A Reader Writes: I Now Live with No Roof

A reader writes:
I'm writing to tell you how absolutely grateful I am for your book, Faith After Doubt. I just graduated from a conservative, fundie, evangelical college with a BA in Christian Ministries, but I'm deconstructing my faith. I've felt pretty screwed, but reading your book has given me a fresh peace and hope for what can still be done and experienced in the Church from my expanding outlooks.
Some highlights of your book for me have been the threads of comparative theology, practical theology, ecumenism(!!!😁), humanism, even universalism at times, and this idea of spiritual entrepreneurship. As a visionary and unity-seeker, I find all of this to be quite enthralling and wildly motivating. I'm an enneagram 8 and an ENFJ on Myers Briggs. I want to pounce on the problems I see and persuade people to change for the better. I heard it for myself when you told Hannah, that “’You may have lost your faith,’ I said, ‘but you sure haven’t lost your fire.’” (189).  I think, at the end of the day, even if I’m disappointed at many demonstrations of faith that I see around me, I will still have the fire that pushes me forward, up and out into the world, through the glass ceiling of gatekeepers and into the expansively mystical, colorful sky of harmony.
Having read your book, I now feel truly encouraged that there is always room to grow. I now live with no roof, floating around, flexible spirit, open-mind, awestruck eyes – perhaps like a bird, or a plane, but definitely not superman. Thank God for that!
Thanks again. I'll be carrying your words with me.
As you can imagine, a message like this can make a writer's day. Thanks to this enthusiastic reader - and to all who remember that "there is always room to grow." Amen!

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We Make the Road by Walking – more help for pastors, teachers, and group leaders

Churches around the world have used We Make the Road by Walking for a year-long overview of the whole Bible - from a fresh perspective.  Together with many helpful readers, we've amassed a lot of excellent resources to help in making the book useful.

A Dutch reader, Hanny Rohm, wanted to be able to find where in the book specific Scripture passages were discussed. Hanny decided to create such a list. Here it is (in Dutch, but it's easy to translate). The number in parentheses is the page number from the Dutch edition. Other editions may vary slightly.

We make the road by walking (Brian McLaren)

Genesis 1:1-2:3 (33), 2:4-25 (8), 3:1-13 (18), 4:1-17 (23), 6:5-8 (23), 7:1-5 (23), 8:1 (23), 9:7-17 (23), 12:1-9 (29), 18:9-33 (33), 22:1-14 (33), 32:22-33-11 (38), 50:15-21 (38)

Exodus 1:1-14 (43), 3:1-15 (43), 20:1-21 (49) /// Leviticus /// Numeri /// Deuteronomium 7:1-11 (55), 15:1-11 (234) /// Jozua /// Richteren /// Ruth /// 1 Samuel /// 

2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 (118) /// 1 Koningen 3 (106) /// 2 Koningen 2:1-15 (61) 1 Kronieken /// Ezra /// Nehemia /// Esther /// Job 10 (199) /// Psalmen 8 (8), 19 (3), 22 (194), 23 (61), 25 (216), 33 (18), 34:1-18 (92), 51 (23), 77 (199), 88 (199), 90 (305), 98 (300), 103 (223), 116 (259), 117 (101), 122 (183), 126 (310), 133 (210), 137:1-9 (55), 145: 1-16 (13), 146 (228), 149 (55) /// Spreuken 3:1-26 (124), 4 (271), 8:1-36 (13, 277) /// Prediker 1:1-11 (199) /// Hooglied /// Jesaja 1:1-2:5 (67), 7:14 (82), 9:2-7 (82), 40:9-11 (77), 40:27-31 (239), 42:1-9+53 (141), 60:1-3 (97), 61:1-4 (112) /// Jeremia 31:31-34 (124), 32:31-35 (87) /// Klaagliederen /// Ezechiel 34 (130), 37:1-14 (205) /// Daniel 7:9-28 (77) /// Hosea /// Joel /// Amos /// Obadja /// Jona 4 (135) /// Micha 5:2-5a (87), 17:19-34 (33) /// Nahum /// Habakuk /// Sefanja /// Haggai /// Zacharia 9:9-10 (183) /// Maleachi


