Dear Publix Leadership,
I should begin by saying that I am in almost all ways a big fan of your company. I often shop in a nearby Publix and shopping there truly is a pleasure. It is clean. The staff are friendly and helpful. The products are good and the prices reasonable.
I'm especially impressed with the way Publix hires people with disabilities.
To provided a needed service and then go above and beyond in seeking to benefit the community - that's a winning combination, and a legacy to be proud of.
That's why I've been so surprised to see Publix (along with Wendy's) refusing (so far) to join the Fair Food Program. And that's why I've been outspoken in my desire to see Publix live up to the ideals of its founder, George Jenkins, who said, “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing."
A few days ago, a group of farmworkers from Immokalee, FL, set out on the ten-city "Now is the Time" tour to inform people about the Fair Food Campaign.
It's been a remarkable campaign so far. McDonald's signed on. Trader Joe's signed on. Taco Bell signed on. Most recently WalMart signed on. Already, thousands of farmworkers are receiving a little better wage along with better, safer working conditions because management in the food industry - your colleagues - put doing the right thing first.
Pastor Miguel Estrada of Misión Peniel spoke this blessing over the "Now is the Time" messengers as they set out:
“You are the couriers of a fundamental message amidst the reality in which farmworkers find themselves. The need for justice is essential and the need for others to still join this effort continues to be true. And so we will continue to invite Publix and Wendy’s to come and reconcile with farmworkers so that they understand that they are a necessary part of bringing justice to those that work in the fields. And today, we ask that they repent… that they repent for the reality that they have fostered where there is no justice. And that is the message you bring today…
And so take this message. Bring it to the ten cities in which you will arrive. Let them know that reconciliation is possible… We know that a true message is not simply material, but it is something that we carry with us in our hearts. And if you believe that truth, it will be a powerful message.”
Because I am such a big fan of your company, and because I am such a big fan of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program, I'd like to make a suggestion.
Why don't you contact CIW right away and have some direct communication with them about joining the program?
Wouldn't it be great if Saturday, March 15, when the tour comes to your home base in Lakeland (I'm planning to be there too), we could come not to protest and plead - but to celebrate and congratulate?
We're not asking you to do something very difficult. We're asking you to do the right thing.
I hope we can celebrate you joining the program on March 15!
a conscientious customer
Here's the Q:
I still don't get McLaren on the who's-going-to-heaven stuff. I get the feeling he's scared of the question, like that he'd get in trouble. But maybe I've got that wrong? ... in BMC's case, he seems to not want the question to arise. But to those terrified by the church's brutal and horrific doctrines of hell, "We don't ask that question any more" just doesn't cut it. ... I take myself to share BMC's basic outlook on where the focus should be, but instead of thinking that shared focus requires us to never let the question arise, it pushes toward a certain *kind* of answer (which need not be universalism)
… As one who was himself terrorized by traditional doctrines of hell, my greatest concern is for those still haunted by them. I do think these horrifying views are a major stumbling block. It seems to me that such folks should be told that there are more hopeful Christian views out there (Christian universalism being just one example). To someone who sees a horrific doctrine of hell as the only real Christian alternative, and for whom that's a tragic deal breaker, or to one terrorized by the thought of people going to such a hell, what doesn't seem to help (to perhaps again be a bit unfair to you here) is to tell them "We don't ask about / think about that anymore."
Here's the R:
This important question arises in response to my reply to a recent article, where I said:
Anyone who applies the term universalism to my understanding of things hasn't read me carefully. The situation is actually much "worse" than simply switching from exclusivism to inclusivism or universalism. I think the set of assumptions that divides the world into inclusivists, exclusivists, and universalists is deeply flawed. It's not that I've answered the "who goes to heaven" question differently - it's that I've become convinced (by Scripture and by many great theologians of the church through history) that "who goes to heaven" is not the primary question Jesus (or other biblical writers) came to ask.
First, I can see why someone might suspect I'm scared of the question. The religious world gives people a lot to be afraid about (as the fiery comments sections of most religious blogs make clear!). But if I were scared of the question, I probably wouldn't have written a whole book on the subject (called The Last Word and the Word After That). I've done my best to demonstrate a commitment to speak freely, carefully, and I hope graciously about what I believe and face the consequences.
