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Going to Greenbelt ...

Folks in the US are learning about the Wild Goose Festival (if you don't, check it out here). It was modeled largely on Greenbelt, a huge and wonderful festival in the UK. That's where I'll be for the next several days. Looking forward to seeing many of my UK (and US, and other) friends there!

 

A "spiritual but not religious" reader writes … I don't consider myself a Christian, but I love Jesus

A reader writes:

I recently finished your book "The Secret Message of Jesus" and I wanted to send you a short "thank you" note.

I really enjoyed this book. As a "spiritual but not religious" person it was really refreshing to hear a pastor look a little deeper at the life of Jesus.

Although I don't consider myself religious or Christian I have loved Jesus since I met him in Sunday School as a child. There's something wonderfully intriguing about him and his teaching.
And I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about his teaching style being intentionally vague. He wants to draw you in slowly. He wants you to work.
As a former philosophy/religious studies major I have always felt the need to look deeper and you have helped me with your book.
Additionally, it's just refreshing to hear a Christian (and a pastor) elucidate the teaching beyond the Beatitudes. There are still so many that can't and won't settle on believing, they need to see!
And those with eyes to see do see your work as pushing God's dream for Creation forward.

Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!
Thank you,


Thanks so much for writing. I would rather be a "spiritual but not religious" person who loves Jesus than a religious person who doesn't … Your encouragement means a lot to me. I hope we'll meet in person some day soon.

 

This month -

over on my Facebook page, I've been posting a poem a day. Yesterday, lots of readers posted their favorite poems, or an original poem. It's really worth checking out:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brian-D-McLaren/65814657989

 

A Reader Writes: Not all of us hate and condemn

A reader writes:

I am sorry that the convictions of many whom you love as brothers and sisters in Christ demean your love for your son and the love he has for his partner. There are Christ followers outside your circle who care about the pain the LGTB community endures at our hands. I am sure you receive an overwhelming number of emails so I hesitated sending this one, but thought maybe you needed an encouraging email. Not all of us hate and condemn.

Thanks so much. I take this encouraging email to heart.

Many of the people who oppose LGBT equality do not do so because of hate. They simply are trying to be faithful to what they were taught and what they believe God requires. Many of them are grieved by the hateful tone of some people who agree with them.

This doesn't decrease the hurt they cause others. But it helps me remember that not all who disagree do so from the same motives. Again, thanks for your kind words.

 

Bible wrapped in a flag? You've got to be kidding?

OK. You'll think I'm making this up. But I'm not. I got this email recently:

I am Cristy from BreakinThru, the publisher of God’s Glory™ Bible - a beautiful, heirloom-quality, a limited First Edition King James Version Holy Bible that is wrapped in stars and stripes. After six years and an incredible response on social media – we have over 500k fans just this last year - it is released and ready for delivery. We did quite a bit of research looking for bloggers to partner with, and not only did we enjoy your blog Brian McLaren, we feel like you are a great fit. We would love to send you a Bible to review and give away to your audience – and we will of course direct our social media community to your blog and review. We additionally have an affiliate program available, should you be interested in placing an ad on your blog – or using an affiliate link for your visitors. You can learn more about God’s Glory™ Bible at www.GodsGloryBible.com or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GodsGloryBible. You can reach me at xxxyyy – I look forward to hearing from you, and of course getting God’s Glory™ Bible to you for review!

I'm impressed that they did "quite a bit" of research and that they determined this blog was a great fit for their product. Huh?

In contrast - I recently read this from the brilliant theologian Joerg Rieger:

We can reclaim the authority of the Bible when we realize, for instance, that not even the most powerful empires, including current forms of capitalism, have the last word. Here, alternative biblical visions finally get a chance to transform us, from the visions of liberation promoted in the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25; to accounts of the communities that Jesus organized where the last were indeed the first and the first were the last. Or, if we realize that the status quo of the concentration of wealth, privilege, and power in the hands of a few does not need to have the last word, alternative biblical visions of power that organizes itself in adverse situations (even on a cross) might make a real difference.

In conclusion, a truly progressive position brings together both a deeper awareness of how the powers that be hold us back and a more astute sense for possible alternatives (see Rieger, Christ and Empire, 2007). In these progressive efforts we need all the help we can get. There is little hope that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and so the ancient wisdom of the Bible is a most welcome guide, especially where it was honed in similar conflicts with empires and the status quo. To be sure: this is not just wishful thinking or a pious dream. Despite much misuse, the Bible has demonstrated its authority in the ability to make a difference in movements of liberation through the ages. As Latin American Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez once put it: "We indeed read the Bible, but we can also say that the Bible 'reads us.'"

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/Topics/2014-Religious-Trends/Progressive-Christian/Whos-Got-the-Power-Joerg-Rieger-08062014.html#ixzz3AHVuifkv

 

Circles are forming ...

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Q & R: Is the tide turning?

Here's the Q:

I wrote to you several years ago and you very kindly replied to my questions about Jesus and the "propitiation for sin." Your answer and your books validated my journey as I was simply trying to figure out how to love like Jesus loved and live my life dedicated to "reconciliation, understanding, solidarity, and peace-making" as you say in your recent blog.

I admit I haven't read your recent books, although they are on my "gotta get these" list, and so I've spent the morning re-reading sections of A New Kind of Christianity and particularly the chapter on Living the Questions in Community.

My battle is not with theology per se, or with reshaping the Church. My battle is in the area of science, and specifically science education. I am an ex-academic with over 20 years of bench under my belt and I realized when I started homeschooling my own children that science is not taught in a way that promotes real understanding. So I now write science books for kids. My gift is simply that I can take a college level text or upper level science concepts and sift the material for the basic building blocks that kids need to learn. Learning science really isn't any different than learning a language, or music, or math. There are fundamental concepts that any child can learn and once they do they have a foundation they can build upon so that they really understand science, what is can answer, and what it can't.

I have also been deeply involved in the Creation/ Evolution/ Intelligent Design battles and spent significant time speaking to Christian homeschoolers about why it's important to teach kids evolution, what it means, what it can answer, and what it can't answer.

But I have to say I have moved past these wars and see them as much more destructive than generative. The Creationists are circling their wagons and so are the Darwinists (which is a mix of hard-core "there is no god" materialists and theistic evolutionists with some other smaller philosophical hues). The ID community make some good points but they are hated by both and therefore marginalized. As a result there are several isolated camps each calling the other "the enemy," fighting over what kind of science gets taught to which kids. The kids are the ones caught in the crossfire and the kids are the collateral damage. If a child grows up as a mainstream Christian homeschooler, or goes to certain Christian schools they only hear about Creationism and that evolution is from the devil. They emerge lacking some basic building blocks for science. If a child grows up in a secular family and goes to any public school, they get a false sense of the "authority" of science and are never exposed to any of the gaps in neo-Darwinism and lack a basic understanding of how science really works.

So I have been trying to create a path for both Creationists and non-Creationists of various flavors to find some common ground. We need kids who have all the basic building blocks for science, including a good understanding of evolution, but who can also think outside the neo-Darwinian materialist box and be comfortable exploring even a vitalist paradigm as way to view some aspects of science.

The Christian homeschool market has been my main market and ministry for 15 years because, well, I have a heart for this group and I think Christian kids who can already think beyond "matter and energy" have the better tools for solving real-world problems, if they just learned all the science. In other words, I thought it would be easier to just teach the science and not try to change the philosophy.

But today I am discouraged, feeling defeated, and reconsidering my whole strategy. I recently had a top staff member suddenly quit because of a post I liked ... and a radio interview I gave … about my journey and what matters to me today. This staff member was, as far as I could tell, a solid Christian open to new ways of living as Jesus would have us live, but did a sudden about-face and quit, leaving a significant hole in my team and personally attacking me as someone who doesn't "live for Christ." I can repair the hole, but I am confused, angry, disappointed and ready to just throw in the towel on reaching Christians.

I realize, however, that my experiences are isolated and I am intersecting with a fairly narrow Christian segment, so I was wondering if you feel like the tide is turning at all. Are you finding more and more Christians open to your ideas? Is your movement growing? Are you getting more positive email or more hate mail? I'm just curious what your experience has been as you pave this path for the Christian faith and grow your ministry.

Thank you and warm regards,


Here's the R:
First, my heart goes out to you. It is so hard to have people you trust suddenly leave. It feels like rejection and a kick in the gut. As you say - you can fill the hole, but it is truly discouraging.

I think the tide is turning - in some places. In others, people are doubling down. And I think they will do so harder and harder. The toughest place will be will be exactly where you are - in the middle, trying to help people open up. You've heard the saying, "The hard thing about being a bridge is that people walk on you from both ends."

I hope you'll stay with this important bridge-building work as long as you can. But when the more restrictive people realize that you're a bridge-builder and not a wall-builder, they will try to blow up the bridge from their side. They don't want anyone leaving to "the other side" - they want to wall people in behind a barrier of fear and ignorance.

At that point, believe me, your life will get much easier, even though it will hurt a lot. You will still help people from that world, but as an outsider (not by your choice). Some people will stay behind the wall for generations, but others will begin to feel the unfreedom and fear of it, and at that point, your work will be more important than ever …

Please know that you're in my prayers today, and I'm sure that many reading this post will join me. You are a good person, with a good heart, doing good work, and it's not your fault that many can't appreciate it. That's how it almost always is with innovators and pioneers.

 

Readers write: We're using WMTRBW this year

A reader writes:

At first glance, We Make the Road by Walking can look like another new adult study program for the fall. But a few of us see it as a vehicle for understanding who we are and how we can be better used to help fulfill God's Dream for all.

We're a small-ish UMC congregation. In our 150 year history, our community has gone from rural farms to a lively , upper middle class suburb, complete with malls, restaurants and two mega-churches. We've been coping with all this change by trying to do more of what we've done in the past, but we're down to 50 or so for Sunday worship.

Instead of "just another adult Sunday School program", we are excited about using WMTRBW as the central church-wide focus for a year. It will be an opportunity for the church to know better whose it is and where it needs to go. Through this commitment, the future can be derived from the bottom up instead the top down. But at this stage, to some it looks scary and risky. It may be a step too far from our familiar words and traditions. It is considered by a few already to be too "progressive"

+++++
Another reader writes:

In the July 19 blog posting, Q & R: Church Recommendation?, I was excited to read the following:

“In the last 24 hours or so, I've learned of two churches that will be using We Make the Road by Walking for their 2014-2015 curriculum, a "learning circle" forming in the DC area, a college class that will be going through the book this semester, and some groups for incarcerated people. It's exciting to see!”

Indeed!

We also intend to use We Make the Road by Walking over the coming year at our church. The plan is to purchase a copy for each family to use at home throughout the week, as well as during Sunday worship. We are just starting to set out definite plans, but we intend to use the book with families, with small groups, and with the congregation as a whole (yes, intergenerationally!).

We would absolutely love to hear from other churches that are using We Make the Road by Walking as their 2014-2015 curriculum! Is there a way of getting in contact with them?

If it turns out that other congregations would be interested in joining us on this exciting adventure, please feel free to pass on my contact information.

I am a lay volunteer with special interests in worship design, music leadership, and youth ministry.

Thanks for these encouraging notes. The list of churches I'm aware of that are using the book keeps growing … and I know there are lots I've not heard about.

It's not too late to jump in and use the book for 2014-2015. You can start at Chapter 1 either August 31 or in early September, or you can start at Chapter 14 at the beginning of Advent (November 30).

I recently created a Facebook community page to help people share ideas and experiences using the book. You'll find it here:
https://www.facebook.com/wemaketheroadbywalking/timeline

I hope you'll post your questions and experiences there!

 

Q & R: A, B, or C? (solving a marital dispute!)

Here's the Q:

I know this is a long shot in ever getting this answered, but my wife and I have just had a spirited "discussion" for an hour and are not able to come to an agreement, and so I am writing to you for your opinion. My wife and I both respect your opinion, and have several of your books, in fact, I just picked up "You Make the Road by Walking" earlier today at Barnes and Noble. So I'm not just a fan, I'm a paying reader too.

Anyway, here goes; first, some background to my question:

My wife and I are both former members of a very large mega-church headquartered in Seattle, WA. While at this church, my wife and I suffered from what could be described as a form of spiritual abuse: very heavy-handed authoritarian leadership, a performance based approach to understanding Christianity, a consumer-minded approach to consuming Christian branded "products" put out by the church; and I could go on. We left almost 4 years ago, and have been processing our time there. I think I suffered more than my wife did, as I took more of what I absorbed to heart, whereas my wife filtered out much of the content she received as clearly crazy, and not worthy of consideration.

Lately, this church has been getting a lot of negative press, and many people have been coming forward criticizing the church on several fronts, from the way it handles money, to its perspective on gender roles, to an abusive culture of fear within the church leadership. Today, there is an organized protest at the church headquarters, people holding signs and placards and such. The protest intends to be peaceful, to gently engage churchgoers and encourage them to ask questions, but not to obstruct anyone who might want to worship, and not to break the law. The media has picked up on the protest and will likely be featured in the news, which is also part of the aim of the protest, namely, to get the media to look closer at money trails and such.

My wife and I agree that much of the negative aspects of this church are outworking of theological ideas the church holds to that should be questioned, we just disagree about the proper mode of questioning.

Now, for my question:

Would you say that if one's goal is to get the broader evangelical community to question and reconsider theology, the best method is:

a. To write books, such as yours, that engage theological ideas
b. To protest specific abuses that may be the result of the outworking of theological ideas, even if that protest is aimed at a local church, and not, say, a civil rights or legal abuse that occurs more in the public sphere
c. Both A and B
d. neither a, b, or c.

I say c, my wife says a.

If you read this (I know you are a busy guy) I thank you for your patience, and would appreciate a response on your thoughts on the matter, whenever you have a mind to.

Thanks for the work you are doing, my wife and I both think that it is extremely important to have your voice engaged with the Christian conversation during these interesting times. So I guess, that we can both agree on!


Here's the R:
OK, get ready …
I agree with your wife.
And with you.

I don't think people should thoughtlessly stage protests in front of churches. Which is why I agree with your wife. But sometimes, a church is getting away with something harmful, and after many attempts to deal with the issue privately, it may become necessary to deal with it publicly through a direct demonstration.

I'm actually involved with a group of people planning a demonstration like this right now. First, an impressive group of people has come together to request a time to talk with the pastor and leadership of a church that has a lot of power and is using this power to harm people we know and love. If the leaders are willing to meet, we'll report on the outcome of the meeting. I hope and pray there will be a good outcome.

If they're not willing to meet or if the outcome is negative, because the church in question is causing so much harm to so many people, we will then plan a public protest, which you should hear about next year.

So, in general, I think your wife is right. But in extreme circumstances, I think you're right. I hope that's helpful ...

 

Please stand and applaud ...

1. The organizers of #NMOS14 and especially the Faith Leaders of Ferguson who "prayed with their feet" … read about them here:
http://thinkprogress.org/home/2014/08/14/3471361/faith-groups-ferguson/?utm_content=buffercc9e2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

2. Vicky Beeching - read about her here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/vicky-beeching-star-of-the-christian-rock-scene-im-gay-god-loves-me-just-the-way-i-am-9667566.html

3. Paul Rauschenbusch - read his important piece on Ferguson and racism here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/what-white-people-can-do-_b_5675759.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

4. Michael Gungor - read about his bold and gracious response to recent criticism here:
http://biologos.org/blog/faith-after-literalism-an-interview-with-michael-gungor

 

Q & R: Are we ready for it?

Here's the Q:

I just finished reading Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, and am interested in doing this book as a small group study at a Methodist congregration. The study group has been ongoing for about 18 months, and each attendee seems pretty secure in their faith. The studies we have done in the past were more simplistic, and the questions didn't help us dig deeper. Basically, we looked up a question with a scripture reference in the Bible, and the answer was a direct quote from the scripture. It drove me crazy. But it turns out, everyone in the group desires a study that makes us think more, and dig deeper- which your book certainly does. I really want to help the Christian community have the conversations you propose in your book. Before reading your book, I struggled/ wrestled with each of the items you bring up in my own faith journey, and my family is interfaith- my brother and sister in law are Muslim. Ultimately, I reached many of the same conclusions after examining the very things you discuss in the book. I want to help Christians see the "others" in their lives- whether they are a different religion or not. I'm just not sure my small group is ready for your book yet or not. I'm afraid they may find it too shocking, or be turned off too early, and I'm a little nervous to stick my neck out. I would appreciate any suggestions for a small group, or if you have recommendations for other book titles to do instead that still discuss many of the doctrinal, liturgical, and missional questions.

Thank you for your time, and your commitment to interfaith dialogue.


Here's the R:
I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. Here's a thought. Why don't you explain the book - which would involve sticking your neck out. Tell them that you enjoyed it, and why, and then tell them you're worried that it might be too controversial for the group. You could then let them decide if they're ready for it. Maybe they are?

Another option would be to do some background work on how people read the Bible. Two options would be my new book - We Make the Road by Walking, or an older book, A New Kind of Christianity. The latter addresses the question of how we read the Bible very directly … and the former simply introduces people to a better way of reading the Bible than proof-texting (which I blogged about recently.)

 

For folks who care about green and clean energy ...

Here's some encouraging news.

 

Faith and Science in Evangelical Colleges

A recent article details the ongoing struggle of Evangelical colleges over the theory of evolution:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-james-clark/science-religion-christian-colleges_b_5565641.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

Beneath this struggle is biblical literalism, which was the conceptual womb of many Evangelical colleges. In the commentary to my most recent book We Make the Road by Walking, I call this the "innocent literal" approach. It is diametrically opposed to what I call "critical literal" approach. (I propose a different alternative altogether - a critical literary approach.)

Innocent (or naive) Biblical literalism lies behind several other struggles too, including:
- Inability or unwillingness to rethink sexual orientation in light of new biological, psychological, and sociological science, resulting in ongoing stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, including their own sons and daughters.

- Inability or unwillingness to address the science of global warming, which has staggering consequences for life on our planet.

- Inability or unwillingness to see beyond a facile good-guy/bad-guy typology of the Israel-Palestine situation, which results in a prolongation (even an apocalpyt-ization) of a conflict that needs to be resolved.

- Inability or unwillingness to grapple with full equality for women as well as men, nonChristians as well as Christians, people of all races and nationalities, etc.

Among Evangelicals, innocent literalism is typically called "a high view of Scripture." It is time for Evangelicals to realize that this is actually an immature view of Scripture. A critical literary approach takes the text in all its granularity more seriously and seeks meaning and truth in all the facets of the text. It is unafraid to ask any question or face any evidence. It takes seriously all dimensions of the text, including the evidence for how the compositions of Scripture evolved over time. It is, in this sense, a much "higher view."

It is time for Evangelical parents to realize that spending $50,000-100,000+ in lower forms of higher education for their daughters and sons is a bad investment. We need Christian colleges to defect from the innocent-literal approach and dare to actually educate. And we need a new nationwide campus ministry that will also dare to defect from that unhelpful approach. (More on that soon.)

Church leaders, college and university leaders, campus ministry leaders alike - higher education demands a higher view of Scripture than the innocent-literalism that currently holds the purse-strings and pulls the puppet-strings.

 

Free stuff and discounts

If you're not on my email list, please sign up ASAP. This weekend I'll be sending out an email with some promo codes for free stuff and discounts. Sign up here: http://a.pgtb.me/cGMg

 

Q & R: Does God desire losers?

Here's the Q:

I hope this email finds you well.

I recently read your book "Cross The Road" with great delight. It gave me hope that there are other people out there that feel similarly about religion.

I've been following your blog regarding the current conflict in the middle-east. I'm confused about something. How can you as a Christian talk about a win-win situation when that is not the will of God? I've been struggling to understand your concept. On one side we have the word of God:

Genesis 17:7-8 states: "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

On the other side you seem to support rabbi Siegman (a brave man!) who questions Israel's morality in this conflict. But isn't Israel simply claiming and defending what God promised? It seems clear to me that the bible leaves no doubt about the rightful owners of that land.

We can't have it both ways. My personal opinion/morality is in stark contrast with God's will in the OT, because I'm a firm believer that Palestinians also have the right to live there. How do you reconcile something that is mutually exclusive? I don't see how we can have a win-win situation given God's word.

I know you must be getting hundreds of emails each day, but I hope you may find 2 minutes to reply.


Here's the R:
What an important question!

I need to tell you something terribly important - and scary and unsettling for many: that way of reading the Bible - quoting a Bible verse in isolation to respond to a contemporary situation - has caused a lot of damage in the world. It is an irresponsible way to use the Bible, especially for an American. In our history, that way of using the Bible justified the slaughter and land theft of Native Americans, justified enslavement of kidnapped black Africans, justified segregation/apartheid and white privilege, justified the subjugation of women, justified the exploitation of the earth, and many other horrible things. It's called "proof-texting" - and it is a methodology that needs to be rejected once and for all, especially by people who love the Bible.

It's an abuse of the Bible and it needs to be left in the past, along with the injustices it was used to perpetuate.

That doesn't mean rejecting the Bible; it means rejecting one discredited way of using/abusing the Bible. I offer a better way of reading the Bible in my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

You're right - Genesis 17 says what you say. But it doesn't necessarily mean what you've been told it means. For starters, consider how you would interpret Genesis 17 in light of Deuteronomy 10 and Leviticus 19 and 26 … I wrote about those Scriptures here.

If you're a Christian, more importantly, how would you square using those verses to justify oppression of the Palestinians in light of Jesus' teaching - say, to do unto others as you would have them do to you, or to love your enemies, or to seek first God's restorative justice?

So - we may not be able to find a win-win solution if we only quote one verse - in isolation from the rest of the Bible. But if allow God to speak, not through one disconnected, out-of-context verse, but through the whole of Scripture, centered in the life and teaching of Christ … I think win-win solutions are possible.

If some of our ancestors didn't seek that alternative approach, we would still be quoting verses to justify slavery, apartheid, suppression of women, exploitation of the environment, and much more. (Oops. I guess some people still are using the Bible in these sad ways!) So - good news! You can still love the Bible without using it as a source for proof-texts.

 

The list keeps growing ...

AS of today I've heard from Mennonite, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Foursquare, Quaker, Baptist, Episcopal, Vineyard, UCC, and non-denominational churches that are planning to use We Make the Road by Walking for 2014-2015. There are also home groups, seminary classes, prison fellowships, campus ministries, lunch-hour groups at non-profits, campus ministries, and neighborhood reading groups planning to begin in a week or two. There is an amazing online resource showing how one family is using the book around the dinner table.

To explore what the book/curriculum could do for your group or congregation, check this out:
http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html

Also - there's a new Facebook page for readers and leaders working with the book. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/wemaketheroadbywalking/timeline

PS. You may have heard that Amazon and my publisher are in a spat, which means Amazon isn't being very helpful about selling the book or offering discounts. But you can get bulk orders at a discount from other booksellers here.

 

This week I'm in the Sierras in California ...

It's beautiful here - the setting, the spiritual retreat that I'm part of, the mountains, the people. But there's no escaping what's going on in the outside world.

The other day on a long drive in a rental car, I did something I seldom do: tuned into to AM talk radio. I heard a man named Michael Savage pontificate in ridiculous and threatening ways, using rhetoric that reminded me so much of George Wallace in my childhood ...

Then this morning I saw those same words from Wallace referenced in a piece on Gaza by my Jewish friend Mark Braverman, available here. He quotes Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's message to the family of the 1000 civilian victim in Gaza:

“I feel the urge today to make a pledge to you, which none of the Germans my father knew during the time of the Nazi regime was willing to make to him when the thugs committed genocide against his family. This is not much of a pledge at your moment of grief, but it is the best I can offer and saying nothing is not an option. And doing nothing is even less than an option.”

The whole article is worth reading, including the links, especially this very disturbing one, where this question is asked: "What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?" The article was pulled down, but like the rhetoric of George Wallace and Michael Savage, it indicates something desperate brewing beneath the surface. Another reason you should read Mark Braverman's piece and encourage others to do so.

PS. I later received this email from a South African friend, widow of a white leader who stood in the struggle against apartheid. Again, the links are worth following:

Joshua Bloomberg and his friends make me think back many years to when Beyers Naude - and my children - stood up against the injustice of their time.... as we should do against all injustice where-ever it may be.

Please join this campaign: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/humanity-retain-joshua-broomberg-as-deputy-head-boy-of-king-david-high-school-do-not-punish-him-because-he-stood-up-for-human-rights-in-palestine-as-petitioned-by-concerned-zionist?recruiter=17312153&utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

 

An Open Letter from Farid Esack

Turning the wall into a message board.

 

Want to understand the global economy?

This chart shows one dimension … GDP. But there are other important dimensions. More on them soon.

 

Q & R: False teachers?

Here's the Q:

Thank you Brian for all of your books, especially most important to me have been a generous orthodoxy and a new kind of christianity. Really looking forward to getting into WMTRBW as the year goes on.

I am wondering what you think false teachers are? There are several references in the letters in the NT warning about false teachers - what are they talking about? Does it apply in any way to us today? Thank you!


Here's the R:
Thanks for the kind words. Of course there are false teachers, and the warnings of the NT on the subject are as important today as ever.

Who are they? That depends on whom you ask. One group's prophet is another group's false prophet - one group's teacher is another group's false teacher.

In one sense, all teachers are false - in that nobody is perfectly right about everything. That's why one of the most important qualities in a trustworthy teacher is corrigibility - the willingness to learn, admit mistakes, think again … in a spirit of humility and teachability.

It's not just what a teacher says that matters: it's how they say it and how they live.

Jesus repeatedly taught that "by their fruits you shall know them," and James gave this sage advice about the qualities of a wise and trustworthy teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes…. Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for* those who make peace.

I've noticed in recent years that those who spend the most time identifying and attacking those they call "false teachers" often have a deficit of the qualities James commends … No wonder Jesus said, "Take heed how you hear."

 

Q & R: And?

Here's the Q:

I just finished reading A Generous Orthodoxy and was wondering if you were intentionally following Mark's example in ending your book on a conjunction. The work of building the Kingdom, after the shaky start in Mark 16:8, has only just begun.

Here's the R:
Yes. The idea was to emphasize the unfinished nature of "a generous orthodoxy." As you say, the great work has only just begun. Today's headlines remind us that there is much to do. We will make the road not by whining, worrying, talking, criticizing, or complaining … but only by walking forward in faith together. So ...

 

A New Facebook Page

for "We Make the Road by Walking" -

https://www.facebook.com/wemaketheroadbywalking/timeline

Please check it out and "like" it!

 

Q & R: Racial Reconciliation

Here's the Q:

I'd love to see you address racial reconciliation, particularly in the US; the civil rights movement started in a culture that was still steeped in modernism - so now what about racial reconciliation in a postmodern world? I think it needs a fresh look. And at the role of Christians as peacemakers and reconcilers - how best to fulfill that role in the case of the racial/socioeconomic/cultural divide. It is extraordinarily complex, of course, but it's also one of our primary callings as Christ followers.

Here's the R:
This is a truly important subject. I agree with my friend Frank Schaeffer - that on many levels, we are seeing a resurgence of (or exposure of latent) racism in these years with an African American president - Frank calls it "the slow-motion lynching of Barack Obama."

I recently read this article with lots of interesting (and significant) charts on the subject of race and equality:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html">http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html">http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html
You can draw several conclusions from the data:

1) Affluent blacks and Hispanics still live in poorer neighborhoods than whites with working class incomes.

2) There's a big disparity in wealth between white Americans and non-white Americans.

3) The racial wealth gap kept widening well after the Civil Rights era.

4) The Great Recession didn't hit everyone equally.

5) In the years before the financial crisis, people of color were much more likely to be targeted for subprime loans than their white counterparts, even when they had similar credit scores.

6) Minority borrowers are still more likely to get turned down for conventional mortgage loans than white people with similar credit scores.

7) Black and Latino students are more likely to attend poorly funded schools.

8) School segregation is still widespread.

9) As early as preschool, black students are punished more frequently, and more harshly, for misbehaving than their white counterparts.

10) Perceptions of the innocence of children are still often racially skewed.

11) White Americans use drugs more than black Americans, but black people are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites.

12) Black men receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than those of white men who committed similar crimes, a 2013 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.

13) A clean record doesn't protect young black men from discrimination when they're looking for work.

14) Black job seekers are often turned away by U.S. companies on the assumption that they do drugs.

15) Employers are more likely to turn away job seekers if they have African-American-sounding names.

Your comment about modern versus postmodern ways of grappling with race and equality is indeed fascinating. I will give this more thought, but here's one consideration.

As a modernist project, the Civil Rights movement worked "by the book" - i.e. it appealed to the nation's "sacred texts" and to the "unpaid note" they promised:

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This was and is a powerful line of argument - appealing to sacred authoritative texts, to the rationality of an economic transaction, etc. I would say that Dr. King also had some very "postmodern" lines of argument that were less transactional and more narrative. Referring to the Exodus narrative, for example, pressing on through the wilderness of prejudice towards the promised land of equality, has this ancient and postmodern feel.

To the degree that modernity appealed to "timeless truths" and postmodernity leans on evolutionary processes, today's civil rights message might ask questions like these:
What kind of future do we want?
Do we want a world where race, politics, and religion align to reinforce and inflame mutual fears and hostilities? Or do we dream of a world where differences are seen as advantages, where we learn from past mistakes, and where we strive for the common good?
Are human beings evolving/learning/maturing/growing beyond the racial prejudices of the past?

There is huge work for Christian theologians and preachers to do in this regard, since so many of our theologies and denominations were born or came of age in the age of colonialism, enslavement, and segregation/apartheid - and did little or nothing to oppose them. That's a big part of my instinct in writing We Make the Road by Walking - to help people read the Bible in a way that leads to reconciliation, mutual respect, diversity with equality, and more.

 

Q & R: Little Rock?

Here's the Q:

When and where will you be speaking in Little Rock, AR?

Here's the R:
September 26-28. You'll find info here:
http://i0.wp.com/www.sherwoodopendoor.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Fall-Conference-e1401321189951.jpg
Several of my favorite people will be there - it should be a splendid weekend!

 

Q & R: Where to Start?

Here's the Q:

Your response on Rachel's blog concerning progressive Christianity being a slow path the atheism struck a chord in me.

Not in the sense that I have stopped believing in God, but in that I have been in the middle of deconstructing the "God of the establishment" for a couple of years now and just feel confused and unsure about where to go from here.

It was simply a relief (after reading your response) to know that I wasn't the only one experiencing this.

I grew up in a conservative church and I am studying Bible at a conservative Christian college. None of my peers seemed to be experiencing what I was.

It started with deconstructing the God who punishes people for eternity and has gone all of the way through a deconstruction of the anti science God, and the inerrantist God, the penal substitution God (still working on that one), and a handful of other cluttered topics.

And I feel like I've lost all of the ways that were meaningful to me in the beginning of my faith of relating to God and understanding purpose and what it means to be human in God's world.

Having always planned on doing ministry, and with two years of school left, there's quite a bit of anxiety about how my faith is going to be formed and molded from here and what that means about my future (relationships, the rest of my time in school, career).

Could you possibly offer some words of encouragement and maybe some more resources from people who have experienced similar things….

I would like to read your work, but don't really know where to start. Would you recommend a particular order of your books that might be helpful for someone in my spot?

Rachel and people like Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, and Peter Enns have been particularly formative so far.

Thank you for your time,


Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I'm so glad Rachel Held Evans is doing her good work out there - she is a lifeline for so many people. And of course the same is true for Rob Bell, N. T. Wright, Peter Enns, and many others.

I just read a manuscript for a new book that will be out soon by Kathy Escobar. I think you will find Faith Shift super helpful.

Of my works, here's what I'd recommend:
1. Secret Message of Jesus and/or A New Kind of Christian
2. A New Kind of Christianity (this is more theological in tone)
3. We Make the Road by Walking (my newest - especially relevant to "relating to God and understanding purpose and what it means to be human in God's world")

Be assured - you are not alone, and better days are ahead!

 

The greatest threat to Christianity is ...

misguided Christians, just as the greatest threat to Islam is misguided Muslims and the greatest threat to Judaism is misguided Jews. Religious insiders can do harm to their religion in ways that outsiders never could. This is especially true in a pluralistic world, where religions are credible to the degree they bring benefits to outsiders.

My friend Rabbi Michael Lerner explains why, in poignant reflections on the current situation in Israel-Palestine, here:
http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/mourning-for-a-judaism-being-murdered-by-israel

 

Turtle Island

As we watch the heartbreak of Israelis and Palestinians struggling over land, security, freedom, the past, and the future … it's a good time to remember that similar struggles happened in North America - or Turtle Island. So much of the story of struggle here has been suppressed or forgotten, which is why this video is so worth your time.

 

A Lamentation for Gaza and Israel

I posted this over on my Facebook page:

A lamentation for Gaza from Rabbi Brant Rosen: http://rabbibrant.com/2014/08/01/for-tisha-bav-a-lamentation-for-gaza/

In the comments, my Jewish friend Mark Braverman (jewishconscience) responds with this excerpt from his powerful book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fatal Embrace:
+++++
In response I also want to share a passage from my book, Fatal Embrace. This recounts my Tisha B’av of 8 years ago, the summer I went to the West Bank.
“My last night in Palestine that summer fell on the ninth of Av, a Jewish day of fasting and mourning, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple of Solomon and the beginning of the exile of the Jews two thousand years ago. The book of Lamentations, a source text for our liturgy of mourning, attributed by tradition to the prophet Jeremiah, is chanted that night. It is a harrowing description of a people fallen and traumatized.
Jerusalem has greatly sinned
Therefore has she been made a mockery. All who admired her despise her
For they have seen her disgraced.
Panic and pitfall are our lot,
Death and destruction.
My eyes shed streams of water
Over the brokenness of my poor people. (Lam. 1:8, 4:46–48; author’s translation)
On that night, I sat on a hill overlooking the Old City, in the company of congregations of praying Jews, mostly American émigrés worshiping, I felt, at the shrine of their Jerusalem—a Jerusalem “reclaimed” at the expense of the Palestinian people; a Jerusalem that for Palestinians is also a spiritual and political center; a Jerusalem that is being taken from them street by street, farm by farm, village by village. I stood on that hill and chanted the words as I had every year on this day, descriptions of starvation, rape, slaughter, destruction of homes, and banishment from the land, and, for the life of me, I could apply the words only to the Palestinians. In these words, I now felt their suffering. And my eyes shed streams of water for them, my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and yes, for the brokenness of my own people.”
Hamakom y’nachem otanu b’toch sh’ar avlei Zion v’Yerushalim.
+++++

In contrast to these empathetic and humane Jewish voices of lamentation, there other voices calling for something very close to genocide, mirroring the horrible extremist rhetoric of their opponents in Hamas. See this …
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/25/israel-far-right-gaza-moshe-feiglin_n_5621667.html
and this:
http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2014-07-21/calls-for-genocide-enter-israeli-mainstream/

Words from my 2012 release come to mind: "We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence" (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? p. 12). Those words might be paraphrased as follows: Human hostilities tend to accelerate and intensify until we are faced with the ultimate choice between reconciliation and genocide.

Or this: Human hostilities tend to accelerate and intensify until we must choose between reconciliation and mutually-assured destruction, which is a form of mutual self-destruction, or joint suicide. The words "Choose life" take on new meaning.

 

Teaching Kids to Walk

A reader writes (regarding using my new book, We Make the Road by Walking, as a curriculum for VBS) ...

I am so excited! Last Sunday, I tested the Walking VBS curriculum with a group of children [from our church]. The group was small and all of the children were under 8-which scared me at first. I had thought the curriculum would work best with children in 5th grade and above. I was blown away by their reaction.

We did a modified version of Chapter One. The kids loved the response prayers and I added a movement prayer to help with the wiggles. The children read the scripture. (I will admit that I modified it a little for ease of reading. Not my most scholarly move but in the interest of storytelling I did it.) They enjoyed that. The teaching part was more than they could listen to in the hour time. I think given a longer time period, they would have no trouble listening. The problem was not having enough time to process between scripture and lesson. I did modify the lesson for them. (I found that only slightly less intimidating than changing scripture :) )

The parents and their teacher were so impressed that they have been calling all week to prepare for Sunday's lesson. In the full VBS flow, we start with week 1 and then jump to chapter 27, 30, and 31. Day 5 is set aside as a mission in action day. The church will chose a mission where the children will be active participants. For tomorrow, we will be doing chapter 30. I streamlined it considerably because I want the children to have time to serve communion to one another. We got special permission for this from their church.

This has been a wonderful experiment so far. And, just so you know, there are two other churches who are interested in helping with field testing.

I'm very excited to hear about this as well … I'll keep folks informed via this website as this project develops.

 

Israel, Gaza, Sanity, and Insanity (Part 3)

"When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success." - Rabbi Henry Siegman

It's easy to get depressed reading some of the comments (over on my Facebook page) to my previous two postings on this subject. They make the above quote from a leading American rabbi all the more impressive. I encourage readers to listen to his entire interview, here.

In any win-lose scenario, neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a chance for what they both truly want and need - which is peace, security, freedom, and the chance to build sustainable prosperity for themselves and their descendants, in peace with their neighbors. In other words, short-term win-lose scenarios are long-term lose-lose scenarios. The long-term well-being of each is bound up with the well-being of the other.

That is true for all of us, which is an insight captured both in the African term "ubuntu" and in the central image of Jesus' message, "the kingdom/commonwealth of God."

More from Rabbi Siegman:

And I have always asked myself, and this has a great deal to do with my own changing views about the policies of governments, not about the Jewish state qua Jewish state, but of the policies pursued by Israeli governments and supported—you know, they say Israel is a model democracy in the Middle East, so you must assume—the public has to assume some responsibility for what the government does, because they put governments in place. So, the question I ask myself: What if the situation were reversed? You know, there is a Talmudic saying in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers: "Al tadin et chavercha ad shetagiah lemekomo," "Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place." So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?
What if the situation were reversed, and the Jewish population were locked into, were told, "Here, you have less than 2 percent of Palestine, so now behave. No more resistance. And let us deal with the rest"? Is there any Jew who would have said this is a reasonable proposition, that we cease our resistance, we cease our effort to establish a Jewish state, at least on one-half of Palestine, which is authorized by the U.N.? Nobody would agree to that. They would say this is absurd. So the expectations that Palestinians—and I’m speaking now about the resistance as a concept; I’m not talking about rockets, whether they were justified or not. They’re not. I think that sending rockets that are going to kill civilians is a crime. But for Palestinians to try, in any way they can, to end this state of affair—and to expect of them to end their struggle and just focus on less than 2 percent to build a country is absurd. That is part of—that’s propaganda, but it’s not a discussion of either politics or morality.

 

And now for something amazing …

The Stonecypher family has been working through We Make the Road by Walking - and John is making his amazing playlists and videos available with commentary … here:
http://www.geekedoutsoul.com/2014/07/30/week-5-in-over-our-heads-we-make-the-road-with-kids/

 

Israel, Gaza, Sanity, and Insanity (Part 2)

In a previous post, I tried to address an important issue: that we need to address our precritical approaches to the conflict. If our line of approach is misguided, we will find it easier to be unhelpful. If we repeat conventional polarized/paralyzed rhetoric about the conflict, we will intensify misunderstanding and contribute to the descending spiral of violence … violence that escalates in nightmarish ways.

People on each side of the conflict tend to see their counterpart as intellectually inferior (using words like "insane" or "irrational") and morally flawed. Religious people frequently use the Bible to justify this kind of pre-judgment. (In my most recent book, We Make the Road by Walking, I offer a way of reading the Biblical story that undermines prejudice and leads towards peacemaking.) Thus God is brought in to accuse one side and protect the other.

Any conflict that is addressed from such premises has little chance of being resolved.

Is there another alternative - to consider at least - in the pursuit of a resolution that doesn't involve mass killing?

If we begin with this starting point:
Israel and Palestine are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.

And if we proceed to ask this question:
In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make the most sense?

I think we could consider two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Israel is traumatized and determined. The Jewish people have suffered so much oppression at the hands of anti-Semitic Christians and others through the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, that they are determined to create a lasting homeland where the Jewish people will be safe forever. In order to achieve that goal, they must accomplish two objectives:
A. To continue the occupation long enough so that settlements can continue to spread, thus rendering impossible any hopes of a Palestinian state that has refused to accept their existence.

B. To preserve their status - in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their main benefactor, the US - as a morally-superior nation. Doing so requires justifying the occupation and the expansion of settlements, minimizing any errors that are made in doing so, launching campaigns to overcome threats, and maximizing the impression that the Palestinians deserve what they're getting.

Hypothesis 2. Palestine is desperate and determined. They have lived under varying degrees of occupation, oppression, invasion, surveillance, and un-freedom for decades. They are utterly out-gunned by Israel, and well-funded Israeli lobbies out-spend them in molding public opinion in the US as well. Their prospects for freedom, dignity, and an improvement in their basic life conditions are slim even if they pretend that the taking of their homeland never happened. The international community is likely to tacitly allow their situation to continue to deteriorate.

Faced with such bleak prospects, the Hamas party routinely launches rocket attacks. The objective of these attacks is not to "win" in a military conflict. The objective is two-fold:

A. To be sure the world doesn't simply forget them and normalize their oppression, which tends to occur whenever they are not firing rockets.

B. To tempt Israel to over-react, so that Israel's moral superiority would then be questioned, thus opening the possibility that world public opinion will shift and their situation may change.

In light of those two hypotheses, the actions of both nations seem to follow a certain kind of logic, rendering each side sane and moral in its own eyes, and insane and immoral in the eyes of the other.

By that logic, every action of each party is paradoxical. On the one hand, the rockets fired from Gaza help Hamas be sure that the Palestinian occupation won't be normalized and their suffering forgotten. But those same rockets help Israelis defend the occupation, justify the expansion of settlements, and demonstrate the moral inferiority of their opponents.

Similarly, the killing of civilians by the Israeli military can be used by Israelis to display the moral inferiority of those who use their wives and children as human shields, while helping the Gazans by demonstrating Palestinian victimhood and undermining the claim of Israeli moral superiority.

Where will this lead? Nowhere good, I would say, unless and until some other logic - the creative logic of nonviolent peacemaking and conflict transformation - enters the equation.

That is why those of us outside the region should defect from the predictable, conventional logic and rhetoric that sustain the status quo of violence, hostility, and death and seek another approach … a higher logic of shalom/salaam/peace and justice, which a Palestinian Jewish teacher named Jesus called "the reign of God." Seek it first, he said, and everything else will fall into place. (Part 3 will follow in a day or two.)

 

Q & R: Why not Hinduism?

Here's the Q:

Thank you for writing "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?" In it I think you address one of the most important issues of our day. Why did you not include Hinduism, the other of the five major living religions?

Here's the R:
You're right. Christianity in its many diverse forms accounts for about 33% of the world's population, Islam for about 21-24%, and Hinduism comes in next with about 17%. (It is about "tied" with secular or nonreligious at this point in history.) So it is truly important, and I wasn't intending to snub the religion in any way by not including it in the title.

The main reason it's not included is a practical one: there isn't one single historical figure who can be associated with Hinduism as Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, or Muhammed can be associated with Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam.

Second, the main focus of the book, as you know, is Christian identity. It's not an attempt to explain other religions or even assess the state of Christian dialogue with other religions - both of which are topics I'm very interested in. The book's focus is on exploring the roots of religious hostility and violence - both of which are terribly live issues in today's world, as evidenced by this week's headlines.

I'm always grateful for opportunities to interact with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious believers, as well as nonbelievers, over issues of justice, peace, sustainability, and conviviality. At the same time, I'm generally focused on helping Christians deal with the planks in our own eyes, not the splinters in the eyes of others.

So thanks for your question, and for the chance to affirm that no slight was intended. (I had a similar issue with my book A Generous Orthodoxy. Lutherans wondered why they didn't get a chapter like the Methodists, Reformed, Episcopalians, and others did. Similarly - no slight intended!)

By the way, I just learned that the kindle version of "Cross the Road" is on sale at Amazon for $1.99. More information here:
http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Moses-Buddha-Mohammed-Cross-ebook/dp/B007BGQ9OW/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1330483196

 

Israel, Gaza, Insanity and Sanity (Part 1)

This is not a post about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.

This is a post about how the rest of us talk about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.

Conventional discourse on the subject goes like this:

X is right, good, values life, wants peace, is a victim, and is sane. Y is wrong, bad, doesn't value life, doesn't want peace, is a villain, and is insane.

Then, data is selected and presented (and other data ignored or discredited) to prove the proposition.

I suppose the goal is to prove that whichever is deemed the right, good, life-valuing, peace-loving, victimized and sane party has the right to continue killing the other.

Which seems ridiculous and tragic, when you think about it.

Another approach to the issue would say:

Both X and Y are a mix of right and wrong, good and bad, valuing some life more than others, acting sometimes as victims and sometimes as villains, and a mixture of sanity and insanity. They aren't necessarily morally equivalent, but neither is to exempted from moral assessment."

What would be the advantages of starting from this alternative perspective rather than the conventional one?

A further possibility would be to say:

X and Y are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.

That third possibility would raise this question:

In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make sense?

I'd like to offer a few thoughts on that question in a day or two. But for now, I hope people will at least consider defecting from the prevailing good-guys/bad-guys mode of discourse. It gets us nowhere we want to be.

 

Q & R: Incremental or ???

Here's the Q:

I read your article on homophobic zones and was wondering your thoughts on extending that idea to other theological issues. I attend a chuch that believes (in no particular order):

-Penal Substitutionary atonement
-The six-line narrative soul-sort
-premillenial dispensationalism
-women should be excluded from serving as elders.

So if you were trying to order those from 1-4, how would you order them? In other words, if I say I think all of those are wrong-headed, folks like me get dismissed all at once, but if someone were to question say the six-line narrative in the context of PSA, ("Sure Jesus died to appease the angry father, but he paid the penalty for *everyone's* sin.") we could help folks move out of the six-line narrative zone, even if they stay in the PSA zone.

Do you see what I'm trying to ask here?


Here's the R:
In many spheres of life, there is a debate between gradualism/incrementalism and more radical, sudden, decisive change. If you're asking whether or not I'm for gradualism in general, I'd actually say no. I'm for all the positive, constructive change toward justice, peace, and compassion that anyone or any group can handle, as fast as they can sustainably handle it.

But the truth is that few people seem to be ready to handle a lot of change fast … even when they need to. "People only change when the pain of not changing surpasses the pain of changing," the old saying goes, and sadly, it usually seems to be the case.

As with many things, when the choice is between gradualism and radical change, I think the answer is both/and. Here's why.

Most if not all of our ideas are held in systems or paradigms. People seldom abandon a paradigm quickly or easily. What most often happens is that they accept minor tweaks or adjustments to the paradigm, trying to save it as long as possible.

Eventually, they end up with so many amendments that they decide the whole constitution needs to be rewritten, so to speak. They stop trying to patch the old leaky boat and try to construct a new one. (The "Ship of Theseus" parable comes to mind.) At that point, more radical new alternatives come into view.

So … people may question literal 6-day creation without questioning the 6-line narrative I've written about. Or they may revise their view on women in ministry (or homosexuality) without rethinking the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I'm for gradual or incremental rethinking that leads people into more just, compassionate, or peaceful ways of life.

But ultimately, I think the changes we need in the Christian community (and many Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, Capitalists, Communists, and others would say something similar about their various communities) are ultimately on the paradigmatic level. That's the "new wineskin" that is demanded, ultimately, by "new wine."

It's interesting to think of the four gospels as proposing a radical new paradigm, and then to read the Epistles as various attempts to grapple with what that will mean in relation to any number of individual issues.

Of the issues you mentioned, the narrative question is the most paradigmatic one. If people rethink that issue (as I tried to explain in A New Kind of Christianity), all the other issues will necessarily be reconsidered.

My new book, We Make the Road by Walking, proposes a whole new paradigm, rooted in the Bible and flowing out into a fresh vision of just about everything.

 

On Gaza, Israel, Netanyahu, Moral Superiority, and Being Human

"And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing."
- Gabor Mate, Jewish survivor of Nazi genocide

Mate says:

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.
One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”
“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded.

More here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/07/22/beautiful_dream_of_israel_has_become_a_nightmare.html

 

A death, the theoretic, and a poem ...

My friend Jason Derr sent me this:

Over the weekend liberation theologian Rubem Alves - founder of the theopoetic - passed away. He was 80. His book 'The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet' is a beautiful study on language, imagination and religion. I like to say that it is would have happened if Allen Ginsberg (beat poet, writer of 'Howl') were to write theology.

Here is Alves' poem "Tomorrow’s Children"

What is hope? It is a presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is a hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress is not the last word. It is a suspicion that reality is more complex than realism wants us to believe and that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual and that in a miraculous and unexpected way life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…. The two, suffering and hope, live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair, hope without suffering creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness…. Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret discipline. It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved in immediate sense experience and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.

Source: “Tomorrow’s Children” from Hijos de Maoana, by Rubem Alves.
Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Sigueme, 1976.

 

Q & R: How do you respond to N. T. Wright?

Here's the Q:

First, let me say how instrumental your work has been for me personally. Books like The Secret Message of Jesus and A New Kind of Christianity have forever shaped my life and ministry, and I'm exceedingly grateful for that.

Second, I feel "stuck in conservative Christianity" as I watch and listen to you and others like Rob Bell and Adam Hamilton embrace a Christian position that embraces faithful, monogamous homosexual lifestyles. I consider myself fairly open to those biblical arguments that push to legitimatize faithful and love-filled homosexuality. In fact, I even offer to some of my friends better arguments than they have that push in that direction. But alas, I still find myself unconvinced.

I believe and hope I'm that person that truly loves and values those who are homosexual, wanting always to seek their good. I even know and have family members who embrace this lifestyle, and I truly think they know that I am for them and for God's best in their lives. But still, in the end, I'm one of those Christians that can't seem yet to accept any line of argument that endorses such behavior as God's best or desire for humanity. I really wish I could.

Like you, I'm hugely influenced by N. T. Wright, who, as you know, also has yet to allow space for God-condoned homosexual behavior. I know your admiration for him remains, but I wonder how you would articulate such respect. On one level, I feel deeply connected with those of the "Brian McLaren ilk"—if I could put it hat way—but on another level, I feel disconnected due to this issue. What would you say to someone like me or Wright on this particular issue knowing there's disagreement but a large degree of affinity? How would you encourage our continued camaraderie as fellow Christians who share so much in common and yet diverge on this particular point?

Thank you in advance for whatever insights you offer here.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I know that many people feel exactly as you do. In terms of a four-zone schema I've written about, you are articulating Zone 3, and you're uncomfortable about Zone 4.

You're right - I've expressed a lot of admiration for Tom Wright. His work played a big role in helping me see the New Testament and the gospel in a new, brighter, bolder, more expansive light. I'll always be grateful to him for that. I've not paid a lot of attention to his writings or statements on LGBT issues recently, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see these issues differently. That's fine with me. We're in different contexts, prioritizing different goals, balancing and negotiating different limitations and concerns and constituencies. None of us agree on everything, none of us can excel and do everything, and I think we all appreciate others for helping us in some ways, even if we don't agree the others.

Some of my friends differ with me on this, but I'm glad that Zone 2 people provide a more humane alternative to Zone 1 people, and I'm glad Zone 3 people provide a more humane alternative to Zone 2 people, and of course I'm glad Zone 4 people provide a more human alternative to Zone 3 people.

One more thing. I want to respond to this statement:

I even know and have family members who embrace this lifestyle, and I truly think they know that I am for them and for God's best in their lives. But still, in the end, I'm one of those Christians that can't seem yet to accept any line of argument that endorses such behavior as God's best or desire for humanity. I really wish I could.

First, when you speak of people "who embrace this lifestyle," you are making assumptions that I would encourage you to question. For example, I don't think people "embrace the left-handed lifestyle," nor do I think people "embrace the extraverted lifestyle," nor do I think people "embrace the homosexual lifestyle." I think left-handers, extraverts, and LGBT people can hide who they are - "in the closet." But being who they are isn't "embracing a lifestyle." The fact is, there is no single LGBT lifestyle. I hope you'll give that matter a second thought.

Second, the idea of "God's best for their lives" is a more problematic concept than you may have considered. When men tell women "what's God's best for their lives," when whites tell people of color "what's God's best for their lives," when married people tell singles "what's God's best for their lives" and so on, I think we should be very cautious. Same when straight people tell LGBT people "what's God's best for their lives." These things don't often turn out well. I'm not trying to be critical - just to respond to your request for feedback. I hope it's helpful.

 

How (parts of) the Church Will Change on Homosexuality

I was invited to be part of a panel on LGBT human rights recently. I shared a four-zone schema for understanding religious responses to the reality that something like 3-6% of human beings turn out to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered.

1. Promote violence against and stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
2. Oppose violence but uphold stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
3. Oppose violence and seek to reduce stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
4. Oppose violence and replace stigmatization with equality and dignity in the name of God and religion.

I was remembering in recent days something a little less clinical and a little more personal. For many years I was an Evangelical pastor firmly in Zone 3 on the question of LGBT identity and equality. I didn't know that some members of my immediate family were gay. I hadn't taken any kind of public stand (either way) on the issue. I recall some barely-articulated thoughts and feelings from that time. I'm not proud of these memories, but I hope other pastors and Christian leaders might be helped if I try to articulate them roughly in their order of appearance:

1. It's fine if gay people want equal rights in the secular world, but why do they have to disturb the church? Why can't gay people just be satisfied with being "out" and accepted in society? Why can't they just be satisfied with civil unions? Why do they keep pushing? Don't they know how hard this is for religious communities? Can't they be more patient? Ministry is hard enough without having to deal with this on top of everything else.

2. Oh no. This issue isn't going away. My congregation is going to have to deal with it. Let's see … if we stay the same, we'll lose maybe 4% of our people who are fired up about this issue. If we change, we'll lose maybe 40% of the people…. Maybe someday, but we can't change yet. The cost is too high.

3. The way I've been thinking about this (see #1 and #2) sounds a lot like the way the previous generation dealt - or failed to deal - with race and desegregation. Isn't that why Dr. King wrote "Why We Can't Wait" in 1964? Am I like a segregationist in 1964? In my seemingly daring compromises - "accepting but not affirming," members but not leaders, civil unions not marriages - am I simply creating Jim Crow laws for LGBT people? If discrimination is wrong, and if it's been going on for millennia, and if 3+% of the population is suffering, why wouldn't I be willing to take some risks and take some heat? Instead of asking, "Why can't gay people be more patient?" - I should be asking, "Why can't church leaders like me be more courageous?"

4. I've changed my view. I now support LGBT equality. But if I go public with that change, my colleagues will simply think I've capitulated to "the world" or "the culture." They'll accuse me of compromise, liberalism, and all that. I'll be completely written off by the people of my heritage. I wonder how long I can stay incognito and quietly work for change from the inside?

5. Oh well. It was bound to happen. I've been "outed" as someone whose view has changed. Now I'll have to deal with the consequences. But thank God, my conscience hasn't felt this clean and clear for a long time! Why did it take me so long?

My guess is that thousands of Catholic and Evangelical priests and pastors are thinking thoughts like these. Sadly, self-interest and institutional ego can easily trump humane compassion for LGBT people and their families. Perhaps these words from Dr. King will help stir the conscience of my fellow Christians who share the same background and world view in which I was raised …

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim…when you see the vast majority of twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you…when…your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

I'm not trying to say that the struggle for gay equality is exactly the same as the struggle for civil rights or that all who experience discrimination experience the same degree of pain. It's never wise to compare the suffering of one group to another.

But I am saying there is a common struggle within priests and pastors to acknowledge reality and respond appropriately when they and their congregations are on the wrong side of justice … whether regarding women's equality, gay equality, equality for Palestinians, the atrocities of colonialism, latent racism and white privilege, silence over environmental destruction, carelessness about the poor and systemic economic injustice, and a host of other issues. It's not easy to adjudicate wisely between concerns for personal or professional comfort, the needs of others, institutional survival and health, and justice … whichever side of this issue one is on.

 

To brighten your outlook for the week ahead ...

Wisdom and beauty and joy from my friend Bob Jackson:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzikvK1WRCc

 

Q & R: Church recommendation?

Here's the Q;

For the last 9 years, my husband and I have been working as youth pastors at a large evangelical church in the Northeast. But as we've spent the last 3 years diving together into the thoughts and writings of a number of progressive and emergent Christian leaders, such as yourself (thank you, by the way!), we've been increasingly interested in experiencing new ways of doing church and thinking about the church's mission. However, as youth pastors, there really hasn't been a way for us to do that. We don't even get to attend our own church on Sunday mornings, let alone experiment with others. :)

This summer, we are moving to [a new city] to take new jobs in a nonprofit organization. For the first time in our marriage, we won't be working at a local church... which means we have some freedom to explore new expressions of the church. We're really excited about it.

So. My question. Do you know of any progressive or emergent churches in this area you would recommend for a young couple with no kids? Or do you know of anyone in the area who might? We are coming from a fairly typical nondenominational evangelical church. We're not sure exactly what we're looking for in a church, but we'd love to explore and try new things. :)

Any ideas? Thanks so much for your time and for your voice!

PS: I've been mentoring a crew of college-aged girls since they were 10 years old, and they talked with you for a while back in April when you spoke here. Maybe you remember them? They loved your talk and conversation afterward. We'll be diving into WMTRBW together starting in a couple of weeks. :)

Here's the R:
First, thanks for the encouraging words. I'm so glad my books have been helpful.

Your question about finding a church is one I hear often. As more and more Evangelical (and Catholic) churches hold firm or double down with a kind of fierce conservatism, more and more moderate and progressive Evangelicals (and Catholics) feel they don't fit.

Often they end up in Mainline Protestant churches - Episcopal, UCC, DoC, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. In addition, some Evangelical and charismatic churches are changing - becoming less fearful and more accepting of science (relating to evolution and global warming and sexual orientation), more committed to social justice, more reflective and less rigid theologically. There are websites that help people locate churches that are committed to LGBT equality, for example … Some of these groups, like The Fellowship, are forming networks that make them easier to find.

But I think we're all still waiting for a multi-dimensional church locator site that brings together a number of qualifications - welcoming and affirming, committed to peace-making, poverty-reduction, and planet-care, and committed to vibrant spirituality and worship, for example. (Some friends of mine are working on this right now - stay tuned.)

I hope that general guidance will help you in your search.

Thanks also for telling me about the group of college students you've been mentoring. Yes, I remember this enthusiastic and energetic bunch … and I'm thrilled they'll be using the new book.

In the last 24 hours or so, I've learned of two churches that will be using We Make the Road by Walking for their 2014-2015 curriculum, a "learning circle" forming in the DC area, a college class that will be going through the book this semester, and some groups for incarcerated people. It's exciting to see!

 

Today. Tomorrow.

Today I read this, about yesterday.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/18/aids-researchers-fighting-to-save-lives-struck-down-in-ukraine-crash/?hpid=z2
(My son-in-law is in the picture - part of the AIDs organization to which the victims were traveling.)

And today I received this, about tomorrow.

It was accompanied by this:

Joel the Aussie Red head poet here. Just thought I'd flick you this new film clip of mine as I thought you might be interested and also because it was really you who was able to put into words for me the concept of the coming new creation when I had no words for it. I had grown up in a conservative, evangelical church and the idea of God's holistic redemption was totally foreign. But 'The Story We Find Ourselves In' was the first time, as a late teen, that I really began to see how holistic God's dream for his world is. Anyways- just wanted to thankyou! Hope you enjoy....

This is where we walk … between yesterday and tomorrow.

 

A Reformed elder writes ...

A reader writes:

I just read book 3 of the NKOC-trilogy.
The first and second instalment of the trilogy did appeal to me, but more in an intellectual way. Somehow I couldn't connect to the more personal/emotional level within the narratives.

In the 3rd book, the character Pat wrote some poems that struck me, like lightning. Like a total surprise I was in tears, while not being able to grasp their cause. The poems comforted me, made me pray after a very long time. Asking questions to the one I call God.

Can I love God again. Can I trust him. Can I truly believe He loves me? Loves my children? Can I really trust Him the life of my children? With all the worries I have about their social and emotional development?

No answers came, but comfort did.

I grew up in a strict calvinist/reformed ilk of dutch christianity. My family and I are still part of a reformed church. Allthough I feel a connection to my local church, especially the people. Somehow I seem to have questions about everything we stand for. I'm not able to share them. Everyone seems to get annoyed and/or uneasy when I try to express them. I'm even an elder, so I should confirm everything we stand for. But no brother or sister seems to understand why I find it so hard to pray. Why I'm not on fire for Jesus. It's like I'm always on the road towards answers, never resting.

Thanks for meeting me 'on the road'.

Thanks for writing. I felt the character Pat was very important in that book, and you're one of the first readers who have written me about Pat or Pat's poems. It means a lot to me that you noticed this element of the book - and that you felt it helpful. Again, thanks. May you find the Spirit of Christ walking with you on the road.

 

A 71 year-old reader writes about the Trinity

A reader writes:

I just read the post from the young Irish man who said how you have stretched his imagination. I want to give a hearty “second” to that and share something how, beginning with “A New Kind of Christianity” you have stretched my imagination and helped me get out of my “Spiritual Rut”.

I am 71 years old and grew up Roman Catholic. Having just celebrated Trinity Sunday, my mind went back to the days when I was an altar boy (yes, I had to learn the prayers in Latin). There was a little pamphlet in the magazine rack in back of the church titled “Between Heaven and Earth”. On the front was an illustration. Hovering in the clouds were God the Father (stereotypical – old, long white beard), Jesus on his right side (instantly recognizable because it looked just like the statue of the Sacred Heart), and hovering between them and the dome of St. Peters Basilica was the dove of the Holy Spirit.

For many years, my idea of “Trinity” was that it was something existing “out there” and totally academic thought up by theologians long ago and far away.

Upon reflection, I am coming to the realization that our belief in a triune God is a lot more than an intellectual construct, and a lot closer to my everyday life.

I have started grappling with the notion that God is indeed three – God totally transcendent, totally “other”, totally unknowable; God incarnate, fully revealed in Jesus to be sure, but also incarnate in all of Creation (including you and me); and God relational between transcendence and incarnational – the Holy Spirit. I can’t understand it, I just “know” it. It works for me. I am not sure if I’m onto something or if I’m in a blind alley constructed of my own ignorance, but I did want to share the insight with someone I trust and respect.

Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I remember as I was writing my new book, We Make the Road by Walking, that I wondered how and where I would address the Trinity. The book is an overview of the Bible, and since the word "trinity" never occurs in the Bible, I could have passed the subject by. But the book is also a "catechesis" for Christian faith, and Trinity is deeply important to Christian history and faith. True, the doctrine has been abused in many ways - not the least of which was to animate hostility to Jews and Muslims who do not believe in the Trinity. And as your pamphlet illustrated, it is often explained or depicted in ways that create more misunderstanding and confusion than awe and worship.

But like you, I believe there is a deep truth and beauty in the healing teaching of the Trinity. I tried to capture some facets of that truth and beauty in Chapter 45, Spirit of Unity and Diversity, in the new book. Here's a quote from the chapter:

This all sounds highly speculative but it was a sincere attempt to put into words the radical way they were rethinking and freshly experiencing God in the aftermath of their experience of Jesus. By God's parental love, through Christ's beautiful life, death, and resurrection, and through the Holy Spirit, they felt that they had been caught up into this divine communion themselves. God could never again be for them a distant, isolated One to whom they were "the other." Now they knew God as a dynamic and hospitable one-another in whom they lived, moved, and had their being. The Trinity described how they experienced God "from the inside."

… This healing teaching began unleashing a revolution that is still unfolding today in at least five distinct but related ways.

Those five transformations make up the heart of the chapter. Again, thanks for writing.

 

Q & R: Niebuhr's famous quote - Part 2

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. I continue to appreciate your facebook postings. They are always thought provoking. I also appreciate your efforts to build bridges between different points of view. As I look at theological trends, especially of mainline protestantism, I am reminded of a quote from H Richard Niebuhr, descibing his assessment of liberal theology. He writes, "a God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a ministry of a Christ without a cross." I would like to hear your response to this. From what you have seen, do Niebuhr's concerns apply to today?

(Continued from last week)
Niebuhr, as I understand him, was trying to forge a middle way between the kind of soft and shallow liberalism exemplified in the quote and the kind of religious conservatism of which he was no friend. He saw Barth, among others, as a trailblazer of that third path.

I think my work and that of many of my friends has a lot of resonance with this desire for a new path. There are important differences too. Like them, right wing Christianity isn't an option for us, but we also see strengths and values there. Like them, we see that traditional Protestantism suffers from a lack of clarity and energy. Unlike them, we would probably see institutional apathy more the problem in the Mainline Protestant (MLP) world than an excessive commitment to "the social gospel."

The MLP world has changed a lot since 1937, its "social gospel" leanings being modified by WWII and the postwar suburbanization of America, by women's rights and civil rights, and over the last 40 years, by severe retention problems with younger generations and the rise of the religious right and megachurch.

So let me respond personally to each of Niebuhr's "withouts":

1. a God without wrath - The word "wrath" raises two questions.

First, what kind of wrath? Wrath that leads to eternal conscious torment? Vengeful wrath? Zeus-like wrath - or Christ-like wrath? Many of us believe that among the many conventional understandings Christ came to overturn were conventional conceptions of God's wrath. Which leads to a second question ...

Wrath at what? Women in leadership? Gay people accepted as equals? Laws to protect the environment from human greed? Immigrants?

Christ's anger, in contrast, focused on hypocrisy, a lack of compassion, greed, exclusion, and an inability to distinguish "weighty" matters of morality from insignificant matters.

2. men without sin - Of course, this raises questions about how we define sin. Is sin reducible to law-breaking, or does the New Testament expand and intensify the definition of sin to mean "love-breaking?" Is sin only personal, or only social - or it is an integrated system that includes both personal and social dimensions? Is the primary danger of sin that it elicits God's retributive punishment, or is the primary danger of sin that it is ultimately destructive? Is it something that insults God so God wants retaliation against us, or something that threatens us so God wants to rescue (save) us?

3. a kingdom without judgment - What is judgment? Is it primarily retributive - punishing wrong, or is it primarily restorative - setting things right? Does it involve God making a list and checking it twice, storing up eternal torment for those who have not been nice? Or does it involve humans reaping the consequences of foolish and hostile behavior that is out of harmony with God's holy melody and rhythm?

At whom is the spotlight of God's examination primarily directed - at gay people, undocumented immigrants, people on welfare … or at corporate plunderers, war-makers, self-interested politicians, and complicit publics? Is the social purpose of judgment to divide the world into clean and unclean, saved and damned, insiders and outsiders? Or is that tendency to divide humanity in these ways one of the dimensions of sin that are under God's judgment?

Does our imperfection render God against us? Or is God against what is against us? Is condemnation the last word in God's universe, or does grace get the final word?

4. a Christ without a cross - Is the cross a reinforcement of conventional notions of wrath, sin, and judgment, with Christ appeasing an angry Father by submitting to the Father's infinite wrath? Or does the cross reveal God as one who identifies with victims of oppression, who suffers with humanity, who forgives when others insult and reject?

Perhaps I could put it like this: You have heard it said that a God full of wrath condemns men full of sin to a hell full of judgment, unless they avail themselves of penal substitutionary atonement purchased by Christ upon a cross. And you have heard it said that a God without wrath brings men without sin to a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of Christ without a cross. I think both options miss the mark.

I believe a God full of love calls for radical repentance among human beings who are oppressed (and oppress) externally and internally by destructive systems of sin, so they can increasingly experience the gracious liberation of God's will being done on earth as in heaven, through Christ and his peace-making cross.

So, those who have read my books know that I believe Jesus came to radically alter our understandings of God, wrath, sin, kingdom, judgment, and the cross. For people who are interested in more … check out my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

 

Hatred: Us and Them

In a disturbing NYT piece yesterday, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explores a popular website that promotes the kind of strong-hostile identity I described in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

It seems that certain parts of the human psyche - and human society - are like petri dishes waiting for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and other forms of scapegoating and hostile-identity-formation to "culture" and infect. If there isn't something even stronger present - an identity strongly and passionately dedicated to reconciliation, understanding, solidarity, and peace-making - then hostility will dominate.

And we know where that leads.

This line of thinking was intensified for me over the weekend while watching the new Planet of the Apes film. "I used to think," one of the main characters mused, "that all of 'us' were good, and only 'they' were evil. Now I see there are both good and bad among 'us' and 'them'" (loosely paraphrased).

That's the beginning of a new way of living … the way, I believe, that Jesus came to teach. Maybe we're almost desperate enough to actually consider that he was right?

 

Why I'll be fasting tomorrow -

I'll be part of a multi-faith fast tomorrow, an expression of solidarity with innocent Palestinians and Israelis who are suffering under foolish, misguided, and heartless leadership on both sides. I hope you'll join the fast too. After the jump, I'll include in its entirety a letter from Rabbi MIchael Lerner, a friend whose perspective I trust and respect greatly. I encourage you to support Michael's organization Tikkun and use it as a source for trustworthy, morally-informed news and comment.
Quotable:

Nothing is going to change in the Middle East until we can change the way the struggles are understood both in the media and in the larger publics that have increasingly moved toward extremist perceptions of one side or the other. The extremists who killed three Israeli teens must be celebrating at the moment--because Netanyahu rewarded them by giving them precisely what they wanted, the kind of violent repression in the West Bank of Hamas sympathizers that would push Hamas into feeling the need to retaliate with a resurgence of missile strikes on Israel, thereby precipitating the predictable scenario: the ultra-nationalist Netanyahu has to show his toughness by escalating attacks on Gaza while Hamas in Gaza has to show its toughness by escalating attacks on Israel.

...What can you do?
Challenge the public discourse everywhere you can.

Here's Rabbi Lerner's full letter …

Continue reading Why I'll be fasting tomorrow - ...

 

Little communities ...

"We gather frequently in little communities that we call ecclesia. We borrowed this term from the Roman empire, just as we "borrowed" the cross and reversed its meaning. For the Romans, an ecclesia is an exclusive gathering that brings local citizens together to discuss the affairs of the empire. Our ecclesia brings common people together around the affairs of the kingdom of God. Whenever and wherever the Roman ecclesia gather, they honor and worship the emperor and the pantheon of gods that support him. Whenever and wherever we gather, we honor and worship the living God, revealed to us in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit." - We Make the Road by Walking (182-183)

 

Reminder - memorial service for my dad in 2 weeks in MD

We'll be having a memorial service for all our friends in the DC area on 27 July at 7 pm at Cedar Ridge Community Church. From 7-8 pm there will be an informal celebration of "Doc's" life, so bring some stories and memories of Ian to share, and plan to stay for a reception from 8-9 pm to renew relationships with old friends and meet new ones who share a connection because of my dad.
More info here:
http://www.crcc.org
In lieu of flowers, please bring a financial gift for the Cedar Ridge outreach fund.

 

Wise words for Methodists - and other Christians -

from Mike Slaughter:
84% of Americans now live in or around urban areas. But I’m United Methodist, so I speak out of the context of what I know best. 74% of our capital resources (that’s our buildings) are where only 16% of the American population lives. The Methodist Church flourished in the 1800’s and early 1900’s in small towns and rural areas. But now we continue to send pastors to church buildings instead of populations. And if we’re really going to reach people, we’re going to have to radically rethink our paradigms of what it’s going to mean to be missional.
http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1227/interview-w-mike-slaughter
What would happen if Mainline Protestants deployed their resources to where the people are?

 

Q & R: Is it ACTUALLY a Christian book?

Here's the Q:

Is it possible to get a listing of the Chapter NAMES for 'The Secret Message of Jesus' prior to my purchasing the Audio Book? I just want to ensure that this IS a "Christian" book ... and NOT actually book with an "alternate view" of Christianity. (I apologize if this sounds like a silly question, but I do NOT want to purchase some "New Age" book.)

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. You can read the table of contents here:
http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Message-Jesus-Uncovering-Everything/dp/B0012FBA7E/ref=pd_sim_b_6

It's not a New Age book, but it's also not simply a restatement of conventional teachings. It engages deeply with the Bible and presents a fresh understanding of Jesus and his message, drawn from the four gospels, and it explores Jesus' deep relevance for our lives and our world today.

 

A reader writes: It's working.

A reader writes:

We experimented with chapters 1 – 3 and found the same things that you listed. As a closing ritual we formed a circle and joined hands facing outward then recited the Lord’s Prayer. The meaning of the circle and joined hands is fairly well known , the outward facing reminds us that we are to take our faith into the world. Everyone loved the sessions.

Beautiful. I think this is a great suggestion for groups using We Make the Road by Walking. I'm hearing about schools, churches, experimental faith communities, college groups, and families using the new book … great conversations are happening, and people are getting a fresh sense of vision and purpose for their lives. Thanks be to God.

 

Q & R: Famous Niebuhr quote - what do you think? (Part 1)

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. I continue to appreciate your facebook postings. They are always thought provoking. I also appreciate your efforts to build bridges between different points of view. As I look at theological trends, especially of mainline protestantism, I am reminded of a quote from H Richard Niebuhr, descibing his assessment of liberal theology. He writes, "a God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a ministry of a Christ without a cross." I would like to hear your response to this. From what you have seen, do Niebuhr's concerns apply to today?

Here's the R:
Because I grew up in conservative Evangelicalism, I heard this quote quite a lot. It was our way of stereotyping our nemesis, liberal Mainline Protestants (MLPs) - who were essential to our self-definition, since we identified ourselves in opposition to them. From time to time people send me the quote via Facebook or my website, suggesting, I think, that it characterizes me. So let me respond in two ways, first with a reflection on MLP's (today), and then with more personal reflections (next week).

As for context, the quote comes from 1937. By that time, turn-of-the-century "social gospel" liberalism had achieved many if not most of its immediate aims. (For more on this, see Paul Rauschenbusch's new edition of Christianity and the Social Crisis …) Great progress had been made in worker safety, urban housing, and labor organizing. Any movement that achieves its aims either sets new goals or declines, and by Niebuhr's time, the social gospel's new goals were not clear. MLP's settled into being the chaplains of the American century.

Niebuhr stood with Barth as an advocate of Neo-orthodoxy - a middle way between what he saw as a bland social-gospel liberalism on the one hand and a bold but reactionary fundamentalism on the other (the Scopes trial had occurred just 12 years earlier).

