When it happens in your neighborhood …

I live in Southwest Florida, not far from Immokalee, where about five months ago, a county officer killed an unarmed man. The victim's name was Nicolas Morales Besanilla. He had a 12 year old son. Here are the facts, drawn from a powerful article by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:

  • Nicolas Morales was experiencing a mental health crisis the night he was shot;
  • Cpl. Jean killed Nicolas within 13 seconds of arriving at the scene;
  • The K-9 officer on the scene released his dog after Nicolas had been shot, and did not stop the dog from mauling a fallen, unarmed, and dying Nicolas for nearly a minute;
  • The State Attorney declared Cpl. Jean and his fellow officers innocent of any crime;
  • There has been no independent investigation of Cpl. Jean’s actions that evening;
  • Cpl. Jean was back at work one week after killing Nicolas;
  • The CCSO withheld the video from the public until the State Attorney announced its decision;
  • The CCSO released the violent and disturbing video to the press and public without reaching out to Nicolas’s family first, including his stepdaughter who is now caring for his 13-year-old orphaned son.

The article contains the video of the incident. It is deeply disturbing. It shows how quickly lethal force can be deployed to take a person's life. Whether or not you watch the video (again, it is deeply disturbing), I encourage you to read the article.

I'll be joining Nicolas's family and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on Sunday at 4 pm for a masked and socially distanced community vigil. We have three demands of the Collier County Sheriff's Office:

  1. Launch a federal investigation into Nicolas’s shooting by Corporal Pierre Jean and mauling by a police K-9.  The State Attorney’s failure to carry out a serious criminal investigation makes a federal investigation by the US Department of Justice an urgent priority to determine accountability, mete out consequences as appropriate, and establish a baseline of trust in law enforcement in the Immokalee community.  Accountability is the necessary first step toward justice for Nicolas and his family, and healing for the Immokalee community.
  2. Form and implement effective, accessible Crisis Response Teams, pairing police and mental health professionals, to respond to calls in Immokalee where mental health is a potential issue.   As we mentioned in an earlier post, the CCSO should be commended for training its road patrol personnel in crisis intervention and de-escalation as part of the Memphis Model, a state-of-the-art approach to recognizing mental health crises and de-escalating incidents in which mental health is an issue.  But training is clearly not sufficient.   In cities from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Baltimore, Maryland, modern police departments have implemented Crisis Response Teams involving mental health professionals on calls where a mental health crisis is suspected, and the results have been impressive, reducing the incidence of police violence, decreasing the use of jails for people who need treatment, not incarceration, and improving community relations.  In the wake of Nicolas’s brutal and needless killing, the time to pair police with mental health professionals in all of Collier County, including Immokalee, and to ensure they respond to calls like the one that ended in Nicolas’s death, is now.
  3. Break down the walls between the CCSO and the Immokalee community through aggressive transparency and genuine community participation by establishing an Immokalee-specific Citizens’ Review Panel with meaningful powers.  Even with the best of training and modern policing methods, mistakes will still happen.  When they do, it is imperative that the CCSO’s response not be defensive, but rather aggressively transparent, leaning on the community itself to help sort out the facts and point the way forward.  Given the unique nature of the Immokalee community — it’s extreme poverty and socio-cultural marginalization — within the broader context of Collier County, the current Citizens’ Review Panel is insufficient to adequately address the need for community participation in the investigation and correction of the use of force by CCSO personnel.  A separate Immokalee CRP must be established, with credible community participation and meaningful powers, both to help the community heal today in the wake of Nicolas’s killing, and to build trust and transparency — backed by real consequences — in the event of more police violence in the future.

If you live in Southwest Florida, I hope you'll consider joining us for the vigil. Wherever you live, realize that we need deep reform in our policing system. A mental health crisis should not be a death sentence for anyone. Officers need better training. I thought that CIW captured the problem accurately and powerfully in a September 17 article:

… As members of a society, we know and understand that we must cede some of our personal freedoms so that we can all live free, and safe from harm.  It is the social contract that holds us together as one community, living in peace.  We endow the police with awesome powers — the power to use force, and sometimes use lethal force — to protect us from those who would threaten the peace.  When it works, it works almost invisibly, operating largely in the background.  But more and more today it isn’t working as intended.  Our contract with the police is breaking down, the force we entrust them with used without justification, its victims disproportionately people of color.  And when the police kill people without justification, they become yet one more threat to our collective peace.

