Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cure

Hate is often a product of fear, 
but perfect love dismantles it.

Love is both the opposite of hate 
and the cure for it.

Grace is unconditional and unearned love.  
There's no room for hate in grace.

The diseases of hate and fear are highly contagious. 
But so is the cure.

*future famous quotes by Brad Duncan, 4/6/14*

Friday, March 28, 2014

Practicing My Religion

by Brad Duncan, March 28, 2014

practice makes perfect, they say
so how do I practice my religion?

i see two different ways, and you can't have them both.

i can practice and practice
to be a disciplined kung fu master of my religion
got all the right moves, got control of myself, got strength and power
got deep knowledge and wisdom, can recite many words
got peace and harmony, but fiercely defend my cause when i need to
in fact, i vow to use my religion only for defense, never violence
i can teach others in my spiritual dojo
helping them find their weaknesses and building their discipline
while constantly reinforcing and improving my own art form
of practicing my religion

or i can practice and practice
to serve selflessly and to see the creator in all that is good
got to love some enemies to do that, got to take the weak road at times
got humility that grows the more you seek deep knowledge
got peace and harmony, but only because i have accepted others
in the slippery slope of messy humanity, i vow to appreciate differences
i can teach others and learn equally from them, not fix them
sharing our weaknesses and admitting our needs
my art form is kindness toward the powerless, the widows and orphans
practice makes perfect, they say
so that's how I practice my religion

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Worship

By Brad Duncan, March 24, 2014

Why oh Lord would you care about flattery,
That I should sing endlessly of your greatness?

Why oh Lord would you be honored by my shame,
That I should sing of my wretched state?

Where is the glory in repetition?
By saying it again I can evoke the needed tears?
Why are fear and shame the currency of faith?

No Lord, you do not take pleasure in my misery.
You are not inspired by the gulf between us

No, you have been there, with us in every way
Your heart beats on only one thought: your children.
How will my heart respond?

To live with gratitude,
To recognize my Father's face,
To embrace opportunity for great love,
To proclaim the freedom somehow imagined by Grace

This is my worship

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Faith. Hope. Love.

by Brad Duncan

According to the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13, in the spiritual life of following Christ, three qualities rise above all others.  There are three things we should grab onto, aspire to, and prioritize above the others.  And one of these three is the greatest of the trio, the ultimate spiritual goal.

Faith.   Hope.

These three qualities replace religion, alleviate legalism, end elitism, and overcome barriers between people. These qualities put disciplines and practices into a lower category. They rise above even worship and righteousness.  They represent a higher calling.  They represent a quality life.  Living this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love acts to reduce evil, the sin and corruption in our own hearts, the selfish self-absorption we are so prone to, and the downward spiral of using self-gratification to reduce our own pain and emptiness.  So, this life gives us the best qualities to aspire to, while reducing our worst qualities.

So what is this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love?  Like all great concepts, they are hard to define.  I can't prescribe them for anyone else, but I can relate my experience.  If you've ever tried to define Love you probably ran into the same philosophical challenges, but you have no problem recognizing it.  It's the same with Faith and Hope.  You know it when you see it.  In fact, Jesus used vastly vague examples and explanations to help expand our ideas of what it means to have faith, how to place our hope in him, and how to live a life of love that rises above sin.  I think he was trying to help us see how to live a quality life.  Need some examples?  Think of "love your enemies", the parable of the good Samaritan, and the Greatest Commandment.  Think of how he criticized the religious elite.  Think of the Beatitudes.  Vague, right?

Paul at some point got the concept, maybe during those years stuck in prison.  And when writing his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote it down.  "I get it.  The other concepts and instructions I've written all boil down to this... Live a life of Faith, Hope and Love.  Especially Love".

So back to me.  Here's what I see these qualities to mean in my life ...

Faith -- this is about trust.  It is a facet of spirituality closely tied to prayer and to our concept of God.  It is about being confident in the God we believe in, enough to trust God in a tangible way.  This faith stands in opposition to much of the reality we see with our eyes.  In spite of pain and problems, in spite of our undeniable human condition, we trust in the God who created us.  We trust in God's character.  We trust that God loves us, and out of love will act in our lives.  Trust is the cornerstone of relationships, and in a relationship with God, we must trust.  We must also have faith in God's working for good in the hearts of others.  With that faith we can trust others and partner with them to be a community of God's children.  We can trust in God through building deeper relationships, investing in the lives of others, and exposing our own vulnerability to others.

