I just wanted to write ( as I am weeping) as I start reading your new book. I just read the first couple of pages and the emotions started.
I have had a really challenging spiritual awakening over the past seven years. Long story. It has been difficult following how the Holy Spirit led me and living within a community of conservative, evangelicals, including my spouse. Challenging on every level of my being.
Having a devotion to Christ … I have been struggling to find a way to be authentic, and reconcile my walk in faith within my community and family. I think I have found a way with your book, I hope. I asked my husband to look at it with me, hopefully he will be open to it. We had an intense discussion about it last night, and today I found your book.
Being a yoga teacher, I am excited to see body prayer on your website! So excited about that.
Thanks for the work you do and your vision. Together we can be Christ's hands and feet to create God's King/ Queendom here as is meant to be.
John Esposito's responses to Michael Coren are a model of clarity, wisdom, and civility in the context of profound disagreement … worth reading both for content and style.
"Esposito, founding director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, thinks Coren is correct to speak of Jesus as a man of peace, "but he conveniently overlooks the practice of some popes, and other Christian leaders in terms of religious persecution, violence and wars," he says.
"Moreover, I presume Coren accepts the Old Testament as part of the Bible and the Christian tradition. If so, then he must be aware of Old Testament passages and the instances of not only violence but even passages calling for genocide.
"Similarly when he writes of Muhammad he has surely not forgotten the military role of prophets like Joshua, Samuel and David."
Esposito says Coren should also take note of the "anti-Muslim racism" of hardline Christian leaders like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and John Hagee.
"I (and others) as both a scholar and a Christian would disagree with the brush-stroking and collective guilt associated with that kind of reductionism."
If you haven't been enjoying the music of Steve Bell for years and years as I have, you can catch up (kind of like watching a few seasons of a great TV series on Netflix) with his new 25-year retrospective, Pilgrmage.
You can listen to clips and order the CD here:
A reader writes:
While I know this framing story doesn’t have a chance in the world. Hell, we can’t even get the poor out to vote on election day, and we are hoping someday they will stop thinking of themselves and start living for the sake of the community? I live in a condo complex and serve on the HOA board, and we can’t get enough people to serve to make a full board. It certainly isn’t the framing story I would choose, except I love God and this is the story I believe God chooses and I feel God chooses me to learn it and live it. I found your book Everything Must Change in the library and am about 2/3rds the way through, but I skimmed ahead to see if you touch on the Greatest commandment. While you dance around it and almost refer to it, it isn’t the foundation the framing story is built on. My favorite story is found in Mark 12: 28 where Jesus tells the teacher of the law that for believing the 2 commandments are the prime directive that he is not far from the kingdom of God (yeah my own words there), but the message is clear that Loving God and neighbor is to enter the kingdom of God. While you say in your book that “kingdom” is a kind of old fashioned word that may not have any use in today’s world, I believe it is perfect and can be re-engineered to mean a whole new type of society, one that is not capitalism and one that is not a dictatorship.
Another idea I think you dance around that I would like to comment on is your encouraging to us to try to picture what living in the kingdom of God would be like. Wonderful idea! I wish I was a better writer and had the foresight to write a screen play titled “The kingdom of God” . First scene: year 33CE, Just outside the Temple, and Mark 12:28 through 34 plays out and maybe we could throw in some more teachings about what justice would look like in the kingdom of God. Scene two: jump ahead 1800 years and the world is living the kingdom of God. The movie shows how the community works together to solve problems, work through disagreements, shows what the economy could look like, where there is no unemployment because the government has a right to work law and if you need a job you go to the employment office and you have a right to a job, one that pays well enough to live, and how those in the community work towards the good of the community, and it is that mindset that keeps those who would attempt to oppress or cheat the community from making the attempt. Perhaps the movie would show our community what it would look like and get them on the road toward the kingdom of God. The movie would reinforce acts of loving kindness, a very rare thing, if you would look at what is in the theaters year after year. Violence is all we know because it is all we see.
Thank you again for your wonderful book, I am very much enjoying the lessons you teach in it.
A reader writes:
Brian, my wife and I just returned from a trip (my first) to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe these places. To be sure, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
I just wanted to share some thoughts with you.
While we were there, one of the places we went was to the Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration. While I sat in the darkness looking at that view, I thought “We have something all wrong”. When someone asks us to “prove” the existence of “God”, we trot out the old “watch and watchmaker” schpiel. I think this misses the mark by infinity.
Several weeks ago I heard a comment by singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier in which she said that artists were people who attempted to make sense out of chaos.