No system is perfect, mistakes happen.  But, more than that, centuries of our history leave no doubt that prejudice exists and insinuates itself into the structures upon which our society is constructed in ways both explicit and implicit.  We can no longer be surprised when a person of color is wrongly killed by the police, it has happened too many times, for too many years.  What matters now is how we respond, because it is one thing when one police officer abuses the trust we place in him and uses lethal force unjustifiably.  It is something else entirely when the police as a whole come together to defend the unjustifiable actions of one of their members, and when we as a society allow that to happen.

Here is information about the vigil: https://www.facebook.com/events/429123311753101/

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A Reader Writes: In the chaos of war … your best book yet

First of all, I think “Faith After Doubt” is your best book yet; thank you for putting down in words the journey so many of us have walked.

We met about ten years ago when you spoke at a church near where I live.  I was a military chaplain at the time and told you how you had almost literally saved my (spiritual) life through your books while I was deployed in Iraq.  I was deep into what you now label as Stage 3, having wrestled with doubts for years, but seeing it all come to a head in the midst of the chaos of war.  It took several years after our meeting to finally break through and feel comfortable in the Harmony stage, though of course that’s still a work in progress.  ... As I read your book I was amazed at how my own spiritual journey mirrored the movement between the Four Stages of Faith as you described them.  I told my wife that it was as if you had read my memoir and used my story for your book!

I came away from reading your book both affirmed and longing.  Affirmed, obviously, because I know the movement into Harmony is fulfilling both individually and socially.  But longing because this can be such a lonely and isolated place to be.  You related the conversation with the young couple about the possibilities of raising their children through the stages towards a faith working itself out in love.  You honestly told them there are not many communities of faith that are open to doubt and working towards harmony.  Those that do exist seem to be almost entirely made up of young people working through their doubts and explorations, or old traditional congregations that may be open, but are tied down to their liturgies and organizations.  So where does that leave someone like me, a former professional Christian who has moved through perplexity and now breaths the liberating relief of Stage 4 Harmony?  There are no congregations in our community that walk in this kind of faith, and I am not one to go camping at a week-long retreat somewhere in the mountains.  I’m certainly not looking for you to have a solution, but perhaps it’s something to address in the future?

So, again, thank you for the latest edition to my Brian McLaren library!  And thank you again for consistently, if unknowingly, being a spiritual strength for me over the last decade of my journey.

Thanks so much for these kind words. I remember our conversation many years ago. It means a lot to me to hear how you're doing and how your growth process continues. Even in our sixties, we're still not finished growing!

Yes, we need more demand and supply of four-stage faith communities ... and I hope and pray that your words here will inspire some current and future church leaders (as well as rabbis, imams, and others) to build those communities. It can happen ... I believe it will ... but as in the case of all births, gestation and labor can't be avoided. I will continue to hold this need in my heart and respond as I am able. Again, thanks for your encouraging words ...


If people are interested in ordering the book (also available as digital and audio), you'll find ordering info here: https://read.macmillan.com/lp/faith-after-doubt/

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A UK Reader Writes: There are leaders like mine …

I have just finished reading Faith After Doubt. Doing so has been transforming. I am 69 and live in the UK. I became a Christian at 30 and spent many years in an evangelical, charismatic baptist church, but became increasingly alienated from the teaching, the authoritarian leadership, the whole theology really.

For the last 5 years I’ve been part of a liberal church community which is inclusive, encouraging, and outward looking. I’ve also been having some therapy which has given me the confidence to admit my profound doubts to myself, my therapist, and to my minister. The latter’s response to my admission, and also to your book, has been all that I would have wanted. She has encouraged me to explore, to step back if I need to (I’m in the leadership group), and be honest. And her response to your book was “That looks so interesting, I must get it.” She is reading it now.

