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  • January 30, 2015

    Jesus the Teacher

    In Chapter 22 of We Make the Road by Walking, I explore seven ways Jesus taught:
    1. Signs and wonders
    2. Public lectures
    3. Impromptu moments
    4. Private retreats and field trips
    5. Public demonstrations
    6. Parables
    7. The Cross

    When I was in England a few months ago, wise scholar and teacher Paula Gooder gently asked me why I didn't include an eighth: Asking questions.

    Of course! She's right. In future editions, that's a change I want to make. (By the way, did you notice how she taught me - by using a question?)

    So, here's how I plan to revise that list for a future edition:
    1. Signs and wonders
    2. Public lectures
    3. Impromptu moments
    4. Private retreats and field trips
    5. Public demonstrations
    6. Parables
    7. Questions
    8. The Cross

    Here's a rough draft of a short paragraph I'd like to add on p. 102 (in the US edition):

    [Regarding parables]… They could ask questions, stay curious, and seek something deeper than agreement or disagreement - namely, understanding.

    Speaking of questions, one of Jesus' master-teaching strategies involved asking lots of them. People who count these sorts of things say Jesus asks over 300 questions in the four gospels, and of the 183 questions he is asked, he directly answers only 3. He routinely refuses to answer questions that are badly framed, often responding to a misguided question with a probing question.

    If you've never read through the gospels noting Jesus' brilliant use of questions, it's worth doing. Conrad Gempf wrote a whole book on the subject some years ago, which I highly recommend.

    One of my mentors used to say, "We must teach what Jesus taught in the manner Jesus taught it." If that rings true, you'll enjoy Chapter 22 … but be sure to add #7 (above) to the list of (now) 8.

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  • January 29, 2015

    Next week ...

    I'll send out my first email newsletter of the year. Each month I'll be including at least one free gift with the newsletter - it might be music or a poem or a discount or a video. If you haven't signed up for my almost-monthly newsletter, I hope you will today -
    Right here.

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  • One big reason you should read my two most recent books:

    [Chris Kyle] and his fellow platoon members spray-paint the white skull of the Punisher from Marvel Comics on their vehicles, body armor, weapons and helmets. The motto they paint in a circle around the skull reads: “Despite what your momma told you … violence does solve problems.”

    “And we spray-painted it on every building and walls we could,” Kyle wrote in his memoir, “American Sniper.” “We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to f*** with you. …You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us because we will kill you, motherf***.”

    The book is even more disturbing than the film. In the film Kyle is a reluctant warrior, one forced to do his duty. In the book he relishes killing and war. He is consumed by hatred of all Iraqis. He is intoxicated by violence. He is credited with 160 confirmed kills, but he notes that to be confirmed a kill had to be witnessed, “so if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn’t see him before he bled out he didn’t count.”

    ...He justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation. But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental.

    “Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel,” James Baldwin reminded us. “The wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”

    “Savage, despicable evil,” Kyle wrote of those he was killing from rooftops and windows. “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’… I only wish I had killed more.” At another point he writes: “I loved killing bad guys. … I loved what I did. I still do … it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” He labels Iraqis “fanatics” and writes “they hated us because we weren’t Muslims.” He claims “the fanatics we fought valued nothing but their twisted interpretation of religion.”

    - from Chris Hedges' article about the movie and book American Sniper, which you can read here:

    My two most recent books directly address the toxic cocktail of religion and hostility:
    Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road confronts the twisted theocratic thinking of the book and film's protagonist, Chris Kyle.

    We Make the Road by Walking presents a way of reading the Bible that produces peacemakers, not snipers.

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  • January 28, 2015

    Q & R: Your 4+ stages and Fowler's 6+

    Here's the Q:
    I've been fascinated with your four stages of faith in Naked Spirituality. Have you ever correlated them with Fowler's stages?

    Here's the R:
    Yes. When I developed my schema, I surveyed all the schema I could find, from Fowler to William Blake to Kierkegaard to Perry (my favorite) to Graves to Wilber to Piaget, etc. Here's a rough approximation:

    My Stage 0 (SECURITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 0 which he calls "Primal/Undifferentiated," which I also call Foundational.

    My Stage 1 (SIMPLICITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 1 (Intuitive/Projective/Imitative) and Stage 2 (Mythic/Literal/Affiliative).

    My Stage 2 (COMPLEXITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 3 (Synthetic/Conventional/Personal) and early Stage 4 (Individuative/Reflective).

    My Stage 3 (PERPLEXITY) corresponds to Fowler's late-Stage 4 and early Stage 5 (Conjunctive/Harmonizing)

    My Stage 4 (HARMONY) corresponds to Fowler's late Stage 5 and Stage 6 (Universalizing).

    A friend recently told me how much he hates stages like these. I suggested that their best use is to help us not be judgmental of others for not being where we are … and understand where they are and why. They've been very helpful to me in this way.