The essence of the critique was that liberal theology was like decaf coffee or warm Coke sans fizz. Boring and pointless. If divine wrath, human sin, and divine judgment aren't the problem, what good is Christianity? What does it solve?

Based on my experience, I think Niebuhr's negative diagnosis does describe some MLP congregations today. Words like "nice, pleasant," and "calm" describe them. Words like "exciting, robust, dynamic, effective" don't. Often, they are led by pastors who are nearing retirement; one has the sense that the goal is to hang on for another year or two and let somebody else face the problems of "shrinking and wrinkling" - declining numbers and advancing age. These churches feel like cradles or rocking chairs … comforting, familiar, safe … gently rocking their members to sleep with a lullaby and a prayer. There are fewer and fewer of these churches around, I think. Post-christendom, people don't feel a great need for national religious chaplaincy.

At the other extreme, many people don't realize how many MLP churches are opposed to all things liberal. (Many of these congregations are leaving their denominations for this reason.) People in these congregations may prefer organ music over "contemporary worship," traditional liturgy over the sing-sermon-sing format, charitable acts over hard-sell evangelism, and books of order/discipline over charismatic personality-pastors. But apart from those cosmetic differences, they could be Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God. (I remember a Methodist minister in the deep South telling me that many Methodists in the South were actually "shallow water Southern Baptists.")

These churches have a God with much wrath who brings men (sic) with much sin into a heaven after death* through much judgment that is effectively managed through the penal/substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon a cross. (*Going to heaven after death is the focus, not the coming of the Kingdom of God to earth so God's will is done "on earth as in heaven." In this way, these churches have little in common with the original social gospel as articulated by Walter Rauschenbusch and others.) In spite of these churches' denominational labels, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Mike Huckabee have more practical influence on their values and behaviors than John Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or Thomas Cranmer.

Often, the clergy in these congregations are quite different from their members. Politically and theologically less conservative, they do their best to stretch their congregations without breaking trust. But many ministers are severely disheartened by the gap between the way of seeing God, the Bible, the gospel, and the world that they learned in seminary and the viewpoint their congregations learn from religious and secular media. An hour or two of songs and sermons on Sunday mornings is no match for five days of religious-right-radio during drive time and Fox News at night. Tension simmers.

In between these two groups, I think most MLP's are trying to find their way forward.

The phrase that describes most MLP churches in my experience is "confused but open." They are coming to realize that what they're doing isn't sustainable. They know that the future will be different from the past and present. They're organized on a denominational level to do much good (e.g. Methodists organizing to eliminate malaria). But on a congregational level, it's not sufficiently clear what purposes their committees and polities are intended to achieve beyond maintenance … and for many, they're even losing ground in that regard.

They think they've left some things behind, but they aren't so sure exactly which ones, and they're less sure what has replaced those things. They dislike the certainty and culture-wars polemics of more conservative churches to their right, and as a result, are more clear on what they're against than what they're for. They're open for new possibilities … more than even a few years ago. But they're going to have to make some bold and courageous choices to turn their statistics around and seize the imagination of younger generations.

In Part II, I'll offer some personal responses to Niebuhr's famous quote.

 

Q & R: Using We Make the Road in Middle/High School

Here's the Q:

I’m the Upper School chaplain to about 550 teenagers, 7th-12th grade. I’m considering using your new book, We Make the Road by Walking as our chapel lectionary this year. A little background, because I’d like to know if you think it might work:

We have a 15-minute chapel three times a week, usually on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Chapel is mandatory for all students and for teachers. While we are an Episcopal school, we welcome students from other faith traditions. We have a large number of Roman Catholics, a smattering of Greek Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, one Buddhist teacher, and one Wiccan… you name it. We even have a few Episcopalians! However, for all of that, I would guess that most of the self-labeled Christian students here have not been raised in the Christian faith. Church is not a high priority with many of their parents, and some even use the fact that we have chapel several times a week as a reason not to go, believing instead, that the school serves as a substitute. For some the school is “too Christian,” for others it is not “Christian enough” or my favorite, not “real” Christian.

You can imagine what a humbling challenge it is for me to speak to these 550 students (plus faculty) who have to attend chapel. Our Chinese students use it as nap time, but for the most part the “congregation” is respectful and many of them surprisingly attentive. I am 61 years old, but I do my best to be relevant. They are fond of Rob Bell videos, and I often use movie clips to illustrate Bible teachings. I try and keep chapel time about worshipping God, and learning the amazing stories of God’s care and involvement in God’s creation. It is not youth group time, but we have done skits, or played a game now and then that makes a point – remember I only have 15 minutes – in a way that they will listen and, I pray, “inwardly digest.” I do not have a lectionary, and instead do topics according to the church year, and whatever the Holy Spirit sends my way. There is often no rhyme and very little rhythm to it. On occasion, I’ll get a student volunteer speaker. I love those days!

Our liturgy: Student chapel leaders do a few opening sentences (BCP-ish), there is a reading, then the “homily,” followed by a prayer and we end with a song called “The Grace” (the Pauline sendoff…may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you…), and a final dismissal (Go in peace to love and serve the Lord! Thanks be to God!)

So, given those dynamics and those limitations and those opportunities, and also given your own experience with different age groups as a pastor, do you think We Make the Road by Walking might work as a lectionary? I envision it working like this, but am open to other suggestions:

Monday: First reading. Homily is first half of your sermon.
Wednesday: Second reading. Brief review of Monday. Finish sermon.
Friday: Third reading. Quick review. Use the questions, and allow a time of reflection/prayer.

I have a Chapel Council consisting of 10th-12th graders who advise me on what resonates with the students. If this is resonating, I’d love to offer a learning circle once a week for those interested. Or, I could offer it from the get go.

Thoughts? Ideas?

Here's the R:
I'd say two things from the intelligence of your inquiry - 1. Your students are blessed to have you, and 2. if you think it will work, I trust your judgment!

Here are a few suggestions.
1. I'd try to have students be actively involved as much as possible, and I'd try to "change voices" frequently. For the "sermon," you could have three to five students alternate reading a paragraph …
2. For the Scripture readings, if there's a way to project the texts, you could have half of the students read a paragraph aloud in unison and then the other half read the next paragraph.
3. If you have some students with artistic sensibilities, they could create a long banner or mural (or series of them) based on the biblical story as it unfolds.
4. I really like the idea of having the students interact about the questions. Maybe there's a way to include a shortened version of Question 1 during each session?
5. It would be really amazing if that additional learning circle formed.
6. You'll get some ideas for multimedia, etc., here: http://www.geekedoutsoul.com/category/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2/

A lot depends on how "into it" the students want to be, and I know that's not a given and can change from day to day. Please let me know how it's going if you decide to give this a try. I think you're the person for the job!

 

Riding a tornado ...

If you're not familiar with the site Read the Spirit, I encourage you to check it out right now. My new book is featured in their cover story this week. David Crumm is a talented writer and a great interviewer. Here's his introduction to the interview:

For years, Brian McLaren has been writing best-selling books about renewing our faith. He wrote about becoming A New Kind of Christian and compared the process to The Wizard of Oz. Beginning to renew our faith, he wrote in his 2001 book, is “like Dorothy setting out on her journey to see the wizard, invigorated with new hope and passion.”

He wasn’t abandoning the long-held traditions of Christianity, he argued. He was embracing what he called, in a 2004 book, A Generous Orthodoxy, which he defined (in one of the longest sub-titles ever published) as “a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished CHRISTIAN.” He refused to capitalize any of the terms in that subtitle except the final word: CHRISTIAN.

Still in his 40s, McLaren was listed by TIME magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. TIME called him a leader in a worldwide movement to establish “a kinder and gentler brand of religion” and “yet remain true to Scripture.” TIME called him “an elder statesman … of the emerging church.”

Like Dorothy, McLaren found himself riding a tornado. Many friends saw great hope in his message and he logged countless miles to appear before appreciative audiences. Many foes claimed he was abandoning truly evangelical Christianity and he shouldered countless attacks in news media and social media.

Now, in his late 50s, McLaren is retired from parish ministry and is more firmly in control of his own life’s journey once again. He now seems far less interested in playing with labels—or battling his foes—than he is in the core message of his ministry: “The Living God is with us! And with all creation!”

Those are two lines you’ll learn to proclaim if you read his new book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. McLaren is hoping that you’ll make that proclamation with friends, your family and your entire congregation, week after week for a year. This book is all you need to spend 52 weeks taking a pilgrimage with McLaren through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

While a year-long Bible study may seem like a heavy-duty return to McLaren’s evangelical roots, readers quickly discover that he remains steadfastly committed to his original message all those years ago: The Christian journey is always about change.

The book’s opening lines are a challenge: “You are not finished yet. You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict and lose your way. Which road will you take?”

- See more at: http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/brian-mclaren-interview-make-road-walking/#sthash.cIHCxyv4.dpuf

 

Why I Wrote ...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-d-mclaren/why-i-wrote-we-make-the-r_b_5563384.html

 

Wise Words from John Esposito

An AAR Presidential address that deserves wide readership:
http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/82/2/291.full
Quotable:

A phobia, according to the dictionary, is an exaggerated, illogical, or unfounded fear of a particular class of objects, people, a particular situation. It may be hard for those afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists.

So, what are the kinds of things that Islamophobes believe?
Islam, not just a small minority of Muslims and terrorists, is the problem and threat to the West. The religion of Islam has no common values with the West. Islam and modernity are incompatible. Islam is an inherently violent religion with an extremist, political ideology.

Phillip Jenkins and Bishop Spong have written very interesting books on violence in the Bible and the degree of violence. Talking comparatively here, Phillip Jenkins said there's a way you can look at certain passages in the Bible and see God ordering genocide. If you don't understand the Biblical context, that's what you would interpret. And yet when we deal with Quranic texts, wherever I go, people will ask, “What about the passage ‘slay the unbelievers wherever you find them’?” without looking at what is said in the verse after that: “When the enemy stops fighting you, you must stop.” We must also ask, who were the unbelievers at the time? The “unbelievers” weren't Christians or Jews, they were the Meccans. But the irony is that hard-line Christian Zionists or some of our Islamophobes and Neo-Cons talk just the way that the Bin Ladens of the world do; they distort the meaning of the text. They don't interpret a text within its context.

We need to think about the impact of Islamophobia in the United States.

 

Is the world getting better? (Deux)

Yes, in some ways ...
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/06/oregon-mental-hospital-forgotten-souls_n_5562301.html

No way in others …
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html

 

Is the world getting better?

In some important ways, yes!

In some ways, no.

The former tells us not to give up on the latter! All things are possible for those who believe ...

 

Some recent lectures ...

To a wonderful group of Methodists from Oregon and Idaho -
http://www.umoi.org/videos

 

Q & R: repenting of our will to power?

Here's the Q:

Many of us realise that we have tried to control God through our right theology and moral efforts but it has essentially been about self-determination. When we find ourselves embraced by the God who chooses to love us (and has a place for us in the new-creation plan), how can we articulate this is a way which helps wary evangelicals to grasp the radical nature of this ‘repentance’, transformation and hope-full future?

Or is Brian’s Greco-Roman hypothesis richer and more nuanced than many evangelicals would believe?, or Can we still repent of our will to power?

Here's the R:
As for helping wary Christians (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or whatever), I think some people don't feel they need to be "helped." They see attempts to help them in this way as a temptation to lower their standards, compromise with "the world," etc. Often, though, things change later in life, often due to the influence of their children and grandchildren who feel less pressure to conform to the religious status quo.

I think your insight about "will to power" is quite significant. I doubt that many people consciously presume to "control God" (although certain features of "word of faith" or "prosperity theology" sound very much like this - quoting the Bible as a kind of magic talisman that forces God to comply to our "positive confession").

However, I think, we humans are quick to use God to control others. In this way, we "control God" as we do a hammer or screwdriver - by rendering God a tool in our will to power over others. This happens in all religions, I think, from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism to Judaism, etc. Whether parents over children, men over women, one race over another, one party over another, one ideological gang over another, or one nation over another … we find "God" is a convenient tool to make others fearful, compliant, submissive, and cooperative.

The great irony of this for Christians, I think, is that Jesus is best understood as the opposite of will to power. He represents "will to love" or "will to self-giving." Caesar's kingdom (which lives by what I called the Greco-Roman narrative in A New Kind of Christianity) brings peace through a will to power (aka domination). The kingdom of God - the very opposite.

This is one reason that the traditional penal substitutionary theory of atonement is so problematic for many of us: in it, Jesus becomes the sacrifice to uphold, appease, and mollify God's "will to power." How different when we see Jesus as imaging God in a radically new way: a God who suffers for and with us … a God who identifies not with those willing themselves to power, but with those suffering under their will to power …

This all became more clear to me than ever as I was writing my new book, We Make the Road by Walking. You'll see this understanding reflected especially in Chapters 4, 32A, B, and C, 46, and 51.

 

Thoughts on Ramadan

Just as many of us in the Christian faith are engaging in deep rethinking (repentance), many Muslims are engaging in "ijtihad," reevaluating the past and present, and re-imagining the future. One excellent example is Rahim Snow. Check out this post on Ramadan.
Quotable:

Ramadan is less about saying no to food and more about saying yes to God.

Ramadan is not so much about pushing food away as it is about letting God in.

Let’s use this month to intensify our awareness of God, our relationship with God, our service to God. Whatever form that takes, let’s own it. Whatever road that makes, let’s walk it. This is our Ramadan and God is waiting to feed our hearts.

If you're interested in my experience with Ramadan a few years back, search this site (upper right corner) for "Ramadan 2009."

 

Q & R: High school youth group might start walking?

Here's the Q:

I just ordered your new book "We Make the Road by Walking" thinking I might be able to use it with my High School youth group. In one of your foot notes you say that you created a resource that provides commentary on each chapter and that we can learn more about it on www.brianmclaren.net. I've looked all over on the website and can't find it anywhere. Can you direct it to me?

Here's the R:
Sorry it was hard to find … I was a few days late in getting it up. You'll find it here:
http://brianmclaren.net/wmtr%20commentary.pdf
Let me know how it goes with your group if you decide to use it. Churches, classes, small groups, and families are already using it … and I hope that youth groups will also find it helpful. I think you'll get a lot of good ideas from Geeked Out Soul - here.

 

We Make the Road by Walking with Kids ...

I couldn't be more thrilled … what a beautiful and encouraging post:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2014/07/kids-make-the-road-by-walking-too-on-progressive-christians-and-the-bible/

Quotable:

Our parents had the Bible figured out. Our children’s parents don’t. We gained our childhood training in Scripture through a well-ordered curriculum of Bible stories, charts, and memory verses. Not our kids. We don’t have a pre-packaged boxed set of doctrines to give them in the safety and comfort of a Sunday School room. What we have is a library of ancient texts which are complicated and bewildering. Just like the real world. The texts are peopled by violent, greedy, horny apes who are relentlessly loved by God. Just like us.
Our scriptural tradition is not a safety-certified playground with padded railings and rubberized flooring. It is not a place we will send them off to play in. It is a wild place with real risks, a place they will explore with Mom and Dad at their side.
Of course, the kids are loving it. Given the choice between a safe playground and a muddy adventure hole with Mom and Dad, they are jumping face-first into the mud. So we have begun, second thoughts be damned: The Stonecyphers are making a road.

 

This is not the end, but it is the road ...

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified. - Martin Luther
 

Praying for peace ...

3 missing Israeli teens were found dead in the West Bank Monday. In all likelihood, the spiral of violence will spin on with even more fury now - each offense by one group being used to "justify" new revenge by its counterpart, which then becomes a new offense.

May Dr. King's words, uttered the year I was born, find their way into more and more hearts:

"As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos."

For responses from Israeli and Palestinian Peace activists - see this, at Tikkun:
http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/mourning-for-the-three-murdered-israeli-teens

 

Why We Gather

"We feel such joy to have God's Spirit rising up in our lives that we can't be silent. We sing our deep joy and longing, sometimes through the ancient psalms and also through spiritual songs that spring up in our hearts. The more we praise God, the less we fear or are intimidated by the powers of this world. And so we praise and worship God boldly joyfully, reverently, and freely, and we aren't quiet or shy about it." We Make the Road by Walking (185)

 

This week ...

it is expected the Supreme Court will render an important decision on the religious rights of corporations. I fully support religious freedom for individuals, but I will be disappointed on many levels if the court gives corporations exemption from the laws of the land on religious grounds. Here's a compilation ofresponses I and others wrote on the subject … and here's a piece my friend Rich Cizik wrote.

 

If you want to read some reader reviews of my new book ...

here are some. (You'll notice that people who have actually read the book rate it highly. People who wrote a review without having read it … not so much.)

 

This is the time of year ...

when a lot of churches receive new pastors. I wrote something when I was leaving my pastorate 8 years ago that has been widely disseminated in the years since to help in pastoral transitions. You're welcome to use it. (See below - it would be nice, but not essential, if you include a link to my website.)

It's almost always well received - but not always, as this recent response shows. If nothing else, this note lets folks know how easy it is to offend people without meaning to, and it explains why being a pastor can be a tough job:

I am a member of a Methodist church in [a Southern city] and this passage of your’s was mass communicated to our congregation in anticipation of a new minister who will begin in July. I felt that it might be more appropriate for a youth group or in a small setting but felt highly offended in receiving it over email. (By the way, I am in favor of the change in leadership at our church.) I think that the attempt to poke fun, and joke about accepting change in this passage is demeaning to members. I understand that these type of passages are often circulated from time to time to “lighten up” the congregation but I do think that maybe in the future, as the author, you might offer guidance on when and how passages should be shared or viewed. As Christians, we are encouraged to “hold one another accountable” and not to hurt or discourage. Thank you,

Here's the piece the note was referring to. Maybe you can discern which command(s) seemed demeaning, hurtful, or discouraging?

Ten Commandments for Welcoming a New Pastor

I. Thou shalt not compare the old Pastor and the new Pastor, for the Lord thy God has made each person unique and wishes you to appreciate each original creation.

II. Thou shalt not expect everything to stay the same when the new Pastor arrives. Nor shalt thou resist change, nor assume that change is bad, but thou shalt trust that the Lord thy God isn’t finished with your church yet and is bringing change for your good and the good of your mission.

III. Thou shalt not make graven images of thine old grudges, nor shalt thou keep stale disappointments in the temple of thine heart, but thou shalt forgive and move on in the grace of the Lord thy God, for how can thou ask God for mercy unless thou give mercy from thine heart?

IV. Thou shalt not commit gossip, nor shalt thou fearfully complain, nor shalt thou listen to those who do, but instead thou shalt entreat them to adjust their attitudes and lighten up, for everything shall be alright, and in fact, shall turn out very well indeed – better than you can even imagine.

V. Thou shalt not commit nostalgia or say that the old days were better, for in so doing thou shalt make thy judgment come true. Be assured that the Lord thy God is not falling asleep at the wheel, but will be with thee and surprise thee with abundant blessings, more than thou canst contain or count.

VI. Thou shalt not factionalize nor create “us-them” divisions, but thou shalt unify with thy brothers and sisters even when they annoy or confuse you.

VII. Thou shalt not come to the new pastor with your demands, pressure, complaints, bad reports, manipulations, threats, agendas, unsolicited advice, or snide comments. But thou shalt say, “Welcome! How can we help you? We love you! We would like to increase our giving significantly. We’re praying for you and your family. Welcome to our community! We baked you some cookies!” And each week, thou shalt do so again and again until the new pastor begs you to stop.

VIII. Thou shalt increase thy giving, and not withhold thy tithe, but invest thy money and thine heart in the future of thy community of faith and mission.

IX. Thou shalt not come to thine old and former pastor with anything but praise for the new pastor, but thou mayest bring thy concerns to God in humble prayer, and if thou must, thou may also share concerns with the duly appointed leaders of the church.

X. Most important, thou shalt trust God, and stay connected to God, and draw strength from God, staying deeply rooted in the message of God’s grace. For God is good, and God will never leave you nor forsake you. You can count on that for sure!

 

Free Resources for you

I just added a free 80+ page e-book that provides backstory/commentary on We Make the Road by Walking: here.

The section on approaches to the Bible should be of special interest.

 

What I Said at the White House

I was invited to be part of a forum on global human rights for LGBT persons on Tuesday. Short talks were presented by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Ambassador Susan Rice. Later we were invited to the Vice President's home, where he shared some additional comments. It was clear that the White House has a strong commitment to human rights for LGBT persons, especially in a world where people are routinely killed, beaten, tortured, arrested, threatened, excluded from employment, driven into secrecy, and imprisoned for being gay.

It was an honor to participate on a panel with such distinguished colleagues and such skilled moderation.

One of the ideas I shared in the panel was this:There is a huge personal cost for religious leaders to change their position on LBGT equality. And there is a huge personal cost for LGBT people when religious leaders won't change. For those reasons, I recommended we find ways to encourage religious leaders to move incrementally along a spectrum with four spaces.

1. Promote violence against and stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

2. Oppose violence but uphold stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

3. Oppose violence and seek to reduce stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

4. Oppose violence and replace stigmatization with equality in the name of God and religion.

Many leaders in certain parts of the world are still in Zone 1.

Many religious conservatives (Evangelicals and Catholics in the US) are in Zone 2. That's where I began thirty or forty years ago.

Many are moving into Zone 3. They still stigmatize - for example, by welcoming gay people as members but not as leaders, or by allowing civil unions but opposing gay marriage. But they try to reduce the scope and strength of stigmatization.

More and more are moving into Zone 4.

Many people are unaware of Zone 4. They think the only way for people to become less bigoted and more compassionate is to become less religious and more secular. But that approach is fraught with unintended consequences.

It's important, I told those present, to speak to those in each group with sensitivity to their situation and to help them take the step they are capable of taking. It's not simply a choice of inhabiting Zone 1 or 4, and it's not wise to treat Zone 2 or 3 people as if they were "homophobic" in the same way as Zone 1 people are.

The fact is that there are many people in the middle, and they are moving - often in the right direction, and often at great cost. Many lack sufficient courage to take the next step and need moral encouragement, sometimes actual physical protection, to do so.

It won't suffice to only let people in Zone 1 and 2 speak in the name of God and religion. It won't suffice to offer persuasion based on "secular" legal grounds alone. It won't suffice to forego persuasion and only rely on pressure (via money, aid, etc.), because pressure without persuasion is experienced as oppression.

More of us need to make a bold and clear moral case for Zone 4 so that religious leaders can move towards it with a clear conscience and in good faith.

I may share more about the gathering soon. Stay tuned. For those interested, so much depends on finding new, liberating ways of reading the sacred texts that have so often been quoted to stigmatize LGBT people. My new book attempts to model one such new and liberating way of reading the Bible. You can read more here.

 

An exciting week ...

After a great weekend in Dallas, training people in leading learning circles for We Make the Road by Walking, today I'll be at the White House as part of a symposium there on LGBT equality and human rights. Then I'll be off to Wild Goose Festival. Hope to see many of you there.

 

"Women's Issues" are men's issues too.

I think something parallel is true of "gay issues" and "race issues" and "immigration issues" and "minority" issues. Straight, white, native-born, and majority are connected ... here's why:
http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue

 

More on Global Warming

Last week I posted a Q & R about global warming. My friend Paul H sent in this reply, which is full of helpful information. Here's Paul's reply:

Brian, I just read your excellent response to the guy who so desperately (and I wonder why) wants to believe that there is no global warming. One of his points was that, if there is global warming, we cannot account for the temperature plateau of the past 15 years or so. He's wrong about that. Apparently, he has never looked at the actual temperature time series, one version of which is in the Global Surface Temperature plot on this NASA webpage:

http://climate.nasa.gov/key_indicators

Even a cursory examination of the time series shows that the warming of the globe is not monotonic (continuously rising), but the overall trend is undeniable. The climate research community recognizes a phenomenon known as "decadal variation" -- variation on the scale of one or a few decades, and they spend considerable effort trying to understand it. The atmospheric circulation system has a number of recognized oscillatory systems, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Madden Julian Oscillation, and others. It's pretty certain that there are other factors that are not yet recognized. Taken all together, these factors cause the globally averaged temperature (and many other parameters) to have ups and downs that are superimposed upon the long-term trend.

We see decadal variation clearly on the webpage cited above. The first half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1970s are plateaus very similar to the current one. Other decadal variations show actual drops in globally averaged temperature. These are in no way contradictory to the conclusion that global warming is real. The long-term trend is still an increase of globally averaged surface temperature.

Some of the media-fueled skepticism about this comes, oddly, from meteorologists, particularly those who work in the broadcast news industry. This is in no small part due to the influence of John Coleman, one of the founders of the Weather Channel. He is an outspoken climate change denier, but one who has exactly zero credibility. He is not a climate scientist. He is not even a meteorologist. His education is in journalism. The fact that he employs meteorologists does not give him any credibility.

A couple of years go, Prof. Richard Muller, a respected physicist and climate change skeptic, assembled a research team and acquired copies of all or most of the same data that has led the climate research community to the conclusion that global warming is real and anthropogenic. He completely reanalyzed the entire, very large collection of data. Even though his research was funded in part by the Koch brothers, his widely published conclusion was that climate change is real, it involves an increase of globally averaged temperature, and it is caused by the activities of mankind, principally the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Every year, I attend the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, and I tend to focus on the climate change sessions. In 2007, one aged member of the society rose in a plenary session, to say (in the quavering voice of an old man) that he simply could not accept the idea that a system as massive as the atmosphere could possibly be affected by the actions of puny humans. That old man and a couple of broadcast meteorologists (overheard in a conversation at lunch) are the only examples I know of any Society members disbelieving global warming. It may be that 97% of scientists believe it. I don't know where you got that number. But I strongly suspect that a much stronger proportion of climate scientists (meaning those who actually study climate and, thus, have credibility) believe it.

As is the case with nearly everything in life, basing an opinion on anything other than actual data is perilous.


I just heard the 97% number recently at a briefing I was part of, but it may be already out of date, as I think the consensus only grows stronger. It referred to all scientists, not just climate scientists. I imagine, as Paul says, that it would be much higher among those who study the data most closely.

 

Using We Make the Road by Walking in 2014-2015

We're just wrapping up a "boot camp" for people who plan to lead groups using We Make the Road by Walking. It has been a delightful time.

My strong recommendation for groups using the book is to keep it super simple and super participatory. Here's how:

1. Have the group seated in a circle or gathered around a table. (If the group is too large, invite 6 or 8 people to the front and they'll model participation for the larger group.)
2. Identify someone to begin reading the first Scripture reading. It's best if they read a paragraph or so of the text (about 3 to 5 verses). It helps to be sure everyone has the same translation - whether NRSV, CEV, or whatever.
3. Then someone continues with the next paragraph, and so on, through the Scripture readings. It's good to keep things moving at a good pace.
4. The same pattern continues for the chapter, with each person reading a paragraph. If people don't want to read aloud, of course they can just pass. If kids are present, I encourage you to include them in the readings and Engage questions.
5. When the chapter is complete, the next person can read the first Engage question, and so on.
The group really runs itself. The leader doesn't need to do any preparation; the hour is really self-contained.

A few observations from our time together:

1. By involving everyone with reading, attention levels stay high.
2. By everyone having a Bible and copy of the book, they can follow along as others read, thus taking in the content both orally and visually.
3. The experience of listening to others read aloud may seem unfamiliar at first, but it quickly becomes natural and very enjoyable.
4. When you move from the chapter to discussion, it's important to let people know that it is perfectly acceptable to express disagreement or discomfort with the readings, which the first Engage question invites people to do. Differences of viewpoint don't need to be resolved - simply respectfully expressed, listened to, and understood. (See #8)
5. If there is a large group, it's easy to break into groups of four. Four people can engage deeply with a chapter in an hour.
6. Engaging with the material over a meal works really well too.
7. If you want to add liturgical elements from Appendix 1, of course you can do so before and after the readings, chapter, and engagement questions.
8. At your first gathering, the leader/host should read the 5 guidelines (Appendix II). It's good to get everyone to verbally agree to assist in following these guidelines (like sitting on an exit row in a plane). The leader/host should promise to remind the group of the guidelines if problems come up, and review them from time to time.
9. If problems do come up - someone is argumentative or over-participates, for example - remind everyone of the 5 guidelines (Appendix II). Because the approach I'm recommending is so highly participatory, I think groups will get in the groove quickly and problems will be rare.

If you want to begin using the book now so that you get on schedule for the 2014-2015 year, you would begin as follows:

June 22 - Chapter 43
June 29 - Chapter 44
July 6 - Chapter 45
July 13 - Chapter 46
July 20 - Chapter 47
July 27 - Chapter 48
August 3 - Chapter 49
August 10 - Chapter 50
August 17 - Chapter 51
August 24 - Chapter 52


To sync up with Advent 2014, you would begin with Chapter 1 on August 31. If you need to begin on September 7 or 14, you would need to skip a chapter or two, or combine a few, so you'll schedule Chapter 14 on November 30, the beginning of Advent.

Because Easter's date changes each year, in 2015 you'll need to drop one chapter (or combine 2) from Part II. I'd probably recommend combining 22-23, 24-25, and/or 25-26.
Jan 4 would coincide with Chapter 19.
Lent and Part III of the book begin on February 22, 2015.
Pentecost and Part IV of the book begin on May 24, 2015.

For long-term planners, in 2015-2016, you'll begin Chapter 1 on August 30, 2015, and you'll need to drop or combine 2 chapter from Part II to coincide with Easter.

If that sounds confusing, don't worry. Once you get the group going, you'll be surprised how easily things flow, how quickly community begins to happen, how refreshing the whole experience is, and how effectively it can contribute to spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation.

 

Q & R: Death of God

Here's the Q:

I was raised conservative evangelical, and A Generous Orthodoxy was one of the first books to truly push me into a whole new realm of how to think about my faith. Thank you. Since then, I have gone many directions, found a few dead ends, and am now retracing my steps to try to get on a worthwhile path again. One possible path I’ve recently discovered is lead by folks like Peter Rollins, and in another way John Shelby Spong, and perhaps originally, Paul Tillich. Their work has helped but also troubled me, and I am curious to get your thoughts on this school of theology and its attempt to grapple with the alleged “death of God.”

Here's the R:
Let me offer a less than ideal analogy, but the best I can come up with at the moment.

Imagine a woman has breast cancer. She needs immediate surgery, radiation, and chemo. These treatments are all painful and in a sense destructive. They are "troubling." But they are necessary to save her life.

After the surgery, she will need two things. First, she will need reconstructive surgery. At the same time, she will need ongoing health care to maximize her health and monitor for a possible relapse so it can be caught as early as possible.

It could be said that religions get malignancies. Racism, colonialism, sexism, a sense of supremacy and privilege and exceptionalism, a victim mentality, paranoia, xenophobia … all these can get a foothold in religious communities and threaten their health and even survival.

Some theologians do surgery. Some administer chemotherapy. They appear to make the patient worse, and if they're not careful, they can hasten the death of the patient. But they are also necessary to save her life.

Other theologians focus on reconstructive surgery, rebuild basic health, and monitor for relapse prevention.

So there are some theologians I would turn to in order to administer chemo, but I wouldn't turn to them for a steady diet to promote health. Each is important - all the more so if each can appreciate his or her specialty - both its strengths and its limitations, and do the same for others with different specialties.

I should also add that many important living theologians are in process. Their project takes twists and turns, goes through various phases. You might say they are more like a family doctor. They follow one patient (their denomination or tradition) through various phases, and so they may be involved with preventative medicine, and then help their patient go through chemo when a malignancy is found, and then help their patient recover, and then return to preventative medicine.

The analogy isn't perfect, but I think it makes the point. In evaluating theologians, it's important to understand what their project or specialty is … and what patient they are trying to help, and what diagnosis they are trying to treat, and how far along they are in the process.

Some people see writers like Tillich or Spong as terribly negative. But when you have cancer, you don't want your doctor to water down the chemo. People who think they're fine, of course, don't see any need for strong medicine at all. Jesus himself faced that problem with the religious establishment of his time.

 

Presbyterians showed boldness this week ...

They made two historic decisions, one for LGBT equality and one against the israeli occupation. Read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/presbyterians-debating-israeli-occupation-vote-to-divest-holdings.html?_r=1

 

Q & R: Aren't you nothing more than a hypocrite?

Here's the Q:

Since you insist on using the pejorative “denier” for people who do not subscribe to the same dogma that you do, can I begin to label you as climate change “hypocrite”? Your carbon footprint is multiple times larger than mine, yet I am your version of “the other”?

I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. That means stop with the book tours, conferences, concerts, etc. which belch tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (which might be #8 on your steps for loyal acolytes of the church of global warming).

Some questions:

Do stories that contradict your worldview on Global Warming (GW) ever penetrate your cocoon?

If CO2 is the primary driver of GW, why have temperatures hit a plateau in the last 15 years, with higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Why did 95% of the climate forecast models produced within the last several years fail to accurately predict this plateau?

Have you read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear? Would you be open to listening to another point of view?

How many variables go into climate change? Do you think the models created by scientists have accounted for all of those variables

Why was Swedish climatologist Lennart Bengtsson bullied and threatened by other scientists for having a differing opinion?

Why did Michael Mann refuse to release his raw data behind his famous hockey stick?

Why did Michael Mann advise colleagues (via email) to “hide the decline” of data that contradicted his conclusions?

I very much appreciate your blog, and your tone (most of the time); you can be so magnanimous and kind to people who disagree with you spiritually. Would that you could exhibit the same “generous orthodoxy” to people who disagree with you politically!

Thanks for writing. I frequently have people send me notes like this that point to data that they believe disproves climate change. I keep an open mind and check into that data and so far, have always found it to be unconvincing. I haven't read "State of Fear" but did read reviews of it and the general consensus was that Crichton is a good storyteller but his science was distorted and flawed.

I'm certainly not against skepticism in the face of popular trends. In fact, if anything, I'm sympathetic to those willing to stand up to a majority.

But the bottom line for me is that I've done a lot of reading and attended a lot of lectures on this subject - and in fact attended the original "Sandy Cove" conference in 2004 where John Houghton presented Evangelical leaders with (then) state of the art data on the subject. In light of the fact that 97% of scientists believe in human-induced global warming, I believe it is our God-given responsibility to care for the earth and to exercise foresight in understanding the short- and long-term consequences of our actions. And I believe that the poorest of the world are suffering and will suffer from global warming the most. So … putting those together, I speak out as best as I can.

As for your specific questions above:
- Malfeasance by a few of the 97% of scientists doesn't discredit their whole project any more than malfeasance by a few of the 3% would. The issue is the evidence, and the overwhelming weight of evidence is not tainted by malfeasance. It confirms again and again that if anything, predictions have erred on the side of underestimating rather than overestimating the effects of fossil fuels on the planetary climate system. Finding a flaw in a theory doesn't invalidate it; a popular blog series makes that point quite well.

- Some of your assumptions above are questionable if not simply wrong. For example, C02 levels are rising and so are temperatures. It's important to remember that the theory doesn't predict that every single place in the world will grow warmer every year. In fact, the theory predicts that as the climate warms in general, certain places will grow colder in the short run.

You're right to say that the climate system is profoundly complex and no model so far comes close to containing the complexity. But our models are certainly the best they've ever been, and so far, when our best models don't predict the data perfectly, the data points to even more severe effects than the models predicted.

You said:

I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. That means stop with the book tours, conferences, concerts, etc. which belch tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (which might be #8 on your steps for loyal acolytes of the church of global warming).

If individual actions like the ones your propose would solve the problem, then I think you're right: it would be necessary for people who believe in climate change to stop traveling. But the sum total of individual actions of this sort won't come close to stopping a systemic problem. That's why the science and public policy are so closely intertwined, and that's why many of us feel a moral obligation to speak out on the subject, even though we sometimes make mistakes and our tone isn't always pitch perfect.

 

A reader writes … chapter 17 rocked my world!

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross The Road? Hi there! I just wanted to say, chapter 17 of this book has rocked my world. The entire book has opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to a whole new way of living. I've considered myself a Christian for some years now, but upon reading this book and applying this new knowledge, I feel like I'm living a Christ-centered, Christ-led, Christ-inspired, Christ-like loving kind of life. Thank you, thank you, thank you Brian McLaren for this gem. After reading your response to someone writing a rather nasty piece about you, you concluded by hoping that if one day their child or grandchild was going to turn away from Christianity that your book would be of use, I'm hoping the same thing! I hope everyone reads this book. This is so not just for Christians, it is for the people who God loves...EVERYONE. Thanks again.
I'm so glad to know the book was helpful. Thanks for the encouragement!
 

Someone you should know ...

90 Second TEASER for BURNING EMBER: THE STEVE BELL JOURNEY from Refuge 31 on Vimeo.

Learn more here.

 

On Israel, Palestine, and Presbyterian Divestment

Tikkun magazine recently offered these two letters - by both Jewish people concerned about the occupation of Palestine:
http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/perspectives-on-presbyterian-divestment
Quotable:

First, we should note that under international and American law, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal. Any business involved in the occupation is therefore illegal too. That alone should be enough to keep American companies away from the Occupation. The Israeli government argues that the occupation is necessary in order to keep Israel safe. How does building Jewish cities on stolen Palestinian land or the daily harassment and humiliation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians make Israelis more safe? All indications are that antagonizing Palestinians imperils Israeli lives.

Let us also remember that the Presbyterian resolution does not call for divestment from the State of Israel, from Israeli companies, from individual Israelis or even from Jewish-owned companies. Rather the resolution calls for divestment from three American multinationals implicated in documented human rights abuses.

The Presbyterian General Assembly will consider divestment from three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Caterpillar (CAT) sells heavy equipment used by the Israeli government in military and police actions to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural lands. It also sells heavy equipment used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, roads solely used by illegal Israeli seIlers, and the construction of the Separation Wall extending across the 1967 “Green Line” into East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The number of outstanding demolition orders in East Jerusalem alone has been estimated at up to 20,000.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) provides biometric ID equipment to monitor only Palestinians at several checkpoints inside the West Bank. 2.4 million West Bank Palestinians are required to submit to lengthy waits as well as the mandatory biometric scanning, while Israelis and other passport holders transit without scanning or comparable delays. The biometric ID is also used to regulate residency rights of non-Jews in Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has revoked more than 14,000 Jerusalem residency cards, with 4,557 being revoked in 2008 alone. HPQ sells hardware to the Israeli Navy that enables it to maintain the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. This blockade has included interdicting humanitarian supplies and attacking Palestinian fishermen.

Motorola Solutions (MSI) Motorola Solutions provided an integrated communications system, known as “Mountain Rose,” to the Israeli government which uses it for military communications. It also provided ruggedized cell phones to the Israeli army utilized in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The company also sold wide-area surveillance systems for installation in the illegal Israeli settlements.

Plainly put, corporate revenue is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. And Jewish tradition is clear in its rejection of ill-gained profits.


And this:
The Presbyterian resolution targets only the occupation which is fair and right. If I thought it was anti-Israel in any way, I would not support it. But I believe that being pro-Israel requires opposing the occupation.

This resolution is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and, above all, pro-peace. It must be approved. Voting “NO” is a vote for the occupation.

And you can read a related article by Rabbi Brant Rosen here.

Powerful stuff. Let's help it get noticed.

 

A reader writes … I found my imagination!

I realise that you'll never likely receive this message but I thought I'd write it anyway.

I'm a 31 year old Irish man. Married for 6 years now, I love the outdoors and have a passion for language learning.

I spent 8 years working for the Presbyterian Church as a youth pastor. To cut a long story short... I found my imagination, the capacity to love those not like me, to see Christ outside the walls of the church, to read more widely, to question what I'd always been told about 'the other'
whether they be culturally or politically different, to respect, accept and welcome more...

I left my job with the church to become a Spanish teacher just last year. Having always planned to become a adult pastor it was a shock for many and still the fear is that I'm 'lost', that I no longer "love The Lord" or read the Scriptures.

My loving The Lord and reading the scriptures are all that people are concerned about it appears. (I still do both but make no song and dance about it).

Few understand the transformation that my faith has undergone, how much wider my vision for faith now is, how more expansive, mesmerising and beautifully I see things. The good news is better news than it ever was before.

Anyway... I want to thank you for your books. Your pastoral understanding has meant a lot when no one else appeared to understand. I'm not attending church right now (it does me more harm than good) and am happily working in a high school teaching Spanish/French and looking after Special Needs learners. The plan was always to be a Pastor and I'm happy to be fulfilling that role outside the walls of the church.

I imagine you get a letter like this at least twice an hour so please don't feel the need to reply!


Thanks for writing. I don't get a letter like this twice an hour, but steady stream of voices are saying almost the same thing … discovering, as you say, "how much wider my vision for faith now is, how more expansive, mesmerising and beautifully I see things. The good news is better news than it ever was before."

 

A brilliant series on the future of Christian faith

Patheos is running a series readers of this blog will enjoy. In addition to yours truly, it features Adam Hamilton, Barbara Brown Taylor, Peter Matthews, and many more people I greatly respect.

Here is my contribution to a panel on the Bible.

The piece stands alone, but also gives a good overview of my approach in We Make the Road by Walking, which is available now.

 

Don't Get Caught!

10334383_10204012794580919_7145366000063273573_n.jpg

 

A Millennial Speaks ...

This piece from Laura Cowan deserves attention from Catholic, Mainline and Evangelical readers … Quotable:
This:

The moral of this story might surprise you: Millennials leaving the Church is a good thing, in my opinion. For me the GOOD news is that my generation HAS refused to put up with gross distortions of Christianity. These behaviors we’re talking about are not compatible with the Christian faith. They’re not Christian behaviors at all, though we all behave in ways that aren’t consistent with our beliefs from time to time. But I think this situation with millennials leaving means they’re paying attention and they’re following their consciences and refusing to compromise their morality in order to belong to religious institutions. The pressure that used to be there to conform to religious norms isn’t there to the same degree anymore in our society, it’s true, but my hope is for a generation that walks away from the distorted practices of the Church and then walks right into Jesus’s arms somewhere else, creating an entirely new form of Christian spirituality we’ve never seen before. There are a lot of ways Christianity could take shape that don’t involve what church on Sunday looks like today. You’ll find the beginnings of hope for this in the emergent and social justice and creation care movements, and hopefully with those millennials who say they’re spiritual but not religious. Those are the people I serve with my life’s work: the brokenhearted, the abused, the people who are looking for light in the world and can’t find it. I’m grateful for the experiences of my youth, if only because they’ve given me the education I needed to understand this human woundedness that leads to such abuse. I am dedicating my life to not only stopping this dynamic from continuing in my family line, but to reversing it in my culture. It is not okay, it is not Christian, and so far as anything comes through me, it stops here.

And this:
Things are changing whether religious bullies want them to or not.

Thanks, Laura!

 

Q & R: Positive attitude toward Christianity?

Here's the Q:

First of all I really love your work. I love the way you are so positive despite of differences and critique.I'm from the Netherlands and I'm really struggling trying to figure out all the doubtful stuff in christianity.

For about 5 years I've been questioning my faith and researching all kinds of literature. Somewhere in this process I read 'a new kind of christianity', which led me to read all your other books as well! I just love em.

But I find it really hard to maintain a positive attitude towards christianity because the naive approach a lot of christians have. So my question to you is first of all how do you cope with that?

But to me the more important question is how do you fit Jesus in all of this. If you look at historical data and the way the bible is somewhat primitive (some parts)... and if we say that the whole wrath thing is not really the case... then what's left of the Jesus story and what's His role in our lives?

I would love to hear your comments on this. And again, thnx for all the writing!


Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I've been to Netherlands a few times and love your land and especially the Dutch people.

Once I was having a lot of trouble getting along with someone who had hurt me deeply. I went to one of my mentors and asked for help.

"You have to forgive him," my mentor said.

"That's the problem," I said. "I could say I forgive him, but I wouldn't mean it. I'm very angry at him. I don't feel I can honestly forgive him at this point. I want to, but I can't."

"Ah, that's because you don't understand him," my mentor said.

"That's a problem too. He makes no sense to me. I can't understand him," I replied.

"When you realize he's just a human being like you, and others hurt him, you'll understand that his most obnoxious behaviors are expressions of fear and hurt. Then you'll have compassion on him, and then you'll be able to forgive him," he replied.

I think something similar happens with Christianity as a community. Christianity is people, and people are in process. Various expressions of the religion have been hurt and sometimes get reactive and hurtful. But just as people can change for the better, so can communities. That's part of what I'm trying to get at in "We Make the Road by Walking."

Maybe you and I can take steps in better directions so that our faith communities can grow and change for the better.

As for your question about Jesus - I think you'll really like my new book. It will address this directly. Let me know what you think, OK?

 

My Muslim friend Rahim ...

wrote this beautiful artists' prayer …
http://rahimsnow.com/writings/artist-prayer/
Quotable from Rahim's website:

Even though some would like to see us abandon religion altogether as a useless relic from the past, I would like to see us upgrade and redesign religion so that it fulfills its original intention. No matter how old these religions are or what culture they come from, they still hold truths that can speak to us and feed us…. We have a lot of good hearty work to do, so I invite you to roll up your sleeves and join me.

Just as many of us are seeking new ways of being authentically Christian, we have counterparts doing similar work in Islam, Judaism, and other religions too.

 

Q & R: Heresy

Here's the Q:

From a leadership perspective, What boundaries do you think Christians should have on 'heresy'?

If you have time, here's a (very) partial answer I've been pondering ....

I've been extremely resistant to the idea of heresy, because I've found that it's usually on matters of opinion that the heresy card gets thrown around. Specifically, I find that the false doctrine or 'false teacher' card gets played any time where it looks like having mercy and grace toward others is going to win out over keeping theological traditions.

Yet wonder if there are times when it's appropriate to call someone out on their beliefs or practises. Perhaps when people start arguing and dividing and calling each other names (or burning one another at the stake) is the time to point out that heresy only really happens when an idea leads to people being dehumanized.

Well, I think there's also when core confessions of the faith are torn down. I.e no compromise from me on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, although I do appreciate the sociological commentary of the Jesus seminar - even though I think they got the 'main' detail wrong.

My context is that I am responsible for and to people who are very black and white when it comes to their reasoning skills, and thus very black and white when it comes to their bibles. Ironically, thesis thinkers are on both the liberal and conservative theological spectrum. That fascinates me endlessly. So I want to be sensitive to the fact that a poor logical premise accepted by these good folks will quickly turn into a disaster. But I also get frustrated because I see things differently - or perhaps I am learning to see behind certain things.

I am concerned because I've seen people take what is otherwise fine doctrine, and twist it around so that it is not fine in practise. I've also seen people take what I consider terrible theology, and do unbelievably gracious and wise things with it. Of course, I've also seen questionable theology (most notably, where opinions are stated as unquestionable facts) create messes, and I've seen well reasoned, gently communicated theology empower whole communities.


Here's the R:
Great question - one I can't do justice to in a short blog post, but here are a few responses.
1. The Greek word for heresy (hairesis) means choice. The idea is that an individual or group makes a choice to differ from the norm.

2. Ideas/doctrines are usually classified as heretical, but I think attitudes may be even more problematic. In Generous Orthodoxy, I offered a telling of early church heresies where the key attitude of heretics was elitist, exclusionary superiority: we are legit, everyone else isn't. Orthodoxy, then, was the broader term, more accepting and "catholic," and heresies were more elitist and exclusionary.

3. In Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, I took orthodox doctrines that have been applied with exclusive, hostile attitudes, and tried to reframe them in more "catholic" ways. In your words, I tried to take those "otherwise fine doctrines" that have been "twisted it around so that they are not fine in practice" and untwist them so they can have better out workings in praxis.

4. In We Make the Road by Walking, I explore an idea that G. K. Chesterton introduced at the end of his book Orthodoxy:

“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

What I love about this quote is that it pictures orthodoxy as a dynamic process, not simply a guard standing in one place, but rather a charioteer swerving, reeling, and racing in a "swirling adventure." My metaphor of walking a road - and extending it "off the map" - is tame by comparison, but I hope conveys the same idea. It implies a deeper and more dynamic understanding of both orthodoxy and heresy, I think. Orthodoxy is not a paved parking lot with its straight yellow lines, and heresy is not people choosing to park on the grass at all kinds of skewed angles. Rather, orthodoxy is the path that begins in the past and we must now extend into the future - with faith, fear, trembling, joy, and courage. And heresy is all those paths that divert people from the road and lead them into swamps, dead ends, and parking lots.

5. The problem, of course, is that in the present, it's not always clear who is making the right choice … to take this way or that. That's why I have no problem with various denominations or associations existing to make their own decisions of what they consider on the road and what they consider diversionary. Just as different populations of biological species mutate in different ways, some of which lead to extinction and others to evolution, I imagine that the choices made by different denominations and movements will ensure that the species over time both survives and evolves.

6. This approach reaches the same conclusion that you reach. It's irresponsible to say, "It doesn't matter what choices you make about doctrines, etc." But it's also terribly unwise to take the role of violent, angry, fearful inquisitors. But I wouldn't stop there.

7. I think one more question needs to be asked: Isn't it tragic that the Christian church was so focused on orthodoxy of doctrine that it didn't pay much attention to racism, sexism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, slavery, genocide, scapegoating, and the like for its first two thousand years?

I can imagine Jesus, James, Paul, or John saying, "You say, "Lord! Lord!" correctly, but you don't do the things I say," or "What shall it profit a person to have correct opinions but fail to love his neighbor?" Is a racist orthodoxy superior to a loving heresy? Thank God we don't have to choose between those two!

That's why some of our forbears had the courage to differ - to choose a different path - from their forbears who defended anti-Semitism, suppression of women, colonialism, segregation/apartheid, slavery, etc. They challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of their day that defended these practices with all kinds of doctrinal arguments. Sometimes the choice to differ was the orthodox choice.

Similarly today, to be faithful pilgrims on the road of truth and saving love, sometimes we need to differ - faithfully, humbly, and graciously - from our forbears and some of our peers as we move forward. Attitude is essential. And orthodoxy must no longer be separted from orthopraxy, ortho-affinity, and orthopathy. That's why I am such a fan of documents like the Accra Confession and Belhar Confession … and it's why I wrote my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

 

Q & R: We Make the Road in Spanish?

Here's the Q:

Can I buy " we make the road walking" in spanish????

Here's the R:
Not yet. Here's how the process works. A Spanish publisher has to show some interest in the book. (Sometimes that happens because someone like you contacts the publisher and encourages them to consider it.) They then contact my publisher, Jericho/Hachette. They reach an agreement and then translation begins. My books Secret Message of Jesus and More Ready Than You Realize are in Spanish, and A Generous Orthodoxy is in Portuguese. Korean, Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, German, and other translations have been made for a number of my books, but relatively few in Spanish … so far. For now, We Make the Road by Walking is only available in English.

 

An interview and a review

Here's an interview on my new book:
http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/media/entry/5143/interview-with-brian-mclaren

And here's a review by Tony Jones, who read the manuscript and made suggestions that improved the book. (Thanks, Tony!) He also suggested a different title - which you'll read about in his review.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/06/10/the-mclaren-lectionary/


 

Q & R: Girardian Lectionary

Here's the Q:

I just listened to a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity where you dialogued with James Alison. You mentioned a Girard Lectionary. I've looked all over and can't seem to find it. May I please have the title, author, etc. so I can get a copy?

Thanks for this and for all you do.


Here's the R:
Ah, I think you got the impression that it was a book, but actually, it's a website that contains information that would fill dozens of books if not hundreds. You'll find it here:
http://girardianlectionary.net

It's the work of a brilliant and generous Lutheran pastor, Paul Nuechterlein. I think the world of Paul, and was so happy to read these words from him about my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

"If I were to organize this website into a year's worth of sermons presenting a comprehensive engagement with the basic Christian message, and all with the anthropology of René Girard in the background guiding the interpretation, I couldn't hope for writing a book this good. I am delighted and extremely grateful that Brian has written this book. I pray that it becomes a classic of Christian instruction and spiritual formation."

 

A reader writes: Just another "Just" War?

A reader writes ...

I finished Everything Must Change and thought it is excellent. I like the fact that while you fervently uphold Jesus' revolutionary vision, you do not shrink from admitting the many failings of the institutional church throughout history. I just read a horrifying book about the persecution of Michael Servetus by both the Catholic Inquisition and by John Calvin:
Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in... by Lawrence Goldstone and Nancy Goldstone (Sep 2, 2003)

The only thing that disappointed me was your discussion of Just War. I think you should be more categorical about rejecting this vile notion. When Augustine formulated it most Christians lived within the Roman Empire and would not have had to fight against Christian brothers in enemy kingdoms. But I am sure you would agree that over most of the past 1500 years since the fall of pagan Rome, European nations have shed each other's blood liberally all in the name of Just War!

Indeed the Servetus book above explains that during the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics, parts of Europe lost half their population! And both world wars shed enormous quantities of Christian blood.

I like to say the following: "Just War" is just another war! I think even the standard justification invoked for it to oppose someone like Hitler is bogus, since the vast majority of Hitler's military was comprised of believing Lutherans and Catholics. Had they categorically rejected the so called just-war option, then we would not have faced the crisis in the first place.

Today the same grim scenario is being repeated in Ukraine. Putin is by every measure a devout Christian, but most American evangelicals seem almost eager to demonize him and pigeon hole him as a "closet commie." The very people who so oppose virtually every policy of Obama seem to be straining at the leash to embrace a possible war in Eastern Europe. This I believe perfectly reflects the unwillingness of the church to categorically reject the poisonous option of war.

Thanks for your note. There is horror in any human blood being shed, whether that blood flows from a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, atheist, secularist, or whatever, as I'm sure you'll agree. Minimizing that horror - even glorifying it - can only serve to make it more common.

With wars, veterans, prisoners of war, and the like in the news so much lately, I've been hearing a lot of talk that glorifies war and minimizes its horrors and tragedies. No nation seems to be very honest about its wars, and calling a war "just" easily hides a lot of ugly secrets that most people seem happy to hide. The old story of Cain and Abel penetrates our fog of deception and reminds us that all wars are civil wars, and our enemies are our brothers. Add to it the story of the Prodigal Son, and we remember that our enemies are beloved by God just as much as we are. I just need to sit with that realization a while today.

 

Does your church have a lawn?

Here's something to consider:
http://tcpc.blogs.com/musings/2014/06/buckwheat-salvation-native-plant-revival-coming-to-a-church-near-you.html

 

links roundup - music, comfort/joy, hell, awareness, and more

MUSIC: My friend Michelle has a new album out. You can sample it here … and pick it up too.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/king-of-all-creation-ep/id883665172
http://www.amazon.com/King-All-Creation-Michelle-Weger/dp/B00KNLNKP8

Plus - you can sample music from a bunch of wonderful musicians in The Shift Collective here:
https://play.spotify.com/user/chrstphrg/playlist/2FwD4uTnRFGF3GVrGLZKvT

COMFORT AND JOY: If all the world's meansters and crazies have you down, here's a moment of comfort and joy from Capetown, RSA:
http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-01-15-a-homeless-bazaar-cape-towns-street-store-where-everythings-for-free/#.U5hpBMbogYM

HELL: My fellow Jericho author Jon Sweeney has written an excellent book on a hot topic. Learn more in this interview:
http://missional.ca/2014/06/inventing-hell/

AWARENESS: Recently I participated in an exciting series on Spirituality and Awareness. I was one of 33 spiritual leaders interviewed, and I expect this FREE virtual conference will a truly inspirational experience. You can sign up for free to live stream the virtual conference from June 30 to July 4. Here is the link to find out more about the conference or to sign up.
http://www.entheos.com/Emerging-Spirituality-and-Awareness/Brian-McLaren
I highly recommend this conference. You can also email the host Ian Lawton, ian@soulseeds.com, if you have any questions about the conference.

What You Need to Know
When: June 30 - July 4, 2014
Where: Online!
Cost: sign up for FREE here: http://www.entheos.com/Emerging-Spirituality-and-Awareness/Brian-McLaren

 

First Review, Important Questions, and philosophical conversation ...

The first review of my new book from the good people of Spirituality and Practice is up here:
http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=26383

My recent replies to excellent questions from Rachel Held Evans' intelligent and animated blog readers is up here:
http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-brian-mclaren-response

And a recent interview about philosophy and theology with my friend David Peck is up here:
http://www.davidpecklive.com/episode-49-brian-mclaren/

 

Wild Goose - coming soon, but it's not too late to register!

As a contributor to the festival, I've been given this code, BMCANDSJ, which you can use for 30% off at the WG website: http://wildgoosefestival.org/tickets. You can't get a better deal, so don't miss the opportunity, and I'll see you at the Goose!

Just take one minute and look at the speakers (http://wildgoosefestival.org/speakers/), music (http://wildgoosefestival.org/music/), visual art (http://wildgoosefestival.org/art/), and performances and practices (http://wildgoosefestival.org/performances-practices/) that will be a part of the Goose. Just looking at the faces on these pages and you'll see we are about to enter into a conversation that might not be able to happen anywhere else.

 

Today ...

Thanks so much, all my wonderful readers, for your interest in my work. Today is the release date for my new book We Make the Road by Walking.
Today you can help my new book get a good start if you pick up a copy … and maybe an extra for a friend or relative. Ordering information here. I'm grateful for your interest and support, and I know you'll enjoy the book.
Again, thanks!
Bpt7gDACIAExf6p.jpg

 

Q & R: Adversarial systems

Here's the Q:

I have just finished reading your book “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” and it was good and challenging in the right way. You point out the problems hostility produces and my question is this.

In the United States, and probably many other places, the legal system is based on an adversarial relationship. For instance, prosecutors and defense attorneys are adversaries. Would the existence of this kind of system be corrosive to a non-hostile community?

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Here's the R:
You raise a really important question. Rather than answer it, let me rephrase it and then pose some related questions.

1. Could we imagine a legal system based on a common pursuit for justice rather than an adversarial pursuit of "wins?"

2. Can we imagine an economic system based on the common good, sustainability, and creative collaboration rather than ruthless competition?

3. Can we imagine a political system based on civility rather than wedge issues and dishonesty?

Those are the kinds of questions that get us dreaming of the "commonwealth of God." And for those who are thinking - "Yea, that's realistic!" (insert sarcasm) - remember that centuries ago, a few daring people asked …

Can we imagine a political system where every person got to vote and we replace kings elevated by primogeniture with elected public servants?

Can we imagine a system where women were considered equal to men?

Can we imagine a world where domestic violence was not acceptable?

Can we imagine a world where all children had a right to free public education?

Can we imagine a world where slavery did not exist? Where segregation/apartheid did not exist? Where minorities had equal protection under the law?

As the saying goes … another world is not only possible; it is already under construction. That's a great paraphrase for "The kingdom of God is at hand." We're on a journey into ever-greater justice, reconciliation, and peace … we make the road by walking.

 

Music for a Sunday (and the 6 days following)

I've been enjoying this beautiful album by Solveig Leithaug, Finding Home:
https://itunes.apple.com/no/album/finding-home/id762506908
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Finding+Home+Solveig+Leithaug
You can learn more about Solveig here:
http://solveigmusic.com

Something I wrote played a part in inspiring this beautiful song - "The World You Made" -
Quotable:

O the wonder of your faithfulness, summer, winter, spring and fall
Holy Father of the universe, great and merciful
Rushing rivers, rolling hills, jumping trout, and deer at play
Beautiful beyond our words is this world you made
O, what a world you made.
From the floral valleys to glacial peaks, northern lights to desert bloom,
Erupting geyser to coral reef, nature speaks of you
Earth is framed within your hands, earth and harvest, air and rain,
Show us, Lord, how to better care, for this world you made.

 

Here's a sermon for Pentecost Sunday ...

http://jerichobooks.com/pentecost-blog/
… from my upcoming book. I hope you enjoy it!

 

In turtle news … why did the turtle cross the road?

TURTLEphotos.jpg
Nobody knows!
(HT: Thanks, Gary!)

 

Three links you shouldn't miss.

Consider hosting this play -
http://www.listeningforgrace.com

Don't be blind to the realities of racism and white privilege -
Check out this from James Cone …

And this from Andrea Smith.

 

Q & R: What about weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Here's the Q:

I have been reading your works off and on for about 10 years. Recently I have been reading and re-reading “A New Kind of Christianity”, which I have found very helpful in answering some questions I have. However, there are some other questions this line of thinking brings up. Reading chapters 13 and 14, where you break down the Gospel according to John, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, I find great inspiration. But what do we do with Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew? I generally read the four Gospels in the light of the Gospel according to Jesus (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (and in my thoughts available to be experienced now as revealed in the Beatitudes) What about the references to the weeping and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into outer darkness, etc. etc. etc.?

Here's the R:
This is a huge question, and I can't do justice to it in a short post. But let me offer a wild proposal. I'm not fully convinced of all the details in the proposal below, but this approach deserves consideration. It builds on insights from mimetic theory and from the work of Walter Wink, William Herzog, Andrew Perriman, and others.

1. The overall issue is not the end of the world, but the destruction of the temple (24:1-2). Much as people today foresee the end of nuclear proliferation or global warming or a pyramid economy that is owned by the 1%, Jesus foresaw that a militarized Israel would stage a violent rebellion against Rome which would be crushed.

2. His warnings that follow aren't about the end of the world, but the end of the world as they know it … an end that occurred in AD67-70 when the Romans came in and crushed the Jewish rebellion (24:3-31). For more on the phrase "coming of the Human One" or "coming of the Son of Man," see the work of Andrew Perriman.

3. "The generation will not pass" had its obvious meaning (24:32-35).

4. The "left behind imagery of 24:36-44 means the opposite of what Dispensationalists and other fundamentalists taught. Being "taken away" means killed by invading armies. Being "left behind" means surviving the attack.

5. If that's the case, the catastrophes in the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards aren't going to hell after you die, but the consequence of trusting in violent rebellion and not being ready for the coming catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem.

6. This is a tangent … but the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards are highly problematic. It's possible Jesus didn't intend the master, bridegroom, and rich man to refer to God … but to Caesar and his regime. Maybe not - but it's worth a thought. If that's the case, the point isn't, "Be on the alert because God might come back and destroy you at any moment if you're not careful," but "Be on the alert because Caesar might come back and destroy you if you're not careful."

7. Whether or not 6 is valid, the point of 7 is … swinging back to #1 … this: what God desires is not violent rebellion against the Romans, but grass-roots kindness and humane treatment of the least, the last, and the lost. This is a time not for hostility against our occupiers but for solidarity with the most vulnerable, those suffering most under the occupying regime. Humanity will be judged not based on who is the military victor … but who is truly human and humane.

Try this interpretation on and test it as a hypothesis. It makes sense of 26:1-5 too - because Jesus basically says, "If anyone proclaims a message of nonviolent resistance - rather than violent resistance or nonviolent compliance - that messenger is doomed. I understand that. So be prepared for what's about to happen to me."

One more question needs to be asked, of course. In light of these passages, what might Jesus say to us if he were here now, seeing the huge challenges we face - the broad road leading to environmental destruction, economic collapse, and social conflict?

It's an exciting time to be reading the Bible!

 

A documentary on being Christian and ...

more. You don't have to be Adventist to be a raving fan of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith at the Margins. You can watch it and buy it here:
http://buy.sgamovie.com

 

Tonight I'll be on Soul Emergence Radio …

Learn more here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/truthworks/2014/06/04/soul-emergence-radio-episode-110-an-evening-with-brian-mclaren

And tomorrow I'll be on Holy Rascal Radio … more here:
http://www.unity.fm/program/howtobeaholyrascal
If you'd like to call-in 888.55.UNITY (888.558-6489)
Also, after the show, the show will be available on iTunes-
https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/how-to-be-a-holy-rascal/id663947061?mt=2

 

Q & R: Charitable giving

Here's the Q:

You’ve made references in some of your writings about charitable giving. I really want to make an effort to be generous with my money. I have a heart particularly for the poor since I grew up in poverty. It’s a really overwhelming topic and I just don’t know where to start and who to trust. I’m currently not at a place in my life where I’m ready to return to the church so traditional “tithing” isn’t really an option and I’m not sure that I would trust a church to put my dollars towards serving itself before serving the poor.

Heres' the R:
Thanks for this important question. Poverty is a complex reality, as you know, and often, when people sincerely try to make things better, their results are hard to measure. Sometimes, they may even make things worse. (I wrote about this in some detail in my book Everything Must Change.) Here are several categories of organizations that do great work in constructive ways:
1. Relief and Development: Organizations like World Vision and Unbound provide direct help to people in poverty through sponsorship - providing nutrition, education, and health care, and they help communities build capacity for prosperity.
2. Education organizations focus on helping kids develop skills that will bring them out of poverty. The Sold Project, started by my friend Rachel Goble, is a great example.
3. Community Development organizations focus on helping people in local neighborhoods, villages, slums, etc., set goals and achieve holistic results for themselves. I have good friends who lead organizations in this category - like Communities of Hope, African Road, and Urban Transformation.
4. Social Justice organizations focus on changing unjust policies and laws that put people into poverty. Three of my favorites are Coalition of Immokalee Workers (right here in the US), Sabeel, and Association for More Just Society.
5. Ethical businesses … for-profit companies play an important role in helping people out of poverty - especially when they have values beyond "the single bottom line" of profit. You can learn more about ethical business - with a triple bottom line of social, environmental, and economic benefit - here. By investing in businesses like these, you help poor people and can get a return on your investment.
6. Messaging and mobilizing organizations help people understand poverty and get involved in the biblical call to social justice. Sojourners, Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Auburn Media are great organizations in this category. I hope the Cana Initiative will also make significant contributions in this regard. You might even consider many writers and journalists as members of this category.
7. Exposure/relationship-building organizations help people visit underserved communities and build relationships with people who live in poverty. As my friend Shane Claiborne says, our problem often is not that we don't care about poor people, but we don't know any poor people personally. Groups like Camino Connection and Global Immersion Project do wonderful work in this way.

I'm sure there are other categories too, and so many fantastic organizations doing wonderful work … I hope readers will feel free to add their recommendations/comments over on my Facebook page.

 

We Can Refuse to Be Enemies

We can refuse to be silent.
We can refuse double standards.
We can refuse to be enemies.
From my piece on TIME.com:

Many of us have avoided facing the unsettling understanding that religious identity can be turned to violent ends in any religion: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist. To understand religious violence will require us to understand others’ violence, and our own; then demand that our faith leaders set the example of building strong identities that are benevolent, not hostile, toward others.

Along with decrying violence in the name of religion, we can celebrate the heroic acts of kindness and solidarity of more “normative” people of faith like the Egyptian Christians who’ve protected mosques and the Egyptian Muslims who’ve protected churches on many occasions over the last few years.

We Christians cannot remain silent about the horrific violence against Christians around the world. But to respond in ways that intensify fear, hatred and mistrust will never move us beyond global religious hostility. We must be vocal advocates for the rights of all religious minorities — from Texas to Tehran, from Nashville to Nigeria.


For more on this subject, see
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? and
We Make the Road by Walking

 

Q & R: 2 questions about WMTRBW

Here's the first Q:

Our church is excitedly anticipating the release of your new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

We are deeply engaged in creating a new approach to faith formation, not just for youth but for all members of your congregation, and think that your book might be an excellent resource. In fact, our Small Groups planning team intends to discuss the possibility of using it as a study resource with the entire congregation, perhaps even purchasing a copy for each family (about 70 households).

We have a couple of questions that you may be able to help us with as we head into a major planning meeting later this week.

First, is there a way of previewing a sample chapter and the discussion questions that accompany it? The table of contents and the other information we’ve seen is helpful, but having a slightly bigger picture would really help us to determine how we can best use this resource.

Yes. Even better - you can preview the preface, introduction, and first three chapters here:
https://www.facebook.com/JerichoBooks/app_137541772984354

Here's the 2nd Q:

The second question is this: do you think that your book would be suitable for intergenerational study? We aim to forge deeper connections between congregants of all ages as they share their faith stories and grow spiritually. If you have any recommendations or suggestions to share, we would be delighted to hear them!

We’ve recently discovered Faith Forward and have been deeply inspired by the reading we have done about new directions in youth ministry. We are very excited by the potential this research has to transform traditional, often ineffective approaches to youth ministry, and are excited to hear what new ideas come out of the upcoming conference in Nashville.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. We deeply appreciate any answers and suggestions you may be able to provide.

Yes. You'll notice when you read the "Engage" questions that there is always a question especially for children. And I tried to construct the questions so that they would be accessible to a wide range of people, whatever their age or background. My hope is that groups will include children and youth, all the way up to seniors. In Appendix I (available for download here) that there are a number of suggestions for including children and youth. Obviously, there's a huge difference between a three-year-old and an eleven-year-old, so they will engage at different levels. But I believe our faith communities should be the places in our culture where children are treated with more respect and inclusion than anyplace else.

 

5 Things You Should Know about the Pope's Visit to Israel Palestine

Here:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/22/pope-francis-in-the-holy-land-5-things-to-know/
Quotable:

On the West Bank, he will greet children from several Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who is Eastern Orthodox (as are most Christians in the Middle East) said he hopes Pope Francis will “see the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

“We are misrepresented and are unfortunately seen by some to be criminals and terrorists,” Hanna said. “I hope they can see that we are a civilized, peaceful and well-educated people seeking freedom and a better future.”

John Esposito, an expert on international relations at Georgetown University, said the Pope’s meeting with Christians in Bethlehem could open some eyes about the Israel-Palestinian standoff.

“It will underscore the fact that it’s not just a Muslim-Jewish conflict,” he said.


 

Q & R: 2 unusual questions ...

Q # 1:

Have you ever thought about leading a study tour of the Holy Land?

I did help organize a tour of Israel and Palestine, focused not only on ancient sites but on the current conflict there. It was a great experience, led by Jeff and Janet Wright (below). If any of my readers are interested in such an experience, all I can say is it is life-changing. I'd highly recommend you avoid tours that avoid presenting a balanced view of current realities. Several groups lead responsible and balanced tours. Two of my favorites are …
Footsteps of Jesus - led by my friends Jeff and Janet Wright

The Global Immersion Project - led by my friend Jon Huckins

Q #2:

I was just wondering what days Brian will be talking at the Greenbelt Festival and what is the event he will be talking at in Zurich in November? I really want to go to both so any information would be great.

I'll be at Greenbelt the whole time, but don't know my specific speaking times yet. Info here. And I'll post information on my time in Zurich as soon as I have it - on my schedule, here.

 

How to make this summer your best ever … begin at the Goose!

Goose14_WebAd1_300x600.png

Because I'm a presenter at Wild Goose, I've been given a code to share for discount admission. If you use the code BMCANDSJ, you will get 30% off tickets!
Join me at @wildgoosefest, a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music & art in NC June 26-29! http://bit.ly/1j7O75v

 

Q & R: Church without … God?

Here's the Q:

I have been reading your books and articles for many years and much of your spiritual journey parallels my own. I am very drawn to the ideas you and your fellow travellers promote and I want to jump boots and all into a new kind of Christian lifestyle. I have been agnostic about the literal existence of God, as an entity completely independent of our own minds, for several years now and although I can no longer accept that the Bible records literally true events that would be recognisable in video playback, I do appreciate the power of the stories of the Bible and its ability to guide and inspire us on our spiritual journeys. Although I cannot affirm any creeds, I still feel that the central Christian concepts of love, reconciliation and the power of sacrifice are a wonderful core spirituality for a meaningful life.

I want to find a contemplative and open mainline church to be part of and once again feel a part of a growing and searching community as I was for the first 40 years of my life. What holds me back is that I find it impossible to pretend. Impossible to go to church and pray as if there is a self-existent being listening to me. I can't embrace the metaphor and lose myself in it. I can't sing the hymns or the songs that are for me forever connected to fundamentalist ideas about truth and obligation.

I long for what I once had as an evangelical but can't feel comfortable pretending to really believe while those around me orient their whole lives around a list of things they believe that I just do not.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. It points up the problem with the word "God" that more and more people are having … from self-existent being entirely independent of our own minds to big man with long white beard on floating throne to angry celestial dictator with thunderbolts or hellfires waiting to intimidate the rebellious into compliance.

My friend Frank Schaeffer recently published a book on this subject - highly worth reading: Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. In the book, and also in his recent novel And God Said "Billy!", Frank shares with rare honesty how he grapples with these issues …

On a more philosophical level, I recommend Richard Kearney's Anatheism. At some point, I might take on this subject myself. We'll see.

On the church side - my Unitarian friends would be quick to offer a safe and open spiritual home for you, and some United Church of Christ congregations, among other denominations, would also be happy welcome you without pressuring you to say or sing things you don't mean. But what might be most meaningful at this point would be to find a trained spiritual director who would help you explore other ways to think of and relate to God. One of my friends said it this way: "We need to bring God back on a higher level."

My book Naked Spirituality might be meaningful to you in all this … because the God that no longer works for you is the Stage-1 and Stage-2 God of Simplicity and Complexity. I think there are understandings of God that emerge at later stages in the spiritual journey that could be highly meaningful to you. Thanks again for writing, and for expressing what more and more people feel.

 

Today's sermon … by Jake

Jake speaks truth to power, here:

Andy if you'd like to see/hear a recent sermon from me delivered at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, you'll find it here.

 

A most excellent week ...

I was a small part of two tremendous events this week. Faith Forward brings together people interested in innovative ministry with Children and Youth, and Festival of Homiletics brings together preachers. The planning and organization of both events was tremendous … the program top-notch … and the spirit among participants was a delight. You can't be at events like these without feeling that there is a fresh wind blowing among church leaders in the US.

If you're looking for events not to mix this summer, here are some I'll be involved with:

June 19-22 - I'll be in Dallas leading a "boot camp" about forming and leading an experimental faith community. It will be fun, practical, and skill-based, with lots of time for interaction. We'll use my new book, We Make the Road by Walking … which I'm really excited about.

June 26-29 - Wild Goose Festival. Always a fantastic experience. The line-up is breath-taking, the setting magical.

August 7-10 - National Church Leaders Institute … I'm really looking forward to this one.

August 10-14 - Companions on the Inner Way - a retreat focused on … the inner life. I've heard great things about this annual gathering and will be presenting some brand new material in this beautiful setting.