So I want to thank you for articulating my journey, my thoughts and feelings, so clearly, but also for showing me that there is a way forward as a Jesus follower that maintains faith and integrity. And I wanted to say too that there are leaders like mine who want that freedom of faith that expresses itself in love.

With my heartfelt thanks

I'm humbled that you found the book helpful, and honored by your kind words.

For folks in the UK, here's ordering information:

John Murray Press:
And you’ll find US ordering information here:



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Today … I say thanks.

Thanks to all who lamented and resisted the disastrous, dangerous, and death-dealing presidency of the soon-to-be former president.

Thanks to the leaders of the Women's March who organized and led a historic nonviolent protest at the beginning of this national nightmare, and thanks to all who organized, marched, and resisted ever since. Thanks to all who resisted the Muslim ban, knowing it was a violation of religious liberty. Thanks for all who saw Charlottesville for what it was, and the "stand by" message to the Proud Boys for what it was, and the uncountable tweets in all their crude and craven self-interest for what they were: early signs of a coup attempt by an authoritarian and anti-democratic leader.

Thanks to all who nonviolently protested assaults on Black lives, and for all who boldly displayed Black Lives Matter signs, and lifted their voices to stand for equal justice and opportunity for all in a time of unsubtle white supremacy in the White House. Thanks to all the good police officers who were not drawn into racist violence and who didn't succumb to the president's seductions. Thanks to all military leaders who saw the president for what he was, a domestic threat to democracy, and resisted his pressure to be complicit.

Thanks to brave journalists who got it right, told the truth, and called lies lies, keeping record of 30,000 of them, even as they were threatened with typical dictatorial rhetoric. Thanks especially to Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa who kept getting it right again and again. Thanks to bloggers and podcasters, the writers and speakers and preachers, who kept telling the truth, people like John Pavolviz and Lisa Sharon Harper.

Thanks to folks who grieved watching their parents, kids, other relatives, and friends get sucked into conspiracy theories and maga-madness. Thanks to those who tried to help loved ones escape the cult, whether they were successful or not: at least they tried. Thanks to folks who will continue trying to win loved ones back to the reality-based community. Thanks to folks who endured rejection by members of the maga conspiracy cult, and although they were hurt by the rejection, refused to hate in return.

Thanks to everyone who stopped watching Fox News and quit the NRA and recognized them and similar organizations as threats to democracy. Thanks to donors and advertisers who stopped supporting them.

Thanks to Doug Pagitt, Genesis Be, Patrick Carolan, Robb Ryerse, Meah Pace, Rev. Vince Anderson, Rod Colburn, and everyone in the Vote Common Good Team, along with everyone in every other organization that organized in 2018 and 2020 to help maga-politicians to be replaced by democratic ones. Thanks to the Religious Left that finally found its voice to confront the Religious Right - thanks to every spiritual activist who refused to remain play it safe and remain silent, and instead spoke truth with courageous faith, hope, and love for four long years, and will continue to do so.

Thanks to women of color, especially Stacy Abrams, but no less all the organizers who got out the vote and modeled democratic, nonviolent action and very literally saved our nation. Special thanks to Georgia.

Thanks to the whistleblowers who came out about high crimes and misdemeanors in many branches of government, and thanks to those who will come out in the coming days and weeks, because truth must be told and there must be accountability for wrongdoers who have weakened so many of our institutions.

Thanks to health care workers who have saved so many lives, even as the ruling party  showed its incompetence in facing the reality of the pandemic, much less handling it. Thanks to everyone who wears masks and practices social distancing. Thanks - and comfort - to all who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, and who are turning your grief into empathy and a commitment to compassionate action for the common good.

Thanks to everyone who has survived these four years -- and not just survived, but struggled to help us not be defeated by a regressive, oppressive, and transgressive political party that became sycophantic enablers a malignant narcissist. Thanks to the few in that party who stood up to him, and to all who voted against every subservient member of that disgraced party and will continue to do so until there is a sober and searching moral inventory. Thanks to those who, better late than never, will finally admit that they were misled, fooled, manipulated, and wrong to get on the train of deception, whose conductor and his crime family engaged in nepotism, kleptocracy, and abuses of power that will yet be revealed.

