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Brian's Blog

  • September 1, 2014

    AUDIO VERSION of WMTR

    We Make the Road by Walking - AUDIO VERSION - is on sale for $18.74 (25% off) here: http://amblingbooks.com/books/view/we_make_the_road_by_walking#.VAR1qkvCWKw

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  • August 29, 2014

    Readers write: joyous tears, set free, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, getting naked

    A reader writes:

    I finished "The Secret Message of Jesus" and just began "Naked Spirituality" Learning so much and THANK YOU for writing! I've only been on my journey of faith for 5 years and never a dull moment. I was at a stuck point-feeling nothing new to learn-my pastor recommended you as an author and I'm realizing there will ALWAYS be more to discover about God! My relationship with Him, with Him in me just gets brighter! Broke down in joyous tears as I was reading today…

    Another reader writes:
    I realize that you must get hundreds of these types of emails but I still feel compelled to write. I realize that it is not possible for Brian to read each of these individually but because of the impact on my life, I feel I must try, so here it is, as succinctly as possible.

    Brian: I am a 55 year old male and have been a Christian for over thirty years, ever since a dramatic conversion in my college years. For the next several decades my wife and I raised five kids, fully immersed in very conservative, Pentecostal churches. Several years ago I started being honest with myself about inconsistencies in our theology, huge gaps between what I believed was the character of God versus the actions of the church and the tremendous inward focus of the church culture. Quite honestly, I simply could not stand being part of this church culture any longer and had to escape, all the while, trying to figure out how to hold onto a personal faith that was a very real and important part of me. While finding many other people with similar frustrations I started trying to find my own path, holding onto those things that were true and good and ignoring and distancing myself from all the things that seemed contrary to the loving nature of God. Finding your books recently was life-giving to me. Your teaching aligns exactly with where I believe God has been leading me and confirms and validates this new spiritual direction in my life. I told my wife yesterday that it feels like I have now been set free to pursue a love relationship with God, that I don’t have to feel embarrassed or stupid to have my theology aligned in this new way. I am once again excited to be a pilgrim on this journey. I just needed to say thank you for your courage, leadership and desire to help others. May God bless you tremendously in your ministry.

    Another reader writes:
    I wanted to let you know that we are using the cycle of readings from We Make the Road by Walking starting in September instead of the lectionary for this coming year. …after 28 years of preaching the lectionary nearly non-stop… You can add one more PC(USA) church to your list!

    Another reader writes ...
    Just started reading Naked Spirituality.
    Decided to (in the privacy of my backyard) in the presence of my Naked Lord, take off the top.
    Not just clothing wise.
    But the cork that was holding in an identity formed by my church, my youth group, my community.
    Getting back to the roots.
    Sitting with God.
    Spending time with Jesus.
    Quietly.
    Simply.
    Thank you Brian McLaren.
    Don't even know what else to say but thank you brother.

    Thanks, all, for these notes of encouragement.

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  • A reader writes: a response to yesterday's post:

    A reader writes (slightly edited):

    Ouch! What you quoted was, of course, nothing really new or surprising, but extremely well said. But look what happens if you replace key words here and there. The result is not perfectly true, but it's strongly suggestive:

    While religion/Christianity, a particularly harsh and distorted version, does play a role to legitimate, recruit, and motivate, studies of most militias and hate groups show that the primary drivers are to be found elsewhere….

    Drivers of radicalization include moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. For many it is the experience or perception of living in a 'hostile' society, disenfranchisement and heightened political consciousness, anti-[socialism] and social justice, emancipation and the personal search to be a good Christian or [private schools] as liberation, bringing together a constellation of narratives. The vast majority of the Christian populations of America are also becoming members of a visible ethnic minority of Whites. Their experiences are therefore likely to be shaped by experiences such as xenophobia, lower employment and educational levels and, more recently, the War on Christmas, as reported by Fox News.

    If, as I suspect, a great many of the people who energetically want the U.S. to do something about ISIS/ISIL/IS are highly conservative Christians, then I wonder whether it will ever occur to anybody that we have two sides of the same coin trying to erase the other from existence.

    Since writing Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? a few years ago, I've been paying more attention to the problems, not just of Christianity, but to religion as a whole … and to the problems of human identity formation, not just within Christianity, but among human groups of any kind. So many times when we're pointing out the splinters in others' eyes, we have planks in our own - because the problems we're facing are problems "common to humanity." They're anthropological problems, not simply the problems of this or that subgroup of humanity.

