Special “Ask Sparky” Episode: Responses to 5 Burning Question

Special “Ask Sparky” Episode: Responses to 5 Burning Question

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Here, just the Father's beard could wipe out planet Earth
(Hey, God doesn’t have a body.)

Shownotes for the Special “Ask Sparky” Episode: Responses to 5 Burning Questions


1. It’s hard to pray to God as Father when you’ve had a bad dad. What should I do?

• How do we think about God? (usually like a human person or institution)

• God is Spirit not an old white man in the sky with a long beard.

What adjectives will help you connect with the Being typically called “God”


Hebrew word for God is a description too (yahweh “I am” a verb) that was not used. Adonai  was substituted and that simply means “Master/Lord” and is a term of respect.


It’s misguided to think that God can be contained or described well using a “Proper Noun”. God can’t be called a proper name/noun…like “Billy” (and that would make Jesus “Billy Jr.”).

Hebrew names are descriptive when referring to people (not how we use names to address people today).


YAHWEH (Hebrew word), means I AM (or “is”) and works like a verb denoting Presence an Love in Action. It defies typical proper names and descriptions.


2. On Forgiveness

“What should I do to forgive when I can’t forget?”


Forgiving is a continual process.

Thinking of forgiveness as transactional–a debt clearing mechanism. Be an accountant and don’t worry about your emotions being on the same page.


Remembering that you are not your thoughts.


What Justice is actually (Shalom). Making things right and reconciliation.


3. What to do about envying others (in this case writers in the field) and being jealous of their success.


Seeing the negative emotions as tools. Reframing them to use them to find our calling, gifts, and passions.


Not getting caught up in “should” and “oughts” and comparisons.


When you can say of your work, “Wow, I get to do this!” you can have enough gratitude to be comfortable with the success of others.


It’s common and normal to get feelings of jealousy. It’s only when the take over our hearts and mind do we need to reevaluate and recalibrate what we are doing and thinking.


Deciding that the options of other people and the opinions should have huge power is a choice we can change.


4. Getting over feeling guilt and shame that keeps resurfacing.

Daring Greatly Brene Brown (the difference between guilt and shame.

• Guilt is important so we can learn and correct and grow and become better people.

• Shame is a belief that something, un fixable, is wrong with you.

Shame whispers lies in your ears. Shame becomes a decision of who we are as person.


Being put to shame by parents and others.


A mistake isn’t part of who you are.

Redemption is always possible. You can start anew.


My caveat.


5. Church isn’t working for me anymore and I feel guilty leaving the church, but I don’t feel fed.

In the U.S. we often go to church as a consumers and look for what we can get out of it. Church can be piss poor.


Look for ways to give and minister and find connection in other ways.


For me, small groups were a starting point that lead me to seminary.


Bringing back the potluck and sharing life with people.


Sometimes we sense church isn’t “working” when meaningful connection is lacking.


“we” is better than “me”.

Thank you for listening and sharing the show with others. If you’ve gotten an enjoyment from Spark My Muse, come back every Wednesday for something new, or save your mental energy and subscribe!


Episode 13 – “We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology” guest Doug Jackson

Episode 13 – “We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology” guest Doug Jackson

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Shownotes for Episode 13  Wine lovers have God to thank + guest Doug Jackson

First, I want to feature the book Doug and I wrote …

entitled Dog in the Gap because of a C.S. Lewis quote “Man and his dog close a gap in the universe”.


And there’s a BONUS EDITION with lots of goodies!
Read a sample here!

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How does it work?

It’s up to you. I need at least $75 per episode to keep it solvent.
Every little bit helps!
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Thank you! Enjoy the show!

With love,



Who do we have to thank for wine?

God and the Church, actually.

Wine lovers in Western civilization have the Church in Europe (and the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire–which was neither holy nor Roman ) to thank for the large-scale production, the prevalence and the excellence of wine!


Because liturgy involving wine for communion was central to Christian religious practice. Wine was ingested as the saving holy blood of Christ (and bread as the holy body of Christ), usually each and every day. The sacraments of Communion served as saving grace afforded to the Church.

As Roman Empire became officially a Christian Empire (circa 313 CE) many vineyards had to be planted, properly cultivated, and harvested. Grapes had to be made into a lot of to support the daily practice of communion throughout the Empire.