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  • January 27, 2015

    Grateful ...

    All of us at times get a little overwhelmed, discouraged, fatigued … but then come those moments when we realized how blessed we are. Such was the case last week for me in Phoenix. I was part of Christianity 21, a gathering where 21 speakers gave 21-minute talks on Christianity in the 21st century. It was breathtaking. It's hard to name a highlight because every segment was a true and deep delight … but I'll mention just 3:

    1. Hearing and seeing my old friend Dieter Zander. This extraordinary man's message: Play with God. Everything is holy. I will never forget it.

    2. Hearing Navajo Christian activist Mark Charles talk about the tragic Doctrine of Discovery and talk about the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission in the US.

    3. Watching Ted Schwartz's indescribably beautiful and powerful play, Listening for Grace. It was 58 minutes of holding back tears.

    These were highlights of highlights … but every speaker and every informal conversation was a delight.

    Sometimes, when I see how many people are doing destructive things in the world, often thinking they are doing good, it's easy to get discouraged. But when I think of how many people are doing wonderful things in the world, it's really hard to stay discouraged.

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  • January 26, 2015

    Something amazing happened yesterday ...

    Please watch this video.

    Yesterday, pastor Ryan Meeks addressed the issue of LGBT equality in the church in a way that I find deeply moving and compelling. I think that thousands of pastors in the future can simply say, "What Ryan Meeks said … that's my experience too," and thousands of churches in the future can say, "What Eastlake Community Church did … we want to do too." Ryan's talk begins at about minute 20. To me, this is one of the most beautiful examples of Christian leadership I have seen in my life.

    If you want to help your congregation engage with this issue, I know Ryan's talk will be helpful. Another amazing resource - last week at Christianity 21, I saw Ted Schwartz present a one-act play called Listening for Grace. About a minute in, I had tears in my eyes, and for the next 58 minutes or so, I was wiping my eyes and feeling powerfully how wonderful this play is. I wish every church and community theatre in North America could present this play. It is unparalleled in its ability to expose people to the full range of emotions connected to this issue. And the acting and music are unforgettable.

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  • Starting Today - an educational extravaganza, for free!

    I'm absolutely amazed at the lineup of people my colleague Michael Dowd pulled together for interviews over the last couple years. Now he's making them available for free, starting today!

    If you want to learn about climate and sustainability-oriented issues, please take advantage of “The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness”. The 55 pre-recorded Skype interviews that make up this series can all be freely accessed for two weeks, beginning January 26, or you can purchase the entire set of 55 audios, videos, and transcripts for $25. (Scholarships are available for those anywhere in the world for whom even this is a hardship.)

    Participants include James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Paul Hawken, Paul Gilding, Larry Rasmussen, Richard Heinberg, U. S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Joe Romm, James Howard Kunstler, Philip Clayton, Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, Ken Wilber, Michael Lerner, Matthew Fox, and dozens more … including yours truly.

    Sign up here to receive the daily schedule and access all the audios, videos, and transcripts. Tools to help spread the word via email, Facebook, Twitter, or blog posts can be found here.

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring vision of love-in-action for our children and grandchildren.

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  • January 24, 2015

    Q & R: Chapter 21?

    Here's the Q:

    We are in chapter 21 in We Make the Road by Walking and I was wondering what direction you were going when selecting 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15. Significant & Wonderful is the title and I'm just trying to dig deep into how the fall of David and prophetic word of Nathan connect with the overall theme.

    Here's the R:
    Thanks for asking about the 2 Samuel passage. The paragraph that made the connection between that text and the theme got edited out - a glitch that needs to be corrected in a future edition. Here's the connection - whether Nathan's story about a rich man stealing a poor man's lamb actually happened or not, its meaning has a real-world application.

    Similarly, whether or not a person believes this or that miracle happened, the story still offers rich meaning. Some of us find it easy to believe in miracles, and others don't, but that doesn't mean we can't sit down and search for meaning together.

    Here's how I'd like to change a paragraph on p. 98 to clarify the connection:

    Questions like these show us a way of engaging with the miracle stories as signs and wonders, without reducing them to the level of "mere facts" on the one hand or "mere superstition" on the other. The parables of Nathan in 2 Samuel or of Jesus in the Gospels told the actual truth whether or not they were factually true. In the same way, miracle stories stir us to imagine new ways of seeing, leading to new ways of acting, leading to new ways of being alive.

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  • A photo from the panel I mentioned yesterday ...

    Diana Butler Bass sent this photograph that was taken the day I described in yesterday's post about Marcus Borg.

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  • January 23, 2015

    An amazing resource - free

    Imagine having a one-on-one conversation about humanity’s biggest challenges with some of the world’s most inspiring and knowledgable thinkers and activists. Well, that’s precisely what Michael Dowd had the privilege of doing over the past year. You can freely watch or listen to these 55 amazing conversations:

    The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness — 55 pre-recorded podcast interviews:

    At the link above, you can access all 55 audios, videos, and transcripts. This is an amazing resource. I had the privilege of being one of Michael's conversation partners.