If you recall, in the opening verses of Genesis, that’s precisely what God does.
Maybe we need to start thinking of God not as a mere watchmaker, but as a great Artist. Maybe being made in the image and likeness of God means we can see creation through the eyes of the Artist.
I thought, If I were to bring my weeniedog Daphne to that place and asked her to comprehend the wonder of it all, she would probably be wondering if it involved food or chasing a squirrel!
It's interesting to ponder what the human versions of chasing a squirrel would be!
A reader writes:
I just thought I would let you know we have a group reading We Make the Road by Walking in Whitehead, Northern Ireland. Do hope you can visit Ireland soon!!
I needed this.
A listener writes:
I was recently spiritually prompted to one of your interviews, on Premier Christian Radio, and just wanted to follow that up with an introduction.
My name is ccc; I am a [middle aged] Christian of 17 years, and I live in East London, England. I have been a Christian all of my life, but consciously reaffirmed my faith in 1997. Since then I have enjoyed (and endured) the most amazing relationship and walk with God.
I had little taught expectations (or limitations) on God, I believed he would respond to me much as he did to our Biblical forefathers - and he did, and then some. I had always assumed this was how ever Christian experienced God, in a very real and present way, guiding the big and small, trivial and significant decisions. From where to live – to what to eat, more importantly how he desires to see me grow in spiritual maturity.
Conversely, whilst my knowledge and experience of God has been extraordinary, my experience of life in the church has been underwhelming. Even this experience God used to teach and mature me – though I don’t pretend to be spiritually matured just yet.
Eventually I determined that God allowed me to experience him in such a real way because he knew I would not be able to keep it to myself. I believe my story might help and encourage other Christians struggling with faith and church life, so I wrote about it.
Essentially I try to encourage and challenge us all (as individuals and bodies) to go back to basics, to re-examine our commitment to God and our relationship with him. To take a long, hard and honest look at whether the Christians we are today reflect, honour and glorify God. Are we growing in spiritual maturity and if not, why not.
The most important lesson I learned, and it took the best part of ten years, is that I’m not in control, I can’t change me, I can’t make myself Christ like no matter how committed I am to God and how hard I try. After ten years God stopped me, showed me that he hadn’t asked for my plethora of well intended good deeds, he had only asked that I be honest and sincere with him and those around me, even if that meant confessing some very ugly truths.
That was a key turning point in my spiritual journey, try less – pray more, allowing God to lead on your transformation is the only way to ensure that change is sincere and lasting.
I had spent ten years trying to make myself better and all God really wanted was for me to get real with him, surrender to him and let him transform me into whatever he created me to become.
After hearing your interview I felt a deep resonance with your story, but also a small spiritual butt kicking to finish the book.
If I’m entirely honest I’m not sure why I’m contacting you, perhaps the encouragement to finish the book was all God intended. But it can’t hurt to say hello and let you know that I have been encouraged by your story. And, if there is any guidance you can offer to a first time author that will of course be greatly appreciated.
May God bless you and keep you.
Here's the Q:
Brian, I have a thought about your blog response
You emphasize, rightly, that progress toward peace with Islam or any
other group must include making the effort to better understand them
and why they take the positions that they take. But that's difficult
with Islam in ways not shared by other groups of "other". As you
doubtless know, there are no translations of the Quran into any
language. There are some sort-of translations that Muslims allow to be
used as a crutch by people who want to learn Arabic. But they take it
as a cardinal principle that the words of the Prophet cannot be
translated and yet remain the words of the Prophet. While nearly
anybody, anywhere, can pick up a Bible in a familiar language, only
Arabic speakers can read the Quran.
The result is that anything an American may "know" about Islam has
been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation,
misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural
I like languages, but I have little inclination to learn Arabic. Yet
we must come to a better understanding of Muslims. For that, we need a
strategy. A number of things you've written suggest that your strategy
for better understanding Muslims has been to meet as many as possible
and have long talks, taking a nonjudgmental attitude so that neither
party gets mad and storms out. Great. But that strategy doesn't work
for many Americans.
In addition, there are excellent introductions to Islam, written by both Muslims and Christians. Here are three resources I would especially recommend:
1. John Esposito's works, beginning with Islam: The Straight Path.
2. Who Speaks for Islam summarizes a monumental demographic study and dispels many myths. It's short, readable, and research based.
3. Reza Aslan's No God but God is also highly readable and helpful.
As for building relationships between Christian and Muslim congregations, people like my friend Jeff Burns and organizations like Peace Catalyst are going important and needed work, among many others.
