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Brian's Blog

  • June 27, 2016

    Don't be afraid to talk politics with people who see things differently?

    People across cultures and parties tend to rely on five (plus one) lines of moral reasoning (according to moral foundations theory):

    1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
    2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
    3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
    4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
    5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

    6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.

    More here.

    And here.

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  • June 25, 2016

    Q & R: your best book on prayer?

    Here's the Q:

    I found this comment under Q&R at your website but do not know which book you are referring to as (TBA soon)
    I am looking for an honest discussion of intercessory prayer. I find myself no longer believing in it or that God would intervene to protect or bless one person over another in this way. Which book most fully addresses these questions. Thanks

    From your page
    My next book - we just decided on a title (TBA soon) - is about the spiritual life, and it deals with intercessory and petitionary prayer in some detail. Like you, I find a host of problems arise whenever people try to turn prayer into a fast, easy, convenient, and guaranteed (!) technique for achieving results "out there." I'm especially interested - both in my life and in the book - in how prayer achieves results "in here" - in my soul, my character, my innermost being. And then I'm interested in how "in here" results bring change "out there." So instead of seeing the two dimensions in opposition or as unrelated, I want to see them as interrelated.

    Here's the R:
    Sorry that wasn't clear. The book is Naked Spirituality, which came out several years back. Another place where I deal with God's agency (i.e. the nature of God's relationship with the universe) is The Story We Find Ourselves In, plus its prequel and sequel. I think you'll find them helpful.

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  • June 23, 2016

    Q & R: hate the sin and love the sinner?

    Here's the Q:

    I am a Canadian who attends [a contemporary evangelical church] in Toronto. We practice a third way of accepting LGBT people into our family with love and non judgement but do not conduct Same Sex marriages.

    My father came out to me a few years ago and my wife and I have embraced his partner as part of the family.

    I feel a conflict, how can I practice faith in Jesus when I see brothers and sisters in America saying hate the sin but love the sinner. That is complete hypocrisy.

    Any guidance or reading suggestions would be much appreciated. I love Jesus but don't know how to love Evangelical right Christians.

    Here's the R:
    God bless you in your understanding and kindness to your dad. So many people are forced to make a choice between acceptance of their loved ones and rejection by their church. If your church will reject you for accepting your family, it's probably time to find a new church.

    This "third way" approach is a step up from exclusion, condemnation, etc., but my guess is that it is a transition zone ... churches in it will either be pulled back to a more conservative position or will eventually move into a position of full acceptance. I think it's important for you to let your pastoral leadership know that you are in favor of them continuing to move in the direction of full acceptance; you can be sure others are exerting pressure in the other direction.

    I like Tony Campolo's commentary on "hate the sin, love the sinner." He says, "Love the sinner and hate your own sin!"

    Many people are being driven away from evangelicalism (and Christian faith in general) by the hostile attitudes of right-wing evangelicals. It helps me be less angry at my evangelical brothers when I realize that evangelicals are just people, subject to the same prejudices, weaknesses, etc., as any other group. it's our job to embody and model "a new kind of Christianity." May God help us to do so, with the courage to differ graciously.

    As for reading suggestions, you'll find some resources I've recommended in the past by clicking here.

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  • June 22, 2016

  • June 18, 2016

    Q & R: Using WMTR for a weekend retreat

    Here's the Q:
    We run small Retreat Centre in the UK and we’re looking to run a weekend retreat using ‘We Make The Road by Walking’.
    Some time ago we found some resources on the website suggesting ways of doing this. However, we now can’t find those resources.
    Could you please send us a pdf or send a link to them so that we can use them to form the foundation for our planning of weekend?

    Here's the R:
    You'll find the resources you need here:
    And specifically, here:

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  • June 17, 2016

    Q & R: After Orlando?

    Here's the Q:

    I woke up today to the news of the shooting in Florida, my heart sank and my head is spinning. Where do we begin with this tragedy? I want to be a more Christlike person even in the face of these events but it’s so hard.