Second, I am glad to clarify that I am not trying to "never let the question arise," nor do I want say in any way, "We don't ask or think about that question anymore." The universalism question arises constantly, and regular readers of this blog know I address it repeatedly.
Third, I agree we must be very sensitive to "those terrified by the church's brutal and horrific doctrines of hell," and I understand why a simple "universalist" response may be the most pastorally helpful for those people. They are rightly terrified, brutalized, and horrified by the portrayal of God as a terrifying, brutal, and horrific. They aren't in the mood for nuance and a lot of theological backstory … they just need reassurance that God is not vicious, vindictive, and dictatorial.
So, if by Universalist, you mean, "One who believes God perfectly and fully loves the entire universe, and every creature in it," or if you mean that God will do everything possible to give everyone possible the best possible eternal outcome of their temporal lives, or if you mean that God is not a capricious and vicious torturer who will punish eternally all those who are not "among the elect" or otherwise successful in selecting and following the correct religion … then, yes, of course, sign me up. I am happy (and unafraid) to be counted among your number.
Perhaps I should stop there.
But for those who are interested, here's why I don't normally choose that label. When the conventional question - who goes to heaven and who goes to hell - frames reality, universalism and inclusivism are preferable answers to exclusivism. But when that conventional question frames reality, and when one chooses universalism, we face a temptation to say, "Whew. What a relief! Everything will be OK! There will be a happy ending!" And that relief can lead to a kind of passivity, namely, that if all will be well in the end, then all is well now. But that isn't the case.
In other words, I don't think that the heaven-hell question is the one that should frame reality. But I acknowledge that it does frame reality for many Christians (and Muslims), and many of them need a better answer within that frame than the exclusivist one they've been given. They simply aren't ready or able to reframe reality with a different question.
When a different question frames reality - how can God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven - then we have to acknowledge that for billions of God's creatures, God's will is not being done on earth as in heaven. Universalism may be good news for them after they die, but right now, they need good news that God cares about the mess they're in … the mess of injustice, oppression, ignorance, prejudice, hunger, thirst, sickness, loneliness, guilt, shame, addiction, fear, poverty, etc. And that good news can not be in word only. It must come in deed and in truth, as 1 John and James both say (echoing Jesus) … which makes our reply very costly.
I guess this is a case of needing pastoral sensitivity to discern which problem people are facing. For some, the urgent need is to be liberated from a vicious and cruel depiction of God as eternal cosmic torturer. For others, the urgent need is to be liberated from a sense that God may help them after they die, but until then, they're stuck and sunk. Perhaps what we need is a kind of activist universalism - that affirms God's saving love for all creation, but doesn't stop there … but rather sends us into creation to bear and manifest that saving love universally - for friend, stranger, and enemy … for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and everyone else … for humans and living creatures and all creation.
If you're a bishop, executive presbyter, district superintendent, canon, dean, Christian education specialist, regional minister, new church development staff, consultant, or other denominational executive, or if you'd like to forward this to the relevant person in your network, this message is for you:
Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many gifted and dedicated church and denominational leaders ... people like you who are helping strong churches thrive and grow, weak churches turn around, and new churches begin.
I believe my next book, We Make the Road by Walking (June 2014), could be of special help to you and the churches you serve in at least five ways:
1. Whole churches could use the book as a year-long curriculum (or on a quarterly basis) in basic Christian faith and living.
2. Adult classes, small groups, and youth groups could use the book for their own spiritual growth - and as a venue to welcome in new people.
3. New and experimental congregations could form using the book and its auxiliary resources.
4. A district, diocese, or other group of churches could create a regional campaign using the book to welcome in unchurched and de-churched people - including the children and grand-children of existing church members.
5. Churches in struggle and transition could use the book to create a year of new beginnings.
The book speaks to a wide range of people - from the religiously knowledgeable with lots of “pew time” to absolute beginners who are new to the faith, and from the more conservative to the more progressive. It offers liturgical resources, well-thought-out questions for conversation, and guidelines for honest and heartfelt engagement.
Groups can begin using the book starting at Chapter 1 in September 2014, or at any point before or after, starting at the appropriate place in the church year.