And here's another great resource:
Theories/understandings of the sun change … as do theories and understandings of everything, including God. That's a theme of my book We Make the Road by Walking, and John Stonecypher captures it amazingly in his weekly multi-media commentary. Check it out here.
A reader writes ...
I know you are very busy and maybe won't even read this but thank you so much for your brave writing, I'm sure you get quite a lot of grief over it but I wanted to encourage and thank you. I am the classic 'kid who grew up in the evangelical church'. My dad was a pastor and my whole life was church and the evangelical bubble ( including being a missionary) until my late 20's when all my understandings of God started to fall apart. At the risk of making this too long let's just say that huge career disappointment, long term unemployment after coming out of full time christian ministry, having a disabled child and university study that raised many questions made my 30s the time of getting rid of all the paradigms and christian culture I had grown up with. I just read Rachel Held Evans memoir and we could be spiritual twins in many ways.
I read 'Generous orthodoxy' this year and it was so good. So good to hear I was not the only one with big questions about the evangelical way of church. So good to hear a bit about how other Christian traditions view such things as the cross and the kingdom of God. This has led me to reading writers from Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox streams, which has basically saved my Christianity because I can now see that it is possible to experience God organically without having to 'know'a whole lot about him, it's been awesome. I am starting my Masters degree in Anthropology next year and my thesis topic is the new trend in evangelical Christian missions of moving from 'soul saving' to justice based 'incarnational service work, and if this is a result of emerging theology, I quote you and N T Wright in my thesis proposal. My university is secular, but they find the topic fascinating. Keep writing, looking forward to reading your new book.
Thanks for writing … and thanks for your encouragement. It's an exciting time to study anthropology, and especially the intersection of anthropology and religion. In your studies, be sure to explore Rene Girard. You'll find amazing insights there.
Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.- Karen Armstrong More here.
Here's the Q:
Our study group recently started a discussion of Islam, having read your book Why Did JMBM Cross the Road? as background. … In the case of Islam more than other faiths — the challenge in practical terms seems far more complex than you made it seem in your book.
I would be interested in your response to this multi-part question:
In the case of Islam — recognizing that extremists are a minority group within Islam — do you believe a strong/benevolent attitude can be effective in relation to Islamic extremists?
Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?
If so, how do we get this movement started (besides promoting your book and/or this video), in the face of what the media is showing about ISIS etc.?
Thanks for considering my questions.
You might say it like this: I believe God gave us a major shot of life-saving medicine through Jesus. For 2000 years, which is, say, 400 generations (roughly speaking), some people have been taking this medicine. Slowly, a new way of dealing with violence and hatred is replacing the old. Since then, others have come along to administer "booster shots" - reiterating and clarifying Jesus' message when it gets sidelined or distorted - people like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis, St. Claire, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jon Sobrino, Desmond Tutu, Richard Twiss, Shane Claiborne, Tony and Peggy Campolo, and many more.
Meanwhile, the old habits of hate and violence are still normative for billions.
Our situation is not unlike someone who has smoked for 30 of their 50 years. If they quit smoking tomorrow, immediate health benefits will begin to manifest. But it will take many years for lungs, skin, vocal chords, blood pressure, etc., to return to normal. Consequences are "in the system" so to speak.
So … each of us does all we can to live the way of Jesus, the way of the beatitudes, the way of the kingdom of God. In so doing, we spread health. We try to teach our children to do the same so they will spread health. We move toward our enemies - not to destroy, but to "preach the good news" and to invite them into the way of peace too. That requires learning and understanding why they see and respond as they do … and building relationships so that they may at least see an option of a better way. That may seem impractical and slow-moving … but I can't think of a better way, try as I might.
"There is no way to peace," the old saying (from A. J. Muste) goes, "for peace itself is the way."
As for your question, "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" - I have to ask two questions. First, "Can we realistically expect that if we don't listen listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" … and "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Christians, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?"
It's not easy reigning in the bad behavior of others under any circumstances. I think there are two essential first steps:
1. Don't imitate extremists - in thought, language, or behavior.
2. Provide an alternative example.
I don't doubt that there will be military responses, police actions, etc., etc. These may contain evil; they may also unintentionally set more evil in motion. But they won't overcome it with good. That is the work of all of us … and that was the focus of my book.
And that cause, I hope, will be advanced today in thousands of congregations around the world … gathering around a table that dares to proclaim the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, not like a culture war or battle zone.