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Brian's Blog

  • May 22, 2016

    Beauty Abounds

    A wonderful song by Joe Ramsey ... perfect for a Sunday.

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  • May 21, 2016

  • May 19, 2016

    How about a trip to Ireland in August?

    Last summer I had a brilliant time in Ireland guesting on a retreat designed and led by my friend Gareth Higgins. It's a feast for the soul - immersed in storytelling, landscape, creativity and peace. The experience was a profound lesson in how one society is emerging from violent conflict, and an embodiment of how the external process of making peace in the world mirrors the inner journey of becoming whole within.

    Gareth is bringing another group of pilgrims back to Ireland in August - just three months from now. He'll be joined this time by another friend of mine, the amazing musician David Wilcox, and you're welcome too! I loved this trip, and folk who have attended these trips have considered them life-changing. I think there are important gifts here for anyone who cares about reducing violence and transforming the political culture in the US from despair to hope. The trip is fun too! (There's music and laughter and new friendships, and you also get to see beautiful mountains and rivers, and drink Guinness (or Irish spring water) in its natural habitat!)

    If you're interested in learning more, you can find the details at www.irelandretreats.com

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  • May 17, 2016

    Q & R: Debate? Dialogue?

    Here's the Q:

    Quick question: way back when you were at CRCC, you organized a debate between people who were pro-going into Iraq and against. You moderated the panel and had a systematic series of steps - I remember asking people for the strength of their opponents' argument and the weakness of their own at some point.
    Is this approach described somewhere? Named?
    I'm thinking of using something similar at work of all places. I hope you'll remember.

    Here's the R:
    Actually, I think it was a "faith in politics forum" around a presidential election - in 2004? I think it was something like, "Here's why I as a Christian support John Kerry" and "Here's why I as a Christian support George W. Bush." I remember my pastoral goal was to create a space in our congregation for Christians to model civil discourse because, as you know, we had people who were passionate participants in diverse political parties.

    I don't think there's a formal description of that method ... it's something I developed way back when I was an English teacher to help people understand and develop arguments. The basic idea went like this:

    1. Allow an advocate to speak (time limited)
    2. Invite others to rephrase key ideas in their own words, with a brief response by original speaker. (Yes, that's what I was saying.... No, that's not it.... That's partially what I was saying.)
    3. Invite respondents to find points or values of agreement/common ground (only).
    4. Invite respondents to express points of disagreement/difference.
    5. Repeat process (1-4) with next advocate, always seeking fair restatement and agreement before disagreement.
    6. Invite speakers to summarize strengths of their opponents' arguments and weaknesses of their own.
    7. Invite speakers to summarize the main strength of their own argument.

    Most people pit their strengths against their opponents' weaknesses, ignoring their weaknesses and their opponents' strengths. Just getting beyond that impasse is a good thing. This is related to the famous johari window - https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/JohariWindow.htm and appreciative inquiry -
    https://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/intro/whatisai.cfm. I also think it's related to the wisdom described in James 3:17-18.

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  • May 16, 2016

    Q & R: Missional? Emerging?

    Here's the Q:
    I am currently doing a research paper on the Emerging Church and the
    Missional Church and how the two terms relate to each other for my
    missiology studies. I would greatly appreciate any academic material
    you could send me relating to these topics. My studies reveal that you
    are one of the leading founders of the term Emerging Church. What is
    your involvement and knowledge on the Missional Church?

    Here's the R:

    Thanks for your question. Short answer ... I think that everyone who would feel resonance with "emerging church" would also feel resonance with "missional church." I think some who feel resonance with "missional church" would not want to be associated with "emerging church." The reasons are complicated, but mostly relate to how tied people are to traditional theological and ecclesial assumptions.

    Both terms, as you know, are defined differently by different people. As I understand the terms, missional church reflects the belief that God's sphere of concern is not just the church, but all of creation. The church, in missional theology, is God's agent of transformation and healing for the sake of the world. In missional theology, the gospel is a transformation plan, not an evacuation plan. It is focused not on airlifting souls to heaven, but on transforming lives so they can be agents of God's will being done "on earth as in heaven." The emerging church works from those missional premises and asks, "If that is true, what does that mean for the church? How will the church change to cooperate with God's saving love for all creation?" Those are easy words to say, but deeply challenging - and unsettling - and liberating - if we take them seriously.