Mattheus 1:1-17 (92), 1:18-2:15 (87), 2:1-12 (101), 5:1-16 (157), 5:17-48 (162), 6:1-18 (168), 6:19-7:12 (173), & 6:25-34 (3), 7:13-29 (178), 9:10-17 (67), 10:16-20 (228), 11:28-30 (228), 15:21-39 (55), 16:13-17:9 (141), 22:34-40 (49), 23:1-12 (283), 25:31-40 (38, 135), 28:16-20 (228) /// Markus 1:21-28 (118), 2:1-19 (147), 3:1-6 (8), 4:1-34 (124), 11:15-19 (29) /// Lukas 1:5-55 (82), 1:67-79 (77), 2:8-20 (92), 2:25-32 (101), 2:39-3:14 (107), 3:21-22 (107), 4:11-30 (112), 5:1-11 (112), 5:17-32 (130), 10:1-11, 17-20 (216), 10:25-37 (38), 15:11-32 (316), 16:19-31 (135), 18:15-19:9 (130), 19:29-46 (183), 20:27-38 (305), 22:39-23:56 (194), 24:1-32 (205) /// Johannes 1:1-17 (13) & 1:1-5, 9-10 (97), 2:1-12 (118), 3:1-21 (249) & 3:19-21 (92), 8:1-11 (43), 8:12 (97), 9:5 (97), 12:35-36, 46 (97), 13-17 (188), 13:1-15 (283), 14:15-18, 25-27 (300), 15:1-8 (254), 15:26-27 (300), 16:33 (300), 17:1-23 (277), 20 (210), 21:1-15 (216) /// Handelingen 1:1-11 (61), 2:41-47 (222 & 249), 4:1-31 (294), 8:26-40 (210), 9:1-25 (239), 10 (265), 16:11-40 (228), 17:19-34 (33) /// Romeinen 15:1-13 (67), 6:1-14 (249), 8:31-39 (316), 12:1-2 (82), 12:3-21 (271) /// 1 Korinthiers 3:9-15 (300), 14:26-31 (222), 13 (265), 15:20-28 (300), 15:50-58 (316) /// 2 Korinthiers 6:1-10 (239), 8:1-15 (234) & 8:1-17 (259), 11:22-33 (239) /// Galaten 3:6-9 (29), 3:19-4:7 (254), 5:1 & 13-15 (43) & 5:1 & 23-26 (254) /// Efeziers 3:14-21 (259), 4:1-16 (277), 5:15-6:9 (288), 6:10-20 (294) /// Filippenzen 1:20-30 (305), 2:1-11 (283) & 2:3-11 (18), 3:12-14 (intro XIV) /// Kolossenzen 1:9-29 (205), 2:6-7 (254), 3:1-17 (254) & 3:12-17 (222) /// 1 Tessalonicenzen 5:1-11 (294) /// 

2 Tessalonicenzen /// 1 Timotheus 4:6-16 (106), 6:3-19 (234) /// 2 Timotheus 1:1-14 (294), 2:1-9 (112) /// Titus /// Filemon 1:8-19 (288) /// Hebreeen 10:1-18 (49), 11:1-8 (147), 13:1-8 (288) /// Jakobus 1:2-8 (271), 3:13-18 (271), 4:1-8 (23), 5:1-6 (288) /// 1 Petrus /// 2 Petrus /// 1 Johannes 1:1-2:6 (147) /// 2 Johannes /// 3 Johannes /// Judas /// Openbaring 1:9-19 (310), 19:11-16 (310), 21:1-8 (310), 22:16-21 (310)

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Why Pastors are Quitting

Since my book Faith After Doubt came out, I've been receiving a steady stream of emails from people thanking me for helping them understand what they're going through. I'm hearing from many, many pastors too. Here's an excerpt from a recent email:

