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Brian's Blog

  • November 26, 2015

    My short thanksgiving list ...

    My top twenty in (sometimes humorously) random order:
    1. The gift of life and health, all the more because this year I had successful (and minor) cancer surgery, and because next year I turn sixty (a milestone that causes people to "number their days" as the Psalmist said)
    2. My amazing wife, my beloved wonderful unimaginably fantastic adult children, my dont-get-me-started-on-how-extraordinary-they-are grandkids, my sweet mother, my beloved brother and in-laws, nieces and nephews and extended family, each a beautiful gift ...
    3. That every year is not an election year, and that even many Republicans are sickened by the thought of President Trump
    4. For food ... and for the soil, rain, sunlight, air, and seasons on which it depends
    5. For Pope Francis ... and for all the other sane religious leaders whose voices are often drowned out by those whose sanity is less, errrr, substantial.
    6. For my favorite possessions - especially my computer, my kayak, my fly rod, my guitars, my herd of tortoises, and my mango trees
    7. For birds and other creatures whose company enriches my life is so many ways.
    7. For my favorite musicians - a long list that begins with Bruce Cockburn, Bob Dylan, and my singer-songwriter daughter Jodi.
    8. For all the people who do their work well every day, improving life for everyone - especially teachers, librarians, people who protect public safety, doctors and especially nurses, pastors and priests and their colleagues, public servants (some politicians belong to this category), sanitation workers, ethical engineers and accountants, and farmworkers (the unsung heroes around the world).
    9. That most people use the internet responsibly, unlike the few who constantly put up bogus fake me accounts, spread crazy falsehoods, and troll all our comments sections.
    10. For all the people who resist xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and all the other sociopathic epidemics for which this is a very bad year ...
    12. For all the people who respond to each tragedy, terrorist attack, war, earthquake, refugee crisis, and bad "breaking news" with prayer, love, grace, and the determination not to be overcome by evil, nor to respond to evil with evil, but rather to overcome evil with good.
    13. For the love and grace of God, for the unfathomable good news of Jesus, and for the constant, surrounding, upholding, healing, and inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit.
    14. For all the people who read my books, and especially those who underline things they like and recommend them to others.
    15. For all the organizations that invited me to speak in 2015. It was a wonderful year!
    16. For my closest friends ... you know who you are.
    17. My ancestors who have gone before, and all the saints and elders who inspire me by their words and example.
    18. For the beautiful place I live, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades.
    19. That in spite of all the free stuff to read on the internet, some people still buy and read books (which I hope they'll keep doing at least until my next one comes out next year!)
    20. For all the people who realize I missed #11, for those who realize I cheated with two #7's, and for all the other blessings I missed and should have included in this short list ...

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  • What I Said At the Parliament of World Religions last month:

    I don’t know which comes first - my love for God or my love for creation? Do I love birds and trees and oceans and forests because I love the One who created them, or do I love the Creator because I love this exquisite, precious, fragile, resilient, beautiful earth? I don’t know which comes first, but I do know the two go together.

    Global warming is a spiritual issue, a moral issue, and people of faith around the world know it. We know that many of the stories we have been telling ourselves and our children are destructive, harmful, and dangerous.

    Our old stories often said that God gave the earth to humans so they could use it for their profit. They said that God would soon destroy the earth, which gave powerful people a license to plunder it as if it were a store going out of business.

    Our old stories often said that God chose and favored some to the exclusion and diminishment of others. Men and boys over women and girls, one race or tribe over others, straight over gay, this religion above and over that, the pure and orthodox over the skeptic or different, the rich over the poor.

    Or maybe our old stories said that everything was a matter of fate, or that the earth was an impermanent distraction from which we can escape on our own private inner enlightenment vacation while the rest of the world burns.

    The earth is singing to us, crying to us ... telling us we need to learn and tell a new story, a bigger, better, and more gracious story, rooted in the diverse riches of our various traditions, spoken in the accents of our different cultures, but leading us to common action.

    Something is trying to be born among us. Something is trying to take flight, take root, and break free. It is a movement, an urgent multi-faith spiritual movement that looks like the people gathered here - diverse, mutually appreciative, and deeply dedicated.

    It has been said that organized religion is dying, and sometimes, that may be a good thing ... because the religious industrial complex is often stuck and stagnant, organized for the wrong purposes: self-preservation, protection of privilege, an escape into yesterday or tomorrow rather than an engagement with the fierce urgency of now.

    The movement we need must transform organized religions into organizing religions, religions organizing for the common good, religions equipping and deploying people in a global, passionate, dynamic movement to heal the earth and protect all living things.