    My books, especially Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, We Make the Road by Walking, and my upcoming book, The Great Spiritual Migration, explore these issues in greater depth, and I hope they will be helpful in your studies.

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  • May 12, 2016

    Q & R: 6 Framing Stories

    Here's the Q:

    I pastor a church in Southern California. I’ve been using the Six Framing Stories found in one of Pastor Brian’s talks to help people understand the stories in which they are currently living in. Could you help me find further research and/or books I can use to delve into this a bit more?

    The Six Framing Stories I believe Pastor Brian gave is found here: http://www.slideshare.net/markbradford/mars-hill-which-story-do-we-live-in-brian-mclaren-pdf-presentation

    Thank you for your time and all your hard work for the Kingdom.

    Here's the R:
    I'm so glad you've found that slideshow helpful. I haven't written more about these narratives since introducing them in my book Everything Must Change ... but I hope to return to this material in a future book. I'm grateful for your interest!

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  • May 11, 2016

  • May 10, 2016

  • May 9, 2016

    Q & R: Naked Spirituality for a Summer Sermon Series

    Here's the Q:

    Good afternoon! I hope that this finds you well... Without taking up too much of your time, I wanted to briefly pick your brain in hopes that there might be some wisdom that we here could benefit off of.

    This Summer, at [our congregation] we are planning on going through your book, Naked Spirituality, where we will look at a word every week. Each of us are super excited about it and are curious if you have any advice as to how we could best maximize this experience. Have you seen churches go through this really well? If you were leading a church, are there any rhythmic practices that you’d incorporate as you go through the 12 words? Are there any extra resources that would be great companions for a community as they go through your book?

    I know that you’re incredibly busy, but if you have any wisdom to offer up on this, we’d be grateful.

    Here's the R:
    I'm thrilled you're doing this. I wrote the book in hopes it would be used in exactly this way. You'll find a bunch of resources here:

    And here, various congregations have shared their resources.

    Also, if you have folks interested in yoga, we developed a whole course integrating the 12 words with physical movement. Info here:

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  • 60 gifts I'm grateful for (Part 6/final)

    51. Travel - I've been in 40+ countries in my life, and I am so grateful that my dad instilled in me a love for travel at a young age. I never had a passport until I was about 40, so these last twenty years have been an incredible education ... and a great blessing.

    52. The Earth - the more of it I've gotten to see, the more I realize what a miracle it is. From the Big Bang until now, it has evolved and survived incredible catastrophes. My little 60 years is a blip in its amazing career. Plate tectonics, the magnetic field, the moon and tides, seasons, winds, polar ice caps, rainforests, ocean currents, the carbon cycle ... every dimension of the earth fills me with wonder and awe, and gratitude to the Creator. I realize that even this body in which I happen is composed of molecules that were once in stars, then in interstellar dust, then in rock and soil, then in other living creatures. I have borrowed a small share of matter and energy for 60 years and will someday relinquish my share for others to use and enjoy. What a gift!

    53. My professional team ... my literary agent Kathy, my booking agent Laci, my fellow Senior Fellows at Auburn, my colleagues in Convergence and Center for Progressive Renewal, my fellow writers: I am surrounded by talented and good-hearted people, for whom I am deeply grateful.

    54. Publishers: My career as a writer (almost 20 years of my 60) has coincided with a time of transition in the book industry, and I know it's not easy to be a publisher in these times. That's why I'm grateful that Zondervan took a risk on a new "young" writer in 1998. Then I'm grateful my later partnerships with Jossey-Bass, Thomas Nelson, HarperOne, Jericho, and now Penguin/Random House/Convergent. Thanks to all the editors who have worked with me. I'm proud of what we've accomplished together.

    55. Sabbatical: A couple years ago, I started feeling tired ... not just physically, but in my brain. Because my speaking gigs are scheduled 1.5 to 2 years out, I knew that when I stepped on the brakes, it would take that long to stop. I'm so grateful that I could take this time (guided by a coach/therapist provided by Auburn Senior Fellows program) to reassess and get a fresh vision (aided by several friends and colleagues) for what my highest and best contribution can be for the years ahead. And I'm grateful that my wife has been putting food on the table for us this year!