    One of the fundamental insights of mimetic theory is that groups often enter dances of imitation. If we focus on our enemies and rivals, we become like our enemies and rivals. This, to me, suggests one of the most stunning dimensions Jesus and his idea of discipleship. He teaches those with eyes to see and ears to hear how to break the cycle of offense/retaliation/counter-offense/counter-retaliation (e.g. if someone strikes you on one cheek … DON'T strike him back). He offers an alternative model to imitate, helping us break out of our dances of death.

    We have some peculiarly seductive dances of death begging us to join in right now. May others of us offer a better alternative.

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  • August 28, 2014

    John Esposito on Isis

    Well worth reading, here.

    Quotable:

    While religion/Islam, a particularly harsh and distorted version, does play a role to legitimate, recruit, and motivate, studies of most jihadists and movements, like ISIS, show that the primary drivers are to be found elsewhere….

    Drivers of radicalization include moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. For many it is the experience or perception of living in a 'hostile' society, disenfranchisement and heightened political consciousness, anti- imperialism and social justice, emancipation and the personal search to be a good Muslim or the headscarf as liberation, bringing together a constellation of narratives. The vast majority of the Muslim populations of Europe are also members of a visible ethnic minority. Their experiences are therefore likely to be shaped by experiences such as xenophobia, lower employment and educational levels and, more recently, Islamophobia.

    If you're interested in exploring more about how religious identity can be a force for peace in the world - especially for Christians - check out my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.

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  • A reader writes: the church game

    A reader writes ...

    Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you. Though I have to play the church game for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors... your wisdom and intellect in your books allows me to feel ok with how opposite my mind/heart works from the traditional evangelical hearts/minds I spend time with. I appreciate you Brian! I admire your tenacity for what matters most!

    I just got back from a wonderful long weekend in England at the Greenbelt Festival, an amazing time which further inspires me to dream big things for the "daughter of Greenbelt" festival here in the US, Wild Goose. While there, I had so many people come and express similar feelings … that they are hanging in there with traditional churches, doing what good they can, but their hearts have moved on to a new vision. I know that "playing the game" will sound disingenuous to some, but I think this writer expresses his deeper desire well: "for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors."

    This situation of inner division is not sustainable, of course. Eventually, something within us cries out to be "divided no more," as Parker Palmer puts it. The frustration of "playing the game" or "living divided lives" will eventually give birth to a movement. It is already doing so … as Greenbelt, Wild Goose, the Cana Initiative (now the Convergence Network) and many other movement-building collaboratives demonstrate.

    So a word to all those who feel like this writer … get ready for your frustration and weariness to give birth to something beautiful, creative, productive. Here's how Parker Palmer describes it:

    The first stage in a movement can be described with some precision, I think. It happens when isolated individuals make an inner choice to stop leading “divided lives.” Most of us know from experience what a divided life is. Inwardly we feel one sort of imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to quite another. This is the human condition, of course; our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable, and when the tension snaps inside of this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway.

    The decision to stop leading a divided life, made by enough people over a period of time, may eventually have political impact. But at the outset, it is a deeply personal decision, taken for the sake of personal integrity and wholeness. I call it the “Rosa Parks decision” in honor of the woman who decided, one hot Alabama day in 1955, that she finally would sit at the front of the bus.

    Rosa Parks’ decision was neither random nor taken in isolation. She served as secretary for the local NAACP, had studied social change at the Highlander Folk School, and was aware of others’ hopes to organize a bus boycott. But her motive that day in Montgomery was not to spark the modern civil rights movement. Years later, she explained her decision with a simple but powerful image of personal wholeness: “I sat down because my feet were tired.”

    I suspect we can say even more: Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because her soul was tired of the vast, demoralizing gap between knowing herself as fully human and collaborating with a system that denied her humanity. The decision to stop leading a divided life is less a strategy for altering other people’s values than an uprising of the elemental need for one’s own values to come to the fore. The power of a movement lies less in attacking some enemy’s untruth than in naming and claiming a truth of one’s own.

    There is immense energy for change in such inward decisions as they leap from one person to another and outward to the society. With these decisions, individuals may set in motion a process that creates change from the inside out. There is an irony here: We often think of movements as “confrontational,” as hammering away at social structures until the sinners inside repent and we contrast them (often invidiously) with the “slow, steady, faithful” process of working for change from within the organization. In truth, people who take an organizational approach to problems often become obsessed with their unyielding “enemies,” while people who adopt a movement approach must begin by changing themselves.

