Q & R: What were you thinking?

Here's the Q:
Mr. McLaren—I am a member of a small Episcopal Bible Study group that meets once-a-week and, since our yearly start-up in September of 2018, we have been making our way, one chapter at a time, through your marvelous book We Make the Road by Walking. It’s been enlightening and a delightful read at one and the same time, but we ran into our first roadblock with the verses selected for reading for your chapter titled ‘Significant and Wonderful.’ We generally don’t consider ourselves to be obtuse, but we simply could not understand why 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 was one of these suggested readings given the discussion that followed. If you could give us an insight into your rationale here that would be very helpful. Thank you ahead of time for even taking a moment to read this email; I’ve never reached out to anyone regarding their literary work before, but was asked by the other members of my group to pursue this to see if we might get some clarification.
Thanks for this question. I just re-read the chapter and the scripture passage, and here's the connection that I didn't make clear enough in the book (!) -
In Chapter 21, I'm talking about how to read and interpret miracle stories. Some feel we must take them literally, because they claim to record historical facts. Some feel it is better to take them literarily - as stories intended, not to communicate fact, but meaning, using the accepted literary genre of miracle story. In the chapter, I'm inviting people, whether or not they take miracle stories literally, to read them literarily ... focusing on meaning. I argue for this because the Bible calls miracles signs - which mean they signify something, and wonders - which mean they are intended to make you wonder or think. Some people take Bible stories literally without pondering their meaning, some don't take them literally but do ponder their meaning, and some do both.
Again, I recommend people focus on meaning, whether or not they take the stories literally. Meaning is the point.
In the 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 passage, David has done something terrible - first committing adultery (and probably rape), then engaging in a cover-up that included murder of the woman's husband and then the taking of her as his wife. (It's ugly, no matter how you understand it, not unlike stories we hear among powerful leaders today.) Nathan comes and tells a story.
It doesn't matter at all if Nathan's story is true in the literal or factual sense. Its purpose is to help David see something about himself.
It's literal factuality isn't the point. It's actual meaning is the point.
I hope that makes sense! Thanks for your question, and for using the book in this way. I posted recently about others using WMTR in groups, here: https://brianmclaren.net/a-reader-writes-following-jesus-in-the-midwest/

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Two readers write: Following Jesus in the Midwest, and When to Start?

A first reader writes:

We met a number of years ago when I was a seminary student at Eastern Mennonite University. [A group of us visited] your church near DC one Sunday and we had lunch with you afterward. I think you may have also come to campus while I was a seminary student.

Thirteen years later I find myself [in my second pastorate]. I urged the worship commission to use We Make the Road by Walking. Our lead pastor thought it was a great idea. We started in September of 2018. We are now more than halfway through using your book as our lectionary guide for the year. It's been fruitful to see God's story of love, justice, peace-making, and shalom within these texts time and time again. Thank you for your careful study of scripture, for the questions you help us ask and for opening space for questions to emerge that may have lain dormant for years. We are on a journey wondering what it means to be followers of Jesus in the 21st century in [the Midwest]. You have been a significant guide along the way.

May peace and joy surround you.

Thanks for these encouraging words! I poured my heart into that book, and it means a lot to know folks like you are putting it to good use.
A second reader writes:
Lately my wife and I have desired to have more serious and more in-depth discussions about faith and the Bible with our older kids. Consequently, my wife purchased copies of We Make The Road AND Seeking Aliveness for the members of our family (my daughter is a sophomore in college and my son is junior in high school). However, when the books arrived (after New Year's) we realized they are built around the Christian calendar. We are approaching the third Sunday of Epiphany as I write this and I am wondering should we begin the book at the beginning or skip to appropriate season? What would you recommend as the author? I really want my kids/wife to get as much out of this as I have
 So glad you're thinking about using the book in this way.
If you or others are interested in using We Make The Road by Walking, here are some ideas:
1. You can start Holy Week with Palm Sunday on April 14 with Chapter 32. Then you can just follow through the rest of the year.
2. You can start an Uprising series on Easter beginning with Chapter 33 on April 21.
3. You can start a Pentecost/Ordinary time series beginning with Chapter 40, starting June 9.
4. The book has been re-formatted as a daily devotional called Seeking Aliveness.  That format might be especially helpful for folks to use between Sundays.
5. You can start this Sunday with Chapter 28.
6. If congregations want to start a year-long adventure for 2019/2020, you could start planning now for a launch with Chapter 1 on September 1, 2019.
7. You'll find additional ideas here: https://www.facebook.com/wemaketheroadbywalking/
Again, thanks so much for your encouraging words. With our world "on fire" in a negative way, we need hearts on fire in the most positive way. I thank God for pastors and parents like you, taking risks and lighting fires of faith, hope, and love.

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Q & R: a mixed message … dark thoughts

Here's the Q:

Ok, this is going to be a mixed message.

Brian’s book a generous orthodoxy met me in a time when I was ready to leave the ministry and genuinely saved my faith. God has used yalls ministry to save mine.