If you would like to additional information about how this book could be of use to those you serve, my publisher and I would like to help. Just email your name and address to email@example.com
These are exciting times, full of challenge and possibilities. Of all my books, this is the one that I think has the most potential to help you and the churches you serve to explore "a new kind of Christianity," practice "a generous orthodoxy," and “make the road by walking.” We're all in this together!
Brian D. McLaren
A reader writes:
Last Christmas, my boyfriend’s 15 year old daughter gave me your book as a gift because she said she thought of me when she saw it in the bookstore. You see, I am a Christian that happened to live and work in the Middle East [for many years.] I just wanted to tell you how much I truly enjoyed and appreciated this book.
Several years before I went to the Middle East I did some research on cultural sensitivity and I came across some articles and research conducted by Hammar (seehttp://mdbgroup.com/idi-background.html for more on this) and one of the statements that he made was (paraphrasing) “…you cannot understand your own culture if you are part of the dominant culture; it is only when you are part of the non-dominant culture can you truly understand”. This is what happened to me when I went to the Middle East. Ironically, I didn’t understand my own faith, my true Christian beliefs, until I lived in a culture where the dominant religion was Islam. So in a way, I became a better Christian because of the faith I saw in my friends that were Muslim. When I came home to the US I found myself defending a religion, I didn’t even agree with. I share this with you because your book was the first book I have read by a Christian that not only believes in reaching out to other religions but you have friends, true friends, that are from other religions. I can certainly relate when you wrote about being accused of “picking and choosing” because I have friends that are well meaning Christians that seem to want to accuse me of being “lukewarm” whenever I speak up for my friends that are Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish or gay, or even atheist.
There are so many statements I want to quote from your book but perhaps that one that really resonated with me was on page 204, where you indicate that “the Bible is not a constitution” and on page 205 where you state “Interpretation is also and always a matter of ethics, a matter of the heart and the conscience”. I am always deeply troubled by the hateful acts that are done in the name of God when Jesus taught us to be people of peace. Which leads to my favorite part of your book on pages 135 -136 where you talk about how Jesus has been used as a weapon and challenge your reader to think about what would Jesus do if he encountered Mohammed or Buddha. I also want to thank you for writing about the history of our faith and the dark history that we so often don’t want to remember and how we must “….face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history”.
My guess is that to some fundamentalist your writing are controversial but I am glad that you are writing these types of books to speak out to the thinking Christian. I am currently reading your book “A New Kind of Christianity” and I also find it inspiring. So thank you again for putting into words what my heart needed to hear.
A few years ago, a Lebanese friend of mine (who is what you might call an agnostic –Muslim) was discussing the conflict in the Middle East between the Shia and Sunni Muslims and she said “As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace”. I’d like to think that if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed did ever cross the road this is one statement that would all agree with.
Thanks for your encouraging words. Your friend's statement about putting humanity before religion reminds me of Jesus' words … that humanity wasn't made for the Sabbath (i.e. religion), but the Sabbath (i.e. religion) was made for humanity. I think Paul does something similar in Romans. He is trying to bring Jews and Gentiles together in the gospel, but the Law of Moses seems to separate them. So he goes before Moses to Abraham, who offers a way of connecting with God (faith) more primal than law. And then he goes back before Abraham to Adam, where all are brought together in our common humanity.
Hi, all -
January and February have been full and full of surprises, almost all of them happy ones. Here's what's ahead for March and April:
1. On March 1st, I'll be in Dallas with Life in the Trinity Ministries, finishing my overview of the Bible. Sorry - this one is sold out and there's no more room. BUT - soon the whole set of CD's will be available for your listening pleasure. Stay tuned ...
2. On the 8th, I'll be speaking in Madison Wisconsin …
3. Then on the 9th I'll be in Lancaster, PA.
4. On the 11th I'll be in Washington DC.
5. I'm hoping to be present for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers action in Lakeland, 15 March - still working on details.
6. On the 20th I'll be in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
7. Then on April 4-5, I'll be in Portland, OR, with the Sabeel Conference.
8. April 15-25, I'll be in New Zealand. Here are the details:
Fri 18, "Convermersion" at St John's Theological College, Auckland
Sat 19, "Convermersion" at New Plymouth West Baptist, New Plymouth
Sun 20, TBC
Mon 21, "Convermersion" at Te Ara Hou Village, Hamilton
Wed 23, "Dancing to a New Tune Workshop" (9.30am-3.30pm) and "The Bible, Church & 21st Century (Café discussion 7-9pm)
Thu 24, Boulcott Seminar ("Convermersion") at Wellington Central Baptist, Wellington
Fri 25, Discussion with Wellington Central, Wellington (10am-2pm approx.)