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  • August 27, 2014

    Q & R: Guidance? Dating? Discipleship?

    Here's the Q:

    Hi! My name is YYY and I am a 25 year-old, who has avoided the church experience of my childhood (church of Christ), which never felt congruent with what my spirit intuitively knew as truth and love. Through volunteering with a mission team abroad I came in contact with one of your books and a couple who was tentatively sharing their reimagining of faith and God as a part of their journey. Then, I recently moved to a metro area where I visited a church and for the first time in my entire life, heard a sermon that was truly a fulfillment of speaking the truth in love.

    In that sermon, the pastor spoke about deconstructing the beliefs we hold as one might deconstruct a wall, and inspect each piece. But my question is, after doing that, how is it built back? What does being a modern disciple really look like? I truly feel like such an infant in this, but have no idea where to look for guidance other than books by you and other leaders like you.

    To compound this, I am dating someone who is also searching, but from an even different perspective than me. Do you have a recommendation of a book or a study we could work through together?

    I realize there are some loaded questions here, but I thought I'd try to ask you because I don't know who else to ask. Thanks for being the kind of person that I feel I can ask!


    Here's the R:
    Thanks for writing. I'm so glad you're finding some "light at the end of the tunnel." As the pastor you heard recently said, there is an important deconstruction process that many of us - especially those from more fundamentalist/absolutist backgrounds - must go through. Some end up with fragments and don't ask the important question you are asking - how do we rebuild?

    If I could recommend three of my books that focus on that reconstruction, here's what I'd recommend:
    1. We Make the Road by Walking - I especially think you and the person you're dating would enjoy reading and talking about this together. It's set up for a whole year of weekly meetings, but of course you could discuss it all at once, over four dates, whatever.

    2. The Secret Message of Jesus - This book focuses on the center of Christian faith, not a doctrine or system or "wall" of beliefs, but a person.

    3. Naked Spirituality - This is a book about postures of the heart, and the heart is so important in this sometimes overly-heady process.

    You're on a good path! Keep moving forward.

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  • August 26, 2014

    Q & R: Unforgivable?

    Here's the Q:

    I am curious what you believe about the "unforgivable sin" mentioned in Matthew and Mark of blaspheming and rejecting the Holy Spirit. Has the traditional church and modern translations completely misunderstood the text, or is this really what Jesus taught?

    Here's the R:
    This is a really big question, but I hope this short and simple answer will help.
    First, we need to remember that Jesus wasn't a "Christian." In other words, he wasn't working within the Calvinist or Thomist or Pentecostal or Eastern Orthodox or Fundamentalist theological assumptions that frame Christian faith today. Jesus was a Jew.

    For a Jew in Jesus' day, sin was not understood primarily as something that, in its mortal variety, could send your soul to hell because of total depravity or original sin. It was something that would result in people missing God's blessing - which for an oppressed people, meant missing liberation from their occupying oppressors.

    So I think in those passages, Jesus was warning his peers that if they didn't hear the voice of the Spirit and respond to it, they faced a set of natural consequences that would be tragic. Specifically, he foresaw that his countrymen could easily stage a violent revolution against Rome which would be crushed brutally. The Spirit was calling people, Jesus knew, to a different path to liberation - a nonviolent path, a creative path, a path of courage without hostility. If they rejected the Spirit's leading, they wouldn't get an exemption from consequences.

    I think we face a similar reality today. The Spirit is calling us to turn from racism, ecological destruction, greed, carelessness toward our poor and vulnerable neighbors, dependence on weapons for peace, and abdication of personal responsibility. If we don't, we can't expect to avoid the natural consequences of our actions - explosions of conflict, rising seas and destabilized climate, fear, bombs, economic tumult, insecurity. Another way to say the same thing: there is no way to peace apart from the Spirit of peace. There is no way to a regenerative economy apart from the Spirit of regeneration. There is no way to prosperity apart from the Spirit of generosity and concern for the common good. Reject, mock, belittle, turn from that Spirit … and predictable natural consequences will follow.