Hope -- this is about change.  Hope is meaningless without the context of our current intense needs and pains.  Life changes, things change.  Hope sees the good in others.  Hope offers forgiveness to those that have wronged us.  Hope loves enemies. Why?  Because hope is intensely aware that with God's help everyone and anything can change, and that the future can become brighter.  Hope also compels us to do work - work that will bring about positive change in the lives of others.  We can see the future being brighter simply as a result of people caring and working together to make a difference.  Hope sees the reason why we are called to care for orphans and widows, to invest in children, to fight injustice, to stand up for equality, to believe in a future without so much poverty.  In contrast, if there were no such injustice, no needs, and no pain, hope would become obsolete.  It lives only as a vision of change, where corrupt things will eventually become good things.

Love -- this is our higher calling.  A pure life is a life of love.  It nurtures compassion.  It honors others before ourselves.  It unlocks unselfishness.  It thrives on the joy of others, bringing more joy to us than if we sought after our own satisfaction.  Love is a huge revolution against society, where society is defined by norms and laws that give each of us rights and space to pursue our own happiness at the expense of others.  Love is an inverted kingdom where those that serve and offer kindness are the greatest.  With love, sin in our own hearts is defeated.  Corruption is replaced by a passion for God's way of seeing others.  As intensely as God loves us, God loves ALL.  So if we can catch a glimpse of that love, it becomes contagious to our soul as well.  We love because God does.  Because love brings joy.  Because love is the very definition of God's character, and we long to be like God in that regard.  We are called to a higher standard of life, which is defined by our love.

These things may make me sound like a hopeless optimist or like I'm recklessly ignorant of life, like my faith and hope could come crumbling down the first time I face any real adversity.  But those of you that know me know that my life right now is a huge battle with a disease that is keeping my wife in bed many days, and causing her a lot of pain, not to mention the stress and uncertainty of the daily grind of taking care of medical needs.  Not to mention above that trying to keep focusing on our children and helping them have a happy and healthy childhood.  No, I'm not new to adversity.  That's why I have a right to speak about hope and faith.  They are tangible to me.  They are how I live in contrast to the hard things I see with my eyes.  The adversity my family has felt leads us to a higher calling, a life where love rules rather than pain.  If anything this perspective helps me see more clearly past the petty things in the world that cry for our attention.  It helps me see where the real quality in life lies.  Like Paul I am ready to declare that above all spiritual qualities, three things rise above the rest: Faith.  Hope.  And Love, the greatest of all.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Freedom !

Re-posting this from Facebook, something posted and authored by Jim Palmer.  Love this!  It describes so well how I see the world...

"God is not a belief-system.
Jesus is not a religion.
The good news is not a ticket to Heaven.
Church is not an address.
The Bible is not a book of doctrines.
Transformation is not behavior modification.
Community is not a meeting.
Grace has no exceptions.
Ministry is not a program.
Art is not carnal.
Women are not inferior.
Our humanity is not the enemy.
Sinner is not our identity.
Love is not a theory.
Peace is not a circumstance.
Science is not secular.
Sex is not filthy.
The herelife is not a warm-up for the afterlife.
The world is not without hope.
There is no "us" and "them."
Tattoos are not evil.
Loving the earth is not satanic.
Seeing the divine in all things is not heretical.
Self-actualization is not self-worship.
Feelings are not dangerous and unreliable.
The mind is not infallible."

You can find this post on my Facebook page

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading

I thought I would re-post this article from Christian Piatt, showing the best Christian blogs.  Thanks Christian!  And congratulations The God Article for making #1 !