    56. Plans: I've always been a planner and goal-setter, and I'm so grateful that during this sabbatical, clarity has been gradually emerging about my future.

    57. Spiritual Practices: I'm grateful for the practices I learned back when I was in college ... journaling, spiritual direction/mentoring, practicing the Presence, Bible reading and prayer ... and for the practices I've learned more recently (like the value of sabbatical). They have sustained me and enriched my life immeasurably.

    58. Possessions: My guitars, my laptop, my faithful old "sport utility Prius," my kayaks and fly rods, my home and yard (and mango trees), and my new birthday present - the best bike I've ever owned. Someone once said materialism isn't about overvaluing possessions; it's about undervaluing them (so that you don't appreciate what you have, but only want what you don't have). I'm so grateful for what I have.

    59. The Future: Since I believe that God is with us, I believe that we will never be abandoned, and I face the future with hope and joy.

    60. This moment. Now. This breath. This heartbeat. Thanks be to God.

    I hope you've enjoyed reading this list as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

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  • May 8, 2016

    Working without Caring

    On a day off, you may find my friend Jeffrey Olrick and me paddling our kayaks in the waters of Southwest Florida where we live. Jeffrey wrote the following after a recent outing:

    The Book of Genesis declares that we are made for this earth to "work and care" for it. I am thinking about these words as I return from the water. The water, for me, is my place of recovery. A refuge. Four days a week I do holy work as a therapist. But it's in an office. With a very small window. And I'm an introvert. In the middle of those four work days, on Wednesday, I go to the water to fish in my kayak. Normally, the water feeds my soul.

    But today it grieved my soul. The water was barren. Where there should have been acres of seagrass, there was only mud and patches of algae. For those who do not spend their time on the water, such a change in landscape is hard to appreciate. It would be the equivalent of revisiting a mature forest, home to a rich ecosystem of animals big and small, and finding it clearcut with only scrub bushes left behind. And for no reason. Not even a shiny new development to put in its place.

    How did this happen in my home of Southwest Florida? The same way that it happens all over this planet every day: powerful corporations have been given the right to "work" the land without in any way "caring" for it.

    In our case, three sugar companies receive the bulk of 1 billion in federal loans annually, plus subsidies that cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions annually. (1) Supported in this way, these companies grow sugar on land that is meant to be a flowing sheet of water draining a lake half the size of Rhode Island. During wet periods, excess water backs up in Lake Okeechobee; meanwhile, these companies back-pump polluted waters into the lake from their lands to keep them dry. This brown mess is then redirected to two magnificent estuaries that have no natural connection to the lake, Indian River Lagoon (2) on the east coast of Florida and San Carlos Bay via the Caloosahatchie River (3) on the Southwest coast of Florida. (4)

    This winter in south Florida we had the wettest January on record. The resultant flow of water as been above the maximum discharge that the San Carlos and Indian Lagoon estuaries can handle without major ecological damage for over 2 months running.

    And so it was, that today I saw what work without care looks like in my little corner of this Creation. There I sat, in my kayak in the middle of San Carlos Bay, floating over an underwater desert where only months earlier had been a vibrant seagrass forest, weeping.

    And angry. Time and time again we are told that the value of working the land (without caring for it) is always worth the cost so long as it means jobs and economic activity. But the problem is that we are never given a full accounting of the costs of economic activity, including health costs, or devaluation costs, or environmental costs. When those costs inevitably arrive, they are almost always born by you and me (not to mention our fellow creatures), while the corporations continue to rake in profits. A 2015 Florida Realtors report estimated that the property owners of just one county affected by the last Big O discharge event in 2013 lost 488 million dollars in property value as a result of that single event.(5) When the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved by Congress in 2000 to fix South Florida's version of work without care, the price tag was estimated at 10.5 billion dollars.(6) Big Sugar agreed to pay 320 million of the bill.(7) You and I are left with the rest of the 10 million tag.

    So, what costs are you in line to pay to let a few profit by working God's beautiful earth without caring for it? If we don't insist that our elected officials care more diligently on the front end, we will surely be stuck with a bill on the back end that we may or may not be willing or able to afford.