My problem is I feel like I’m living on an island now. I fully understand y’all cannot provide pastoral support but I’m hoping you can point me towards some resources for finding a new community of believers. I’ve found myself having some really dark thoughts and could really use some support.

Thanks for your time

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I understand the dark thoughts. Doubt is more agonizing and terrifying than many people realize.
Three suggestions:
1. You probably need a "thought community" at a time like this, because thinking (questioning, rethinking, wondering, doubting, exploring) is a social act. People who think outside a group's circle of acceptability are punished, so they need to find a group with a bigger circle. One of the great gifts of the internet is podcasts that are specially designed to help folks in your situation. Here are two of my favorites, but there are many more:
Homebrewed Christianity - an amazing resource with a priceless archive
The Bible for Normal People - another fantastic resource, with special focus on the Bible
Daily readings from the Center for Action and Contemplation are helping thousands.
2. You also need a group of friends with whom you can meet in real life. Many folks from Evangelical/fundamentalist communities find some freedom and healing in a United Church of Christ, Episcopal (ECUSA), or Presbyterian (PCUSA) church. This church locator site might help you: https://convergenceus.org/churches
Wild Goose Festival is another place where folks gather and create wide open space for each other.
Some look and look and can't find any place that feels like home, so they find one or two friends with whom they can connect in honesty and safety. Some have found my book We Make the Road by Walking a good resource for gathering in a home or around a meal. It offers a short reading and conversation questions.
3. I should add that many people I know who are passing through a period of faith transition have needed the help of a good psychologist or counselor, because religious trauma is real and deep. Please don't hesitate to contact a professional. Your GP doctor would be a good place to go for a referral. Thousands if not millions of us have been through this process, and I can tell you: there is a better place on the other side of the turmoil ... and you will get there.

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For Church Leaders: This distills decades of my work in curating change in churches …

A talk from Wild Goose Festival, with my colleague Anna Golladay:

Curating change in your church

And here's the outline/diagram referred to in the talk:


If this sort of content is of interest to you -

  1. Come to Wild Goose Festival this summer!
  2. Sign up for Convergence Leadership Project - even better if you recruit a team!

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Why Wendy’s Needs to Have a Change of Heart (and why students and faith leaders are getting involved)


Maria Solis Kennedy

OSU Student/Farmworker Alliance

maria@allianceforfairfood.org // 208-631-8925


25 Ohio State University students, alumni, community members launch sit-in inside  of President Drake’s office demanding OSU end its business relationship with Wendy’s over fast food giant’s refusal to join Fair Food Program


Peaceful student-led sit-in begins the day before more than 800 farmworkers, students, and allies from across the country march on President Drake’s office on International Women’s Day calling for OSU to cut its contract with Wendy’s until it joins the Fair Food Program


COLUMBUS, OH – On March 7 at 3:15 PM, 25 members of the Ohio State University community including undergraduate and graduate students, staff , and alumni entered Bricker Hall and began a sit-in outside of President Drake’s office to demand OSU end its business relationship with the fast food giant Wendy’s. The sit-in is the latest escalation of the years-long, student-led “Boot the Braids” campaign to remove Wendy’s from campus during which students have fasted, and marched, in protest of the fact that Wendy’s refuses to protect farmworker human rights by joining the CIW’s Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program.


Students and other sit-in participants have pledged to remain outside of President Drake’s office within Bricker Hall until 4:00 PM on International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8 when the 800+ person March for Farmworker Justice arrives outside of the building.  “Just months ago, President Drake declared that he wants to be ‘a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct’. Yet, he refuses to cut ties with Wendy’s, which has rejected and undermined the nation’s leading solution to sexual violence in U.S. agriculture: The Fair Food Program.”  Said Rachael Birri, a Junior at OSU who joined the sit-in. “We are sitting in because we cannot allow our school to be complicit in sexual harassment and assault of farmworker women. We will not stop fighting until OSU cuts its contract with Wendy’s.”


WHO: 25 members of the Ohio State University community in solidarity with farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

WHAT: A peaceful sit-in to to end exploitation and abuse of farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain

WHY: OSU community members join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers by calling on OSU to cut its contract with Wendy’s as long as the corporation refuses to join the Presidential Award-winning Fair Food Program, which guarantees an end to exploitation of farmworkers on participating farms in Wendy's supply chains.

WHERE: Inside Bricker Hall, the location of President Drake’s office

WHEN: Thursday, March 7 at 3 PM until the march arrives on Friday, March 8th, at 4:00 PM

The Fair Food Program was named one of the top 15 “most important social-impact stories of the past century,” in the Harvard Business Review and was called “the best workplace monitoring program in the U.S.” on the front page of the New York Times.  The Program has harnessed the purchasing power of more than a dozen of the world’s largest retail food companies, including fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, to end decades of sexual assault, forced labor, and other human rights abuses on participating farms.

The Rev. Noelle Damico

Alliance for Fair Food
Mobile: 914-525-7040

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