 

Tis a gift to be simple … church

We hear a lot of complaints about the state of the church … but Jim Burklo wrote a piece recently profiling some beautiful churches ...
http://tcpc.blogs.com/musings/2014/05/a-visit-to-thads.html
And I must say that in my travels, I keep running into beautiful congregations doing great things. There are more out there than you might think.

Last Sunday, I loved being at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids … There was a humble, reverent, enthusiastic joyful spirit, plus one of the most beautiful sets of worship songs I've heard in ages.

I was especially thrilled to see how my book Naked Spirituality has been a resource in a year-long engagement with "12 simple words."

People posted simple expressions of thanks on blue post-its … They wrote simple expressions of "help" that were folded into birds and suspended from the ceiling … They even spray-painted graffiti expressions of "no" (rage and refusal) that were incorporated into a beautiful work of art. I posted photos over on my Facebook page (which I hope you'll "like" if you haven't already!).

Also on my Facebook page - a beautiful quote from a new book about church. Molly Phinney Baskette's new book, Real Good Church, is brimming with hope and great ideas.

 

A reader writes … great conversations with my friends

I'm just finishing "Why did Jesus, Moses..." and I wanted to say thank you. This book could not have been more timely in my life, nor could it have been more encouraging and live-giving to me and my spiritual walk. My friends are diverse, cultured and at times very anti-Christian, recently I've had some great conversations with them which it brought big questions about Christianity, which I have seen little written about. This book has given me so much more insight into the posture I can take in order to lovingly engage and give grace to my friends.

For this I am grateful. Thank you. Thank you.


Thank you for these encouraging words. I think my upcoming book will also be of help as you live from that posture of loving and gracious engagement. I hope you'll enjoy it.

 

Climate Change Deniers and Believers … a challenge to both

Climate Change Deniers … here's a three-part challenge.
1. Read this article.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html?emc=edit_th_20140513&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=57702311&_r=0
2. Decide if you are willing to go on record as calling this a scam. If so, go on record, so your children and grandchildren will know where you stood.
3. If not, go on record to let people know that you have changed your mind and are no longer a denier. Then move to part two below.

Climate Change Acknowledgers … we have an even bigger challenge.
1. Keep up with the news on scientific evidence for global climate change:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html?emc=edit_th_20140513&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=57702311&_r=0
2. Bring up the subject whenever you can …
3. Don't stop there - look for ways you can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint. (This is hard. Very hard. And it's not enough, but it's an important start.) This should include divesting from fossil fuel corporations like Exxon.
4. Don't stop there - work for changes in policy on behalf of our environment, which many of us believe is God's beloved creation. Support candidates who demonstrate understanding and concern for the environment.
5. Don't stop there - keep learning more through civil society groups like 350.org.
6. Don't stop there - this will be a lifelong struggle, on behalf of our grandchildren's grandchildren, so join and support local groups, like this one in my area.
7. Integrate concern for the environment into your spiritual life - into your prayers, songs, public worship, etc. Then go back and repeat these seven steps on a more intense level.

 

A window into an Egyptian prison cell ...

It's disappointing to see how little coverage Egypt gets in the Western media. Here is a message from a US citizen of Egyptian origin. Mr. Soltan is in my prayers...

Peace and Mercy of God be upon you. I seek your permission not to interrupt me for seven minutes while I try to sum up the suffering of the last nine months. My health is deteriorating and this session may be the last I am able to attend.
My name is Muhammad Salah Soltan. I am 26 years old, Egyptian by origin and hold a US citizenship. I am proud of every bit of my Egyptian and American identities. I am a graduate of Ohio State University, with a BSc in Economics. I formerly worked as an Institutional Development Manager in a petroleum services company. I left my job in America and moved to Egypt in March 2013 in order to take care of my mother who was afflicted with cancer and my brother who is afflicted with a vitiliginous disease [a skin disorder]. I have been in Egypt for one year and two months of which I have spent nine months in jail. I was arrested together with my friends who were visiting me when the police came to our home on August 27 to arrest my father. When they did not find him they took us. Since that day until now this is what happened:

Continue reading A window into an Egyptian prison cell ......

 

A reader from way down under writes ...

I write to you (hoping you might see this) to simply say thank you.

I have just completed my honours year in theology at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra Australia and am about to embark on a PhD. I have undergone a tremendous evolutionary process in terms of my theology and faith life in the last 4 years and have come to a place where I have less and less certainty to cling on to and more and more questions to contemplate and think through. I have struggled through this process feeling quite alone for the most part, as conservative theology and mainline Catholic or Evangelical leanings are what makes up the convictions of most in my circles.

I wanted to say thank you for your bold and brave book: ‘A New Kind of Christianity’. I journeyed through it with you and found deep encouragement in those pages, particularly in the closing chapters where you touched on the isolation and complication that often comes when one asks these types of questions.

I felt strengthened, challenged and re-invigorated to continue in my walk.

So from way down-under, Thank you.


Thanks for these encouraging words.

 

Do you want to better understand the situation in Israel-Palestine?

Kairos and Sabeel and Musalaha are three great places to start.

 

On June 10 …

my new book will be released. I just got a copy … Of course, as a writer, I'm most focused on the content of the book. But I was really pleased with the look and feel of the physical object too. I can't wait for it to be available. I hope many of you will buy a couple copies - one to read and a few to give away.
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I've been told it helps for you to buy it on June 10 or in the few days afterwards … if that's convenient, I'll appreciate your help. But feel free to preorder if that's better for you. Ordering info here...

 

Do you love where you live? Peacemaking and Place-making

Local churches are (at their missional best) one of the few remaining organizations dedicated to the well-being (shalom, peace) of their local communities. Key to healthy communities are characteristics explained in this important article:
http://www.pps.org/blog/learning-from-knights-soul-of-the-community-leaning-toward-the-future-of-placemaking/
Quotable:

What most drives people to love where they live (their attachment) is their perception of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness of a place. It appears that what people most want out of a neighborhood is a place that is attractive, engaging, friendly, and welcoming. In every place, every year of the study, these factors were found to be the three most important to tying people to place. Why does this matter? As mentioned above, communities where people love where they live do better economically. The best-loved places were doing better in a measureable way. Little did we still know, at first, that Soul had just empirically justified some of the core principles long advocated for by Placemaking advocates.

 

Thanks ...

Thanks to all who sent encouraging notes, tweets, texts, etc., over recent days as we celebrated the life and mourned the death of my dad. The memorial service went well, and today I'll be driving family members to airports and preparing for re-entry into the normal stream of life tomorrow. I'll be in Grand Rapids, Nashville, and Minneapolis in the next week. Grace and I, along with our whole family, feel loved and supported, and we're grateful for you all. If you want to learn more about my dad, here's the tribute I wrote. (For friends in Maryland, we should be announcing soon a memorial service there in late July. Stay tuned.)

 

In Memoriam: Ian D. McLaren

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For the last several months, my mother and I, with the help of many others, have been caring for my dad, Ian D. McLaren, who has been in his final months of life. He passed away on Saturday, May 10.

My dad’s life touched so many people, and anyone who has been influenced positively through me is an indirect beneficiary of his legacy.

We will have a small memorial service here in Florida this Wednesday, May 14, at Marco Cemetery, 489 West Elkham Circle, Marco Island, FL. Visitation will be from 10-11 am, followed by a memorial service at 11, with interment at 12. You'll find more information (including directions for sending flowers, posting memories, etc.) here.

Because my dad had so many friends in Maryland, we're planning a larger memorial service there July 27 at 7 pm at Cedar Ridge Community Church. Come with an appreciation, memory, or story about Ian to share.

Here is a tribute to my dad, Ian D. McLaren ...

Continue reading In Memoriam: Ian D. McLaren...

 

Links Roundup - Mid-May 2014 edition

If your church, college, or local theatre group is looking for an event that will be meaningful, cathartic, funny, and deeply moving on many levels, you should consider hosting Ted Schwartz's new play, Learning to Play. You can read about it here, and watch a promo video here:

If you are a theist who sometimes wonders if you'd rather be an atheist, or vice versa, I recommend Frank Schaeffer's excellent new book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.
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I love what Phyllis Tickle says about it: "...one leaves the final pages of WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD aware yet once again that sometimes and in some circumstances, an artist is still the best theologian.”

And finally - Michael Toy has written a beautiful collection of readable, sometimes funny, often touching, always insightful poems called Blame It on the Huehuetenango.
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If you've had some struggles with organized religion, especially of the Evangelical variety - but of any variety really, this book will do your soul and brain more good than a stiff carafe of coffee or the best bottle of wine … And if it doesn't, the fake endorsements at the end will at least give you some laughs. I've kept going back to this beautiful little collection … and I think you will too.


 

Q & R: Responding to criticism

Here's the Q:

I need your advice if you have the time to give it, as I prize your efforts to respond to people charitably in the face of vitriol.

The other day, I posted what was intended to be a (mostly) light-hearted critique... This kind of post is a massive aberration - I normally only talk about issues surrounding spirituality and mental health.

All of that to say, I knew some people wouldn't like it and that some would - that much was obvious. But my personal blog site normally garners a few thousand hits a month (at most) - I had no idea that it would generate 36,000 hits to my site in less than 48 hours.

The post deeply offended many, some of whom are my friends, and many of whom responded by personally attacking me (ad hominem) rather than addressing the merits of my arguments. I tried to say above the fray but was only successful maybe 85% of the time.

So, I guess what I want to ask you is - what you would you do now, in the aftermath? I've considered writing a follow-up post to address the most commonly asked questions about the piece (e.g., my motivations for writing it, … etc.). But I fear it may just make things worse.

Do you have any thoughts? Thanks for anything you would be willing to provide.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. Anyone or anything I criticize is beloved by someone, and so they will naturally interpret my critique as attack. When people feel they or something they love is being attacked, they often respond with either defense or counter-attack. If I defend myself from their counterattack, very quickly a vicious circle of offense and retaliation starts spinning.

It's hard to find a better way out of these vicious circles than the wisdom of the proverb that says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger." Sometimes the response can be very simple … thanks for telling me how you felt when you read what I wrote … I'm sorry what I wrote felt like an attack on something you love …

If you want to add explanation, I'd recommend doing so not as a defense of what you said or a contradiction or criticism of one of the respondents, but as a simple, non-defensive clarification. All this is much easier said than done, and I suppose it is an art that one can improve with over time, with practice, remembering that practice doesn't make perfect: it only makes habitual. So … practicing a negative response doesn't make one more positive! It's interesting how often in the New Testament Jesus is praised for not responding to insult with insult or injury with injury. There's something very powerful going on there … worthy of meditation and emulation. I hope that helps ...

 

Death Penalty in the USA



Death Penalty Infographic

The Death Penalty in the USA. Produced from ArrestRecords.com

 

3 Upcoming Events

Of many excellent events coming up in the next several months that I'll be part of, I want to mention three today:

In June:
I'm often asked to offer mentoring or coaching to younger (and sometimes older) leaders. I'll be leading a special "boot camp" for leaders - pastors, youth workers, small group leaders, teachers, etc. - June 19-22 in Dallas. It's the closest thing I can offer to personal mentoring this year. I hope you'll come!
http://lifeinthetrinityministry.com/BrianMcLaren_1/about

In August:
I'll be speaking in August for the National Church Leaders Institute. They just extended the "early bird" registration rate. It should be an excellent few days … More information here:
http://praxis21.org/registration/?inf_contact_key=19a9e60f75bb9bad22e8fcdda681e4975be41d659d7ad51452927d7bd096e193

In just over a week:
Faith Forward just sent this:
… We’d like to bring more young leaders to our gathering, so if you know any students who might be interested in attending, please let them know that we’re offering a special student rate of only $100. They can take advantage of this by using StudentSpecial as a promo code when they register at faith-forward.net/register.

 

Q & R: A nasty piece about you

Here's the Q:

Tim Challies, a well-known Reformed blogger recently wrote a nasty piece about you, listing you among "notable" false teachers in Christian history. Many of the comments are even worse than the article. I don't know how you keep from blowing up about things like this. The venomous hubris of these Reformed know-it-alls is stunning. Would you respond? What would you say to this guy if you knew he would truly listen?

Here's the R:
First, I should say that "Neo-Reformed" is probably a better name than "Reformed" for folks in this camp. Reformed Christians of the broader designation don't seek to think and say exactly what Calvin and the other Reformers thought and said, as the Neo-Reformed tend to do. Instead, they look at how creatively and insightfully the Reformers responded to issues in their context and they seek to respond to our very different context enlightened and inspired by the Reformers' example.

Even though I'm a happy outsider to the Neo-Reformed system of belief, I have high regard for the broader Reformed tradition - which includes theological giants like Barth, Pannenberg, Bosch, Boesak, Newbigin, and Moltmann. (I know, not any women on the list - that's a problem in all theology, but thankfully it is beginning to change.)

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches exemplified this broader Reformed mindset beautifully in the Accra Confession, which I think is one of the most important statements made by any group of Christians in my lifetime.

When I read the piece you linked to, I was struck by a few things.
1. The author may be wrong in his larger conclusion, but he largely gets it right when he says:

In A New Kind of Christianity he insists that Christians have long been reading the Bible through the distorted lens of a Greco-Roman narrative. This narrative produced many false dualisms, an air of superiority, and a false distinction between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” These three marks of false narrative have so impacted our faith that we can hardly see past them. His book attempts to do that, and to reconstruct the Christian faith as it is meant to be.

2. I didn't think his piece was nasty. I've seen plenty of nasty, and this struck me as comparatively civil in its tone and rhetoric. For example, the author was kind enough to actually include my own statements. Rather than making judgments on my motives and claiming to represent me with a lot of spin, he lets me speak for myself. For example:

[McLaren] goes on to say, “I’m recommending we read the Bible as an inspired library. This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed.” After all, “revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.” He understands the Bible to be a slowly-evolving human understanding of God. “Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment.”

This is an accurate reflection of my views. I would only add that I believe this evolutionary process is the medium for inspiration and revelation, and it has profound advantages over static propositional dictation.

3. Of course, when he calls me a false teacher, he is speaking from his vantage point as an articulate, committed, zealous, and sincere Christian fundamentalist. (I mean "fundamentalist" not in a pejorative sense, but in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen, to whom the author refers.) From that vantage point, he speaks the truth as he sees it. Similarly, both Tim Challies and I could be considered false teachers by people of other traditions, since (as far as I know) neither of us are under papal authority established by apostolic succession (Roman Catholic) or the ecclesial authority of bishops recognized by the Orthodox communion, nor do we honor the seventh day appropriately (Seventh Day Adventist), nor do we affirm the "second blessing" and speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Assemblies of God).

4. I could quibble about a few things - like the main point of the article (!). Apart from that important difference, what strikes me is how much we agree on.

A. We agree that the Bible is tremendously important. It's not like my critic loves the Bible and I hate it, or vice versa.

But I think we part ways on our understanding of the relative importance of Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God. As I demonstrate in my upcoming book, I believe the Bible teaches that God's ultimate word is not a book, but a person who is testified to and presented to the world through a community, which is informed and formed by a very special library of documents. I like how Martin Luther said it: the Bible is the manger in which the Word is given to the world.

B. We agree that the Bible is inspired by God, as 2 Tim. 3:16 says. That's a significant agreement. Where we part ways, I think, is in our understanding of what "inspired" means.

To the author, inspired necessarily precludes being "subject to error, evolution, antiquation, or reinterpretation." As I explain in several of my books, I think that makes sense if the Bible were inspired under modern conditions as a legal constitution. But I think the Bible was inspired under the terms of ancient people, for whom storytelling was their "scientific method." (Again, I explore this in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking.) I try to let "inspired" hold its meaning in the context of ancient storytelling cultures.

In fact, when we read the Bible as an inspired library in the genres of ancient storytellers, it comes alive in liberating and challenging ways and yields invaluable treasures. Stories quarrel with stories. Ideas - like sacrifice, like the priesthood, like the necessity of holy buildings or circumcision or polygamy, like the death penalty for Sabbath breaking or adultery - evolve. Some rules become antiquated (Jesus' speaks of Scriptures being "fulfilled" - i.e. fulfilling their purpose, creating new conditions which require new rules). Standing concepts or stories are later reinterpreted and given new and previously unimagined readings - as Jesus does when he challenges his hearers on the purpose of the Sabbath (it was "made for humanity"), or as Paul does with Sarah and Hagar in Galatians. We are brought into the conversation, and called to extend it in our own time. (Which is what is happening even in this interchange.)

C. We agree that Jesus sets an example in how to engage with the Scriptures. The author is right to say, "Jesus himself spoke clearly about the authority and relevance of Scripture, and showed no hesitation in unfolding its meaning and faulting others for misunderstanding it." Amen. I agree wholeheartedly. That is in fact what I try to do in my books. But we differ in how we understand Jesus to have engaged with the Scriptures. As I see it, Jesus himself dared to say, "You have heard it said…" and then to add those powerful words, "But I say." To me, Jesus stands above lawgivers, priests, and prophets of old: as God's Son, he reveals God's heart with a fullness and finality they could not provide.
D. The author and I agree that I am not a fundamentalist. I was born one, and being a dutiful, first-born son, I tried my best to remain faithful to my tradition. As I grew older, I found the claims made by fundamentalism to be untenable - and, in fact, unbiblical. I also found the spirit of fundamentalism too often to be unChrist-like. To the author, this places me in the category of liberals, which may or not be true, depending on how you define the term.

Some definitions of liberalism don't apply to me. For example, I'm not a big fan of reducing the gospel to fit into the categories of Enlightenment modernity. I see the gospel challenging all human categories - premodern, modern, postmodern, whatever. But if people are considered liberal because they follow their conscience and their best (and growing) understanding of the Bible and Christ - even when doing so means disagreeing with contemporary gatekeepers of tradition - then, yes, the shoe fits. But by that definition, Martin Luther was a liberal, and so were C. S. Lewis and John Stott and Dallas Willard. So, in fact, was Jesus.

The author makes an accusation almost all fundamentalists make, one I used to make in my more conservative days: that when people use their minds to interpret and apply the Bible, they place their own "authority over the Bible instead of placing [themselves] under its authority." That dichotomy is very simple and popular, but I find it highly problematic.

Texts don't exercise their authority until they are interpreted, and all interpretation involves the mind, values, and interests of the interpretive community in and for which the text is interpreted. So when people claim to be under the authority of the Bible, they may in fact be under the authority of an interpretive community's interpretation of the Bible, whether they realize it or not. It's far easier to say, "The Bible says!" than to say, "The leaders of our interpretative community say that the Bible says…" That's one reason why it's so hard to change one's interpretation: doing so often means one is no longer welcome in the familiar community where one has been nurtured and to which one belongs.

To be "under the authority of the Bible," then, presupposes the authority of this or that interpretive community and its rules of interpretation. That's why the existence, assumptions, and vested interests of any interpretive community should be made explicit and critically scrutinized, because fundamentalists of all varieties have an interpretive agenda, assumptions, and interests they bring to the text - just as "liberals" and "moderates" in all their diversity do.

I'm reminded of the debates in the 19th century in which the pro-slavery majority in the South claimed that the abolitionist minority rejected the authority of the Bible. It would have been a good thing to be labeled a "false teacher" under those circumstances. Sadly, I don't see many in the conservative camp who have identified the faulty interpretive methodology of 19th century conservatives and publicly chosen another path of interpretation. The same interpretive methodology still reigns supreme.

By the way, I see the same lack of self-critique in many sectors of the "liberal" camp. Who is paying attention to the faulty interpretive methodologies of 19th and 20th century liberal interpreters? Thankfully, I think that is exactly what contemporaries like Anne Howard, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Cameron Trimble, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Diana Butler Bass, Doug Pagitt, Maggie Dawn, Eric Elnes, Amy Butler, Alexia Salvatierra, Stephanie Spellers, Randy Woodley, Jo-Ann Badley, James Cone, Naim Ateek, Leonardo Boff, and many others are seeking to do in a variety of ways. I think they represent a convergence of what we might call post-conservatives and post-liberals. It is among them that I feel most at home.

E. When we acknowledge that all our interpretations are provisional, we are open to ongoing Reformation, and in that way we are all "unfinished" - unfinished-ness being another point of common ground which the author and I share. I agree with what he says in his bio:
Unfinished - Though I find great beauty in traditional Protestantism, I realize that in some areas traditions may not be fully Scriptural. Where that is the case I am eager to change as the Spirit convicts me through the Word.

OK, as to what I'd say if I knew that the author would listen, here are some thoughts … not a big treatise, just what flows from my heart tonight.


First, thanks for being far more kind and fair in your treatment of me than many people who agree with you have been. I sincerely respect people who try to treat others as they would want to be treated - especially when they disagree. To me, that's more than just being "nice." It's kind and loving and decent.

Second, you and followers of your blog may wonder why I, a person who used to see things as you do, now sees things differently. You may feel I am simply too proud, stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, rebellious, eager for fame or popularity, or otherwise sinful to hold to the truth as you understand it. (Or perhaps I'm simply not one of the elect, therefore have not persevered as a true saint would, am predestined for reprobation, etc.). I understand that kind of assessment because I spent many years of my life in your camp. I remember the appeal of your position, and I know you think what you think and say what you say out of complete sincerity and with the highest of motives, and with a sense that you are standing for and with God against a rising tide of darkness.

Eventually, I began to see problems with that approach, as I've explained in my books. I began feeling I was conforming to convention largely to avoid criticism from the more aggressive critics in the conservative camp. Over many years as a pastor, I became convinced that there were better ways to faithfully read and live by the Bible, and I became less willing to live in the valley of the shadow of fear of men. After much inner struggle I concluded, gradually and with a lot of prayer, fear, and trembling, that God would be more pleased with me being honest about my questions than with me pretending to be sure of answers that no longer made sense to me.

So if my only option were to be a Christian in the way you are, I simply could not be a Christian. My conscience wouldn't allow it. My understanding of the Bible wouldn't allow it. My devotion to Christ wouldn't allow it. If you want to define me as a false teacher, not a true Christian, etc., etc., you are certainly free to do that, and I don't hold it against you. I honor you for speaking your mind, and for doing so with far more decency and kindness than some of your colleagues. You are a good man with a good heart, trying to do the right thing.

When I started on this path, I knew it would not be an easy road. I expected to lose almost all my friends, lose my ministry, lose everything. But I felt, as Paul did, that it would be worth it to risk and lose everything in order to honestly and truly seize hold of what I believed God was calling me toward.

Yes, I did lose some friends. In fact, there have been many losses. But to my surprise, there were other blessings that came. People started approaching me, often in tears, saying, "If I hadn't found your books, I would have left the faith entirely." Not just one or two people, but many. Many pastors have even told me the same thing. This has continued for over 15 years now, and if anything, the intensity and frequency of these responses only seems to be increasing.

I know you hope and pray that this won't happen, and I realize this is pretty unlikely … but when your kids or grandkids are older, one or two of them may come to you and say, "Dad (or Grandpa), I'm sorry, but I just can't believe the version of Christianity you taught me. I love you, and I don't want to displease you, but I took this course in college, and we learned …."

If that happens, I'm sure you'll do your best to turn them back to the straight path as you understand it. But if that doesn't work, if they simply can not in good conscience follow your path, I hope you'll consider slipping them one of my books or something by the kinds of post-conservative/post-liberal writers I mentioned earlier. It will not be what you would have wished. It will not motivate them to believe in verbal plenary inspiration, absolute inerrancy, TULIP, women's subordination, the unacceptability of gay people as gay people, or eternal conscious torment in hell. But it will encourage them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are worse things they could live by than that.

 

Q & R: The Reality of Satan

Here's the Q:

I was very interested to read a short article written by you in response to someone questioning the reality of Satan as an actual personal being.

I have wrestled with this for most of my Christian life, read a good number of opinions and tried to work my way to some conclusions. To date, I have not achieved that goal.

I would very much like to believe the ideas that you put forward (very similar to Dave Tomlinson's and of course Walter Wink), and I mean that, but there are a number of obstacles that I can't seem to get around:

1. What was it that Jesus was dealing with when he was described as casting out demons? And what do you think he was referring to when he spoke of Satan (for example as having fallen from heaven like lightening).
2. In my work I have come across a number of people who have suffered severe abuse at the hands of satanic cults. In my involvement with them they have always been convinced of the existence of a personal devil, and have spoken of evil spirits as being very real, even knowing how to instruct others in the cult how to 'acquire' spirits.
3. What do you think is happening to people who undergo deliverance ministry when they react in sometimes quite violent ways, and there seems to come a point where they experience freedom?

To be honest, it does seem strange and even illogical to me that there appears to be a personal force in the universe in opposition to God with such apparently tremendous power, almost a demi-god, but until I can resolve these issues (and probably a few others that I can't think of at the moment) I find it difficult to come to a resolution.

If you have the time and can offer some thoughts, I would be most grateful.


Here's the R:
The first thing I would say is that if your current theory or understanding of evil, Satan, etc., is working for you, you're doing the right thing not to change it. If your current understanding isn't working, it would be good to begin by identifying the problems you have with it. Often, I've found, our choices aren't between one understanding with no problems and one with lots of problems, but between two (or more) understandings each with problems. We often choose not between problems and solutions, but between greater and lesser sets of problems. As to your questions:
1. What was it that Jesus was dealing with when he was described as casting out demons? And what do you think he was referring to when he spoke of Satan (for example as having fallen from heaven like lightening).

- In responding to this, I don't want to say "the ancients had it wrong and we modern people have it right." I imagine that 200 years from now, so many of our 2014 ideas - especially about human well-being and unwellness - will be considered quite backward. But when I read the gospels, I tend to associate the symptoms "demon possession" (fits, outbursts, self-destructive behavior) with extreme mental illness. So we could understand Jesus to be healing mental illness. But I also can't help but think that demons "possess" or "occupy" people in the gospels, and the primary political reality for the people was that they were possessed or occupied by the Romans. So I wonder if the gospel writers are telling us that social/political/economic stresses are expressed in individual behaviors … We as individuals localize larger social stresses. And Jesus is seeking to free people (un-paralyze them) as individuals from the systems that oppress. They then can become "protagonists in their ongoing liberation."

2. In my work I have come across a number of people who have suffered severe abuse at the hands of satanic cults. In my involvement with them they have always been convinced of the existence of a personal devil, and have spoken of evil spirits as being very real, even knowing how to instruct others in the cult how to 'acquire' spirits.
- I have met many people like this too. As I'm sure you know, there are questions about the credibility of many of these stories. (The Mike Warnke saga of the 70's and 80's is another example of a kind of contemporary mythology built around Satanism.) If you want to hear an alternative view from someone who was deeply involved in occult and "Satanism," you should also read John Anderson's Satan.

3. What do you think is happening to people who undergo deliverance ministry when they react in sometimes quite violent ways, and there seems to come a point where they experience freedom?
- I don't want to generalize about people's experience or speak of it in reductionistic ways. But the mind is powerful and complex, and bondage is real, and freedom is real. I would also have to add that in my years as a pastor, I met many people who claimed to be healed through a deliverance ministry, but a day or week or month later, weren't much better off.


Along with Walter Wink's ground-breaking work, I'm very impressed with Rene Girard's work on this subject. If you haven't read Girard's "I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning," I encourage you to read it.

Also, in my upcoming book, I address this subject on a couple of occasions, along with the broader issues of how we read the Bible.

 

We Make the Road by Walking … we make the song by singing

We Make the Road by Walking: Song from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

A reader writes … playing well in the sandbox of life

I just wanted to thank you for your book “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road”! It is sustaining me through a very difficult time in my ministry. Long story, but suffice it to say that I am part of a church which has long defined itself, particularly the very conservative side, by what they are against rather than what they are for and so has not played well in the sandbox of life with those who may see things differently than we do. I am a pastor [from a highly conservative denomination] who has believed for over 50 years what you say about relationships with other Christians and those outside of the Christian tent. My church and I recently chose to join our community’s Lenten Series and as part of the series, I spoke in the large Catholic church in town for a Wednesday night service, and the priest from that church spoke two weeks later in mine. The repercussions have echoed all the way to our denominational headquarters with cries from the ultra-right side of our denomination that I be summarily fired. I believe that what we chose to do was the right thing and I don’t regret it. But it has been hard to suffer the slings and arrows from what is really a very narrow but very vocal section of our church. A friend had recommended your book and I have been reading it as part of my personal time with God every day. And, ever day it seems that the Holy Spirit guided you to say just what I have needed to hear for that day. As a published author myself, I know that the feedback a person gets is almost always the negative, so I just wanted to let you know that if, for no one else, that book is for me.
I'm so sorry you're going through this, and I'm so grateful the book was helpful to you. If you get kicked/pushed/edged out, I encourage you to go graciously and kindly but not quietly … in other words, tell the truth - graciously - about why you are leaving. See your departure as an opportunity to speak a needed truth - again, graciously - one last time. And if you decide to form a new faith community "on the outside" - you might find my upcoming book helpful as well. Praying for you today, my brother.
 

Links Roundup

I think you'll enjoy this interview I did with Steve McSwain:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/interview-with-emergent-church-leader_b_5213401.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share

Speaking of interviews, here's an excellent one for Christian educators - with my friend Suzanne Ross: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/teachingnonviolentatonement/2014/04/faith-forward-the-future-of-christian-education-part-2/

There have been so many disturbing news headlines lately, including several relating to the death penalty. In this reflection on that subject, Southern Baptist Jonathan Merritt takes on Southern Baptist Albert Mohler:
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/05/02/capital-punishment-dont-start-old-testament/ Quotable:

After this week’s botched execution in Oklahoma, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued why Christians should support the death penalty at CNN.com. Grounding his argument in Genesis 9:6, where Noah is told that anyone guilty of intentional murder should be put to death, Mohler says, “The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.”

…. Such thinking requires a bit of arbitrary Biblical picking and choosing.

Even more powerful is Jonathan's Atlantic piece on the subject. Quotable:

The most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is not the amount of evidence, but the race of the victim. Geography is also an important factor, which is why a handful of counties are responsible for most of the executions in the United States. And then of course wealth is a factor, as almost all death-row inmates could not afford their own attorney. Though Americans often boast about a system that provides equal justice for all, the reality is that factors outside of the case’s merits often determine its outcome. It’s hard to imagine that a Jesus who aligned himself with the poor and powerless, marginalized and maligned would support the broken system we often call “justice” in America.


For preachers:
https://wipfandstock.com/store/Ordinary_Preacher_Extraordinary_Gospel_A_Daily_Guide_for_Wise_Empowered_Preachers
This coupon code, CONF14, will entitle you to a 40% discount off the retail price. The added discount should more than compensate having to pay for shipping.

 

A word from James ...

Oddly relevant when the issue of minimum wage is being debated/avoided in the US Congress:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

 

Today's moment of inspiration ...


… from Afghanistan

 

Q & R: But they're going to hell!

Here's the Q:

I enjoyed reading "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World" because I loved how it addressed that you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to non-Christians. However, what is still on my mind is how people of other faiths can be peaceful and lovable people but they are still going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus. This bothers me a lot because even if you are a peaceful and lovable person, you're still going to hell regardless. Can you shed some light on this? If you already have answered this question, can you send me a link to the answer? Thank you so much for your time!

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm glad you got a main point of the book - "that you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to nonChristians." But one of the other main points of the book is that the storyline many of us were taught - implying that the purpose of creation is to sort souls out into two destinations, heaven and hell - is not actually the biblical storyline. It is a distortion of the biblical story …

I try to make that clear in "The Doctrinal Challenge."

The heaven-hell plot line is such a deeply-held assumption that for many Christians from conservative Catholic or Protestant backgrounds, questioning it is scary - sometimes too scary. But if you're willing to open that question, two of my books will be helpful.
First, A New Kind of Christianity, and second, The Last Word and the Word After That.
And my upcoming book that will be released in about a month will give an overview of the whole biblical story without that assumption.

But even if you aren't interested in grappling with that larger and deeper question, I'm glad that you got the point that you did: you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to nonChristians!

 

Q & R: Grand Rapids?

Here's the Q:

HI... I would love to see Brian speak in Grand Rapids on May 18. Can i get the time and place of that event, please? Thanks so much.

Here's the R:
You can get information here:
http://marshill.org/teaching/sundays/

 

We Make the Road by Walking: How You Can Use It

We Make the Road by Walking 7 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10, and I've been told it really helps if you buy the book that week (although if you want to pre-order, I hope you will). Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

A reader (and old friend) writes ...

"… I confess that I don't keep up with your personal life as much as I'd like to … I was surprised indeed to learn that your son is gay and that you participated in the wedding ceremony. That has to have hurt your credibility! In my own family, there are many who sincerely believe that there is no way to read the Bible except as a condemnation of homosexuality. I have always been unconvinced of that, and learning this about you has made me examine the issue more closely. I conclude that there is a very simple way of handling the issue -- which, I suspect, is the way you handle it: The Bible does say very clearly what is the core of Christian faith. Most of that is in Micah 6:8, Luke 10:27. and the sermon on the mount. Any doctrine that does not contribute directly to the Christian life that Jesus, himself, actually spoke about (and those are the primary things he spoke about) must be considered secondary at best -- and maybe an "adventure in missing the point". Is homosexuality a sin? As I read the Bible, I should decide whether it's a sin for me do it. That's an entirely different question than whether it's a sin if somebody else does it. My responsibility (Micah 6:8) is to humbly walk my own road to God, choosing my own actions carefully. I am not expected to judge the way others walk that road ("thou shalt not judge"). I am not permitted to disfellowship anybody because they have a different roadmap than I have. Any "Christian" whose primary goals (as evidenced by what he actually does and says, rather than by the list of doctrines to which he assents) include vilifying others for their behavior does not seem very Christlike."
Thanks for your note and your thoughts, old friend. On the subject of credibility, you and I grew up in a world where one's credibility is always on trial. Gatekeepers (official and unofficial) look for differences to condemn, and they quickly and decisively banish those who differ. All that happened to me quite a while ago - really, it began with the release of my book A Generous Orthodoxy. Once I had been banished, I realized that there is a big world "out here" where people are less interested in banishment and more interested (as you said) in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, and less interested in fragile "in-group" status, and more interested (as you said) in Christ-likeness … which, as we know, is not obsessed with status, but with self-giving.

This theme of self-giving vs. status really hit me hard when I was working on my upcoming book. The book includes a simple, one-year "introduction/overview of the Bible" lectionary … and there were only 2 passages (as I recall) that I felt needed to be repeated in the course of the year. One was the parable of the Good Samaritan and the other was Philippians 2. Both are about the choice between status ("saving face"), it turns out, and self-giving.

 

Tomorrow (Tuesday)

I'll be speaking at Canisius College, a Jesuit school in upstate New York (not far from where I was born). My topic is "A Vatican II for Protestants?" You'll find more information here:
https://www.canisius.edu/newsevents/canisius-center-for-global-study-of-religion-welcomes-christian-author-speaker

 

Say Thanks Today ...

- Thanks to the pastors and priests who serve your congregation.
- Thanks to the invaluable leaders who work with kids and youth.
- Thanks to those who prepare and serve refreshments, who serve as greeters or ushers, who attend to facilities and grounds.
- Thanks to those who serve behind the scenes on boards, committees, guilds, etc.
- Thanks to administrators.
- Thanks to musicians, artists, readers, prayer-ers, liturgists, and others who lead in gathered worship.
- Thanks to those who model faith, hope, and love for you week after week … simply by being there, "passing the peace," smiling, singing, caring.
It's not easy building and sustaining community. I was a church planter and pastor for 24 years, so I know. That's why every Sunday, I give thanks to God - and to others.

 

Faith Forward. Next Month. Come!

"Framing a Conversation, Launching a Revolution" will be the title of my plenary session at the Faith Forward conference in Nashville next month. I'll present seven specific commitments that leaders with children and youth can make to foment a needed revolution in Christian spiritual formation. You should come!
faith-forward.net/register

 

The Earth Deserves More Than a Day

… which is why I'm glad many have set this whole week aside as Earth Week. Of course, it deserves more than a week too, which is why environmental concerns should be with us 24/7/365. The older I get and the more I think about what kind of world my grandchildren and their grandchildren will inhabit … the more I believe that everything must change … including our theology, liturgy, and mission regarding the regeneration of the planet we have so ignorantly, glibly, and greedily been destroying.

Notable this week:
Our do-nothing Congress should be remembered with shame (and its do-nothing members replaced wherever possible) in regard to this: no national environmental legislation has been passed in about 1900 days. In fact, the last time the government did anything new for the environment was as part of the stimulus bill back in 2009.

Shocking numbers of politicians still deny climate change, a fact that is not unrelated to the influence of coal, oil, and other incarnations of the fossil fuel industry. Here are some choice quotes from politicians who ostensibly represent me in Florida (but don't):

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25): “I know there’s a lot of money to be made on the bandwagon of global warming, you can make movies, documentaries, get a lot of research money – and that’s okay, I love capitalism.” “My fear is using the bandwagon of global warming to have Congress act on some knee-jerk reaction which will please some editorialists, will hurt our economy, will not do anything to help us in the future.” [Mario Diaz-Balart Video, 9/25/07]
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL-01): “I have scientists that I rely on, the scientists that I rely on say our climate has changed. It wasn’t just a few years ago, what was the problem that existed? It wasn’t global warming, we were gonna all be an ice cube. We’re not ice cubes. Our climate will continue to change because of the way God formed the earth.” According to Buzzfeed, earlier at the same event, Miller announced his intentions to defund the Environmental Protection Agency and responded to questions about a scientific consensus on climate change by saying none existed. [Buzzfeed, 8/14/13]
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL-08): Co-sponsored H.Res.954, a resolution that stated: “Whereas recent events have uncovered extensive evidence from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England (in this resolution referred to as the ‘CRU’) which involved many researchers across the globe discussing the destruction, altering, and hiding of data that did not support global warming claims.” [H.Res.954, GovTrack, 12/8/09]
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it,” Rubio said. Asked whether he accepts the scientific evidence that the global climate is undergoing change, he responded, “The climate is always changing. The climate is never static. The question is whether it’s caused by man-made activity and whether it justifies economically destructive government regulation.” [Tampa Tribune, 2/13/10]

Thankfully, there are Cool Congregations and groups like Presbyterians for Earth-Care and CAP that are working constructively with faith and resolve … along with Good Steward Campaign, the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, which participated in the recent Day of Prayer for Climate Action.

 

A reader writes: Advanced chronic CRIS

I have been reading your books (and blog posts) for several years now – and yes, admittedly with a hermeneutic of suspicion. I wanted to let you know that my Wednesday morning book club is starting your recent book Why Did Jesus… this week (the first two chapters). I am very much looking forward to our discussions and questions. We have a great group that is open to various views and we all act kindly toward one another. It’s really a great group…and mostly all from conservative evangelical traditions.

I’m going to by-pass some history of my life here, but I wanted to let you know that I have been dealing with a case of CRIS for quite some time - and really not having a good name for it. So much has happened the past few years that has required me to rethink much of what I know (or thought I knew). As I continue to wrestle with what I believe to be a real paradigm change in my thinking, practice, and worship of God, I honestly struggle with a desire to just return to the ways of old. And yet, even as I consider a return, I’m reminded that sometimes God moves us to simply “let go…."

As you’ll see, I don’t have clear answers still – and oddly less convinced that I need them. At the same time, I’m thinking your text has arrived for “such a time as this.” I’m looking forward to learning, adapting, and changing however the Spirit may lead.

With anticipation (and probably more questions),


Thanks for writing. As you say, a bona fide paradigm shift is one of the hardest experiences of life. Exhilarating at times, yes, but also scary, exhausting, sometimes depressing, and fraught with social as well as internal struggle. If an honest hunger and desperate thirst for truth, justice, and peace didn't drive us on, I doubt any of us would have the courage to make the journey.

Here's how M. Scott Peck described the process:

“Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.”
~M. Scott Peck M.D., Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled, 2001.

 

More on "Will you acknowledge your mistake?"

In response to yesterday's post, a very smart scientist-friend of mine sent in this:

Brian, I just read the "Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?" item on your blog. Much ado about very little, in my view, but I'm happy you took him/her seriously and addressed the questions.

That said, I think you need to know that both of you are incorrectly understanding the second law of thermodynamics….

First, some terminology:

An open system is one which is completely open to passage of matter and energy across the system's boundaries. The Earth is an open system

A closed system is one which is open to the passage of energy but closed to the passage of matter across the boundaries. The Earth is approximately a closed system, but not completely, as several tons of meteoroids strike the atmosphere each day and we lose a bit of atmosphere due to sunlight pressure on molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

An isolated system is one which is completely closed to the passage of both energy and matter across its boundaries. The Earth is not an isolated system

The second law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system cannot decrease. A reduction of entropy is what happens when something gets more ordered, less random (speaking informally -- a precise definition is too technical).

The second law says nothing about open or closed systems, and that's where you're right in spirit, but not in wording: As the Earth is not an isolated system, the second law does not pertain, so it is perfectly okay to see increasing order in the Earth.

That stale old second law argument against evolution has been around for many years …

If you can't know everything, it's great to have constructive critics and smart, helpful friends.

 

Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?

I recently posted a question from an agnostic atheist reader ...
http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/i-apologize-in-advance-for.html
Here's a follow-up. Because the post is lengthy with several questions, I'll insert replies below (after the jump):

Continue reading Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?...

 

Q & R: Studying Naked … with a friend?

Here's the Q:

I've recently bought a copy of Naked Spirituality and intend to study it together with a friend.
I see on your website the following: "The book includes a Group Discussion and Study Guide on pages 271-280" but my copy doesn't have that. Maybe because it's the UK version? I bought it from a book shop in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I live. Page 271 is in the middle of my chapter 26.
Is it possible for you to send me a copy of the text of that study guide?
It would be great to have some input to guide our thoughts, discussions and prayers.
Hope to hear from you soon.

Here's the R:
You can download the study questions here:
http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/naked-spirituality-a-life-with-g-1.html
I'm glad the book is available in Amsterdam - but sorry the pages were mixed up!
By the way, when you finish Naked Spirituality, you will enjoy jumping into my next book, which releases June 10.

 

Q & R: who's doing it? what are the stories?

Here's the Q:
blockquote>Thank you for your work. I have recently started getting into it and appreciate your heart and insight. 2 questions

You have a section in the back that is practical on church implementation. My question is whose doing it? Which churches around our nation have made the shift from a modern to post modern narrative?

Also you speak of the 2 primary stories being told in the US but mention there are 4 or 5 prevailing stories in the world. What are the others not mentioned in the book?


Here's the R:
The good news is that lots of churches across denominations are moving in this direction. It's not a simple thing when you have an existing constituency, some of whom are chomping at the bit and others who are digging in their heels. Some of us are working on ways to help people find these churches … or to let these churches make themselves known. Right now, it's often a matter of asking around ... visiting … asking a pastor if he or she likes the work of certain writers. Sometimes websites make it clear. But so far, it's still hard for people and churches that are seeking to practice "a new kind of Christianity" to find each other.

As for the other stories … one of the early chapters in my upcoming book gives a brief summary of some of the primary stories people are living by. In a talk I give (that might become a short book someday), I talk about seven narratives -

1. Domination narrative - we're only safe if we're in control
2. Revolution narrative - we're not safe until they're no longer in control
3. Purification narrative - we're not safe until we deal with that unclean minority
4. Competition narrative - we're not safe until we have a huge surplus and advantage in terms of money, land, weapons, etc.
5. Victimization narrative - we're not safe until our victimizers acknowledge the wrong they've done to us
6. Isolation narrative - we're not safe unless we withdraw into an elite enclave.
7. Reconciliation narrative - the only real safety comes from reconciling with God and one another, coming into just and peaceful relationship.

Once you sensitize yourself to these narratives, you don't listen to the news, read a headline, or listen to political campaigning in the same way anymore.

I hope that helps!

 

Earth Day 2014

For Earth Day, I encourage you to go outdoors and find ten gifts of creation to enjoy. Here are mine:
1. A cardinal was singing at dawn this morning just outside my window.
2. The sunrise was gorgeous in my neighborhood this morning.
3. Right now, the sun is shining on the new leaves - copper red - on a sea grape bush outside my window.
4. Plum-sized mangoes are hanging on the trees near me.
5. A flock of ibises flew overhead.
6. A swallow-tailed kite - one of the world's most graceful and beautiful birds - was soaring overhead a while ago.
7. The beautiful green of spring grasses.
8. The morning breeze.
9. An anole sunning itself on a branch.
10. Noticing how the days are getting longer here in the northern hemisphere as the point of sunrise moves north …

What are your ten? Or five? Or even three? You can post them on my Facebook page…
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brian-D-McLaren/65814657989?ref=ts

Later on, when you must be indoors, take ten or fifteen minutes here:
http://350.org

 

We Make the Road by Walking: Consolidating themes

We Make the Road by Walking 6 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10, and I've been told it will help the book's release if you wait and purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

Q & R: Radically incarnational

Here's the Q:

Brian, you have truly been one of the people that have brought my faith back to life in recent years. Thank you! One of the results is that my theology has become radically incarnational.

Now I have an observation about the issue of LGBT relationships and I would like you to tell me if I am anywhere in the ballpark or have hit a foul ball.

The Jewish prohibition on same sex relationships, as I understand it, is/was based on the notion that propagation was essential – every couple was thought to be capable of bringing forth the Messiah. For this reason (not to mention the really important role of offspring in agrarian economies), barrenness was considered a bad thing (often a curse).

In Jesus (and Paul), God has revealed him/herself as acting “incarnationally” (through the people gathered in his name) rather than “theistically” (the Giant Hand reaching out of the cloud). Yes, I know this is oversimplifying things quite a bit, but this could really get wordy.

So, if we are supposed to be about “putting skin on God”, wouldn’t it follow that if a committed, loving, faithful same-sex relationship accomplishes this, it would be rather difficult to argue it was somehow “wrong”?

So, which side of the foul pole is this going? Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Here's the R:
Thanks for asking about this. I think your destination is good, but let me offer a caution about your way of getting there.

When you identify "the Jewish prohibition" and when you associate the Jewish mind with "the Giant Hand," you unintentionally become part of a huge problem that we Christians have been creating for centuries. My friend Paul Rauschenbusch sums up the problem quite well here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/good-friday-anti-semitism_b_5169053.html

Most of us Christians don't even realize we're doing this. We forget that when Jesus and Paul criticized elements of Judaism, they were doing so as Jews themselves. They weren't outsiders attacking "the other;" they were insiders critiquing "us." They weren't part of a powerful majority religion stigmatizing a vulnerable minority religion: they were a vulnerable part of that vulnerable minority religion critiquing elites who were more powerful than they.

I'm sad to say I've made this mistake so many times myself … trying to make a positive point about Christianity by making a negative contrast with Judaism. It's only in the last few years that I've become more sensitive to the issue, and even very recently I've unintentionally repeated the mistake.

That us-them approach led to centuries of Jewish suffering in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, plus the added injustices being visited on the Palestinians today (both Muslim and Christian) as an indirect consequence of centuries of Christian antisemitism. For that reason, I think all Christians of conscience need to give up this way of argumentation for good. We need to make it clear that the problem is not and never was "Judaism" - the problem is and was hostile, elitist, exclusive, self-interested religion of all kinds, of which Christianity itself has provided no shortage of examples.

On to your positive point ... I think you're right: a "radically incarnational" theology is profoundly important and radically changes the way we see the world. It moves us beyond the patriarchy, chauvinism, and clannism/tribalism/nationalism/racism that so often characterize religion (including Christianity!) … It dares proclaim that God's Spirit indwells women and men, the young and the old, people of every race and culture, Jew and Gentile, the married and the single, and yes, heterosexuals and others (like, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch about whom I wrote in A New Kind of Christianity).

 

What if Easter …?

What might happen if every Easter we celebrated the resurrection not merely as the resuscitation of a single corpse nearly two millennia ago, but more - as the ongoing resurrection of all humanity through Christ? Easter could be the annual affirmation of our ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, from fear to faith, from hostility to love, from a culture of consumption to a culture of stewardship and generosity . . . and in all these ways and more, from death to life. What if our celebration of Easter was so radical in its meaning that it tempted tyrants and dictators everywhere to make it illegal, because it represents the ultimate scandal: an annual call for creative and peaceful insurrection against all status quos based on fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence? What if we never stopped making Easter claims about Jesus in AD 33, but always continued by making Easter claims on us today - declaring that now is the time to be raised from the deadness of fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence to walk in what Paul called "newness of life"? What if Easter was about our ongoing resurrection "in Christ" - in a new humanity marked by a strong-benevolent identity as Christ-embodying peacemakers, enemy lovers, offense forgivers, boundary crossers, and movement builders? What kind of character would this kind of liturgical year form in us? How might the world be changed because of it?

From Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

 

If Jesus gave a TED talk ...

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2014/03/if-jesus-gave-a-ted-talk-2/
TedTalkJesus-300x199.jpg
Quotable:

Last week, we talked about God’s new design for human communities. Today we get into how we’re going to make it happen. Here’s our strategy:
We’re going to love the wrong people.
That’s it.

Whatever culture/community you’re in, it holds together because of shared hatred for someone, someone you blame for your community’s biggest problems. Your job is to find that someone, and be a friend to them.

That quote is a great summary of a major theme of my most recent book.

 

A philosophical reader writes: Anti-foundationalist

I was quite happy to read a second one of your books, "A Generous Orthodoxy." I just wanted to comment though on the anti-foundationalist aspect of your thinking in application to scripture. I personally think that the anti-foundationalism of Richard Rorty and Cornel West based on the neo-pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce is better than the post-modernism of the structuralists. Peirce rejects the Cartesian starting point for knowledge and says that all knowledge is mediated by signs (words in part) which go in an unending direction toward no beginning foundation. One concept is understood only in terms of other concepts. But Peirce also adopts an epistemological realism which means that signs do point to something real in the world and in certain areas of knowledge, we need to be exact, particularly in the physical sciences. Paul Ricoeur, the French Christian philosopher who wrote extensively on Biblical Hermeneutics while writing other works on philosophical hermeneutics said that the sign and symbol of the text speaks to the Jungian archetypes in the unconscious and unleashes power. I would add to this that this is unlike structuralism which sees all knowledge as socially constructed and a kind of myth-making not necessarily pointing to anything real in the world. My final comment is that to filter ancient Hebrew thinking through a Greek-influenced progression of philosophical thinking in the West does a disservice to the text even though I just did that. The midrash of the ancient Hebrews, including during Jesus' time, was non-literalist enough and yet in some areas literal enough to stand on its own.
Thanks for your comments. I agreed with everything you wrote except your assumption that I am "anti-foundationalist." I'm not sure what you mean by that. I would be more comfortable with "post-foundationalist" - the approach described so well in the work of theologians John Franke and Stan Grenz, and practiced online by John Sobert Sylvest. Post- is not anti-, but rather seeks to work in light of, but not necessarily within the limits of, what has gone before. Not sure which of my other books you've read, but in my more recent works, you'll find me joining you in an attempt to read Hebrew texts without filtering them through later categories of Greek philosophical thought. I'm not a professional philosopher, obviously, but I try to be as informed philosophically as I can be - and the philosophers you mention (from Pierce to Ricoeur) have been of great help to me. If you haven't read Dan Stiver's Theology After Ricoeur, I think you'd enjoy it a great deal.
 

The Scandal of the Resurrection

The scandal of Easter was not simply that a supernatural event occurred. Minds in the ancient world weren't divided by the rigid natural-supernatural dualism that forms modern minds. In those days miracles were notable not for defying the laws of nature (a concept that was unknown until recent centuries), but for conveying an unexpected meaning or message through an unusual or unexplainable medium. What was the scandalous meaning conveyed by the resurrection of Jesus?

It was not simply that a dead man was raised. It was who the raised man was. Someone rejected, mocked, condemned, and executed by both the political and religious establishments was raised. A convicted outlaw, troublemaker, and rabble rouser was raised. A condemned blasphemer and lawbreaker was raised. A nonviolent nonconformist who included the outcasts - and therefore became an outcast - was raised. What does that mean about the authoritative institutions that condemned him? What does that mean about his nonconformist message and nonviolent ways?

From Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

 

hope beyond hope: Friday and Saturday meditation

When I wrote Everything Must Change, I hoped I was overstating the magnitude of our global crises …

Planet: We are sucking out resources and pumping out wastes faster than the earth can handle, thus heating, killing, and destabilizing our planet in a suicidal way.
Poverty: Our economic and political systems favor the super-elite minority and disfavor the vast majority in ways that inevitably contribute to political instability, social conflict, petty crime, organized crime, mass migration, political corruption, war, and terrorism.
Peace: Given ecological and economic unsustainability, the likelihood of intra-national and international violence skyrockets, all in a world where conventional, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons are at available.
Religion: Our religious communities typically distract us from these crises with relatively trivial issues, or they intensify these crises, right when we need them to show a better way.

But I was not exaggerating when I called our current system a suicide machine. The recent update about the gravity of the global climate crisis, taken together with Exxon's disgusting response, tell us that we are … screwed, as Derrick Jensen states powerfully:

But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

There is a day in the church year when we let all our false hopes wither and die. Jesus is in the grave and there is no hope. It is a day of doubt. Despair. Disillusionment. Silence. It is not a day of waiting. It is a day of the opposite of waiting. It is a day of defeat. Here is a meditation on (Un)Holy Saturday from my upcoming book. It places us imaginatively among the disciples on Saturday ...

That’s too much to believe today. Today, we sink in our doubt. Today we drown in our despair. Today we are pulled down, down, down, in our pain and disappointment. Today we allow ourselves to question everything about the story we have been told.
Creation? Maybe God made this world, or maybe it’s all a cruel, meaningless joke.
Crisis? Maybe violence and hate are just the way of the world. Maybe they’re not an intrusion or anomaly; maybe they’re the way things are and will always, always be.
Calling? Forget about being blessed to be a blessing. Today we lie low and nurse our wounds. It is a dangerous world out there. We would be wise to stay inside and lock all doors.
Captivity? Who cares if Moses succeeded in getting our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt? Jesus failed, and there’s no Moses for us now. We’re still captives, worse off than we were before that crazy Galilean came and raised our hopes.
Conquest? If the most violent win and the nonviolent are killed, what kind of world is it?
Conversation? Today it seems that the skeptics and doubters were right. There’s nothing to say except, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” Today’s lament feels like the only sure truth in all the sacred Scriptures!
Christ? What Christ? He lies in a grave, cold and dead, and with him, all our hopes for a better way to be alive. Let the women prepare to embalm his corpse, if they can find it. Probably the Romans tore it to pieces and fed the fragments to the dogs.

On Good Friday and (Un)holy Saturday, the question for those of us who know what happens on Sunday is this: will the hopes that resurrect on Easter be false hopes that "bind us to unlivable situations and real possibilities," or will they be true hopes, good hopes, the real hopes beyond the false hopes that motivate us to life-changing, world-changing, hope-against-hope action?

 

a visual meditation

photo-1-e524059dbea1cebfe788ab374f45a37680085cdc-s40-c85.jpg
http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community?sc=17&f=1001

 

Good Friday Meditation

This is from my book Everything Must Change:

The cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal. . . . Rome uses crosses to expose and pronounce a death sentence on rebels; Jesus uses the cross to expose Roman violence and religious complicity with it, while pronouncing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. His cross doesn't represent a "shock and awe" display of power as Roman crucifixions were intended to do, but rather represents a "reverence and awe" display of God's willingness to accept rejection and mistreatment, and then respond with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants.


If, as Dominic Crossan says, the Roman motto is peace through victory, or peace through the destruction of enemies, or peace through domination . . . then for Jesus the motto is peace through nonviolent justice, peace through the forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace. If in the violent narratives of Rome the victorious are blessed - which means that the most heavily armed, the most willing to kill, and the most aggressive and dominant are blessed - then in the framing story of the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are willing to suffer for doing good. In this light, these aren't simply greeting-card sentiments, but rather ways of starkly contrasting Jesus' framing story with the narratives and counternarratives of his day.


To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus' peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God's own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.

- Brian McLaren in Everything Must Change

 

A reader writes: Righteous? Just?

A reader writes ...

I heard you speak this morning in Fort Wayne and I just want to thank you. You hear this a lot, I am sure, but reading you fills a void in my soul because I know that I am not alone. Thank you so much.

… This morning you asked the question, with the hope that someone would research it as to how the word Diakaios got mistranslated as righteous in English translation so much, especially in the book of Romans. (nice run on sentence, eh?)

So here is my question: Do you think that maybe King James himself instructed the scholars to do this in order to justify imperialism? If we are "the righteous," instead of "the just," then what we do to other cultures is okay because now they are always "the other" and less favored by God.

The second question goes to our frustration as pastors trying to preach reconciliation instead of dominion. I wonder if this imperialistic translation has been used to justify "the doctrine of the empire" instead of proclaiming "the good news of the Kingdom." Most of what seems to divide us in US Churches is the assumed patriotism that Christianity implies -a narrative falsely disseminated by too many Christian media sources. But we are in a culture where power is shifting at an alarming rate, and churches that "prosper" are those who capitalize on the fear of that loss of power. How do we proclaim good news to those who are feeling weaker and weaker when the political rhetoric is stacked against us?

I wrote an unworthy piece about diakios on my own blog: http://revnerd.blogspot.com/2011/06/dikaios-right-word-translated-wrong-way.html and thanks to you, I updated the use of the word righteous in Romans specifically with the term "restorative justice." It just makes more sense.


Thanks for the note. About your question regarding King James - He couldn't be to blame because his project was building on previous translations … Wycliffe's and especially the Geneva Bible, among others. There's a tremendous book that details the politics behind the King James Bible - Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries. I highly recommend it.

But as to your main point … I agree: "interpretation by translation" of justice/righteousness - and also atonement/reconciliation, by the way - have huge impacts on our understanding. It's amazing how much changes when we question just those two interpretive choices made by translators of many English versions. Thanks for your courage in speaking up. If more and more of us have the courage to differ graciously, other minds and hearts will begin to change, just as yours and mine have begun to do. As you said in your blog, the Bible makes so much more sense in that new light.

 

Maundy Thursday: Memo from Simon Peter

You shall not wash my feet, I said.
My reaction was visceral, reflexive, furious.
I couldn't then say why I was so offended
By his self-humiliation.
But now I see.
If he, Rabbi and Leader, would abandon
All protocols of propriety,
What would it mean for us, for me?
I had my heart set upon a throne,
Right next to his,
Preferably to his right,
With Zebedee's sons, my rivals,
Put in their places on his left.
I was ambitious. I am even now.
What does it do to my ambition
To make the top the bottom,
The leader the servant,
And the last the first?
Where could this lead?
Will women dare to aspire
To be seen as our equals?
Will the outsiders stand on level ground
With the pure, the righteous, the orthodox?
Will circumcision, sacrifice, priesthood, temple
Count for nothing?
Doesn't he know?
The cosmos is hierarchical.
There are kings at the top and slaves at the bottom,
Fathers and sons, men and women, teachers and students,
Older and younger ...
No sane man would unsettle that order.
It is divinely ordained.

So, yes, I was offended.
When he pressed me,
Said my feet must be washed
Or I had no part with him. So
I wrestled again to be first,
Seizing on this:
I will be first in being served!
And so I demanded to be washed
More than the others, head to toe.
But no. He saw through my game, and
Would not comply.
As he washed my feet and allowed me no special place,
I burned within.

Later, the burning flared: I will never abandon you! I said.
All the others might falter, but not I!
He told me the cock would mock my boast.
I hated him. I resented him. I thought he hated me.
Yet I loved him.
Serve one another as I have served you, he said.
Love one another as I have loved you, he said.
If his wild ways succeed,
All this world's order will be undone
And some new order will come.
I see why Judas has been so concerned.


 

We Make the Road by Walking: A Trail Guide

We Make the Road by Walking 5 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. I'm told it will help if a lot of you purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

Q & R: Bereft and searching ...

Here's the Q:

My husband and I have read several of your books, including Secret Message of Jesus, Generous Orthodoxy, and Everything Must Change. I left the church over a decade ago for many of the same issues you so eloquently describe, and since a vibrant spirituality was always the most defining characteristic of my life, I have been bereft ever since. Now, after reading your books, I am experiencing a welcome spiritual awakening. I would love to have a community in which to grow and learn. Do you know how I can find people or churches in the Knoxville TN area who are practicing Christianity as you describe it?

Thank you for your brave and insightful books! I have been deeply enriched by them, and inspired to rekindle my languishing faith. I am finally beginning to feel like a whole human again. God Bless You!


Here's the R:
Thanks for the encouraging words. Some friends of mine are working hard on the problem of helping people find churches … I don't have any news to report yet, but I hope some will be forthcoming soon.

In the meantime, I hope you'll consider forming what I call a learning circle … getting a few people together for a meal every week to start doing for one another what we wish someone would do for us: create space for vibrant spirituality, community, and action. My upcoming book is really a handbook for such spontaneous, self-organizing communities. It will be available soon (June 10). I'm so glad you haven't given up on rekindling your faith!

 

Q & R: Faith? Relative Certainty?

Here's the Q:

I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I feel a need to explain myself thoroughly. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist -- that is, I don't believe in God, but I can't say that with absolute certainty. So by your definition, I have made some sort of leap of faith toward atheism.

I've been reading Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense at the insistence of my mother, who raised me in the evangelical Protestantism that I abandoned in college. I like to keep an open mind, and I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your book. You are certainly no Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment because, well, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are [not my cup of tea].

I got to your section on Uncertainty Principles -- including a quote from Albert Einstein -- and I wanted to ask you about this excerpt on pp. 61-62 in my paperback:

Ironically, an unreflective person person is 100 percent certain of a lot more than a highly reflective one, because a highly reflective person eventually recognizes a number of "uncertainty principles," including these: 1. That the "laws of logic" -- the software that thought runs on -- must be accepted on faith, being unprovable (since you have to assume them in order to prove them, which tends to not prove anything!): Thus all thought is ultimately based on a kind of faith!

I don't think I can take that step with you. Let me give you an example: it has been said that our nearly universal acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4 is an act of faith. But is it really?

Every single character in that equation is a linguistic symbol that we have agreed upon as a culture (as with any language) to represent a very tangible, demonstrable thing. A Mandarin speaker could just as easily write a line with the same meaning that looked completely different. But the principles of that are not faith -- they are what you might describe as a "mundane fact," as almost any primary school teacher will tell you when they teach lessons on counting and basic arithmetic. If I put (what I call) "two" oranges on the table, I can count that there are two. If I then count two more and add (the + sign) them to the existing two, I can count them all, and I will arrive at four..at least if I'm speaking English properly. It takes no faith whatsoever to accept that, only a tacit willingness to agree to speak the same language that everyone else is speaking so that you can communicate with one another. Once we do that (again, as an agreement on language, not as faith), then we can build more complex thoughts on this understanding, demonstrating our logic each step of the way like a proof table in geometry class.

So the great thing about real science is that it's repeatable and testable and, when it discovers new information that might contradict the old understanding, it is flexible enough to adjust and refine. Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...as we saw in this week's debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

Of course, you're quite right that we all deal in "practical certainty," but to describe that as faith is misleading. I recently bought a new car, and I'm the type of consumer who researches purchases extensively before making them. I chose my particular make and model of car because it had a strong reputation for reliability based on very large samples of data collected by Consumer Reports, which is a magazine that earns no profits and accepts no advertisements that might bias their findings. It's not a perfect guide, and it's not the only one I used, but it seems to be the most trustworthy.

Was that a guarantee that my car would be reliable? No, I made a bet based on probabilities, and it's certainly possible that I could lose that bet and get a lemon. My feelings toward this manufacturer are not matters of faith, they are matters of statistical confidence -- and I certainly don't see them as infallible. If their quality and reliability scores were to decline in future years, I would decide to switch to another manufacturer for my next car...I have switched brands before.

So relative certainty is not the same thing as faith -- it's an acknowledgement that we are making a "best guess," and hopefully we are making informed decisions. That's how I feel about these bigger questions too -- like whether God exists and, if so, what God is like. Do I trust the words of ancient people who also wrote about talking serpents and donkeys and people being swallowed by fish and living to tell about it? People whose accounts of our origins are so demonstrably incorrect, as Bill Nye demonstrated this week? People who wrote that God ordered King Saul to slaughter the Amalekite women, children, infants and animals?

The problem with faith in that sense is that it's subjective -- it cannot be disproven. Anyone can say anything on faith...who is to argue that it doesn't make sense? According to the Bible, we're supposed to live by faith and NOT by sight, or we're supposed to have faith like children or sheep. But if my sight tells me something different, should I ignore or discredit that as Ken Ham does?

So, I strive to live a life without faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

What do you think?


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. Actually, Finding Faith is one of my earlier books that I still very much like but that, given the chance, I would make several changes in. I see your point about the difference between disprovable and assertions and unprovable ones. That's a good distinction and I would need to deal with it if I had the chance to rewrite that section of Finding Faith. (Which I may have the chance to do, and so thanks for the help!)

I was especially intrigued by your statement:

Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...

As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, there are points of resistance to self-correction in the scientific community … and as I would hope my work would point out (along with the work of many others), there are ways of approaching faith that are deeply committed to self-correction. The title of my upcoming book is actually a way of saying that faith must be a self-correcting journey.

In that way, I would hope I could say (almost quoting you):

So, I strive to live a life of good and honest faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

I've found it impossible to reduce my curiosity to the kind of mundane 2 + 2 = 4 information that is self-evident, undoubtable, and virtually certain. That kind of information tends to be the kind that helps us survive and function physically, but doesn't help so much with the deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and value. You might say that people can't (over the long run?) live on the bread of disprovable data alone …

Having said that, though, with all the religious claims out there - from those of 6-day creationists to climate deniers to would-be terrorists awaiting virgins in heaven to some of the folks who regularly tell me I'm going to burn in hell for disagreeing with their understanding of God - I am highly sympathetic to your desire to be skeptical and careful. That's why, in the book, I spent a lot of time trying to distinguish between what I called "bad faith" and "good faith."

 

Q & R: a DMin?

Here's the Q:

I am a small town pastor and very happy with my vocation in most ways. I am a part of an increasingly conservative, increasingly fundamentalist denomination and have been very moved by A Generous Orthodoxy and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.
As a parish pastor it is difficult to find time to dig deeper into the issues that come with attempting to unwrap, understand, and repent for my Imperialist, Roman Protestant history and how to winsomely communicate what comes out of that understanding. In order to force myself into that reflection, I am considering beginning work on a DMin that would focus on these issues. Because of your leadership in this area, I was hoping that you might have some suggestions re: schools and professors that might be a the forefront of this kind of effort.

Here's the R:
First, I think you're very wise to find some space to do some rethinking. It's never too late! A DMin could provide that space in a constructive way. I am a board member at Claremont School of Theology, and I am deeply impressed with their faculty. There are many other excellent seminaries that could help you in your studies as well.

If you research "postcolonial theology," you'll find many of the scholars who are grappling with these issues. Their names include ...

Ruth Padilla DeBorst, William Hertzog, Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Marc Ellis, Mark Braverman, Naim Ateek, the Latin American and African Liberation theologians, Warren Carter, Namsoon Kang, Gary Burge, Joerg Rieger, John Howard Yoder, the Girardian/mimetic theologians, women theologians who are consistently neglected in an imperial age, and many others.

Whatever the context in which you decide to study, I can tell you from personal experience that a reading list like this will revolutionize your theology, spirituality, and missiology. (It may also mean you have to look for a new job, but that's another story and another Q & R, I'm sure!)

 

Q & R: Satan?

Here's the Q:

… when you have a moment, would you bless me with some insight on the following passages in John where Jesus using the term "You are of your father, the devil" I believe he calls them children of satan. That's something I struggle with. I am not sure I believe in Satan or The Devil in the traditional sense. I think I agree more with the Jewish version of the satan and have a hard time understanding it as an opposing force outside of God or against God in the form of a demigod. So those passages in John really mess with me. Would love to gain some insight.

Here's the R:
Great question. I've addressed this question in various ways in Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, A New Kind of Christianity, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? It will also be addressed in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be released on June 10.

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 48:

Jesus told his followers to “count the cost.” He promised that those who walk his road would experience push-back, even persecution. And he often described that push-back as demonic or Satanic in nature. Some people today believe Satan and demons to be literal, objective realities. Others believe they are outmoded superstitions. Still others interpret Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology, we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces that take control of individuals, groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction.

… Now, imagine a … spirit of racism, revenge, religious supremacy, nationalism, political partisanship, greed, or fear getting a foothold in a community. You can imagine previously decent people being possessed, controlled, and driven by these forces, mind-sets, or ideologies. Soon, individuals aren’t thinking or feeling for themselves anymore. They gradually allow the spirit of the group to possess them. If nobody can break out of this frenzy, it’s easy to imagine tragic outcomes: vandalism, riots, beatings, lynchings, gang rapes, house demolitions, plundered land, exploited or enslaved workers, terrorism, dictatorship, genocide. Bullets can fly, bombs explode, and death tolls soar—among people who seemed so decent, normal, and peace loving just minutes or months before.

You don’t need to believe in literal demons and devils to agree with Jesus and the apostles: there are real and mysterious forces in our world that must be confronted. But how?


I hope that gives you some room to think about what Satan might represent - in the pages of the Bible, and in the world of today.

 

Q & R: Penal Substitution and Jesus' death

Here's the Q:

I've just finished reading A New Kind of Christianity http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/a-new-kind-of-christianity-1.htmlfor the third time. Thank you for your 'world view' changing books. I have found your books inspirational and faith saving. Changing a mind set is so slippery, hence the third time reading.

I get the Bible as narrative set in a Jewish historical context, I get a story of creation, liberation and the peaceable kingdom and find the new/old narrative exciting. In this narrative I get 'the kingdom of God is at hand, now', as a hope and way of life (praxis more difficult and challenging though). What I'm struggling to get my head round is to do with penal substitution. If this is part of the Greco Roman Theos narrative, why did Jesus have to die as he did? He lived a life which gave us a new model and a further revelation of God. His death is hugely important, as in the central role of The Eucharist but in the new narrative I can't see that it was essential, other than as a further model of willing suffering.

Do you have any insights or are the answers embedded somewhere in your literature?

This is my first ever attempt to network electronically in this way. I hope it's an appropriate question.

Thanks again for creating safe spaces for such questions.


Here's the R:
That's a great question. Thanks for asking it. If you put "penal substitution" in the search box in the upper right hand section of my website, you'll find a lot of places where I've addressed it here. In my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, etc? you'll find a more thorough treatment of the subject … especially in the chapter on eucharist.

But in my next book, We Make the Road by Walking, I have the chance to most fully explore Jesus' death and its meaning in the context of the whole biblical story. It will be available on June 10. You can learn more here.

 

Palm Sunday, Torture, and Peace

Palm Sunday could be, and I believe should be, one of our most important holidays. It is the day Jesus led a peace march into Jerusalem - a public demonstration - that included a joyful celebration of peaceful protest and a public lamentation that his nation didn't know "what makes for peace." (I explore this theme further in my upcoming book.)

What would happen if wherever Christians live, every year we made Palm Sunday the day for joyful public celebration of creative, nonviolent action and public lamentation for local, national, and global conflicts?

If we were leading such a day for celebration and lamentation today, we would pray for Syria where a dictator perpetuates atrocities, for Egypt where a peaceful protest movement was co-opted by a military coup, for Central African Republic where inter-tribal and inter-religious violence has reared its ugly ahead - echoing what happened in Rwanda twenty years ago. We would pray for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Iran. We would pray that Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace with justice as neighbors - and that the occupation, colonization, and violence there would end.

Closer to home, we would lament and pray about violence in our cities and about the persistent presence of racism that expresses itself in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways - including voter suppression, mass incarceration, and the ongoing "slow motion lynching" of our first African-American president. We would lament the unchecked and often unacknowledged power of the military-industrial complex. We would dream of ways to better employ human talent and material resources than in the proliferation and use of non-productive assets like weapons.

And most assuredly we would lament the use of torture by our own government.

In that regard, if you haven't paid attention to the unfolding story about how our nation secretly used torture, and now struggles to admit and be transparent about what it did in secret … You could read this short article for an overview:
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/11/224085/cias-use-of-harsh-interrogation.html

On April 3, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to release sections of an investigative report on the CIA, its use of torture, and its deceptive manipulation of Congress to gain approval for its actions.

The Intelligence Committee's vote is significant because by refusing to suppress this information, we can begin to acknowledge and heal this moral scar on our national conscience.

I am a Christian, and I believe all people share the image of God … including the enemies of the nation in which I am a citizen. My faith requires me to treat all people - even enemies, even prisoners, even those who bear labels like "terrorist" (or heretic!) - with the dignity and inalienable rights bestowed upon them by their Creator. Because I would not want others to torture me, and am prohibited from torturing others - or approving of the use of torture. I believe that torture is wrong and immoral.

Thankfully, President Obama banned torture on his second day in office, but unless this report is fairly and fully made public, we decrease the chances that a needed public debate on our use of torture will occur, and we increase the chances that torture will be used again by our nation, in our name, in the future.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus wept for a city that did not know what makes for peace. Five days later, he became a victim of unjust arrest, torture, and finally execution in that city. May we who love and follow him join him today - joyfully celebrating "what makes for peace" and deeply lamenting all that undermines true, lasting, and just peace … for all.

 

Q & R: The Christian But syndrome

Here's the Q:

I am a Christian…but I have a hard time stomaching the doctrine of babies born sinful. I believe that we are all born with the inclination to be sinful and that we will all one day give into that nature. But babies and young children seem sinless to me…like they are a metaphorical garden of Eden.
Having read four of your books, I have come to respect your scriptural interpretations. What are your thoughts on original sin?

Here's the R:
There are several dimensions of the various versions of Christianity we inherited that often become problematic as we grow older and see their impacts in real life. The doctrine of original sin as taught by Augustine and preserved in Luther, Calvin, and most of Western Christianity is essential to a doctrinal system I call "the six-lined narrative" or the "soul-sort narrative." I write about this at some length in A New Kind of Christianity and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, both of which I think you'll find helpful.

The doctrine has good intentions and has a lot of truth to it, but more and more adults start to see problems with it - in their personal psychology, in making sense of the biblical text, and in its historical and social impacts. As a result, they find themselves identifying just as you did … I am a Christian … but. (A friend of mine says there are more and more Christians with big buts.)