Communion served as wine was the norm among Christians world-wide until recently–in the era of pasteurization. To keep juice from grapes in a state were they would not ferment meant it had to be sufficiently boiled so the natural yeast would die. 

Vehemently opposed to alcohol, Thomas Bramwell Welch, a physician, dentist, and Methodist pastor from Vineyard, New Jersey, figured out the process in 1869 with Concord grapes. Most churches did not accept the switch as proper and stayed with wine.

The juice later became more popular during Victorian era because of prominent values of abstinence. A shift then began in the U.S. that made grape juice the main communion beverage (at least among certain Protestants sects).

Several hundred vineyards operating in Europe today can trace their history to monastic origins.

In the 9th-15th centuries almost 1,000 monasteries dotted Europe. They were centers of education, stability, and technical innovation. Monks and nuns could read and write–this was quite uncommon then.

Monasteries cared for the sick, helped the poor, created places of education, and invented Universities. They could not fund all this through donations. Surplus wine was sold to finance ministry work (and also beer, fruit brandies, and cheese, among many other things..even prayers and Salvation ..which–in hindsight–appears to have been a mistake ) .

So, basically, thank God (and many monks) for wine!


Sparking your muse

 Enjoy the fantastic chat with Doug Jackson!


Douglas Jackson, D.Min.
Director of the Logsdon Seminary Graduate Program

Doug Jackson came to SCS in 2006, after serving as pastor of Second Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, since 1993. In addition to teaching courses, Dr. Jackson functions as a liaison between Logsdon Seminary and local churches in Corpus Christi. His areas of specialization include spiritual formation and pastoral ministry. Dr. Jackson has published and presented several articles and essays in religious and literary venues, including articles and lectures on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis.
• D.Min. – Truett Seminary (2006)
• M.Div. – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1985)
• B.A. – English Literature, Grand Canyon College (1982)

His blog is here.


Interview / chat notes:


MIN 8:00
on Doug preparing for a his Fall class.

A resource he is using by NT Wright – “The new perspective on Paul”
The covenant people God has saved.

Reformers and the necessary correction in contemporary times.

Confronting individualism
and thoughts on human flourishing.

on the idea of being “spiritual but not religious”

on his work about CS Lewis

Mere Christianity

The importance of imagination for understanding that isn’t covered by rationalism.

on his Oxford lecture
Owen Barfield an influential life-long friend of CS Lewis

Another lecture on Walter Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
Apologetic self-proclaimed validity on the rational scheme of knowing.

“Scholarship is about knowing more and more about less and less so that eventually you know everything about nothing.”

James Sire

Malcolm Guite https://www.facebook.com/malcolm.guite
Chaplain of Gerton college and Cambridge
“Faith Hope and Poetry”

He covers the imagination as a way of knowing (an epistemology).

Holly Ordway
Houston Baptist University
“Not God’s Type”

Her 2-track movement toward conversion

Brainpickings.com Maria Popova (an admitted secular atheist on a continual spiritual search)

on Spiritual atheism

….if we come up with a system that covers everything (Christians and Atheists alike)…

“Humans are sensitive and emotionally vulnerable to a wasteful degree evolutionarily speaking…highly valuing the arts.” (Lisa)

Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monk and Abbot
Philip Lawrence, New Mexico
…slipping in and out of atheism….

HG Wells, and the fundamentalist reaction to him and others of his ilk.

on how science and religious circles have had an absolute unwillingness to be in one another presence and (have not wanted) to admit any weaknesses and (instead) just shout louder.


“The best apologetics can do is make Christianity credible and I don’t think it can make it inevitable.”


22:30 “Any belief in any ideal is still a leap of faith for anyone… like Justice, Love, Hope…” (Lisa)

on How people appeal to a standard outside themselves. (CS Lewis)

Theories of “survival behavior value” for Morality and Justice kicks the can. or it lands on simple absurdity and meaninglessness where suicide becomes a valid option.


Doug answering the question….”Is fundamentalism evolving”?

Richard Foster’s classic over 50 years old “Celebration of Discipline”

A story of a crucial pivot point for Doug.

How the psalmists had to cry out to God when the answers didn’t suffice any longer. For us, this is a return more than a departure.”