25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading (Readers’ Choice, 2013)

After more than 33,000 hits, 400 nominations and thousands of votes, we have the Reader’s Choice list of 25 Christian Blogs You Should Be reading. I was particularly pleased to see so many women represented in the list this year. Could be much more culturally diverse, but with respect to gender and theological views, it does cover quite a bit of ground.
Though folks continued to vote and nominate well after voting was closed, this was the official list of the 25 most favored by the voting public as of Sunday evening, August 25th, 2013 at 9PM Pacific time.
Yes, there are many worthy blogs that did not make this list, and yes, there are a good number of surprises and newcomers. My hope is that this will serve as a resource for those seeking to expand their experience of faith-related thought and conversation, and that all who stumble across it will concede that this is only a sampling of the fantastic working being done in the blogosphere every day in the name of the Christian faith.
Stay tuned for my “Editor’s Picks” of blogs you should be reading, later this week.
  1. The God Article - Progressive Christian Blog, hosted by the Rev. Mark Sandlin. Mark writes on matters of theology, current events, social justice and politics, all from a conversational, progressive Christian perspective.

  2. Rachel Held Evans – Rachel is a widely known author and blogger who speaks to issues of gender identity and roles in the church and who acts as a bridge between mainline/progressive and evangelical Christians.

  3. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary – A plainspoken blogger, Jamie Wright is brutally honest about her imperfections, and equally passionate about spreading the gospel.

  4. Nadia Bolz Weber - Known as the Sarcastic Lutheran, Nadia is a fresh voice that blends traditional Lutheran sensibilities with a funny, irreverent take on how to put our faith into action in a rapidly changing world.

  5. John Shore - John claims to have been “trying God’s patience since 1958.” He’s passionate about matters of social justice, and helping point out what he believes needs to change about present-day Christianity.

  6. Mercy Not Sacrifice – A less-than-perfect methodist pastor who wrestles with theology, Bible study and current events, trying to discern the call of Christ in present experience.

  7. Sarah Bessey - Sarah writes about her own faith and spirituality, about what love, mothering, ecclesiology, theology, women’s issues, social justice and “pretty much everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company.”

  8. Sparks from the Soul – Maggie Johnson is passionate about bringing hope and freedom to the many forms of oppression: women who have been told that theology is masculine and therefore not for them, those who have been or are being abused, the one who is bitter because the church hurt them deeply.

  9. Red Letter Christians – An ensemble effort of bloggers, along with Tony Campolo, taking Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

  10. Redemption Pictures – Micah Murray shares his evolving journey from a God of judgment to one of abundant grace and love. He believes life is a movie, and God is the director.

  11. Sojourners – An ensemble of bloggers writing alongside founder Jim Wallis about matters of social justice, faith in the public square and effective engagement with politics.

  12. The American Jesus – Zack Hunt’s satirical take on how we in America tend to remake Jesus in our own image. This blog is dedicated to all the silly, absurd, serious, crazy, depressing, hopeful, tragic, and strange things that make up the peculiar phenomenon of American Christianity.

  13. Jayson Bradley – Jayson is both drawn to the Gospel and repelled by the way it’s been co-opted and misrepresented to cultures that desperately need it. It’s because of this dissonance that he writes the things that I do, while also readily admitting he’s guilty of many of the very things he critiques.

  14. Peter Enns – Peter is interested in helping people rethink biblical Christianity. He is a biblical scholar, interested in helping people more meaningfully engage the Bible and how ancient Scripture intersects with modern thought.

  15. Krista Dalton – Krista is a self-identified Christian heretic, immersed in the study of Jewish history. She reviews books, shares personal reflections, and writes on her experience of both Judaism and Christianity.

  16. Homebrewed Christianity - Since 2008, Homebrewed Christianity has been bringing you the best nerdy audiological ingredients so you can brew your own faith.  You will find conversations between friends, theologians, philosophers, and scholars of all stripes.

  17. Unfundamentalist Christians – an ensemble blog effort, founded by John Shore, committed to challenging Christendom in America while promoting a progressive – yet explicitly Christ-centered – expression of faith in today’s world.

  18. Formerly Fundie - Former Christian right advocate Benjamin Corey shares insights, hopes and laments about American Christianity and culture. He writes of his break with fundamentalist religion and his awakening into a different kind of Christianity.