Thanks to members of Congress who voted for impeachment, twice. Thanks to members of Congress who, after having their lives threatened by a vicious mob of insurrectionists, came back to vote to certify this election and help foil a coup. Special thanks to Bernie Sanders, especially, and also toElizabeth Warren, Pete Buttitgieg, Cory Booker, Amy Kobuchar, Mike Bloomberg, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Julian Castro, Marianne Williamson, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and others who ran against Joe Biden in the Democratic Primary, and then, when Biden won, became strong supporters of the Biden/Harris ticket. Thank you.

Thanks to young people, for children and teenagers and young adults, who heard their parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and pastors spouting maga-nonsense and in their heart thought, "I will not go along with this." Thanks for having the courage to differ from the stagnant folly of an older generation that is addicted to nostalgia, embittered by propaganda, and stunted in foresight.

Thanks to those who are working for a green economy and a regenerative relationship between humans and our beautiful world, and thanks to those who will work with the new administration to protect wild lands and respect the rights of the original Americans, Indigenous Peoples.

Thanks especially to Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris. You knew your opponent would be dirty. You knew you would be given the hardest leadership challenge in at least a generation if you won. You knew you would need to build broad-based coalitions of competent and honest people, and even then, you would face a daunting list of challenges. You campaigned with decency and heart, and you have led through the transition with steady strength and the kind of dignity we haven't seen for four long years. You have the opportunity now to help our nation cross a threshold and enter a new era, to be "born again" as a nation that is humbled, and therefore capable of becoming a good global neighbor of diverse citizens who are good neighbors to one another. As Valarie Kaur says, "We are a nation waiting to be born. This is our great transition."

Thanks to all who will join the new president in a shared commitment to this national great transition, using heartfelt words like these (from the People's Inauguration):

“I, (insert name),
do solemnly vow
that I will faithfully execute my role
in healing, reimagining, and rebuilding
our country,
and will to the best of my ability,
preserve, protect, and defend
dignity, justice, and joy
for myself and for all around me,
and that I will do so with love.”

Thanks be to God, that though the transfer of power was not peaceful due to a shameful coup attempt spurred on by craven political demagogues, power is being transferred this day. May that power be used for justice, peace, and joy, so that this nation, with its oft-denied and checkered history, may grow into Dr. King's vision of a beloved community.


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A Reader Writes: As a lifelong Evangelical Christian …

A reader writes:

Thank you for writing Faith after Doubt, which I’ve just about finished reading I am deeply moved by your book as it mirrors much of my own experience in so many ways, but goes deeper and farther than I’ve gone so far.  I am relatively new to your work, but ... I find a deep sense of resonance with your ideas.

As a lifelong Evangelical Christian (65 years of age) ... I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your book, which gives me greatly needed comfort and hope at this stage in my life -- comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my disillusionment with the baggage that comes with my life-long adherence to the faith; and hope that I don’t have to waver indefinitely between faith and doubt ... I’ve been anxious to move on from my dying adherence to Christianity, but the sense of guilt and danger is, at times, overwhelming.  The renewed sense of hope that your book gives me is exactly what I need at this point in my own personal journey. Thank you so much.

Messages like these are already coming in about Faith After Doubt, and as you can imagine, each one brings encouragement. That phrase "waver indefinitely between faith and doubt" captures perfectly how so many feel. I hope my book helps them realize that this kind of paralysis (similar to what I call in the book Stage Three) can indeed be resolved (at least temporarily) by throwing out faith entirely (as many do), but it can also be an opportunity to move into a larger, deeper, wider and more expansive faith ...

The attempted coup last week (and who knows what further violence we'll see in the coming days) should give many white Christians in the US second thoughts about what they've become. I hope my book can help at least a few of them go on a needed spiritual migration.

Here's information on Faith After Doubt -

In the US:


In the UK:

John Murray Press:

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