“I have gained the gift of being able to respect other traditions and admire things they bring us, but I talk to people across that spectrum that have that experience.”


“We go from trusting our denominational address or theology address to trusting Christ but it doesn’t mean an abandonment of it. Choosing a room in the same house to live in.”

Spiritual disciplines most meaningful to him:
On solitude and privacy (the difference). Henri Nouwen explains the difference.
 Henri Nouwen explains in “Out of Solitude” 

Doug: Solitude is for battle. Privacy is to be alone.

Demons come in our solitude (Desert Fathers). The outcome is awareness and purification.

Wanting “the listening heart” (what Solomon really asked God for).
on the importance of listening to God…

My Stockholm syndrome at parties. (Lisa)


“(My) Inability to be with people was driven by a failure to have a real self.”

“you are nearer to me than my own self.” Augustine

Doug realized:

“My real Self can’t be with people because it’s threatened by them, because they’re going to colonize my Self and going to make me into something I’m not. As opposed to having a real Self that can listen because God is protecting that Self.”

Father Francis Kelly Nemeck wrote
The way of Spiritual Direction (his director)
…Doug and I discuss Detachment and Holy Indifference…

St John of the Cross
(Exploring the spiritually obscured times and darker emotions.)

“the nada” (God is “no thing” the silence before God

…on staying in the problems and not panicking.

…on the crucial lesson from his mom that revealed his theology

(unknowing) Apophetic theology

“John of the Cross didn’t want that we should abandon the metaphors but move through them.”


“We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology.”

(which is terrifying but life-giving)

Further exploration in a future episode of John of the Cross with Doug coming soon!


If you enjoyed the show please give it a stellar review on iTunes here!

Watch for new episodes each Hump Day (Wednesday).

Laughter: The Mini BRAIN SCAN

It’s another installment in the HUMOR SERIES.

If you’re new here or late to the series, get started on these previous articles:

1 Intro: Laughing from birth

2. Step 1: Tickle Rats

3. What makes something funny may surprise you

4. Jokers ARE wild: Subversive Humor
Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.32.26 AM


How humor works like a mini BRAIN SCAN

(Secular) Biologist Robert Lynch, who also performs as a comedian, sees humor as an adaptive, learned trait; and one that helps us connect with others who share our values.

His theory about humor?
“You laugh because you believe it is true,” says Lynch, and his experiments seem back up his theory, at least partially.

A joke, in other words, is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what’s inside us. -Robert Lynch

In an experiment Lynch conducted, a variety of people were video-recorded while watching an edgy comic who joked about gender inequality. The volunteers were then given a psychological test that measured their unconscious gender attitudes. Those with mid-20th century gender views of women being responsible for home and children and men bread-winning laughed harder at that joke than those with more progressive views.


In another experiment, people Lynch terms “self-deceivers” found much less humor in an entire joke reel, in general.


I’m guessing that because Lynch used this “self-deceivers” language to identify reluctant laughers, he probably laughs at just about everything. Naturally, if scientists are self-deceiving they are doing something wrong. Something unreasonable?

I’m betting that to Lynch “self-deceivers” are “other people”. Otherwise, he would term them “discerning” or “wise” or “judicious” or “pensive” or “still thinking about it” or maybe just “unsure”.

So, I wonder if he’s just a bit off the mark.

Could the phenomenon of less laughs be a combination of a few things he hasn’t accounted for?

• Could less laughter be a result of natural personality or temperament traits?

• Fewer habits of deep introspection?

• Previous experiences that predispose infrequent laughers to think quietly instead of giggle aloud?

• Or a mismatch in values? (What sorts of jokes were told? We don’t know because he doesn’t say.)

The subjectivity of laughter producing humor seems to be at play a bit more than his experiments can account for. And that’s no joke.Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.51.54 PM

I do agree with Lynch on this point:
We can conceal our true opinions, but in the moment of unguarded laughter, we reveal our true preferences.

Lynch says that the trait of a sense of humor is desirable and its presence or lack thereof helps us select a mate: A sense of humor is always listed in the top five traits people look for when mate-hunting.

Plus, humor helps us bond with those in our group, or determine who’s outside our group. This does seem clear.


