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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Wisdom from Alan Bean, right here:
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:
If you'd like to encourage them to make the book available, you could send an email here:
I'd be pleased if they responded to customer requests and decide to release it along with the first two books in the trilogy.
A chance to view an important documentary on gay Christians (Seventh-Gay Adventists) ... for free until Sunday night here:
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:
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.
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.
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.