative than any idea of necessity, price, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. 

Duns Scotus firmly believed that God’s perfect freedom had to be maintained at all costs. If God “needed” or demanded a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. Once you say it, its inherent absurdity is obvious! Unfortunately, the mainstream “theory” led many people to dislike and mistrust “God the Father.” This undercut the mystical, transformative journey for most Christians.

Jesus was not changing the Father’s mind about us; he was changing our mind about God—and thus about one another too. If God and Jesus are not violent, punishing, torturing, or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. This is no small point! And, of course, if God is punitive and torturing, then we have full modeling and permission to do the same. Does this need much proof at this point in Christian history?

Jesus’ full journey revealed two major things: that salvation could have a positive and optimistic storyline, neither beginning nor ending with a cosmic problem; and even more that God was far different and far better than the whole history of violent religion had up to then demonstrated. Jesus did not just give us textbook and transactional answers, but personally walked through the full human journey of both failure and rejection—while still forgiving his enemies—and then said, “Follow me” and do likewise (see John 12:26; Matthew 10:38). This is the crucial message of nonviolence that most of Christianity has yet to hear. Without it, the future of humanity is in grave peril.

Gateway to Silence:
Be peace.

Enoughness and Contentment-Richard Rohr

We live in a society that places great importance upon external signs of success. We have to assure ourselves and others that we are valuable and important—because we inherently doubt that we are! Thus we are often preoccupied with “one-upping” others. I am afraid that most lose inside of such a “winner-takes-all” society. We have great difficulty finding our inherent value with such a world view. Few have deep conviction about their own soul or the Indwelling Holy Spirit.


People living under capitalism find it almost unnatural to know their own center. Dignity must always be “acquired” and earned. We live in an affluent society that’s always expecting more, wanting more, and believes it even deserves more. But the more we own, ironically enough, the less we enjoy. This is the paradox of materialism. The more we project our soul’s longing onto things, the more things disappoint us. Happiness is an inside job. When we expect to find happiness outside of ourselves, we are always disappointed. We then seek a “higher” or more stimulating experience and the spiral of addiction and consumption continues.

Pew Note 9-15-16

We try to impress God with our perfection and impress others too. And what we tend to forget is that the moment we become impressive, we have diminished others’ view of God. When we try to cast a large shadow, we forget that God is the object of our worship and is the One we are to point others to, not ourselves.

Michael Mercer

Who Am I?

Written for Shadowland Community Church weekly email.


Who Am I?

Recently, I was sitting at the breakfast table, caught up in deep thought. For whatever reason that morning, my mind had been drawn to the reality of my daily existence. 

Ann, noticing my far away look, asked me: “What are you thinking about?”, to which I replied, “I’m nothing but a speck on a gnat’s rear end.”  

That phrase comes from my growing up years in Alabama. If you wanted to tell someone how worthless they were, you would say, “You’re not even a speck on a gnat’s rear end” 

The conclusion I had arrived at that morning came from an unvarnished look at my life and circumstances compared to, what appears to me as, the innumerably greater, better, more significant, lives and circumstances in the world about me. As an elderly person, I think about and strive to find meaning and purpose in a life that feels increasingly useless. 

As I write this, I can hear the protests. “You shouldn’t feel that way…you are _______ (fill in the blank) .“  

But, alas, there is something freeing about bringing the reality of my insignificance into the light of God’s love for me and thoughts about me. It’s what I see David expressing in Psalm 8: 

“When I consider your heavens,
       the work of your fingers,
  the moon and the stars,
        which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
     human beings that you care for them?”

We resist the truth of our existence but it is only in our insignificance that we will find our significance.

I stood alone on the wet, sandy seashore
In the presence of the Sea.
Its waters extended endlessly,
Beyond the horizon
Touching infinity.

The sounds of waves rolling
And crashing against the shore
Roared like the majestic dawning of creation,
Deafening in its might.
Colors blurred into every shade
Of blue and black and green and white.

I tasted the salt in my mouth,
And breathed it into my life.
The light of the eastern sky broke through
Billowing clouds of cotton and blue,
Dark clouds receding, retreating before the light.
Towering black cliffs loomed massive behind me,
Laid along side one another
Like giant steeples of stone
Reaching up until lost in the mist
Of blanketing clouds above.

I stood in the awesome, infinite presence of the Sea,
Of ineffable mystery.
And simultaneously I saw myself from above,
One speck on a vast shining shore,
A shoreline stretching farther than the eye could see,
Lost in the distance to the embrace of the Sea.
And I felt significant.
I felt significant only because of my insignificance.
Yet I stood in the Presence of Ultimate Reality,
Of Another, of the Holy Other.
I felt acceptance and affirmation,
Security and peace.

I belonged to the Sea.
It had let me be
To become a valued entity.
It had named me,
To forget me now an impossibility.

God knew me.
God knew my name,
The journey of my life.
And God loved me.

Excerpted from Frank Tupper’s “A Scandalo



The Journey Continues

As you can see, my blog is working again. Unfortunately there is about 4 years of posts missing. I do have a file of 370+ posts that I’m trying figure out how to import. In any case, I’m pleased to have saved as much as I have.  I’ve been enjoying reading the older posts. You are welcome to browse through the years.