And lest we forget, (the non self-deceived?) Lynch likes to work the crowd at open mic comedy nights. Does this scientist have a formula?

Yes. Sort of. Basically.

Here’s how he does it:

He finds common ground and builds on it. First he works at locating something held in common. Then, he points out a shared opinion or value, and underscores something that rings true to listeners.

It might start with some simple commonality like the geographical location of the place, a sports team preference, or the clientele in attendance.

He’s also snarky. If you like that style you might be amused.

“It’s great to be in New York City again. The coral reef created by sinking subway cars off Manhattan has a 58% higher rate of stabbings than a natural reef.” (or something like that. blah blah blah…you can watch the video on his theory here.)

If I’m writing a joke, often what I do is I look at things that I think are true, that people tend not to admit to, or maybe reluctant to admit to, including myself. -Lynch

Of course, I don’t hold the similar belief that the reason for laughter happened ad hoc and by chance, as Robert Lynch contends. That idea seems more like a punchline to me.

“Why did the cave man laugh? I’ll tell you in ten million years…”

(yes that was mine)

Sure, we adapt using humor, and we always well, but I doubt the source of humor was landed on by sheer mistake or mutation + time. HA-but that’s a good one. You almost had me, Lynch!


What may be the case is something that isn’t so stupefyingly accidental or self-deceiving. Something reasonable.

Namely, that One beyond our comprehension designed and equipped us purposefully with a sense of humor and in a way that we can better socially bond in positive ways…because we inherently need each other.

In a future post, I will go a bit further and pose a kind of theory for the purpose of humor and the reason for laughter based on some work from different researchers and my own educational background.


The takeaway:
If you want to know what someone is really like and what they really think, pay attention to what and whom they laugh at. Laughter is a kind of brain scan.

And examine what makes you laugh.

Dig deeper and find out more about yourself and what needs improving.


I hope you’ve liked this series.

Tell me which has been your favorite post so far.

Come back for “funny friday” and the rest of the series!



For the latest info on my humor related projects sign up here.

The Myth about Roots.

My dad told me that trees have roots that go down as far as the tree is tall. That was an impressive statement and it stuck with me for a long time.

It was, of course, untrue.

He didn’t know much about trees. He was, by his own admission, a “city boy”.

I don’t blame him; lots of people think tree roots go deep.

They don’t.

Any photo of a knocked down tree makes it clear.
See? Roots go out not down.
(The mistake about roots becomes pointedly obvious.)


Tree roots reach out, not down.

Roots aren’t so much much like anchors hold the tree to the ground, but rather more like feet planted in the soil, in all directions, to create stability and nourishment. They can extend nearly as long as a tree is tall.

The California Redwoods seem even more impressive now, don’t they?

Forests are interconnected places where trees stretch out their roots and touch the other trees nearby, below the surface.

A web of root holds a forrest together as if the trees are playing a long game of forest footsie.

The takeaway:

Like the myth of tree roots, the roots of community don’t go down either–in ideal circumstances.  Instead, they go out, or the forest dies.

On Sunday, I’ll go back to church for the first time in 2 months. My work schedule has kept me away, but I’m happy to go back and remember everything I need to remember all over again:

• Who I am in God, in community, and in the scope of human history and the Church worldwide and over the course of eons.

Maybe I’ll learn something new about me, or about church (God’s people), or about what sacred ritual does for me.

I haven’t been separated from this weekly occurrence (for this long) in over 20 years. I’m wondering what it’ll be like to go back. (The next post -or a short series- will get into that.)

My thoughts are forming like questions:

• Will I sense the roots of others stretching out to meet me?

• Will my absence have been noticed at all?
(If a tree falls in a forest…er, um, never mind.)

• Will everything be the same or nothing, or will I be the only one who has changed?

• Will I realize how much I’ve missed it, or be surprised that it hasn’t mattered like I thought it would or should?

• Am I really part of a forest, or am I more like a lone tree on a hill?

Whatever happens, I want to be the tree that stretches out into the stream, into the living water, for nourishment and life.


“Blessed is the [one] who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD. “For [s]he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.

Finding Your Purpose: The WISP method (STEP III: “S”)

So, I’ve surprised you with 2 untypical ways to find purpose in your life.