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  • January 22, 2015

    In honor of Marcus Borg

    What a pleasure to have known Marcus Borg. What a kind and beautiful human being. What a loss to us all.

    I originally heard of Marcus through his association with the Jesus Seminar, which, in the Evangelical circles I hail from, was not a good thing. My first direct encounter with his writing came through a dialogue book he did with N. T. Wright. Again, my background predisposed me to disagree with him and dislike him, but he made it hard to do either, especially the latter. Hardly the hard-bitten “liberal theologian” out to eviscerate Christianity of any actual faith, he impressed me as a fellow Christian seeking an honest, thoughtful, and vital faith, ready to dialogue respectfully with people who see things differently.

    We were featured speakers together on several occasions, and from our first contact to our most recent email exchange a few months ago, Marcus was a gracious gentleman, a Christian brother, and a genuinely friendly colleague. He never asked to what degree I agreed or disagreed with him; he made it clear that his acceptance of me was not dependent on agreement and that his heart and hand were equally open in similarity and difference.

    Some friends of mine wrote about Marcus somewhat uncharitably on a few occasions. I remember a dinner where he asked me many questions about them, utterly non-defensive, sincerely trying to understand where they were coming from and how he could still seek common ground with them, something I wish his critics had done more earnestly with him.

    Once several years ago, Marcus, Diana Butler Bass, and I spoke together for a few days at Harvard. Two memories stand out.

    First, on one Q & A panel, nearly all the questions about theology and Christology were directed to Marcus, the questions about church history and trends went to Diana, and the questions about pastoral work and spirituality went to me. Near the end of the panel, a question on prayer was directed - predictably - to me. After I responded, Marcus spoke up. “I pray too!” he interjected, and shared some tender and meaningful reflections on his own prayer practice. I was deeply touched that Marcus didn’t want to stay in the zone of theory, as important as that is, but wanted to talk spiritual practice as well.

    Immediately after that panel, lines formed with people asking Diana, Marcus, and me to sign their books. My line, being the least popular, left me standing there somewhat awkwardly for long periods, but it also gave me the chance to eavesdrop on what people were saying to Marcus. Person after person said almost the same words, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be a Christian today ... I dropped out of church but came back after I read one of your books ... I’m still a Christian because of you ... I became a Christian because of your books.”

    Their effusive comments brought me back to the Evangelical revival meetings of my childhood where people “testify” to how they were “saved,” how they once were blind but now see, how they saw the light and were born again. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it turns out that Marcus Borg is an evangelist too, just in another way and to another community of people.”

    In a recent email, understanding the severity of his illness, Marcus wrote, “I have always known that we are all on death row. Never would have gotten that wrong on a true-false test. But it’s different to know it.” Still, he said, “in the midst of all this ... I am unreasonably happy. Not all the time. But more than I might have expected.”

    My prayers and thoughts go out to all Marcus’ family and to his wide circle of friends. May those of us who remain carry on his good work of helping people seek an honest, thoughtful, and vital Christian faith.

    Marcus Borg did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God. I miss him deeply, honor him warmly, and will always remember him with great respect and gratitude.

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  • Q & R: Translated into French?

    Here's the Q:

    > Have any of your books been translated into French? I am particularly
    > interested in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the
    > Road?
    If this is available in French, please send a link to someone
    > who sells it.

    Strange as it may seem, an author is often the last to know when his or her books have been translated. But I don't think JMBM has yet been translated into French. My first book was translated. You'll find information here.

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  • January 21, 2015

    Q & R: Dying for our sins?

    Here's the Q:

    I loved the book "The Secret Message of Jesus", it answered so many questions I have been pondering. I have been stuck though on Jesus' death. Did he really have to "die for our sins" to "save" us? The idea just doesn't make sense to me.
    > Thank You!

    Here's the R:
    This is a really important question. I have addressed it from several different angles in a few of my books:
    A New Kind of Christianity
    Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road
    The Story We Find Ourselves In

    And I offer an account of the meaning of Jesus death that you may find helpful and refreshing in my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

    Several important books have been written by theologians on this subject in recent years, and I just read the manuscript for a new one coming out in 2015 by Tony Jones, called Did God Kill Jesus. You'll have to wait until March 15, but I think you'll find it well written and helpful.

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  • January 20, 2015

    The Great Moral Work of the 21st Century

    More and more of us are convinced that just as overcoming slavery was a primary moral work of the 19th century, and seeking equality for women and minorities (racial, religious, medical, sexual) was a major moral work of the 20th century, creating an ecological civilization will be the major moral work of the 21st.

    That's why I'm honored to be part of this conference in June, which I hope you'll be part of too. I think it will be one of the most important things I do this year.

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  • January 19, 2015

    Dr. King said ...

    “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and postive action.”

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