Just the writings of your stereotypical pastor / programmer / writer. Bryan Dormaier is a leader of Sacred Roots, a small church in the Foster-Powell & Mt. Scott Arleta neighborhood areas. If you are looking for more information about what Bryan is doing or how you can help, click here
Rec'd ReadsCheck out this link for a list of books I'd recommend and if you buy through that link, a small proceed also comes back to me to help me pay my bills!
There’s a phrase I love and that I hear quoted a decent amount in some Christian circles these days -
Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.
This quote spoke particularly strongly to me when I was much more angsty about evangelism happening as a conflict filled conversation. It felt very often like evangelism was an argument to be won and not bearing witness to the story of a God who’s putting everything back together. So this quote had a strong draw to me. Its rhetorical punch offers something that’s often forgotten, the way we live and the way we act is itself a proclamation of a certain way of viewing the world and the story we believe about the world.
In a conversation with a friend today, we were reflecting on how there’s been a bit of an overreaction in some. Because of the non-relational, overly confrontive approach to evangelism many of my friends have reacted in a way in which we approach proclaiming the gospel in only our actions. And in the midst of this, the quote above will often get thrown out as a reference point.
As I was talking with my friend today I realized how ironic the use of that quote is to support it. The quote supposes that there are times that verbal proclamation is necessary. And it is necessary to state this gospel, what we as Christians believe when asked of our motivations for why we do the things we do.
Often when asked though, we become dodgy - not willing to drop our cool or appear judgy. So instead we give some non-descript answer.
It occurs to me that this approach tends toward being just as bad as the confrontive approach because in the end it’s a deceptive measure. We’re hoping to trick people into loving Jesus without ever actually talking about Jesus or revealing what our intent is.
To be clear - the reason I’m involved in Our Happy Block, that I care about the development of the neighborhood around Foster road, that I spend a lot of time hanging out at Bar Carlo, Speedboat Coffee and the Slingshot is because of the story I believe about the world. I believe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus tells us that God is not an angry tyrant wanting to destroy everything, but rather is at work in the world putting everything back together that has been broken by sin and death. And the gospel, or good news, is that we are invited to participate in this story. It’s because of this story that I believe I can and should love my neighbor like I love myself and it’s because of this story that I will give up free time for things I care about and believe in.
It’s all because I believe Jesus has opened up a new way to live in the world. Some people call this a deliverance from sin. Others call it an establishment of peace. The point is the same, we have been given an opportunity to be delivered from sin - the caustic reality in the world that breaks relationships. It breaks our relationships between each other. It breaks our relationship with God. It breaks our relationship to ourselves. And it breaks our relationship to the earth.
What I believe is that this Jesus story means that it’s entirely possible for us to live a life that moves towards wholeness in these relationships. And if you ask why I do what I do and I don’t tell you this, I’m lying.
But I’m over lying. There’s too much to this story for me to be quiet about it. I truly believe it reorders the way we should look at the world.
At Sacred Roots on Sunday, we discussed a mystical view of God and the world, and I noted that in my opinion, the mystical view is amongst other things a belief that all of life is potentially an opportunity to experience God, not contained in either or knowing or our unknowing.
This discussion prompted me to mention some stuff about apophatic theology, which I see as highly linked (and which I’ve been gravitating towards a bit) so I decided to write a bit to explore what that means and offer it as a potential tool for all of us as friends as we wrestle through our beliefs about God and scripture.
To the apophatic tradition, we get more at God’s nature through defining what God is not than making numerous claims towards what God is. The basis of this idea is that we subtly believe that it is possible to confine God through the words in which we define God. So the apophatic says it’s not possible to define God in this way because it attempts to limit God to our language. Instead we can certainly say what God isn’t. This is not to say there is no point to positive affirmations, but rather to understand that our positive affirmations are as if “seeing through a glass darkly”. It’s this idea that our ideas and words cannot contain God that leads to a lot of play between the mystic tradition and apophatic theology.
This summation of a quote by John of Damascus (a writer in the early church) does a good job of summing up the intent of apophatic theology: the positive statements about God reveal “not the nature, but the things around the nature.”
I find this idea by John of Damascus helpful because the issue always arises that we have a number of “positive” statements about God made in scripture. The goal of apophatic theology, at least in how I’m engaging with it, is not to try to get around these positive claims but rather to see that these claims are not God and cannot control God. So as John of Damascus articulates it helps us glimpse the nature but these affirmations are not the nature of themselves.
When so many people’s experience of Christianity is constantly feeling guilty about not doing enough and trying to live up to a standard that is impossible, it’s probably time to start asking if we’re actually talking about Jesus.
This all goes back to what is called our “primal” experience of God, the first thing we were told about God, and for so many of us that “primal” experience was being told that God is angry and wants to destroy us.
This explanation of Christianity that starts with the God that expects us to do something we were never capable of and is pissed off at us for it needs to die.
Remembering Grandpa Steg
This last week my grandpa, John Steg, went to be with the Lord. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking back on my memories of grandpa and how he’s shaped my life. I know there are all kinds of conversations in the Christian world about masculinity these days and I know that grandpa shaped much of my opinion on the subject t. There are very few people that more come to mind than grandpa when I think of “manly.” But he wasn’t just some macho guy, and I think that’s a big part of why grandpa was so special.
Many of my earliest memories are of grandpa Steg and my dad and I being outdoors hunting, fishing, hiking or doing work with bees. Grandpa was a classic outdoorsman. He grew up in north Idaho and did the sorts of tough jobs that came with the territory. He was a World War 2 veteran who didn’t really talk much about his time, but who was clearly shaped by his experience. Later on he became a beekeeper and moved the family to central Washington, also doing jobs with orchards and becoming the local scoutmaster for a while. Grandpa was a hunter and a fisher and a woodworker, constantly working on some project. The two times I remember getting in trouble in school - for calling “bullshit” on someone and for punching a guy in the face for picking on me - were both instigated in some way by grandpa teaching me to stand up for myself.
But it wasn’t just this that’s why grandpa stood out. Grandpa was a story teller. He loved to sing and play the accordion and dance with grandma. Grandpa was strict, but you always knew you were going to have a good time when you were around him. He believed in raising up all his kids and grandkids and raised strong, intelligent and independent daughters as well as his sons. He genuinely cared for people and was devoted to his faith. He was a devout Catholic and a lay minister. He had a bit of the mischievious streak in him too, and it was this vast combination of traits that made him so special for so many of us.
He was a manly man, but he had a soft heart and was never really worried about proving himself. It’s this mixture of his personality that made him someone I’m so proud to have shaped so much of my life and I hope and pray that all my cousins and I can carry on his legacy and all these facets of his personality. Grandpa was a great man who was well loved by many. The type of person I’m glad to see sometimes emulated in myself.