    Here's the R:
    Here are four voices whose wisdom I trust and whose words have spoken to me this tragic and catalytic week.
    Rev. William Barber:
    Rev. Amy Butler:
    Rev. Jacqui Lewis:
    Author Glennon Melton:

    You're right: it's so hard. But responding in a Christlike way is what will be best both for us as individuals and the world at large.

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  • Q & R: Your song Kindness

    Here's the Q:

    I wrote to Steve Bell's office & asked her about getting the music/chords to your incredible song: "Kindness". They said that Steve didn't have that & that I should ask you if you could supply this. I took up the uke (after years of not playing) last year & a friend of mine & I want to sing this song for our church sometime in the future. She is a very accomplished musician & said she thot she could figure out the chords but I said I'd contact you first to see what you'd say. That song is probably on that touches my heart more than many I've heard. The words are so meaningful at this time in our troubled world & I'd like to be able to play it. Please let me know if you can help me out.

    Here's the R:
    First, let me say that I'm really excited about a new project to disseminate a new kind of Christian worship music. If you like "Kindness," you'll be interested in this. Check it out here - Convergence Music Project. (Music for a Just and Generous Christianity)

    Second, here's the song being played by Steve:

    Finally, here are the lyrics with chords:

    D G D
    Christ has no body here but ours,
    D G F#m
    No hands, no feet, here on earth but ours.
    G D
    Ours are the eyes through which He looks
    On this world
    A D
    With kindness.

    Ours are the hands through which he works.
    Ours are the feet on which he moves
    Ours are the voices through which he speaks
    To this world
    With kindness.
    G D
    Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear,
    G D A
    Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
    Let us go now,
    Filled with the Spirit.*
    Into this world
    With kindness.

    * Steve says "Inspirited" which works well.

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  • June 16, 2016

    An Interview with Lisa Sharon Harper

    Lisa Sharon and I have known each other for nearly twenty years. I'm a big fan of her new book, The Very Good Gospel. Here's our interview about the book.

    How would you sum up the gospel as you used to understand it?

    That’s simple—and that’s the problem. My understanding was shaped by the Four Spiritual Laws, a little gold tract created in the mid-20th century to help win the masses to Jesus.
    · Law One. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

    · Law Two. Man is sinful and therefore separated from God and cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.

    · Law Three. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for man’s sin.

    · Law Four. If you individually receive Jesus Christ as your savior and Lord, then you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.

    What changed in your understanding of the gospel?

    I took a pilgrimage that challenged that simple understanding of the Gospel to the core. I traveled across 10 southern states over four weeks in one bus with 25 other campus ministry staff members. We retraced the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the African experience on American soil from slavery to Civil Rights.

    I came out of the journey asking one fundamental question. Could I share the Four Spiritual Laws with my own ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears, according to family oral history, or with my ancestors who were enslaved in South Carolina? If I shared my understanding of the gospel with them, would it lead them to jump and shout with joy thanking me for giving them good news? When I considered that question I was struck by a more damning question? What exactly does my understanding of the gospel have to say to their reality? I thought about this for the entire summer. In the end, I had to face the fact: My gospel was mute in the face of the evil my own ancestors encountered.

    Eventually I came to terms with a brutal truth: If my gospel is not good news to the people who need good news the most, then maybe it isn’t good news at all. Or at the very least, it isn’t good enough. This sent me on a 13 year journey to investigate the biblical concept of shalom, what it has to do with the good news of the gospel, and how that impacts our daily lives and public ethics.

    At its core, what changed was my understanding of perfection and sin. Through deep study of Genesis 1-14 I came to understand that God declared what very goodness (the closest thing the ancient Hebrews had to our current-day Greek-inspired concept of “perfection”). Genesis 1:31 God looks around and declares all of creation “very good.” But that word “good” (tov) isn’t necessarily referring to the thing itself. The Hebrews would have understood tov to exist between things. And the word “good” (me’od) can be translated forceful, abundant, emphatic, and overwhelming! So, what God is actually saying when God looks around is that the relationships between things are forcefully, abundantly, emphatically, overwhelmingly good! The relationship between humanity and God, humanity’s relationship with self, the relationship between men and women, the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation, the relationship between all of creation and the systems that govern us—the way things work. Things worked to bless all and curse none. This is what God calls perfection; the web of relationships we were created for, all very good!