I don't recommend keeping the old narrative and simply dropping or modifying the doctrine of original sin. Rather, I recommend we look at the larger narrative question … and try to conceive of the Christian faith in wider and deeper (and, I believe, more true-to-Scripture) narrative terms.

Your question also opens up the question of what sin is … and what it would mean to be born with an inclination to be sinful. All these questions must be asked and I think they will, in the long run, lead us to a greater appreciation of the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus.

By the way, my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, offers an overview of the whole Bible and an orientation to a fresh vision of Christian faith … apart from the old categories that cause many of us to have "big buts." It will be available on June 10. I especially think you'll find the reading of Genesis presented there to be helpful - and to replace your "but" with a "wow!"

 

Contraception, Hobby Lobby, and Abortion

Baptist Christian ethicist David Gushee recently wrote a helpful summary and analysis of the Hobby Lobby case that is before the Supreme Court, with a decision anticipated in June. He summarized his conclusion:

This case is the perfect storm: it brings into one case passions many Americans feel about President Obama, health care reform, sexuality, government, women, abortion, science, culture, freedom, and religion, especially Christianity. Now all the Supreme Court has to do is sort it out. This will be no simple chore. But on balance I would vote No on Hobby Lobby.

He also raised some important questions, including:

Wouldn’t a win for Hobby Lobby really mean that we would be ensuring that the religious convictions of the one (business owner/family) would then trump the needs (and convictions) of the many (everyone who works for that business)? Do we want to give business owners that kind of power? Cuius corporatio, eius religio?

What happens when, say, a Christian Scientist company owner decides not to cover any health benefits, or a Jehovah’s Witness company owner decides not to cover blood transfusions, or an anti-vaccination owner decides not to cover the MMR shots, or perhaps a trust-Jesus radical decides not to contribute to employee Social Security or a 401(k)? Do we really want to open up that Pandora’s Box?

But it was this question that has especially had me thinking:

Are critics taking seriously the public health benefits of no-cost contraception coverage, and the moral benefits of the likely dramatic reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions? Or does their principled objection to contraception and/or (perceived) abortifacients totally trump data related to the actual impact of no-cost access to contraception?

In the 2008 presidential campaign, I was an outspoken advocate for Barack Obama, and one of the most frequent objections I heard - usually coming from my conservative Roman Catholic and Evangelical friends - ran along these lines: How can you vote for a pro-choice candidate?

My reply ran along these lines: Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade, something that is unlikely to happen. But even if it did …

even if McCain were to win the election and appoint Supreme Court justices who would in fact overturn Roe vs. Wade, this move will not outlaw abortion, contrary to what many believe. It will only return the decision to the states, which raises this question: how many states lean toward criminalization?


The Guttmacher Institute recently released new 2014 stats on this question, and so here's the current answer:
4 states have laws that automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned.
11 states retain their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans
8 states have laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe. [Guttmacher Institute, Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe, 2/1/14]

Here are those 19 states (some meet more than one of the criteria above) with their recent average number of abortions per year:

Alabama: 9550; Arizona: 16100; Arkansas: 4370; Delaware: 5090; Illinois: 44580; Kansas: 6940; Kentucky: 3970; Louisiana: 12210; Massachusetts: 24030; Michigan: 29190; Mississippi: 2220; Missouri: 5820; New Mexico: 5180; North Dakota: 1250; Ohio: 28590; Oklahoma: 5860; South Dakota: 600; West Virginia: 2390; Wisconsin: 7640 … Total: 215,580 = 20% of 1.06 million total abortions
[Guttmacher Institute, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2014, TABLE 2. Number of reported abortions and abortion rate, selected years; and percentage change in rate, 2008–2011—all by region and state in which the abortions occurred]

In other words, if the Republican Party succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade, abortions would be reduced by up to 20% - if, that is, criminalization worked. That's significant.

But it's far less than the anticipated 75% reduction that would come by making contraception available as part of health care policies, as provided by the ACA, according to a recent study.

The ethics behind the Hobby Lobby case are, indeed, complex, as are the politics. But it's hard to question two facts:

1. Providing contraception (along with other basic health care) reduces abortion very significantly.
2. It would reduce abortion more significantly than criminalizing abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

To put the point more strongly: by opposing the inclusion of contraception in health care, conservatives who support the Hobby Lobby case and oppose the ACA are actually choosing to increase the number of abortions.

If they reply that they oppose free contraception on other grounds, such as that it encourages promiscuity, a recent study found that is not the case.

Are conservative Evangelicals and Catholics thinking about these realities when they oppose the ACA? Are they unaware of this line of reasoning? Are they making a tough ethical choice - choosing the lesser of two evils in their minds - so as to allow more abortions as a necessary cost of achieving other goals they care about even more? What are those goals, and why are they so important?

 

We Make the Road by Walking: 4

We Make the Road by Walking 3 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

Guest Q & R with Michael Hardin: "The wrath of God stuff bothers me …"

I'm pleased that my friend Michael Hardin agreed to offer a guest response to this question. You can learn more about Michael here. Don't miss his books and podcasts either. Michael has so much to offer ...
Here's the Q:

“Personally , I've gotten so much from your writings over these last several years since I was introduced to your work. Last week I was especially struck by this :"Privilege should not lead us to guilt . Privilege should lead to service and compassion;to strive for restorative justice ; contemplation and action which leads to great fun and joy." … Maybe you can help me with two questions.
1. Just this Sunday the epistle reading was Romans 5:1-11 . Verse 8 and 9 : 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood,will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[a]

The Wrath of God stuff bothers me .I reviewed Chap 22 in your New Kind of Christianity, and I had written in the margins R. Rohr's thoughts on the the Jesus hermeneutic:
"that Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist or imperialistic texts... in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy , compassion and honesty ." So should we ignore Paul here in this instance ?

2. Also, in Ephesians 5:2, Paul seems to speak of Jesus as a sacrifice to God. That doesn't make sense if God's wrath doesn't need to be appeased by sacrifice. Can you explain?”


Here's MIchael's R:

These are excellent questions. Inasmuch as Protestant Christianity specifically (and Western Christianity generally) are oriented to what I call a ‘sacrificial paradigm’ it is important to unpack some assumptions.

First, note that in Romans 5:9, the words “of God” are not in the Greek text, they are supplied by the translators. This raises the question as to what Paul is referring to when he speaks of the ‘wrath’ (orge). It is possible that ‘wrath’ could refer to a distant future punishment in hell, but would that be consonant with Paul’s theology throughout this letter (and his other authentic letters)?

With regard to the Romans text here are the particular places Paul uses the term ‘orge’ (wrath): 1:18, 2:5, 8, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19, 13:4, 5. Note that other than 1:18, no other text in Romans has the phrase “wrath of God” only “the wrath.” How shall we then understand this word “wrath?”

Second, in order to understand Romans 1:18-32 (and thus the phrase “wrath of God”) we have three options:

1. The phrase has traditionally been understood to refer to God’s eschatological wrath where unbelievers are consigned to eternal conscious torment. The phrase need not necessarily imply some sort of emotional disturbance in God as Calvin noted in his Commentary on Romans (1:18): “The word wrath, referring to God in human terms as is usual in Scripture, means the vengeance of God, for when God punishes, He has, according to our way of thinking, the appearance of anger. The word, therefore, implies no emotion in God, but has reference only to the feelings of the sinner who is punished.”

2. The phrase is to be interpreted contextually in light of the three-fold use of the word ‘gave over’ (paradidomi). This way of understanding ‘wrath’ suggests that God takes a hands off approach to sin and turns sinful human beings over to the consequences of sin.

Both of these alternatives interpret ‘wrath’ as a divine behavior, whether active or passive. There is however a third alternative which depends upon reading the Epistle to the Romans from a literary perspective and has been advanced by Douglas Campbell in his book The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans, 2010). Campbell argues that Romans, much like Galatians and 2 Cor. 10-13 (Paul’s ‘tearful letter’) is directed against a specific false teacher and that it is the false teacher’s perspective which is being quoted in 1:18-32, a perspective which Paul will repudiate in chapters 2-4. In this case the phrase ‘wrath of God’ is the false teacher’s perspective. It is well known that Romans 1:18-32 reflects the kind of Jewish anti-Gentile rhetoric one finds e.g., in The Wisdom of Solomon 12-14.

Paul’s use of the rhetorical strategy of prosopopoia whereby an opponent’s view is cited and then debated, according to Campbell (and Ben Witherington III as well) would have been understood by the hearers of this epistle inasmuch as Paul always sent readers of his letters and they would know where and when to change the ‘tone of voice’ when reading the letter aloud. This third view then understands the phrase ‘wrath of God’ to be antithetical to the gospel, but part of the false teacher’s position. Following on this, all the subsequent uses of the word wrath could, if part of the rhetorical strategy, be understood as the calamity of social breakdown. The eschatological character of the ‘wrath’ seen in societal collapse prior to the advent of ‘The Day of the Lord’ became in time itself God’s eschatological wrath. Campbell’s reading of Romans is one way to ameliorate this type of reading.

With regard to Romans 5:8-9 then one might understand Paul to be saying, “Look. Even when we were at our worst, even when we had conceived of God as our enemy, Jesus came to show us that God was not our enemy but our friend (“Christ died for us”). How much more then if we have been deemed in right relationship with God even though we killed Jesus (“through his blood”), will God deliver us from the coming social breakdown when human culture returns to chaos.” In other words no matter how evil we become as humans, God will heal humanity (sozo, often translated “to save” also has the connotation of “healing”).

Regarding Ephesians 5:2, it is true that the author of Ephesians uses the word sacrifice (thusia). It is also the case that he uses two quite different terms, prosphora and thusia. The first is often translated ‘offering’, the second ‘sacrifice.’ Two essential point need to be made here: first is the use of the verbs “to love” (agapao) and “to give” (paradidomi). Jesus’ giving is a self-offering, not the offering of another. Sacrifice, understood as the act of the taking of the life of another, is contrasted by self-offering (or self-sacrifice). It is one of the merits of the New Testament that this shift occurs. One can see this especially in Hebrews. In my book The Jesus Driven Life I noted that

“Language related to the cultus, namely, thusia and its cognates, is avoided in the New Testament; rather, language related to phero and its cognates occurs. The New Testament uses the more cultic terminology only once at 1 Corinthians 5:7. Oscar Cullmann has argued that even here sacrificial terminology is clearly related to the active self-giving of the “servant of Yahweh.” The reason for this is that thusia belongs to the process of propitiation, the God-directed activity of the creature; whereas phero and its cognates, especially anaphero and prosphero have more of the sense of bringing a gift. But this gift giving is not a Do ut des (giving to get in return). To offer a gift, as the author of Hebrews later argues, is to offer it as an extension of one’s very self.”

One can see this logic at work also in Romans 12:1-2 where the “living sacrifice” is oneself. Offering one’s self to God has nothing to do with propitiating a deity, but a ‘giving over’ (a subversion of the word paradidomi) of one’s own self to be used by God in fostering reconciliation between persons. This self-offering emphasis in the New Testament thus has less to do with religion and more to do with ethics than has hitherto been noticed.

Both of these ‘shifts’ are part of the new realization that the gospel is not about appeasing an angry deity and that the violence or retribution in the death of Jesus in not God’s but humanity’s. This new approach to atonement has created both a crisis and a horizon for moving beyond views of God which portray God as a vampiric deity with an anger management problem to understanding the person, message and work of Jesus to be that of revealing our tendency to make God in our own image and to show us that God is only love, light and shalom.
+++++
Thanks, Michael, for this helpful response. Your phrase "vampiric deity with an anger management problem" evokes Dallas Willard's statement about a "vampire Christianity that wants Jesus for his blood and little else." Speaking of Dallas, I once asked him to preach at the church I pastored. I asked him to speak simply about God, and he chose as his text 1 John 1:9: "God is light and in God there is no darkness at all."

 

You can watch a lecture on my most recent book ...

here:
http://theguibordcenter.org/events-programs/special-speakers/brian-mclaren/
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road

 

10 Reasons to Come to Faith Forward 2014

May 19-22 in Nashville. www.faith-forward.net

10. Collaboration and connection with co-conspirators who are forging new ways of doing ministry with young people.

9. Music and artistry from Aaron Niequist, Sharon Irving, Southern Word teens, and others.

8. Valuable resources from like-minded sponsors and exhibitors.

7. FUN! Southern-fried goodness, line dancin' and honky-tonkin’ at the Wildhorse Saloon, a Nashville landmark.

6. Interactive workshops that inspire and equip – led by practitioners who are creatively re-imagining children's and youth ministry.

5. A totally unique and diverse line-up of speakers, thought-leaders, and artists.

4. Progressive theological and methodological content that resonates with you and your ministry.

3. It's affordable! Only $299 for four days of events.

2. Creative and interactive worship space curated by Lilly Lewin and pastoral care opportunities with Amy Butler.

1. A truly ecumenical gathering – a wide breadth of denominational traditions and theological inflections will be represented, making Faith Forward one of the most diverse and inclusive gatherings for children’s and youth ministry workers.

May 19-22 in Nashville. www.faith-forward.net

 

Noah: the movie, the story, and the God(s) behind the story

A brilliant piece from Paul Nuechterlein, here:
http://theologypeace.blogspot.com/2014/04/from-noah-to-easter.html
Quotable:

And it's growing more urgent that we do so, because we now possess the technology to destroy ourselves with our own violence. Actually, that's precisely why flood stories are so universal in human culture. Since our beginnings as a species, we've feared wiping ourselves out through our own contagious violence. A common image for this fear has been an all-engulfing flood. The Genesis story names this flat-out: "The earth was filled with violence." Just like the flood by which God supposedly uses in trying to stop it! But god using a flood belies that age-old human answer of trying to stop violence with violence.

Without going into all the details of the anthropology here, let's at least name God's startling alternative to our human answer of stopping violence by inflicting a counter-violence. God suffers our violence on the cross, shows it to be impotent compared to God's life-giving power of love on Easter, and enacts the healing power of forgiveness in the giving of the Spirit. The cross and resurrection is God saving us from the flood of our human violence that threatens to destroy us.

 

Listen to this. Really! Now!

A reader writes:

I met you a couple times at Claremont school of theology events which was a blessing by the way. You have been like a mentor to me through your work. I was first introduced to your work my first year of undergrad in my theology of ministry and it forever changed my life in a great way!!! I thought you might enjoy this video I found. I am starting to learn Hebrew for the first time in a seminary class and wanted to look up Hebrew spiritual songs to start immersing myself in the language. I stumbled upon this beautiful song called the "Hebrew-Arabic Peace Song" that is so fitting for our generation. Hope you are blessed by it!


Thanks. I was blessed. Wanted to get up and dance! My heart is inspired to pray ...
May your kingdom come … may your will be done on earth as in heaven.
The kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
This especially warms my heart because this weekend I'm in Portland, Oregon, with a group working for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

 

Noah … and the Bible as a book for grown-ups

Tony Jones writes about the new film here … Quotable:

Darren Aronofsky has made an eminently biblical film.
That is, if you see the Bible as a living, complex text full of conflict and theological questions.
If you see the Bible as a wooden history book, you’ll probably dislike Noah. Or at least you’ll be confused.

Yet more evidence that the biblical cat is out of the fundamentalist bag.

 

For your edification ...

Fathers and sons unite!

If you're not yet familiar with David Wilcox … today's the day to change that.
Check out his newest, Blaze ...

 

Q & R: Problems with Sermon on Mount?

Here's the Q:

Recently with Krista Tippet you pondered the power of people reading the Sermon the Mount on a daily basis. It brought to mind a talk at a church by Barack Obama where he pointed out how difficult it would be to translate that sermon into any kind of policy. I don't think that is a difficulty just for Presidents. It seems to be about the difficulties of leading a good life, like letting your candle shine but not being too smug about it. It seems many people have pondered the sermon and we have found its limits. Could you expand on what you were alluding to?

Here's the R:
I think a lot of people read the Sermon with a set of religious assumptions that distort it - for example, that it's about how to get to heaven (it's not), or that the words "be perfect" means "achieve technical perfection" (it means something very different in context), or that the word "righteousness" means "the moral perfection necessary to go to heaven when you die" (it means something much richer). I wrote about this in my book The Secret Message of Jesus, but I've had the chance to go even deeper in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be available in June.

 

Q & R: beauty of God

Here's the Q:

I have read many of your books, and I loved the "On Being" interview. Towards the end of that conversation, are these words:
And then there was discussion and a long line of people came to the mic and then one Muslim scholar came to the mic and he said, "We have heard brilliant lectures about the love of God and brilliant lectures about the justice of God, but no one has yet spoken of the beauty of God." Then he spoke for a few minutes about God and beauty and I can just tell you that, for those next few minutes, I forgot whether I was a Christian or a Muslim.

The closest I have found so far in looking again in some of your books for more about this concept is in the "Why did Jesus...cross the road" book, in your reflections with Sol.

I wonder if you could say more about this interchange from the conference? I especially would like to know if there are any written resources (from Islam, say) that would illuminate what this speaker what saying.
Many thanks, and blessings.


Here's the R:
Thanks for this question. I wish I had additional contemporary resources to recommend on this subject. The one thing I can point to is the poetry of Rumi. Rumi was a 13th century Persian mystic. He was a Muslim of the Sufi tradition - broadly speaking, a Muslim contemplative movement. His poetry celebrates (often playfully) the beauty of God in many ways. Here are a few samples of short poems from "The Essential Rumi":
“Soul, if you want to learn secrets,

your heart must forget about
shame
 and dignity.
You are God's lover,

yet you worry
what people
are saying.”


“You're water. We're the millstone.
You're wind. We're dust blown up into shapes.
You're spirit. We're the opening and closing
of our hands. You're the clarity.
We're the language that tries to say it.
You're joy. We're all the different kinds of laughing.”


“Knowledge that is acquired
is not like this. Those who have it worry if
audiences like it or not.
It's a bait for popularity.
Disputational knowing wants customers.
It has no soul...
The only real customer is God.
Chew quietly
your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay
playfully childish.”


 

We Make the Road by Walking: a fresh, coherent, reasonable understanding

We Make the Road by Walking 2 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

Q & R: troubled by growing fundamentalism

Here's the Q:

I recently bought your book, ‘Why did Jesus, Moses,…’, which I have almost finished reading, and will certainly be reading again.

In addition to being an excellent work of literature, I found the book to be of great help to me in my understanding of my Christian faith. Just to clarify matters, I live in England, I am 69 years of age and have been a member of the Church of England for most of my life. Recently I have been somewhat troubled by what I regard as a growing fundamentalism, among members of my own local church and to some extent in the wider C of E community in the UK. There seems to be a growing sense of - ‘all who do not follow Jesus are destined for hell’ - a point of view to which I have never subscribed. In this context I have found your book to be a great source comfort and reassurance.

I have, however, a couple of matters on which I would greatly appreciate your clarification.

Firstly, is there any room for interpretation of Jesus’ statement in John 14, ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (New International Version) ? This has always caused me problems because I have always maintained that there are so many good people in the world - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Atheists (even Manchester United supporters) etc. etc. who, in my opinion are more than worthy of acceptance into Heaven. I just cannot accept that only believers in Jesus will receive such acceptance. And while I appreciate the contents of chapter 22, ‘How reading the Bible responsibly…..’. it seems to me that the statement in question is perfectly clear and unambiguous, and as such is not open to interpretation. Over the years I have asked for clarification on this matter from a number of clergymen friends, but I have never really been satisfied with the answers I have received. Our present in incumbent (for whom I have the highest regard) simply addresses the matter by saying, ‘Ah, yes, there we do have a problem’.

My second question concerns, again, chapter 22. I found your description of Paul’s handling of the ‘darker passages’ of the Old Testament quite brilliant and satisfying. But then I thought to myself, that’s all very well, but what about followers of the Old Testament who are not Christian, e,g. followers of the Jewish faith, and therefore would not have access to, or an interest in the New Testament and its treatment of the Old Testament texts; are they confined to following the ‘darker’ Old Testament texts as written ?

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm sure many in England wouldn't go as far as including Manchester United supporters in those who are possibly redeemable! But aside from that …

On the John 14:6, question, I've addressed this at some length in a few of my books, especially A New Kind of Christianity, Chapter 19. But you'll also find a lot of information on that passage here on this site:
http://www.brianmclaren.net/cgi-bin/mt3/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=2&search=14%3A6

Your second question is very perceptive and important. In Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed ... I mentioned the importance of seeing arguments among the biblical writers. I used the example of Matthew 14-15 being in conversation with Deuteronomy 7, but similar pairings could be made within the Hebrew Scriptures alone.

For example, Ezra presents a rather harsh and exclusive attitude toward outsiders. But Ruth presents a very hospitable and respectful view, as does Jonah. (It's worth re-reading both Ruth and Jonah - which are short - with this question in mind: how should insiders see outsiders?)

If people only choose priestly passages in line with Ezra, people will get what they're looking for - justification for harshness and exclusivity. But if people allow the more prophetic passages of the Bible to be in argument with those priestly passages, they'll have resources to argue for a more humane (and we Christians would say "Christ-like) approach to "the other" as "one-another." My upcoming book - We Make the Road by Walking - will explore all this in a fresh, simple, and coherent way. I think you'll find it helpful.

 

Peace is like a tree ...

Friends in Afghanistan spread contagious kindness … planting trees, not bombs. Probably the most inspiring five minutes you'll experience today …

 

A reader writes … I have not felt welcome

A reader writes ...

I recently read your book Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohamed Cross the Road? and it really speaks to my heart about by Christian beliefs. I am a member of a PCUSA church in [the South] that is being torn apart because of the upcoming vote of the General Assembly concerning the definition of marriage. My husband and I are among the few 'radicals' who believe Christ would include gay people with love so I am not sure what we will do if our church votes to leave the denomination. I have not felt to welcome in the last two years because I have spoken out. I love my church family but I no longer want to remain silent. In the South, it is hard to find a place now for Christians who want to explore faith issues you have expressed so well in your book. I don't know that you have any suggestions, but we continue to pray for an inclusive church based on love and the life of Christ.

It's painful to leave a congregation … but I think there's going to be a lot of turmoil in the next few years as lots of people and groups make choices. Some churches and denominations and splits will "double down" on more conservative commitments - often from sincere conviction, and often because their major donors hold them hostage, and often from a mixture of both reasons. Others will open up, making their more conservative members feel abandoned and displaced.

Let's show grace to each other in this resorting process … It's inevitable, given the state of affairs in our churches and our polarized culture-wars climate. Those of us who show extra grace in these times will help a difficult process be at least a little more humane.

As one of my friends says, "Have the courage to differ graciously." Each of those terms matter: courage, differ, graciously.

 

Rachel (as usual) gets it right.

Quotable:

… the (recent World Vision) situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.

When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong.

There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.


And this:
So my question for those evangelicals is this: Is it worth it?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage really worth leaving thousands of needy children without financial support?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth losing more young people to cynicism regarding the church?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with LGBT people?

And is a “victory” against gay marriage worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks, "what if we get this wrong?"

I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.

I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism's culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus among its many refugees: LGBT people, women called to ministry, artists, science-lovers, misfits, sinners, doubters, thinkers and “the least of these.”

I’m ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.


More here:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/31/how-evangelicals-won-a-culture-war-and-lost-a-generation/

 

It's happening here in South Florida ...

Check this out.

And check this out too - wherever you live.

 

What do innovative new faith communities look like?

Some look like this …

Learn more at rootsdc

 

Racism in High School

A film we all need to see - available for free online, right here, and just 17 minutes long:

(Thanks, Bill Dahl, for your work on this powerful short film!)

 

A reader writes: Response to On Being

I just heard your interview with Krista Tippett from the Wild Goose festival, 2013 and felt the need to write to you to say thank you.

… I come from a family of "born again Christians." I'm on mom and dad's prayer list because I, self admittedly, don't want to belong to an organized religion nor do I claim to be "born again" or "saved". I have a really hard time wanting to claim, "I have the truth"- in the face of friends and family who might not share the same truth that I would claim...making them wrong, me right, and they burn in hell. I can't get back to that place of rightness because of it's divisiveness. It doesn't make sense to me... Catholics go to hell (my husband), my gay niece goes to hell, my atheist/homeless/prodigal-son brother is pre-destined to go to hell according to the church I grew up in... I just can't.

When I heard your interview, it shook me to my core. You exist!?!?! These ideas and beliefs exist outside of my head?!

Thank you. We are expecting our first born in July this year and religion/spirituality isn't something I can even talk about without feeling completely anxious and on edge. Unless we are talking about the absolute wonder and heaven that we are surrounded by in nature and through the wonder of the human condition. I can't take the divisiveness modern day American Christianity stands for, yet have not familiarized myself with any other options... I feel like your interview has prepped me to begin exploring outside the institution that I grew up in.


Thanks for writing. I'm so glad you heard the On Being interview … and I hope through this website you'll find lots of resources to help you explore what I call "a generous orthodoxy" or "a new kind of Christianity." I especially think you'll like my next book, We Make the Road by Walking.

 

"The Issue" is Not Going Away

If you don't know about the sad turn of events at World Vision, see Tony Jones' blog for more info
and Rachel Held Evans' (who launched something really positive in response to their original decision that was then overturned).
- be sure to read comments too. One of Rachel's readers commented:

I often feel like Charlie Brown when he tries to kick Lucy's football when engaging evangelical Christians and this is no exception.

In my On Being interview with Krista Tippet, around minute 35, I mention that I hear from a surprising number of Evangelicals who privately affirm a progressive stand on gay equality, and are figuring out when and how they can go public … Recently, two of them took that step:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/03/06/evangelical-mega-church-pastor-turns-pro-gay/#more-9854
More here:
http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/interview-ken-wilson-letter-congregation/

A Tikkun article predicts the Religious Right is on its last legs:
http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/02/25/those-sounds-you-hear-they-are-the-death-pangs-of-the-religious-right/

But many churches - like the SDA -- appear to be doubling down on their stance on homosexuality:

http://www.adventist.org/information/official-statements/statements/article/go/0/homosexuality/

A Seventh Day Adventist wrote me recently about his denomination.


Here are all the official stats of our church. How large we are etc.

http://www.adventist.org/information/statistics/article/go/0/seventh-day-adventist-world-church-statistics-2011/

This is the conference that is happening:
http://ingodsimage.adventist.org/

It is taking place in March in Cape town. There were rumors that it was going to be held in Nigeria but then the laws happened.

REALLY look at the breakout sessions. One is titled: "Alternative sexualities a disorder or a choice"

It's incredible that those are the only two choices. This is suppose to have 300+ delegates from around the world. It is being put on by the General Conference of our world wide church. They're including two ex-gay people that i've continually critiqued in articles.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eliel-cruz/seventhday-adventist-yout_b_4741048.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eliel-cruz/gays-in-the-family-seventh-day-adventist-presentation_b_3071156.html

This being held in Africa, and my church being as large as it is, it is surely going to affect the already homophobic climate here.

There are three (unofficial/not recognized) organizations that work in LGBT world. At least the ones that aren’t ex-gay groups. We have the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists at sgamovie.com. There is also IAGC (we’re student run etc facebook.com/iagcadventist). And there is the longest running organization hat has been around for 30+ years that works more as a support group but releases statements concerning the church and LGBT stuff their website is sdakinship.com.

… We get away with so much because not many people know about us—even though we’re a big church.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eliel-cruz/seventhday-adventist-anti_b_4942615.html


Thankfully, there are voices that reflect a "non-doubling-down" attitude, like this one:
http://savingmyreligion.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-gaze.html
Quotable:
It's going forward. We're going forward, not down. And we need to keep evolving.

 

Readers write …

The following came in response to my post replying to a post about Don Miller, Rob Bell, and me that was formerly on one of CT's affiliate blogs. The original CT-affiliate post was later taken down:

Thanks for not being divisive. Thanks for your books as they have helped me come terms with my 30 year old faith. I would not be a follower of Jesus if not for you, Ron and Don.

Also this one ...
On another note, a read your recent FB post regarding the “Strange but Familiar Tale…” CT thing. As always, you’re a voice for multitudes of us who remain in evangelical institutions because of calling or pay checks (likely some of both) and who cannot be quiet so bold or bold at all. Thank you, Brian, and know that your ministry is impacting us here at [this Evangelical university].

Just wanted to send you encouragement and wish you blessings as you stand your ground strongly ... with grace that does you credit. The courage and humility that you, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke and others have shown is inspirational.

I have long thought that evangelicalism's number is up, and your post on the cat being out of the bag is spot on. It seems to be the ultimate insult for a Christian to be regarded as not an evangelical. And it seems to be de rigeur for evangelicals to put down, mock and dismiss anyone who disagrees with them. This is such a long way from being Christ-like that it is scarcely believable.

Instead of trying to convince people I'm "in" I have decided I am out. Once I've come out, I'm sure I'll feel much happier!

This discomfort about being affiliated with the word Evangelical was intensified this week with the sad reversal of World Vision's change in policy regarding LGBT employees. Tony Jones posted about it, and the comments section after his post tells the tale. The Evangelical "brand" appears to be one of the most embattled brands on the landscape, at least among younger and more educated people.

Finally, this:

Do you ever consider asking those persons who criticize you so heavily to please write something themselves that will be published for wide public consumption so you might have the opportunity to pick it apart? Not that you would, I'm certain, but it bugs me terribly when people who have no platform of their own ride the coat tails of persons who do for the sole benefit of complaining. A rhetorical though, I'm sure.

Yes, I wonder how they would handle being on the other side of the keyboard, so to speak. Three quotes about critics come to mind …

“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs." [Time Magazine, October 31, 1977]”
― John Osborne

“Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”
― Benjamin Franklin


In light of Ben Franklin's words, one might wish some critics had more critics of their own. But maybe many do … they've just lost the capacity to take in what they dish out?

 

Mimi Haddad gets it right on gender, identity, and equality

Here:
http://blog.cbeinternational.org/2014/03/male-and-female-one-image-one-purpose/
Quotable:

Scripture points to a “human essentialism,” which is not associated with gender. The fixed and unchangeable essence of humankind is that both male and female are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–28)! And, to bear God’s image is an identity with a purpose: both Adam and Eve share authority in caring for the world. Scripture emphasizes not the differences between Adam and Eve but their unity and oneness. They share a physical substance, because Eve comes from Adam’s body. They also share God’s image, an essence that imparts a purpose—caring for the garden with shared authority and ruling over the animals, not over each other!

 

Report on recent trip

This reporter did a nice job summarizing my recent visit to Madison, WI.

 

Yes, Everything Must Change

This recent report ...

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/18/transition-tipping-point-revolution-doom?CMP=fb_gu

… is reminiscent of my book Everything Must Change. Kudos to all who are waking up!

 

Youth Workers (and people who love them)

This deserves your attention.

 

We Make the Road by Walking: getting the big story

We Make the Road by Walking 2 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.


Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.

 

The Christian Way

10014702_713113912044082_1487406648_n.jpg

(Thanks, The Christian Left: https://www.facebook.com/TheChristianLeft)

 

This probably won't get much coverage in the US mass media ...

The Egyptian military regime hands down a mass death sentence for 529 members/supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, apparently with no opportunity for the lawyers of the defendants to present a defense.

Terrorism is terrible, but counter-terrorism can be no less terrible. It can become an excuse for mass extermination - "cleansing" if you will - of political opponents.

The old maxim, "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life" was meant to curb excessive and mass retribution thousands of years ago. How quickly people slip backwards. To paraphrase Dr. King, if you fight fire with fire, the whole world burns. Read more here:

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/24/world/africa/egypt-minya-mass-sentence-explainer/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/world/middleeast/529-egyptians-sentenced-to-death-in-killing-of-a-police-officer.html?_r=0

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/97396/Egypt/Politics-/BREAKING-Egypts-Minya-criminal-court-sentences--Br.aspx

Let's not stop praying and advocating for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East …

If you want to read what I've written on the subjects of peace and justice, start here:
http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Moses-Buddha-Mohammed-Cross/dp/1455513954/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=
and here
http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Must-Change-Biggest-Problems/dp/140028029X/ref=ed_oe_p

 

A week ago I spent a day in Lakeland, FL,

… participating in a protest near the headquarters of Publix. If you've never participated in something like this, I hope you'll consider it. The reports below will give you a feel for what it's like:

http://ciw-online.org/blog/2014/03/march-lake-mirror/

One of the greatest discoveries and joys of my life has been the experience of combining spirituality/contemplation and activism. Call it spiritual activism or activist spirituality, I highly recommend

A. prayerfully listening to your heart for causes you care about,
B. choosing a level of commitment you can begin with - attending one protest a year, writing one blog a month, changing your buying habits, etc.
C. integrating your spiritual values with your activism, and vice versa.

When I became a writer full-time, my more flexible schedule enabled me to expand my activist involvements. Sometimes it's a lot of work, but the joy, teamwork, and sense of creative rightness and goodness of involvement always more than compensate.

 

Q & R: Emerging? Progressive?

Here's the Q:

Brian, it seems to me that Emerging Christianity and Progressive Christianity are similar in many ways. What are the unique distinctions and is there any thought of a convergence, in spite of what differences there may be?

Here's the R:
As with many questions, the best answer to this one is "it depends" - on what you mean by Progressive.

There is what I call an "old religious left" or "old progressivism" that had many strengths and made many contributions, especially in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. It opened the way for new possibilities to emerge. It was basically one vital wing of a modernist, colonial, institutional version of Christianity.

In this way of thinking, "left" and "right" were two ways of being traditionally modernist and colonial. Each fought the Enlightenment in some ways and embraced it in others. Each supported the state in some ways and resisted it in others. Each sought control of institutions, albeit for slightly different reasons. The left emphasized charity and institutional loyalty, and the right emphasized personal salvation and private piety, each to the near-exclusion of the other. The right defended biblical inerrancy and the left rejected it, but both opted for an understanding of Christian faith that worked well within the assumptions of modernity.

What I understand "emerging" or "emergence" to refer to is a critique of the modernist colonial mindset and an attempt to move beyond it. In this way, it differs from both old left and old right and yet respects and draws from their resources.

Many people use progressive in a different way. For them, progressive contrasts to conservative, regressive or change-averse.

In this sense, conservative/regressive/change averse says the best days are in the past, things are getting worse, and we must hold the line, resist the decay, and stop the slide down the slippery slope. Power and privilege must be conserved among those who already have it, because evil rivals are trying to steal away what has been rightly and justly earned.

And in this sense, progressive says better days are possible, we can (with God's wisdom and power) help create a more just and beautiful world, we've already slid down the slope along way and need - yes, to strive not to sink further, but more - to climb higher. Power and privilege must be more widely distributed because much of what is possessed by today's elites was gained through unjust means.

You might say that for conservatives, the greatest danger is losing the progress that has already been gained, and for progressives, the greatest danger is failing to seize the progress that is within reach now. If this is what you mean by Progressive Christianity, then yes, I think it and Emergence Christianity are on the same path, or better said, they are making the same path as we move forward.

 

Life and death

Read this loving and deeply moving tribute and plea from my friend Rich Cizik.

 

Integrating Prayer, Meditation, and Movement

TwelveSimpleWords_cover_r_1024x1024.jpg

If that sounds interesting, check out this project I helped create with my colleague Suzanne Jackson:
Available herehttp://wordlessprayer.com/store.html#simplewords
And here http://shop.patheos.com/products/twelve-simple-words

Here's more:

From a user of the videos:

I love the whole format! Brian's words, the beautiful setting and the movements, all of it. I have been trying to incorporate praying with my body into my life for a few years and it is difficult when I have to look at illustrations or read directions to practice. So having Suzanne's auditory leading is PERFECT!

 

We Make the Road by Walking: 2 ways it can help you

We Make the Road by Walking 1 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

 

Q & R: A 21-year-old European reader asks about anger

Here's the Q:

I'd like to thank you for your awesome work. It really speaks to me, a 21-year-old young adult, who's in love in Christ, but not in Christianity.

My question to you is the following: How do you deal with anger coming from fundamentalists? For example, I believe in the restoration of all things (apokastasis a la Gregory of Nyssa), and I don't find homosexuality or premarital sex to be sins. This really makes fundamentalists roast at me, and I'm seen as less Christian by them.
They usually just dismiss my views by quoting the Bible, and then they proceed to offer an interpretation of the quoted verse. I disagree with the interpretation, which results in me being seen as disagreeing with God. That's just ludicrous and brings us back to the Garden of Eden (Adam and Eve wanted to be gods). I see this condemnation as part of the cross I have to bear for Christ.

I bet you have had worse experience than me due to your progressive books and refreshing opinions. So how did you deal with the judgment and hate?

Kind regards from a European bro in Christ.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. My friend Rob Bell offered some excellent counsel on this question just yesterday, which you'll find here.

And here is something I've written on the subject …

 

Cana Update

Last year I asked for readers of this blog to help launch an initiative that has come to be known as the Cana Initiative. We brought together a small group for planning in November, and we've made some great progress in a short amount of time since then. Wonderful people have signed on as initiators (you're welcome to sign on too). A blog has launched, and a short list of key initiatives is being identified. Of course, the dreams are big, and there is much to do, so this is just a small beginning. But I want to thank all those who have helped, and I want to ask all those who feel inspired by this start to become regular financial supporters, as I am, which you can do right here:

Here's the update:


Life in the world of the Cana Initiative has been very busy and productive in recent months.

We continue to hear relief, excitement and hopefulness in people when they learn that there is a concerted effort of Convening, Advocating, Networking and Acting for A Generous Christianity in North America.

The Cana approach is to provide crucial convening, advocating, networking energies at the right time in the most crucial and “pregnant” efforts in order to extend, broaden and sustain the Generous Christianity Movement.

As part of our Convening function we will be hosting a number of events, some large, some small; some with a specific theme, some just for connection.
Here is a start of the list of events for the 2014. More coming soon.

Details are available for the Chicago and Washington DC meet ups with details on other events when they are available.
Cana Calendar:
March 16 Chicago Local Gathering – a simple gathering -A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
March 26 Washington DC Local Gathering – a simple gathering – A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
April 30 San Francisco Local Gathering – a simple gathering – A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
June 29-31 Asheville, North Carolina Post-Wild Goose Gathering – A gathering of Cana people from around the country to plan, plot and scheme together.
July 21-24 College Age Initiative, Chicago – Those interested in seeing a national generous Christianity movement among College aged people.
Fall 2014 – Theological Education Additive/Alternative Programs, New York
Fall 2014 – Technology/Online Portals and Faith, Location to be determined

Again, thanks, everyone, for your interest. From this small seed, I hope deep roots will grow and much fruit will come that will bring blessing and good to you and with you to more and more.

 

A Multi-Sensory Eucharist

 

Q & R: From a Jewish reader

Here's the Q:

I am a Jewish person reading "Why Did Jesus, Moses......" At the request of a Christian friend who I have been involved in conversation with for over a year. We are both working to achieve a sense of community through acceptance of others who may believe differently than we do (amongst other topics). I have a question that I hope you can answer. At your meeting with religious leaders in a mosque with other religious leaders, you quote Christian leaders of many faiths (p. 146). I am very curious to know what the responses of the rabbis and imams was. I feel that this could be a very telling answer because it would give me, and other readers., insight into the Jewish/Muslim view of this event and how we could move forward. It also would reflect on the quote by your Muslim friend (p. 134) that he really didn't know Christianity until he heard it described by a Christian. You are writing for a Christian audience but it would be helpful to me, as a reader, and I hope my Christian friends, to learn about other responses that are outside the "Christian box."

Your book is very interesting. I am learning more about the Christian point of view and it is sending me back to my own Jewish texts to understand my own personal Jewish responses.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your encouraging words and your interesting question. I wish I had an interesting answer! At the event I described, each leader read a prepared answer to a question (e.g. "According to your tradition, what is your duty toward your neighbor?"), and there wasn't any cross-talk (as I recall) between speakers. So as far as I can recall, nobody responded to the talks of other speakers. That would have been interesting.

Since that time, I've had the opportunity to participate in many dialogues where rabbis, imams, Buddhist teachers, Hindus, and Christian leaders like myself had the chance for interaction. It has always been a rich experience. Here's a snippet from one such dialogue, held at the Wild Goose Festival in NC, featuring my Muslim friend Ani Zonneveld:


 

Q & R: Violence and Paul

Here's the Q:

A bit more than a year ago, perhaps even longer you did a blog entry that looked at some exegesis of Paul that essentially argued that his exegesis is non-violent--at least for the particular passage that you referenced. Jesus does something very similar when he reads from the scroll from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4 and omits "the day of vengeance of our Lord." in his reading.

I was wondering if you know if anyone has done any extensive work on this--either Pauline or Christological (is that even a word?) exegesis arguing for non-violence? This is a theme that has not gone away since hearing about the Luke 4 scenario and reading your blog and I am very interested in reading more about this.


Here's the R:
I wrote about this a good bit in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, and it will be a significant theme of We Make the Road by Walking.

Three (actually four) theologians (among many more) who have influenced me profoundly in this regard are:
Derek Flood - it was his work that I referred to in the earlier blog post.
Michael Hardin - both of his books, and his amazing website, address Paul and violence.
Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh - their upcoming and long-awaited work Romans Disarmed will grapple with this, as did Colossians Remixed.

 

This weekend, I'll be on radio and TV

I am a huge fan of Krista Tippet and On Being, and I was honored and delighted to be interviewed by her at the Wild Goose Festival last summer. The interview airs this weekend, and you can listen to the podcast any time. Here's the write-up:

How can people rediscover faith as a series of stories and encounters rather than being reduced to a system of abstractions and beliefs? An influential voice in the worlds of progressive Evangelicalism and “emerging” Christianity, Brian McLaren envisions a community where diversity no longer means division. A provocative conversation on the meaning and future of Church in a 21st-century world.

Then on Sunday, March 16 at 10 p.m. EST, I'll have a few things to say on a new H2 series called Bible Rules. People have been tweeting that they saw me for a brief second on the advertisements for the show on H2 and History Channel.

I hope you enjoy both shows.

 

This is what spiritual activism looks like ...

It's happening today in Lakeland, FL.

 

A (non-reader?) writes: I exhort Brian McLaren to repent of his anti-Christian Zionism

A (non-reader?) writes:

I exhort Brian McLaren to repent of his anti-Christian Zionism which is an affront to God! The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people as given to them as an everlasting covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendents forever!

A response:
Thanks for the encouragement to repent (i.e. to prayerfully self-examine and rethink), something I try to remain perpetually willing to do. Hardness of heart and stiffness of neck are bad for the soul, and in that light, your exclamation points are perfectly fitting!

I just heard that bombs were flying in Israel again last night, reminders that the vicious, violent cycles of offense and revenge, counter-revenge and counter-offense continue spinning in the precious land of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Today is a sad yet fitting day to respond to your post.

First, I'm curious about how you decided "anti-Christian Zionist" applies to me and what you mean by it. There is actually a sense in which I could be called a Christian Zionist. I want all people of every ethnicity and religion to live in peace, with justice, and enjoy true prosperity and security wherever they live. I want Jewish people to have this freedom everywhere on earth, and especially in their ancestral homeland. As a Christian, I feel a special concern for the Jewish people because of the terrible atrocities committed against them for nearly two thousand years in the name of Christianity. (Sadly, our religious heritage has been complicit in many atrocities, so our compassion must be stretched multi directionally.)

That's why I always pray, seek, and speak for solutions in the Middle East that are pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. How could God desire justice and peace for some precious people and in so doing heartlessly cause injustice and despair for others? That would make God an unjust and uncompassionate "respecter of persons," something Scripture repeatedly says isn't true.

Perhaps you're defining "Christian Zionist" in your following sentence: "The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people as given to them as an everlasting covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendents forever!" If that's how you define the term, then I'm not "anti-" it, but I'm concerned about it in light of Scriptures like these:

The Law in Deuteronomy 10 says:

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Then, in Deuteronomy 28 (frightening to read), the Lord promises the people will be defeated in battle and evicted from their land if they don't obey his commands, including, presumably, Deuteronomy 10:19.

Similarly, the Law says in Leviticus 19:

33“ ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

And similarly, in Leviticus 26, terrifying consequences follow if the people don't obey the Lord's commands, including, presumably, Leviticus 19:33.

So, if you are going to take the Bible literally and as a timeless, non-contextual legal constitution (an approach I understand and respect, even though it is not how I read the Bible), you would have to conclude the following:

The same God who promised the descendants of Abraham the land of Israel also promised that they would not enjoy that inheritance if they mistreat the aliens, strangers, foreigners and others among them. One promise can't be taken to the exclusion of the other.

For that reason, someone like yourself who takes Scripture so seriously should be at the forefront of urging the nation of Israel to treat their Palestinian neighbors as they would want to be treated.

We Christians must, I think, only enter this conversation with great humility. Sadly, many if not most of our Christian ancestors treated the Jews in ways that should sicken and disgust us all today. And tragically, the way anti-Semitic Christians treated Jews, colonizing Christians treated Native Americans, and Christian conquistadores treated the indigenous people of Latin America, and apartheid/segregation-defending racist Christians treated people of color in South Africa and the US. It is not fitting for people of a religion with our history to quickly take a position of moral superiority.

In that sense, all of us Christians must (to use your word) repent. We must realize that, as Dr. King said, we can't cure injustice with injustice, violence with violence, prejudice with prejudice, insult with injury. Rather, we must seek solutions in the Middle East and elsewhere that reveal our belief that God desires justice for the oppressed, all the oppressed … and that God desires peace and security for all, which is why, according to Micah, God tells humanity what is most important:
to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

There is good news for everyone: Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, South Africans, citizens of Rwanda and the Central African Republic, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, the nonreligious, everyone …we can face our old hatreds and fears and put them behind us, repent, reconcile, and learn to wholeheartedly love God and neighbor, including the stranger, alien, other, and even enemy. In so doing, we can enjoy this precious promise:

that if we seek first God's kingdom and justice, every other good thing we seek (security, prosperity, justice, equality) will be given to us (Matthew 6:33).

In this, of course, I often fail, and so must be compassionate with others who fail. But it is my sincere aspiration all the more when I fail.

As you know, it is risky to even address this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if various blogs and websites will in the coming days take snippets out of what I've written here and use them to malign and misrepresent. But because I love my neighbors - Jewish and Christian and Muslim and secular, in Israel, in Palestine, and elsewhere (including you!), I try to speak out honestly when I can, even though doing so is fraught with difficulties, all intensified by my own imperfections.

By the way, you might be aware that there has been a recent resurgence of interest in whether Christian Zionism (however you define it) is truly Christian, and truly in the interests of the people of Israel. This article by a rabbi expresses my feelings as well as anything I've ever read:
http://rabbibrant.com/2014/02/19/reconsidering-zionism-unsettled-an-open-letter-to-reverend-chris-leighton/

I hope you'll read his whole post carefully, including this:

For many of us, these are the critical – and too often ignored – questions for interfaith dialogue: what will we do with those aspects of our religious traditions that value entitlement over humility? Do we believe that this land was promised by God to one particular group of people, or will we affirm a theology that promises the land to all who dwell upon it? Will we lift up the fusing of religion with state power and empire or will we advocate a religious vision that preaches solidarity with the powerless, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden?

Several other Jewish voices have influenced me strongly on these issues. Although they differ in some ways, they share a concern for a more holistic and integrated appeal to Scripture on behalf of both Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the region.
I highly recommend Mark Braverman's new book, Fatal Embrace.
Marc Ellis' Judaism Does Not Equal Israel is a sobering and instructive read.
Rabbi Michael Lerner addresses issues with his characteristic wisdom and balance in Embracing Israel/Palestine.
I'd also highly recommend this blog by a Jewish writer and activist in the UK, Micah's Paradigm Shift.

In addition, Gary Burge is an Evangelical Christian who powerfully and insightfully addresses the deeper issues of Christian Zionism in
Jesus and the Land.

And if you've never heard the voice and heart of a Palestinian Christian, Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers is a good place to start.

And all this, of course, only scratches the surface. But your note to me is probably a good place for us all to start … calling for a willingness to open closed minds and give assumptions a second thought, to be open that we've been wrong or ignorant and have more to learn, which is what repent means.

Late note: Just after posting this, I realized that today is the last day of an important conference among Evangelical Christians, hosted in Bethlehem and involving many of my good friends. I would have been there myself if my schedule allowed it. This article gives a sense of the intensity and importance of this subject, as difficult as it is to address.

 

Phyllis Tickle turns 80!

Phyllis%20Tickle%20Is%2080.JPG

HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY, PHYLLIS! Like so many others, I want to be like you when I grow up. You've been a friend and inspiration in so many ways. You are loved!

To all my readers - this is a great day to buy the new book I contributed to that celebrates Phyllis' life and work: Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future

http://www.paracletepress.com/phyllis-tickle-evangelist-of-the-future.html

 

Bird Watching as Meditation Retreat in May ...

I can't go, but I wish I could ...
http://heartbynature.givezooks.com/events/bird-watching-as-meditation

For others who pay attention to birds, here are two wonderful books:
Debbie Blue's Consider the Birds
Simon Barnes' How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher

 

A Letter to Publix Owners and Management

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!
Warmly,
Brian McLaren
a conscientious customer
(www.brianmclaren.net)

 

Q & R: I still don't get McLaren on the who's-going-to-heaven stuff.

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.

 

Note to Denominational Leaders

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 laini.brown@hbgusa.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!

Warmly,

Brian D. McLaren

 

A reader writes: As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace

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.

 

MARCH/APRIL UPDATE

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.

 

Q & R:Depressed and isolated … held hostage

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.

 

Frank Schaeffer on Francis and Edith Schaeffer

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.

 

Q & R: Four Stages

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

Here's the R:
That turned into a book - Naked Spirituality. You'll find a summary of the stages in my presentation slides, available here.

 

Attention, Professors ...

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 ...

 

"You do not belong here. But shame on you for not staying."

In addition to a lot of responses on my Facebook page (which I hope you'll friend and follow), here's a brief sampling of what has come in about a recent critical article and my response to it:

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,


+++++

 

An e-course with yours truly for Lent ...

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 interested in Social Justice

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:
http://www.nathancummings.org/grant-programs/cummings-fellowship

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.

 

Q & R: What are you reading?

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.
https://wipfandstock.com/store/Subversive_Meals_An_Analysis_of_the_Lords_Supper_under_Roman_Domination_during_the_First_Century/

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.

 

Great stuff

at the Cana Initiative Blog … here.

 

Q & R: Is that still something you're considering

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.
McLaren_WeMakeTheRoadByWalking_sm.jpg

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).

 

Dent Davidson on worship: LIGHT FIRES, ISSUE PERMISSION SLIPS

Here's a great job description for worship leaders:

If you're interested in the subject of worship and liturgy, along with Dent Davidson, check out Bryan Sirchio's new book.

 

Two voices needed in today's noisy world

Fred Burnham and Jen Butler tell an important truth in this piece:
http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619677/fred-burnham-and-jennifer-butler.html
Quotable …

Here are some telling signs of the times: CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked or potentially losing their jobs. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks.

These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power. The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they also deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619677/fred-burnham-and-jennifer-butler.html#storylink=cpy

 

Q & R: You, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and Christianity Today

Here's the Q:

Kevin Miller wrote a piece in CT about you, Rob Bell, and Don Miller. It follows other negative articles about you, and them, in CT. Do you think the portrayal was fair, and if not, why not?"

Here's the R:
I read the article a couple times and the first thing that struck me is that Rob, Don, and I function in the article as little more than a convenient apparatus against which to leverage so the author (and CT?) can double down on 3 things:

1. Evangelicals should submit to their pastors, ministers, and elders.
2. Evangelicals should stop trying to interpret the Bible on their own, but should listen to what "the church" says the Bible means (leaving the "Which church, when?" question open).
3. Evangelicals should double down on their rejection of homosexuality and refuse to compromise, even if it means unpopularity, rejection, or persecution by others.

According to the article, I did several things wrong.
1. I flirted with universalism.

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. As I understand it, he and they were asking a very different primary question: "How can God's will be done on earth as in heaven?" That primary question will result in a very different kind of Christianity.

2. I left the pastorate.

Should spending 24 years as a church planter and pastor qualify one as a quitter? Although I did leave the pastorate 8 years ago, I didn't in any way leave the church. I'm a quiet and grateful member of a congregation in the community where I now live. My years as a pastor make me deeply grateful for every sermon, song, prayer, and eucharist that I am privileged to share in when I am at my home congregation. When I'm not at home, I spend my time working with and serving clergy and emerging leaders around the world. So I hope CT readers don't see leaving the pastorate as leaving ministry or the big-C Church!

3. I became convinced that older Evangelicals were wrong on homosexuality.

That's true, but it goes much farther than that. I think significant percentages of older Evangelicals are deeply wrong on a wide range of issues - including homosexuality, our spiritual responsibility for the environment, the reality of evolution and climate change, solidarity with the poor, our role regarding peacemaking and war, equality for women, the reality of white privilege and systemic racism, and the legitimacy of torture, to name a few. So homosexuality is only one of a long list of things that I think older white Evangelicals need to rethink. Thankfully, on most if not all of these issues, younger Evangelicals are moving to a more just and wise understanding than their parents and grandparents, just as their parents and grandparents forsook much of the overt racism and anti-Semitism that were much more common among their parents and grandparents.

The article implies or states that I went wrong in these ways because
1. I was tempted by pride and celebrity, like Icarus "flying too high" in the old fable.

I certainly don't experience my life as having much to do with celebrity. When I travel, write, and speak, I work hard, and when I'm home, I live a quiet, modest life. True, I receive large doses of heart-felt encouragement from readers, but I also receive large doses of hell-fire condemnation (often from nonreaders) and sincere critique. I would think I have lost much more than I gained in terms of readership, popularity, etc., by taking the stands I've taken. I've made my choices for conscience not convenience or celebrity, and the same would be true for Rob and Don. I'm sad the article assumes otherwise.

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2. I wanted to be "accepted by the culture" and was unwilling to be persecuted or maligned, favoring applause and popularity like a "false prophet."

Perhaps someday the author will find himself required by conscience to differ with the community in which he was raised, and he will find out that the persecution that hurts the most isn't from "the culture" but from one's own tribe.

3. I interpret the Bible to mean whatever I want it to mean, ignoring the teaching of the church.

Interestingly, the more I learned about the teaching of the church in its many forms across history, the more I saw it included a wide variety of opinions and views over time and in different regions. I saw it as a living tradition that engaged in self-critique and self-correction over time. The more I grappled with biblical interpretation, the more I came to believe it carries with it an intellectual and ethical responsibility - yes, to learn from, to honor, and to respect the tradition, but also to challenge it when necessary. In fact, challenging the tradition is part of the tradition … especially for Protestants, but also for Catholics. As I blogged recently in this regard, I think that some good and needed conversation about the Bible is happening among Evangelicals.

For today's popular speakers who wonder if CT will be writing an article like this about them in ten years, I can only say that life is wonderful when you follow your conscience and aren't afraid. I know Rob and Don would agree. As the Proverb says, "The fear of men brings a snare," and as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."

Several years ago, a respected older Evangelical theologian confided to me that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have let the fear of critique by Evangelical gatekeepers have such control over him. He encouraged me to follow my conscience and not trim my sails for fear of being singled out. I have tried to follow that advice, and am glad I did.

Kevin Miller is right - nobody should make choices based on pride, popularity, fear of persecution, celebrity, or selfish and stupid individualism. But Evangelicals will not be helping themselves if they assume the only reason people like us are critiqued in articles like this is because something is wrong with us. It would be good for Evangelicals, especially in places like CT, to go deeper in thinking about why they tend to lose (or drive away) so many of their promising young leaders.

The good news is that when I am among more open and hospitable Christians (Evangelical and otherwise), I find large numbers of people from a more restrictive Evangelical heritage - like Rob, Don, and myself- who were to some degree or another lost to or driven out of Evangelical circles. They are doing wonderful work in new settings, receiving a warm welcome, enjoying life, and creating space for others.

The article's subhead said, "A decade ago, [Bell, Miller, and McLaren] stood as the leading voices for our evangelical future. We all know what happened since. But do we know why?" I wonder how many people really know - or really want to know - what happened over the last decade, and I wonder how many, even after reading the article, really understand why. Maybe the article will stimulate some curiosity and some second thoughts.

[LATE ADDITION: Someone just told me the article is on the website of Leadership Journal (where I used to be a regular columnist), not CT, but I think the 2 are still related.]

 

The biblical cat is out of the fundamentalist bag -

Once a conversation about the Bible gets started, it's hard to stop. That was true 500 years ago when the Reformation was brewing, and it's true today.

Steve Chalke released a bold and important article on the subject a few weeks ago, which you can download here:
http://www.oasisuk.org/theologyresources/restoringconfidence

Yesterday, I read a Huffington Post piece by a brilliant young writer and theologian, Derek Flood, that included this highly quotable observation:

These leaders represent a sea-change in the Evangelical landscape which has long been associated with being anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-science. Chalke, along with these other leaders, represents a growing shift, especially among younger Evangelicals, towards a more affirming, compassionate and thoughtful face of Evangelicalism, and this flows into how Scripture is interpreted and applied. In contrast to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Chalke's paper firmly denies the idea of inerrancy and instead calls for a way of interpreting Scripture characterized by debate and questioning,

"We do not believe that the Bible is 'inerrant' or 'infallible' in any popular understanding of these terms. In truth, there is nothing in the biblical texts that is beyond debate and questioning, and healthy churches are ones that create an environment which welcomes just that. The biblical texts are not a 'divine monologue', where the solitary voice of God dictates a flawless and unified declaration of his character and will to their writers."

This morning, I just came across an important piece by Tony Bartlett (another gifted theologian) that also includes an important critique of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy that has been a landmark for fundamentalist and older Evangelical Christians.

Then a few minutes ago, I read yet another great piece on the Bible, by Brian Zahnd.

I just posted news about a great group of people is coming together in a few months in Nashville to explore new ways of teaching the Bible to kids.

And for the last few months, Rob Bell has been blogging about the Bible raising deeply important questions and offering provocative and needed insights.

So the conversation has begun.

Over in the UK, Christian Today reported on Steve Chalke's article and said the Evangelical Alliance is planning to offer a response. And other responses are showing up online, with zesty dialogue in the comments section.

In the US, a recent Christianity Today article (that used Rob Bell, Don Miller, and me as negative examples) seemed to double down on the conventional view - cautioning people against thinking for themselves about the Bible, urging them to listen to the ministers (and by implication, not people like Bell, Miller, or me) and characterizing any departure from conventional interpretations as prideful, individualistic, selfish, compromising, cowardly, and pandering to popularity.

So, in a sense, the gauntlet has been thrown down. People will make all sorts of public statements as the conversation continues, but the real question is this: in the privacy of people's own hearts, will they (will you, will I?) have the courage to think, rethink, question, and consider the possibility that the conventional view of the Bible is in need of radical rethinking - not to reduce confidence in the Bible, but to discover a wiser, more just, more honest, and more proper confidence?

A good start would be to check out these links and begin to prayerfully open your heart and mind.

(If you want to read something I've written on the subject, try the first several chapters of A New Kind of Christianity.)

 

Why you should come to Nashville

for ">Faith Forward, May 19-22.

 

As a Floridian, I'm angry. And disappointed. And ashamed.

Jim Wallis calls for pastors and others to speak out against the Stand Your Ground law … I hope they will.

And the Florida Attorney General, Pamela Jo Bondi, is working to oppose clean-up of Chesapeake Bay (where I used to live). She defends her actions based on small-federal-government ideology and states' rights, which often means letting corporations do what they want, maximizing corporate profit by externalizing costs on the rest of us, not to mention the birds of the air and the fish of the seas (and estuaries).

Standing for peace, reconciliation, justice, and environmental stewardship are deeply held values for me and many of us - flowing from our faith and our vision of a desirable future.

 

A reader writes: I've never written to an author before -

A reader writes:

I have never been moved to write to an author before. I , personally, have gone through a period of spiritual deconstruction and as I was again experiencing the presence of God in my life, I picked up Naked Spirituality. It resonated strongly with me and I strongly felt I wanted to share it. I attend a rather conservative church and knew this would be a risk.

Since September, I have been leading a study group of 10 ladies. We are just beginning to tap into Harmony. I just wanted to thank you. This book has clarified so many things about my spiritual journey for me. I no longer am ashamed of my doubts and questions. I can now see how this is a vital part of a more vibrant deep life with God.

As we studied, the ladies would say to me, "Let's not rush through this. We need to take our time. There is so much here". Or they would simple say, "Wow!" . You have posed and addressed questions that have been in our hearts for many years. You've given us the courage to look at these things and speak of them with each other.

We have taken huge leaps in becoming what God created us to be, a body that cares, shares, and grows.
Thank you so much.


Thanks for these encouraging words. I'm humbled and grateful for the chance to be in partnership with you.

 

A book that needs to be written ...

and how you can help, here:
http://www.gofundme.com/6vrk90

 

Q & R: Our adult children don't have church in their lives

Here's the Q:

Brian -- thank you for a challengingly thoughtful and inspirational evening [recently], starting with our discussion at the table and then your talk and Q&A after dinner.

A question for when you have a moment -- and perhaps the readers of your blog might be interested as well --

We are blessed with having two children (ages 39 and 35), each with their own children. Both of our kids were high achievers in college and grad school, and now in their careers. But, they and their families do not have a church in their lives.

In view of our discussions last evening, could you recommend one of your books that might start as a platform for family discussion of these issues?


Here's the R:
I think 3 of my books might be especially helpful.

If your adult children are interested in theology, A New Kind of Christianity would be a good place to start. You could even choose a few of the ten questions to talk about.

If they're more interested in politics and social issues, Everything Must Change would be ideal.

And if they'd consider themselves "spiritual but not religious," Naked Spirituality would be a good choice.

I'd love to hear how things go ...

 

This Week: West Coast

I'd love to see you if you're in the neighborhood!
Monday 17 February - Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma WA
Tuesday 18 February - The Well at Queen Anne UMC, Seattle WA
Wednesday 19 February - Claremont Theological Seminary, Claremont CA
Thursday 20 February - St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Palm Desert CA
Saturday 22 February - Guibord Center, Los Angeles CA
You'll find links with additional information here: http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/schedule/current-schedul/

 

RIP Jamie Coots ...

Snake handling preacher Jamie Coots died from a snakebite at his church today.

Coots' way of reading the Bible suggests why Steve Chalke's recent article is so needed. And his death suggests that discussions of "religious liberty" are more complex than many people realize at first glance.

 

The Triple Threat: Alan Bean gets it right

Here.

 

Why We Can't Wait: Overcoming the New Jim Crow

… of Mass Incarceration.

A great 6 minute introduction.

 

Q & R: You have no real firm belief in anything

Here's the Q:

I am a pastor of a fairly conservative assembly. I am open to the fact that I do not know everything but reading through your material it appears you have no real firm belief in anything, that everything is questionable? Can you please confirm what you do believe.

Is Jesus God?
Is Jesus the only way to the Father?

I ask these as it would appear (however as I said I have found nowhere that you believe one way or the other) that you feel all religions lead to God or to Heaven?

I would be grateful for your reply as it will not take long to give a yes or no answer.

Here's the R:
It's good that you're open to the fact that you don't know everything. When you say you've "read through my material," does this mean you've actually read even one of my books with an honest and open mind? If you did, I'm quite certain you would not come away with the idea that I "have no real firm belief in anything," and you would understand that your questions actually make assumptions that I find problematic.

To give a "yes or no" answer would be impossible without entering into deeper dialogue about those assumptions. For example, I don't think Jesus' intent was primarily to lead to heaven, but rather, to lead to God's will being done on earth as in heaven, as the Lord's Prayer makes clear. Perhaps this would prompt you to want to explore my work a little deeper? The book I'd recommend for you would be The Secret Message of Jesus. (The "secret" is not some gnostic mystery, but rather what Jesus refers to in Mark 4:11.)

The best I can do is to say that I believe, with John, that in Jesus the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us, and that if we've seen Jesus - a man of radical nonviolence and true compassion, we've seen the Father. And I'd say that various religions lead to many different goals and ends, their projects being (as John Cobb puts it) "incommensurable." It's simply inaccurate to suggest that all religions even intend to lead to the same goal.

So be assured, I do have firm beliefs. It's just that some of them do not fit within some of your apparent assumptions.

 

A reader writes: in case I missed something

A reader writes:

I wanted to thank you. I am clergy and have spent most of my life in the church feeling as though I am standing in wrong line. The church way of thinking is one line and I am in a totally different line (talking to someone). Growing up in the Methodist Church, going to a Mennonite seminary, living for almost 20 years in a different country than the USA, having family and friends who are gay and lesbian, Buddhist and bikers, and who all over the political spectrum, it isn’t a surprise to me at all.

You reminded me that there are many standing with me. You have given me much to think about in your books, Naked Spirituality and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? I am starting on my second read of both books, in case I missed something. Thank you for sharing your stories and your words. I will be plotting some goodness here and there (subversively, of course)

Thank you, too for the grace you showed at a recent conference toward those who are gay and lesbian. I wish my family and friends heard more voices such as yours. I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

 

One of the most encouraging signs of social activism in a long time -

Think Occupy Wall Street on prayer - get schooled here:
http://app.mx3.americanprogressaction.org/e/es.aspx?s=785&e=651314&elq=639571068fd34466993a69067921fbe3

 

2014: The Year of the Bible

This is the year that an important conversation will break out from behind closed doors.

This is the year that several Christian leaders are speaking out about our need for a new way of understanding, approaching, and employing Scripture.

Today, Steve Chalke's important new article on the Bible went public. You can dowload it here: http://www.oasisuk.org/theologyresources/restoringconfidence
And you can watch Steve introduce it here:

Restoring Confidence in the Bible from Oasis UK on Vimeo.

Next month, Adam Hamilton's "Making Sense of the Bible" comes out.

And in June, my We Make the Road by Walking will be published.

By year's end, there should be some robust dialogue going on about what the Bible is, how it has been abused, and how we should more wisely and faithfully engage with the Bible in the years ahead. Let's all do all we can to bring this important conversation the attention it deserves.

 

It's not going away

In denomination after denomination, debate continues on equality for gay people. Here's a window into the Seventh Day Adventists' ongoing internal struggle ...
http://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2014/02/09/viewpoint-gyc-presentation-promotes-damaging-message-about-gay-youth

Some will double down on their traditional response. Others are beginning to wonder if there's a better way. There is a better way.

 

A reader writes: Simple gospel? I don't think so ...

A reader writes:

First, let me say, thank you for your work and writings. While I have read a couple of your works and am working on another currently, I have greatly appreciated having your perspective to re-engage my own jaded perspectives of our contemporary Christian experience.

My question to you – and the subject of this email – is this: Has the Church misrepresented the “simplicity” of the Gospel? By that, let me illustrate from my own profession.

As you can see from my signature, I have my MDiv and served as a hospital chaplain for 11 years in an inner-city, Level 1 trauma center. Halfway through that work, I pursued a JD. I have overseen Clinical Ethics at a large not-for-profit faith-based health care system for nearly six years, now. I face many complex issues of medical practice, technology, legal and regulatory requirements, interpersonal dynamics, communication break-downs and the intersection of competing values systems on a daily basis. Oftentimes, when cases or situations arise, I marvel because – given my familiarity with issues, forms of moral reasoning, provisions with legal codes, understanding of interpersonal dynamics, etc. – I do not perceive the “difficulty” in assessing the situation and addressing it. Quite honestly – and this is either confession or an issue for me to pursue with my counselor – I feel like a bit of a charlatan, at times, because physicians, administrators, staff and others will comment on what an asset I have been in a case and how helpful I was. I – as my wife will readily attest – will say myself, “This isn’t rocket science here. We aren’t trying to get the space shuttle into orbit. This is really pretty basic, isn’t it?” Only recently have I come to accept that, no, it isn’t pretty basic. Especially for people who are so emotionally or relationally “tied up” in an issue, there are powerful subtleties and nuances to these issues that aren’t appreciated until you are so thoroughly familiar with the “material” and have wrestled with many of the difficult questions that you can begin to break the issues down into manageable pieces.

Now, turning to issues of faith, I feel that the Church has given a message to people for hundreds – if not thousands – of years that says, “Here, let us masticate this for you. It’s pretty simple. See? You just consume what we spit into your mouth.” (I am reminded of the image of a baby bird taking nourishment from a parent.)

But, Jesus never told us that it would be that “simple”, did he? In matter of fact, we are told to “count the cost”. We are told that the path is difficult. (Yes, that is in the context of the passage discussing the destruction of Jerusalem if God’s people didn’t turn away from the path of what they thought it meant to be God’s people, but I think it still applies here.) We are called to be Yisra-el; struggling and persevering with God. Never “losing hold”, but struggling with the meaning of all “this”, with its implications, with our nature, with our fellow denizens of this planet and how this calls us to be in relationship to them.

I am struck by Tony Jones’ blog entry about “high school answers”, but I think it is an issue of the Church trying to make “manageable” the complexity and nuanced nature of this faith journey. It isn’t as simple, as all that. It cannot be boiled down to a bumper sticker or pithy saying or praise worship track. While the beginning may be Matthew 22:36-40, that is only the beginning. That is not the “destination”. It is about the journey and, in that, the Gospel is FAR from simple.

Your thoughts?

What people often refer to as "the simple gospel" is an outline - like 4 Spiritual Laws or The Roman Road - that is extracted from the Bible and proclaimed as "the gospel."

On one level, I do think the gospel can be put very simply: God's reign is within reach, God loves everyone, no exceptions … God is with us … God's abundant life is available to all by grace … but as you say, the depths and implications of those simple words can't be fathomed.

I wrote two books to explore the meaning of Jesus and his gospel:
Secret Message of Jesus
Everything Must Change

 

Q & R: postmodern post evangelical?

Here's the Q:

I am doing my MA in theology right at [a seminary] in Canada. My thesis for it is Christ's kingship from a postmodern perspective. This research has lead me to discover the emerging church movement, and post-evangelical Christianity. For one of my history topics in school, I'm want to study theologians and philosophers greatly impacted by postmodernity, and post-evangelicalism, and your name came up as a prominent individual in both the movements.

I know you are a busy man and have much on your plate but I would greatly appreciate you telling me how you relate to postmodernism and what your post evangelical faith is for you, and means to you?


Here's the R:
I think you should start with my book A New Kind of Christian. Then, to explore what "Christ's kingship" would mean today, I'd recommend Everything Must Change.

 

Rene Girard

If you've been hearing about Rene Girard's work and want a good introduction … here it is:
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2011/02/28/the-scapgoat-rene-girards-anthropology-of-violence-and-religion/

 

A reader writes: Jesus told non-biblical stories … should we?

A reader writes ...

Dear Brian,
...I go on your website regularly and read your books, and listen to your lectures and podcasts. Like so many people have said, your insight and honestly has helped me find peace and direction in the new ways I feel God leading in my life and in my own personal discoveries from scripture. I grew up with Bible study and spend years going over scripture and Bible stories with our children.
I am a preschool teacher and over the past 5 years I set up a preschool in our home for our grandchildren. I studied child development later in life and was disturbed when I found that the philosophies I learned to be important for child development were very difficult to implement in many daycare situations. I started with a home nursery which evolved into a preschool. The kids are advanced for their age and they are responsible for their schedule, helping, and caring for each other. I implement a lot about nature, care of the environment, and Bible stories that I felt taught them the lessons they needed to treat people in the way Jesus taught in the Gospels. Our theme has been to treat others as you want to be treated. I chose Bible stories like the Good Samaritan as I felt I could use it to show how Jesus sometimes taught things that were different, and the love Jesus has for all people.
I have always sought what the children need to hear and have tried to not be led by condemnation for not teaching the things and ways I was taught. I had to clear my mind and ask God how to frame things, but I was often at a loss for what I felt was spiritual material. Recently I found out I have cervical cancer which I pray can be taken care of soon with an operation. I started to ask the Lord for what He wanted to show me through this and oddly enough I felt there was a breakthrough in what I need to share with the children in my care. At the same time I felt like I was supposed to write to you about it. If I could explain why I guess it would be that you are very open to many subjects, and that you have a website where things can be shared.
I think sometimes we get stuck in a rut thinking what we need to teach children is only Bible Stories, but Jesus actually didn’t only tell Old Testament Bible stories as much as he told relevant stories which got across the message to have his Kingdom established on earth. I started to think about children and what they need to hear are stories of examples of people doing what Jesus said to do in a relevant way they can understand pertaining to their lives today. We used to do that a lot with our children with books about people who were heroes in different ways, or who did things that required character or sacrifice or love for others. I started to think that if Jesus was teaching again he would probably use stories just as he did before using present day examples so that we could get the point. Maybe this is common knowledge, but for me it was like a light came on in my thinking and that I had the answer I had been seeking for some time. I wonder if in a way we feel bound to the Bible stories and sort of stuck there and miss the idea of how Jesus used storytelling as a tool to get across the message, which is what I think we can do as well. (I want to mention that I believe children still need to hear stories form the Bible.)

I wanted to thank you for being willing to stick your neck out for so many of us who feel the same way.


First, I know that many will join me in prayers for your cancer diagnosis … you sound like a very brave woman! Second - great point on Jesus' use of short fiction (parables). People who think creatively like you about children's ministry will be gathering in Nashville TN in a couple months for the Faith Forward Conference. I'm very much looking forward to being there. Here's some more information.

 

Children and Youth Ministry people ...

I'm really looking forward to being part of Faith Forward's 2014 gathering in Nashville, May 19-22 (more info at (faith-forward.net). I get to join an inspiring line-up of speakers and contributors who are working together to inspire and resource innovation in ministry with children and youth--including Phyllis Tickle, Andrew Root, Ivy Beckwith, Dave Csinos, Romal Tune, Mike King, Anne Streaty Wimberly, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Melvin Bray, and Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher.

For too long, Christians who are forging new kinds of Christianity have been relying on curricula and approaches for children that promote the same problematic structures that many of us as adults have come to question and move beyond. Faith Forward 2014 is an ideal gathering for leaders and parents who are looking for cutting-edge, holistic, and thoughtful ways to nurture faith in youth and children.

The leaders of Faith Forward are currently accepting proposals for leading breakout sessions at this gathering. If you've got an idea that you want to share, then submit a proposal at faith-forward.net/lead-a-breakout-session/. Submissions are due by February 15 -- and if your breakout proposal is accepted, you'll save $100 on registration.
inspiring.jpg

 

A reader writes ...