    We can’t treat climate change as just one more problem in a list, one problem unrelated to all others. Rather, we must realize that the burning of fossil fuels is closely related to the combustion of human beings to fuel a destructive economy ...

    - millions of farm workers sweating in the hot fields for obscenely low pay,
    - millions of women of heroic character and dignity whose potential melts away because of selfish and arrogant men who exploit them,
    - millions of boys and girls who have neither clean water for their bodies nor a quality education for their minds,
    - millions of frightened grandfathers and brokenhearted grandmothers burning in the fever of hate, racism, and war.

    Just as many pronounce religion as passe, irrelevant, and dead, suddenly we need religion as never before to come together in saving love to avert climate disaster on planet earth.

    If we stop and listen, we will hear the earth and the poor together cry to us, people of faith of many religious traditions, to put our individual and institutional egos aside ... to come together in humble, earnest, self-giving zeal, and tell a new, life-giving story of repentance, reconciliation, and regeneration.

    If we love God, we will love creation. If we love our children, our grandchildren, and our neighbors, we will love creation. What we love, we honor. What we love we protect. May our religions become what they were meant to be ... schools of love that heal and change the world.

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  • November 25, 2015

    From Chicago Pastor Otis Moss 3 on Laquan McDonald ...

    My friend and colleague Otis Moss shares these powerful and heartfelt words in response to another black life taken by a policeman's bullet ...

    An 80s song told us “video killed the radio star”. The music was catchy and referred to the varied attitudes we all had about technology. What is this? What would we do now? Fast-forward 35 years, and videos are the very technology for which we are so thankful.

    Video changes everything.

    When the Chicago Police Department released the dash-cam video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by one of their own, the city braced for disruption. When we learned of the $5 million settlement to the McDonald family that stipulated the video remain confidential, the city braced for disruption. When residents discovered that footage from a nearby security camera had been deleted by Chicago police, the city braced for disruption. Mayor Emanuel and his team had seen the video, and were afraid of the public reaction.

    People from various corners of the city protested, wanting to know “why the cover up”, “why did it take nearly 400 days to release the video and bring charges”? Fair questions. And in a city not known for its political transparency, we didn’t necessarily expect answers. But we demand answers, and we demand change. That it took a court order to release the video to demonstrate police transparency results in an additional level of distrust innuendo, conspiracy and rumors. Again, we demand change.

    What Chicago needs – and what Chicago shall have – is a diverse group of moral voices to speak out with authority about the failure of retribution, containment and "broken windows" model of policing. We need a social media-led campaign of letters and video sharing a different vision. We cannot revert to the transgressions that took place in the 70s, 80s, and 90s under Police Chief John Burge. The court just in the last two years put down judgments for this egregious policy and violation of human rights.

    Faith leaders from Chicagoland are requesting a special prosecutor be appointed through the Department of Justice; we have NO confidence in our state, county and city officials to fairly investigate this case. We also ask for your support and prayer as we further the dismantling of a corrupt system that shielded a corrupt police officer.

    Our goals are to:

     Demilitarize the Chicago Police Department

     Have a department that reflects the community they serve

     Put in place a civilian review board with indictment power

     Secure proper funding for restorative justice programs

     Force the resignation and firing of ALL involved

     Force the indictment of officers and commanders

     Seat a new District Attorney

     Hold all elected officials accountable

    Tomorrow marks the beginning of what’s supposed to be a joyous and thanks-filled season. We’ll sit down with our families, sharing in good food with good company – taking extra time to say thank you. Of all the things for which I have to be thankful – friends and family, and a Lord that has never forsaken me – I’m especially thankful for a video that may lead to justice. Justice for the families who will forever have an empty seat at the table.

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  • November 24, 2015

    Grounded, by Diana Butler Bass - a great Christmas gift

    I've had the privilege of knowing and working with Diana Butler Bass for several years. Her new book Grounded is a real treasure. It would make a stellar Christmas gift ... maybe even one to yourself. There were a few points while reading where I teared up (the story on p. 256-258 for one) ... many points where I put the book down for a few minutes to ponder and pray. Seldom do you read a book that is at once devotional and revolutionary, but this is one of them. If you're like me - a lover of books as gifts to give and receive - this is a great option for 2015.

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  • We're blessed to have theologians like

    Thomas Oord. You'll enjoy his video ... and book.

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  • November 23, 2015

    A first step in loving your enemies is humanizing them

    ... and this article helped humanize people in Syria who become part of ISIS, become disillusioned, and then become refugees. Well worth reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/world/middleeast/isis-wives-and-enforcers-in-syria-recount-collaboration-anguish-and-escape.html?_r=0

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  • November 22, 2015

  • November 20, 2015

    Faith and Climate

    For all who care about the environment, and especially the climate crisis, here are several things to check out.