    If this is what God considers perfection, then what is sin? Sin is not being imperfect. Sin is anything that breaks any of the relationships God declared very good! If sin breaks these relationships, what strengths them? What is the essence of right relatedness? I’ve come to understand right relatedness as a concept biblically grounded in Genesis 1:26-27. It is the honoring of the image of God in all humanity—every single human on earth. It is the renouncing of the lies the world tells us that some people are created with more of the image of God than others—more call and capacity to exercise dominion than others—more call and capacity to steward the world—that is the core spiritual lie of our age. The Gospel comes against that lie. Jesus came against that lie. And right relatedness requires that we sit in the reality that we are made in the likeness of God, but we are not God. So, while we are called to exercise dominion, human dominion must bow to God and reflect God’s kind of dominion—dominion fundamentally characterized by love, service, and provision for all creation.

    What difference would it make in our typical churches - Evangelical, mainline, Catholic - if people rethought the gospel along the lines of your book?

    Many of our churches would find that the very core of the message of our Christian faith would suddenly become relevant in both the private and public worlds of parishioners. The gospel itself would speak directly to the souls of ones suffering under the tyranny of shame and disconnection. With the same power that gospel would speak against the public, structural tyrannies of racism, sexism, colonialism, imperialism, and consumerism. For, at the heart of the gospel is Jesus—the one who came to restore the very goodness of all the relationships God created in the beginning, the one who came to restore the inherent dignity possessed by all who bare the image of God on earth. Jesus faced down death and won the battle. Now he invites us all to be healed and to become healers of a world hell-bent on crushing the image of God on earth—a world governed by the kingdoms of men—not the Kingdom of God—not the kin-dom of God.

    Congregations would join in the task of restoring the rule of God in their midst and they would start by recognizing the fullness of the image of God in each other, in their neighbors, in the other. And they would become bastions of grace, not shame; healing, not gossip and strife. And they would lead the revolution toward the restoration of the very goodness of all relationships in the world. I’m not saying we would achieve it in our lifetimes or even in the next millennia. What I’m saying is our churches would find their purpose and they would be set free.

    What was one thing that troubled, surprised, encouraged, or otherwise struck you as you wrote the book?

    In the middle of writing Chapter 2, I had a moment when I broke into worship. While reflecting on research on the origins of Genesis 1, I realized the writers were a company of priests coming out of 70 years of enslavement in Babylon. The Hebrews creation story was similar to the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, in some critical ways. But some key things were different, as well.

    In Enuma Elish, the River is full of conniving gods who war against each other for supremacy. Marduk rises up to challenge Tiamat, who has created 11 monsters to help her win the battle. Marduk strikes a bargain with the other gods. If he prevails, then he gets to reign supreme. He wins.

    Much like the River in Enuma Elish, the deep in Genesis is full of agony, but in this story there are no smaller gods: There is only the one God, Elohim. Is it possible to see “the deep” serving as a kind of double entendre, one phrase with two meanings: both a place of agony and a symbol of Babylonian oppression? The earth is a vacuous desolation. It is a surging mass of water surrounded on all sides by misery, destruction, death, sorrow.

    Then, action!

    The wind, the breath, the violent exhalation of God moves over this surging mass of misery. The word for “move” (rachaph) literally means to brood, as a hen broods over her eggs. It is as if God’s spirit—ruwach, a feminine noun in Hebrew—positions herself to confront the misery and destruction, to confront the sorrow and wickedness. She broods over it as if she is about to do battle with the darkness and her strategy for engagement … is birth—new life.

    Then Elohim, the supreme God speaks: “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:3) And light is born! “And Elohim saw that the light was good.” The voice and command of God births light. There is clarity. There is happiness. God speaks and goodness is birthed from a cesspool of despair!

    This is our human context. We are surrounded by the stuff of darkness. It weaves destruction into our lives and our world and it is utterly painful.

    But God! God cuts the darkness. God intervened and lifted the Hebrews’ oppression. God intervenes.

    I wept.

    I especially recommend The Very Good Gospel to folks from an Evangelical background. You'll find ordering info here.