A reader writes...

just had to let you know that i am re-reading A New Kind of Christianity in chorus with The Story We Find Ourselves In. Wow. This is very helpful. It has taken me a few years to get the Greco-Roman narrative out of my head and now the Hebrew narrative seems so normal and beautiful. Reading these two books together however seems to help both sides of my brain to see things clearer. I am mentoring a young guy and we are doing this together. Part of want I am doing is rethinking how we tell the story of the Gospel through the lens of the Hebrew narrative as I have been reconfiguring my faith. This is hard work but it is definitely paying off.

Thanks for these encouraging words. I think you'll especially enjoy my upcoming book, where I try to put together all the work I've been engaged in over recent decades in a fresh overview of the whole Bible.

 

Home alive

Last week was an incredibly rich week - beginning with a short but meaningful visit to Cedar Ridge for a memorial service, then time in Denver with some new and old friends talking about "theism on a higher level," then with the joyful and energetic APCE in San Jose, then with the beautiful and hospitable Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church. But halfway through the trip I got a nasty flu-like virus. By the grace of God and with the forbearance of my hosts, I was able to fulfill my duties as best as I could, and made it home yesterday. Home is good.

 

Q & R: colonizing atheism - and brown theism

Here's the Q:
Would you respond to this article on the new atheism?
http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/richard_rodriguez_new_atheism_has_a_distinctly_neo_colonial_aspect/
Here's the R:
First, it's a fascinating article. Thanks for sending it. His thoughts on the desert and its impact on Abrahamic theology (and sexual ethics) are fascinating - something I explored a bit in my Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

I was also intrigued by his linking of protest marches and religious processions. That gets my imagination going!

And that term "materialistic sterility" - that speaks.

Also quotable:

My qualm, right now, with the political left is that it is so taken over by sexual issues, sexual questions, that we have forgotten the traditional concern of the left was always social class and those at the bottom. And now we’re faced with a pope who is compassionate towards the poor and we want to know his position on abortion. It seems to me that at one point when Pope Francis said, “You know the church has been too preoccupied with those issues, gay marriage and abortion…” at some level the secular left has been too preoccupied with those issues.

I don't think he's saying those issues aren't important, but that if "progressives" don't have a moral vision that addresses other issues as well, especially economic ones, there's a problem.

And this:

I think what hasn’t happened yet in the official language of our political life is that we really don’t know how to speak brown-ly about each other and about ourselves. And Barack Obama is still officially designated our first black president. Well, he’s our first brown president, which is a much more interesting thing to be because it unites these two races, but in some way what we are not able to deal with is the reality that brown is all around us. That kids have been born, Cambodian/Mexican/German kids who don’t look like anyone who has ever lived before. And we’re still in a kind of rhetorical swamp where we’re still using the vocabulary of the 1950s: white and black America.

I'll come back to that quote in a minute …

As for the New Atheism and Postcolonialism … I was just with a group of people who are fluent with "Integral Theory." Drawing from Spiral Dynamics, they use a color-coded framework to describe different kinds of "consciousness" - or ways of looking at the world. Broadly speaking, they are talking about traditionalist/pre-modern, modernist, and postmodernist mindsets.

If the traditionalist mind is naturally theistic, modernist and postmodernist mindsets tend toward agnosticism and atheism, and they look down on pre moderns, a disdain and superiority (a colonizing mind) which Rodriguez is naming. What many of us are seeking is to rediscover theism after modern and postmodern atheism - as philosopher Richard Kearney says, to discover a new theism after atheism. That new theism must not look at the old theism and atheism with disdain, but with understanding and appreciation, knowing that whatever meaning we discover and construct in the future will build upon what has gone before. I don't know Rodriguez work at all apart from this article, but it seems like he is also looking for a more integrating, respectful, and generous theism.

Perhaps what we need, recalling the quote above, is the capacity to go beyond white and black theism and atheism to discover a "brown theism."

 

What we've been talking about in Boulder this week


Important conversations with wonderful people.

 

Q & R Storyline of the Bible

Here's the Q:

I'm interested in downloading your MP3s on "The Storyline of the Bible" but can only find US sites that carry them, and can't obtain them from there as I am UK resident.

Are they available in UK anywhere or is there a site that will allow downloads to outside US, or some other way that I can acquire them?

Here's the R from my friends at Life in the Trinity:

If they will call 214-366-3377, they can take his payment info over the phone and will provide him with the download code. We are upgrading our website this week and it should improve the download time considerably for the folks who buy the series.

This call would need to be during business hours, central time, US.
The series can be purchased by folks in North America here.

 

A reader writes … challenged and angered

A reader writes:

I am reading through your book Generous Orthodoxy and as all good texts should it has challenged me in some places, angered me in others, and given me hope in yet others. If we ever have a chance to sit down over a cup of coffee I would be interested in discussing more about your views of ethnic cleansing in the OT since you argument in the book seems problematic to me. But that is for another time, if the opportunity presents itself.

Something more pressing to me personally is something I just read in your final chapter. I read the familiar words, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (paraphrase). I have become very interested lately in exactly what others think that means. I was raised in a fundamentalist, charismatic, pentecostal non-denominational church (the only thing missing were the snakes) and was always taught that verse was related to the penal substitution view of the atonement. The law required blood, so it was taught, and Jesus fulfilled this blood debt in our stead. I cannot accept this view of atonement, and from what I gather you are not sympathetic to it either (please correct me if I am mischaracterizing your views). So, if it does not refer to penal substitution, what does 'fulfilling the law' mean? And how does 'fulfilling the law' free us from being under the law?

I know you are probably very busy, so if your answer is simply in the form of pointing me to an appropriate source, it would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks for writing …
On the biblical genocide issue, my thinking on that subject continued to develop after writing A Generous Orthodoxy. I am much more satisfied with my treatment of the issue of divine violence in A New Kind of Christianity and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? You'll also find a more thorough treatment of the issue of atonement in those two later books. Again, after A Generous Orthodoxy, my thinking continued to develop - becoming, I hope, more generous and no less orthodox (in the best sense of the word).

On "fulfilling the law" - my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, devotes a whole chapter to that issue. I think you'll find it helpful - that chapter was one of my favorite ones to write. But you'll have to wait until June of this year …. which will give you time to delve into the two books I just mentioned. Thanks again for writing.

 

A young mother writes: a pursuit of something better

A reader writes ...

I wanted to write to say Thank you for writing your book, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed cross the road?. It is so validating for me as a young woman of 31 years, mother of three, and wife living in our multi-faith world. I was raised in a very strict Pentecostal Charismatic Church, and it left it's impression upon me so heavily despite our leaving the church when I was ten years old, because my mother become a threat to the "us".

It has been a long journey away from the church, walking away from Christ, until recently while living in [Asia] under my husband's Marine Corps orders, that a [local] Jehovah's Witness knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to talk about the good news. It was such a blessing to my heart. I had longed to talk about Christ with anyone, but had little faith in the church due to my past. I began studying with her and after some time I began to recognize some of the same dogmatism that I saw in my own religious past and told her I loved Jesus and the Bible, but I had no intention or interest in becoming a Jehovah's witness, nor would I read her Watchtower Magazine. And through many tears of mine and hers, together we felt a connection that allowed us to continue studying the Bible together (what it seemed like was) "in-spite" of our differences. As I reclaimed my faith in Jesus and love for others I felt so conflicted by these religious differences, and angry at how it separated us from one another. I thought, there are huge religious organization in the world, not just Christianity, it would be so arrogant for me to say I am right, they are wrong. I felt that there had to be something better and bigger to understand it all. Something that actually reflects that kind of ideology that the Bible represents and expresses love in the same way that Jesus showed to others.

Anyway, when I saw your book and began reading it, I felt such validation in my pursuit of something better. It has been years since I have been able to trust and/or read any books about religion without feeling that awful feeling you describe in your book about becoming strong and creating more opposition towards others, or watering down what you believe to be more tolerant of others. I am not yet halfway through the book, and I know it will be a journey of heart, soul and mind. Yet, I look forward to reading your book like I am having a wonderful conversation with a thoughtful, caring, intelligent friend, and for that I Thank You! I am so glad you wrote this book. I have already encouraged my mother to read it, as we share much of this journey together.

May God continue to Bless you and may He use me to continue to express His love for all,


Thanks for these encouraging words. Little friendships "in spite of" differences are like like sutures healing the wounds in our world. It's easy to tear and wound. It's beautiful and good to heal.

 

This week … Boulder, San Jose, and Lafayette

After a brief stopover today in the Baltimore-Washington area to attend the memorial service of a dear friend in the company of many other wonderful friends, I'll be heading West for the next week.

First, in the Boulder, CO, area:
I'll be part of private meetings and then a public panel with Steve McIntosh, Bruce Sanguine, Morgan McKenna, and Ross Hostetter at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1128 Pine Street, Boulder, CO 80302. (On the corner of Broadway and Pine, downtown Boulder). The event will feature an open-ended discussion followed by questions and comments from the audience. This interactive public event will be held on Tuesday evening, January 28, 2014, from 7– 9 PM. If you live in Colorado’s front range, this should be a fascinating evening.

Then, in San Jose, CA, I'll be with the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators - an event I've been looking forward to greatly for a long time. Learn more here:
http://www.cvent.com/events/apce-2014-annual-conference/custom-18-94e06ab009d84a4dbea1949739b3103e.aspx

Then I'll be teaching and preaching at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church next Saturday and Sunday, Feb 1-2, in the Bay Area. More information here:
http://www.lopc.org/images/focus/focus1.pdf

I don't get out west that often, so hope to see many old and new friends there.

 

Holiness and glory ...

I came across this quote from Fred Buechner recently:

"One holy place I know is a workshop attached to a barn. There is a wood-burning stove in it made out of an oil drum. There is a workbench, dark and dented, with shallow, crammed drawers behind one of which a cat lives. There is a girlie calendar on the wall, plus various lengths of chain and rope, shovels and rakes of different sizes and shapes, some worn-out jackets and caps on pegs, an electric clock that doesn't keep time. On the workbench are two small plug-in radios, both of which have serious things wrong with them. There are several metal boxes full of wrenches and a bench saw. There are a couple of chairs with rungs missing. There is an old yellow bulldozer with its tracks caked with mud parked against one wall. The place smells mainly of engine oil and smoke — both wood smoke and pipe smoke. The windows are small, and even on bright days what light there is comes through mainly in window-sized patches on the floor.

I have no idea why this place is holy, but you can tell it is the moment you set foot in it if you have an eye for that kind of thing. For reasons known only to God, it is one of the places God uses for sending God's love to the world through."

- Frederick Buechner - Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Word

s

It reminded me of a song I wrote years ago, that I think I appreciate now more than ever.

There's a farm that I know … as I child I would go and run in the fields below. Near a stream, on a hill, there's an old windmill. In the afternoon sun it would glow with the glory of God, the glory of God, the glory of God shining through. And I pray for you that you'll see it to, for this life is a search for the glory of God. The whole world is full of the glory of God.

There are people I've met, some I'll never forget, full of laughter, some young and some old.
Sometimes on a face, a mysterious grace seems to smile out and shine through like gold.
It's the glory of God, it's the glory of God, it's the glory of God shining through.
And I pray for you that you'll see it to, for this life is a search for the glory of God.
This world is aglow with the glory of God.

Light through a window, wind in the grass, a fish in the current, birds as they pass,
A dancer, a gesture, a joke, or a kiss … the glory shines through simple things such as this.

There are moments that come like a gift from someone who loves you but you hardly know.
They bring a tear to the cheek, and a catch when you speak, and the meaning you seek seems to flow
With the glory of God, the glory of God, the glory of God shining through.
And I pray for you that you’ll see it too, for this life is a search for the glory of God.
The world is on fire with the glory of God.

 

Naked

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Naked Spirituality. Although it's not the best-selling of my books, I think it's the most highly rated.

It gives 12 simple words organized in four seasons or stages to help people develop a strong spiritual life dedicated to life-long spiritual growth.

It's been thrilling to see how different groups and whole churches have used the book. For example, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids has been using the book as a background for its Sunday sermons this year. Recently, they focused on the simple word "Help!" People wrote prayers asking for help that were hung from the ceiling….
help.jpg

Meanwhile, my friend Suzanne Jackson took the 12 simple words and integrated them with simple moves from yoga, tai chi, and chi gong. We collaborated on a set of videos that will help you practice these 12 spiritual moves through simple and energizing physical movement. You can learn more here.


 

Grief and encouragement ...

Betsy%202-2.jpg

When I read about your tragic passing from this life (tragic for all of us, of course, but glorious for you), I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like walking into that space today and not seeing you.

Turns out hundreds of others felt the same. We spent the morning wresting with real grief, anger, shock, and also a painful sort of hope and joy. Joy for you, knowing you are now in the presence of the One you loved so deeply and authentically, so openly and demonstratively. But deep grief in not having you be a part of the community you truly helped grow and build. Again , I am the newbie… I didn’t have the privilege of knowing you personally in this life. Turns out that was really my loss.

But you just have to know how deeply you have touched my life, with or without a personal connection. I sat there this morning weeping as I listened to story after story of the life of love, faithfulness, friendship and service you lived. And I am deeply challenged to rethink my own life… my own lack of commitment and service and even real love. Though your life seems cut way too short, you lived it FULLY… and you have left behind such a deep, rich and tangible legacy in this community.

So thank you. Thank you for serving my children. For loving them. Week after week. Craft project after craft project. As a mom, there are few things more meaningful to me than to see someone else truly loving my children. And you loved them. Each and every one of them.

Betsy Mitchell-Henning was my colleague and friend when I served as a pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville, MD. With her shock of purple or pink or blue hair, her upbeat attitude, her deep sincerity, and her impulse toward laughter, she served as the church's liturgist/worship coordinator for many years and then as a leader in children's ministry. She died of flu complications Saturday, and the Cedar Ridge family is absorbing and grieving this profound loss together.

A new member of the church wrote the beautiful tribute I quoted at the top of this post, and it struck me that it not only honored Betsy, but could serve as an encouragement to people who serve in various ways in churches everywhere. It's well worth reading for both reasons. Your labor is not in vain. These words from St. Paul come to mind: "Do not be weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest in due season if we don't give up."

 

A lot is right with the world ...

Yesterday, millions of people gathered in thousands of churches where preachers preached good sermons, musicians presented good music, people practiced peace, hugs, and handshakes, hearts were warmed and filled with God's love, and kids were treated as important. Sure, there are a lot of problems in the religious world, but it's important to remember how many good things happen week by week in local churches around the world. I know that was the case at my home church yesterday.

Today honors Dr. King who set an example and proclaimed a message that has changed many of our lives. Yes, our nation still harbors deep levels of unacknowledged racism, but today is a good day to be thankful for people like Dr. King who call us to reconciliation and relationships. And today is a good day to rededicate ourselves to joining in that ongoing movement of peace.

Last week, Walmart joined the Fair Food Program, which I'm still so thrilled about, wondering if Publix will be the next to join.

My friend Aaron Niequist (who hails from the same denominational neighborhood I come from) wrote a beautiful post (linking to another great post from Jeff Calliguire) here.

Kudos to CCDA for focusing attention on the crisis of mass incarceration. Learn what they're doing here:
http://www.ccda.org/blog/12-blog/354-locked-in-solidarity
And learn more about mass incarceration here and here.

Friends in the Boulder, CO, area:
I'll be part of a public panel with Steve McIntosh, Bruce Sanguine, Morgan McKenna, and Ross Hostetter at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1128 Pine Street, Boulder, CO 80302. (On the corner of Broadway and Pine, downtown Boulder). The event will feature an open-ended discussion followed by questions and comments from the audience. This interactive public event will be held on Tuesday evening, January 28, 2014, from 7– 9 PM. If you live in Colorado’s front range, this should be a fascinating evening.
http://www.firstcong.net/calendar.html

Friends in the San Jose area, I'll be speaking at a great event there next week (learn more here), and the following weekend I'll be in Lafayette, CA.

 

Congratulations, Walmart!

Walmart gets criticized for a lot of things, but today they deserve major applause for a courageous decision: to join the Fair Food Program launched by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
CIWWalmart_Jan2014_sm.jpg
Quotable:

This afternoon, at a ceremony held under a watermelon packing shed on a tomato farm outside of Immokalee (photo above), Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed an historic agreement for the world’s largest retailer to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the widely-acclaimed social responsibility program that is bringing real, measurable change to the men and women who harvest tomatoes for Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with the CIW to expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and into “other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain.”

It's an important and encouraging day for all who care about justice. Congratulations to the CIW for their tireless and passionate work, thanks to Walmart for making a big step in the right direction, and a question for the major corporations (like Publix) who are still refusing to join the program … How about now?

 

On the road this week ...

I just spent a couple excellent days with UCC pastors in Phoenix. What a bright, sincere, warm, and welcoming group! There is so much to be hopeful about when you see church leaders like these …

I'm en route now to Minneapolis where I'll be doing video for Animate. A fun and creative experience.

If you haven't checked out my Facebook page lately, there's been a lot of interesting conversation going on.

It was fun to learn today that my Slideshare.net page is one of their top sites. Nearly all of my presentations are available there.
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Alan Bean gets it right

… on negative features of American exceptionalism, regarding incarceration, guns, and health care. Here.
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Thank you, Eric Haines ...

Back in 2008, I was joined by my friends Linnea Nilsen Capshaw, Denise Van Eck, Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Eric Haines, and others to plan and present the Everything Must Change tour. We visited eleven cities and helped stir conversations and spur friendships that have continued to grow ever since.

haines-eric.jpg

Eric Haines was our sound and tech guy. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. None of us will forget his smile, his dry sense of humor, his cheerful attitude, his ability to fix anything, his extraordinary generosity, his desire to serve, his technical skill, and his ever-pleasant company. (Not to mention his distaste for air travel.) He was beloved by all who knew him, especially those in his local church.

eric_studio-150x150.jpg

In November, Eric came down to Washington, DC, to do some video work for the Cana Initiative. When I saw him, I knew he wasn't feeling well. He told me about a persistent cough and terrible pain in his hip. A few days later he was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away a few days ago.

When I'm discouraged or tempted to be cynical about things, I just need to think of Eric. He lived well, loved well, did good work, and blessed the world with many good works. He wasn't "famous" - he avoided the spotlight with the same energy many seek it. But he deserved to be known and appreciated as a good man, a good Christian, a good human being. Which is why I wanted to write these few words in his honor. I love you, Eric, will miss you, and will not stop thanking God for the gift of your friendship in my life.


 

Q & R: Global challenges?

Here's the Q:

When you spoke [about your book Everything Must Change in Charlotte NC, you referred to 15 challenges from UN University but I have not been able to find them. Where should I look? Thank you for your help.

Here's the R:
You'll find information on the list here:
http://www.millennium-project.org/millennium/challeng.html
Here's the list:
1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?

2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?

3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?

4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

5. How can policymaking be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?

6. How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?

7. How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?

8. How can the threat of new and reemerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?

9. How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?

10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?

11. How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?

12. How can transnational organized crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?

13. How can growing energy demands be met safely and efficiently?

14. How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?

15. How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?


My additional question - how can people of faith bring the wisdom and other resources from their traditions to bear on these challenges in constructive, collaborative, generative ways? That question, with the others, could add great vibrancy to the "missional" conversation in the Christian community.

See the following post about the Everything Must Change Tour you mentioned ...

 

If you've never discovered ...

… the rich resources of the Girardian lectionary, here's an invaluable resource. In this reflection, for example, you'll get a link to a beautiful sermon by Paul Nuechterlein, and interpretive resources on John 1:1-18.
Quotable:


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"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." It's worth calling attention to John's use of the word life here, in light of the more familiar term "eternal life." Here, for example, is an insightful commentary by Brian McLaren, in The Secret Message of Jesus:
Interestingly, John almost never uses the term “kingdom of God” (which is at the heart of Jesus’ message for Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There are two exceptions, both of which occur in this unique conversation [with Nicodemus in John 3]. Instead, John normally translates “kingdom of God” into another phrase that is notoriously hard to render in English. Most commonly, John’s translation of Jesus’ original phrase is rendered “eternal life” in English. Unfortunately, the phrase eternal life is often misinterpreted to mean “life in heaven after you die” — as are kingdom of God and its synonym, kingdom of heaven — so I think we need to find a better rendering.

If “eternal life” doesn’t mean “life after death,” what does it mean? Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus reduces the phrase simply to “life,” or “life to the full.” Near the end of John’s account, Jesus makes a particularly fascinating statement in a prayer, and it is as close as we get to a definition: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [God has] sent” (John 17:3). So here, “eternal life” means knowing, and knowing means an interactive relationship. In other words, “This is eternal life, to have an interactive relationship with the only true God and with Jesus Christ, his messenger.” Interestingly, that’s what a kingdom is too: an interactive relationship one has with a king, the king’s other subjects, and so on.

The Greek phrase John uses for “eternal life” literally means “life of the ages,” as opposed, I think we could say, to “life as people are living it these days.” So John’s related phrases — eternal life, life to the full, and simply life — give us a unique angle on what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God”: a life that is radically different from the way people are living these days, a life that is full and overflowing, a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Let’s render it simply “an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God.” (pp. 36-37)


McLaren is following recent New Testament scholarship on this rendering -- preeminently N.T. Wright, especially in his books The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope. He offers the translation of "eternal life" in his The Kingdom New Testament, as “the life of the coming age.” His best explanation of translating the Greek phrase zoe aionias is in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels:
“God so loved the world,” reads the famous text in the King James Version of John 3:16, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There we are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise of a timeless heavenly bliss.

But it isn’t. In the many places where the phrase zoe aionios appears in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters for that matter, it refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two “aions” (we sometimes use the word “eon” in that sense): the “Present age,” ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and the “age to come,” ha-olam ha-ba. The “age to come,” many ancient Jews believed, would arrive one day to bring God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groaned and toiled within the “present age.” You can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians 1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to rescue us from the present evil age.” In other words, Jesus has inaugurated, ushered in, the "age to come.” But there is no sense that this “age to come” is “eternal” in the sense of being outside space, time, and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (pp. 44-45)


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I'm honored that Paul considers my work of value to this tremendous project he has been working on for many years now. If you love the Bible already, this resource will give you new levels of appreciation. If you're itchy around the Bible, this resource will help you see the powerful and beautiful currents that run beneath the surface.

 

Q & R: Which denomination?

Here's the Q:

First off thank you for all your great work. You have deeply impacted me in many ways. I seem to think along very similar lines as far as I can tell from reading your posts, books, articles etc. I would like to pastor a church in the future, but I am in transition at the moment mostly due to the change in perspective over the last couple of years (still love the people). My question is if you were to start as a Pastor today, with all the wisdom and perspective you have accumulated through years of experience, would you choose a certain denomination instead of non-denominational? Do you have any denominations that you would most closely align with?

Here's the R:
This is a tough question. Here are five elements - in random order, because all are essential - I'd consider in choosing a denomination (or nondenominational association):

1. Hand/Mission: Is this denomination more oriented toward maintenance, self-benefit, or the common good of the world? In what ways is this denomination practically expressing its commitment to join God in bringing blessing to the world? Is the denomination more dominated by tradition/the past than by mission/the present and future.

2. Heart/Spirituality: Does this denomination promote personal and communal encounter with God, the neighbor, and the other and enemy, or is it preoccupied with correctness, numbers, politics, and institutional maintenance or aggrandizement?

3. Head/Theology: Does this denomination create space for vibrant theological reflection, imagination, and investigation? Or does it suppress theological curiosity in order to unquestioningly support a predetermined set of conclusions? Does it expect the Spirit to continue to guide us into truth?

4. Backbone/Structure: What kind of support and accountability does this denomination provide to support its staff and members in mission? How nimble and flexible is the structure?

5. Open arms/Ecumenism: Does this denomination wall itself off from other Christian communities, and other faith communities - or does it use its structure as a bridge to facilitate collaborative relationships? And is this denomination interested in welcoming me?

Some denominations might score well on 3 and 5, but not so well on 2 and 4, for example, so every choice would involve weighing strengths and weaknesses. As for going the non-denominational route, I would have to ask these same 5 questions but in slightly different ways. By the way, I still believe that we need creative church planting, so if you feel a gift and calling in that direction, I hope you'll fan that flame, whatever denominational (or non-) path you choose.

 

A sermon on Habakkuk: Options for Anxiety

I was asked to preach on this passage (obscure to some, well-known to others) at a gathering for preachers in Minneapolis last year. I thought it might be of some encouragement to folks who won't hear a "live" sermon today….

Habakkuk 2:12-20. "What's the Big Story?"

We woke up this morning in a heap of trouble.

First, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a lot of political trouble - a government shutdown, a looming debt default. Then, if the debt default occurs, we are warned that a global economic crisis could follow.

On a deeper level, our political and economic crises are fueled by internal social strife. As the gap widens between a super-rich minority and a struggling majority, frustration grows proportionately. Few doubt there are also racial and sexual dimensions to our social divisions ... as the familiar world of a privileged white patriarchy gives way to a multicultural world where racial and sexual minorities cannot be marginalized. No wonder the fear of the other leads to a fervor to buy more and more guns, as if the more weapons we have the safer we will be.

Meanwhile, behind all this drama, the planet has a fever. The very fuels upon which our civilization depends are pushing us well beyond the green zone into the yellow and red zones of climate instability.

And I haven’t even mentioned weapons of mass destruction. Do you see why I say we’re in a heap of trouble?

People like us who are in a heap of trouble have four common options at our disposal to deal with our anxiety.

First, we can scapegoat somebody. We can find some group of people - Jews, Muslims, gays, Mexicans, the ACLU, China, supporters of Barack Obama or Ted Cruz - and blame them for all our problems. It’s fun, it’s easy, it requires no research or thought ... and it works - at venting our anxiety, that is. Unfortunately, it provides no real help in solving the problems we’re anxious about. In fact, scapegoating ultimately makes both our problems and ourselves worse.

So second, if we lose our taste for scapegoating, we can turn our crises into fundraising opportunities. Radio stations, TV networks, political campaigns, and religious groups are very happy to make a buck off our fear. And in fact, many sectors of the fear-industrial complex will gin up fear, rake in money, and then issue a tax deduction to boot!

Third, if scapegoating and fund-raising don’t satisfy, we can implement some sort of fundamentalist hail Mary ... we can pray more or louder or in tongues even, fast more, go to church or synagogue or mosque more, wear more religious clothing, become more observant of religious holidays, obsess more about the end times, and become more careful to avoid religious taboos, in hopes that God will send in a skyhook to save us at the last minute from the heap of trouble that threatens to crush us under its growing weight.

Fourth, if scapegoating, fundraising, and fundamentalism don’t prevail, we can offer a moral explanation by which we blame ourselves for our trouble. Yes, we can say, we’re in a heap of trouble, but that trouble is evidence of the morality of the universe. We deserve this trouble, so the bad news is actually good news ... it’s proof that God is still on the throne, still ruling the universe, still supervising the affairs of humanity. Even though we are, frankly, screwed in the short term, at least God is still in control in the long term.

That fourth option was the option of many of the prophets, including Habbakuk in today’s passage.

It was late in the 7th Century BC, and Habakkuk’s people were in a major heap of trouble. The Babylonians were rising to power to the East, and these upstart regional superpowers weren’t at all nice neighbors to have. It was only a matter of time until they invaded, conquered, and plundered Habakkuk’s homeland. In the midst of the anxiety, prophets like Habakkuk were doing their job, interpreting signs of times, trying to find or make some meaning in the madness.

Habbakuk could have scapegoated somebody, or turned the crisis into a fundraising opportunity, or engaged in a fundamentalist hail-Mary act of spiritual desperation. But instead, he took the fourth option. He said, “We’re going to be conquered, and it’s our own fault. We have been violent. We have been unjust. We have proven ourselves unworthy of God’s protection. So the Babylonians will prevail.”

If that was all that Habakkuk did, he would be a good respectable prophet. But Habakkuk didn’t stop there, and that’s what makes him so extraordinary.

Habakkuk dares to question the very answer he is proposing. Yes, God might be just in allowing us to be conquered, but how could God use a people who are even worse than us to do it? You can imagine a Texan musing: maybe the evil Dallas Cowboys deserve to lose, but do the even more evil Denver Broncos deserve to be the ones to beat them?

The prophet tries to comfort himself with the idea that eventually, the Babylonians will get theirs too. But that doesn’t solve the problem that his best explanation leaves God’s hands looking something less than sanitary in dealing with the human mess.

You might expect some perceptive journalist or snarky comedian to raise a question like this - the 7th century BCE equivalent of Erin Burnett or John Stewart. But Habbakuk himself argues with God about the situation. He refuses to be satisfied with the best answer he himself can offer.

That’s an interesting role for a preacher, don’t you think? To reject inferior explanations, to offer the best he has, but also to go public with the misgivings he has about his own best answers?

You didn’t hear Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson express any misgivings when they scapegoated liberals and the ACLU after 9-11. You didn’t hear Pat Robertson express any second thoughts when he blamed Haitians for the Haiti earthquake. You didn’t hear a local pastor express discomfort with his explanation for a local tragedy a few years back - which I think involved a conservative God punishing liberal Lutherans for their sins.

But here we have Habakkuk - giving his best interpretation of the signs of the times and openly expressing his frustration with that interpretation.

He doesn’t solve that moral paradox. But he does offer some clear moral guidance for living in it. As a great preacher once said, where you can’t offer certainty, you can still try to offer clarity. So Habakkuk offers this clear moral guidance. In the absence of a completely satisfying explanation for what’s going on, in the absence of a completely satisfying theological interpretation of the signs of the times, he says, “the just shall live by faith.”

Later theological minds like St. Paul and Martin Luther offered their own interpretations of these five words in English (or three words in Hebrew). But I think a good paraphrase of Habakkuk’s message in context would be something like this:

If we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. Yes, we’re in a heap of trouble, but if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. Yes, our trouble is in many ways our own fault. But if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. No, I can’t explain why reality is this messy, but if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive.

At the end of Habbakuk, he expands this simple moral summons in more poetic terms. If we keep faith and stay faithful, he says, God won’t spare us calamity, but God will give us the agility of a deer or mountain goat on a rocky mountainside so we can survive the rough terrain ahead.

It’s not pleasant, but I think it’s important to imagine what that could mean for us. The government shut down may result in a constitutional crisis. E Pluribus Unum could disintegrate into E Pluribus Duum or Tridium or whatever. The dollar could plummet. The banks and even the currency could fail. The global economy could crash and burn. More terrorist attacks could happen, echoed by more counter-terrorist attacks. Many of our fellow Christians could be possessed by a spirit of Islamophobia and revenge and our world could be torn in a thirty years war of crusade versus jihad. Chemical weapons, even nuclear bombs could fall. We could remain in denial about our unsustainable dirty energy economy, and as a result, global temperatures and sea levels could keep rising. The Gulf Stream could break. Crops could fail. Unprecedented storms and droughts could wreak havoc. Dustbowls could spread and tornado alley could widen into a tornado superhighway and the Oglala aquifer could be sucked dry as a bone. The bad guys could win, and even more scary, the good guys could become bad guys too so there are few discernible good guys left.

It’s not pleasant, but we must face these possibilities in our day just as Habakkuk did in his. But even if the worst happens, if we keep faith and stay faithful, we can trust God to give us agility to navigate the rocky terrain.

By courageously and honestly facing his own dissatisfaction with his own best explanation for the coming Babylonian conquest, Habakkuk is driven down to an even deeper affirmation of faith. Whatever short-term catastrophes may occur, he believes, in the end, in the long term, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” That is a radical, transformative, and comprehensive conviction.

So yes, we are in a heap of trouble. That is a true story. And it is a big story. But there is a bigger story still, more capacious and gracious, deeper and more vast. “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” that story proclaims, and if that’s true, then trouble itself is in a heap of trouble. Amen.

 

Q & R: Religious books for young teens?

Here's the Q:

Can you recommend any religious books for young teens?

Here's the R:
This isn't my specialty, but it's something I care about a great deal. I'll post your question on my Facebook page today, and I hope that people will send in recommendations - along with a sentence explaining why they recommend each book they suggest.

 

A reader writes: YES, that's how I feel! (and quotes Bruce Cockburn)

A reader writes ...

Hello Brian
I'm in the process of reading your sequel - A New Kind of Christian, and The Story We Find Ourselves In - just over last couple of wks finished the first two and can't wait to get to the next/last one !
I've read Naked Spirituality and Why Did Jesus Moses Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road, of recent - never enough hours in a day to read !

I've felt for a while now, even before reading your last book, Why did Jesus,etc, that who are we as Christians to think that our way is the only way to God. How arrogant that feels to me. To me, I feel Jesus is the way I get to The Loving Father, but for others who follow, Moses, Mohammed The Buddha, the beautiful Native American/Canadian Spirituality, that is their way. We can all learn from one another. Your book is refreshing ! I wish everyone would read this.

These books and what you have to say so resonate deep with me, my life and how I understand myself to be a "Christian". I don't even like to use that label of late -
guess a Follower off Jesus and, even, then, I fall short of that @ times. I've felt for a few years now, this change-transformation, this questioning the traditional way of Christianity -
I have many questions doubts about certain things...and have read Rob Bell's books too. They also touch a place deep inside my soul that brings a freedom and refreshment. When I read yours and his books - I think - YES that's how I feel ! YES, it can be different! But where and who can I talk to about this?! Where can I go here in the place I live, Toronto, Ontario Canada

where I can feel free to Worhsip The Loving Creator this way.
It's sometimes a lonely walk of faith and feel, as do you, that things need to change! . I am struggling with that and just feel @ times to not even go to church- I've pulled back and try to Worship God my Creator on my own, or with my sister, and also a friend. There are not many,unfortunately, I can talk to about this. How very troubling and sad. I also believe that church is not a place, a bldg - that the Great I AM is everywhere I am - but sometimes, just sometimes it would be lovely to find a place where I feel spiritually fed - This is my prayer and I would ask if you could pray for me as well.

I will close with a couple of lines from one of my favourite artists, Bruce Cockburn .......

Thank you, from another stumbler who believes love rules, and who will continue to kick @ the darkness til it bleeds daylight.

Brian, Thank you for you

Thanks for your note. I'm a major Bruce Cockburn fan too …
I'm glad you've found the books helpful. I especially think you'll enjoy The Last Word and the Word After That.
I have some friends who are working on a way for people to find churches with a more open spirit … stay tuned! In Toronto, I'm sure you'd find United Churches and some Anglican churches that would welcome you … among others.

 

Friends in Southwest Florida

I don't do much public speaking in my own area these days - but will be speaking at this gathering on January 25 in Fort Myers. I hope you'll come and say hi!
http://www.connect2godandcommunity.com

 

Ten years ago from 2014 ...

… my book A Generous Orthodoxy came out. Matt Richie recently wrote a thoughtful reflection on the book … Thanks, Matt!
http://theoprudence.com/theology/generous-orthodoxy-retrospect/

If you'd like to read the book, you'll find ordering info here.

 

Q & R: Christian Racists

Here's the Q:

You recently were mentioned by Brittney Cooper in an article on the Duck Dynasty controversy.
She wrote:
Ironically enough, the progressive Christians who inspire me the most these days are white. Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren and theologian Peter Enns are fighting the good fight of faith.

But then she added:
But I won’t let any of them off the hook for their failure to be more forthright in addressing racism. Evans, Bakker and McLaren are great on questions of homophobia, poverty and sexism; but racism, when it is addressed at all, is largely addressed as a problem of individual attitudes rather than systemic disfranchisement.

I wondered whether you thought her assessment of you was fair?

Here's the R:
First, I think her article is deeply important and I'm greatly honored that she is helped by my work. I wouldn't expect Dr. Cooper to keep up with everything I say about race, and so if she does underestimate my sensitivity to systemic issues, I wouldn't hold it against her. I would say that her assessment of me was accurate for the first 40 years of my life. I was taught a very personalistic approach to faith and life, along with a bias to interpret claims of systemic injustice as excuses for personal irresponsibility. It took a long time for me to begin to break through that teaching and bias. It's amazing how hard it is for privileged white heterosexual males to see or understand white male heterosexual privilege.

Although I'm sure I still have a long way to go, I think I've begun to see things a bit more clearly over the last fifteen or twenty years. If folks are interested in what I've been saying on the subject the last several years, they can search this blog for the words "racism" or "race." They could check my Facebook page as well.

These days, I'm more often accused of paying too much attention to systemic injustice and not enough to personal sin … so it's oddly refreshing to feel some push-back in the other direction. I couldn't say it any better than Dr. Cooper does:

… individual prejudices, and the amelioration of them, are bound up with the structures that support them.

That's why I agree with Dr. Cooper that it's important to emphasize institutional structural injustice, disenfranchisement, and racism, without forgetting about personal responsibility. Those structures invisibly, unconsciously "educate" new generations into subtle, unconscious racism … a racism that is increasingly evident in our culture these days. For some recent research on this subject, check out this by Bob Allen:
http://www.abpnews.com/culture/social-issues/item/9118-study-says-race-perception-gap-widening

This by Jonathan Merritt is also helpful.

And for a passionate response to the unconscious racism behind so much hatred of President Obama in our Congress, the media, and the culture at large (very evident where I live in Florida), Frank Schaeffer's recent piece is explosive:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/12/the-slow-motion-lynching-of-president-barack-obama/
His term "slow motion lynching" captures something I think is very real … and nobody has put it more graphically than Frank.

All that's to say that I think Dr. Cooper's article is deeply important, and I'm grateful for your question pointing it out to me and giving me the chance to point others to it. Especially quotable:

As Evangelicalism goes, racism, homophobia, and sexism go hand in hand. Black evangelicals like to tell themselves that they can reject Christianity’s racist past, while embracing homophobic and sexist ideas about the position of gay people and women, in the world and the church. I have come to say: It just isn’t so.

God is not a racist. I know that despite a Bible that sanctions enslavement and implores slaves to obey and be kind to their masters.

God is not a sexist. I know that despite a Bible that tells me that women are to be quiet in church, that women are not to teach men, that women are to submit.

God is not a homophobe. I know that despite a Bible that declares sex between men to be an abomination.

God is love. That is a truth I learned first and foremost from the Bible. And it holds moral and political weight for me because of the life that Jesus Christ lived, from birth to death and back again.

I love the Church, despite myself. But I won’t love it uncritically. This is what hermeneutic consistency requires. And worshipping alongside white folks who are more moved to stand with a homophobe than to stand against racism gives me great pause.

The Church can no longer afford to be disingenuous about its racism problem. Easy unity is not what we need. Time has run out for an African American Church that continues to tack hard to the right — uncritically imbibing the agenda of the (white) Evangelical Right, without acknowledging that this position, predicated as it is on the belief that Christian = Republican, is fundamentally averse to, and in some ways responsible for, the declining social and political condition of African Americans, gay and straight alike.


Amen, Brittney Cooper!

 

Q & R: How do I put the pieces back together again?

Here's the Q:

I have read a handful of Brian's books and found they have helped me look at my faith in a new way. They have caused me to disassemble my childhood faith and really look at why I believe what I believe. My question is, after disassembling my faith, which I think has been a good thing, how do I put the pieces back together again? It's as if I've lost the forest for the trees.

Here's the R:
Thanks for this important question. Without a good answer, a lot of folks go from a dysfunctional faith to a disintegrated or disappearing faith.

One of the major discoveries of my life (which shouldn't have taken so long, given that I was an English major and focused my studies on the power of fiction) was this: that we human beings live, not by systems or "world views" or philosophies alone, but by stories. Stories are often treated as accessories or "illustrations" to abstract systems, but the truth is, I believe, that doctrinal systems and world views and philosophies are creative projects that arise within stories … stories which are often so primal and "pre-critical" that they are not even recognized.

Personal therapy often means discovering the unhelpful and unacknowledged stories that are controlling our lives. I think spiritual growth involves something very similar.

That's why "the forest," I think, is a fresh healing and transforming narrative … one that I believe is rooted in the Scriptures, but differs in many ways from the narrative many of us were taught. I first grappled with this need for a fresh narrative in my book The Story We Find Ourselves In. It's the first question addressed in my New Kind of Christianity. I address it again in Why Did Jesus? And it's at the heart of my 2014 release We Make the Road by Walking.

A narrative is like the string on which all the pearls of beliefs, ethical commitments, values, etc., hang … it's the forest in which the trees thrive. So … my prayer for you and for so many of us is that we seek a better, more capacious, more true and liberating narrative to live by.

 

Merry Christmas, 2013!

christmas2013.JPG
Christmas joy from Grace and Brian to you and yours ...

 

A Christmas song

Several years ago, I wrote this simple song for Christmas to share with friends.

 

The scarier predictions ...

on climate change. Everything must change.

 

Last-Minute Christmas gifts ...

My friend Nic Patton produced this eclectic collection of music called Voxi, which you can buy fast via iTunes.

As for my stuff, you might be interested in my short-fiction e-books:
The Girl with the Dove Tattoo
The Word of the Lord to the Democrats
The Word of the Lord to the Republicans
The Word of the Lord to the Evangelicals

And you can find information (from most recent to "vintage") about my other books here.

 

March 27-30 … TRANSFORM!

Registration is live for the next TransFORM Network gathering, March 27-30, 2014 -- featuring Joerg Rieger, Alexia Salvatierra, Pam Wilhelms, Gareth Higgins, and a lot of great people.

Translating missional into meaningful and relevant language and action for the broader culture is no small task. The Transform team is crafting this special weekend — a conference unlike any other they’ve ever done — to bring together pastors and activists, artists and theologians to work through the challenges we are facing and emerge together with solutions, training and inspiration.

Learn more: http://www.transformnetwork.org/2014

Register online now: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/transforming-missional-transform-network-gathering-tickets-9636453893

 

An encouraging note about human kindness

This encouraging note reminded me how many people have been hurt by various forms of religiosity, but really are just looking for some authentic expression of humanity, of kindness … of basic human-kindness:

You might not remember me; I was the person serving drinks (including your Fanta) at the reception for the … conference yesterday. You have completely resurrected my faith in the evangelical/"post-evangelical" tradition. I was a die-hard Pentecostal in college and had a falling out with not just the movement but will all people who confess to being "friends" with Jesus. I suggested to our campus minister that our group could help out at a soup kitchen where I volunteered through my Episcopal church and was rebuked with a very strange reading of James. "Religion is about taking care of widows and orphans," said the Pastor, who continued, "God doesn't want religion. He wants faith." For the last decade (including eight years as a Methodist minister) I have harbored a deep resentment against relationship theology, which I considered to be spiritualistic, individualistic, and frankly gnostic. My theology has gone from liberal to existential to post-Liberal to agnostic, but it has been detached from relationship for quite some time. I discovered you in seminary and quickly separated you and a few others (Tony Campolo comes immediately to mind, as well as Eugene Peterson minus The Message) from the insular "evangelical" movement. But I never really understood the theology of incarnational relationship until last night.

Most of the people to whom I served drinks were, frankly, rude. Several said nothing to me except the name of the beverage they wanted. More complained than thanked me -- this was the first time in my life that I have tended bar and I was not always correct about how much ice people wanted or whether they preferred Coke Zero to Diet Coke. You, on the other hand, looked first at my face, then at my name-tag, and then proceeded to ask me about...me. No one ever does that to a bartender, especially when he's drinking soda! You wanted to know my story, my background, my place. You picked out the least important person in the room, not knowing even that I was a minister or a PhD student, because that is exactly what Jesus would have done. You didn't even advertise who you were (I suspected you were Brian McLaren -- the Brian McLaren -- based on what little you said, but you were so humble that I didn't want to presume). I spent hours last night processing this with my girlfriend, who is Jewish (and I sincerely hope will always remain so), trying to figure out whether there is something to the idea that people can be so in touch with Jesus that they exude him.

You spent the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the reception talking to me about my project, and I got the profound sense that this was not just about the skills you learned as a pastor or through CPE. This was genuine. You only joined the VIPs after I became busy serving other people. I cannot begin to tell you how much you have turned my life upside-down. I have always respected your approach to post-modernity (as I told you, I was part of an Emerging church plant based on your writings), but your personality last night reminded me about everything that led me to relationship theology in the first place.

Sorry for rambling, and sorry for the personal email -- I had to beg, borrow, and steal to get your email address. You made my day yesterday, if not my week and month. Thank you for bringing Jesus with you everywhere you go. I regret missing your talk -- I had to work behind the scenes most of the day -- but I hope to hear you at some time in the future. It was a true honor to meet you.

Deep peace,


A confession: At this reception, most of the people in the room knew each other, but I only knew one person well and one person peripherally. So, had I known a lot of the people there, I might have gotten so caught up in seeing old friends that I might have been no better to the person serving drinks than the other guests were. But I'm glad we connected … and glad that a simple act of kindness can make a difference.

May all of us remember that everyone we meet is a neighbor, and that when we look out on the world through the eyes of Christ, there is no male/female, Jew/Greek, Bond/free, gay/straight, documented/undocumented, bartender/customer, PhD/GED, etc.

 

Learn how not to be an expeller ...

A worthwhile article on Evangelical colleges ... here.

 

Religious Hostility

Joan Warren reflects on religious hostility ...
Part One: http://joantwarren.com/2013/10/23/excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people-part-1/
Part Two: http://joantwarren.com/2013/10/28/excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people-part-2/
Part Three: http://joantwarren.com/2013/11/10/part-3-excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people/

 

What do Chris Seay, David Gushee, Gabriel Salguero, and I have in common?

Find out here.

 

What could be finer than to be in San Jose, California, in late January?

I'll be speaking to Christian educators in San Jose, CA at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators Annual Event ConnectED. This is an excellent gathering - a great way to start the new year. Sign up here.

 

Dear Megyn Kelly ...

brownjesus.jpeg
More here.

 

Meanwhile, over at my Facebook page ...

Yesterday I posted a short quote that hit a nerve.

Jesus did not say, "Blessed are the deserving poor," or "Blessed are the legally documented poor."

It's funny how sometimes a few simple words can stimulate more thought (or if not thought, reaction) than many complex ones.

 

Prayer for enemies

Yesterday a friend shared with me an experience many of us know. Over the last few years, he has been changing in his thinking, his theology, his core values … changing, he feels, for the better. But those changes meant, as he said to me, "When I went home, it wasn't home." When friends and acquaintances become critics and opponents, that hurts. So I shared with him this prayer that has helped me deeply over the years.
It begins …

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

More here.

 

The Advent Calendar you may need right about now ...

Thanks, Tom Willett!
http://www.tomwillett.com/Tom_Willett/Advent.html
Advent.001.jpg

 

A Christmas Message for those who want to go deeper than wrapping paper

From Sabeel ... If you don't already follow them, I hope you will:

Christmas Message 2013

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke2:8).

“…after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1).

The fact that the Christmas story mentions only two groups of visitors to the Christ child in Bethlehem, has, I believe, a theological significance. The shepherds in first century Palestine represented one of the lowest social strata in society. Religious tradition of Jesus’ day labeled them as unclean. They were marginalized, poor, and considered as the scum of society; while the wise men represented the well to do, the educated, and the scholars of their day. The theological implication is clear: God’s love for all people was expressed in and through the coming of Jesus Christ. This love welcomed both the shepherds and the wise men. True love does not differentiate between God’s children. In Christ, the evil of discrimination and bigotry is obliterated.

Moreover, the shepherds were presumably Jewish, while the wise men were foreigners. Since the wise men came from “the East,” a number of New Testament scholars have suggested that they came from Arabia. There is a further theological significance here. Both Jews and Arabs came to offer their homage to the Christ child. When we stand before God, not only do our social differences lose their importance, our racial differences are also eradicated. God’s love for all people was being communicated regardless of social and financial status in society and regardless of racial background. Not only do rich and poor, Jew and Gentile stand before God as equals, there are also no political boundaries. All are welcomed and accepted. In other words, when we stand before the holy, our racism and bigotry should melt away and we should become authentically human recognizing the other as a brother and a sister.

One of our most disturbing issues during this Christmas season is the situation of the shepherds and farmers of today, namely, the Bedouins of the Negev who are citizens of Israel. The Israeli government plans to Judaize the Negev by forcibly relocating tens of thousands of Bedouins from their ancestral lands on which most of them have lived for hundreds of years, long before the state of Israel came into being. Israel wants to force them away from their lands and traditional way of life for the benefit of Israeli Jewish citizens. It is essentially a land grab.* Many local and international human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s actions and policies as discriminatory and in violation of international law.

During this Christmas season, Sabeel calls attention to the plight of the Bedouin community of the Negev that numbers between 160 to 200 thousand, and where thousands of them are living in villages that the government of Israel does not recognize. Consequently, Israel deprives them of basic services like education, electricity, running water, and sanitation.

This year’s Christmas message emphasizes the fact that our faith demands of us to champion today’s shepherds and farmers—the Bedouins—and advocate for their rights. The appalling irony is that what the Jewish people longed for over the centuries when they were weak, they are unwilling to give to others now that they have become strong. For hundreds of years, Jews wished and longed for human dignity, equality, and respect for their human rights, but tragically, the Israeli government today is unwilling to grant the same to its own citizens, the Bedouins of the Negev.

Christmas affirms God’s love and concern for all human beings and especially to the most vulnerable, today’s shepherds and farmers, the Bedouin community of the Negev.

……

On behalf of Sabeel’s board and staff, I extend our best Christmas and New Year wishes to all our friends. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank all those friends who joined us at Sabeel’s 9th international conference in Jerusalem last month when we addressed the theme of the “Bible and the Palestine-Israel conflict.”

Naim Ateek

6 December 2013

 

Remembering Nelson Mandela

mandela.jpeg
My South African friend John de Laar has written a beautiful liturgy of remembrance for Nelson Mandela, which you can find here. It is exquisite … for personal use, but especially for a group.
http://sacredise.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=392&Itemid=39
Quotable:

We thank you, God of Love and Justice,
that you are forever working within us and among us,
in our hearts and in our world,
to create wholeness and freedom,
compassion and connection,
equity and reconciliation;
And so we pray for your love and justice to fill our world,
as the waters cover the sea.

We pray for bold prophets to speak your truth
wherever our fears and certainties
drown out your wisdom;
Amen.

 

A carol for this advent season

 

Q & R: Multiple Religious Identities?

Here's the Q:

Hope you're doing well! I caught your Q&A this morning on Facebook, about why you continue to identify as a Christian. In it, you make reference to the fact that Christianity is your heritage. This is an issue I've been wrestling with lately, and was hoping if you found a couple extra moments you could offer some encouragement and/or advice. I have no issues continuing to identify with other Christians--in other words, I don't feel the need to shy away from the label because of others. For me, I was raised in a Jesus-following home. But my family is Jewish. I was raised in a small Messianic congregation, worshipping Jesus within a Jewish context. I have distanced myself from the "Messianic Movement" as an adult, because I have issues with the exclusiveness and tribal mentality of many in that movement. While I was obviously raised in a Christian home, Christianity feels more like my background; Jewishness is my heritage. Calling myself a Christian has always been a challenge, because my Jewishness is so important to me. And as I have discovered the Emergent stream of Christianity (a much more "Jewish" expression/ethos of Christianity, in my opinion), I've tapped even more into my Jewish identity. I just...don't know how to reconcile the two. I love being Jewish. I love that inheritance. I also love Jesus. Is there a way you think I can gracefully and authentically combine the two without neglecting my Jewish heritage or affiliating myself with the Messianic movement?

Here's the R:
Thanks for sharing this challenging problem. It's a great example of CRIS (conflicted religious identity syndrome) that I talked about in my book.

I want to begin by further complexifying your problem into three problems.
1. On a personal level, I think you've become comfortable with what my friend Richard Rohr calls "non-dual thinking." For many people (especially those "in the first half of life"), you're either this or that, one or the other, and any mixing is seen as "compromise" or syncretism. But you've experienced the reality that you can in some creative ways be both/and. In Why Did Jesus?, I was focused on the challenge of Christian identity in a multi-faith, post-Holocaust world, and could only briefly mention the challenge of multi-religious identity. One of the best books on the subject that I'm aware of is "Without the Buddha I Could Not Be Christian" by Paul Knitter - which you might enjoy.
2. On a congregational level, of course, that creates problems, especially if you're part of a church where non-dual thinking is rare or forbidden. Interestingly, though, I'm finding more and more churches where multiple religious identity is welcomed. This, by the way, is one of the contributions of the "seeker movement." Churches have gotten comfortable welcoming people who are at various places in their spiritual journey, and they've become more open to the ways the Spirit leads different people differently.
3. On a more public level, you have the challenge of how you identify yourself most authentically and honestly without creating insult, offense, confusion, etc. I think of two Jewish friends who do this particularly well. You can read about them here.

At the end of the day, I think more and more of us find ourselves saying, with Paul, that "by the grace of God I am what I am," and "I become all things to all men" - not as an act of camouflage or subterfuge, but as a true expression of our human solidarity, because "in Christ, we recognize no one according to the flesh" any longer. That's a complex identity - but it is an honest and interesting one!

 

Two important events ...

We're almost sold out for this Friday-Saturday in Dallas ... I'll be completing a Bible survey with a workshop on the Epistles and Revelation. A great way to end 2013! Sign up here.

Then at the end of January, I'll be speaking to Christian educators in San Jose, CA. This is an excellent gathering - a great way to start the new year. Sign up here.

 

Excited to share new resources, more coming soon

photo.JPG
This year, I've been presenting weekend seminars at Life in the Trinity Ministry in Dallas, TX. We've completed three, and as of next weekend, there will be four, giving an overview, from a fresh perspective, of the whole Bible.

The first three seminars, on the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and Acts, are available now. The final installment will be presented December 6-7 and will cover the Epistles and Revelation. (Last I heard there were only a few spaces left, so register ASAP if you're interested in attending "live.")

Also, LTM is re-releasing a popular 48-session podcast series that also gives an overview of the Bible. Sessions 1-8 are available. And my friend and colleague Joe Stabile has a great introduction to the Bible called Scripture 101, available now too.

 

Now there's an invocation!

Faith, Part 2 (Open Up) from Jimmy Bartz on Vimeo.


It would do my soul good to start every Sunday with this one ...

 

Begin Advent here ...

... wonderful advent resources ... from mentors and friends Tom and Christine Sine:
http://godspace-msa.com/2013/11/26/come-home-to-god-an-advent-meditation-video-for-2013/

Here's the first weekly meditation ...

 

I wish I was there in Louisville ...

to take in this time with Wendell Berry. Next best to being there - this feature by Bill Moyers. Gosh - two of my favorite public figures in one show!
http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-wendell-berry-poet-prophet/

Quotable: "There are no sacred and un-sacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places."

Begins at 1:50. If you have time for one poem, skip to 38:30.
Keep watching to see the piece on honeybees as well.

 

Hell, God, Love, Fear ...

Wisdom from Alan Bean, right here:
http://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/of-hell-and-hell-fire-its-not-like-you-think/

If you find this article useful, you'll enjoy one of my books, The Last Word and the Word After That.

Here's a recent Q about The Last Word ...

I loved the first two books of the New Kind of Christian Trilogy. I am a busy man and purchased the audio books. I was wondering if the last book, The Last Word and the Word After That would be available on audio at some point.

I love your writing and ministry. Keep up all that you are doing.

Here's the R:
Unfortunately, Christian Audio has not released the third book. You can find my other books that they've made available here:
http://christianaudio.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?p=1&q=mclaren

If you'd like to encourage them to make the book available, you could send an email here:
http://christianaudio.com/contact/

I'd be pleased if they responded to customer requests and decide to release it along with the first two books in the trilogy.

 

Watch this ... and this, this weekend

A chance to view an important documentary on gay Christians (Seventh-Gay Adventists) ... for free until Sunday night here:
http://www.sgamovie.com/free

The basics are:

To see the film for free, simply go to http://buy.sgamovie.com/buy anytime between Wednesday, Nov. 27th through Sunday night, December 1st and input the coupon code watchfree to redeem your copy. It's DRM-free, so you can sync it to your phone, iPad or other device to share.

The film is available with English, Spanish, Portuguese and French subtitles.

Also, Eliel Cruz hopes you will listen to his heart, here:

 

Black Friday - YOU NEED THIS!


Ted Schwartz puts everything into perfect focus ...

 

A Black Friday Q & R: A Bleak Future?

Here's the Q:

I have loved reading about Rene Girard's mimetic theory in your recent book. I think the idea that we are all caught up in systems of intense rivalry and scapegoating is very enlightening and resonates very much with the training I received to become a counsellor.

The more I read about the theory, the more sense it makes. The only thing is, I am starting to feel troubled! Girard seems to predict a bleak future where we will be consumed by our violence. Is God just waiting for us to self destruct? This depresses me!

Other voices seem to suggest our violence has markedly declined in recent times (Stephen Pinker's book 'The Better Angles of Our Nature' for example). Perhaps Girard might argue this is merely the calm before the storm and in fact decreased ways to discharge our violence will ultimately lead to an explosion of it.

Then I look around my small corner of the world and I see abundant examples of good, evil and indifference in myself and others on a daily basis- but the good is definitely there. So I am confused.

I would love to hear your own personal take on this.

Here's the R:
You're right - in Girard's last few works, you can trace a growing sense of impending doom, about which two things need to be said.

1. Anyone who looks at current global crises (as I try to do in Everything Must Change) - and isn't deeply concerned - hasn't really faced the data.

2. Girard's sense of foreboding is intensified by insights from his theory, insights which suggest that humanity must make a choice between seeking to overcome human violence by violence and seeking to overcome human violence by peace. When weapons become increasingly catastrophic and increasingly available, and when religious communities don't seem to offer much in the way of peace-making formation and training, there is ample reason to be concerned.

Here is where faith comes in ... not faith that the problems will magically go away (which is childish faith) - but faith that we will seek to do the right thing with courage and resilience no matter what (which is mature faith). For Girard, doing the right thing meant warning us about the futility of our current path ... and if his "doing the right thing" works, the rest of us will do different things: clarifying, improving, and intensifying our efforts for "Tikkun Olam" AKA the dream or reign or commonwealth of God.

On this "Black Friday," we'll see how effectively our culture subverts Thanksgiving (which is an antidote to greed) with a baptism in greed, as if "to live is to shop and consume." That subversion can easily depress us, even paralyze us ... but if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed and depressed, we in a sense become part of the problem rather than the solution.

People who believe in incarnation and resurrection have resources to face insurmountable, "impossible" odds. Which is why Advent can subvert the subversion of Black Friday ... if we dare to believe.

On a practical level, this is why I've invested a lot this year in supporting emerging initiatives like Mesa and Cana. I hope others will join me in these and other good ventures at this critical time. To borrow the language of Black Friday, our future is "on sale" at the moment. If we don't invest in it now, the cost to save it will be much higher the longer we wait.

 

Presbyterian. Emergent. Even Canadian!

I was with Presbyterians in Toronto recently, and seminarian Reuben St. Louis passed on this well-written thesis ...

 

While we're feasting ... some are fasting

Learn more here.
And here.

 

Thankful for, thankful to

Today I'm thankful for ...
Family. We added two grandchildren to our clan this year. Both births had some extra drama, which makes us especially grateful for Mia and Lukas, who join Averie and Ella as four of the world's most loved grandchildren. It's a great joy for Grace and me to watch each of our adult children grow, mature, and thrive - in their families, their work, and their personal growth. I've also been blessed to have my parents close by and in good health for octogenarians, and Grace and I have a great set of siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts, uncles, and more. This has been a great year for Grace and me ... she thrived in her real estate work here in SW Florida, and I enjoyed one of the best years of life so far. We both look forward to next year, when I'll travel a bit less and enjoy being home a bit more.

Health. After a couple rough years (related to two tick-borne diseases I contracted in 2010), I've felt great this year. I can't count how many times I've slid my 16' kayak into my Prius (funny to see) and gotten out on the water ... hanging out with dolphins and manatees (and alligators), fishing, birding, getting exercise. Just the other day, Grace and I walked 6 or 7 miles along the beach ... grateful for mobility and health.

Friends. I am blessed to have friends around the world, many of whom I saw in North Carolina in August, in Thailand in October, and in DC in November (at Wild Goose Festival, the Mesa Gathering, and the Cana Initiative). I have five friends with cancer right now, all about my age ... and so I feel the gift of friendship in a special way this Thanksgiving.

Work. I love my work. Yes, travel loses its luster after a while, and layovers at ATL or CLT or DFW can get a bit wearing, but in my travels I get to meet amazing people who care about things that truly matter. And I love to write - even after 14 books - and I'm so grateful for my agent (Kathryn Helmers) and my publishers (Wendy Grisham and Katherine Venn) and all the people I get to work with.

Mission. Many of us reach a point in life where we think, "I am already extravagantly blessed." At that point, we stop seeking more and more of life's good things for ourselves, and instead, we direct our energies more and more toward the well-being of others. We give, we advocate, we work for justice and peace, we seek to spread opportunity, and we discover that (amazing!) Jesus was right when he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Readers. I began my life as a full-time writer almost eight years ago at the age of fifty. I feel that I have been blessed with the most interesting, loyal, thoughtful, and energetic readers in the world - of my books and my blog, not to mention my Facebook page and Twitter feed. I'm thankful to you, and thankful for you.

Some years ago, I posted this simple song ... it expresses how I feel this year as much as any in my life.

 

We Make The Road by Walking: Where did the title come from?

I originally heard "We make the road by walking" as a quote from one of my heroes, Brazilian educator/activist Paolo Freire. I later learned that it became the title of a book that was a dialogue between Freire and another seminal educator/activist, Myles Horton, who was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Freire may have derived the quote from the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

“Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.”

Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road-- Only wakes upon the sea. ― Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla

My original working title for the new book wasn't very sexy, although it was descriptive: Catechesis. Since most folks either don't know what catechesis is, or think of it as something pretty boring and negative, it seemed like a good idea to keep searching for a better title.

The chosen title suggests that Christian faith is still "in the making" (as Dr. John Cobb has put it). It continues to grow, evolve, learn, change, emerge, and mature ... in and through us. What we will be as Christians in the 21st century, for better or worse, will surely change what Christian faith will be in the 22nd century and beyond. So, with that in mind, I wanted to introduce people to a vision of the Christian faith and the biblical narrative not as a box, set in stone, and not as a parking lot (where we await the ferry to heaven), but as a road ... that is extended into the future by all of us, walking forward in the Spirit together.
McLaren_WeMakeTheRoadByWalking_sm.jpg

 

A Thanksgiving Prayer

If you're leading the thanksgiving prayer around your table tomorrow (or any day), here's a prayer you might find helpful:

The response (in bold) can be signaled by a pause or gesture.

Let us give thanks for this meal, saying, We thank you, Living God.
For this breath, for this heartbeat, for the gift of these companions, we thank you, Living God.
For this nourishment and flavor, for soil and sunlight, air and rainfall, for all to whom this food connects us, from field to farm and store to table, we thank you, Living God.
As we share this meal together, may our thirst for peace be strengthened and our hunger for justice deepened, until all are fed, and safe, and well.
We thank you, Living God. Amen.

from We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation

 

If you've never tasted Darkwood Brew ...

Here's your chance:
http://darkwoodbrew.org/gifts-of-the-darkwood-special-session-the-gift-of-uncertainty/
It's not a beer, it's something better.

 

Q & R: Also on children (and for adults too)

Here's the Q;

I've heard you speak several times this year but at Luther you said in passing ....you can't preach David and Goliath without preaching about David and the Temple....That was interesting to me and think I get what you mean but do you have any resources available that you elaborate on this?

Here's the R:
This statement reflects something I heard biblical scholar and theologian Dr. Tom Boomershine say ... As founder of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, he is concerned that Bible stories be told to further the cause of peace. So - if we tell the story of David slaying Goliath, our hearers could come away with this conclusion: "God gives small individuals and groups the power to kill big, powerful adversaries." That's not the kind of message many of us would want to send.

So Tom notices that later in David's life, when he wants to build a temple to honor God, God says no. Why? Because David is "a man of bloodshed." So the latter story produces ambiguity about the former story. It doesn't allow the image of a violent God who empowers violence to get the last word.

Something similar happens when we tell the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Again, God appears to deal with religious conflict through violence based on that story alone. But then skip ahead to the Gospels, when the disciples ask, "Should we call down fire upon those guys?" - referring to a potentially competing movement. Jesus replies (Luke 9:55), "You do not know what Spirit you are of."

I write about this subject at some length in three of my books:
Everything Must Change
A New Kind of Christianity
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road

Reading the Bible for peace will also be central to my upcoming book (June 2014), We Make the Road by Walking.
Thanks for asking this important question!

 

If you work with Children and Youth

If you’re looking for new, cutting-edge, and creative ways of doing ministry with children and youth, then consider joining me and many others at Faith Forward, May 19-22, 2014 in Nashville, TN (www.faith-forward.net).
Last year, Dave Csinos led in organizing an international conference on ministry with young people called Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity. I’m grateful that he’s continuing the important work that began at this conference - under the organization’s new name, Faith Forward. I’ll be at the 2014 gathering, and so will many others who are looking for new ways of sharing the best of Christian faith with kids and teenagers -- people like Ivy Beckwith, Sandy Sasso, Andrew Root, Melvin Bray, Mark Yaconelli, Phyllis Tickle, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, and many others.
The first batch of tickets to this landmark gathering have been released for only $199. When they’re gone, the registration fee will increase -- so get the best deal on tickets at www.faith-forward.net before it’s too late!
And if you want to learn more about Faith Forward, check out the collection of presentations from the 2012 gathering that Dave Csinos and Melvin Bray edited.
unnamed.jpg

 

An honor and a pleasure

I had the great honor of speaking to the ACMCU conference at Georgetown University on Thursday, and then the great pleasure of attending the banquet to celebrate the Center's 20th anniversary that evening. Congratulations to John Esposito and the whole team at ACMCU. You have so much to celebrate!

Here is the text of the short presentation I gave on The Challenge of Religious Pluralism ...

Continue reading An honor and a pleasure...

 

In DC today, NY tomorrow, Baltimore Saturday

The Cana Initiative spent yesterday engaged in important work which will continue this morning. I'm thrilled to see what's unfolding, and grateful to be among the people gathered. Later today, I'll be part of an important gathering of Christians and Muslims at Georgetown University. Then Friday I'll be interviewed in a studio in New York for a TV series on the Bible (more details when they're available). Then Saturday, I'll be at a gathering (not open to the public, unfortunately) in Baltimore, connected with the American Academy of Religion meetings. A busy but great week.

 

Q & R: God in the parables

Here's the Q:

Brian following your reading recommendation I have just finished Michael Hardins The Jesus driven life.
This I think has further guided me along a path of Jesus defining my understanding of scripture. I particularly liked his 'true human' picture of Jesus and his 'Janus faced' criticism of some biblical interpretations . I am very much inclined to think that much of what I have read of mimetic theory related theology makes sense. I am however concerned that some interpretations of Jesus parables seem unreasonable from yourself and others who support mimetic theory related theology. In Jesus parables of the banquet and of the talents the figures of the king and the master which have traditionally been interpreted as God are in a new interpretation being seen as the Roman emporer. To me this interpretation seems unlikely since Jesus seems to on the whole choose God as the main authoritarian figure in his parables. He seems to use parables for teaching aboat our relationship with God, not to describe the political behaviour of the day. My own thoughts are that there may be other reasons for these passages of retributive violence which means they aren't alluding to eternity but the interpretation of the authority figure being the Roman emperor and not God isn't a believable explanation for me. Do you have other explanations for what these parables are getting at?

Here's the R:
First, I'm glad you read Michael Hardin's book. I recommend it so often because I keep hearing from people how much it helps them read the gospels and understand Jesus in a fresh and liberating light.

On the parables, there are problems with certain parables however you interpret them. Like you, I assumed that the authority figure in a parable was ALWAYS a stand-in for God. But then, as an experiment, I tried another hypothesis: when someone is banished or executed in a parable, that might represent Jesus who will soon be banished and executed. It didn't solve all problems, but it did solve many.

When you become sensitive to the socio-economic context for the parables, other problems arise. For example, vineyards were a luxury crop. Poor peasants were often made landless and reduced to day-laborers when rich investors acquired their farms and combined them to make large vineyards. That casts a dark shadow over some of the parables and leads one to look for fresh interpretations.

If Jesus' purpose in the parables was not simply to convey a coded truth, but to make us "think and think again" (i.e. repent), then the fact that we can't reduce them to simple allegories where this ALWAYS means that is a sign that he succeeded in his purpose in composing them.

 

More for my Catholic readers ... and atheists too

Highly encouraging:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/15/atheists-pope-francis-obama-liberal-voice-change

 

Q & R: When can I purchase it?

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian, I was at Wild Goose and heard you speak of your new bk covering Genesis to Revelation. When can I purchase it? I'm an Episcopal Priest and am looking for a Bible intro book that would be engaging for folks. Leading an emergent church expression

Here's info on We Make the Road by Walking, and it should be available June 2014. If you sign up for my email newsletter, we'll be sure you're kept informed.

 

Birders and others: More evidence for how connected we are

safe_image.php.jpeg

This report comes from my neighborhood ...
You've gotta love the Red Knot.

 

Q & R: Who was that author you mentioned?

Here's the Q:

... you mentioned a book you were reading by a French (?) philosopher/theologian that talked about the complicated relationship between collaboration and competition (you are my friend until you are my enemy). At least, this is what I remember…Can you remind me of the name of the author and book?

Here's the R:
I was referring to Rene Girard. It's hard to know what to recommend as a first read, since some find his writing hard to engage with. Since he didn't write a general introduction to or overview of his work, I felt like I was entering a conversation already in progress when I first tried to read him. But I'm glad I stuck with it, as I enjoyed reading his work after the initial hurdle. After a few false starts with some of his other books, I dug in with "Things Hidden" and "I Saw Satan Fall," and then went on to read most of his books (I think I missed 2 or 3).

James Warren has written a helpful popular introduction to Girard's work - "Compassion or Apocalypse." (I thought it was so needed and helpful that I wrote the foreword.) James Alison's "The Joy of Being Wrong" is also a great (more scholarly) overview of Girard, written by a brilliant Catholic priest/theologian who is in many ways Girard's main theological interpreter.

In my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, I give a one chapter overview of Girard in Chapter 13. In 3 pages (108-110), I try to give "the essential Rene Girard" in its most condensed form.

Girard has often been criticized for being somewhat "totalizing" - they say he sounds like almost everything can be explained by his theory. He replied that this is what a scientist does - tries to develop a theory with maximum explanatory power. Mature readers, I think, will be able to take in the deep explanatory power of Girard's theory without becoming reductionistic in applying it.

 

Q & R: What about page 233?

Here's the Q:

I've been enjoying your latest book, and I was curious about one sentence on page 233:

"After Jesus' death, his disciples continued this same pattern. They extended…"

Why didn't you included "and resurrection" after the words Jesus' death?

I'm totally on board with focusing on Jesus' life, miracles and teachings ( instead of just his death and resurrection ). But it seems odd ( at least different than what I'm used to seeing ) to leave it at "After Jesus' death".
Almost as if he never did rise from the grave…

I realize I could be over analyzing a missing phrase, but is this your way of saying that Jesus' resurrection falls at the bottom of the list of what we should be focusing on?

I would love some clarification on why you left those words out and how much importance you place on Jesus rising from the dead and ascending etc…


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. No - I'm not in any way saying Jesus' resurrection falls at the bottom of the list! The only reason I said, "After Jesus' death" is that I was emphasizing how Jesus' death didn't disrupt the continuity of the movement launched by Jesus. (We wouldn't expect resurrection to disrupt that continuity.) Back in Chapter 19, I talked about Jesus' resurrection a great deal (see pp. 174-175). You may also want to look at page 143 and page 243, note 13.

As you'll recall, my discussion of Christian doctrines in the book focuses on the way Christian doctrines have been used in hostile ways in the past, and how we can employ those doctrines in benevolent ways in the future. Thankfully, the doctrine of the resurrection has not frequently been put to as hostile a use in our history as have other doctrines, which explains why I didn't need to emphasize it as I did some other doctrines. But I do emphasize its positive importance in this regard in Chapter 19.

So in this case, I think you were over-analyzing a missing phrase, but it's valid question and I'm glad you asked it. (Many people tend to assume the worst.) I think you'll enjoy my next book, which tries to give a fresh and coherent overview of Christian faith, and which celebrates the resurrection and its profound beauty, power, and meaning.

 

Q & R: Calling myself a Christian? Cana Initiative?

Here's the Q:

Just a short question: I have a christian background, but the way I understand the message of Jesus and the Hebrew Bible, makes me to avoid calling myself a christian, mainly for similar reasons as described in the book 'A New Kind of Christianity'. In stead of saying the whole Bible goodbye, I spent almost half my lifetime (36) studying en searching to find an understanding of the message of Jesus that makes more sense to me.

After reading the two latest books of Brian McLaren, I really want to share some of my understandings but it feels to big to do this on my own. So I thought about working with initiatives like CANA. Maybe to start it here in Europe (the Netherlands). But CANA seems to be presented foremost like a christian initiative, instead of an initiative where a lot of christian involvement/inspiration takes place, but in essence transcends a particular religion.

Do you think I have to look further and/or start something on my own, or would you suggest I read the information on the website a little better? ;)


Here's the R:
Thanks for your questions. First, I understand why you would want to distance yourself from the word "Christian" while still wanting to follow Jesus. I talk about this (using the term "Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome") on my latest book.

I continue to use the word "Christian" for several reasons, including ...

1. To distance myself from my fellow human beings in the Christian religion doesn't seem like a Christ-like thing to do. Jesus drew near to all in solidarity, including those of his own religious heritage from whom he differed in many ways, so I should do so too.
2. I choose to identify as a Christian as a way of expressing solidarity with others, whatever their religion. In other words, I open my heart to all people as a Christian, not apart from Christianity, and not in spite of being a Christian. I would hope that my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and other neighbors could do the same. If one has to leave a religion to express solidarity with others, that's sad and not good for anyone, so I hope to practice a better way.
3. Christianity is my heritage, and I don't want to deny or cover that up. I think of what the Dalai Lama told a Muslim friend of mine who told him he wanted to become a Buddhist. "Why?" the Buddhist teacher asked. "Because Buddhism is the religion of compassion," my friend answered. "Don't become a Buddhist," the Dalai Lama said. "The world needs more Muslims who practice compassion, so be what you are in a more compassionate way."