    First, this amazing interview with Katharine Hayhoe ...

    Second, what a sustainable world looks like - in your state:

    Third, check out the maps-in-motion here:

    Fourth, look at some important (and interesting) policy matters here:

    And while you're at it, check out faithandclimate.org.

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  • November 19, 2015

    The Terrorism Trilemma, Part 2: Creative Nonviolent Courage

    A friend recently wrote to me with this question:

    Your imagined speech by George Bush after 9/11 really helped me have clarity and begin differentiating between US Militarism and the way of Jesus. It's embarrassing to say it took that long but with how I grew up, that's a starting point in my evolution.

    Now, when I really think about not just the attacks in Paris but the beheading in rural Tunisia, the shootings in a village in Nigeria, the seemingly interconnected mission and violence of ISIS, I'm having such a hard time expressing my beliefs as a strategy or response to this organization(s).

    I'm assuming you've been writing and speaking about it, and I read on your blog your response to someone asking basically the same thing as me.

    But do you have any revelation about actual steps or strategy of engagement? What can that wedding banquet table look like in these moments? Every Christian I know is arming themselves to exterminate this wicked movement, kill them all, unleash the wrath of God through the US Military, etc... I can't articulate an alternative but I know there's a brilliant one, as elegant as turn the other cheek yet practical and applicable.

    Just curious, I know public policy is not your job :)

    I certainly don't have an easy answer on this, and certainly not a brilliant or elegant one. But as I wrote in a previous post, I do know that choosing to respond to horrific violence with denial or transmission will only intensify the cycle of violence.

    So what would a third option - creative nonviolent courage - look like?

    I believe it would have four initial components, all rooted in the Bible:

    1. Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15): Compassion and empathy must be our first response.
    We must let our hearts be softened, not hardened, to suffering. So as we feel the pain of those in Paris, we also open our hearts to the pain of other human beings suffering from brutality and violence in Central African Republic, Burundi, Nigeria - including the people of Syria whose homeland is being destroyed by ugly regimes from Isis to Assad.

    2. Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17 ff): Short term, we should look for some constructive good in which to engage ... from a random act of kindness to a long-term commitment to help people in need.

    And longer term, we should devise a strategy to overcome great evil with even greater good. The greatest example I know if this is the Global Marshall Plan proposed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives. If you haven't read it, now would be a great time. Without a plan like this, we will keep treating symptoms while worsening the disease.

    3. The ear of the wise seeks wisdom (Prov. 18:15): When people claim to understand a complex situation and spout off with their opinions without listening and learning, you can guarantee that wisdom will be confidently left behind. So it's a good time to ask questions, to learn, to do some serious research (starting with the Global Marshall Plan above) ... and to seek out wise counsel from people who have a diversity of viewpoints. (Remember: hearing the same opinion from the same source ten times isn't the same as seeking out ten diverse viewpoints from ten reputable sources.)

    4. He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Prov. 13:20). Choosing whom you will hang out with - in person, on air, or online - makes all the difference in times like these. We've all heard of "collective intelligence." Well, there's also something called collective stupidity ... it shows up in lynch mobs, panicked crowds, witch hunts, and feeding frenzies, and is aided and abetted by cable TV and talk radio. People become radicalized - as violent terrorists or as reactionary and even more violent anti-terrorists - by hanging around with people who normalize violence. And people become transformed toward creative nonviolent courage by associating with others who are on that path.

    That's why it is good when churches and houses of worship open their doors and wise spiritual leaders speak out in times like these. Collective stupidity (aka "foolishness" in the Bible) sings its siren song (and remember, fear raises ratings and sells more advertising) ... wisdom must also call out in the streets. Coming together for prayer and contemplation becomes all the more important in times like these.

    Choosing empathy rather than denial, refusing revenge and choosing to overcome evil with good, and seeking wisdom and associating with wise people of peace (James 3:17-18) rather than falling prey to collective stupidity ... these, I believe, are important initial reactions to acts of terrorism. And longer term, we need our world leaders to come together in a plan of creative and nonviolent courage. May that day come soon.

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  • November 18, 2015

  • The Terrorism Trilemma

    Each new terrorist attack presents us with three basic choices as individuals, and each choice has significant consequences ... for ourselves and others.