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  • June 15, 2016

    Why I'm Not Watching TV This Week

    If I were home, I’d probably be watching cable TV. I’d be sharing in national grief over last week’s Orlando gun massacre. I’d be watching with disbelief as politicians and gun manufacturers speak once again of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims while doing absolutely nothing to prevent others from becoming victims. I’d be mad and sad and all riled up.

    But I’m not at home. I’m at the St. Columba Episcopal Conference and Retreat Center in Memphis, Tennessee. And there’s no TV here.

    But there is something better.

    There’s love here. In huge quantities.

    Camp Able is happening. This amazing project (http://www.campable.org/), birthed by my friend Fr. Kyle Bennett, makes “kids with diverse abilities,” as Kyle calls them, the center of attention. Technically, these are kids who differ from the “neurotypical” because of autism, Downs Syndrome, and other conditions. Often they’re stared at, made fun of, excluded, and bullied. But here, this week, they’re celebrated.


    Sharp young counselors, some high-schoolers, some in college, and some a bit older, give a week or more of their summer to give these kids a chance to do things they’d never get to do otherwise.

    Today, for example, I watched Jared approach a water slide. Other kids slid down it immediately (after coating their stomachs with dish detergent to increase their speed). But Jared wasn’t ready, and his counselor, Hayden, patiently watched with him and gently encouraged him that he could try it when he was ready. For at least twenty minutes, he watched, and then got the courage to try the last fifteen feet or so of the slide. He gradually edged himself up, and forty minutes later, he tried it from the top. “Anywhere else,” I thought to myself, “nobody would have had the patience to wait for Jared and he wouldn’t have had this experience of wet, soapy, giggling delight.”

    I watched Jean sit with Corwin, a little boy who rarely speaks. After playing basketball with him for a while, she noticed that he was interested in the bugs on the court. So for ten minutes or so, she joined him on hands and knees, watching ants and pill bugs and little beetles make their way across the cement. She simply joined him in silent concentration, reverent curiosity, and timeless wonder.

    Meanwhile, Lauren was breathless, chasing her camper David from one place to another. Turbo-charged by his form of autism, David took delight in unplugging, opening, taking apart, tearing, or otherwise scattering and breaking anything he could get his hands on. If he wasn’t sprinting to some new potential site for mischief, he was taking off his clothes. I marveled that Lauren could keep up with him, much less not lose her supernatural cool. “She can’t be having a good time,” I thought. “And there’s no way she can last the day, much less the week, at a pace like this.”

    Then someone turned on some music and David sat down on a bench. Lauren started swaying to the music and soon, David did too. Lauren started singing David’s favorite things to the tune of the song … air vent, cooler, moon bounce, Venetian blinds. For maybe three minutes, David seemed calm and in tune, joining his counselor in the rhythm of joy rather than running her ragged. “This is the best moment of the day for me,” I heard her say. “This makes everything worth it.”

    I watched one counselor gently rub the back of her camper, while another helped her camper color … slowly, carefully, in no hurry at all. I watched one counselor sit for (literally) hours, simply listening to his camper talk, talk, talk, about Harry Potter, about World War II, about the army and navy and weapons, whatever fascinates him. Another counselor patiently tie-dye T-shirts with her camper ... eighteen of them ... because that's what he wanted to do.


    There have been lots of waving arms, lots of wandering off (closely followed by a counselor), a few meltdowns, quite a bit of anxiety … but also, so much laughter. So many smiles. So much love.

    Being part of Camp Able this week reminds me that, in the words of Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “around every evil, there gathers love. Bombs aren’t the only thing that falls from above.”

    Back home, I know people are grieving, not to mention blaming, arguing, pointing fingers, analyzing, and seeking needed solutions. If I were there, that’s what I’d be doing. But here, this week, we’re entirely focused on some kids with diverse abilities. I’m watching caring young adults seeking to shower their campers with love, to celebrate their dignity, to fill their emotional tanks with affirmation and joy. We’re seeking to make this little corner of the world bright and safe and holy … and praying that more people will do the same everywhere.

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  • June 9, 2016

    Announcing "The Great Spiritual Migration"

    From the publisher:

    The Christian story, from Genesis until now, is fundamentally about people on the move—outgrowing old, broken religious systems and embracing new, more redemptive ways of life.