  19. A Deeper Story- an ensemble of Christian writers who believe that it’s easy to tell someone your opinion, but hard work telling them your story. This place, where stories about issues close to the heart of God are shared, asks the question: what if we could toss aside the brutal blunt force of our cemented opinion and engage the senses instead by painting pictures with words and igniting imagination?

  20. Theoblogy - Tony Jones poses challenging questions about theology and Biblical interpretation, while also challenging socially-held norms about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Jones is a theologian and practitioner who is not afraid to venture where many other bloggers don’t dare tread.

  21. Experimental Theology – author and blogger Richard Beck writes primarily on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice.

  22. Jonathan Martin –  Martin leads the liars, dreamers, and misfits of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation, in Charlotte, NC. He’s a product of the “Christ-haunted landscape” of the American South, sweaty revivals, and hip-hop. He writes about about the beauty of God, being one of God’s beloved, and about finding new ways to be human.

  23. Jesus Creed – Author and blogger Scot McKnight writes mainly on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus. He shares sermons, lectures and blog posts about the intersection of science and faith and the integration of spiritual practices into daily life.

  24. Christena Cleveland – Christena’s passion is to help the body of Christ find the power of unity. Using social psychological insights, biblical principles and practical applications, she equips people – from head to heart to hands – to do the work of unity and reconciliation.

  25. ReKnew – Author and blogger Greg Boyd invites believers and skeptics alike to ask tough questions and consider a renewed picture of God. ReKnew believes it’s time to thoroughly re-think the Christian faith—especially our picture of God and our understanding of his kingdom.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's All About Grace (at the middle school)

by Brad Duncan

Hello all you fans, patiently waiting for me to post again - just kidding! - but it has been a while and I'm back at it again.

I had an interesting experience at my son's graduation & awards event this week at the middle school.  The event was about 1 hour of appreciating the kids in the eighth grade class, as they leave and move on to high school.  A slide show reminisced on the good times and on the class field trip to Washington DC, this year.  Then came the awards given in each subject, for the best student in the whole school at such-and-such, and the best score in such-and-such test.  I've come to think that the academic awards are great - for that kid - but sure do leave out all the other average achievers.  Anyway that wasn't the interesting experience, that was just business as usual.

The interesting experience was the students who won various awards for character and leadership, etc.  The teachers praised these students for being such great kids all around, and such good examples.  But what were their notable qualities, that stood above the rest?  What traits was the school the most proud of in the rising generation?  In a word - Grace. The school didn't use this word, but in fact it's what they were praising this kids for.

The kids were praised when they showed equality to people of all types, and went out of their way to include others.  One of the awards specifically was related to helping to break down barriers of inequality and foster inclusion of people with differences.  The school valued this type of behavior as being a model for others to follow.  The school's "we stand together" group or something like that, was an extra-curricular club that tried to tackle issues around inequality in the school and community.  Though not specifically mentioned, no-doubt the word "inclusion" indicated that they grappled with prejudice against gays, as well as social class prejudices.

The kids were also praised for kindness, social activism and social justice.  If they volunteered to help the under-privileged, they were recognized for it.  They were models for others to follow.  Kids were also praised for offering encouragement and support to their classmates who struggled in certain subjects.  Being a good student was GOOD, but being a good student that had compassion and kindness toward the less-proficient students, was GREAT!  Caring gets some credit at school these days.

Maybe there is hope for the next generation -- instead of just teaching them to compete and win, school seems to value, with their awards and praises anyway, the student that cares.  Isn't that refreshing?

So, back to Grace - what's so refreshing about this experience?  I have to go to a secular school ceremony for kindness, justice and inclusiveness to be praised as being the hallmark of leadership in the next generation.  I have to the secular world, rather than to the church and Christians, to hear about kindness and Grace.  My town community cares about Grace more than my Christian community, in some ways.  When's the last time that you heard Christians were praised for showing these qualities?  Aren't Christians praised instead for their discipline and spirituality, and how they seek after God's heart?  Yet, the discipline and spirituality should lead them to Grace - to leading others in kindness, justice and equality.  Seeking God more sincerely should lead us toward unconditional love for others - and not just to personal spirituality.  Now THAT would be refreshing!