    1. Denial: We may respond with denial: That's far away. That's not my problem. I don't have time for this.

    Some of us are, indeed, operating at the maximum of stress and suffering already, and for us, denial is the only viable option. But for others of us, pushing away an unpleasant reality is like ignoring symptoms of a disease; it will only get worse the longer we ignore it.

    2. Transmission: If we let the pain in, many of us will immediately find a way to pass it on, to transmit it to others.

    We may choose revenge ... calling for "an eye for an eye." When we choose this popular path, we forget, as Gandhi said, that following the "eye for an eye" strategy will eventually leave everyone blind. And we also forget that the revenge strategy can easily turn us into the mirror image of those who have hurt us: they desire violence, and we imitate their desire.

    If we feel we can't transmit our pain back on those who inflicted it, we may choose blame and scapegoating as another way of transmitting our pain: it's the President's fault, it's the fault of religion, it's because of refugees and immigrants, etc. We feel pain and we don't know what to do with it - so we turn it into aggression toward some third party. In so doing, we climb on the pain train and keep the vicious cycle going.

    If we reject both denial and transmission, is there a third option? I believe there is:

    3. Transformation: This is the way taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. When someone slaps you, he said, don't slap them back and don't run away or cringe in fear. Instead, stand tall. Refuse to back down. And refuse to mirror their violent behavior. (This is what "turning the other cheek" means. It doesn't mean being a doormat. It means responding with creative nonviolent courage.)

    What would creative nonviolent courage look like in the face of groups like Isis, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, etc? I'll offer a few thoughts on that subject in the next day or two.

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  • November 16, 2015

    Your Christmas List

    I'm a huge fan of Glennon Melton and the whole tribe at @Momastery …
    And I'm honored that my book We Make the Road by Walking is on her recommended list this year. Check it out here:

    While you're at it, consider her formula for a good Christmas list:
    Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
    And something to light up the world …

    And join the fun of giving here through Holiday Hands:

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  • November 10, 2015

    Converting Christianity

    Here's some information about my next book, scheduled for release September 2016:

    Many people experience Christianity as a system of belief. It is focused on an exclusive Supreme Being who favors some and rejects others, and it is defended by a set of change-averse, self-protecting institutions. In Converting Christianity, Brian D. McLaren challenges this conventional understanding of Christianity, and invites forward-leaning Christians to participate in a movement of conversion. Drawing from his work as a pastor, speaker, public theologian, ecumenical networker, and activist, McLaren offers a plan for radical change that can shift the direction of Christian faith to be more in sync with its founder, more life-giving for individual Christians and congregations, and more of a just, generous, and joyful resource for the whole world.

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  • A Sabbatical ...

    About ten years ago, I completed 24 years in the pastorate to begin a new chapter in my life and ministry, working as an author, speaker, and activist. For these ten years, I’ve been on the road 80-100 days a year. That means I've had the great privilege of meeting and speaking to thousands of pastors and other faith leaders and hundreds of congregations, across a wide span of denominations and interfaith gatherings. I’ve met amazing people and had the chance to speak and write about matters I care passionately about. It has been a great ten years, and I’m deeply grateful to God, my readers, my colleagues, and all with whom I’ve worked.

    But these ten years have also meant a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of time zones, a lot of landings, takeoffs, delays, rental cars, security lines, airport food, early mornings, and late nights, a lot of emails and phone calls, and a lot of time away from my wife and our home.

    Over a year ago, I started to feel tired - physically tired, but more, mentally tired. I felt that certain creative parts of my brain were constantly under pressure and weren’t getting a rest. My soul felt healthy, but I felt a growing need for four things:

    1. To be at home to rest and recharge mentally and physically.
    2. To spend time with Grace, so she didn’t need to ask, “How many days are you home for this time?”
    3. To be quiet. To not speak or write for a while.
    4. To discern what should change and what should stay the same for my next ten years.

    That fourth item feels especially important because I’ll turn sixty next year, and this age milestone presents me with questions about the best ways to invest my remaining active years.

    Because of the nature of this work, when you step on the brakes, you don’t stop for 12-18 months. So last year I stopped taking speaking engagements for a ten-month period (one month for each of the past ten years) that begins today. Here’s what that will mean:

    1. If you would like to invite me to speak, I’ll be taking speaking engagements beginning September 10, 2016. That’s also when my next book will be available. (You can read more about Converting Christianity soon.) Laci will be handling speaking requests as usual, here.

    2. I will be spending little time on email and social media, and won’t be responding to requests as I normally do. Thanks for understanding and for respecting this time of rest and reflection.

    3. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. I want my next ten years to be as useful as possible to the causes and priorities so many of us care about so much. And I want to keep enjoying the incalculable gift of aliveness each moment, each day.

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