    Jeffrey Olrick is a clinical psychologist who lives and works in Southwest Florida with his wife and 3 children. He is an excellent fisherman!

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  • 60 gifts I'm grateful for (Part 5)

    41. Colleagues: I have great memories of all the people I worked with, from fast food (remember Burger Chef?) and construction (Mop-It & Co, and roofing), to summer camp, to teaching at universities and colleges, and my 24 years at Cedar Ridge. I wish I could have been a better boss to those who worked under me (that was certainly not my strong suit as a pastor), but I am so grateful for every person with whom I've been a colleague, including the amazing people I work with now through publishing, Convergence, and other organizations.

    42. Cedar Ridge Community Church: The 24 years I enjoyed as part of this amazing community are so close to my heart. There are no words for my gratitude, especially to Bill & Shobha Duncan who were our companions through it all. I just learned I'll be back for my book tour this fall, which will be such a joy.

    43. Long-Term friends: Thinking of CRCC brings so many people to mind ... too many to name, people we may only see occasionally now, but whenever we do, it's like picking up right where we left off. You know who you are, and please know that I thank God for you. (Maybe next year I'll list 61 people I'm most grateful for ...)

    44. Forgiveness: When I think of people I've known through the years, I have regrets for those whom I've hurt or disappointed, or been hurt or disappointed or hurt by. But then I think of how forgiveness and grace allow us to let those hurts and disappointments go, and I feel a wave of gratitude for each relationship that struggled because it gave us the opportunity to embody the grace of God to one another. What a gift! Thanks be to God.

    45. Critics: My critics (I hope someone will forward this to them!) have meant a lot to me. They helped me see how insecure I was; they kept me on my toes; they challenged me to think deeper and work harder, and they forced me to develop courage and confidence that I never would have developed otherwise. As one of my favorite prayers says, critics are really friends in disguise. How can I not be grateful for them?

    46. Literature and Poetry: I remember being a boy and reading "My Side of the Mountain" and "Robinson Crusoe." They woke up my boyhood imagination. Then I remember in high school discovering e.e. cummings, and in college, Theodore Roethke, Sylvia Plath, William Blake, and William Wordsworth. In graduate school came my great literary mentor, Walker Percy. Literature, and especially poetry, have been such a big part of my 60 years of life. I am so grateful. Who would have guessed in those undergraduate Advanced Composition classes that I would become a writer?

    47. The Bible: It dawned on me (I know, it's obvious to many people) when I was a graduate student studying literature and critical theory that the Bible was, in fact, great literature. No literature has had the effect on me that the Bible has, especially Genesis, the Four Gospels, and Paul's epistles. Matthew 5-7, John 12-17, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 13 have been the most important texts to shape these 60 years. Thanks be to God!

    48. Social Media: I started blogging relatively early, and now, adding Facebook and Twitter and more, I realize that social media are so important to me. I'm especially grateful for all the bloggers and tweeters whom I follow, and all who follow me.

    49. Writing (and readers): I started journaling in college and writing has been a medium of thinking and reflection for me, not just of communication. I love the whole process ... asking questions, writing furiously fast first drafts, revising and editing, having the courage to dump thousands of words and start over, fine tuning. Of course, I am deeply grateful for all who read what I write!

    50. My country. I'm grateful for the USA ... for the beauty of the land, for the people, for our history with all its glory and horror (for inspiration and education). Watching the ugliness that is currently being displayed in our politics makes me all the more grateful for those times when we put our best foot forward. I'm deeply grateful for President Obama, who, I believe, will be shown by history to have been a far greater president (yoked to a far worse Congress) than most people currently realize. I'm sure I'd feel similar gratitude whatever country I was born in, but since I was born in the USA, that's the country I'm especially grateful for.

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  • May 7, 2016

    60 Gifts I'm Grateful for (Part 4)

    31. Childhood friends ... I think back to Delayne, Robbie, Paul, Dave, Alan, Bruce, Peter, Rob, Dave, Scott, MaryLou, Gail, and so many more. What great friends to grow up with!