9. Then I'll be in Buffalo, NY, on 29 April.
You can get information on all these events by going here.
Here's the Q:
I just finished 'A New Kind of Christianity', and I felt myself amen-ing the whole time I was reading the book. I'm a progressive gay Christian getting a ministry degree from a conservative Pentecostal college. I have major differences with their theology, but I feel like I don't have many options. I'm out to my friends and family, but I've been somewhat 'forced' back into the closet to attend this school. It's making me depressed and isolated, and I feel like I'm being held hostage by what I consider bad theology in order to get my degree. Any advice for me?
Here's the R:
I'm glad A New Kind of Christianity has been helpful, and I'm sorry you're in this tough situation. I've learned it's not wise to offer specific pastoral guidance from a distance like this, so here's what I can offer. First, find a pastor or counselor in your area (harder in some places than others, I know) who welcomes gay people … often, these will be UCC or Episcopal, sometimes Presbyterian, DOC, Lutheran, or Methodist. It might take a little detective work and a few phone calls. Second, meet with this pastor and counselor and explain your situation. They'll help you keep your sanity while there and decide if that's the place to stay until graduation. Third, if you do decide to leave, consider meeting in private with a college official and explain why you're leaving. Don't expect their approval … just let them know your story. You're in my prayers today, and I imagine many folks who read this blog will be praying for you too.
This fascinating interview explains (among many other things) why Mike Huckabee and I, for all our differences, would both point to Francis Schaeffer as an important influence in our lives.
Here's the Q:
Hello and thank you for your ministry,
A few years ago you gave a presentation at the Festival of Homiletics about 4 approaches
to listening to sermons based on the experience and attitudes of the congregation.
I was wondering if you have that lecture in a book or article ? I have found that
scheme to be helpful in educating our seminarians on their preaching
Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about our need for academic activists. How can we bring the best minds to bear on our biggest problems?
His article begins:
SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.
He describes the problem of
the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research.
He also notes the problem of academic writing which turns off readers:
“a great, heaping mountain of exquisite knowledge surrounded by a vast moat of dreadful prose.”
Here's to reflective activists and activist academics ...
I want to sincerely thank you. My apologies, but I know nothing of you except from reading your blog posted February 21, 2014. I happen to agree with you on about every single issue you detailed, but that is not the point of my note. It may sounds a bit melodramatic, but I am reminded of the guy facing down the tank in Tiananmen Square. I think given a choice, I might choose a tank over the tsunami of evangelical wrath. You provide a glimmer of hope. I am not sure where the future of my personal faith lies. I am convinced that individuals like you will bring more people to approach the Bible and truly understanding the teachings of Jesus. Whether those souls will be bound for heaven is not for me to say, but I believe they will make the world a better place for our children. Thank you again for your reason, compassion and courage.+++++ I
wanted to share with you a letter that I am sending to Father Kevin Miller regarding his recent CT article. I am thankful for you and for what you do.
Dear Father Miller,
I was wondering if I could share a little bit of my story with you? I want to share how God has used Don Miller, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren in my story. They don't know me, but their books, their stories, were a blessing to me.
When I read your recent article in Christianity Today, I felt like a line was being drawn in the sand, and I heard: "You do not belong here. But shame on you for not staying." However, when I read Blue Like Jazz, Velvet Elvis, Love Wins, A Generous Orthodoxy, and A New Kind of Christianity, I felt hopeful that there was room for me at Christianity's table. Miller, Bell, and McLaren helped me at a time when I wondered whether a real faith was even possible for me. They helped me know that I wasn't alone in my questions. Maybe my questions were actually good. There is Life in, beyond, and through these questions. Miller, Bell, and McLaren made space for me. These authors pointed toward More.
Christianity is More, so much bigger, than the evangelical Christianity that I grew up with. I loved that evangelical Christianity. I have a feeling that they did too, and that is why they spoke into that arena. Why they continue to speak.