But I respect the fact that many people feel they cannot in good conscience continue to identify with Christianity, and I know that not everyone will resonate with reasons like these.

It's interesting you mention the CANA initiative. We are having our first meeting this week in Washington, DC. Although Cana will be a US initiative, it is relevant to your concern because we will do our best to embody a Christian ethos and identity that people like you and me will feel more honest and authentic associating with.

There is a need for hundreds of people to organize similar initiatives in their contexts - whether it's the Netherlands or Nigeria, Jamaica or Australia. Fortunately, an international group has formed to encourage this process. It's called "mesa," which is "table" in Spanish. You can learn more here:
http://mesa-friends.org

We recently gathered in Thailand for our first face to face meeting, which you can learn about (and "like") here:
https://www.facebook.com/mesafriends

It too is a Christian initiative, but holds that identity in a "generous" way. I hope you'll look into it, and maybe you'll create a "table" for conversation in Netherlands. I know that many would be interested in joining you.


 

We Make the Road by Walking

Brian's 2014 release offers 52+ chapters that give an overview of the biblical story and a fresh introduction or re-orientation to Christian faith. Each chapter is written to be read aloud in ten to twelve minutes, and is accompanied by a set of Scripture readings, reflection/discussion questions, and liturgical resources - so the book can be useful in a variety of ways for classes, small groups, new faith communities, and churches, in addition to being an inspiring and formative read for individuals.

You can pre-order the book here:
your local independent bookseller
barnes and noble
amazon.com

Here's the US cover ...
McLaren_WeMakeTheRoadByWalking_sm.jpg

Here's the UK cover ...
We_Make_The_Road%20uk.jpg

 

For my Catholic readers ...

... and everyone else too: this report on the bishops' gathering in Baltimore deserves a read. Quotable:

The bishops will vote on a statement about pornography, but the decline of living wage jobs, attacks on workers’ rights and growing threats to the environment—all moral issues addressed by traditional Catholic teaching—will not be up for discussion. The bishops will make time to hear a report about their advocacy efforts to oppose same-sex marriage, which an increasing number of Americans and most Catholics now support, but no reports are planned about income inequality or persistent unemployment. If the bishops left their hotel in Baltimore – where nearly 1 in 4 people live in poverty – they could follow Pope Francis’ lead during his visit to a favela in Brazil, where he listened to the stories of real people and challenged government leaders to address systemic injustice and growing inequality. But there are no indications that the bishops will scrap their formal agenda.

Read more: As Catholic Bishops Meet, Culture Wars Trump Poverty | TIME.com http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/07/as-catholic-bishops-meet-culture-wars-trump-poverty/#ixzz2kZ8c98wo

 

Super-Typhoon Haiyan and Climate Change

You can't prove that this or that storm was caused by climate change. But you can be sure that if human-induced climate change is true - and 97% of scientists agree it is - there will be more storms like Haiyan in the years to come.

To deny climate change is to claim that people can spew pollutants into the air with no consequences. That's like claiming that you can sow without reaping.

We have a moral obligation to care for this beautiful earth, a duty that is intensified by the fact that the poorest people in the world will suffer the most from the effects of a warming world.

I was moved by this short video of a speech by Naderev "Yeb" Sano. I hope you'll take a moment to watch it - and that you'll whisper a silent prayer dedicating yourself more deeply to the cause of caring for our earth - which means changing the way we human beings are harming it.

 

for Movie Lovers: Cinematic States

My movie-nerd friend Gareth Higgins has written a new book called Cinematic States. It's available today - and you should buy it here:
http://www.amazon.com/Cinematic-States-Dreamlife-Understand-Everything/dp/1938633172/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383661965&sr=8-1&keywords=cinematic+states

Gareth will be visiting each of the 50 states by the end of 2015 to lead a workshop/do a gig/present a screening and explore the question of identity in light and shadow, what it means to be 'American' from an outsider's perspective (Gareth is from Northern Ireland), and the implications for life in the world. If you'd like to host Gareth (or learn more about him), you can reach him here.

 

Calling all Presbyterians ...

I'll be at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, January 27-Feb 1, 2014, in San Jose, CA. I hope you'll be part of this event too ... Learn more here:
http://apcenet.org

 

Q & R: Chuch?

Here's the Q:

It was a breath of fresh air to hear your opinions in this documentary [Hellbound]. Is there a church that you go? I have been in Recovery from alcoholism for 27 years and have found a loving God, but no church. Maybe I don’t need one, but to be with like minded, principle striving people is uplifting.

Here's the R:
Thanks for the kind words. Yes, my wife and I are part of a church here in our little town. After being a pastor for 24 years, I know how much it takes to keep a church healthy and strong over many years, and so we are especially grateful. I hope you can find a church in your area ... I know it's not easy. One of the best ways - ask people whose way of life you respect where they go, and if you can visit with them some time. I think you'll benefit greatly by being with "like-minded, principle-striving people" - and I think they'll benefit from your presence as well. Not only that, but together, you can make a difference in your community and world.

 

Q & R: What have you been reading lately?

Here's the Q:
I enjoy your books - and wonder what books you've enjoyed lately?

Here's the R:
I've especially enjoyed two works of historical fiction lately, both about Irish saints:
Frederick Buechner's Brendan
Steven Lawhead's Byzantium

I also enjoyed Jason Derr's "The Boston 395" - a hard-to-categorize work that gets inside your head by getting you inside someone else's head.

I read tons of theology.
On a popular level, Greg Boyd's "Benefit of the Doubt" will help a lot of people, especially those from conservative Evangelical backgrounds, to "break the idol of certainty." Greg's writing is always refreshingly honest, but this book goes beyond normal honesty to the level of personal confession at several points.

I loved Nadia Bolz-Weber's "Pastrix," and Peter Edward Matthews "King, Obama, and Me: Dreaming with Audacity."

And I thought Rob Bell's "What We Talk about When We Talk About God" was beautifully done on many levels. He does great work!

On a more theo-nerd level, I've been enjoying "Politics & Apocalypse: Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture," edited by Robert Hamerton-Kelly. It reflects my ongoing appreciation for the work of Rene Girard and his colleagues. It has been useful in preparing for my upcoming class with Life in the Trinity, which will cover the Book of Revelation (among other things).

Apart from theology (strictly speaking), George Lakoff's "Thinking Points" clarified a lot of political issues for me. It's hard to draw a list like this to a close because I read a lot ... and nearly everything I read is worthwhile. It's a great time to be alive as a reader!


 

There's hope when ...

... courageous women rise up with a shared voice and vision. Check out this introduction to the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative Declaration that was launched at the IWECI Summit a few weeks ago:

"We are the mothers and the grandmothers, sisters and daughters, nieces and aunts, who stand together to care for all generations across our professions, affiliations and national identities.

We are teachers and scientists, farmers and fishers, healers and helpers, workers and business peoples, writers and artists, decision-makers and activists, leaders and thinkers. We work in the halls of power, the halls of faith and the halls of our homes.

We are gathering to raise our voices to advocate for an Earth-respecting cultural narrative, one of “restore, respect, replenish” and to replace the narrative of “domination, depletion and destruction” of nature.

We are committed to a transition from a future of peril to a future of promise, to rally the women around the world to join together in action at all levels until the climate crisis is solved."


 

An Important Book by my friend Mark Braverman

You can read about it here.
And you can buy it here.
Quotable from the interview:

MPS: At times, and I think you acknowledge yourself in the book, it feels like here is a Jew giving Christians a lecture on how to rediscover their own Christian mission and the role model that Jesus set for them in first century Roman occupied Palestine. That must be an interesting position to have found yourself in?

MB: Well, it’s quite wonderful for me because meeting the Palestinian Christians, in particular the people of Sabeel, and the authors of the Kairos Palestine document, has allowed me to discover Jesus of Nazareth and to embrace him as a Jewish reformer. The parallels of our current situation to the first Century I find very compelling. I think it’s an opportunity for the Church, as it seems to have to do in every generation, to discover the core meaning of the gospels, which is to work for social justice, for compassion for the vulnerable and the oppressed.

MPS: And where do you think that takes the Jewish attitude to Jesus?

MB: I think it’s an opportunity for Jews to discover that same Jesus, who, if he were to turn up in Jerusalem today, would speak truth to the power to the Jewish establishment of our times just as he did to the Jewish monarchy and Temple establishment of long ago.

MPS: I'm not sure most Jews are ready to embrace Jesus as a radical Jewish reformer with a message for Judaism today. It's a viewpoint that must leave you isolated from the mainstream Jewish community?

MB: People ask me if I feel lonely or isolated – making the assumption that I am alienated from the Jewish community. My answer is that it is quite the opposite. I feel a part of a broader, larger community now, and it includes people of all faiths and persuasions. So it’s been quite liberating and gratifying for me. I think Jesus would have approved – his message had to do with stepping out of the tribal and into the universal.


 

It's not too late -

to sign up for my final "Bible Overview" seminar in Dallas, TX, December 6-7. Learn more here.
We'll cover the New Testament from Romans to Revelation. I'm really looking forward to it ... hope you'll join us.

 

Back from Thailand

I'm back from Thailand, recovering from jet-lag, catching up on mountains of unanswered email, and enjoying being home. The time in Thailand was amazing, thanks to all the participants in the Mesa gathering who worked hard, communicated honestly and from the heart, and deeply connected with one another. Special thanks to Carolyn and Fuzz Kitto and Ash and Angie Barker, whose planning and hosting were a gift to us all. I'll have more to say about the time there in the coming weeks, but here is a statement we put together that summarizes our time together:

The Mesa Story

Over recent years, many of us have felt something stirring in us ...

a thirst for a more authentic, honest, and sustaining spiritual life
a hunger to do justice, to show compassion, to walk humbly with God
a desire to understand and engage with the critical problems of our world
a need for a space to grapple honestly with our questions of theology and practice
a loneliness for a sense of shared identity and belonging.

As Christians, we were searching for companions on a journey

a journey from many of the forms and assumptions that were no longer working for us
a journey toward something new that we had not yet seen.

The journey was often frightening and difficult. Whenever we found someone who shared our questions, desires, and dreams, we gathered around a table for conversation. Through conversation, we became friends on a journey. And from our friendships, we gained the courage to try new things.

Sometimes we met each other online. Sometimes we traveled great distances to be together. Sometimes we formed networks in a city, nation, region, or continent. We would share books, ideas, and websites. We would share our successes and setbacks. As our numbers grew, so did our confidence and so did our dreams. We found that we became better together than we were alone.

Soon, we realized that all around the world, similar tables and networks were forming:

in Africa and Asia
in North, Central, and South America
from Europe to the Middle East to Australia.

So we eventually decided to invite people to gather face to face in one place for the first time in Thailand, in 2013. About fifty of us traveled from around the world. We chose the name Mesa, the Spanish word for table, because it suggested a space of conversation, companionship, and nourishment for life, work, and action.

Our group included pastors, theologians, activists, authors, NGO leaders, and lay people from a variety of professions. We began by spending a few days in a poor rural village, sharing in the hard work and beautiful culture of our hosts. Later, in an urban center, we walked the streets where the sex trade is a major industry. We knew that whatever God was doing among us, it must be rooted in a concern for our neighbors who live in poverty.

Then we gathered at a retreat center for prayer and worship. We reflected on the Scriptures and we began to talk about what we thought we might be able to be and do together, with God’s help. We brought different gifts, weaknesses, and concerns to the table, but we shared ten deep commitments:

1. We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love - love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
2. We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom ... through advocacy, relationships, and action.
3. We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.
4. We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
5. We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.
5. We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable - including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.
6. We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.
7. We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.
8. We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.
9. We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.
10. We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.

Having affirmed these ten commitments, we prayed for strength and guidance. We prayed that others would join us. We prayed that goals, plans, and resources would be provided as needed. We decided to gather again in four years to see and celebrate what fruit will be born from our little seeds of faith, and to see what new dreams might take shape.

We have many possibilities ahead of us. We also have many unanswered questions and challenges. But we are beginning, and we invite you to join us. If your heart resonates with our story, we invite you to ...

Invite some people to gather around a table. Get to know each other. Share your stories.
Talk about the twelve commitments and if your heart moves you, make them your commitment too.
Identify as a participant in Mesa.
Invite other individuals and networks to connect to the network too.
Make use of the resources on this website.
Let us know you’ve organized a mesa community so we can link to it.
Stay informed, participate, and contribute in any ways you can.
Let us know if we can help you.
Report what God does in and through you so we can celebrate together.

+++++
You can learn more here:
http://mesa-friends.org
And here:
https://www.facebook.com/mesafriends
(There are links to lots of great video and photos on the Facebook page.)
Here are some great photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/72398048@N04/

 

A reader writes: You aren't logical!

A reader writes:

I’m not being critical but when I hear people equate all religions as the same I have to present some facts whether they are unappealing or not. I do know that Islam has no “golden rule”. If you actually read the Koran you would realize that religion isn’t
generic. If you understand logic, which is as real as physics, you would realize that “either all religions are false or only one is true."
It’s like the law of non-contradiction, X cannot equal 2X. I’m after the truth and no I don’t believe in condemning people but we should be discerning about the truth.

Islam's Latest Contributions to Peace "Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are harsh to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" Quran 48:29

Thanks for your note. Let me offer four brief responses in hopes that they'll be helpful in some way.

First, I get the feeling you haven't read any of my books based on the assumptions you make in this note. Could I recommend you check out my latest, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

If you read it, you'll see that I don't equate all religions as the same. In fact, I strongly affirm their differentness (a good word to describe that differentness is "incommensurability"). I explain how one way in which they are the same - the way they build strong identity - is not a good thing, but is a huge problem. (Sorry - you'll have to read the book to see what I mean by that ...)

Second, I believe you are mistaken to say that Islam has no golden rule. I have read the Quran, and several versions of the Golden Rule appear in the Quran. Not only that, but Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, which means that he spoke the truth when he spoke the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment. (Yes, Christians believe he was more than a prophet - but it is still significant that Muslims honor Jesus as one who spoke truth from God.) I just checked Wikipedia to find some examples of the Golden Rule in the Quran:

The Golden Rule is implicitly expressed in some verses of the Qur'an, but is explicitly declared in the sayings of Muhammad. A common transliteration is: Amal ma'a naas kamaa ta hub an nafsik'.
From the Qur'an: the first verse recommends the positive form of the rule, and the subsequent verses condemn not abiding the negative form of the Golden Rule:
“...and you should forgive And overlook: Do you not like God to forgive you? And Allah is The Merciful Forgiving.”
— Qur’an (Surah 24, "The Light," v. 22)
“Woe to those... who, when they have to receive by measure from men, they demand exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due”
— Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Dealers in Fraud," vv. 1–4)
“...orphans and the needy, give them something and speak kindly to them. And those who are concerned about the welfare of their own children after their death, should have fear of God [Treat other people's Orphans justly] and guide them properly.”
— Qur’an (Surah 4, "The Women," vv. 8-9)
“O you who believe! Spend [benevolently] of the good things that you have earned... and do not even think of spending [in alms] worthless things that you yourselves would be reluctant to accept.”
— Qur’an (Surah 2, "The Calf," v. 267)
“They assign daughters to Allah, Who is above having a child [whether male or female] and to themselves they assign what they desire [which is a male child]; And when the news of the birth of a female child is brought to one of them His face darkens and he hides his inward Grief and anger... They attribute to Allah what they dislike [For themselves] and their tongues assert the lie that the best reward will be theirs! Undoubtedly, the Hell fire shall be their lot and they will be foremost [in entering it].”
— Qur’an (Surah 16, "The Honey Bees," vv. 57-62)
From the hadith, the collected oral and written accounts of Muhammad and his teachings during his lifetime:
A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]”
—Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
—An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)[62]
“Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer.”
—Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938)[63]
“That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.”[63]
“The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.”[63]

Third, you are right that there are some chilling verses in the Quran. But there are equally chilling verses in the Bible. For example, many Christian churches follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Just last Sunday, Psalm 149 was read. Here are the last few verses:

Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.
6 May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
7 to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
9 to carry out the sentence written against them—
this is the glory of all his faithful people.
Praise the Lord.

I don't recommend condemning a whole religion because of some harsh statements in its ancient texts. Ancient texts reflect ancient culture, and if we want our future to be less violent than our past, we have to focus in the "planks" of violence in our own texts, not just the "splinters" of violence in the texts of others. Again, I address this issue in my latest book. (And will address it again in my upcoming book, coming out next June.)

Finally, I appreciate logic as much as the next person. But I find your statement seems to be missing some pieces:

“either all religions are false or only one is true."

I can imagine four options:
1. All religions are completely true.
2. All religions are completely false.
3. One religion is completely true and others are true wherever they agree with it.
4. All religions are partially true and partially false.

I find #1 impossible since different religions contain many contradictions. I find #2 unlikely and incredible. That leaves #3 and #4. A big problem with #3 is that you have to ask, "Whose version of which religion?" For example, if you want to claim Christianity is completely true, you have to ask, "Pope Urban II's version of Catholicism?" or "Benny Hinn's version of Pentecostalism?" or "C. S. Lewis' version of Protestantism?" or "Leo Tolstoy's version of Russian Orthodoxy?" or ... you get the point.

I would be happy to say that God knows what is completely true ... but I would reject any human's claim that they or their religion knows God's mind with perfect accuracy. That's why, as a committed follower of Christ, I advocate
- humility of heart and mind,
- a childlike desire to learn,
- love for neighbor, stranger, outcast, and enemy,
- and a sincere hunger and thirst for justice,
because, as Paul said, "we know in part."

Again - thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope these four responses will be of help in some way.

 

Experiences in Thailand

Mesa - a new global network of emerging Christian leaders - has had its first in-person gathering in Thailand this week. Our time began with two days in a rural village where we shared life with a family there. We slept as they sleep and ate as they eat. (Although each meal was probably like their best holiday meal ... home-cooked dishes, lovingly prepared with local foods from their own fields and gardens.) We also worked as they worked - some of us joining them planting rice, others harvesting chilis, others harvesting corn.

We have been in a large city for the last few days, and last night a group of us walked the streets and beaches where sex tourism is the primary industry. Our group was guided by a young Christian woman who was formerly in that industry. Her story was unforgettable.

Of course, the rural and the urban are closely related. A young woman who does back-breaking work for eight or ten hours in the fields might earn a dollar or two per day, which means maybe twelve cents an hour, or thirty dollars a month. If she comes to the city, she can make a thousand dollars a month or more. Many of us came away seeing that our typical focus on the degradation and immorality of the sex industry - real and horrible as it is - can easily distract us from the degradation and immorality of the global food industry that underpays workers and makes slum life look so attractive. It's impossible to convey in the impact of this in a blog post. Suffice it to say that many of us have had our understandings of the world and how it operates significantly shaken and reshaped.

Those who pray - please pray for us as we discern our next steps and develop a plan for Mesa over the next four years. That discernment and planning work now underway and will continue until we finish our time together Wednesday night.

You can learn more here:
https://www.facebook.com/mesafriends

 

CAN YOU HOLD A BIBLICAL VIEW IN SUPPORT OF
 HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY MARRIAGE?

One of the blessings of my life as a "traveling evangelist" is that I meet fascinating people and make new friends around the world. One of them is Giles Parker, a charismatic house-church leader in the UK. Giles, like a lot of Christian leaders, has been grappling with the church's response to LGBT people. He is able to talk about the issue with both openness and respect for those who differ. He is part of the gathering here in Thailand, and graciously gave me permission to share a paper he recently shared with a group of charismatic pastoral leaders. I think you'll be impressed and may want to pass on his good work.

Continue reading CAN YOU HOLD A BIBLICAL VIEW IN SUPPORT OF
 HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY MARRIAGE?...

 

Beautiful piece by Mohammed Ansar

Blessed are the peacemakers...
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/19/my-journey-with-edl-tommy-robinson
Mohammed and I became friends when I was on tour with Greenbelt and Hodder & Stoughton for the release of my most recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Even a hostile critic of Mohammed's said to him ... "if every Muslim was like you there would be no problem." May more and more of us - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, whatever - set that kind of example with those who consider themselves our enemies!

 

I leave today for Mesa in Bangkok, Thailand

A small group of innovative Christian leaders from around the world is gathering in Thailand in the coming days. We will spend time living and working among rural farmers, then in silence and prayer, and then in conversation and planning. We come from differing contexts, but we share a common belief that a new Christian ethos is emerging ... and we seek to discern and participate in what the Spirit is bringing to life. You can follow what's happening ...
on Facebook: www.facebook.com/mesafriends
on Twitter: @MesaFriends
And you can learn more about Mesa (and identify as a friend of Mesa) here:
http://mesa-friends.org

 

Q & R: Just some vague hope in the distant mysterious future?

Here's the Q:

i have read several of your books, the most recent one being 'a new kind of christianity.' i love your take on how to view the future, but what do you really think about Jesus' returning again? will it happen? or is just some vague hope in the distant mysterious future?

i suppose i am still nursing my scars from fundamentalism, but the real return of Jesus offers me genuine hope. is it just a mirage? a possibility...perhaps, maybe...some distant foggy guess? in your understanding, will this [excrement] ever come to a real end? or do we just pursue the kingdom of goodness forever and that is our 'return of Christ?' seeing my dead family members is no small hope.

perchance i have not read the right book of yours yet? please respond.

Here's the R: Thanks for your question. It's an important one. Bad thinking about "eschatology" has caused horrible damage in the past, is terribly problematic in the present, and could cause even worse trouble in the future.

First, let me push back a bit on some elements of your question. I don't think it's helpful to create two options - "a vague hope in the distant mysterious future" or "it will happen." There's another possibility - it has happened in one sense; it is happening now in another sense, and it will continue happening in the future too. If you've never thought about the possibility that Jesus was right when he said, "This generation shall not pass" - there's a world of information for you to grapple with. Here are just three (of many more) sites that will challenge your thinking in this regard:

Riley O'Brien is doing important rethinking on the subject of "the second coming" and related matters - here: http://livingthequestion.org/coming-of-god/
So is Andrew Perriman - here: http://www.postost.net
As are the people of Presence Ministries, here: http://www.presence.tv

Second, one of the negative consequences of traditional eschatological thought is that it often reduces a beautiful though sin-scarred world into little more than "excrement." It devalues this world as just a station on the train to heaven. It will soon be destroyed and "left behind" while the souls of people who matter evacuate to heaven. That kind of thinking is terribly self-defeating in a world plagued by the kinds of long-term problems our world is plagued by. (The kid who thinks the world will end at midnight tonight is unlikely to spend the evening studying for his big test tomorrow.)

Third, I think it's a mistake to give us only two options: hope in God or despair in humanity. How about expanding your options to: a) hope in God apart from humanity, b) no hope in God or humanity, c) hope in humanity apart from God, d) hope in God at work in and with humanity. Many traditional Christians choose a, many cynical folk choose b, more humanistic folk choose c, and I would recommend we look more seriously at d.

That's why, if you mean "will human evil and injustice come to an end," I think the best answer is not "yes" or "no," but "what are you and I doing about that question in our lives right now?"

My current writing project (We Make the Road by Walking, which will be published in June 2014) attempts to articulate a better eschatology (without using that word) into a fresh reading of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I think you'll find it helpful ... but it won't fit into the standard binaries of "traditional eschatology" versus "vague hope for distant future." It will present a dynamic hope in every present moment, along with the confidence that ultimately, God wins, which means (as Rob Bell put it so aptly), love wins - and hope wins, and goodness wins.

 

In Northern Virginia this weekend ...

Friends in the DC area - I'll be at Immanuel Presbyterian Church this weekend. You'll find information here:
http://ipcmclean.org/th_event/theologian-in-residence-brian-mclaren/
I hope to see you there!

 

Kindness

A few years ago, I wrote a song which was recorded in a project with my friend Tracy Howe Wispelwey (available here). It was picked up by Canadian singer Steve Bell, another good friend. I was thrilled to hear that the Mennonite Central Committee of Alberta, Canada, introduced the song in Mexico, where it has been translated by Isabel Garnica into Spanish. Here is a beautiful recording of the song, with words below:

With Kindness – Brian McLaren, Spanish Translation – Isabel Garnica Christ has no body here but ours
 No hands no feet here on earth but ours Ours are the eyes through which he looks
 On this world 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


Chorus: Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear

Embodied in us, Jesus is living here

Let us go now, inspirited
Into this world with kindness

Jesús tus hijos aquí en la tierra
somos tus brazos, tus pies, tus manos
son nuestros ojos por los que ves
a este mundo con amor

Con nuestras manos trabajas tú
son nuestros pies con los que caminas
con nuestras voces le hablas tú
a este mundo con amor

Y al reír, hablar o sólo escuchar
Cristo en nosotros se hace realidad
Inspirados con tu luz
Al mundo damos de tu amor.


While you're at the site, consider buying the CD and supporting MCC in other ways. They do good and beautiful work around the world.

 

I wish I could be in Jerusalem

... for the Sabeel conference on the Bible and the Palestine-Israel conflict, November 19-25. I have been deeply enriched by Sabeel's work and especially by the writings of Naim Ateek. If I didn't have previous commitments, this is a conference I would want to attend. I hope I can do so in the near future.

You can find the schedule here and printable flyer here.

You'll get a flavor for Sabeel through this video with Desmond Tutu and Naim Ateek:

 

Here's my review of '12 Years a Slave'

at Sojo.net -
http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/10/15/12-years-slave-film-moral-gravity
It's really worth seeing.

 

"How was worship yesterday?"

That Monday-morning question kind of makes me cringe. It might be innocent enough, but it also might express how we see church gatherings these days - a consumer product that we evaluate as we do any other product: "How was the game?" or "How was the movie?" or "How was your vacation to Disney World?"

On a typical Monday morning, it usually means two things: how was the sermon, and/or how was the music?

Bryan Sirchio has written an important and needed book on the subject of worship music called The 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music.

A recent controversy about a worship song lyric (about which you can read an account here) has drawn needed attention to a rather unhappy status quo: we have some upbeat music with problematic theology, and some downbeat music with not much better theology.

Bryan Sirchio "gets" the key issues, and he has written a book that doesn't throw gasoline on "worship wars" contentiousness, but that does boldly proclaim six characteristics of the worship music we need:
1. Praise, justice, and the Fullness of Human Experience
2. Inclusive Language
3. Progressive Theology
4. An emphasis on both the individual and the community
5. Emotional authenticity
6. Fresh images, ideas, and language

He adds important chapters on issues like musical style, ego, and performance. And he also provides sources for progressive Christian worship music. All in all, this book is a gem, and way more people should know about it. (Hey Worship Leader Magazine - how about offering a review?)

Worship leaders - you may need to read this in secret, since the word "progressive" might be contraband in your congregation. But read it anyway. And pastors, you too. You couldn't ask for a more helpful book on something that we all cherish - albeit for a wide variety of reasons.

 

Taking the Bible "literally" - input from Augustine

A helpful article here. Quotable:

Augustine sees only trouble in committing Scripture to interpretations that supposedly provide information about the physical structure of the earth or the cosmos. Consider these two examples:

Let no one think that, because the Psalmist says, He established the earth above the uater, we must use this testimony of Holy Scripture against these people who engage in learned discussions about the weight of the elements. They are not bound by the authority of our Bible; and, ignorant of the sense of these words, they will more readily scorn our sacred books than disavow the knowledge they have acquired by unassailable arguments or proved by the evidence of experience. (pp. 47-48)

And:

But someone may ask: ‘Is not Scripture opposed to those who hold that heaven is spherical, when it says, who stretches out heaven like a skin?’ Let it be opposed indeed if their statement is false…. But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture about the skin is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions. (p. 59)

Augustine shows respect for scientific activity, and does not want to put Scripture in a situation of conflict with it.


One could wish more "biblical literalists" today would share Augustine's temper of mind on these matters. For all the problems that have been associated with his legacy, he was a man who wasn't afraid to give matters a second thought. Including his own earlier writings!

 

Carole King gets it right ...

here.

 

The Square Peg Feel

Consider subscribing to this new project by some friends of mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX_XSZuDZhE&feature=youtu.be

 

Q & R: Your books in French?

Here's the Q:

My husband and I have benefitted so much from reading your books and we recommend them to many people who are on similar journey of faith. Recently we have been in conversation with some french friends and i would love them to be able to read about your ideas, but they do not speak english.

Could you tell me if any of your books have been translated and if no where I might get hold of them. (and if not why not!!)


Here's the R: One of my books was translated into French, but I don't believe it is still available. If I'm wrong - or if they're others - I hope folks will let me know. As for the "why not" - I guess no publishers have felt it would be profitable among their constituencies. Maybe that will change due to your enthusiasm! Thanks for writing -

 

Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Peace (Part 2)

See Part 1 here.

If we want to move beyond the vicious cycles of offense and revenge that dominate the status quo - and result in suffering for Christians in the Middle East, American Christians can come together in six ways:

1. We must join together to condemn human rights violations whenever they occur and upon whomever they are inflicted. We must become vocal advocates for the rights of religious minorities - be they Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, or secularists - from Texas to Timbuktu, from Tennessee to Tehran. There can be no double standards.

Here we must be careful to distinguish hateful extremists from peaceable believers. American Christians would be rightly appalled if Muslims were to quote crazy extremist pastors from Florida and Kansas to characterize all Christians as Quran-burning hate-mongers. Israeli Jews would likewise be appalled to be defined by the infamous "kick out all Arabs or make them our slaves" quote from extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are equally mortified when horrific statements about killing “first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people” are used to characterize all Muslims. Hateful extremists must be exposed - but never used to create guilt by association.

2. American Christians must stop supporting foreign policies that purchase American security at the expense of the security of others, including fellow Christians in the Middle East who have already suffered so much. And we must face - and publicly admit - the unintended consequences of past policies, over the last decade, and over longer time spans as well. Instead, we need to articulate a creative, positive, progressive, faith-inspired dream for a better world, undergirded by a coherent, constructive foreign policy.

3. We must seek solutions in Israel/Palestine that are Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. That will require us to stand strong for Israel’s right to exist in peace and safety while standing equally strongly against the spread of settlements in Palestinian lands, the ongoing occupation, and other actions that dehumanize and oppress Palestinians. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem will also require us to pray for the peace of Palestine and the whole Middle East - a peace that depends upon justice and reconciliation.

4. We must realize that our continued addiction to dirty energy results in dirty foreign policy. The most profitable industry in the history of humanity has great power, and it has found ways to "externalize costs" upon us all. In response, we must become more aware of the true costs of our current energy policy, and we must become advocates of clean, sustainable energy and clean, sustainable foreign policy as well. There is a relationship between filling our gas tanks and what happens to our Christian brothers - and their neighbors - in the Middle East.

5. We must seek to understand religious violence, which will require us to understand violence in general - others’, and our own too. We need to see the close relationship between hate (for them) and love (for us), and between religious identity and hostility (as I explored in my most recent book).

6. We must build relationships - grass-roots, have-a-neighbor-over-to-dinner relationships, with people of other faiths. We must demand that our national and global religious leaders do the same - not only talk about other religions, but talk with their corresponding leaders - not just to solve problems, but also to build friendships, the kind exemplified, for example, by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Through this kind of pre-emptive peacemaking, we must set in motion healing cycles of faith-inspired human-kindness that provide an alternative to vicious cycles of offense/revenge/counter-offense/counter-revenge.

When we do so, along with decrying the hateful actions of extremists, we can celebrate the heroic acts of kindness and solidarity of more “normative” people of faith - like the Egyptian Christians who protected mosques and the Egyptian Muslims who protected churches on many occasions over the last few years.

A colleague who has invested in these kinds of relationships recently sent me two photographs. The first is of an official sign warning Israelis not to venture into Palestinian territory:
DSCN2487.JPG
The second is of a home-made sign that Israeli women activists placed over the official sign:
women.JPG

These Jewish women have an important message for Christians, a message that echoes the words of a Jewish man who himself lived in deeply conflicted, violent times in which extremists were all-too-ready to shed blood in the name of their God or their nation. We can refuse to be enemies. We can choose healing cycles of hospitality over vicious cycles of hostility. That doesn't mean being silent denial about wrongs, but it doesn't mean responding to hostility with hostility either.

It is indeed inexcusable for Christians to remain silent about the horrific violence being done against Christians around the world. But it is also inexcusable to respond to that violence in ways that only intensify fear, hatred, mistrust, misunderstanding, and revenge. We must speak out in ways that seek higher ground, a new way of holding religious identity and seeking religious reconciliation. We will often fail and fall short in our attempts, but I would rather fail in this venture than succeed in the alternatives. I hope you feel the same way.

The hate and evil of the Al Shabaab terrorists can not be overcome with corresponding hate and evil. Nor will it be overcome with silence and passivity. There is only one force that can overcome it. That power appears weak, but it is the strongest power in the moral universe, if we dare to believe it and practice it. It simultaneously calls us to speak the truth about evil, and to overcome it - with abounding good. May every new outbreak of evil inspire us to greater counter-action for good, following the way of Christ.

 

Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Peace (Part 1)

The Al-Shabaab terrorists who slaughtered over 60 fellow human beings in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall tried to spare their fellow Muslims through a kind of religious quiz. If you could answer certain religious questions - who was the prophet’s mother, can you recite a verse from the Quran, can you say the Shahada - you were set free. If not, you were murdered.

They were responding to “advice” from the late Osama bin Ladin in a 2010 letter to Al-Shabaab, when he urged them “to minimize the toll to Muslims.” Al-Shabaab leaders explained to the AP, "The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar before carrying out their attack."

Jews, Hindus, Christians, secular people? Obviously, to the terrorists they were “kuffar,” and fell outside the "meticulous vetting process" that could qualify them as human beings with human rights, including the right to life.

Kristen Powers, in a recent Daily Beast article, observes:

Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.

I’ve noticed the same silence. The fact of widespread persecution of Christians - most often by Muslim extremists - deserves two obvious lines of response. The more difficult and important response is appropriate action. But before wise and effective action can be planned and taken, there must be understanding of the problem, which requires us to ask the question why?

The why question itself takes us in two different, but related, directions:

Why is this kind of anti-Christian persecution happening?
And why is the world, and especially the Christian world, so silent about it?

On that latter question, I am sure there are many more reasons, but let me offer six, speaking as a Christian who cares but has not spoken up often enough or effectively enough about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East:

1. Many Christians are too silent on the issue because they don’t want to add their voices to the growing numbers of Islamophobic voices in the Christian community. When their fellow Christians gin up antagonism towards Muslims in general and Islam as a whole by emphasizing violent acts by extremists, thoughtful, peace-loving Christians - rightly and wisely - don’t want to be part of that. But wrongly and unwisely - many simply remain silent. In so doing, they aid and abet extremism in both Christian and Muslim communities. As Powers stated, quoting Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”

2. Some Christians are too silent on the issue because they already know that much anti-Christian violence is retaliation against hawkish American foreign policy. They know that this hawkish policy has brought suffering and death to large numbers of innocent Muslim children, women, and men (and Christians and others as well). They know that invasion and occupation, the use of torture, the ongoing Guantanamo situation, drone strikes, and other elements of US foreign policy have been identified with “the Christian West,” and they know that Christians around the world have suffered as a result. Many American Christians are torn because on the one hand, they support this hawkish foreign policy and don’t want to undermine it, and on the other hand, they sincerely lament the unintended consequences it has set in motion. So, they regret how Christians in Muslim-majority countries have become “collateral damage” of American foreign policy but rather than acknowledge this sad fact, many American Christians remain silent denial about it.

3. Many Christians know that a careless bias against Palestinians - many of whom, by the way, are committed Christians - has become a pre-requisite in some circles for being considered “pro-Israel.” Because of their sincere, unqualified, unlimited, and absolute support for Israel, many don’t want to draw attention to the ongoing occupation of Palestine and its discontents, even though the occupation stirs anti-West/anti-Christian fury which results in suffering for Christians across the Middle East. So, without protest, they let the occupation continue while illegal settlements expand day after day, year after year, even though it means endangering Christians in many Muslim-majority countries - not to mention Palestinians ... and really, Israelis, too. On a subconscious, unspoken level, some may have concluded that the suffering of Christians across the Middle East is a price that must be paid to give Israel the support she deserves and needs.This conclusion is seldom spoken aloud.

4. American Christians - myself included - are part of a global oil-based economy, and as such, we are like addicts who depend on repressive Muslim governments for our carbon fix. We pay for cheap gas with the invisible tax of silence and inaction about repressive Muslim regimes. We thus save money, but at great cost to the moral integrity of our souls.

5. Many of us have accepted superficial cliches (“They are evil” or “Their religion is evil”) and avoided the hard, often unsettling work of understanding how religious identity can be turned to violent ends - in any religion: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, even atheist. In other words, to avoid facing the plank or splinter in “our” eye, we have stopped talking about the plank or splinter in “their” eye too. By smacking the label "evil" on people and groups, we have exempted ourselves from any further thought, any further need to try to understand a complex situation that defies simplistic "good-guy/bad-guy" categories. We have experienced paralysis as a result of this superficial analysis.

6. We don’t know what can be done practically, so we remain silent.

Each of these reasons for silence, I believe, is indefensible. But they begin to help clarify what must be grappled with if we want to take a step beyond expressing outrage to actually doing something constructive for all who suffer due to religious bigotry. (If people would like to add their constructive and civil suggestions, I hope they'll do so over at my Facebook page.)

What might something constructive look like? (Part 2 will explore possibilities.)

 

The New Evangelical Partnership

is asking the National Association of Evangelicals to take a stand about climate change. They know that
1. Earth is God's beautiful creation and God has entrusted humans with moral responsibility to care for and conserve its beauty, health, and balance.
2. Human waste, haste, greed, ignorance, and foolishness have put our planet in great danger.
3. 97% of scientists agree that we must take action now to change our ways and become responsible stewards of the planet.
Let your voice be heard, here:
http://action.groundswell-movement.org/petitions/tell-nat-l-association-of-evangelicals-acknowledge-reality-of-climate-change-1

 

Friends around the world ... a gathering in Asia

I'm honored to be part of Mesa - a global table around which a fascinating group of people is gathering. It may just be that a few readers of my blog will feel a nudge to join us in Bangkok later this month - or that others will want to chip in some money to help with expenses for others to be able to attend. Check it out here: http://mesa-friends.org

 

The New Game

Read it, here.

 

The New Jim Crow

My friend Becca Stelle is leading a faith-based engagement with our broken criminal management system (it's really hard to call it "criminal justice" the more you know about it). It's called Why We Can't Wait. Here are some links if you'd like to become more informed:
Webinar entitled "Cooperation and Commerce Within Prison Walls"

And here is a link to a live stream colloquium on The Challenge of Offender Re-Entry: A Cooperative Response on Monday, October 14, 2013 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., Eastern.

 

For every Sunday school teacher ...

Christian educator, and parent: a great piece by Dave Csinos, here.
Quotable:

What if, instead of passing on the faith, we encouraged our children to play with the faith that God has given to them in order to love it into greater vitality? What if we cultivated in young people a spirit of creativity, love, and responsibility with which they can explore and express their faith in ways that are all their own? What if faith became alive in the same way in which the Skin Horse became real in The Velveteen Rabbit—through hours and hours of creative and loving play. Sure, in the end our children's faith could end up looking nothing like we imagined it would—it may be stained and broken. It may have spots that are worn and places where patches cover over tears in the fabric of faith. And sometimes, as the Skin Horse admits, it will even hurt. A child's faith may not be beautiful to anyone except the child who possesses it. But it will be alive and it will be real.

Want to learn more?

 

Q & R: how can i make shifts as a pastor

Here's the Q:

As a minister in the Church of Scotland ... I have the privilege of preaching every Sunday and providing pastoral care to an entire rural community - I would go as far as saying I am loved and appreciated by most in the congregation and an entire community outside it believers and those that find it hard to accept. We are an exciting rural church - focused on a lot of the things you major on in your books. We are also blending disparate theologies in a creative way as we work at the intersection of peoples Christian values - I would go as far as saying ecumenical in practice and ethos . All good stuff done with good people you will agree -

The question - How do you address the issue as a pastor of making a major theological shift in real time ministry. Easy enough most of the year - for instance Easter presents its problems - how can I really preach orthodox doctrine - Do I really believe the idea that Jesus died as penalty for sin - or as you unpacked in a New Kind of Christian for being subversive and bringing the challenge of the Kingdom of God.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. This year I've spent a lot of time speaking with rural pastors in the US, and I've come to see more than ever how the work of rural pastors is so important - and far more challenging than many people realize.

Your question deserves a far more lengthy and deep reply than is possible here, but let me offer a few brief responses. First, I think many pastors make a mistake when they glibly or quickly attack or critique a widely-held and long-held belief. In so doing, they destabilize and unsettle people and leave them wondering, "How far will this go? Will anything be left to believe?" They expect "outsiders" to attack their beliefs, and when a pastor does it, they think, "Oh no, she/he's an enemy!" They feel betrayed.

That's why I recommend ... if you're a pastor ... you spend far more time positively proclaiming a positive alternative than attacking the problematic understanding or belief. When it's time for critique, make it gentle, careful, and give people plenty of "outs" - time to grapple with the issue in private. Think of Jesus speaking in parables ... using indirect rather than direct communication, so people can rethink and rediscover on their own.

That's especially important relating to the meaning of Jesus' death. Like many, it's clear you're rethinking some traditional atonement theory. Most people don't have the theological background you do, so atonement theory for them - even though they've never actually heard the term "atonement theory" - is foundational to everything. That's why, rather than critique traditional atonement theory in a sermon, I might instead explain how the word "for" in "Jesus died for our sins" could - positively - mean "to cure" or "as a consequence," as in the sentences "I took an aspirin for my headache" or "I got a ticket for speeding." (I explore this in some detail in my most recent book.) I'd emphasize the positive alternative for a long time before critiquing a traditional view. In fact, critiquing may become unnecessary.

Second, I'd remember that believing is a social act. When people change their beliefs, there are social consequences. Relatives, even parents and children, disown one another because of changed beliefs. So realize that if people change a belief, they will likely pay a high price for doing so in some of their social circles. Another reason to be gentle.

Finally, I'd encourage you to focus on the big story. As I explained in A New Kind of Christianity, unless we deal with the "big story" issues, we won't make much progress on the small stuff. As you know, I think we need to see the big story not as "a totalizing metanarrative," but as a multi-story space framed by stories of creation, liberation, and reconciliation ... a "three-in-one" story that gives shape, depth, and breadth to the whole Bible.

I've made mistakes in all these areas ... so I share them in hopes that you will do better than I've often done.

 

In Wichita this weekend

I'll be at the Apprentice Institute this weekend. Hope to see many friends there.

 

Sexual identity ... more complex than many think

As this article makes clear.

 

A Nest Protecting our Mediocrity

Excellent analysis on Pope Francis shaking things up here ...
http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/blog/pope-francis-ive-never-been-a-right-winger/

 

A reader writes: I had a fresh encounter with God

Hi Brian, my name is xxx I am an outreach practice nurse/ counselor / chaplain in [the UK] with people who are asylum seekers, homeless, addicted and others hungry for a faith that makes sense.

I wanted to write to let you know that four years ago your books started me on a new journey with God and helped me to reconcile many seemingly conflicting strains of thought. I started by reading "The story we find ourselves in" and then read "The secret message of Jesus" followed by Adventures in missing the point , A new kind of Christian, The church on the other side and A generous Orthodoxy all in a few months. somewhere in this process I had a fresh encounter with God where I felt he just wanted me to go out and call disciples - to go about doing good works and to just take people with me . I was especially challenged by the idea of being Blessed to be a Blessing . I initially bought and old van and called it the Blessing van and then God provided stuff and we went about helping people to set up home and just doing anything our hands found to do looking to be a blessing wherever we could . Blessed to be a blessing is our moto We have not started a new church but try to help people find a church where they feel as though they fit and we try to encourage the churches not to possess people but rather to see themselves as nurturers for part of a persons journey.

People from many different church groups have joined with us at various times whilst continuing in their original church communities and I can honestly say that I can no longer see more than one church in our city /land or even world world We are a faith venture-but an " Ok God what are we doing today!"venture not an organisation and God has lead and provided amazingly we seek to bless anyone and everyone; churches, government agencies, individuals, givers and recipients. I still work part time as a nurse several others have decided to do the same and work part time to share with us too. We very loosely call ourselves "City Saints in Action"

Thank you for your obedience to God in writing these and other of your books which I have read and read them more than once and I find them a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. We are about to start up a discussion group around A generous orthodoxy as several people have said that they are hungry to re examine their beliefs.
Every Blessing be on you and your house,


There's nothing more encouraging than hearing someone has been encouraged through my books to launch out in a venture as you have. Thanks so much. You've made my day - actually, my week!

 

If you're coming apart ...

this interview might be of real help.

 

Guerrilla Prayer

This article from the Beatitudes Society reminds me in several ways of another "guerrilla prayer" you can read about in Daniel 6.

 

Sometimes the South surprises people ...

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/when-redneck-loved-queer

 

Cincinnati - see you this weekend!

I'll be speaking with Peter Matthews and others at Eden United Methodist Church this weekend, for their Power of One conference. You can learn more here ... and register here. I'll also be preaching at Eden UMC on Sunday, 10:15 am. Hope to see you this weekend!

 

Thinking Global

Here's an encouraging report on Christian unity ...
http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-and-global-christian-forum-seek-christian-unity-together

 

A reader writes: I feel really good about life

I've just come back from a rare meal out with my wife to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. I feel really good about life, and that's a good time to think about people who have made life good.

I just wanted to say a big thank you to you for writing Everything Must Change, which along with several of your other books has dramatically shaped my thinking and inspired me to stand up and do something about the way the world is. Sadly, I find that the church in general is pretty reticent to do this. I met you at an event in [the UK] where you spoke alongside Mo Ansar and I thought you were both brilliant.

Last Sunday I got the chance to start a series on Money at our church, and confront people with the realities of the economic system of the world, which as you so powerfully express in your book, constitutes a big part of the Suicide Machine of today's world. Your influence, alongside academics FS Michaels and Andrew Crest, and master theologian Tom Wright, is strongly evident in what I'm trying to convey to our church community in England. Wishing you every blessing,


Thanks, and congratulations on your anniversary. And thanks for using your influence to help people make the connection between Christian faith and "tikkun olam" - healing the world.

 

Spirituality and Labels

As I've written about elsewhere (especially in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road), a lot of us are infected with CRIS - conflicted religious identity syndrome. The subtitle of A Generous Orthodoxy demonstrates an advanced case of CRIS.

The syndrome extends beyond Christianity, of course. Even SBNR's (Spiritual But Not Religious) aren't satisfied with that label, as a fascinating article by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat explains. They are working with Rabbi Rami Shapiro and others to serve "seekers without borders" whom they call "spiritual independents." They explain:

In an attempt to label them, two terms have emerged: "Spiritual But Not Religious" (SBNRs) and "Nones." We don't like either term. They categorize people by what they are not. We are interested in who they are.

That's why we like the term "spiritually independent." It was coined by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in his forthcoming book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. He'll be leading an e-course on "The Way of the Spiritually Independent" for Spirituality & Practice in September. You can read more about it and sign up here:
http://www.SpiritualityandPractice.com/SpirituallyIndependent

Shapiro likens the spiritually independent to the politically independent. The politically independent find good ideas and policies in different political parties and choose not to join one in particular. They are less interested in where ideas come from than in how they contribute to creating the world they want to see.

Similarly, the spiritually independent person seeks out wisdom from many sources: the religions, the sciences, the arts, the humanities, the popular culture, the Internet and social media. They are less concerned with where the wisdom comes from than in its capacity to make them more compassionate, just, and awake to the unity of all life.

Carl McColman (who self-identifies as SWAR - Spiritual While Also Religious) responded to the article and suggested the term "Spiritual Creatives."

All these conversations are evidence that religious identity is in flux ... No doubt, that flux could be problematic and many will see it as a danger and threat. But it could also be creative ... if we believe the wind of the Spirit is still "blowing where it will."

 

School of Love

In several of my books, I've written about the church's potential to be a "school of love." But I've often wondered who is working on the curriculum for such a venture. I'm thrilled to pass on that there's a group of people developing exactly what's needed - with in-person and on-line ways of actually learning - not just that we should love, but how to do so. Learn more here.

It's taught by Mark Yaconelli, Dr. Frank Rogers, and Dr. Andy Dreitcer from the Center for Engaged Compassion. If this looks as intriguing to you as it does to me, please help me spread the word about Triptykos and their certificate program in engaged compassion ...

 

Why you should read Frank Schaeffer's new novel ... and ...

Here's my review from Red Letter Christians ...
Anyone who asks me for a recommendation for good reading in the fiction category always gets the same response: Have you read Frank Schaeffer’s Portofino trilogy? Now, Frank has a new novel out, and it’s excellent too: And God Said, ‘Billy!’

First, a word about Frank’s earlier trilogy, featuring young Calvin Becker who comes of age in Christian funda-gelicalism. In Portofino, Frank combined a painfully accurate description of a young fundamentalist male coming of age with an acute love for a place. The writing was beautiful, and everyone who reads will want to visit Portofino – or feel that they have already done so. Then in Zermatt, the coming of age continues. Sexuality moves front and center, with Calvin obsessed with sex in a desperately exploratory way and his mom obsessed in an equally desperate inhibitory way. Cringes and laughter flow freely. Then in Saving Grandma, the comic overwhelms the tragic as an elderly skeptic (Grandma) becomes the unwitting savior of the adolescent quasi-fundamentalist.

It’s worth mentioning the Calvin Becker stories because in “And God Said, Billy,” Frank moves on from a coming-of-age story to a kind of full-blown adult story. Billy, the main character, is a passionately committed charis-funda-gelical adult – married, with a daughter. He’s a member in good standing of The Reformed Charismatic Full Gospel Word of Life Church. What he experiences isn’t the disjuncture of entry into adulthood, but the collapse of an adulthood built on a rather shaky foundation (Bible quotes notwithstanding).

Richard Rohr and I have both written of an important transition in adult spirituality – using different language to describe the same experience. Richard speaks of a transition from the first to the second half of life, and I’ve written about the transition from the early stages of simplicity and complexity to the later stages of perplexity and harmony. In And God Said, Billy!, Frank presents exactly such a transition – although “transition” sounds way too tame for the chaotic disintegration the poor fellow experiences.

What is remarkable about Frank’s new book, in addition to its downright hilarity, is the beauty with which he captures Billy’s emergence into second-half-of-life/harmony. Other characters – maybe counterparts to Grandma in Calvin Becker’s life – play a key role in the transition.

There aren’t many writers that repeatedly evoke from me the words beauty and hilarity – but Frank is one of them, and if that sounds intriguing, now you know the next book you need to pick up – And God Said, Billy!

A P.S. to Frank … if you’re thinking about another trilogy, how about 2 books that cover the same basic time period, but from the vantage point of Rebecca, Molly, Ruth, Pastor Bob, or maybe Igumen Tryphon? Just a thought …

This post is a review of Frank Schaeffer’s new book, “And God Said, Billy!,” currently featured on the Red Letter Book Club.

- See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/review-god-said-billy/#sthash.6Bku0Yhi.dpuf

 

Q & R: Finding encouraging relationships?

Here's the Q:

We have never met however I have read many of your books over the recent years and have listened to everything I could find on the Internet from you along with many others along similar journeys to yours. I have found great comfort and encouragement in listening to you as well as other similar thinking believers however I have found myself increasingly feeling isolated, misunderstood and generally just not fitting into the evangelical world i was raised in. No one else in my network of believing friends are interested much in looking deeper into the questions of faith and how they work themselves out in scripture, typically business as usual works just fine for them as it did for me the majority of my life. However several years ago I began asking myself hard questions about the dogma I was holding to and that led to the discovery of many of your writings as well as others that began putting words to the feelings I was having about my own faith experience. While on this search i found myself discovering a much bigger God then i had ever known which brought me much comfort however it also began revealing a thought and understanding divide between myself and the majority of my spiritual network.

...I guess my question to you is how did you go about finding encouraging relationships as you started down this journey of rediscovering your faith and now that you have found yourself in the cross hairs of many evangelical sites how do you keep from getting shot down by the skeptics.

Any help or encouragement would be greatly appreciated on this topic.

Thanks for your willingness to step out and proclaiming such a " generous orthodoxy"

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note and encouraging words.This is one of the most common questions I receive, showing what a need there is to help people find each other ... I'm working with a group of friends to try to facilitate these connections online. Stay tuned for more news about the CANA Initiative. (Cana stands for convene, advocate, network, and act.) I'm also hoping my next book will help people get together ... More on that soon too.

 

Facebook woes, part deux -

Here's a sample of what the scammer sends ...

Dearly Beloved.
The Word of God says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Send me your prayer request. I and my church to pray for you and you will receive healing God bless. want you to know that the Lord is waiting to hear your prayer request. think of what is wrong in your life or your family and send it to me and I will pray with you and you see the work from the hand of God in your life and the lives of his family.

Requests for money soon follow.

 

Facebook woes ...

1234586_10151635842733951_1984133140_n.jpg
I keep having a "fake me" showing up on Facebook ... he asks people to friend him and soon is offering to pray for them and asking them to send him money in return. Sheesh. Anyway, just for future reference, my real Facebook page is here.

 

An apology

A reader writes ...

This isn't a question, and barely a comment, instead this is an apology.
I'm sorry to say that in the past I have been ignorant and immature and have slandered you to the people in my world who would listen.

My chief reason being that I was caught up in a furious set of doctrines and followed my heroes that presented them without thought to the inconsistencies that such unloving actions created.

(Now I don't mean to say the doctrines are unloving, because I still believe a bunch of them can be redeemed when practiced with a model of love and humility rather than one of vindictive righteousness.)

I don't think I even have to specify which branch of 'neo-modern' Christianity I am speaking of as I'm certain you could guess. haha

With that being said I am writing this to you now having just read your book "Finding Our Way Again" for one of my theology classes at university. You wouldn't believe the shock and unbelief I experienced as I found each chapter resonating within me loud and clear.

I thoroughly enjoyed your views on Kingdom and the way you summarised the redemptive narrative, as well as the whole of the book - however those parts really grabbed me.

I've learnt a lot from FOWA, and am a better human having read it! I never in a million years thought I would but I have even been recommending it to everyone in my world who will listen!


So please accept my apology and encouragement, and consider this the beginning of my καθαρσις (or, ἡ αρχη μου καθαρσεως).
thanks for your book and your time.

Thanks for these encouraging words. It's interesting to see how few people who are publicly critical of my work have ever actually read it ... Anyway, we're all in this together, and I'm grateful to hear that FOWA was helpful. it's one of my "quieter" books, but one that meant a lot to me in the writing. I hope we'll meet in person someday soon.

 

Right God? Wrong God?

Over on my facebook page (which you might "like" if you haven't already ...), Michelle DeRusha posted this:

Brian, your Jesus/Moses/Buddha/Mohammed book and a conversation with my 8-year-old son about "right God vs. wrong God" prompted me to write this column for my local newspaper. Thank you for giving me much to think about and for helping me navigate a tough question with my son!

Here's the article...

It seems like the perfect article to ponder on September 11. Michelle writes:

In my mind, the bigger issue isn’t so much “right God” vs. “wrong God,” but the fact that it’s a very small step from there to “I’m right, you’re wrong” or “I’m good, you’re bad.”

And, I would add, it's a very small series of steps from "We're good, you're bad" to "So we will fly planes into your buildings, or drop bombs on your neighborhoods to demonstrate our superiority."
Frankly, drawing a line in the sand and naming myself “right” and the others as “wrong” doesn’t feel like love to me. It also doesn’t feel like the most productive, fruitful way to live out my faith. Dividing people into “right God, wrong God” camps doesn’t seem to leave much room for compassion, generosity, forgiveness, respect and love.

That's not to say, "It doesn't matter what you believe." It's to say beliefs matter a great deal - and not just what you believe, but how you hold those beliefs. Without love, any set of beliefs can sound like falling bombs and crashing buildings.

 

We Make the Road by Walking

Here's the planned US cover for my next book ...
wmrbw.jpg
Here's the planned UK cover ...
We_Make_The_Road%20uk.jpg

We Make the Road by Walking should be available June 2014. I hope you'll sign up for my monthly newsletter to keep informed about this and other news. Just click here...

 

My conversation with James Alison ...

Here.
Thanks to the good people of Homebrewed Christianity for putting this up ... and for the good people of Raven Foundation who made it possible for me to be part of this.

 

Diverse Whites. Reverse Whites. Gracism

This insightful piece on race by my friend David Anderson deserves wide readership, here. Quotable:

Whites will become a minority within three decades, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If this happens as predicted, within little more than one generation, whites will be the largest minority group in America.

In the United States we are in for a new age of diversity that all Americans should be aware of with eyes wide open.

For the first time in U.S. history, the majority rule of whites will be threatened, which means the concept of rugged individualism that worked so well for whites in America in centuries past may be threatened. The rules of personal responsibility and relational networking (some call it the "good old boy" network) as an avenue for success will no longer be sufficient in a multicultural and global society.

I predict the new minority whites will break into at least two groups: diverse whites, those who are culturally aware and multiculturally proficient, and reverse whites, those who will fight doggedly to hold on to whatever superior status they can.

Other minorities, especially blacks, have a choice to be what I call "gracists," people who extend favor, kindness, forgiveness and grace to others regardless of, and sometimes because of, color, class or culture.

 

I was homeless and you invited me in ...

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/08/astonishing-decline-homelessness-america/6674/
Good news - especially about both the homeless and the effectiveness of the federal government - doesn't come along often enough, but here's some:

Despite a housing crisis, a great recession, rising income inequality, and elevated poverty, there is some good news among the most vulnerable segment of American society. America’s homeless population – an estimated 633,000 people – has declined in the last decade.

This seems incredible – perhaps literally, so. The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a leader in homelessness service and research, estimates a 17 percent decrease in total homelessness from 2005 to 2012. As a refresher: this covers a period when unemployment doubled (2007-2010) and foreclosure proceedings quadrupled (2005-2009).


President Bush is often remembered for the disasters that occurred on his watch - Iraq, Katrina, the economic crash, etc. But President Bush also had some notable successes that deserve to be celebrated - among them, a program that changed the way we help the homeless. And that program has made a huge and lasting difference:

And what about the presidents responsible for this feat? General anti-poverty measures – for example, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit -- have helped to raise post-tax income for the poorest families. But our last two presidents have made targeted efforts, as well. President George W. Bush’s "housing first" program helped reduce chronic homelessness by around 30 percent from 2005 to 2007. The "housing first" approach put emphasis on permanent housing for individuals before treatment for disability and addiction.

Lest we be complacent ...

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

 

A reader writes: I have been called backslidden, a heretic and dodgy

I imagine you get a lot of emails so I will keep this brief. What I read of Mesa is a great comfort to me. Having read some of your own material, I can say with all honesty (and no intention to ingratiate) that you have arrived at many of the same conclusions I have over the last ten years or so. I am happy to know I am not the only Christian out there who thinks outside of the traditional box and does so without diminishing their passion for Christ or the Gospel. I have been called backslidden, a heretic and dodgy, but in reality I lead a devoted life and have an intimate and meaningful relationship with God. I share the Gospel with people at work, read my Bible, pray and worship, but I am still not very welcome in church circles as I ask awkward questions - about hell, about biblical interpretation, about homosexuality (I am not a homosexual but I have friends who are and struggle to fellowship in an environment where they would not be as welcome as I would be), about the wisdom found in other religions, etc.

I've pretty much accepted that this is how life will be for me, and am okay with that in the main (God's company is compensation enough), but having come across people like yourself, and now Mesa, I find myself hopeful that life doesn't have to be as lonely as I thought. I live in Nottingham, and would love to meet some like-minded people. Are you aware of any groups/individuals that I might enjoy meeting with?

Thank you for your books, and for taking the time to read this.


Thanks for your note. I know many readers here will identify with your experience.
If other folks in the Nottingham area would like to make contact with this person, maybe you could put a post over on my facebook page ...

 

Q & R: Ministry (one way), or Ministry (another way)?

Here's the Q:

Several years back, your book Everything Must Change, along with my own beginning to question and re-examine, started my current chapter. At the time I was a student at a Southern Baptist seminary but beginning to see some things I was taught unraveling. I have made some changes and actually am currently working in a mainline church that is a much better fit for where I am in my thinking and theology; but I want to ask your advice.

As cycles go, I'm back to feeling a bit like Pastor Dan. I want the freedom to be intellectually and spiritually honest as I learn; which one in ministry sadly doesn't always have. I also see the merit in serving the church and using my gifts; but doing something vocationally outside of the church. I wonder if I could actually do MORE with my life that way, not less. (such as teaching in public school and volunteering with the Church). All my life I have worked toward ministry, so its scary to think of change, but at the same time I would still be a minster no matter what my job.

Any wisdom? I know you hear from countless people, but I've considered you truly a mentor, and you have been a HUGE part of my spiritual journey.

Here's the R: First, I think you're so wise to realize that ministry is for everyone - those who are serving the church as a career and those who are serving as the church in the world. Second, having done ministry in both venues, I think you're right to say that there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Third, I think you're wise to realize that there are many vocational chapters in a typical life.

Nobody at a distance like me could know enough about your situation to offer counsel - which is a good reason to create a "clearness committee" with a group of trusted friends and local mentors. But let me suggest a possible "middle path." If you are in paid ministry now, I'm going to guess you're working more than a forty hour week. Let's say you're working fifty. What would happen if you worked an honest and wholehearted forty hours "on the clock" for the church, and then reinvested that additional ten hours in some form of unpaid, external ministry? Or, conversely, you might take a "sabbatical" from paid ministry for a while and get a different kind of job, as you suggest ... but if you do, maybe start an experimental faith community of some sort. (My next book will offer special resources for groups like this.)

Whatever you do, don't burn bridges because later chapters often circle back to earlier territory. Keep learning, keep growing, and keep "in the stream."

 

Praying for peace on Saturday ...

I'll be joining many others in praying for the situation in Syria on Saturday because I think it's time we realize that Dr. King was right: we can't cure violence with violence.

Mirroring violent behavior sets vicious cycles of offense and revenge in motion. We need a more creative response - not passivity, not inaction, but something more creative and constructive than "punishing" or "retaliating" or trying to cure violence with violence.

What might those more creative and constructive alternatives be? Maybe a day of prayer with fasting will prepare us to imagine them. Here's what others are saying:
Pope Francis
Evangelical leaders

Here's a prayer that expresses what is on my heart (feel free to use or adapt as is helpful):

"Living God, our world is broken-hearted by the atrocity of chemical weapons being used in Syria, killing children, women, and men indiscriminately. And our hearts grieve no less for the many tens of thousands killed and millions displaced by the civil war there.

We pray for peace, God of peace: not just the cessation of conflict, but a new day of reconciliation, civility, and collaboration for the common good ... in the Middle East, and around the world.

We also pray for the United States, whose leaders are contemplating military strikes in retaliation for the atrocity, to punish those who ordered it, and to deter those who might plan similar atrocities in the future. We acknowledge that our leaders are trying to do what is needed and right, based on the understanding they have. But on this day, as millions of us around the world pray, we ask for greater wisdom, greater understanding, greater foresight, so that we can find new, better, and non-violent ways to achieve lasting and profound peace.

We know from bitter experience that "our" violence promises to end "their" violence, but in the end, it only intensifies vicious cycles of offense and revenge. We also know from bitter experience that inaction and passivity also aid and abet evil. So on this day, we seek your wisdom, for a better way forward ... a new way that we do not yet see.

We Americans sense that our nation is on the verge of rethinking its role in the world. In this moment of rethinking, we also pray for guidance. Help us learn from past mistakes, and help us imagine better possibilities for the future. In this time of political tension and turmoil - not only between, but within our political parties - may your Spirit move like the wind and give us a fresh vision of what can be, so that we do not repeat old, tired, and destructive cycles of what has been. May the wisdom and ways of Jesus, upon whom your Spirit descended like a dove, guide us now - to a wise and responsible role as good neighbors in our world. Amen.

 

This month, in Ohio ...

I don't often get to Ohio, so I'm especially looking forward to being with Rev. Peter Matthews for a free conference September 21-22 in the Cincy area. You'll find more information here:
www.holisticinc.org/powerofone

The church address is 150 Dahlia Ave Cincinnati, Ohio 45233 and you can learn more here: www.iameden.org

 

In Sea Turtle news ...

An eco-story with a happy ending.

 

Want to help a friend of mine?

I've known Becca Jackson all her life - her parents have been close friends since before Becca was born. I had the privilege of baptizing Becca and her sister and am a big fan of the whole Jackson clan. I had no idea Becca had entered the Miss Delaware contest - and won! Now she's up for Miss America on September 15. Here's her video:

You can vote for Rebecca Jackson here (under Miss Delaware):
http://www.missamerica.org/VideoContest/default.aspx

 

Trust the Stream

A beautiful meditation from Gordon Cosby ... a great start to the fall season. (HT WGM)
http://idisciple.rca.org/?p=996
Quotable:

The stream flowing through our lives is from eternity to eternity. It is artesian. It is totally adequate. Everything we need is borne by that stream. Its origin is the realm beyond, and it carries infinite resources. In this space-time realm, conditioned as we are, the stream can seem to be a trickle. It seems puny against the drugs we’re battling, against the divisions among us or the power of greed that fuels our economy.

When we’re up against all the world’s needs and lacks–the way we perceive life–the stream seems inadequate. But in fact, it is a powerful, surging, cleansing tide that purifies all it touches. It is a grace torrent. It flows irrespective of merit. It carries everything that a human being has ever needed–and could ever want. Whatever we need will flow by at just the opportune moment. Our problem is that we’re not attuned to the stream. We don’t see it. We’re not even looking in the river’s direction.

But when we wait in expectancy, looking at the stream and then recognizing what we need as it floats by, we simply reach out and take the gift. It’s an effortless way of living. Usually we’re not attuned to effortlessness. We’re too busy striving. We’re holding forth and carrying on and trying to reach our goals. The wisdom of the stream is the opposite of this. What I’m talking about is moving from a conceptual awareness of God’s care–the idea of God’s providence–to trusting the flow of that stream that carries everything we need and will bring it at just the opportune moment.

Jesus found it difficult to understand his disciples’ anxiety. He was so in the river, he was so aware that the stream carried everything that was needed, that he couldn’t understand why others were having so much trouble with the idea. What he says is to set our minds on God’s realm, God’s justice, before everything else. Everything else will be given by the stream. This is different than achievement and different than making things happen. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, Jesus says. You’ll have plenty to think about when tomorrow comes. Now the stream is flowing.

Once we get accustomed to noticing the stream, and we spend more time near the stream, taking from it what is being given, there comes another step: actually getting into the water and resting in its flow. Even when the flow is a torrent, we know we are safe. We trust the flow. We become non-resistant. We become receptive. We trust the power of the divine presence, which longs to take our one little life to its divine destination. Even if we’re in deep water, we trust the flow and are not afraid. We simply wait in expectancy to round the next bend, looking in wonder at the view. Always a new view. Effortlessness, expectancy, and wonder are how we live, rather than striving.

Faith, in the biblical sense, is trusting the flow and reveling in the view and being carried beyond all existing boundaries. Faith is being excited about the final destination, even when the destination is a mystery. When Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he is saying, “Get into the stream with us. It’s a stream of pure grace and mercy. Go into its depths and find us there.”

 

Neither automatic nor inevitable

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Faith and Future Generations/Back to School

Here's a conversation I shared recently with sparkling interviewer Deborah Arca:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2013/08/brian-mclaren-on-passing-on-the-faith/
I reference an excellent group called faith-forward.net ... worth checking out for all who are interested in Christian spiritual formation of children.

 

Three Good Books this Fall

There are many ... but here are 3 starters:
1. My friend Wes-Granberg Michaelson is uniquely positioned to write a book on World Christianity. From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church should become the go-to book to help Christians and others grasp the significance of Christianity shifting from its past as a Western/colonial religion to its future a global/post-colonial religion. Learn more here.
http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/6968/from-times-square-to-timbuktu.aspx

2. I recently read Rebekah Simon-Peter's "The Jew Named Jesus." It is such an enjoyable read, and the content is deeply important. The book helped me identify many mistakes I've made in my work as a preacher and writer over the years. My only complaint - I wish it had been available thirty years ago, so I could have avoided those mistakes! Highly recommended for every pastor ... and everyone who talks about the Old and New Testaments.

3. Anyone who asks me for a recommendation for good reading in the fiction category always gets the same response: Have you read Frank Schaeffer's Portofino trilogy? Now, Frank has a new novel out (September 15), and it's excellent too: And God Said, 'Billy!'

First, a word about Frank's earlier trilogy, featuring young Calvin Becker who comes of age in Christian funda-gelicalism. In Portofino, Frank combined a painfully accurate description of a young fundamentalist male coming of age with an acute love for a place. The writing was beautiful, and everyone who reads will want to visit Portofino - or feel that they have already done so. Then in Zermatt, the coming of age continues. Sexuality moves front and center, with Calvin obsessed with sex in a desperately exploratory way and his mom obsessed in an equally desperate inhibitory way. Cringes and laughter flow freely. Then in Saving Grandma, the comic overwhelms the tragic as an elderly skeptic (Grandma) becomes the unwitting savior of the adolescent quasi-fundamentalist.

It's worth mentioning the Calvin Becker stories because in "And God Said, Billy," Frank moves on from a coming-of-age story to a kind of full-blown adult story. Billy, the main character, is a passionately committed charis-funda-gelical adult - married, with a daughter. He's a member in good standing of The Reformed Charismatic Full Gospel Word of Life Church. What he experiences isn't the disjuncture of entry into adulthood, but the collapse of an adulthood built on a rather shaky foundation (Bible quotes notwithstanding).

Richard Rohr and I have both written of an important transition in adult spirituality - using different language to describe the same experience. Richard speaks of a transition from the first to the second half of life, and I've written about the transition from the early stages of simplicity and complexity to the later stages of perplexity and harmony. In And God Said, Billy!, Frank presents exactly such a transition - although "transition" sounds way too tame for the chaotic disintegration the poor fellow experiences.

What is remarkable about Frank's new book, in addition to its downright hilarity, is the beauty with which he captures Billy's emergence into second-half-of-life/harmony. Other characters - maybe counterparts to Grandma in Calvin Becker's life - play a key role in the transition.

There aren't many writers that repeatedly evoke from me the words beauty and hilarity - but Frank is one of them, and if that sounds intriguing, now you know the next book you need to pick up - And God Said, Billy!

A P.S. to Frank ... if you're thinking about another trilogy, how about 2 books that cover the same basic time period, but from the vantage point of Rebecca, Molly, Ruth, Pastor Bob, or maybe Igumen Tryphon? Just a thought ...

More recommendations coming soon. BTW - Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? releases in softcover this month. If you haven't read it, now's a great time.

 

What have you been thinking about this weekend?

I know most folks don't give labor day a second thought. It's a long weekend that ends the summer. Hit the beach or pool one last time, and prepare for the fall season ahead. And remember there are only 113 (or so) days until Christmas!

This Labor Day I've be thinking about groceries ... starting with the farmworkers who plant, tend, and harvest crops. Some do so in air-conditioned tractors and combines, but many do so in the hot sun, often exposed to harmful pesticides, abusive foremen, and unsafe conditions ... not to mention low pay, without much if any access to legal protection. You can learn more about farmworkers and their underpaid, under-appreciated labor here:
http://ciw-online.org

In my work with CIW, I've become more aware than ever that I am connected by the food I eat to everyone in the chain ... from farmers and farmworkers to truckers to grocers to cooks and dishwashers. Then, I think about who I am connected to by the clothing I wear, the iphones and computers I use, the roads I drive, the car I drive. We're all connected by our labor!

Along similar lines, Joan Warren has been thinking about the problem of food waste lately. Joan is a relatively new blogger whose work I think you'll enjoy.

 

What I did over Labor Day Weekend

Among other things, I had the privilege of participating in this protest about oil drilling and natural gas fracking in my area ... Can you believe the fossil fuel industry is encroaching on the Everglades and endangered Florida Panther habitat, not to mention people's back yards? Can you believe the Sunshine State hasn't set a goal of being the nation's leader in solar energy? Learn more here and here and here.
0901_NCLO_CP_MARCHTOSCOTT02_t607.JPG
Kudos and thanks to Karen and John Dwyer, who are at the center of a whole lot of activism-organizing goodness in my corner of the world. More great pictures from Raymond Ramos here.

Update: This article on Governor Scott's environmental policies deserves a read for all concerned about the environment.

 

My WaPo Op-Ed ... on Torture in America

Here:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/08/30/a-prison-of-cruelty-end-injustice-in-criminal-justice-system/
I didn’t think I could add another commitment to my portfolio of concern.
Then I saw an interview with Shane Bauer, one of three Americans imprisoned in Iran for months. He explained that he wasn’t allowed contact with anyone outside, that he was given no access to a lawyer, that he wasn’t told what evidence there was for the charges against him, and that he had no idea if he would ever even get a trial or see freedom.
What left the biggest mark on me was when he said that no part of his experience was worse than the four months he spent in solitary confinement. He admitted that the experience was so unbearable that he wished he could have been interrogated — just to have some form of human contact.

Later, I read an article in Mother Jones by Bauer. In it, he described what it was like to discover that many prisoners in California are subjected to even more extreme forms of solitary confinement than he had been in Iran.
I knew I could not be silent. Solitary confinement might not involve beatings, electric shocks, or water boarding, but it looks, smells and sounds like torture. And people like me — who believe that human beings are created in the image of God, and therefore have innate dignity — cannot be silent about torture, whether in Iran or California.
The issue has gained more attention since July 8, when over 30,000 prisoners in California prisons began a peaceful hunger strike. Now, over 40 days after the hunger strike began, hundreds of California prisoners are still refusing food, and many of them are nearing organ failure and death. They are protesting a number of inhumane conditions, but solitary confinement is the one that many of us can’t stop thinking about.

 

Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us

...Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night
Have found that the calling to speak
Is often a vocation of agony,
But we must speak.

We must speak with all the humility
That is appropriate to our limited vision,
But we must speak.

And we must rejoice as well,
For surely this is the first time in our nation's history
That a significant number of its religious leaders
Have chosen to move beyond
The prophesying of smooth patriotism
To the high grounds of a firm dissent
Based upon the mandates of conscience
And the reading of history.

Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us.
If it is, let us trace its movements
And pray that our own inner being
May be sensitive to its guidance,
For we are deeply in need of a new way
Beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

More on Emergento-Islamo-Communism

Here. Quotable:
“When I first saw this, I thought it was a headline from The Onion." -- Tony Jones

 

The Emergent Church Movement now joins Communism and Islam as a top target of the Religious Right ...

You can learn more here (HT Josh G):
http://www.valuesvotersummit.org/home#tab2

IS IT TOO LATE TO RECLAIM AMERICA?
Speaker: Art Ally, Founder and President, The Timothy Plan
Synopsis: This session will equip you to engage in the debate over the war for the soul of America. We will explore the fundamental foundational problems we have in America and three of the channels the adversary is using to bring America down (Communism, Islam and the Emergent Church movement.) The first 200 attendees will receive complimentary copies of Curtis Bowers' award winning DVD Agenda (exposing Communism), Pastor Paul Blair's comprehensive DVD (on the truth behind Islam) and Roger Oakland's outstanding book "Faith Undone" (an expose on the Emergent Church movement.)

Congratulations are in order?

 

Christians, Muslims, the Middle East

Like you, I have been watching the unfolding situations in Egypt and Syria with heartbreak. I have several friends who live in the region and keep me informed, confidentially, from their on-the-ground vantage point.

In Egypt, many in the Christian community were disturbed that the Morsi administration was drifting to the right in its first year in power, putting Muslim Brotherhood partners in positions of power because of their religious affiliation, not because of their competence in actual governance. As a result, many Christians sided with the demonstrators and were happy to see Morsi ousted, although they had no idea that the protests would result in a military coup with a return to Mubarak-era repression.

The fact that many Christians had protested Morsi, of course, made them targets of revenge by the Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention more extreme groups to their right. Now, like many Egyptians, many Christians feel their democratic hopes have been dashed, or at least betrayed, by both Islamists and militarists. The following articles try to convey the complex realities for Christians and Muslims living side by side in these conflicted times ...

This, on the situation for Christians in the Middle East, where persecution of Christians is on the rise:
http://www.npr.org/2013/08/25/215494243/for-arab-worlds-christians-an-uncertain-fate

This, on Egypt:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/201382512315443971.html

This also on Egypt:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/08/in-egypt-echoes-of-latin-america.html

And in the midst of the chaos and violence, this note of hope:
http://www.futurechurchnow.com/2013/08/19/wonderful-examples-of-inter-faith-solidarity/

 

A seriously funny novel by my friend Frank Schaeffer

Anyone who asks me for a recommendation for good reading in the fiction category always gets the same response: Have you read Frank Schaeffer's Portofino trilogy? Now, Frank has a new novel out (September 15), and it's excellent too: And God Said, 'Billy!'

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/08/please-read-my-new-book-or-jesus-will-hurt-you-clip-one/

It's hard to believe a book that is so raw, raucous, and hilarious in the middle can take you to such a different place at the end ... but I don't want to say more, because I really hope you'll read Frank's latest novel.

 

A reader writes: Any hope of calling myself a theist

I was very excited to read your book 'Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road'. I have read quite a few of your books, as well as those of Rob Bell and David Tomlinson, as I find your approach the only one at the moment that gives me any hope of calling myself, at the very least, a theist. However, I often feel that I am left liking what you say, but lacking a rationale to accept it, except that I like it. It becomes the McLaren or the Bell version. However, although I did feel the same about large chunks of your latest book, I felt excited by a section in Chapter 17 p142, which says:
‘if the Spirit is ubiquitous and all people are encountering the Holy Spirit simply because we live, move and have our being in the Spirit’s domain, we can understand human religions – all human religions, including our own – as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation. That is not to deny the presence of unique divine revelation in anyone religion, nor is it to affirm that all religions are the same, nor is it to imply that the Spirit should be credited or blamed for everything going on in our religions. Instead, it is simply to propose that each religion, based on its unique location and history, would have a unique, particular and evolving perspective from which to encounter the Spirit in a unique way. That would mean that differences between religions would not necessarily mean contradictions. They could simply mean additional data, expressed in different systems of local imagery and language, based on differing encounters with the same Spirit of God, present in all creation across all time. Not only that, but in light of the wildly different local conditions in which they encounter the same Spirit, we might interpret some religious differences in a new light: rather than saying different (contradictory) things about the same thing, various religions could sometimes be saying different (complementary) things about different (complementary) experiences entirely
Let me summarise my thinking in bullet points to make it less bulky. I don't want to put you off!! I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover without commentaries to see what I made of it. I was horrified, bored and totally confused that this should be the stuff that almighty God wanted us to know and live by. So, either a) I didn't like this God anymore, b) this was just stories and there was no God, or c) maybe there was a God, but the Bible wasn't his infallible word to us on the matter I decided to try c) but soon discovered I had no rationale for knowing what was true or what was wishful thinking Sort of gave up Went to Bath in England. Hadn't prayed for months. Looked up at statue of roman god Minerva and kind of prayed 'Were they in touch with you, when they worshipped Minera?' The answer came back in an instant - 'of course'. I had a question and an answer in an instant, with no premeditation at all. I felt this was pivotal, but of course, it was very subjective and cannot be verified. Went to Avebury and stood by the ancient stones. Man had been reaching out according his understanding of the divine (probably) So, from then on, I have been trying the theory out. So often, I think, revelation is a flash, and we put human thought with it, embellish it, and mess it up, turn it into a religion, etc etc. I don't want to do that. HERE IS THE THEORY, ANYWAY We have evolved according to God's blueprint. We are here in the 21st century. Maybe we have more evolution to undergo, especially intellectually, so as eventually to know enough to find the currently unknowable God. All religions contain some right stuff and some revelation, but, also a lot of human commentary and prejudice. Some stuff was right for the people at the time, but not for NOW. All religions are historically, geographically and educationally specific. One day we will get there. One day we will have eveolved suffiently to find God, and all religions, and even more excitingly, even science, will converge. Here is a stupid example, but it helps to explain what I mean: If God were a computer, and we were software in some way, this fact would have been inconceivable to Moses. So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it. No-one is right, no-one is wrong. We are all evolving and will get there in the end. It kind of makes more sense of evolution. There is a programme on UK TV called 'Scrapheap Challenge', where teams have to build a certain machine from the stuff available (it has probably been put there to be found). In the same way, maybe God has given us all the materials we need on this planet. It is incredible what we have made from this rock orbiting the sun. He is watching and waiting for us to find the wherewithall to find him. I hope you can get the gist. I have loads to say, and better words to say it in, but this is my first bash. Please comment if you have time and inclination.

Thanks for your note. I was struck by the similarity of your theory and what Paul had to say in Acts 17. I wonder if I could adjust one paragraph a bit, from this:

So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it. No-one is right, no-one is wrong. We are all evolving and will get there in the end. It kind of makes more sense of evolution.

To this:
So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it - but plenty of reason to enter into spirited, respectful, collaborative dialogue. No-one is perfectly right, and we all have a lot to learn from and with one another. We can keep growing, we can get stuck in stagnation, or we can regress ... the choice is ours, as are the consequences. God is always beckoning us forward.

My next book (which I'm finishing up this month) tries to demonstrate how the Bible exemplifies this very reality. A key thinker whose work will help you in this process is Rene Girard, whose work is well explicated by people like Tony Bartlett, MIchael Hardin, James Alison, and James Warren. In their work, the importance of Jesus and his life and message shine through with real beauty. Again, thanks for your note. I think you're on a good track.

 

A reader writes: the ground is shifting, slow and steady progress

...Keep doing what you do. I am so grateful for your writing, blog, and stance on issues concerning faith. Your view of things came as a voice in the wilderness back before even 2007. Then my husband and I felt like strangers in church, at times, even though we were faithful; because of the language and rhetoric we heard there. I have believed "differently" about matters of faith for a very long time; so affirmation is not something I ever expected at church. I've learned to bite my tongue, pray for people who think God is small and mean, and love them anyway- very humbling. But a new minister and lots of water under the brings me to today when one of our Wednesday night study groups was announced "Everything Must Change" by Brian McLaren. I cried. To see that in a most evangelical of evangelical places, southern and Baptist, was so heartening. I did not have to have this but the evidence is clear- the ground is shifting. Slow steady progress. I appreciate you being brave enough to say the things many of us have been thought for 40 years or more. Blessings to you and your family.
Thanks for these encouraging words. You are right. The ground is shifting. With God, nothing is impossible. Like you, I'm grateful to others before me who showed such bravery. This week, of course, many of us are remembering one of those heroes - Dr. King. May his courage inspire us all.
 

Q & R: Church history?

Here's the Q:

I am going to focus on church history with our Sat night small group this year. I am looking for a "good" non-denominationally focused introduction to church history to use. I have Kenneth Scott Latourettes multi-volume set, but I need something simple for this group, since some are readers and will want to follow along. Any thoughts?

Here's the R:
I'd highly recommend Diana Butler-Bass's A People's History of Christianity. Diana is a brilliant thinker and sparkling writer, and she not only gives a great overview of Christian history in this book - she also helps people think about the assumptions, biases, perspectives, and agendas of those who write church history. On top of that, the book is accessible for normal people, as the title suggests. I recommend all of Diana's work - but this one sounds like it perfectly fits your needs.

If you wanted something more lengthy and detailed, I'd also recommend David Bosch's "Transforming Mission." It focuses on the history of Christian mission ... which, I think, is a good focus.

 

Bargain Alert ....

Amazon is selling the hardcover of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road for just $10. That's cheap! Order here.

 

A taste of Wild Goose

A delightful hour with Ani Zonneveld and Stuart Davis ...

 

Wild Goose roundup

Here are three worthwhile posts on the Wild Goose Festival, which concluded just a week ago in Hot Springs, North Carolina:
http://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/holy-health-takes-wing/

http://wagingnonviolence.org/column/at-the-crossroads/

http://revcooper.com/2013/08/17/the-goose-moves-as-she-will-pt-1-the-place/

The event really is hard to put into words ... but these folks did a good job. My one-sentence assessment: Year 1, Wild Goose worked to establish an identity. Year 2, it practiced one possible identity. Year 3, it settled into an identity, from which it can grow in any number of exciting and needed ways.

Gareth Higgins, Rosalee Hardin, the Board, and the amazing team of Wild Goose volunteers deserve special thanks for their tremendous work this year. I'm already looking forward to next ...

 

A less vitriolic stance ...

An excellent piece by Molly Ball on shifting attitudes among American Christians towards their LGBT neighbors ...

 

A 77-Year-Old Reader Writes

I just finished reading "Why did Jesus,Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad cross the road." To use a Quaker phrase "It spoke to my condition." I am a retired military chaplain, an Anglican priest, and a sometime mentor of EfM and a reading group. We will be tackling your book in October.

Why did the book speak to me? Because as a chaplain [in two different armies, US and Canadian] I was in the interesting position of being responsible for everyone in my unit except Roman Catholics, who had their own priests. That, by the way does not mean that I would turn them down if they came to me with a problem, but it was a separation that was recognized "officially". I was, at various times, "the Gentile rabbi", as well as working with many non or "a" religious members and families. Your comments about "us" and "thems" and about hospitality instead of hostility really struck home.

I am also a third generation clergy person, both Grandfathers, both mother and father, all of whom had different persuasions. One grandfather worked with E. Stanley Jones in India as the head of the Student Christian Movement for China, Japan and India. I hadn't heard that name for a number of years but it brought back memories. I was strongly influenced by Quakerism although raised in a Congregational [UCC] church and became an Episcopalian during seminary at PSR by going across the street to Evensong at CDSP in Berkeley. Along the way I did advanced work in History and a ThM at the Jesuit faculty of Regis College at the University of Toronto School of Theology. Last year our group also spent several months reading "Paradoxy" by Ken Howard.

I don't really have any questions, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated your book, that it rang all the right kinds of bells for me and even though I am 77, it truly spoke to themes that have tracked me for years, across several continents and a lot of countries. I think you have caught an image of the message of Jesus that the early "followers on the Way" would recognize and some of us latecomers are trying to catch in our own lives. Cheers ...


Thanks so much for your note. Your story - crossing all kinds of boundaries in all kinds of ways - is the new reality so many of us experience. I'm really glad you enjoyed the book, and your encouragement means a lot to me.

 

Q & R: One of the most common questions I receive ...

Here's the Q:

Just finished your book. It REALLY spoke to me. It's where I'm headed in my life's journey.

That said I fear that I may be quite alone the closer I get to this transformation. The church i attend is nowhere close to such a paradigm shift (and they are far from mainstream). Living out this new way of thinking is a bit alienating...thoughts?

I know you are busy, I just hope you can spare me a minute.

I just moved to [California]. In Australia, we had a community and like-minded friends, and navigating our christianity outside of traditional church models was a great adventure.

Now we are in the US and desperate to find a community of open-minded Christians We have visited several churches and every time are shocked by their fundamental stance on doctrine. We've just about given up on finding an open-minded, missional congregation, but we have no community around us either.

Do you know any communities in this area you can recommend to us?
Thank you, and blessings,

Here's the R:
Here's the good news: there are so many people out there who are like you, seeking an "open-minded, missional congregation." If we could help them find each other, we might have a movement on our hands.

Here's the bad news: I know of now site that helps people find each other in this way.

But here's some more good news: this could be one of the goals of an initiative I'm trying to help get started. More information here. (And yes, your help is still greatly needed!)

And here's some more bad news: there are open-minded churches that aren't very missional, and missional churches that aren't very open-minded. But I know there are growing numbers of churches that are both, and I expect that number to grow significantly in the coming years. In the short run, I think it's wisest to seek an open-minded congregation where there will be a missional subset, and to do that, I'd look in your area for a) one of the peace churches (anabaptist, quaker, etc.), b) a mainline church that is active in the community, c) an emergent cohort, or d) a new monastic community.

Here's some final good news. If there's nothing in your area in this regard, you can start something. The book I'm finishing up right now should be an asset in that possibility.

 

Q & R: Naked on audio?

Here's the Q:

I hope you don't mind me emailing this to your team but I am not sure where to look next! I love in the north of England in a lovely city called xx. I am just coming to the end of reading your excellent book 'Naked Spirituality', which was recommended to me by someone who thought that it might encourage me and give me a different perspective on things that I am finding rather frustrating about a life of faith. Indeed it is and I feel like I'm only scraping the surface.

Anyway, a relative is a lovely lady, who is ordained. She is great to chat to, particularly about matters of faith, and gets frustrated with simplistic answers to life's challenges and likes to ask difficult questions of God, the Church and life. I saw her today and was telling her about your book, which I think she would love (particularly the 'Perplexity' section). However, she is unable to read well so I have been on an Internet mission to find the audio book.

However, so far I have had no success. None from a UK or US company that I can find.

Would you be so kind as to point me in the right direction or could I purchase one from you directly?


Here's the R:
I wish I could explain why some books are converted into audio and others aren't ... but I really don't know. For some reason, Naked Spirituality wasn't. I'm hoping we can do something about that in the future ... but for now, it's only in print. I'm sorry! Your relative might enjoy my newest book, which is available in audio format.

 

Home from Wild Goose ...

What a weekend. Rain. Sun. Laughter. Tears. Amazing music. The sounds of the French Broad River and a thousand katydids. One amazing conversation after another. The honor and pleasure of being interviewed by Krista Tippett of On Being on NPR. Seeing and spending time with dear lifelong friends from the beautiful church in Maryland that was so formative in my life. Hanging out with once-a-year-friends (a special category) with whom you pick up one year right where you left off the last. Hearing encouraging stories. Hearing heartbreaking stories. Watching a dream become a reality. You really should be there next year.

Three highlights (of so many) -
- Getting to know and work with Ani Zonneveld. If you don't know her, her music, or her inspiring leadership in "emerging islam" ... you should investigate.

- Hearing and hanging out with my roommates, Rich Cizik and John Dear.
I first met Richard Cizik in 2004 at the Sandy Cove conference on the environment, and have met him several times since. But last weekend I got to hear him both in public and private, telling the story of what he has experienced over the last several years in bringing to birth the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Rich and I share all the ups and downs of an Evangelical heritage, and he is an inspiring human being.

I have long been an admirer of John Dear, another inspiring human being. (Not the tractor guy, the Jesuit peace guy ...) I had met John several times, and read his autobiography and some of his books, but I hadn't heard him speak or had time just to take a walk and get acquainted. His talk at Wild Goose on what Christians can learn from Gandhi was spectacular. You can read many of John's articles here ... and you should pick up his books too. His book Jesus the Rebel is on the same wavelength as my book The Secret Message of Jesus. I have the feeling that our paths will cross more often in the future.

That's Wild Goose in a nutshell - having an Evangelical activist and a Jesuit activist as roommates.

- Seeing Krista Tippett in action. I've been a fan of Krista's since the first time I heard her NPR show On Faith, which later morphed into On Being, which I listen to "religiously." In a world where we all so often wince when people speak of faith and religion, Krista creates a space that somehow integrates reverence, humility, humor, and humanity ... to speak of things of which we must speak.

10,001 thanks to Gareth Higgins and Rosalee Hardin and all the staff, Board, and especially the amazing volunteers that made Wild Goose possible.

 

It's about love.

Each summer I have the pleasure of volunteering as a sea turtle monitor here in SW Florida where I live. There are thousands of us around the world who keep track of where sea turtles nest and who in various ways protect and gather data on sea turtles so they can be saved from human destruction ... through poachers, pollution, "by-catch," habitat destruction, and climate change.

Some of us are organized by government agencies, and others of us live in states where the government doesn't really care much about monitoring or protecting, so we are organized through non-profit/non-governmental groups. Here's a great story about a scientist who is working to protect sea turtles in Mexico (be forewarned - there are some disturbing images along with majestic ones):
http://bcove.me/mox67mr4
Last week here in SW Florida, we excavated a hatched nest of a loggerhead sea turtle that had one little guy stuck at the bottom.
lefty.jpeg
We were able to set him free to join his 98 siblings who successfully hatched the night before. Wherever you live, there are habitats, watersheds, and species that need some human advocates ... I hope you'll find one to love.

 

Links Roundup

I've been with Network of Biblical Storytellers this week, and will be at Wild Goose Festival this weekend. It's still not too late for you to join us in North Carolina!

You'll find a beautiful Christian reflection on sharing a meal with Muslims during Ramadan here. Some of the comments make clear how much articles like these are needed ... a need I hope my latest book (which comes out in paperback in September) contributes.

If you don't know about the brilliant work of Jason Derr, you should. Here's an introduction.

 

Mesa, Bangkok, and you ...

For my many friends and co-conspirators in the emergent, missional, and progressive christianity conversations ... i just learned that the "early-bird" registration rate for an important gathering in October in Thailand has been extended. It's not cheap to get there, and it's a long flight, but if you feel called to be part of this ... you'll find more information here.

 

Scapegoating 101

An interpretation of Russian politics, with lessons for all. (Thx Ted S!)
Quotable:

The second easiest thing has been to demonize the “Other,” creating an internal enemy for everyone to fear. Jews are out – Putin, who values loyalty above all, has had an affinity for Jews since childhood, when he was reportedly saved from being beaten up by street kids by a Jewish neighbor. Migrants are out – Russia needs millions of them in order to carry out the mass infrastructure projects that the country needs to keep its economy afloat; and the nationalist card is simply too dangerous to play with anyway. Who’s left? Gays.

Demonizing gays allows Putin to tell the “heartland”: I will protect you and your ‘traditional’ families, you are the real Russia. It also grows suspicion of the liberal opposition, presented as fundamentally “unRussian” as they stand up increasingly for gay rights amid Putin’s growing crackdown. And finally, it allows Russia to do what it does best these days: present itself as Not The West.

It is no accident that Russia is stripping away gay rights as (popular and legal) support for gay marriage in the US and Europe grows. The West is decadent, permissive, and doomed to orgiastic decline. As Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently put it: gay marriage is a “dangerous apocalyptic system” that leads a nation “on a path of self-destruction.”

And then there is Russia – not really standing for anything, but standing against a whole lot: gays, liberals, the West. It’s the strategy that Putin has chosen for his own survival.

“I think the most ridiculous questions come up during the decay of an empire,” said Anton Krasovsky, a prominent Russian journalist recently fired for being gay, when asked why the “gay question” had suddenly emerged in Russia. “It’s like when Judeo-Christians were fed to the lions in 3rd century Rome – it’s just the sunset of the empire.”

 

Links Roundup

For all my Pentecostal friends, here is a website you should know about.

For my Catholic friends - this on the Conservative Catholic and Religious Right alliance ... and this on the new Pope's less strident rhetoric about gay people ... should be of interest.

For my Orthodox friends - you should be aware of the good work of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. They'll be gathering in DC this October.

Here's an update on the Dream 9 from Red Letter Christians ... especially for American readers.

Friends in the UK - my friend Michael Hardin plans to be on your side of the pond in October-November this fall. Michael is one of the world's top teachers of Rene Girard's mimetic theory. He's been a big influence on me and I recommend him highly. If you'd like to have him speak when he's in the UK, you can contact him here: http://www.preachingpeace.org/

Environmental friends - this beautiful and touching documentary deserves your attention.

Finally, for everybody - Read the Spirit has brought together several interviews with me - I'm a big fan of their work, and I think you'll enjoy these resources.

 

Well done, Rick and Kay Warren

Since I first heard him speak (I think it was around 1984?), I've had great respect for Rick Warren. His positive attitude, his practical focus, his amazing consistency - they have been an inspiration to me. Rick played a big part in my decision to leave higher education and become a pastor (arguably an even higher form of education) back in the mid-80's. Whenever we've met, I have experienced Rick as a good and gracious man.

I'm deeply impressed by the way he is turning the tragedy of his son's death into a motivation for service, focusing his unparalleled energies on the mission of removing the stigma from mental illness. As someone with a lot of mental illness in my circle of family and friends, I'm grateful that Rick will be leading the way in this important mission.
http://swampland.time.com/2013/07/28/rick-warren-preaches-first-sermon-since-his-sons-suicide/#ixzz2aLgz1ek6
Well done, Rick and Kay. Well done. (If I can be of help in any way in your ongoing work, just let me know.)

 

"...The only way to change is to break"

Some great insights from Tony Lorenzen:

http://sunflowerchalice.com/2013/07/17/resilience-and-the-spirituality-of-change/

Church leaders certainly need to be able to address dysfunction and conflict. It almost seems, however, that our current focus in leadership training assumes sickness is the normative state of our congregational systems. Perhaps resiliency thinking can shift the focus on this just a bit. Perhaps the emphasis can now be about teaching change, failure, risk, and adventure as an intrinsic part of the journey. Thus the systems management and conflict resolution become a way to navigate the ups and downs of church life, not only a way to fix what is broken. Perhaps we can shift towards teaching these things as a way to enable congregations to adapt and bounce back from conflicts, disruptions and controversy.

Spiritual writer Mark Nepo tells a story about a glass blower that emphasizes the importance of resiliency. “The glassblower knows,” he says, “that while in the heat of beginning, any shape is possible. Once hardened, the only way to change is to break.”

 

About Egypt

I have great respect for the work of Muslim intellectual Dalia Mogahed, co-author with John Esposito of Who Speaks for Islam, an incredibly important book.

The post below is important for several reasons. Obviously, it sheds important light on the dangerous situation in Egypt, especially the stage-management being planned by the military junta, and the subversion of democracy in the name of democracy. It also gives important background on Egyptian prisons (not Afghan caves) as the conceptual birthplace of Al Queda.
Here's the article:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dalia-mogahed/winning-egypts-long-war-w_b_3655072.html

But it is equally interesting to "eavesdrop" on a wise and moderate Muslim voice interacting with someone for whom violence and extremism are becoming more attractive. This reminds me of many conversations I've observed among my fellow Christians.
Quotable (from a social media exchange between Dalia and an Egyptian):

Ali: "They're pushing us to be extremists, if they kept arresting pres. Morsy & refuse every democratic process”
I responded in four parts:
"1. No one can force us to extremism. We have a choice. We must choose Islamic ethics over self defeating impulse. 1/4"
"2. Nothing would please your enemies more. Perfect pretense for mass repression and political exclusion. Choose wisdom. 2/4"
"3. Turning to extremism dishonors the blood of the martyrs. 3/4"
"4. Remember God said 'don't let a people's hatred of you cause you to be unjust.' God rewards patience. 4/4"

Ali:
"He also said "And if you punish an enemy, punish proportionally to that which you were harmed”[1]"

Me:
"Yes, within what is permitted. Responding in like in this case is wrong and unwise. Results disastrous."

Ali:
"We are dying anyway, u should advise the one who kill not the victim"

Me:
"I have. See my timeline. They wish for nothing more than a pretense for more repression. Don't give it to them."

Dalia Mogahed's voice here reminds me of the fine line Jesus walked in the Gospels, between the Sadducees and priestly allies of the Roman regime on the one hand, and the Zealots and Pharisees on the other. She is not counseling passive compliance with injustice, nor is she counseling violent reaction. She's counseling a path of courageous wisdom ...

 

A reader writes:evolving

Halfway through "A New Kind of Christianity" and I had to stop and contact you. I know I'm learning to "embrace the mystery" and be okay with questions; however your book is giving me answers to all kinds of questions I had! It's wonderful you're using your God-given mind to show seekers like me that there are answers, or better yet alternatives, to the hard questions we ask. One by one you seem to hit all the objections I've had to the God I've been taught. I thank you so much. I believe I'm evolving, just as the way you talk about Christianity evolving, to a deeper knowledge of how God wants us to live. Thanks for helping me on that journey.
So glad you're finding help in the book. Thanks for writing!
 

Jewish Nationalism and Christian Theology - a Jewish perspective

My friend Robert Cohen writes an important piece for all who care about peace in the Middle East, here. Quotable:

Jews and Christians enjoy tremendous common ground and can build on their shared understanding of a universal God concerned for all of his creation and who demands of us that we love our neighbour and pursue an agenda of justice. Anything done in the name of Christianity or Judaism that is an affront to that calling must be clearly identified or else both traditions are fatally undermined.

Christian partners in Jewish dialogue must acknowledge the very real connection of Judaism with the Holy Land through Jewish prayer, festivals and sacred mythology. On that basis, Israel should be seen as a 'homeland' of Jewish heritage. But that doesn't mean accepting that Zionism is integral to Judaism or that the Jewish population of Israel has the right to create exclusive rights for itself and deny human rights to others.

The return to Jewish nationalism has led the Jewish people down an ethical cul-de-sac. The history that has taken us to this point needs to be understood and acknowledged but the rightness of its outcome must be challenged. To navigate our way out will require a brave dialogue with the Palestinians that turns Israel from a 'Jewish Democracy' to a 'Human Democracy'. Meanwhile, we need sympathetic Christian partners who will help us to reclaim the very values that their own faith is built upon.

 

Q & R: Progressive Revelation ... or Regressive?

Here's the Q:

I will try to keep this note as brief as possible, but my comment requires providing you with a brief personal background for context: I was raised in a strong fundamentalist home, where I learned all about biblical inerrancy, sola scriptura, and so forth. I accepted this, and because I attributed such importance to the Bible, I determined that I wanted to understand it as best I could. I began studying it in earnest during my undergraduate years (at [a prominent Evangelical university], where the excellent Bible faculty introduced me to biblical criticism) and then went on to get a master's (at [a prominent Catholic university]) and Ph.D. ([at a top secular university]) in Hebrew Bible. During this time I underwent a major paradigm shift in how I view the Bible, which could be described almost perfectly in your terms: I transitioned from a constitutional to a conversational understanding. (Incidentally, I lead church-based Bible studies when possible, and long before encountering your work I used the terminology of "revelation through conversation." I guess I'm not as innovative as I thought...)

Anyway, although theological questions have always driven me personally, my own serious work as a scholar has always been almost entirely historical. Recently, however, a friend introduced me to your A New Kind of Christianity, which I appreciate immensely. It essentially describes my theological/intellectual journey of the past decade, and it has been a fruitful journey that I hope many others take (though perhaps more rapidly and without having to make a career of it). But, as a biblicist, there's one part of your argument that I cannot accept—even though I very much want to. In your discussion of the God question, you respond to objections to the atrocities in which God partakes in the OT by providing an evolutionary model of the human conception of God. By playing the "progressive understanding" card you essentially subjugate the texts that we don't care for much to the NT picture of Jesus, whom we do like a lot. (I apologize for oversimplifying.) I have tried to interpret the Bible similarly, but in the end I find it unsatisfactory because the biblical authors don't always evolve in the right direction. In other words, sometimes they seem to devolve.

Perhaps the best example comes from your following chapters, on Jesus: It seems like some of the latest texts in all Scripture are the apocalyptic bits of the New Testament, for example, Matt 24-25 and Revelation. Here we see a Jesus who is completely out of character with the Jesus of the bulk of the gospels—and, I expect, the historical Jesus—one who is up for smiting the unjust and sending people to eternal punishment. I am not at all persuaded by those who read Revelation non-violently. It comes from a persecuted people who want their oppressors overthrown and punished.

But since I think we disagree on how Revelation should be interpreted, and since I am a far cry from an expert on the New Testament, let me provide an example from within my bailiwick: the law and the prophets. One of the major "discoveries" of biblical scholarship in the last century or so has been the recognition that the law as a historical phenomenon in Israel postdates the prophets. It seems that cries for social justice of Amos, Isaiah, and others were not in response to rampant legalism, as is often thought. If anything, it seems like the legal reforms of Ezra and friends were an attempt to squelch the more tolerant views that prevailed before. This is seriously problematic to a biblical interpretation based on progressive understanding. To cite one example: In the Hebrew Bible we have various texts that welcome foreigners and treat "Israel" as a community of faith, not an ethnic community. One thinks of Elisha with Naaman and Gehazi, Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, Rahab juxtaposed with Achan, etc. On the other hand, we have horrific xenophobic texts, such as the narrative of Phinehas in Num 25 or God's stipulations in Deut 7. It would be great to explain this through your model, except that the xenophobic texts were created in a response to the more palatable, accepting texts. The Israelites' views on this matter, for a while anyway, got significantly worse.

There are several other examples of this throughout the Bible, but this note is already long enough. I'm not sure I actually have a question, except perhaps—how would you respond to this? By the way, I do not have a good answer myself. Dealing with the awful texts of the Bible in a satisfactory way is something that I have struggled to do ever since I began to investigate the Bible carefully, but I fear I have made little progress. I have tried the evolutionary model that you espouse, but I don't think it works.

I hope this doesn't come off as too critical. I'm on board with most of your points. I think you are doing terrific work, and I wish you all the best. I would love any feedback you might have, though I'm certain you are a busy man.

Here's the R: Thanks so much for your note. You raise a number of important specific issues (such as how we deal with Matthew 24-25 and Revelation), but let me first focus on the big question: that the so-called progressive revelation model doesn't fit the best critical scholarship.

In short, I think you're right. That's one reason I try to avoid the term "progressive revelation." The idea of a linear or quasi-linear evolutionary process needs to be replaced with a more dialectic process, where there are two main lines of thought from near the beginning:

A: God created the world as good, and all people (and creatures) are beloved by the Creator. Evil arises from human beings - individuals and groups - failing to rightly honor the goodness of their fellow creatures.
B. The world is divided into the good - us - and the evil - them. We have been granted blessings and life, and they deserve condemnation and death.

If that's the case, then the people sometimes "vote" A and sometimes B. Jesus comes along and votes A. For us to be Christians would mean (among other things) we believe Jesus was right in that assessment.

I think two examples from contemporary culture illustrate how the process works.

First, The US has had an argument similar to the one I propose we find in the Bible:

A. God has created all people equal and endowed all with certain inalienable rights.
B. God has created all white, heterosexual men equal, and everyone else - not so much.

In the 1960's, A made major advances. With Barack Obama's election, even more so. But in the intervening years, especially as white male hegemony has lost ground, we see a resurgence of B - evidenced by attempts at voter suppression, incarceration as "the new Jim Crow," etc. (BTW - just this morning I received a racist email from a white South African, saying that the only mistake of the Afrikaners was that they didn't commit genocide when they had the chance. And last week, some Italians threw bananas at an elected official of African descent, imitating the racist behavior of some Italian soccer fans in recent years.)

Second, the Catholic Church boldly surged ahead through Vatican II. But recent decades evidenced an accelerating retrenchment and regression. Perhaps the new pope will help regain lost ground. Time will tell.

So - even if a group chooses "A," its descendants may opt for "B." The old temptation to racial, religious, caste, class, or national supremacy is always an option ... which is one reason (of many) why Jesus' life and teaching are always needed. Let me know how that works for you. I'll have to come back to Matt 24-25 and Revelation another time.

One more thing. I'm just finishing the first draft of my next book, which will be called We Make the Road By Walking: A Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. It is written in the form of 52+ sermons that attempt to give a coherent overview from Genesis to Revelation. Working on this challenging project has reinforced to me even more powerfully how important the question you're raising is. We need to articulate a better way of reading the Bible; otherwise, it will be used in the future as it has been in the past as a divine justification for "B."

 

War and peace ...

Fascinating new finding on war in human history ...
Quotable:

The findings, Soderberg said, challenge "the idea that war was ever-present in our ancestral past."

The study, "paints another picture where the quarrels and aggression were primarily about interpersonal motives instead of groups fighting against each other," said Soderberg.


 

More on Trayvon Martin

When I posted on the Trayvon Martin case a few weeks back, I expected I would receive a lot of push-back. I was a little surprised about how few people seemed to be responding to what I actually said. I suppose whenever our preferred narrative is challenged, we human beings tend to react somewhat ... reactively.

Anyway, Andrea Smith, a scholar and activist I met through NAITTS, shared the following in an email. I thought it was so helpful that I asked permission to share it. I hope you'll help disseminate her important insights:

Florida’s standard [for jury instructions] is the same as the majority of states. The standard is most states is that no one has a duty to retreat if they reasonably believe their life is in danger.... Except for in the state of Ohio, once the defense introduces any evidence of possible self-defense, the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt (Ohio, situates self-defense as an affirmative defense to be proven by the defendant). So ... Florida’s position is the majority and not the minority position in the United States. Thus, the actual thing that is usually attacked in self-defense is not whether someone retreated, but whether one had a “reasonable” belief. Here, it should have been an “unreasonable belief” in which case, this would have been imperfect self-defense which is voluntary manslaughter. The problem is, what gets constituted as “reasonable belief” is very much based on race, gender and class.
The problem with the legal reform strategy that as the case of Marissa Alexander demonstrates, one cannot presume that laws are uniformly applied. The fiction of legal equality presumes that all peoples are equally situated within this country. Gender, Racial and class distinctions are presumed to be in the realm of “personal” an “private” bias that is supposed to beyond the reach of the law. As the long as the law claims to be neutral, it is not concerned if individuals or systems inequitably apply the law. In fact, as seen in a multitude of Supreme Court cases on discrimination, the law is expressly prohibited from taking systemic inequality into consideration.
Thus, while self-defense laws are interpreted generously when applied to white men who feel threatened by Black men or men of color, it is applied very narrowly to women, particularly women of color who are trying to protected themselves in domestic violence cases. Compare the case of Anthony Simon with Peggy Stewart. Anthony Simon shot and killed his neighbor, Steffen Wong in an unprovoked attack in 1982. His claim of self-defense rested on the ground that because Wong was Asian, Simon was afraid he must know martial arts. Simon was acquitted.

Peggy Stewart, meanwhile was systematically tortured and beaten by her husband. Her husband sexually abused her daughters and put a shotgun to Peggy’s head when she tried to protect her daughters. When she killed her husband, the State Supreme Court of Kansas found she did not have adequate grounds to claim self-defense.

A simple change in self-defense standards will not change the systemic inequity. Thus in terms of short-term legal strategies, it might be more useful to call for an overhaul of U.S. discrimination law. Now, it only addresses cases of discriminatory intent. Instead, we can call on the U.S. to at the very least be consistent with international human rights standards and address discriminatory impact. In addition, currently, the state only has a negative duty to avoid engaging in acts of discrimination. We could call on the U.S to recognize international legal standards that mandate that states take proactive measures to end discrimination.

 

links roundup

A sage article about Egypt by John Esposito. Quotable:

The Arab uprisings signaled a desire for a new way forward, an overthrow of the established order in many Arab countries of authoritarian governments, and a struggle to establish a new kind of democracy. A military-backed coup is clearly a return to the past. Egypt’s first democratically elected president was bound to make mistakes, due to the "democratic deficit" in both systems and culture as a result of decades of authoritarian rule.

And here's an excellent interview with John on Christianity and Islam.

Here's another positive review of the book Men Pray to which I wrote the introduction.

Here's a live-stream interview I did with Living Stream recently.

 

An International Conversation

For several years, I've had a front-row seat watching parallel networks developing in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America. Although these networks are different in many ways, they also have much in common, in that they bring together a new generation of Christian leaders who are pioneering new paths of Christian formation, identity, theology, and mission. The name "mesa" - meaning "table" in Spanish - was chosen as the name for a central hub connecting these networks. After several years of growing connection through the internet, phone calls, skype, and in-person visits, representatives from these networks are coming together later this year. Catholic and Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Mainline, descendants of the colonized and the colonizers, those coming together share a commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, centered in his good news of the reign or commonwealth of God, expressed as good news to the poor and vulnerable.

As an expression of that shared commitment, our time will begin with a shared experience with local farmers, working with them in the rice fields. Then we will spend a day in silence and prayer, and then we will move into conversation together.

Grace and I will be there, and there is space for a limited number of others who feel called to support and encourage this global collaborative. If you feel a pull in your heart to be part of this, you can learn more here and here.

October 24-30 in Bangkok, Thailand

Tickets A, B, C and D commences 24 October, 2013 - Limited to 40 people.
In the spirit of Mesa we will work together alongside the local people in their rice fields during the day as a basis for our prayer and conversation. Please plan to arrive to Bangkok airport no later than 12 noon on Thursday 24 October to allow time to clear customs and join our 2pm bus to Lopburi. Here we will be hosted by the local community for two nights. If you arrive the night before we will suggest local hotels where you can make your own arrangements to stay. Bangkok airport is easily located with train access to the city.
We will then travel to Pattaya for a day of prayer followed by conversation and friendship. The agenda will be shaped by participants and the survey undertaken by those who have expressed interest in these gatherings.
We will conclude at dinner on the 30th of November. Breakfast will be provided on the 31st for those who require it. The conference bus will depart Pattaya for the airport 8:30am on Thursday 31 November and you will be able to catch planes from Bangkok airport departing from 12 noon onwards.
We will be staying in Pattaya in twin share rooms. There are a limited number of single rooms available for an additional cost.
Tickets E, F and G
Commences 26 October, 2013
Join the group following our time in Lopburi for a day of prayer followed by conversation and friendship. Please plan to arrive to Bangkok airport no later than 8:30 am on 26 October to allow time to clear customs and join our10:30am bus to Pattaya. If you arrive the night before we will suggest local hotels where you can make your own arrangements to stay. Bangkok airport is easily located with train access to the city.
The agenda will be shaped by participants and the survey undertaken by those who have expressed interest in these gatherings.
We will conclude at dinner on the 30th of November. Breakfast will be provided on the 31st for those who require it. The conference bus will depart Pattaya for the airport 8:30am on Thursday 31 November and you will be able to catch planes from Bangkok airport departing from 12 noon onwards. Anyone wishing to depart earlier will need to make their own arrangements.
We will be staying in Pattaya in twin share rooms.
The cost includes all meals, transfers and accomodation.
Prices are in $US

There is no easy way to price an event such as this. We have no external funding sources for this event. We are seeking to subsidise those from the majority world. At the same time we realise that many people who may wish to attend, choose to live simply or are from the minority world but live the majority world and some countries have 'dual' economies with some living in majority world circumstances and some minority. We basically trust you! Please contact us if you have any questions.You can find the link to the World Factbook which list per person purchasing power at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html
If you are able to make a donation to assist others to participate you can do so at https://www.egivingsystems.org/19113 and choosing Mesa Network as the purpose of the gift.
For more information please see our website http://www.mesa-friends.org/
Optional Add-on - Limited to 10 people
Join Rachel Gobel from The SOLD Project www.thesoldproject.org. and travel to northern Thailand to see their work and the work of other agencies to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children and to share their stories to empower creative, compassionate people to act.

 

In sea turtle news ...

God loves all creatures ... and all of us get to join God in loving at least some of them. Some of us specialize in dogs or cats ... others specialize in birds or elephants or even the lowly turtle. Where I live in SW Florida, we have loggerhead and kemp's ridley sea turtles nesting on our beaches. Another reason to love NPR - they cover turtle news.

 

Humbled and honored

I was humbled and honored to receive the Hero of Hope award from Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX. Here's the video they showed (just over 3 minutes) ...

Hero of Hope 2013 - Brian McLaren from CoHTV on Vimeo.


And here's my sermon (about 16 minutes):

What Does Salvation Mean? - Rev. Brian D. McLaren, 2013 Hero of Hope from CoHTV on Vimeo.

 

Big Consequences. Big Opportunities. Big Choices.

I don't often engage in prediction, but here's one I can venture to make, not as prognostication, but as warning and call to action. American Christians of all denominations and races are going to choose between four widely diverging paths in the decade ahead.

The first road - wide and well-paved - invites its travelers to double down on the subtly morphing agenda of the Religious Right. Under a so-called pro-life, pro-family, pro-security, anti-debt, anti-immigrant flag, people on this road will be enlisted to return the US to the glorious old America they or their grandparents knew and loved: the rural or small-town America of the Old South in the pre-Civil Rights era.

Camouflaged beneath the heart-warming rhetoric of a seemingly moral, patriotic, and traditional agenda, many will be tricked into supporting a covert agenda reflecting a very different morality:

- maintaining privilege for a shrinking White majority at the expense of everyone else
- plundering the environment and thus stealing health and well-being from future generations
- weakening public education
- continuing a historic transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor people to the super-elite at the top of the economic pyramid
- weakening democracy through gerrymandering and voter suppression
- and more

The second road is even broader and smoother than the first. On this highway, moderates will want to distance themselves - at least slightly - from what their brethren to the right are doing to their Catholic and Protestant Christian identities - driving away younger generations, making outreach nearly impossible, attracting only aggressive and fearful people who want a religious justification for their reactive ideologies. As moderates become increasingly uncomfortable with this drift, they will take a road that they claim is "spiritual" and a-political. But contrary to their intention, their silence will mean tacit approval for the momentum built by their brethren to the right. But silence or very tepid critique will be the best they can muster, because they can't afford to criticize or break from their brethren to the right for fear of splitting churches and losing members and donations.

The third road will be taken by those who decide that religious engagement with public policy is a lost cause, spoiled by the Religious Right. They will take the exit ramp to another highway - that of the secular left. This is an old road in need of much repair, but more and more are taking it, and new lanes are under construction now.

There's a fourth road ... and it's being pioneered by Christians in many places - from Immokalee, Florida, to North Carolina to a bus full of nuns that traveled around the country, where leaders like Rev. Dr. William Barber are stepping out to chart a new course. Only people with courage and determination can choose this option because it is an uphill and difficult path. Here's the kind of vision (from Rev. Dr. William Barber) that attracts people to this road ...

Love and justice have never lost. Been crucified and beat up, but we’re on the right side of history. When you push people down, they’re going to spread out and come up. It would seem that these folk would learn that, but when you’re blinded by extremism and power and greed, you can’t see the callousness of your actions.

The worst kind of abuse is the abuse of power. But if the Biblical story is about anything, it’s that Goliath only has a day. The Pharaoh only has a limited time. The non-violent and the people of deep faith always transform history. And we’ll do it again, right here in North Carolina.

Big consequences. Big opportunities. Big choices.

 

I'll be in Dallas this weekend ...

Speaking at Life in the Trinity Saturday (You're invited) -

And at Cathedral of Hope Sunday. (You're invited there too!)

 

Wise Advice for Western Theologians

From a Middle Eastern theologian. Quotable:

The first [example] is the sloppy phrase of 'contextual theology' used for the writings of non-Western Christians. Works of African, Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern theologians are designated as ‘contextual’ whereas works of British or American theologians are marked as ‘theology’, as if they were not also products of their context, as if they do theology outside of parameters of a language, culture and preferred methodologies of interpretation and application. This grants Western theology a supra-contextual status and relegates non-Western theology to an inferior, semi-theology status. Obviously, such a classification is not empirical, but merely a sad reflection of how Western Christians see themselves in relation to the rest of the world.

 

Q & R: Responding Charitably

Here's the Q:

Thanks for posting this on your blog. If you ever have the chance, I could use some direction on learning to respond charitably to fellow Christians who write/say hurtful things that seem to be damaging to the cause of Christ. I was very humbled by the non-defensive posture you take in conversation as evinced in WDJMBMCTR. I'm about 50/50 voice to voice or person to person, but have a much poorer track record in the blogosphere (i.e., commenting/interacting online).

Any light you can shed on the subject matter would be great. Thanks for all you do.


Here's the R:
This question deserves a lot more than a short blog post. But here are five quick thoughts.
1. Sometimes, no response is needed. People are expressing their opinion, which they are free to do. Sadly, sometimes they disguise that opinion as fact. That is especially hurtful when they declare your motives. (I think of one high-profile author who disagreed with my interpretation of Scripture, so his proclamation? "Brian hates the Bible." Sheesh.) To me, this is primarily a private, spiritual matter - something we process with God when we pray, "Forgive us our wrongs as we forgive those who wrong us." It's not something that needs to be dealt with in public discourse.

Often, especially online, people react in your post to things you never actually said. I felt that about my recent post on the Trayvon Martin verdict that got picked up a sojo.net and a few other places. We all could be kept busy 24/7 doing nothing more than correcting others' non-sequiters, inartful reading, and unwarranted conclusions (and others could do the same for us). When this occurs, if we respond at all, it's wise, I think, to agree with them where you can rather than pointing out where they mistakenly disagreed with you, since the latter often engenders defensiveness. But again, I usually choose not to respond at all.
2. It is important to choose wisely in who will be your conversation partners. Some people are paid to represent a cause or view, and for them to engage in honest, constructive dialogue would in a sense violate their contract. Their paid job is to advocate, not communicate. Often, off-line private communication is best with people in this category. When they're doing their job, they provide a lot of material for you to work with - to say, "Some people say ... but here's how I see it.... and here's why."
3. When responding to criticism, I think it's important to treat your critic as you wish your critic had treated you. In other words - far more important than you defending yourself (a dangerous enterprise) is you modeling a better way of communication. Sometimes a clarifying comment helps - offered non-defensively. Instead of, 'You misrepresented me,' something like, "I want to clarify my actual perspective on this...."
4. Often, I find the most realistic goal in an interchange to achieve disagreement agreeably. In other words, for you to be able to express your counterpart's view in words your counterpart can say, "Yes, that's what I believe," and vice versa. This, to me, is an expression of loving your neighbor as yourself.
5. So often, our communication efforts are compromised by our fear of losing. I think we would be wise to cultivate another fear - a fear of winning at our counterpart's expense. Even though I think many ideas are destructive and need to be confronted directly, I never want to hurt the person who holds those ideas. I would like to be able to feel a sincere smile on my face when I see a conversation partner in person ... because I have reached a place in my heart where I truly love and like the person with whom I disagree.

So - those are some starters. I must quickly say that I have only reached these suggestions because I have failed at fulfilling them too often. In other words, I arrived at these conclusions through trial and error, and continue to try and err every day. But that's life!


 

Trayvon and George: A Tale of Two Americas

The recent “not guilty” verdict out of Sanford, FL, reflects the principle of the American legal system that if there is reasonable doubt, courts will err on the side of innocence. I dispute neither the principle nor the decision by the jury. But that doesn't leave me satisfied about the outcome.

Jesus said that true justice exceeds that of “the scribes and Pharisees” - and the same could be said of the prosecution and defense. Legal justice seeks only to assign guilt or innocence. Holistic justice works for the life, liberty, and well-being of all. And it especially works for reconciliation between the two Americas that can be identified by their reaction to the case.

One America now has more reason to believe that their sons can be presumed guilty until proven innocent without a reasonable doubt when they’re walking down the street armed only with Skittles and an iced tea.

The other America now has more reason to believe that they can get away with murder, or something close to it, as long as the victim is young and black and wearing a hoodie.

One America now has less reason to believe that their sons will have equal protection under the law.

The other America is more secure in its right to “stand its ground” and will be even more determined to carry concealed weapons - and use them.

One America is threatened by the "reasonable doubt" that protects the other.

One America watches as the other America expands their gun rights while reducing protections for its own voting rights.

The other America sincerely believes their own gun rights are more threatened than their counterparts’ voting rights.

One America feels its story is always told beginning with point two - in this case, with an unarmed teenager in an altercation, not with point one, an armed adult pursuing an unarmed teenager.

The other America considers point one irrelevant to the case, and therefore not worth talking about.

One America is scandalized that an armed adult would assess as a threat an innocent, unarmed teenager walking down the street.

The other America is scandalized that anyone would consider the armed adult as anything other than innocent and justified in that assessment.

Members of both Americas are coming together to form an emerging America that wants something better for all Americans. That emerging America wants us to deal deeply and honestly with our largely untreated, unacknowledged American original sin: a cocktail of white privilege, manifest destiny, and racism - in both its personal and institutional forms.

That emerging America believes that the best world is one where people multiply plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears. Or in contemporary terms - one where people multiply community playgrounds and parks, not guns and drones.

That emerging America wants to bring people of all races, religions, regions, parties, and classes together in a common pursuit: a nation and world where there is equal liberty and justice for all.

Emerging America is disgusted by political parties that win by dividing America through wedge issues, and then can blame the other side when they have rendered the nation so polarized as to be ungovernable.

Emerging America is equally disgusted by cable channels and religious organizations that collude with those political parties at every turn - because fear and wedge-ry not only win elections, they rake in profits.

Emerging America doesn’t love Trayvon and hate George, or love George and hate Trayvon. Emerging America owns both Trayvon and George as their beloved sons, their Cain and Abel, their Jacob and Esau, their older and younger sons in Jesus’ most famous (but often worst-interpreted) parable. That’s why Emerging America is heartbroken about the recent verdict.

But we will not let our hearts break apart in sharp and dangerous shards of resentment and shrapnel of fear. With God's help, we will let the pain of love break our hearts open in renewed hunger and thirst for true justice and peace ... for all people, equal and indivisible.

 

links roundup

My friend and musical collaborator Tracy Howe just put together a gorgeous and meaningful collection of songs to support the 1000 Days movement. David Wilcox's version of a song Aaron Strumpel and I wrote is included. Cool!

 

Live stream later today

If you'd like to watch a live-stream of the panel I'll be part of later today with Fr. James Alison, you can log on here:
https://zoom.us/j/704580977
We'll start at about 5 pm Eastern/4 Central/etc. You can log on 30 minutes earlier.

 

Q & R: Reincarnation

Here's the Q:

Hello I am a avid follower of yours and am very grateful for all the work you do. My place of spirituality would not exist without the help of your books. They have inspired me to re-think the things I had always been scared to think about and ask questions to get to deeper meanings of things. Thank you.

So speaking of line pushing questions that inspires a lot of fear in most, is the question of re-incarnation. I understand that this question is as controversial as they come, so other than just straight debate that goes no where with either my christian, new-age, or buddhist friends, I thought I'd bring this question to you. Of all the authors I've read, of all the scholars I've spoken with, I believe you would be the only one I could really respect for a thoughtful response.

So here we are, the question is of re-incarnation. From my understanding in the prophecy of both the coming of the Christ and the Return of Christ both involve another character. Elijah. It was said in both prophesies that the Messiah would be proceeded by the return of Elijah. What do you think that means? When the disciples asked Jesus what was meant by this, I believe His answer said something like, "I say to you Elijah has come already." I believe He also said Something like, "For all the prophets and the law have promised until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come."

By several statements made by Jesus himself regarding this matter it seems there is some belief by the early church that re-incarnation was an accepted reality. I do also understand that this may be limited to the story of Christ and the prophecies and all. However, the question can't stop coming to mind... If it is a possibility, if it has been done and accepted before, then why is it so out of the question now? Why now if I even consider the possibility and start asking questions about it am I considered a New-age radical Heretic. Like I said, You are one of the only outside influences that I can really respect. My own inside voice keeps telling me something but I really need another opinion.

I understand that you have countless questions to answer on a constant but I do believe this question is an important one. Even if you don't answer on your blog if you could even send me some resources where I can use the practice of Lectio Divina to truly find out for myself it would be most appreciated. Thank you so much for your time.


Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. Your question points out that in biblical times, as today, there were thousands of interpretations and theories and superstitions and amalgamations of the previous three. Which raises this question: just because a belief existed in a biblical writer's mind, does that make it legit and orthodox? Of course the answer must be no. I imagine that in many biblical writers' minds was the belief that the universe is three tiered - the underworld, the world, and the heavens. I'm glad we aren't pressured to think that way now.

Having said that, I think we often "mis-underestimate" the ancient mind. We assume our ancestors were as literalistic as our readings of them. My suspicion is that many of our distant ancestors were far wiser than we, in the sense that they knew how little they knew, and they knew that their language and imagery were "fingers pointing to the moon" and not the moon itself. I think they were more poets and mystics, and less technicians of language than modern technicians of interpretation are able to discern.

I also suspect that the difference between more literalist thinkers and more symbolic or metaphorical thinkers was as real in the past as in the present. So I wouldn't assume that all Jews thought the same about something in biblical times any more than any of us do today. But they did have certain shared parameters - a paradigm, if you will - and I think theirs was quite different than what we might have found in the Indian subcontinent (or in some passages of Plato).

I doubt that many if any Jews believed Elijah would be reincarnated - i.e. that the substance of his soul would transmigrate into a baby's body in which to live another lifespan before transmigrating elsewhere. It's more likely, from what I understand, that they may have believed Elijah - who, according to the text, never died but was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot - had returned in the same body he left with.

Others may have believed that what the times needed was someone who came "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Not a literal reincarnation or return, but someone who did in their time what Elijah had done in his own. This would be like those who speak of us needing a new Harry Truman or Martin Luther or St. Benedict today. They don't mean a reincarnated soul of these departed leaders - they just mean someone who is like them.

Your question especially interests me because the book I'm writing right now - btw, the title will be We Make the Road by Walking - offers a reading of the Elijah and fiery chariot text that is quite different - more poetic, I guess you'd say. That's all I'll say for now ...

BTW - I recently read an article by a contemporary Buddhist who is arguing that Buddhists need to leave behind the old paradigm of reincarnation because it makes dualistic assumptions about body and soul that are no longer tenable. Interesting times, eh?

 

Atlanta, Iowa

I'm with college ministers in Atlanta today and will be on a panel with my friend James Alison at the Colloquium on Violence and Religion in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Saturday. Faith formation for young adults and the intersection between faith, violence, and ecology - these are issues of highest importance for me, so this is a week I've been looking forward to for a long time.

 

Q & R: Commentaries

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian, I wonder if you can recommend any good commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures? I have tended to avoid reading these apart from the well known stories and poetic sections as I find them too hard to understand. My bible study group wants to look at Esther...This is making me panicky! Do you have any suggestions? many thanks

Here's the R:
I'd start with three resources:
1. Walter Brueggemann.
2. Paul Nuechterlein's Girardian Lectionary. (You have to find where a passage is used in the Revised Common Lectionary ... then look it up in the site index.)
3. You can also find Jewish Bible commentaries online. I think it's a good idea for Christians to take more seriously the ways Jewish scholars read the text.
Hope that helps!

 

Q & R: Slides?

Here's the Q;

I didn’t take notes during your sermon on Friday of the Festival because I knew you almost always post your slides after the fact.

But I can’t find your slides related to the Beatitudes – and would really like to review them again! Can you help?

Here's the R:
Sorry for the delay - it's up now on my Slideshare page, under the title Getting Blessed.

 

For all who work with children and youth -

Readers of this blog know that I've been an enthusiastic supporter of fresh and creative efforts to design curriculum for children and youth. I was an enthusiastic participant in the May 2012 Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity conference. For all who share this desire for fresh approaches to ministry with kids and youth ... I have good news to report:

After the huge turnout at their conference last year, “Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity” has rebranded itself as Faith Forward. My friend, Dave Csinos, and his team are busy planning a 2014 Faith Forward gathering, which will continue the movement that began at the 2012 CYNKC conference. It’s going to be May 19-22, 2014 in Nashville, TN. I’ll be there – along with Phyllis Tickle, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Andrew Root, and many others. And I hope you’ll join us too. To learn more, like the Faith Forward facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/faithfwd), follow them on twitter (https://twitter.com/FaithForwardNet), or check out their new website – http://www.faith-forward.net/. Spread the word and let others know about this important gathering.
I was also glad to contribute to two resources that came out of last year’s CYNKC conference.
The first is a podcast series available at www.woodlakebooks.com/podcasts.
The second is a book that’s going to be released in August – Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity. Dave Csinos and Melvin Bray pulled together 21 of the best presentations from the 2012 CYNKC conference into a book that has already received rave reviews from leaders around the world and across theological traditions. More info is at http://faith-forward.net/media/book/

I hope you’ll be able to join us in Nashville for the 2014 Faith Forward gathering. If it was anything like last year’s CYNKC conference, then you won’t want to miss it.

Would you forward this to anyone and everyone you know who is committed to ministry among kids and youth?

Here's the press release from Faith Forward:

New Name, New Gathering, New, Podcasts, New Book
Faith Forward (formerly Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity) is excited to announce that the 2014 Faith Forward gathering will be in Nashville, TN, May 19-22, 2014. Save the date and join us for four days of creativity, innovation, and collaboration toward new approaches for nurturing faith in children and youth. Speakers include Phyllis Tickle, Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Melvin Bray, Brian McLaren, Andrew Root, and many others.

In the meantime, take a look at the new Faith Forward website at www.faith-forward.net, listen to newly-released podcasts from last year’s CYNKC conference at www.woodlakebooks.com/podcasts, and check out the book from the 2012 CYNKC conference at http://faith-forward.net/media/book/.

@FaithForwardNet
facebook.com/faithfw


BTW - here's a beautiful video from Brandy Walker who is grappling with these issues as well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWTIYTSq_6g&feature=youtu.be

 

Q & R:Interfaith Marriages

Here's the Q:

I am White British and am married to a British Nigerian. We are both Christians but faced a lot of hostility from one of our families when we got married. The relationships damaged at that time have still not healed although some of the opposition to our decision to marry has reduced. Due to this experience, I have always been very welcoming and accepting to others who are facing similar situations. A friend of ours is engaged to somebody from another racial and religious community. My husband and I have accepted this without any questions. For us, although we can't find scripture to back up our stance, feel in our hearts that to do anything but support them and love them wholeheartedly would be wrong. We would be really interested to find out what you think about interfaith relationships. I have only ever heard totally condemning biblical approaches to these sorts of relationships. I was wondering if you felt there was another way of looking at it? Thanks for taking the time to read my email.

Here's the R:
First, thanks for raising this important issue. Whenever an interfaith marriage happens, the widespread inter-religious hostilities that I wrote about in my most recent book become localized in one couple and two extended families. The same goes whenever an inter-racial marriage happens. In your case, the fact that both of your families were Christian didn't overcome the racial issues in the minds of some family members.

The fact that religion and race are often overlapping "identity tents" (an image I use in the book) reminds us how our identities are complex and multi-layered - and conflicted. That makes for drama, tension, and pain, as you well know, but it also makes possible a concrete expression of healing and love. Every time previously prejudiced parents learn to love a son-in-law or daughter-in-law of another race or religion, and every time they become passionate lovers and defenders of their grandchildren, I believe we take a step forward as humanity ... into a greater recognition that we are all, in fact, related - whatever our race, nationality, religion, class, etc. And every time a couple whose parents don't fully accept them manage to continue to show love and patience to their parents - trusting in time that they will come around - that's a step forward too.

When it comes to marriage - surely one of life's most monumental decisions - there are risks, costs, benefits, and surprises implicit in every proposal and acceptance. My many friends in interfaith marriages - including several friends who are pastors - can speak about all the risks and costs as well as the benefits and surprises. I just read the manuscript of an excellent book written by a Christian author and a rabbi who are married to one another - it's called Mixed-Up Love and will be available in October. Here's a quote about the book:

Dating, commitment, kids, and family-it's all hard work, and it's not made any easier when you come from different religious backgrounds. Jon M. Sweeney, a Catholic spiritual writer, and Michal Woll, a Reconstructionist rabbi, live out the challenges of an interfaith relationship everyday as husband and wife and parents to their daughter, Sima, who is being raised Jewish. In MIXED-UP LOVE, the couple explores how interfaith relationships can affect dating, family functions, proposals, weddings, raising children, and rituals of birth, life, and death.

To me, when you and your husband show love and support to another couple who is being rejected by their families, you are living out your Christian commitment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Perhaps God will enable you to be peacemakers in a conflicted situation. At the very least, you will be friends to a couple who needs some friends now more than ever.

One more thought. At the end of the day, it's essential to remember that acceptance doesn't depend on approval. Whether or not you approve of someone's decisions, you can still accept them as a person. I think we will become more Christ-like people when we learn to extend full and deep acceptance of others regardless of our approval of their behavior.

 

A reader writes: putting books to work in creative ways

A reader writes ...

Am always amazed at how one thing can make a difference in other areas. So wanted to share with you how one of your book chapters was the starting place for 2 presentations given in the last 6 months. I know you are a busy person, so will be brief. Our Presbyterian church in NC has a book study group. We read Adventures in Missing the Point in 2011. We had a great time discussing the different chapters. Then I was cochair for the program committee for our annual Women's Retreat in Sept 2012. I kept remembering the Dorothy leadership chapter. So our committee developed a two part presentation on One Body of Christ and how you as an individual can be a leader in your own world. We used the concepts of "us" and the "other" to discuss One Body and then used your chapter on Dorothy as the basis for the skills you need to be a leader. And since the chapter is online, we were able to use it as a handout as well. We had a very cool powerpoint presentation and used clips from the actual movie to bring the info to life. I mentioned it to a coworker and she wanted to have the presentation for her church women's group at a Baptist Church in the area. Our committee took the program on the road. We had about 50 women at each presentation. We were so in awe at how reading a book together would influence the program for our retreat (a different group of people) and then would be shared and well received with another church (another completely different group). Thanks so much Brian - we had a great time being inspired by your work and then sharing it with others. Keep writing. You just never know where it will make a difference. PS. Hoping to have a group work on Animate Faith too.

It's so encouraging to hear ways that people use books to promote learning in a variety of ways and settings. Thanks for sharing -

 

comic relief

 

A reader writes: labels, methodology, and one package

A reader writes:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us in London via Skype last weekend. I’ve just read today’s blog post, “Q & R: How Would You Define You, Part 2”, and wanted to offer a couple of thoughts to put in the melting pot.

The first is on terminology. Several weeks ago the phrase “open conversational Christianity” dropped into my head while I was shaving; it has been going around there ever since. The term seems to offer a useful summary the new kind of Christianity.

- Open: open to all without us judging who’s in and out.
- Conversational: approaching the Bible as a conversation, continued in an open, welcoming, non-aggressive conversation today.
- Christianity: Jesus at the centre and (among much else) our reference point.

None of the descriptions we have at present is ideal, and I humbly offer this one for consideration.

My second thought is related. I wonder if there is a need for a clearer distinction between methodology (perhaps summarized in the three points above) and conclusions (gender, sexuality, environment, war/peace, new expressions of church, etc.). At the moment, all of this is presented as one package—take it or leave it. Many people will find aspects of the package that they are not yet ready to accept and will then retreat into the safety of what they know.

I wonder if giving a little more distinction to the methodology gives the possibility of taking more people with us. Particularly the conversational view of the Bible (when presented clearly as an honest and “high” view of scripture) can appeal both to grass-roots conservatives who know something isn’t quite right in their beliefs and to liberals who seek some firmer basis for their beliefs. Beyond that we are in unknown territory, where everything is on the table for discussion. With these new ways of thinking and interacting, attitudes will gradually change, even if they take a generation or two to do so.

My view on this is influenced by my own 20-year quest, which started as a search for the intellectual integrity of a consistent approach to the Bible, and it may not apply to everyone. Right now, I am just glad to find that I am not alone and that so many other people have been on similar quests. It seems that separate strands are now being bound together into a stronger rope.

Thanks for your feedback and comments. The problem of labels is tough. And it should probably be that way for reasons your suggest later in your note. People are at many different places, in motion, in terms of what we might call theological methodology and in terms of a whole range of conclusions, just as you point out. For that reason, I think it's going to be really hard to label what's happening for the foreseeable future. But I would be glad to be wrong on this.

 

A reader writes: My favorite book!

A reader writes:

Your book " The Secret Message of Jesus is my favorite book! It has helped me refocus my whole life's perspective toward seeing, sharing and bringing in the Kingdom. I reread it at least once a year.

I'm so glad to hear that. I think Secret Message of Jesus is one of the best introductions to my work for people who have never read anything by me before. Thanks for the encouragement!

 

Q & R: DOMA and the word "marriage"

Here's the Q:

Recently read your book another kind of Christianity and it made me think a lot. Also challenged some of my traditional conservative beliefs.

One thing it did was show me that there were classes of people I just did not like. But Jesus loved everyone !

Another thing was love for gay people that I did not have before. It amazes me how God can Change or hearts.

I was wondering with all the DOMA court rulings that a compromise would be to let same sex couples get together calling it something besides marriage BUT with the same rights as opposite sex marriage.

To me there is some validity that for thousands of yrs marriage was opposite sex and changing that to me is like changing the meaning of the color red to blue.

I truly want to know your thoughts and if I am way off on this (still prejudging)


Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. On the use of the word marriage, I think both sides have a point. Conservatives realize that if a word other than marriage were used, their fellow conservatives could more easily accept something that a few decades ago they never would have accepted. Progressives realize that if the word is withheld, it keeps gay couples in a second-class status.

While you're right that "for thousands of years marriage was opposite sex," the truth is for thousands of years polygamy was considered normative and acceptable. In fact, it was mandated in the Bible under certain circumstances. And it's also true that many cultures had a respected place for gay and lesbian people.

The argument from tradition certainly has some value and lots of appeal. But it has been discredited pretty often in the past. For example ...

For thousands of years, slavery was the bedrock of all "successful" large economies.
For thousands of years, women were considered inferior and were not granted equal rights to men - in family, community, church, business, or state.
For thousands of years in many cultures, domestic violence was considered acceptable and normative.
For thousands of years, mentally ill people were stigmatized, as were "the racially other."
For hundreds (really, well over 1000) years, the Christian religion was strongly anti-Semitic.

Gregory of Nyssa said that sin is essentially a refusal to grow, and I think, in many ways, he is right. One narrative looks around and says that every day, in every way, the world is getting worse. Another narrative looks around and says that every day, in every way, the world is getting better. A wiser narrative might be - every day, and in every way, we are always negotiating between regression, stagnation, stability, and growth.

That's why I would rather say that our strongest and best tradition is a willingness to learn, change, and grow. To be carefully and wisely progressive is - traditional in the best sense.

 

The Supreme Court Last Week

There was a lot of attention, deservedly so, about the Court's decisions last week in relation to marriage equality. There was less attention about a disturbing decision made by the court regarding the Voting Rights Act. This NYT graphic shows why the voting rights act matters and why the Court's decision last week opens the way for a resurgence of racism. All of us who believe that all people, regardless of race, are God's beloved children need to prepare ourselves to speak up, speak out, stand up, and get out on the streets when necessary, as many are already doing.

My friend Joshua DuBois' article on black men in America could not be more timely. Quotable (the whole article is incredibly important):

THE EARLIEST chapter in that story is a tough one. I’d rather skip it. You’d rather that I skip it. But as Ralph Ellison once remarked, channeling Faulkner, our complicated racial past is “a part of the living present”; it’s a past that “speaks even when no one wills to listen.”

The facts are a bit overwhelming, but not in much dispute. Africans were imported to the United States as purchased goods beginning around 1620. By 1770, when Crispus Attucks, a free black man, spilled the first drop of blood in the cause of the American Revolution, nearly 18 percent of the American population—almost 700,000 people—were slaves. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, that number had exploded to over 4 million.
Beneath these sterile facts lay a grisly reality. Blacks were systemically dehumanized for hundreds of years, a practice that had unique social and psychological effects on men. They were worked and whipped in fields like cattle. Any semblance of pride, any cry for justice, any measure of genuine manhood was tortured, beaten, or sold out of them. Marriage was strictly prohibited. Most were forbidden from learning to read and write. The wealth derived from their labor—the massive wealth derived from cotton, our chief export throughout much of the 19th and early 20th centuries—was channeled elsewhere.
But, because slavery ended 150 years ago, we often assume that this dehumanization is ancient history. It is not. As Douglas Blackmon of The Wall Street Journal meticulously documents in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Slavery by Another Name, blacks were kept in virtual bondage through Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, and, quite often, a form of quasi-slavery called peonage, which endured well into the middle of the 20th century.

Here’s how it worked: black men (it was usually men) were arrested for petty crimes or no crimes at all; “selling cotton after sunset” was a favorite charge. They were then assessed a steep fine. If they could not pay, they were imprisoned for long sentences and forced to work for free. This allowed savvy industrialists to replace thousands of slaves with thousands of convicts.

 

A reader reflects ...

A reader writes ...

I was very excited to read your book 'Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road'.

I have read quite a few of your books, as well as those of Rob Bell and David Tomlinson, as I find your approach the only one at the moment that gives me any hope of calling myself, at the very least, a theist. However, I often feel that I am left liking what you say, but lacking a rationale to accept it, except that I like it. It becomes the McLaren or the Bell version.

However, although I did feel the same about large chunks of your latest book, I felt excited by a section in Chapter 17 p142, which says:

‘if the Spirit is ubiquitous and all people are encountering the Holy Spirit simply because we live, move and have our being in the Spirit’s domain, we can understand human religions – all human religions, including our own – as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation. That is not to deny the presence of unique divine revelation in anyone religion, nor is it to affirm that all religions are the same, nor is it to imply that the Spirit should be credited or blamed for everything going on in our religions. Instead, it is simply to propose that each religion, based on its unique location and history, would have a unique, particular and evolving perspective from which to encounter the Spirit in a unique way. That would mean that differences between religions would not necessarily mean contradictions. They could simply mean additional data, expressed in different systems of local imagery and language, based on differing encounters with the same Spirit of God, present in all creation across all time. Not only that, but in light of the wildly different local conditions in which they encounter the same Spirit, we might interpret some religious differences in a new light: rather than saying different (contradictory) things about the same thing, various religions could sometimes be saying different (complementary) things about different (complementary) experiences entirely

Let me summarise my thinking in bullet points to make it less bulky. I don't want to put you off!!

I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover without commentaries to see what I made of it. I was horrified, bored and totally confused that this should be the stuff that almighty God wanted us to know and live by.
So, either a) I didn't like this God anymore, b) this was just stories and there was no God, or c) maybe there was a God, but the Bible wasn't his infallible word to us on the matter
I decided to try c) but soon discovered I had no rationale for knowing what was true or what was wishful thinking
Sort of gave up
Went to Bath in England. Hadn't prayed for months. Looked up at statue of roman god Minerva and kind of prayed 'Were they in touch with you, when they worshipped Minera?'
The answer came back in an instant - 'of course'.
I had a question and an answer in an instant, with no premeditation at all. I felt this was pivotal, but of course, it was very subjective and cannot be verified.
Went to Avebury and stood by the ancient stones. Man had been reaching out according his understanding of the divine (probably)
So, from then on, I have been trying the theory out. So often, I think, revelation is a flash, and we put human thought with it, embellish it, and mess it up, turn it into a religion, etc etc. I don't want to do that.

HERE IS THE THEORY, ANYWAY

We have evolved according to God's blueprint. We are here in the 21st century. Maybe we have more evolution to undergo, especially intellectually, so as eventually to know enough to find the currently unknowable God.

All religions contain some right stuff and some revelation, but, also a lot of human commentary and prejudice. Some stuff was right for the people at the time, but not for NOW. All religions are historically, geographically and educationally specific. One day we will get there. One day we will have eveolved suffiently to find God, and all religions, and even more excitingly, even science, will converge.

Here is a stupid example, but it helps to explain what I mean: If God were a computer, and we were software in some way, this fact would have been inconceivable to Moses.

So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it. No-one is right, no-one is wrong. We are all evolving and will get there in the end. It kind of makes more sense of evolution.

There is a programme on UK TV called 'Scrapheap Challenge', where teams have to build a certain machine from the stuff available (it has probably been put there to be found). In the same way, maybe God has given us all the materials we need on this planet. It is incredible what we have made from this rock orbiting the sun. He is watching and waiting for us to find the wherewithall to find him.

I hope you can get the gist. I have loads to say, and better words to say it in, but this is my first bash. Please comment if you have time and inclination.

Thanks for your note. I'm glad other people will get a chance to read the thoughts of a "normal" person honestly and passionately grappling with important theological questions. Let me finesse a couple of your points like this:

People today might use computer imagery to describe God. That kind of imagery would have been inconceivable to Moses. Similarly, when ancient people used the imagery of kings and rock fortresses to describe God, it's very hard if not impossible to fully grasp the full depth of what those images meant to them.

So, we are all in it together. We can differ and debate, but there's no need to get hostile about our differences. No one is perfectly right, and we're all wrong in various ways. We are ca keep involving and if we are humble and open to the Spirit and to one another, we will continue to learn and grow.

 

This has to be one of the most creative projects I've ever heard of ...

Launched by my friend - poet David Shook. Check it out!
You'll find more from David here.

 

John Esposito on Egypt's Challenge (Again)

A sober analysis by a sagely observer. Quotable:

But what do we know of the successful opposition and its platform and agenda?

Beyond their unity of purpose, to bring down the Morsi government, the opposition has had no clear leader, no agreed upon platform of specific reforms. Its diverse and ideologically contradictory makeup offers no sense of the future direction of Egypt. Leaders and participants include Mubarak holdovers from the military and judiciary to police, security, bureaucracy (who are the real survivors and winners), as well as former major presidential candidates like Amr Musa; an array of Egypt's illiberal (non-democratic) secularists; disaffected April Spring youth, that cut across the political and religious spectrum, who felt that they and their concerns were excluded from the government; religious leaders, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar and himself a former member of the Mubarak-led National Democratic Party as well the heads of the Salafist Nour Party and the Coptic church are curious bedfellows or allies.