    32. Childhood Church ... our family was at church 2 or 3 times a week, and although I remember a lot of boredom, I also gained so much from the singing, preaching, prayer, worship, and fellowship.

    33. The Fellowship ... I was part of an amazing group of people in high school who came together through the Jesus Movement. So many of us look back on that experience as one of the greatest blessings of our lives ... more special than we could have realized at the time.

    34. Music lessons ... First piano, then violin, then clarinet (which led to sax and flute). Then I picked up the guitar (thanks, Don, for the loaner and first lesson of 5 chords - C, Em, Am, G, and that vexing F). For the bands I was part of (garage and otherwise), including symphonic, marching, and jazz ... I am so grateful.

    35. Fishing and fishing buddies. I came across that Thoreau quote recently: "Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." From my first fishing trips with my grandmother on a rowboat on Conesus Lake to the great weeks with the Ich-Theology gang (theologians who fly fish for trout in Yellowstone) to my current circle of fishing buddies, I know there are many reasons fishers fish ... a perpetual series of occasions for disappointment (and hope), the development of skill, the game of chance and opportunity, the excuse to be outdoors, the search for something elusive and unseen, the connection to life via a thin thread, the search for a good story to exaggerate, the indulgence in a primal hunting instinct, and more.

    36. Wildlife and ecology. I have always loved nature ... first bugs and reptiles and amphibians as a boy, and now, birds and trees and even dragonflies: creation is truly the original Bible, and for me, it is the most direct avenue to worship and communion. I am so grateful for 60 years of living on this beautiful earth, alongside brother tortoise and sister swallow-tailed kite.

    37. Music and musicians: James Taylor, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, Jackson Browne, Keith Jarrett, Jodi McLaren and so many other singer-songwriters have enriched my life. I am so thankful to have been on earth at the same time as they are. And then are all the classical composers

    38. Making music: I remember learning to improvise on the sax, and feeling that a whole new world was opening up to (and in) me. Around the same time, I began writing songs on piano and guitar. Never has time flowed by so quickly as the times I've been in recording studio, taping (remember tape?) and mixing. Now I can sit at my laptop and have a studio in my living room. What a joy!

    39. Worship: Through my Plymouth Brethren heritage, I learned that worship was one of life's greatest joys. That was intensified through the Jesus Movement, the Charismatic Movement, and later, my discovery of liturgy through the Episcopal Church. Music, of course, played a key role in all those experiences ... as did silence, wonder, and awe in the presence of the Mystery we call God, to whom I send all these thanksgivings.

    40. Eucharist: Central to my 60 years has been the simple ritual of taking bread and wine in remembrance of and communion with Jesus. I am so grateful for all the ways I have enjoyed the eucharist, from cathedrals to summer camps to communal meals, and especially for the 24 years I was privileged to help lead in the eucharist at Cedar Ridge Community Church.

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  • May 6, 2016

    60 gifts I'm grateful for (Part 3)

    21. Nieces and Nephews and other extended family ... each a gift who mean more to me as I get older.

    22. Averie ... our first grandchild, radiant with exuberance and joy.

    23. Mia ... our second grandchild, a sweet and gentle soul.

    24. Ella ... our third grandchild, a well of creativity.

    25. Lucas ... our fourth grandchild, my littlest pal.

    26. Granddaughter number five ... whom we'll meet this summer!

    27. Thinking of my grandchildren, I think of my own childhood: holidays, vacations, summer camps, pets, playmates ... skateboarding, exploring the woods and swamps, catching all manner of creatures, playing hide and seek and soccer, reading great books, enjoying wonderful friends.

    28. Thinking of my childhood, I think of the great education I received ... wonderful teachers from kindergarten through graduate school. People often complain about public schools, but I am so grateful for my public school and state university education. I wouldn't trade them for anything.

    29. Then there's my spiritual education ... learning from sermons, Sunday School classes, family devotions (which I constantly complained about, but benefitted from nonetheless), and later, mentors.

    30. Speaking of my mentors ... from Dave to Rod to Tom to Stan to Dallas to Marcus to Phyllis and many more, I have been blessed with encouragers a few years to a few decades older than me. They inspire me to want to do the same for others, all the more in the decade ahead.

    More tomorrow ...

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