    It’s time to move again.


    Brian McLaren, a leading voice in contemporary spirituality and religion, argues that— notwithstanding the dire headlines about the demise of faith and drop in church attendance—Christian faith is not dying. Rather, it is embarking on a once-in-an-era spiritual shift. For millions, the journey has already begun.

    Drawing from his work as global activist, pastor, and public theologian, McLaren challenges readers to stop worrying, waiting, and indulging in nostalgia, and instead, to embrace the powerful new understandings that are reshaping the church. In The Great Spiritual Migration, he explores three profound shifts that define the change:

    ∙ Spiritually, growing numbers of Christians are moving away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and toward a way of life defined by love
    ∙ Theologically, believers are increasingly rejecting the image of God as a violent Supreme Being and embracing the image of God as the renewing Spirit at work in our world for the common good
    ∙ Missionally, the faithful are identifying less with organized religion and more with organizing religion—spiritual activists dedicated to healing the planet, building peace, overcoming poverty and injustice, and collaborating with other faiths to ensure a better future for all of us

    With his trademark brilliance and compassion, McLaren invites readers to seize the moment and set out on the most significant spiritual pilgrimage of our time: to help Christianity become more Christian.

    You can order the book here:
    Barnes and Noble
    Hudson Booksellers

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  • June 8, 2016

    Ramadan 2016

    I wish a meaningful Ramadan to all my Muslim friends!

    For my nonMuslim friends - If you'd like to learn more about my experience with Ramadan back in 2009, put "Ramadan 2009" in the search box on the upper right corner of this page.

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  • Q & R: Is there any part of Christianity that I can continue to embrace

    Here's the Q:

    First, let me say that “A New Kind of Christianity” is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Thanks for having the courage to write it. It completely unlocked a whole new world of ideas and gave me the freedom to explore questions that I would have never been able to in my standard PCA church context. I’m afraid there’s no turning back for me now. I write the following question as a lay person (non-scholar/pastor).

    In the book, you mention that the character of God revealed in Jesus is one of the main reasons why Christianity is worth holding onto. The non-violent character of Jesus also gives us a hermeneutic lens by which to interpret the violent/vengeful passages of the Old Testament. I loved your approach to reading the Old Testament as a series of trade ups regarding God, which reflect man’s view of God in a given historical content rather than God’s view of God. This all made a lot of sense to me. However, I started running into issues when I realized that Jesus seems to affirm the biblical flood story along with every other iota of the Law and Prophets. Further, he also introduced teachings on hell and the unforgivable sin which have left scars on many Christians and have led to much violence and despair throughout church history. I realize there are alternate interpretations (e.g., Rob Bell's view in Love Wins), but the fact remains that the majority of people throughout church history have understood these teachings in the traditional (and horrific) sense.

    My question is this, how should we deal with the trade ups that need to be made in the New Testament view of God and Jesus? It seems that even the character of Jesus and other parts of the New Testament (e.g., the symbolic yet extremely violent book of Revelation) might need a trade up. This is has been very disturbing to me, and I’m not sure where to go from here or if there’s any part of Christianity that I can continue to embrace. It seems like you’ve been in a similar situation at times. I’m wondering if you have any advice for me in dealing with these issues.

    Thanks so much for your time.

    Here's the R:
    Thanks so much for this important question. I'm grateful to know that NKOC was of help to you. Your questions tell me you really "get" the message of the book. A couple books after that one, I wrote We Make the Road by Walking, which goes through the whole Bible and explores the trajectory of "trade-ups." I think you would find it helpful. You'll see how I deal with your more specific questions (see especially chapters 24 and 51 on hell and Revelation).

    I've continued to grapple with these questions since writing WMTRBW ... and so I think the whole middle third of my next book, The Great Spiritual Migration, will be of special interest to you. It will be available September 20. You'll also see in the first few chapters how I, like you, came to a point of wondering "if there's any part of Christianity that I can continue to embrace." So many people are going through this same kind of questioning process, and I hope that my work, along with the work of many others, can be of help.

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  • 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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