 

Happy July 4th!

I'm thankful for my country. Although we have many weaknesses and many unacknowledged failures, we also have strengths and virtues with which to face our challenges. I very much like President Obama's repeated use of the phrase "more perfect union," because it reminds us that every nation is in process, growing, developing, moving from one level of imperfection to another, maturing (over the long run) toward greater goodness. We are bound to one another - within nations and among nations. And not only that: we are bound to past and future generations, having received a multi-faceted heritage from our ancestors that we can enhance (or squander) for our descendants. Today, as fireworks explode and patriotic songs play, I hope we all can ponder our connectedness and rededicate ourselves to the ongoing work of perfecting and maturing our union.

 

Suzanne Ross gets it right ... on Paula Deen

Here. It will be interesting to reflect on how the recent Jodi Arias trial, together with the current Trayvon Martin trial, added to the Edward Snowdon story, together with the Paula Deen story all exemplify our need to find scapegoats to relieve internal tensions in various areas of our lives. Suzanne's insights about outrage are especially valuable.

 

Egypt, Democracy, and a Mirror for us All

This NYT piece on Egypt strikes me as being fair, honest, and insightful. Quotable:

Mr. Mubarak ruled through fraudulent elections, with the support of Egypt’s security forces, crony capitalists and the United States and other powers. Mr. Morsi is something else entirely: Egypt’s democratically elected president.

Still, he has been a disastrous leader: divisive, incompetent, heavy-handed and deaf to wide segments of Egyptian society who do not share his Islamist vision. He and his Brotherhood backers have focused on consolidating power rather than delivering on his promises — to represent all Egyptians; to fix the economy; to make the streets safer, cleaner, less traffic-choked; to treat all Egyptians equally. None have been kept.

Those are arguments against him. But using nondemocratic means to remove an elected leader, however inept, subverts the very essence of democracy by departing from its first principle: the dependable transfer of power peacefully through elections.

The situation in Egypt reminds me of something a political figure in the US said to me recently: "Both parties use wedge issues to win elections, and in so doing, we render the nation ungovernable." I suppose this is a rhetorical expression of "those who live by the sword die by the sword."

Those who succeed by wedge issues will fail by wedge issues, and those who succeed by coup will fail by coup. As Ben Franklin said, a Republic is good "if you can keep it." Keeping it is not as easy as it seems, and requires basic virtues of citizenship and civility from us all.

 

Skye Jethani gets it right on Evangelical Political Involvement, and ...

I think Skye's anecdotal observations about Evangelicals and politics will match those of many - especially those who live in highly educated areas of the northern half of the country. Where I live in Florida, it's quite a different story. My anecdotal information comes from TV-broadcast services of local Evangelical congregations (mostly Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God): I hear them address abortion, homosexuality, and Obamacare frequently.

I think that many Evangelical leaders, along with Mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders, forget that a lot of Christian formation (for better or worse) doesn't happen in congregations any more. It happens in cars and kitchens as people listen to the radio. Where a church member may hear his own pastor preach for 30 to sixty minutes, he or she will often hear several hours of radio sermons during drive time. And again, my anecdotal information, in a region with several Protestant radio stations and two Catholic stations, suggests that this is where the data mounts for wedge-issue obsession. This is especially true during talk-radio formats. I imagine that fear of "the homosexual agenda" - or whatever the fear of the day might be - holds more listeners and raises more donations for radio-TV than many other less inflammatory subjects. It might have the opposite effect in a local church over the long term.

But I agree with Skye that there is also a huge perception problem that comes from mainstream TV news going to the same short list of religious right spokespeople (usually spokesmen). We need to do more than complain about this; we need to put forward some better alternatives. Those voices will have to have the courage to differ graciously but clearly with the religious right. Doing so will cost them - money if they're broadcasters or writers, parishioners if they're pastors. But it needs to be done.

 

Q & R: Authors who nourish you?

Here's the Q:

I finished your book A Generous Orthodoxy, and am in the process of reading Naked Spirituality. Thank you for your heart-felt, yet challenging words! Your books have got me thinking a lot about the diversity of Christian traditions and experiences, especially within the realm of spirituality. Your post on May 16 about St. Teresa helped stimulate my thoughts as well.

Coming from an Evangelical background, I sometimes feel a lack of depth in how many around me look at spiritual growth. It is often advertised as the natural result of predetermined spiritual actions: regular reading of Scripture, daily times of prayer, consistent church attendance, integration with a small group, involvement with various church ministries, etc. Growth is often quantified and calculated, and we lose the wonder and mystery of God working in and through us, transforming us one small piece at a time. I’m often embarrassed to admit it to others around me, but I am drawn to the Catholic contemplative tradition that puts much of the emphasis on God’s activity within us, rather than our own feeble attempts to transform ourselves. I devour books by Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Brennan Manning, Mother Teresa, and St. John of the Cross.

I’m sure I am missing something… but are there authors within the Evangelical tradition that reflect that same contemplative direction? Writers who have found a “simple” faith of dependence and obedience, yet are full of wisdom, maturity, and depth? I’m especially interested in spiritual writers who see the vital connection between an inner walk of contemplation and a life lived in community with others. (Thomas Merton wrote extensively on civil rights issues and peacemaking. Henri Nouwen discovered his own desperate need for God within a community of individuals with intellectual disabilities.) I would love to hear from you about writers that have aided you personally on your own spiritual journey, perhaps ones that you keep coming back to for refreshment and rejuvenation. Your ministry has been a great blessing to me and many others.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your comments. Like you, I've gained so much from the Catholic contemplative tradition (Merton, Nouwen, Rohr, Chittister) - and from other Catholic writers as well. For example, Romano Guardini's "The Lord" is a book I return to again and again.

Thankfully, there are Evangelicals who teach contemplative spirituality. Richard Foster and Dallas Willard (recently deceased) introduced many of us, as did A. W. Tozer of a generation earlier. Keith Matthews was a protege of Dallas Willard, and he is a gifted teacher on the subject, as are Ruth Haley Barton and Mary Darling - their books are excellent.

One author whose work I keep coming back to is Paul Tournier. Unfortunately, many of his books went out of print. I hope a publisher will reprint them, or make them available digitally. His "Adventure of Living" is a special book in my life.

 

Movement Thinking

I'm a big fan of Yes! Magazine. You'll see why when you read these two short articles about building bridges and love and power.

They're of special interest to me because of a movement-building collaborative I am contributing to. If you'd like to help (and I hope you will), you'll find more information here.

 

David Gushee gets it right on Christian response to DOMA

He strikes a sane and balanced note here.Quotable:

Many are already arguing about the great damage that will be done to marriage with today’s decisions. I would suggest that a more important damage to Christian witness in American culture has already been done, not by the Supreme Court but by the Christian activists; and not just today but for a generation or more. And that damage will intensify in proportion to the Christian outcry in days to come.

What has that damage been?

• Christians (understood to mean here heterosexual activist traditionalists) have become identified with actively pursuing the denial of rights and benefits to others that they themselves enjoy. In other words, the “Gospel” has been identified with the cause of self-benefiting social discrimination against a minority group, a losing hand if ever there was one.

• Christians, claiming to follow Jesus, have become identified as the chief enemies of gay and lesbian human beings (some of whom are also Christians), and of the moral and legal rights of lesbians and gays, whereas Jesus’ enemies tended to be people who performed exactly this kind of marginalization on the despised ones of their era.

• Christians have become known for a deeply distorted moral agenda by elevating the anti-gay cause to the top of their public ethics, and this in a world afflicted by war, hunger, ecological disaster and all manner of social injustice.

• Christians have alienated gays and lesbians and their families, friends, and sympathetic allies, driving many away from the love of Jesus Christ and contributing to the secularization of American culture. They have done a great deal to create hostility to the church and closed ears to the Gospel. The saddest cases are the church’s own rejected gay and lesbian adolescents and twentysomethings. They are legion.

• Christians have contributed to the fear in society that millions of Americans are unable to tell the difference between the church and the state, or between the demands of their faith on themselves vs. the demands of their faith on those who do not share it. This contributes to secularization and weakens respect for legitimate concerns about protecting a zone of religious liberty for religious dissenters.

 

Lisa Sharon Harper gets it right on Affirmative Action

Folks in the US should check out this brilliant piece by Lisa Sharon Harper. Quotable:

Now consider this: We have made only two generations of progress after 17 generations of comprehensive, structural, systematized, and racialized oppression. And the effects of that oppression still haunt us today.

According to a February 2013 Brandeis University Institute on Assets and Social Policy study, the wealth gap between white and black Americans in the United States grew from $85,070 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009....

More than 330 years of racialized oppression has created just such a need among people of color in our larger society. We must not miss this opportunity to realize and learn from the impacts of our racialized past on the plight and outlook of current generations of Americans. Rather, garnered by the faith that Jesus cares for all and is committed to all and can raise from the dead, we must join Jesus in the work of restoration and call on our nation to do likewise.

(See this excellent piece by Lisa also.) Thanks, Lisa.

 

Great music

My friend and creative colleague Tracy Howe Wispelwey has a new CD out ...
Songs for 1000 Days. Here's the write-up:

Fourteen artists have joined Bread for the World Institute and Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement to educate communities and advocate for policy change in the United States to end hunger at home and abroad and give every child the chance to thrive.
Featuring four original songs by La Muna, Tracy Howe, Heatherlyn, and Santiago Benavides, as well as a previously unreleased track from David Wilcox, this compilation contains songs about faith, hunger justice, and the call to action to support mothers and children in their first 1,000 days.
The 1,000 Days movement includes 40 different countries and promotes targeted action to improve nutrition for mothers and children in the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday—a time when better nutrition for mothers and children can have a life-changing impact on a child’s future and help break the cycle of poverty.

I've been listening to it for a few weeks and love it.

A similar and equally excellent project comes from another friend, Barclay Martin, Zamboanga: Poverty, War, and Music. Highly recommended.

I'm on Washington Island, Wisconsin, part of a forum on theology and spirituality here, enjoying wonderful musical leadership from another friend, Susan Phillips. She's been using lots of worship resources from Dakota Road, a group I'm glad to know about, and I think you will be too.

 

Q & R: The right question!

Here's the Q:

I loved your presentations [in my city recently]. Life changing.
I have several of your books and I picked up a couple of others you recommended--eg, Eboo Patel, and Jonathan Haidt.

Here's my question, what resources (blog, organization, etc....) do you know of that is focussed on developing specific skills for becoming Peacemakers.

Yes, "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." However, I now more than ever see that word as a verb.....

I'm a Principal of a middle school and I regularly deal with conflict, anger, power struggles, etc....with children, their parents, teachers, other admin, school board members, etc.....

So, as I was listening to you discuss global issues and community.....I was thinking of starting where I am....not to neglect the global or national concerns at all.

In terms of becoming a Peacemaker....and developing those skills.....in a school, in a home, church, etc..... What skills are we developing? Who can help us?

Active listening, of course. Paraphrasing. Communicating non-violently.

Because our myth stories are so strong, insidious, and invasive.....and the skills of Peacemaking are so fuzzy.....this is a huge challenge for many.

So, insights? Suggestions? Resources?
I know there are many peace sites out there....and many counselors out there with peace curricula. However, I was hoping you might have some insight in to this.

Thanks again for your time at my church...!
I'm a huge fan and will continue to follow you.

Many blessings to you and your family!


Here's the R:
Thanks for this great question, and for the encouraging words. I'm on a little island in Lake Michigan at the moment without much internet access, so this will be too brief.
First, Eastern Mennonite University has been a leader in conflict transformation and peace studies. I'd go to their website and find as much as you can about resources they offer and recommend.

Second, Parker Palmer has been doing a lot of work on civility. Also check out the Institute for Civility.

But I know there are many more resources that would be especially helpful in your work with middle schoolers and their families. I'm hoping that folks will post some ideas over at my facebook page.

 

Q & R: Religion and Marriage

Here's the Q:

I'm a fan of your works. I'm a student pastor and assistant youth pastor (part timer) from [Asia]. I'm under thirty years old. I read some of your books, and as a young man who grows and educates in evangelical tradition, your works are very intriguing to me. It has made me question many times about what I believe and honestly as I join with your works and emergent church movement, the way I think about Church, community, other faith, live in diversity and culture have shifted.
I serve in the one of evangelical church in [a major Asian city], and I know sometimes it's hard to me share with people here about what I'm studying and believing right now.
I choose to be calm and share just a little thing about it to the young people whom I serve, until I meet a girl whom I love and plan to get married soon, I can't be just calm, I told to them what I believe that It is possible for an evangelical get married and live with a girl who comes from catholic tradition.
My future wife comes from Catholic church, and I don't mind about it, cause I really like to live in diversity. I don't see Catholic as a different religion, but Christian church here think that they are different. I don't like "the category" anymore as my fellow christian do in here. My future wife and I commit to learn together about faith and actually I never ask her to change from her believe. I want to make a good conversation with her in our diversities. I'm okay with this. Even I encourage her to be sure about what she believe an ask many question like I do.
But it's not easy for me when I want to explain to my fellow christians, and we don't have a non-denominational church in Indonesia.
I plan to move from the church that I serve right now, and try to find the new community with my future wife.
Because it's impossible to do my wedding ceremony here.
I know you had some experience, that your wife comes from catholic tradition, and I know you know better about how to live in diversity.

I need your help in this confused situation. I want to ask you some questions:
1) What is your opinion about my situation? Should I quit from my ministry here or what?
2) How should I live in diversity in my marriage to come?
Maybe there is some chapters from your books that can help me.

I don't know you will answer me or no. But I really need your advice.
Thanks Mr. Brian for read my email.


Here's the R:
Thanks so much for writing. I'm so glad to know you found my books helpful. My newest book is especially focused on the issues of religious identity and diversity. It would be especially interesting, I think, for someone living in a religiously diverse country like yours, where Christians of any sort are a minority. I think you would find it helpful - but I don't know if it's hard to get in your country.

Really, I'm sure you know better than I how to live in diversity!

As I read your email, two things come to mind. I really don't have any "moral" guidance to offer you (in terms of right and wrong), but do have some pastoral guidance.

First, all of life is full of trade-offs. If we say yes to one opportunity, it closes the door for other opportunities. So - marrying your Catholic fiancee will close doors to some jobs in some churches. But it will obviously bring other joys and experiences that are so important to you that you will gladly close the door on your current job.

Second, I think the biggest difference among Christians of the future won't be the difference between Catholic and Protestant or charismatic and non-charismatic or liberal or conservative. I think the biggest difference will be between those who have a strong/hostile identity, those who have a weak/tolerant identity, and those who seek a strong/benevolent identity. That's one of the core ideas of the new book - and I can tell that you are seeking the third kind of identity. Please know I'm praying for you today!

 

The good people at Center for Progressive Renewal ...

invite you to this year's gathering August 6-9 in Atlanta for the National Church Leaders Institute. Good things happening there!

 

A great review ...

http://www.ecww.org/blogs/7/book-review-rt-rev-sandy-hampton
If you haven't read my newest book yet, I really hope you will.

 

Over at my Facebook page ...

I'm putting up some daily quotes from Parker Palmer. If you aren't a regular follower of the page, I hope you will "like" it (in both ways). And I'd be honored to have you in my twitter-gang too.

 

Are you familiar with the Aprentis Institute?

image001.jpg
September 26-28 I'll be in Kansas with a wonderful group of speakers focused on spiritual formation in relation to the biblical story. Learn more here:
www.aprentis.org/overview
and here:
www.facebook.com/aprentiscsfi

 

Links Roundup

Some friends in Santa Fe are working on solar energy and energy democracy ... by watching the accompanying video, you help them get a grant - and you learn something valuable. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s4a-9V-6eWI&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Ds4a-9V-6eWI

Everyone in North America needs to understand our Native American/First Nations brothers and sisters better. Here's a tremendously helpful article by a Metis friend named Joe Desjarlais:
http://bcmetis.com/2013/06/metis-identity-paper/

My friend Romal Tune has a beautiful new book out. You'll get a taste of it in this blog post called It's Not Your Fault.

I'll be in Dallas with Life in the Trinity Ministries on July 20th examining the book of Acts from a fresh perspective. Here's the series overview.

Some of us have lots of practice reading the Bible in fundamentalist, pre-critical ways - and others have ample practice reading the Bible in critical or skeptical ways. What we need today is a new, fresh approach to the Bible - reading it in post-critical ways, literary rather than literalist, sensitive to history, and sensitive to an over-arching narrative that focuses on Jesus and his good news. In this 2013 series, in four stand-alone but integrated sessions, we'll get an overview of the whole Bible from this fresh perspective.


Led by: Brian McLaren
Workshop Time: Sat 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Cost: 75.00 per session
Workshop Dates:
July 20 Reading Acts Afresh
December 6-7 Reading the New Testament Afresh

Click here to Register

The ONE Campaign has put together some of the greatest protest songs of the era, here:
http://www.one.org/protestsongs/


If I were starting a new church, I'd want to be at the church planters academy this summer, August 15-17. Info here.

We all know that our political and religious lives would benefit from a good dose of civility. Some friends of mine are organizing the second national Citizens’ Civility Symposium. They're taking the message of civility directly to Capitol Hill. The Symposium will include keynote presentations and panel discussions featuring civility experts and practitioners, as well as current and former members of Congress. Registration is available on line at www.instituteforcivility.org. Doors will open for the Symposium at 2:30 pm on Monday, July 22. A continental breakfast will be provided on Tuesday morning before we begin again at 9:00 am. The event comes to a close at 1:00 pm, but participants are encouraged to spend the afternoon visiting the offices of their representatives and senators, taking the message of civility with them as they go. For more information, contact info@instituteforcivility.org, or call 713-444-1254 or 281-782-4454.

I predict that prison reform, race, and the prison-industrial complex will become one of the key moral issues of the coming decade. You'll see one reason why in this video about Duane Buck:

 

Where will you be August 8-11 this summer?

Hundreds if not thousands of great events happen in the Christian community across North America every year. But nobody brings together a wider and wilder spectrum of people to engage with spirituality, art, and justice than Wild Goose. Amazing people contribute their music, curiosity, intelligence, energy, stories, talent, good cheer, passion for justice, and creative genius to produce four days that will easily become a highlight of your year. The outdoor setting, the fantastic food trucks, tents, campfires, impromptu jam sessions, and the presence of the holy make the Wild Goose Festival a delight, a joy, and a growing catalyst for goodness in the world. People who read my blog can use this code - WILDGOOSE13 - to get a 20% discount if you go here:http://wildgoosefestival.org/tickets

 

About race ...

It's time, folks, for North Americans - and especially North American Christians - to have long-resisted conversations about race. My friend Bruce Reyes-Chow has written a needed book on the subject.

And several friends from the Native American/First Nations communities contributed to this superb and important book, Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. I was honored to be a contributor as well.

It's time. These books are good on-ramps into this conversation.

 

Need a Father's Day Gift?

Here's a good one: a book called Men Pray to which I contributed.

 

Q & R: Was this original to you?

Here's the Q:

I thought of "The Story We Find Ourselves in" when I read this from Gregory of Nyssa Reminded me strongly of your description of Resurrected body as composite of every moment of the human's life, all remembered by God into existence . Did his work inspire yours, or were they just similar thoughts ?

Gregory wrote:

“But still the question remains: Is the state which we are to expect to be like the present state of the body? Because if so, then, as I was saying, men had better avoid hoping for any Resurrection at all. For if our bodies are to be restored to life again in the same sort of condition as they are in when they cease to breathe, then all that man can look forward to in the Resurrection is an unending calamity....”

“If, then, a particular man is not the same even as he was yesterday, but is made different by this transmutation, when so be that the Resurrection shall restore our body to life again, that single man will become a crowd of human beings, so that with his rising again there will be found the babe, the child, the boy, the youth, the man, the father, the old man, and all the intermediate persons that he once was.”


Here's the R: I hadn't heard of anyone talking about this ... but it's pretty encouraging to find that one has stumbled on one's own (so to speak) into an insight articulated by a great theologian centuries ago. Thanks for sharing this!

 

Links Roundup

A reader asks us to help with a worthy cause ...

Did you know three of your books are in an audio format specialized for the learning disabled, at LearningAlly.org? I have a learning disability and utilize the resources that LearningAlly provides. I hope you'll excuse my direct email to you, but I wanted to make a quick (and urgent) appeal. You have a widespread network ... and I know you care about social justice. This is a petition for LearningAlly, the nonprofit that provides books in audio format to those who learn differently, such as the blind and dyslexic ... Since I personally utilize the services this organization provides, I'm personally invested in it. But regardless of that, I still think LearningAlly is a vital resource for some of those on the margins of our society. ... Much love, Mr. McLaren. Keep it up. I pray and wish peace and blessings upon you.
https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/side-blind-over-obstructionist-companies-secure-treaty-blind-makes-books-accessible-globally/ZJtgcVph

I'll be with the Network of Biblical Storytellers in August. What a fantastic group! Learn more here.

If you're a church leader looking for a good conference this summer, and other excellent resources too, the Center for Progressive Renewal has a lot to offer.

And Wild Goose - you should come in August. It's Wild:

 

I wish I could have been there ...

The Theology and Peace conference grappled with racism this year. Learn more here. Quotable from Tony Bartlett:

Black theology allied to Girardian theory shows us that the God of Jesus has always been with the black body suspended lynched and crucified on a tree. That’s the point, and it always was the point, and now the whole post-platonic community of Jesus is beginning to understand this, white and black. White because Jesus reveals the victim and undoes all the violence fastened upon him or her, and now the meaning of Christianity is not to get to an ethereal otherworld, but to transform the violent material existence of this one. Black because as James Cone wrote “’Calvary’…was (always) redemption from the terror of the lynching tree.” “Oh see my Jesus hanging high” Black Christians sang, and they knew that Jesus’ death already transformed their body terrors, and by extension those of all other human victims.
Lynchings are now faith, in the strange paradoxical, subversive language of the gospel, and they are faith for black and white alike. They are a faith which leaps beyond the dangling monster on the tree into a radical future of life. Because Jesus was the first monster: for the temple authorities—“He has blasphemed”; for the emperor—“There is no king but Caesar”; for the ungovernable crowd—“Crucify him!” But for the God who raised him from the dead he was the beloved Servant and Lord of creation, of a new creation without violence, without victims.
The Black body knew this truth, despite Anselm, despite Calvin, and before Girard. This for me was the great discovery of our conference. From now on Theology & Peace cannot go forward without the active participation and leadership of people of color. (This was already evident in the splendid election of Julia Robinson to our board!) The black body experience has become an icon and pathway for the transformative post-platonic Christian faith that we long to build.

Here's another excellent article at T&P. Quotable from Lindsey Lopez:
Being made in God's image need not mean being made perfect before falling and being redeemed. Virtually Christian, which explains how humanity is continuing to evolve in heart and mind from our violent natures into the peace of Christ, and also The Joy of Being Wrong by James Alison, which explains how we cannot understand original sin except retrospectively from the vantage point of seeing the mess we are coming out of in the light of Jesus, helped me reach this understanding. There was no pristine humanity before Jesus from which we “fell”; rather, we are created to “rise” to Jesus. We are created with the potential to form and understand meaning and to be transformed by the meaning of Jesus. In fact, if Girard says that human consciousness was formed by an act of violence, but the absolutely nonviolent Jesus is the truly human one, then we're not done evolving... we're not fully human yet... we're still in the process of becoming, being transformed. We're evolving because of Christ into his body. This is how God is forming us in God's own image, and God's not finished with us yet... In the light of Christ we look back at all the violence we were and are still involved in and see that we are sinners, but we can only see this because we're on the way out.

 

Q & R: Mission agencies

Here's the Q:

Here is a question I have been wondering about and am personally interested in:
Which mission organizations today are theologically and missiologically compatible and supportive of your teachings and viewpoints?

Here's the R:
I'd LOVE to answer this question, but I am hesitant. Let me explain why.
I have close relationships with the leaders of several mission organizations. I know they are personally "compatible and supportive" (which doesn't mean 100% agreement on every issue, obviously). But I also know they have a wide constituency that includes people who do not consider themselves compatible and supportive (often, based on misunderstanding and misinformation). There are people who monitor this site and if I were to mention the names of some mission agencies that I consider supportive, they would use my "endorsement" to harm those organizations. So ... I think I'll defer, and hope you understand why.

 

Going to Carolina ...

I'll be in Hendersonville this weekend. If you're in the area, c'mon over. Details here.

 

Will Campbell

I didn't know him, but I started reading him when I was in college. And I liked him.

He represented a different kind of Baptist. An old kind, but in today's world of "neo-Baptists" (see below), a new new kind. You'll get a feel for him here:
http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/8560-what-happened-to-the-baptists#.UbEW2pW--K8
Quotable:

Oh, when I was a boy in Mississippi we claimed that we weren’t [creedal]. But we were. We said the Bible was our creed and made a fetish, an idol of the Bible. Which part of the Bible? Certainly not those parts where Ezekiel said, “She lusted after lovers whose genitals were like a mule’s genitals and whose ejaculations were like that of horses.” (That’s from Chapter 23 of Ezekiel, verse 20. I’m sure some of you want to grab that Gideon Bible when you get back to your room and check the text.)

I cite it here for more than comedic or melodramatic effect. The significance of that text for this gathering is that the prophet was addressing a group not too dissimilar to the neo-Baptists of our day. (And neo-Baptist would be a more accurate designation than Fundamentalist.) “Your genitals are like mule’s genitals.” If you grew up in the country as I did you know what God was saying through the prophet Ezekiel. A mule is a hybrid. Sterile. God was saying to that right-wing bunch, “Ha, you can’t even get it …” Well, never mind.

I was speaking to the state annual meeting of the ACLU in Mississippi not long ago. It was not a large gathering, which struck me as being odd for Baptist is the state church in Mississippi and the First Amendment was the idea of a couple of Baptist preachers. Anyway, some Baptists were protesting the gathering because the ACLU defends pornographers. It does, but it also defends Baptists, if it can find any, which isn’t easy to do these days. Anyway, I cited that passage and challenged the censors to burn that book because it contains hundreds of passages equally tempting to the aggressive scissors of censorship.

 

Q & R: Using New Kind of Christianity for a group study

Here's the Q:

I am currently leading a small group discussion on A New Kind of Christianity. I'm using the downloadable discussion guide as a resource, and I find that it's been very thought-provoking for our group.

he question has come up as to whether its necessary to study the whole book, in sequence. Some of the 10 questions are going to end up being more important (to us) than some of the others. It looks like we could take the first five questions in series, and then pick and choose from the final five as standalone issues for discussion.

What are your thoughts? I'm sure your initial reaction will be to 'read the whole book', but is it truly that inter-linked?

Thanks, and thanks for writing these inspiring books.

Here's the R:
I think you have a good plan. It's a good ideato work on the first five questions together - but then, for the second five, you can pick and choose in whatever order makes sense for you.

 

A reader writes: Sanest answers

I divorced the institutional church when I gradually came to believe its message as it is currently being preached was superior/exclusionary/hostile to those who do not self- identify as Christians. I have spent many years in the wilderness bereft of an understanding that resonates with what I have prayed the church could be, while still loving the church. I am currently reading Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammad Cross the Road? I believe it offers the sanest answer yet to how the church can begin a return to the spirit of Christ. God bless you for your understanding, your love, your compassion, your scholarship and your effort in this.
Thanks for these encouraging words.
 

A generous impulse?

You can indulge a generous impulse today by helping Little LIghts, founded by my friend Steve Park in Washington, DC. Little Lights helps kids in one of DC's toughest neighborhoods. Learn more here.

 

links roundup

Here's something I wrote about my indebtedness to Walter Brueggemann. I've been thinking about that debt as I'm working on my upcoming book that should be published about a year from today. The title will be A Table, a Bible, Some Food, Some Friends: 52 Experiments in Spiritual (Re)Formation. It's an overview of the Bible and an introduction (or catechesis) to the Christian faith. It reflects Brueggemann's influence on many levels.

Like a lot of people, I've been pretty disappointed with the US Congress for quite a while now. It's unlikely they'll get much done of value this year ... but it's possible they'll do something positive on Immigration Reform if enough of us speak up in a variety of ways. The Evangelical Immigration Table is mobilizing people in needed directions - learn more here: http://pray4reform.org

Christine Sine posts thoughtfully and helpfully (as always) about yoga and Christian practice here. People interested in this intersection should check out a project I completed recently with my friend Suzanne Jackson.
http://wordlessprayer.com/store.html#simplewords More information here: http://brianmclaren.net/archives/get-involved/a-new-video-resource-integrating.html

Some friends in Santa Fe are working on solar energy and energy democracy ... by watching the accompanying video, you help them get a grant - and you learn something valuable. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s4a-9V-6eWI&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Ds4a-9V-6eWI

There's some important new work being done on the Christian teaching of the Trinity. Check out this book on worship and the Trinity (to which I contributed) ... and this new resource from Cynthia Bourgeault (which I endorsed).

Some cool musical developments from South Africa (HT GC):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBYsU4zu3HM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky4IMtP4hEg

Also from Africa - an excellent article by a friend of mine from Ethiopia:
https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/from-abba-salama-to-king-lalibela/

And in gratuitous turtle news (HT GS) ...
http://smithsonianscience.org/2013/05/first-turtle-shells-are-40-million-years-older-than-previously-realized/

 

Q & R: Bible as constitution or library?

Here's the Q:

I have searched your site for two days trying to find additional resources where I can learn more about what you wrote about in New Kind of Christianity regarding how to read the bible (library or Constitution?). I couldn't find any resources to read further on this. I even checked the notes section in the book. Can you offer any suggestions or send a link to a post on your blog?

I'd recommend you read books and blogs by Peter Enns, Derek Flood, Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh for starters, and of course, Walter Brueggemann. My next book will try to exemplify this ... I'm deep in the writing process now.

 

A reader writes ...

Hi, Brian - I greatly enjoyed your provocative presentation at the Festival of Homiletics today. I was put in mind of a song by Peter Mayer, a singer-songwriter in my Unitarian Universalist tradition, that I thought you would enjoy. It's called "the Birthday Party," and it concerns the aforementioned holy ones getting together to attend a birthday party for Jesus.

It's here . Another of Peter's songs that would speak, or sing to you, I think, is called "Everything is Holy Now." It's here

You are a great encouragement to those of us who are trying to build bridges among and between religious communities where they have been blown out, mostly a lack of imagination and commitment Never stop.


Thanks for the encouragement. I'm a big Peter Mayer fan, but I hadn't heard "Birthday Party." It's a treat when songs and books strike a synergy. Here's one you might like from Phil Madeira.

 

Achieving Respectful Disagreement: two good examples

A lot of us try to achieve agreement before we've reached disagreement.

Sometimes, we try to convince our counterparts who see things differently before we accurately understand the nature of our disagreement. In so doing, we often misjudge their line of thought, or deeper still, their motives.

Sometimes, we try to convince people who aren't yet thinking about an issue to take sides - with us - by caricaturing or mocking our opponents so their viewpoint doesn't even receive a fair hearing.

Both patterns are terribly common in religion and politics. It's always nice to see people bucking the trend. Here are two examples.

Jim Fletcher and I have been corresponding for a while both in private and in public. He and I see a lot of things quite differently. He wrote an article recently about the future of traditional Evangelical/fundamentalist approaches to biblical prophecy in which, I thought, he handled disagreement very well.

Erik Freiburger posted a response to a chapter from my book Naked Spirituality. In my chapter on gratitude, I talked about being grateful for capacities like sight, hearing, mobility, etc., and Erik responded as a person who was injured in a car accident 18 years ago.

It was a few nights ago though that after starting Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Naked Spirituality‘ that I came across a conversation he expressed having about gratitude that deeply disturbed me. I usually am greatly inspired by his writing which is why it took me back so much when reading it. Try as I might, the discontent would not leave so I thought it best to put pen to paper and express my thoughts in an open letter here.

Then he explains "In open truth, here I am, in a wheelchair, paralyzed as a quadriplegic after a car accident 18 years ago, reading this story, and what I’m hearing is you would rather do anything, including go as far into debt as possible, then become like me!"

At that point, if Erik's goal was to find and defeat an opponent, he could cast me as an uncaring, unempathetic, unenlightened clod and stir up one of the online skirmishes for which the world-wide internet webs have become so famous. Instead, he uses his response as an opportunity to instruct: "Will McLaren ever read it? I do not know but, I hope by verbalizing it we might all grow to find a deeper, more unconditional spirit of gratitude."

That spirit and motive for disagreement - not to mention its tone - is, to me, downright inspiring. In the referenced anecdote in my chapter on gratitude, I was indeed trying to help people find gratitude. I wasn't aware that my anecdote encouraged gratitude of a conditional nature. That may not be a bad place to start, but it has unintended consequences that I didn't think of when I was writing - but Erik did. So he didn't attack my motives or my intelligence. He simply added a new perspective that is truly important and worthwhile.

I have been helped by people disagreeing in this constructive and respectful way so many times in my life. I hope we can all go and do likewise.

 

links roundup

David Marks has a new blog ... www.GodisNotaGuy.com. The purpose is to promote the use of God-language that doesn't reinforce the idea that ... God is a guy.

Hellbound is now available for download. A great documentary that I was part of ...
http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/shop/

You should know about the Global Immersion Project - They train people for the gritty, subversive, everyday work of peacemaking. Learn more here:
http://theglobalimmersionproject.com

Ahhhh ... this will bring a smile to your face:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-22689552?SThisFB Even more so if you've read my most recent book.

 

Q & R: a question about justice

Here''s the Q:

Dear Brian, you have written "Any definition of justice and holiness that involves being unsatisfied unless the imperfect are suffering seems to many of us as unworthy of a human being and if so, how much more unworthy of God whose justice must be better than our own." Should Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson ( Matthew Shepard's murderers) be set free and welcomed back into society?

Here's the R:
I'm not sure how to interpret the tone - or the purpose - of your question. If you're asking whether it's possible for a wrongdoer to be incarcerated to protect others from harm, without intending malice or revenge toward the wrongdoer, I would say yes, it's possible, but terribly difficult and rare. That's why we have created court systems and juries ... so that the community seeks to carry out justice in relation to law and the common good, not as an act of malice or revenge.The primary goals of incarceration, in an ideal world, I think, would be a) to keep a habitually destructive person from wreaking more havoc, b) to rehabilitate the destructive person whenever possible, and c) to provide clear and predictable consequences for unacceptable behavior. Some crimes impress us as being so serious and heinous that we think b) is impossible, so we default to a) with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

I'm sorry, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about the McKinney and Henderson cases to render an opinion.

I wonder, though, if your question is aimed more at the context from which that statement came, which, if I recall correctly, was about God not being able to rest unless any and all imperfections that God has chosen not to forgive are being punished with eternal conscious torment. Fortunately, no human has that capacity for infinite punishment, and fortunately, God is more gracious than human beings. At least, that's how I understand God. And that's why I trust God ... I hope that helps!

 

Are you in ministry and in need of RE:FRESHment?

ReFresh_FlyerMasthead_3.jpg
July 15-19 ... More information here:
http://lifeinthetrinityministry.com/clergyretreat/about

 

Wild Goose -

I'm really looking forward to being interviewed for On Being with Krista Tippett at Wild Goose Festival this summer. I hope you'll come!

 

A reader writes: an (un)sinner's prayer

I just finished a chapter in your book and I couldn't help but think that in the evangelical tradition we need an (un) sinners prayer. Perhaps it would sound something like this:
I have become aware that the path I am on is not at all what you had in mind. It turns out that this path has led to decisions and consequences that have negatively affected my life, those who are close to me, those I hardly know and has even contributed to the problems in the culture at large. I have decided to pursue a new path, one that is more in line with what I am learning God had in mind. But, I can not do this alone, I will need the help of others who can give me perspective and help me in my journey.
Thanks. This might help someone today!
 

A reader writes: changing on homosexuality

A reader writes ...

i am, more or less, an all-the-things-you-wrote-about Christian in "a generous orthodoxy" and more, or less ... desirous of being more like Christ.

i loved that book, which i read 6 or 7 years ago. since "life-changing" is an over-used phrase which makes me cringe... i will say your book was transforming ... as it renewed my mind and refreshed my spirit so tremendously. thank you.

today, one of my sweet daughters is a beautiful adult woman, and in a same-sex relationship. like you, the Lord had been working on my heart regarding this subject years before she was and years before i knew of it. yet, when it hit home, i was hurt, grieved, ashamed, fearful, confronted, behaved religiously. since then i have repented, and am now "in transition" ... for lack of a better description.

... i have asked God to teach me about the subject of sex and fornication many times over many years for many reasons. i do not believe homosexuality to be the abomination that the Christian church, at large, condemns; nor do i see some very loving, committed to Christ and loyal to each other heterosexual, unmarried relationships as sinful as most preachers preach. in the Christian community in which i live, my family and friends, i am alone on this issue. if and when i state my views, people think i have "softened" (compromised) due to my daughter's involvement and that i am deceived. as i stated above, the holy spirit convicted me regarding this subject long before that, yet i reacted hypocritically at first, to my own dismay. i do not condemn myself for that as i believe God is in me and with me, even in that ... to bring me to where i am today and to where He is preparing to take me.

lovingly yours, in Christ,

Thanks for sharing your story. As I initially read it, I imagined two scenarios.

The first unfolds back in the 1960's or early 1970's in an American Evangelical church:

... today, one of my sweet daughters is a beautiful adult woman, and she recently married a previously divorced man. like you, the Lord had been working on my heart regarding this subject years before she was in this relationship. yet, when it hit home, i was hurt, grieved, ashamed, fearful, confronted, behaved religiously. since then i have repented, and am now "in transition" ... for lack of a better description.

... i have asked God to teach me about the subject of divorce and remarriage many times over many years for many reasons. i do not believe divorce to be the abomination that the Christian church, at large, condemns; nor do i see some very loving, committed to Christ and loyal to each other second-marriages as sinful as most preachers preach. in the Christian community in which i live, my family and friends, i am alone on this issue. if and when i state my views, people think i have "softened" (compromised) due to my daughter's involvement and that i am deceived. as i stated above, the holy spirit convicted me regarding this subject long before that, yet i reacted hypocritically at first, to my own dismay. i do not condemn myself for that as i believe God is in me and with me, even in that ... to bring me to where i am today and to where He is preparing to take me.


The second unfolds back in the 1950's in a Southern state in the US, with you as a Caucasian Christian parent:

... today, one of my sweet daughters is a beautiful adult woman, and in an inter-racial marriage. like you, the Lord had been working on my heart regarding this subject years before she was in this relationship. yet, when it hit home, i was hurt, grieved, ashamed, fearful, confronted, behaved religiously. since then i have repented, and am now "in transition" ... for lack of a better description.

... i have asked God to teach me about the subject of race and discrimination many times over many years for many reasons. i do not believe inter-racial dating to be the abomination that the Christian church, at large, condemns; nor do i see some very loving, committed to Christ and loyal to each other inter-racial marriages as sinful as most preachers preach. in the Christian community in which i live, my family and friends, i am alone on this issue. if and when i state my views, people think i have "softened" (compromised) due to my daughter's involvement and that i am deceived. as i stated above, the holy spirit convicted me regarding this subject long before that, yet i reacted hypocritically at first, to my own dismay. i do not condemn myself for that as i believe God is in me and with me, even in that ... to bring me to where i am today and to where He is preparing to take me.

No two situations are perfectly analogous, of course. This kind of argument-by-anology doesn't prove anything decisively, and good people still see this issue differently and will for quite a while. But the parallels are provocative.

 

A new resource integrating moves from Yoga, Tai Chi, and Chi Gong with Christian Spirituality

"My God, I pray better to you by breathing. I pray better to you by walking than by talking." -Thomas Merton (Dialogues with Silence)

A few years ago I wrote a book called Naked Spirituality. I tried to write a book on the spiritual life that I wish someone could have given me thirty or forty years ago.

In it, I tried to strip away superficial layers to get to twelve essential practices or postures of the heart. The book has been warmly received, and I continue to hear about churches, classes, retreat centers, spiritual directors, and others who are finding it a helpful resource. (Readers have been sharing their own creative resources in response to the book here.)

Shortly after the book came out, I had a conversation with my friends Bob and Suzanne Jackson. Suzanne is a widely-respected opera singer and yoga instructor. She has worked with notables like Placido Domingo, helping them use yoga and related disciplines to improve their art.

Suzanne and I started talking about Naked Spirituality and how the twelve simple words in the book could be fused with movement to help people move from "wordy prayer" towards simple prayer ... body prayer ... and wordless prayer.

suzanne-brian.jpg

We started dreaming up a series of videos that would help people integrate body movement and deepening heart-postures of prayer. We found a gorgeous location and started working on a script that help both people who had read the book and people who hadn't. We set aside several days to video me introducing the postures of the heart while Suzanne presents the bodily movement.

We called the videos Twelve Simple Words.

Those downloadable videos are now available for your use through the Wordless Prayer website.

You could ...
1. Use the videos to accompany the Naked Spirituality book in your book club or study group
2. Begin your home group with ten minutes of movement each week
3. Explore them with your youth group
4. Introduce children to movement as a way of prayer and inner composure
5. Make these movements a part of your daily practice each morning or evening.
6. Introduce simple body prayer on a retreat or even in a worship service
7. Use as a short family devotional time
8. Introduce them at your local yoga studio as a way of integrating movement and prayer

Christians have always used their bodies in prayer - sitting quietly, standing, kneeling, raising hands, even lying prostrate. It's exciting now to see a greater integration of more thoughtful bodily movement with contemplative Christian spirituality, especially creating an atmosphere that is hospitable to people from a wide variety of religious or nonreligious backgrounds. We hope you'll find Twelve Simple Words to be meaningful in your own life - and a resource to share with others.

 

Open Letter to Worship Leaders (Revised)

Several years ago, I wrote an open letter for worship songwriters and leaders. It appeared in Worship Leader magazine and was widely distributed. It seemed like time for an update (especially in light of the "Liturgical Challenge" section of my most recent book) ... Feel free to pass it on to a worship leader or songwriter you know and love:

An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters (2013) (by Brian D. McLaren, www.brianmclaren.net)

Greetings, fellow songwriters, fellow worshippers, fellow leaders in worship, fellow musician/artists, and fellow Christians who are working for deep renewal in Christian faith, identity, life and mission:

For about seven years now, I have been writing and speaking “on the road” full time, speaking to Christian leaders from across the denominational spectrum, from Africa to Asia to Europe to Latin America to the North America. For twenty-four years before that, I served as a church planter and pastor serving a church that committed itself to grapple with the rapidly changing culture we often refer to as "emerging" - postmodern, post-colonial, post-industrial, post-nationalist, post-communist, and so on.

There are no maps to guide us in this adventure – nobody can offer a $39.95 package that will get you through the postmodern transition if five easy steps. We only know we’re on a quest to honor God and follow Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in the Scriptures and educated by our rich (and checkered) Christian tradition. We find ourselves in a story very much like the children of Israel did when they left Egypt and crossed the Sea into the unknown wilderness. We’re trusting that a God-sent cloud-pillar and fire-cloud will guide us by day and night.

In my travels, I have the opportunity to be with hundreds of worship teams, bands, and leaders, and have spent hundreds of hours being led in worship - from high liturgical to store-front Pentecostal, from "under a tree" indigenous to rock-concert-megachurch, from house church with a lone guitar to cathedral with a massive pipe organ and a mass choir. There are many observations and affirmations I could imagine sharing with you who are worship leaders based on my experience. But one request stands out: a request for the songwriters among us to explore and then lead us into some new lyrical/spiritual territory.

One still hears a lot of complaints about lame music, trite and repetitive lyrics, theological shallowness, etc., etc., in the world of contemporary Christian music. Some of these complaints come from people who secretly wish we would go back to singing hymns like they did back in the -50’s (18- or 19-, your pick). I am not interested in complaining, and I have more interest in what will be in the 2050's than in what was in the 1950's (the decade of my birth). My concern has to do with substance, because for all the musical changes (pipe organs to rock bands) and lyrical changes (traditional hymns to worship choruses), what we're singing - the content - hasn't changed much, except, perhaps, to be condensed or reduced.

Whether we're vocalizing in traditional four-part harmony or singing and swaying to a solid rock and roll beat, we're still generally celebrating the same basic theology that emerged in American frontier revivalism, or in British revivalism before that, or in the Reformation and Puritan eras still earlier. That theology served well (some irony is intended in that word "well") during the time of European colonialism and industrial-era exploitation of the planet. By and large it didn't disturb slavery or segregation or apartheid. It left public this-wordly life largely undisturbed while concentrating our private life on the afterlife, and on issues of guilt and forgiveness, hell and heaven, damnation and redemption.

Many of us have been going back to the Scriptures and allowing them to critique our theology. We have become convinced that there is more going on from Genesis to Revelation than the revelation of "the sinner's prayer" and "the Roman Road," or TULIP or this or that set of denominational distinctives. We have gotten a fresh vision of Jesus and his gospel of the kingdom (or reign, commonwealth, community, or ecosystem) of God.

That understanding of the gospel teaches us not to fear death. It infuses the afterlife with both hope. But it also gives us a sense of heightened accountability for how we live this life - in relation to the poor and marginalized, our enemies, future generations, and our fellow creatures in God's world. It proclaims good news of great joy, not just for "people like us," but for all people and all creation. Yes, it celebrates the holiness and joy of "one day in God's courts," but it also celebrates the holiness and joy of all of life, all work, all creation. Yes, it holds out a great future when "I'll fly away" and "the circle will be unbroken" in heaven. But it also celebrates a meaningful present when "I'll get involved" in the work of healing our broken circle on earth.

In short, it is a gospel of transformation and incarnation, not evacuation and abdication. We need songs and other liturgical elements that celebrate this powerful, holistic, integral, missional gospel.

Songwriters and worship leaders who only want to respond to market demands will be kept busy helping people rejoice within existing theological paradigms. That is good and needed work, I suppose. But we need more songwriters and worship leaders who will play a key spiritual role in the articulation and celebration of this more holistic theology in and among a new generation of worshipers.

Sadly, as I have sat in scores of venues listening (and usually participating in) extended times of worship around the world, I have sensed that our song lyrics are usually keeping us happy in the sanctuary of the status quo. They give us a kind of sugary theological chewing gum - keeping us busy without adding much in the way of nourishment. They are in some ways holding us back - repackaging some highly problematic theology in hipper camouflage.

Let me make this specific: Too many of our lyrics are embarrassingly personalistic, as if the whole gospel revolved around "Jesus and me." Personal intimacy with God is a priceless gift indeed, and such a wonderful step above a cold, abstract, wooden recitation of dogma. But it isn’t the whole story. In fact – this might shock some – it isn’t necessarily the main point of the story. A popular worship song I've heard in many venues says that worship is “all about You, Jesus.” But apart from that line, it really feels like worship and Christianity in general have become “all about me, me, me,” or maybe "us, us, us" (where us = privileged spiritual consumers in the Western religious industrial complex).

If you doubt what I’m saying, listen next time you’re singing in worship. It’s about how Jesus forgives me/us, embraces me/us, makes me/us feel his presence, strengthens me, forgives me, holds me close, touches me, revives me, etc., etc. Now this is all fine. But if an extraterrestrial outsider from Mars were to observe us, I think he would say either a) that these people are all mildly dysfunctional and need a lot of hug therapy (which is ironic, because they are among the most affluent in the world, having been materially blessed in every way more than any group in history), or b) that they don’t give a rip about the rest of the world, that their religion/spirituality makes them as selfish as anyone else, but just in spiritual things rather than material ones.

I don’t think either of these indictments are as true as they would sound to a Martian observer; rather, I think that we songwriters keep writing songs like these because we think that’s what people want and need. The scary thing is that even though I don’t think these indictments are completely true … they could become more true unless we take some corrective action and look for a better balance.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but some of us are thinking right now, “If spiritual songwriting is not about deep, personal intimacy with God, what else is there?” Let me offer a list of Biblical themes I think we would do well to explore in our lyrics:

1. You’ll be surprised to hear me say “eschatology” first – and let me assure you that I don’t mean putting the latest apocalyptic novel to music. By eschatology (which means study of the end or goal towards which the universe moves), I mean the Biblical vision of God’s future which is pulling us toward itself. For many of you, raised like me in late-modern eschatologies, you’ll be surprised to hear that there is a whole new approach to eschatology emerging. This approach doesn’t indulge in future-telling charts or shaky predictions. Rather, it bathes itself in the Biblical poetry of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation … poetry which, when it enters us, plants in us a vision of a world very much different from and better than ours. And when this hope grows and takes root in us, we become agents of it.

What joy I can imagine being expressed in songs that capture the spirit of Isaiah 9:2-7, 25:6-9, 35:1-10, 58:5-14! Who will write those songs?

They need to be written, because people need hope. They need a vision of a good future on earth as in heaven. They need their imaginations set afire with hopeful images of the celebration, peace, justice, and wholeness towards which our dismal, conflicted, polluted, and fragmented world must move. This is much, much bigger than songs about me being evacuated to heaven with Jesus, leaving the earth to be destroyed.

Dig into those passages, songwriters … and let your heart be inspired to write songs of hope, songs of vision, songs that lodge in our hearts a dream of the future that has been too long forgotten … the dream of God’s kingdom coming, and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Write songs about polluted rivers running clear again, about smokestacks giving way to wind generators, about drones, assault weapons, and bullets being melted down and recast as playgrounds, plows, and trumpets. Write songs about people waging peace, about land thieves returning lands, about the seas being full of fish again, about farmland being cherished rather than plundered, about the rich using their wealth to create opportunity for others rather than hoarding it for themselves. Write songs about slums becoming joyful communities, about polar bears and sea turtles making a comeback (for they too, are beloved by their Creator), about forests and valleys and coral reefs being cherished as God's original temples.

2. You may be equally surprised to hear me suggest that we need songs of mission. Many of us believe that a new, larger sense of mission is the key element needed as we move into the future. We're not just talking about missions, and not just evangelism, but mission – participating in the mission of God, the kingdom of God, which is so much bigger and grander than our little schemes of organizational self-aggrandizement.

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve … and as he was sent, so he sent us into the world. The very heart of our identity as followers of Christ must not be that we are the people who have been chosen to be blessed, saved, rescued, and blessed some more. This is a half-truth heresy that our songs currently root more and more deeply in our people. No, the heart of our identity is that we are the people who have been blessed (as was Abraham) to be a blessing, blessed so that we may convey blessing to the world, blessed not to the exclusion of others but for the blessing and benefit of all.

For many of us, the world exists for the church. It is like a strip mine, and people are mined out of it to build the church, which is the only thing that really matters. It's time for us to acknowledge that this kind of image is disgusting. It mirrors the raping and plundering of the environment by our modern industrial enterprises. In it, the church is another industry, another mega-corporation, taking and exploiting for its own profit.

How different is the image of the church as the apostolic (or missional) community, sent into the world as Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, smile, heart. We need songs that celebrate this missional dimension – good songs, and many!

For inspiration, we have to again go back to Scripture, and read the prophets, and the gospels, and engage their heart for the poor, the needy, the broken. Shouldn’t these themes be expressed in song? Don’t they deserve that dignity? Remember Colossians 3,where Paul talks about singing the teachings of Christ to one another in songs of the spirit?

3. You may be equally surprised to hear me recommend that we re-discover historic Christian spirituality and express it in our lyrics. There is a wealth of historic spiritual writings, including many beautiful prayers from the pre-modern era, that are crying for translation into contemporary song. Every era in history has rich resources to offer, from the Patristic period to the Celtic period to the Puritan period. On every page of Thomas a Kempis, in every prayer of the great medieval saints, right up to the work of Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, and Dr. King, there is inspiration waiting for us. When we look at the repetitive and formulaic lyrics that millions of Christians are singing these days (because that’s what we’re writing, folks), the missed opportunity is heartbreaking. These “alien voices” will stretch our hearts and enrich them immeasurably … and eventually, these voices will become the voices of friends, of brothers and sisters, because that is what they are – if we invite them into our worship through songs.

4. You will likely be less surprised to hear me say that we need songs that are simply about God … songs giving God the spotlight, so to speak, for God as God, God’s character, God’s glory, God's beauty, God's wonder and mystery, not just congratulating God for the great job God is doing at making me feel good. And similarly, we need songs that celebrate what God does for the world – the whole world – not just for me, or us. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read the Psalms, because they love to celebrate what the Lord does for the whole earth, not just the people of Israel.

Many of the songs we need will also celebrate God as Creator … an important theme in Scripture, but not for most of our churches. We have lacked a good creation theology in the modern era, and we need songwriters/artists and theologians to join together in the emerging culture to celebrate God as God of creation, not only 14.7 billion years ago (or whenever) but today, now … "Lord of the starfields" (as one of my favorite songwriters put it), the God who knows the sparrows that fall, whose glory still flashes in the lightning bolt, whose kindness still falls like the morning dew, whose mysteries are still imaged in the depths of the ocean and the vast expanse of the night sky.

While we're at it, how about we find ways to stop reducing God to maleness? The God of Scripture is imaged by male and female alike, but sadly, many of our hymns and contemporary songs reinforce God as a male-only deity. We can start by acknowledging - as Scripture does - that both a mother's and father's love image God's love. And we can continue by learning to avoid male pronouns in referring to our majestic Creator. You don't have to make a big deal about it. You can just do it.

5. I should also mention songs of lament. The Bible is full of songs that wail, the blues but even bluer, songs that feel the agonizing distance between what we hope for and what we have, what we could be and what we are, what we believe and what we see and feel. The honesty is disturbing, and the songs of lament don’t always end with a happy Hallmark-Card-Precious-Moments cliché to try to fix the pain. Sometimes I think we’re already a little too happy, excessively happy on a superficial level: the only way to become more truly and deeply happy is to become sadder, by feeling the pain of the chronically ill, the desperately poor, the mentally ill, the lonely, the aged and forgotten, the oppressed minority, the widow and orphan. (In a recent book, Naked Spirituality, I explain this lack of lament in terms of stunted spiritual development, and I try to center a constructive understanding of spiritual pain in the simple words when?, no!, and why?)

This pain must find its way into song, and these songs must find their way into our churches. The bitter will make the sweet all the sweeter. Without the bitter, the sweet can become cloying, which is why too many of our churches feel, I think, like Candyland. Is it too much to ask that we be more honest? Since doubt is part of our lives, since pain and waiting and as-yet unresolved disappointment are part of our lives, can’t these things be reflected in the songs of our communities? Doesn’t endless singing about celebration lose its vitality (and even its credibility) if we don’t also sing about the struggle?

6. We need to explore fresh and deeper understandings of the gospel - Jesus' gospel. Many of us were raised in contexts that reduced Jesus' gospel to a theory of atonement. We were largely unaware that Jesus' gospel was the good news of the kingdom of God available now, to all, starting with the least, the last, and the lost. Our gospel was a sinners'-prayer gospel, a sin-management quick/easy/convenient free-ticket-to-heaven gospel, a gospel that (to quote the inimitable Dallas Willard) wanted Jesus for his blood and little else. We marginalized Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and selected instead a string of convenient out-of-context texts from Romans, with maybe a verse or two from John (also taken out of context) thrown in. The result was a formulaic gospel that focused on forgiveness and stopped there.

That's like getting a bunch of runners at the starting line. The starting gun goes off and they step across the line and start dancing and celebrating for starting the race.

We have thousands of songs - Puritan and Victorian to "contemporary" - that celebrate this reduced gospel. They do so with great passion and finesse, because that was the best or only understanding of the gospel available to them. But now, as we go back to the Scriptures and grapple with deeper, wider, and more integral understandings of the gospel, we need songwriters to dare to celebrate new understandings in song. How can we sing about the cross in its full range of earth-shaking New Testament meaning? How can we sing about Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and ascension outside the confines of a reduced gospel? How can we rediscover the gospel - not as a new way to appease a hostile God, but as a new understanding of God as gracious, not needing appeasement, who calls us into a new way of life characterized by reconciliation, inclusion, service, and peacemaking? The best critique of the old is a better celebration of the new, and we need talented songwriters to do the hard work of pioneering that celebration.

7. Finally, we need songs that are occasional - for important occasions in community life. We need more great eucharistic songs (keeping #6 in mind), more great gathering and departing songs, more songs that support "entering God's gates with thanksgiving" and more songs that support intercessory prayer. We need great songs for baptisms, great songs for benedictions, great songs for funerals, great songs for births.

In this process, we need to preserve everything good in our tradition. Sometimes, that might mean keeping a familiar and beloved tune and providing new lyrics. Sometimes that might mean substituting a single word or a single verse. Sometimes it will mean dropping a verse that is problematic, preferably with a footnote and explanation. (Take, for example, this frightful lyric from the otherwise-beautiful hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful": "The rich man in his castle,/The poor man at his gate,/He made them high or lowly/and ordered their estate." Sounds like it's right out of a Charles Dickens novel, the kind of verse Scrooge would sing with gusto. It was removed from most hymnals decades ago.)

In closing, I'd like to offer a few stylistic observations and requests.

First, is it not time to fully and finally get over King James English in our new lyrics, even if we choose to retain it in our old? Enough said.

Second, may I suggest that we be careful about using gratuitous Biblical language – Zion, Israel, go forth, on high, etc., etc.? If there is a good reason to use such language – in other words, if we are using it intentionally, not just for a “spiritual feel,” then fine. Otherwise, if we can find contemporary language and imagery that would communicate more crisply, poignantly, immediately, and deeply to people who don’t already have a lot of pew time … then let’s use it, in the spirit of I Corinthians 14, where intelligibility to the spiritual seeker is a gospel virtue.

Third, in an era of Quran-burnings, terrorism, and counter-terrorism, is it wise to perpetuate in our songs the language of warfare and hostility? I know such language is common in both the Bible and our tradition. No doubt there is a time and place to talk about that imagery (properly transformed within the gospel). But remember: warfare imagery sounded very different on the lips of a tiny Middle Eastern Bronze-Age minority than it does on the lips of the most heavily-armed and nuclear-capable nation in the history of history. These days I consider it irresponsible to use warfare language that can easily be co-opted by political forces that don't distinguish between spiritual warfare and flesh-and-blood, bullet-and-bomb warfare. We all need a strong dose of Sermon-on-the-Mount peaceableness right about now, don't you agree?

The same goes for language that dehumanizes the other - terms like "the lost," "the nations," "the unsaved," and so on. If we're not careful, these words turn us into smug insiders and render others depersonalized outsiders, which is all the more tragic and ironic when we claim to follow a leader who identified with the outsiders.

Fourth, musically, am I the only one wishing for more rhythmic variety? Why is it that I am being blessed so much by creative drummers and percussionists wherever I go?

Fifth, can our worship leaders enrich the musical experience by reading Scripture, great prayers of the historic church, creeds, confessions, and poems over musical backgrounds? Whether or not you appreciate rap music, it’s trying to tell us something about the abiding power of the spoken word, the well-chosen spoken word that is. (I think you'll agree that we have far too many less-than-well-chosen spoken words already.

And speaking of confessions and creeds ... is it time to confess in contemporary terms what we most poignantly regret and what we most sincerely believe?

And finally, can our lyricists start reading more good poetry, good prose, so they can be sensitized to the powers of language, the grace of a well-turned phrase, the delight of a freshly discovered image, the prick or punch or caress or jolt that is possible if we wrestle a little harder and stretch a little farther for the word that really wants to be said from deep within us? Sadly, while many of our songs have better and better music, but the lyrics still feel like “cliché train” – one linked to another, with a monotonous recycling of plastic language and paper triteness.

When I wrote a version of this letter several years ago, things were much worse than they are now. Many creative songwriters have been making important breakthroughs in recent years (thanks be to God!). But we still have a long way to go, which opens up lots of opportunities for creative leaders ... like you.

Thanks for considering these things. I hope this letter will contribute to an important and ongoing conversation, and I hope it will stimulate creativity too.

Your fellow worshipper,
Brian McLaren

 

Q & R: How Would You Define You, Part 2

(For Part 1, go here:)

Someone recently asked me to "define me" in response to the following quote about some friends of mine and me.

“But their answers have often lacked the substance on which we can live, and what goes by the name of ‘emerging church’ now appears to have settled into another version of mainline Christianity.”

I thought I'd add two comments. First, on Mainline Christianity.

In my most recent book on Christian identity in a multi-faith world, I explore how groups typically build identity among "us" through hostility to "them." In my experience, many Evangelicals and Mainliners know who they are largely through hostility to one another: "We are not-them," or even "We are anti-them." (Maybe as Protestants, they needed each other in this way after the Protestant feud with Catholicism ran its course.)

On both sides, I sense some hardening of those us-them categories - and on both sides, more and more people are seeking to re-engage with generous voices "on the other side." For example, you would be hard-pressed to find among younger Evangelical pastors a bookshelf (at home, if not at the office) that doesn't include books by Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Buechner, Diana Butler Bass, etc., if not also Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan, Jack Spong, or Sally McFague. And there wouldn't be too many Mainline bookshelves that didn't include something by Don Miller, Rob Bell, Bill Hybels, N. T. Wright, Scot McKnight, or Rachel Held Evans.

If I could get one message through to so called "conservative" Christians about so-called "liberal" mainliners, I would ask them to look at this list:


Opposing enslavement of Native Peoples during the colonial era
Opposing colonialism in general
Abolition of slavery
Ending racial segregation
Promoting affirmative action regarding racial equality
Equal rights for women
Opposing elective wars
Defending free scientific inquiry about the "shape" of the universe
Defending free scientific inquiry about the age of the earth
Defending free scientific inquiry about biological evolution
Promoting environmental responsibility
Defending a safety net for poor
Promoting interfaith understanding
Seeking equality for LGBTQ people

On every one of these issues, the conservative Christian majority of their era - Catholic, Protestant, etc. - took the wrong side. On every one. On every one of these issues, a progressive Christian minority took the right side. Every one. Sometimes I think we should define a conservative as someone who agrees with progressives 50 years late. I think we're somewhere into that 50-year process on LGBTQ issues at the moment.

So I would say that if you're Evangelical, rather than looking with disdain on your Mainline brothers and sisters, try some humility. It changes your perspective. (And when I speak to Mainliners about Evangelicals, I say the same thing, because I could create another list - perhaps I will - about issues/practices/values where Evangelicals have led the way or held moral high ground - a balance Rachel Held Evans struck perfectly in a recent blog, I think. BTW - I'm aware that many mainliners aren't progressive, and some evangelicals are progressive. Again, as has been said, labels have a purpose, but they also carry lots of imprecision.)

I was recently in a conversation where all of the participants were bona-fide Evangelicals (with the possible exception of me, depending on whom you ask), and all of the participants were African American, Latin American, Asian American, and Native American, except me. Several of them said something like this, in several ways, at several points in the conversation: "The center of resistance to our well-being and full inclusion as minorities in America, along with the well-being of the planet's ecology, lies in American Evangelicalism." I was stunned by their candor.

I never set out to leave Evangelicalism. I simply wanted to ask the questions I couldn't help but ask and tell the truth as I saw it about some of these things. I'm glad that I was welcomed by Mainliners. And wherever Evangelicals want me around, I'm glad and honored to be there. And the same goes for Catholics and others too.

So I'm not bothered if people want to say I've "gone Mainline." Some would say Mainliners have low enough standards to accept me, and others would say they have more space, grace, and welcome ...

Second, on "the emerging church." This is a term I have generally avoided, depending on who's using it and why. As I explain in my most recent book, many of us are trying to figure out which adjectives to add in front of the problematized noun "Christian." For some, it's born again, for others it's Spirit-filled, and for others, it's born-again-Spirit-filled-Bible-believing. For others it's progressive, or Anabaptist, or missional, or Vatican II Catholic, or whatever. The subtitle of A Generous Orthodoxy pretty much proves that I don't have an easy solution to the problem. I think the term "Emergence Christianity" steers in a good direction, as does "Convergence Christianity," but sometimes I think the problem is with the noun, not the adjectives. Lately, I try to speak of "Christian faith" instead of "Christianity" for reasons that might be obvious or might not. Anyway, I can work with a lot of adjectives and am interested in building bridges to common ground, not erecting walls and fences to keep others at bay.

I never liked the way "emerging church" felt like yet another market sector, and I suspected that in that word "church" there still were a lot of unexamined assumptions hiding like stowaways. My hope is that from the conversations of recent decades, something bigger and more beautiful and dynamic is emerging than we have yet seen ... or labeled.

The only other thing I'd add ... what concerned me most in the quote wasn't what it infers about "mainline" or "emerging", but this: "... their answers have often lacked substance on which we can live." I suppose we all have differing criteria for substance ... but I know, for me, my life as a pastor and now as a writer has been about a quest for "substance on which to live." So if somebody feels I haven't arrived there yet to the degree they have, they can at least take comfort that my quest continues.

 

Q & R: Hades, hell, etc.

Here's the Q:

I've read quite a few of your books... I'd like to espouse your cause
but have honest questions. Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 speaks of "hades"
or hell. He speaks of Abraham as saying (verses 29 & 31) that people
have Moses and the prophets relating to this. So how can you say that
the concept of hell in Christendom is a result of it being high jacked
by the Greco/Roman philosophy?

Here's the R:
I've written about this in most detail in my book The Last Word and the Word After That.

One brief comment. Whatever that passage teaches, it does not teach that the only way to go to heaven is by believing in a Christian atonement theory. It does not teach that the only way to avoid hell is through adherence to a certain religion or creed. It does not teach that the sinner's prayer will lead to heaven. If it teaches anything (in a literalistic sense), it is that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven, or that people who are lacking in compassion for the poor go to hell and the poor they are careless toward go to heaven. So ... if people want to take the passage literally, they should teach what it plainly teaches.

I don't believe Jesus is teaching us about the geography or ontology of hades/hell in this passage, any more than I believe he is teaching about being able to communicate across the "chasm" between heaven and hell. I believe he is teaching us that the living God is deeply concerned about the way we treat the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Any way of interpreting the text that takes us away from that central moral summons is, I think, a colossal adventure in missing the point.

Caring for the poor is what Moses and the prophets emphasized - as, for example, Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 58 make clear.

I know that differs from what many have been taught, but I think it's pretty hard to reach any other conclusion when you approach the texts reverently and without preconceived conclusions in mind.

 

Q & R: Jihad?

Here's the Q:

What, in your understanding, is jihad?

Here's the R:
My Muslim friends tell me that in Arabic, the word means "struggle." It can mean a private internal struggle - or it can mean an external social, physical, or military struggle. In that way, the word is a lot like "crusade" in English. You can have a crusade against violence - or a violent crusade against an enemy. When Billy Graham used the word, he had something very different in mind from Pope Urban II.

I think conservative Christians who use the term "spiritual warfare" will have a sense of what many Muslims mean by "jihad." In both religions, sadly, warfare language that is metaphorical can easily be "literalized" and "weaponized" by violent leaders.

That's why in all my most recent books, I've written a lot about violence in religion. I think it's time for us to firmly and decisively repudiate religious violence. The differences between this religion and that are important and meaningful, but the differences between violent and peaceable varieties within each religion demand focused attention by us all.

 

Thanks to all who responded yesterday ...

... to my request for help.If you can't help at this time, you might know someone who can ... it would be great if you could forward the request to them. Over the weekend I'll be responding to all who reply. Again, thanks. Response has been truly gratifying.

 

LinksRoundup

There's a new Walter Brueggemann site up. A great resource!
http://www.walterbrueggemann.com/blog/

Back in February, Adam Hamilton wrote one of the shortest yet most helpful pieces on the church's struggle over human sexuality ... here:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/on-homosexuality-many-christians-get-the-bible-wrong/2013/02/13/2443d062-761f-11e2-aa12-e6cf1d31106b_blog.html

An important update on our global climate - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/climate-warnings-growing-louder.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fopinion%2Findex.jsonp
If you haven't read my book Everything Must Change, this wouldn't be a bad time to do so.

A great piece from Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer. May more and more people share the generous spirit he articulates here. Quotable:

Don't be so lazy to assume that the worst of a group represents the entire group. They hardly ever do. Perhaps a better idea is to meet them, learn about them and treat them as your neighbor.

Want to visit the Middle East from your own home? Here's an excellent chance, through an interview with Alick Isaacs. http://www.middleeastexperience.com/meet-alick-isaacs-on-may-22nd/#.UZpi1ZW--K9

And here's an important new book on Israel and Palestine by Michael McRay who lived there as an agent of peace: https://wipfandstock.com/store/Letters_from_Apartheid_Street_A_Christian_Peacemaker_in_Occupied_Palestine

A few months ago, I spoke in Memphis and met the good people of Church Health Center. If you're looking for a fascinating embodiment of the oft-used but seldom-defined term missional, I'd say these folks are a great place to start. On staff there is Stacy Smith - a gifted leader and the co-author of a book I really enjoyed, suitable for clergy of any gender: Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman.

My friend Shane Claiborne wrote a powerful piece about the death penalty recently. It makes an obvious connection between that issue and a well-known Bible story - one I had never recognized. Read it here. Shane introduced me to Heather Beaudoin and the work of EJUSA, a group drawing attention to one of the most under-acknowledged justice issues in America. You can learn more and sign a related petition here.

Sheldon Good contributes to a thoughtful and challenging article on terrorism and US foreign policy, here. Quotable:

This nation has always struggled to align its ideals with its historical reality, climaxing in movements to abolish slavery and uphold citizenship and voting rights for women and minorities. That struggle continues as the nation deals with its new position as a global empire, the clear aggressor in its conflicts abroad. But it will come down to our collective efforts if we are to reverse the momentum that brings that war home, with all of its violence and evil. It is not just our liberty or our security that is at stake, but our humanity.

A great article and a great conference on peace-making ... which should be an essential part of Christian formation.

Finally, here's an article and interview about one of my recent trips.

 

A Request for Help

Readers of my books and blog know that I am a movement person.

On this blog, in my speaking, and in my books I get behind a wide array of organizations, causes, and projects that I sense are moving in the same general direction. My great sense of calling has been, and continues to be, to contribute to a broad-based movement that embodies a Christ-like ethos and leads to Christ-like action for the good of the world.

Grace and I recently decided to make a significant financial investment in building some behind-the-scenes support structures for this movement to take its next steps.
I think the time is ripe.

I’m looking for some people to join in this initiative.

Let me be clear: I’m not asking for money for myself. Grace and I both work hard and we cover our own expenses. Our desire is to give and seek others to join us in giving.

What I’m looking for is a team of partners to join me in a generous and strategic impulse.

If you believe in the kinds of things I write, say, and do, and would like to join me in making a significant financial investment over the next three years - to help a broad-based, diverse, and deep Christian movement rise to the next level, I am hoping we can come together in a joint project.

You might be able to give in the four, five, six, or seven figures. Or you might know a person, foundation, or other donor who can. Or you might be willing to start giving a smaller amount on a regular basis for the long term.

At a later date, I’ll be asking for people who can help with skills ... but first, we need some people who can put together some funds.

If you are open to explore this further (no pressure or obligation, of course), I hope you’ll contact me at this email address:
happytohelp@brianmclaren.net

I’ll be back in touch with more information within a few days. (Of course, I’ll keep your contact information confidential and it won’t be sold or given to anybody else.)

Thanks for considering this request for help and passing/forwarding/tweeting it on to others who you believe might be able and happy to help.

Warmly and gratefully,
Brian

 

Q & R: Christ and His Death

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. Great work you doing, Bro. Hang in there.
A question about your Christology. Have read several of your books but can't really get a handle on your idea of the need for Christ and His death. If you don't believe in original sin, what do you think was the purpose of the cross then?
Thanks and will keep following yr blog.

Here's the R: This is an important question. The places I deal with this most pointedly in my writings are
A New Kind of Christianity: You're very perceptive to realize that Christ is valuable and essential in what I call the "six lined narrative" because his death solves the problem of "original sin." If you're working in that narrative, if you take away original sin, the whole thing collapses. What never made sense to me, though, is that Christ was truly important to the early Christians before the doctrine of original sin had ever been articulated (which happened in part through Irenaeus in the 2nd century and mostly through Augustine in the 5th century). I propose a different narrative or "framing story" - one more based on the Hebrew narratives of creation, liberation, and reconciliation - and in that story, all dimensions of Christ - his birth, life, teaching, deeds, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, etc. - are truly important, meaningful, and needed.

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? You're right that I question the popular conception of original sin, but it's not true that I don't believe in original sin. In my most recent book, I follow the work of James Alison and others in reading the key biblical texts behind the doctrine - exposing "the desire to acquire," the tendency to rivalry (including rivalry with God), and our proclivity to achieve peace through violence as our original sin. In that light, Jesus' death is more important than ever before ... but in a radically different way. I deal with this throughout the "Doctrinal Challenge" section, but it comes to a climax in my "Liturgical Challenge" chapter on Eucharist as table of fellowship and reconciliation, not altar of sacrifice.

 

Naked Spirituality

More and more churches are using Naked Spirituality as a basis for sermon series and small groups. Pastor DavidlTinney of Vancouver First United Methodist Church prepared a set of daily devotions based on the book and graciously agreed to share them.

You'll find the first ten weeks of devotions below, covering the words Here, Thanks, O, and Sorry. Again, thanks to David!

The Beginning of our Journey Theme for the week: Our response to God’s call

Day 1
Scripture: Genesis 17: 1-17
Reflection: It is good to know that the Bible is real and not written to hide emotions. I cannot imagine a document with such brutal honesty being written in today’s world of spin doctors and PR departments. We have all decided to take a journey together for the next year. We will also write and sign a covenant about how we treat each other and hold to the promises we agreed we wanted to share. Today’s reading is about a covenant and also about Abraham’s frank response to God’s promise. As you read this story today, put yourself in Abraham’s sandals and imagine that you are the one talking with God. Read it through completely and then go back again and find one word or phrase that captures your attention and spend a few moments repeating it slowly and heart-fully.

Questions to ponder:
What promise would you like to receive from God as you embark on this year-long journey?
If God spoke to your heart right now and said, “I am going to make you a mighty disciple and you will do great things,” would you fall down and laugh?

Prayer for the day: Lord this is all new to so many of us. This is the first time for many of us to take our spiritual journeys seriously. So we ask for your guidance and help.
As we enter into this journey we pause right now to pray for what we need for a covenant between us t