I am thankful that they do.
If Miller, Bell, and McLaren had quietly slipped out the back door without letting others know about what they have seen, I might have been left with an empty faith. A faith stunted by seemingly impossible beliefs. I might still be stuck in the questions, unable to move forward. Maybe I would not have heard that there was More. Maybe I would not have experienced the More-ness and reality of God myself.
My life, my soul, and my faith are being transformed. God is on the move in my life, and it is beautiful. Each of those writers were a part of that process.
Maybe, as your article suggests, we no longer belong in evangelical Christianity. But it is evangelical Christianity's loss to push writers, thinkers, and poets like Miller, Bell, and McLaren out of the fold. Christianity should be and is a spacious place. There is room for the story that God is writing with your life. There is room for the story that God is writing with my life. Even though our stories might look vastly different.
"God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God's path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Maybe, instead of pointing fingers at one another, we can make space for one another's stories and marvel at the grace that God shows to each one of us.
With Love and Hope,
I'm teaming up with Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat for an e-course that will run from March 5 through Easter Sunday. Here's how the course is described at their site:
• a short reading excerpted from one of Brian McLaren's books,
• a suggestion for a way you can "practice that thought" as you go about your day,
• a link to our review of the book where we found the reading,
• a link giving you access to the online Practice Circle where we will be discussing our responses to the readings and experiences with the practices.
• an opportunity to join the Brussats and Brian McLaren for a one-hour teleconference in April (which will be recorded for those who cannot attend live).
The cost is $49 and you can register here.
Readers of my books - especially Everything Must Change - will care about the two issues that are the focus of this grant. A great opportunity!
The Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship provides three individuals with $100,000 each to pursue a social or economic justice objective over one year. Candidates for the NCF Fellowship must demonstrate exceptional vision and propose a project that relates to the Foundation’s two focus areas: · Inequality · Climate Change And the methodology for their project must be rooted in at least one of the Foundation’s Approaches: · Arts and Culture · Constituency Building · Disruptive Ideas · Religious Traditions and Contemplative Practices
Preference will be given to projects that address NCF’s DNA commitments.
Fellows' projects will be expected to push NCF beyond its boundaries and open productive new lines of inquiry; ask provocative questions; challenge conventional wisdom; and develop new ideas, approaches, and strategies. For more information, please visit:
Please submit an application by Monday, March 10, 2014.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) is rooted in Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.
Background information on the Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship:
The Foundation owes its existence and inspiration to Nathan Cummings. Nathan Cummings was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1896. He moved from impoverished beginnings to great success by hard work, entrepreneurial genius, and a willingness to take risks. Mr. Cummings inherited a spirit of sharing and a sense of community from his immigrant parents and transmitted these values to his children and grandchildren, who now contribute their time and energy to the Foundation.
Here's the Q:
What are you reading these days?
Here's the R:
I just finished reading two books that I really enjoyed and believe others will enjoy too.
1. Subversive Meals is a book about the original meaning of the eucharist. It is fascinating, well-researched, and yet accessible. It's an example of what good yet readable religious scholarship looks like. The subject, the eucharist, is tremendously important … and you'll feel so even more strongly after reading this important book. R. Alan Street deserves your attention in this valuable contribution to ecclesiology, biblical scholarship, and practical ministry.
2. Culture Moves (Thomas Rochon) explores how cultures change - through critical communities and movements, through the formation of identity and solidarity. Obviously, for my work, this has been an essential book, joining Greg Leffel's Faith Seeking Action as a primer on social movement theory.
I'm also reading (belatedly) Garrison Keillor's Life Among the Lutherans. A delight. For fans of Prairie Home Companion, I'll just say two words: pontoon boat.
Here's the Q:
Hi Brian, I met you at the inaugural Wild Goose festival and you talked about an idea for an upcoming book. You said that for years ministers had led their flocks by studying and reading a book that led them through prepared messages and worked through the church calendar. You said that you were considering a new liturgy that young home churches or small gatherings with leaders that felt under-qualified would be able to utilize. Is that still something you're considering?
Here's the R:
Yes. It turned into We Make the Road by Walking and will be available June 2014.
I really think you'll enjoy it … June is just around the corner. We're hoping that lots of folks can read the book in June and then start using it with groups in September (or whenever).