Here (Step 1) and Here (Step 2)

Hopefully, by now you’ve done homework and feel like you are progressing in new ways.

(I’d love to hear about it! Send me a note.)

Now we are on STEP 3



This one may make little sense to you.

You may think,

“Really? That sounds backwards. I don’t know my purpose yet. I’ll try service once I get that figured out, duh.”

It’s not as backwards as you think.

(Creative Commons photo)
(Creative Commons photo)

What will appeal to us in terms of service is often closely tied to our talents, gifts, and greater purpose.

Here’s an example:

When my kids were very little I made a point of helping my friends prepare for a big, yearly program. Instead of being fulfilling, it was frustrating and felt futile. I realized that my skills and passions were better served elsewhere. This eventually lead to many other types of service that tapped into my greater purpose and held greater meaning for me.

In the beginning, what drew me to help out was a sense of friendship, community, and desire to love and minister to others–to be part of something greater than myself. Those were all things I kept seeking. What I left behind were projects that could miss the forrest for the trees. The experience helped me know when projects were too detail-oriented to be optimally useful in a greater way, for my preferences.

Would I have been able to narrow things down for myself without making this (seeming) mistake? No. And it wasn’t a mistake to help, it was a clarifying exercise.

Would I have been able to decipher what types of service aren’t a good fit for me without this experience? Unlikely.

In serving, something else happens. It’s big and you’ll see the pattern once I mention it:

In losing ourselves we are found.

That means by taking ourselves out of the middle, we can see and choose better and more easily.

(It doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less–by design. Thus, we more expertly “stumble” on to bigger insights.)

In a way, you don’t find your purpose at all, it finds you.

From my perspective, finding God works the same way. You are only lost to yourself, not to God. So you don’t so much “find him” nor does he “find” you. Instead you wake up.

The same holds true for finding your purpose.

We tend to assume, just by default, that finding our purpose must start and end with us. Not so.

Just like Worship, service makes finding your purpose far easier because it becomes a revelatory process. Finding your purpose, like finding happiness, comes as a byproduct of doing other things.

So where can you start with meaningful service that will help you find your purpose?

Here are some categories and qualifiers to explore:

If one stands out as more meaningful, or ignites your passions (which is directly connected to your purpose), try that first. Check with your church, your community, your local schools and organizations, local charities, or just asking around to see what available or sounds like a good fit.

What ever it is, do something. The key on this step in ACTION followed by reflection.

If you are already serving, reevaluate it. It is leading you to a greater purpose or holding you back?

(If you are overly involved in service, then it’s time to scale back.)

HOMEWORK – take some field notes on the following questions:

• Do you like Creating? (What do you like and how do you like to do it?)

• Do you like helping and being useful? In what ways?

•Using your body more than your mind to help out?


Using your mind to help more than your body?
(At the end of the day, which feels more satisfying and why?)

• Do you like being the glue that holds people and projects together?

• Does helping behind the scenes feel meaningful?

• Do you like detail-oriented projects…


Being the visionary that comes up with and starts the project?

• Do you like teaching? (If so, what about it appeals to you?)

• Do people in need ignite your passions?

What about your past service appealed to you and why?

(If you don’t have much past service to serve as a gauge, that’s your biggest obstacle. Start right away. You are much too “in the middle” of your world and you need a break from yourself.)

[You guesses it! This is handy-dandy notebook time! Write out your field notes from the questions above.]

Also consider:
What specific population do you feel drawn to serve?

(It’s okay to specialize and then turn away things that fall outside your scope. This refinement is usually helpful. However, once in a while change it up and serve outside your specific domain–it will surprise you by opening new doors or clarifying your purpose further.)

Types of Populations:
• elderly

• children

• poor

• students

• the needy

• peers

• 20-somethings

• new parents

• the forgotten populations (immigrants, incarcerated, homeless, mentally ill, etc.)

• who else?…

Assess how your TALENTS and SKILLS play into your past service decision.

• What sort of technological knowledge, special skill, unique experience, or centering insight makes certain kinds of service easier?

• What is your “backstory”? Your backstory tends to shift you toward you purpose.

The next step is “P”…come back soon.

Do you know anyone who’s struggling finding purpose, or feels “off-track”? Pass this along!

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