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  • August 25, 2014

  • August 24, 2014

    A reader writes: You missed a better way to respond

    A reader writes:

    Brian, I saw your response to the reader asking about Jesus’ views of a violent God. There is a better way to respond to this. First, acknowledge the violent deity is there and is prominent all through the New Testament. Paul was very clear on the “wrath of God” and the punishing conclusion of that violent wrath. See his Thessalonian comments on that angry god “destroying” sinners. And much more. Revelation makes no effort to hide the angry God and the Lake of fire awaiting. The New Testament is full of such comment.
    A proper response will first deal with the issue of Biblicism- the belief the Bible is somehow inspired by God and so people are obligated to accept all its contents as truth and honor such. We know better today that there are profound “dissimilarities” in, for instance, the accounts of Jesus (gospels). These are differences that no exercise of common sense can reconcile. Jesus could not have told people to love their enemies and then a few chapters later damn them to perdition for refusing his message. This is simply irreconcilable difference.
    And then take Jesus seriously. Take his central theme (Matt.5:38-48) seriously, that we are not to retaliate, exclude, repay or punish others because God does not. This is a radical new view of God as non-retaliatory, non-punishing. It turns everything upside down. This is authentic unconditional love and this new theology was completely rejected by Paul, who returned to a retaliatory God (Rom.12, Vengeance is mine, I will repay). Jesus was consistently on the unconditional treatment of others because this is what God is really like. A new ethic based on a new theology.

    Thanks for writing. There are several ways people like you and me are seeking to address the incompatibility of God and violence. Each approach is deemed better or worse than others depending on who is doing the deeming, I suppose. I understand your approach, even though I take a somewhat different one.

    I agree that Biblicism is a problem, and in my books (especially A New Kind of Christianity and We Make the Road by Walking) I try to articulate and demonstrate an approach to the Bible that is a faithful and responsible alternative to biblicism. Once we move beyond what I call an "innocent literal" way of reading the Bible, I think a lot of problems are solved.

    I honestly don't see Paul as rejecting Jesus' approach as you do. I see him as a strong and privileged man struggling - as we do today - to live into Jesus' way of life. He was in process as are we all. But sadly, Biblicism allows Paul's interpreters today to extract quotes from Paul apart from the overall message, mission, and trajectory of his life - and in so doing, they effectively do reject so much of Jesus' life and teaching, often resembling Paul's pre-conversion life of religious hostility and violence rather than his post-conversion pursuit of "justice, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit."

    So, even though we may differ on details, we both seek a new ethic based on a new (and primal) theology, rooted in Jesus and his way. I remain open to improving my way of doing so, and I appreciate your input.

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  • August 23, 2014

    A Muslim reader writes ...

    Hello I just read your book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddah, and Muhammed Cross the Road. It was an excellent book, it actually made me cry. I am Muslim and I was touched by your Christianity, so please keep the faith perfect. I'm a blind muslim arab and I really enjoyed your book and it really made cry.
    Thanks so much for writing. I think God is pleased when people of different traditions recognize one another as fellow human beings, beloved by God, sharing the same small planet, seeking the common good. I hope we meet one another in person someday soon. God bless you. Bookmark and Share rss-icon.jpg
  • August 22, 2014

    Q & R: Marrying a universalist?

    Here's the Q:

    Hi Brian. You have changed my life. Your books have opened me up to the beautiful message of Jesus. I feel a mix of secure and totally shaken. This isn't quite a question about your book-but I ask hoping so much that you'll answer because I revere your opinion. How do you feel about two people getting married-say one a Christian and one a universalist insistent that there are many, many roads to God? Thank you thank you thank you for your time.

    Here's the R:
    If you search my site on the word "universalist," you'll see that I've written quite a bit on the subject. As for the subject of marriage, my strongest suggestion would be to find a pastor or counselor or spiritual director you trust who can guide you through pre-marriage or (even better) pre-engagement counseling. Working with a skilled pastor, counselor, or spiritual director, you and your partner can explore your commonalities and differences and come to understand whether and how a marriage like yours could work. You might even come into greater alignment spiritually through the process. I think it's very important for a couple to share a common direction in life - a shared sense of purpose and values. Otherwise they'll be pulling in opposing directions which is good for neither party. Some differences are of a less significant nature - and they can be opportunities for a couple to learn to respect one another's uniqueness. A good counselor can help in that discernment process at close range - far better than a writer/blogger can from a distance.

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  • August 21, 2014

    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!

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  • 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.

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  • August 20, 2014

    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

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