I wanted to reach out and say thank you for putting Faith After Doubt out into the world.
The last handful of years I've read very little in the realm of Christian theology/ecclesiology/whateverology. I just couldn't handle too many excursions into such waters while trying to keep faith in Jesus and pastor a church in TRUMP's America. One touch-point I've held onto is the daily reflections from the CAC. When I read one last month with an excerpt from your book, it felt like the right message at the right time for me.
As I started reading, your narrative of moving through the stages felt almost autobiographical. I have been hovering between Perplexity and Harmony for some time now. I think the radical revealing of the white evangelical church in the 2016 election was when I first started asking the question, "Is the church in America a net gain for compassion in the universe?"
Since then my own spiritual journey has been deepened through long excursions of silence and solitude in wild places and by perspectives rooted in the natural world like Robin Wall Kimmerer, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry. It's been a liberating and life-giving opening up to other ways of knowing and being. At the same time, my sense of connection and belonging to the church and my pastoral vocation within it has been deeply strained. This past year, the pandemic and the politicization of responses to it, anger about restrictions, the Black Lives Matter movement, the most divisive and hateful election in our history, and our denomination coming to a breaking point around LGBT inclusion have all formed a confluence of stressors at a time when we're missing most of the tools I'm used to utilizing to build community... There are many days where I think, "If you gave me a viable exit strategy and handed me a ripcord, I'd pull that thing so fast it would make your head spin!"
I trust you that there is a good and beautiful field in which Harmony is Reality on the far side of perplexity. I've already been making excursions there! I just don't know if I can dwell there and remain a pastor. As you clearly know, that is a pretty sobering thought to engage when I have invested my whole life up to this point in this work.
On page 185 you frame two questions, "In this chapter, I hold out hope that our religious institutions can take on this mission of moral and spiritual development. But I have to admit that sometimes I feel I am hitting my head against a closed box. How do you feel about the possibility of some significant sector of organized religion taking on this vital task? If religious institutions don't do so, who will?" I'm going to sit with those questions for this next season of life.
My honest knee-jerk response is, "I don't know Brian, and I'm too fucking tired and beat up to care." My second response is, "I don't know Brian, but I remember what it felt like to be immersed in shame and fear-based Christianity, I know that the difference between that and where I am now feels like the difference between death and life, I want to believe there is a way to shepherd others who are brave enough to make that journey, and I want to hope the church as we've known it can evolve to aid that work."
All that to say, by being vulnerable and transparent with your journey you have given this fellow pilgrim a sense of solidarity and some more tools to make sense of my own life and faith. I really don't know if I'll stick it out as a pastor for the long haul, but using your definition of Harmony, I think I have a pretty good chance of sticking it out with faith.
As I read emails like these, I remember a moment years ago when my wife and I were sitting in a hospital conference room. One of our children had just been diagnosed with cancer, and two doctors were explaining the protocol our child was about to begin. They were going over the list of chemotherapeutic agents and the side effects, asking us to sign off for each one. It was dizzying.
Then one of the doctors added this: "I don't know anything about the two of you and the state of your marriage, but I can tell you that a high percentage of couples with a child with cancer who are married at the beginning of treatment are separated or divorced by the end of treatment. These next few years are going to be hard on your whole family, but that little child in the bed around the corner needs loving parents like never before. So if your marriage is strong, please do all you can to keep it that way. And if it's not strong, please do what you can to strengthen it now, because the strain you are about to experience won't be easy."
The doctor's sincere concern brought tears to my eyes, and those same tears come to my eyes as a read the emails that come in, especially those from pastors whose churches are being torn apart in a dozen different ways, and whose own strength and well-being are being shaken in the process.
If you're a pastor and you're part of the spiritual resistance to Trumpism, QAnon, white Christian nationalism and supremacy, and the rest, I want to offer you the same counsel the oncologist gave my wife and me that day. If you're spiritually strong, please do what you need to to keep it that way. And if you're spiritually struggling, now is the time to do something about it. The next few years aren't going to get easier ... so now is the time to find a spiritual director or coach (or both), ask for a sabbatical, spend time with people and books and podcasts that encourage you, and be a friend (and pastor) to yourself.
If you need to "pull the ripcord," then do so without shame or guilt. There is no shame in being wounded in a tough, protracted battle. Sometimes, a short-term retreat is necessary for a long-term advance.
And if you are inspired by the vision for "a good and beautiful field in which Harmony is Reality on the far side of perplexity," all the more reason to find a group of peers who can support, encourage, and befriend each other on the journey to that place.

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Q & R: A Worship Leader asks …

Here's the Q:

I know you probably won’t respond to this but just wanted to thank you immensely for your work and especially your latest book Faith After Doubt. It has brought me so much encouragement and put words to the experience that I have lived so beautifully. Just wanted to throw out a question.  Do you think it is possible to do Harmony work in a Simplicity/Complexity Church setting?

I love my job as a worship leader and my wife loves her job as a youth director but there are certainly times where the duality of the words I’m singing in worship rub against my yearning for harmony among all faiths in the name of love. Working with students has been super rewarding for my wife and she has found ways to teach a harmony message as the undertow or current of our ministry while teaching bible stories that have been historically taught through the lens of simplicity or complexity..

I hope any of that makes sense..

I love the idea of not judging those in simplicity but can I actually serve them from a place of harmony and do it with integrity..?

I’m sure you get a lot of rambling emails so you can add this to that pile.

Thanks again for your work Brian!!

Thanks for your note. It's interesting that you ask about worship leaders and youth pastors. Many worship pastors are artists - attuned to beauty, which leads them more quickly, I think, into stages 3 and 4, perplexity and harmony. Similarly, youth pastors are working with adolescents who - many of them - are entering stage 2 and moving toward stage 3, complexity and perplexity. Meanwhile, their parents are often trying desperately to keep them under  control in stage 1, simplicity.

I think people in simplicity and complexity profoundly need teachers and leaders who are in harmony. Those leaders need to understand their people -- to accept them where they are, to speak to them in the framework they can understand, but to gently and creatively lead them forward.

For a worship leader, you can reflect this in the way you pray, in who you quote, and in the songs you choose and don't choose. Sometimes, it will mean that you rewrite some lyrics. Sometimes, it will mean you need to compose some new songs. You'll find great help in finding new music that will invite your people forward here: https://convergencemp.com/. And you should know of the good work of Aaron Niequist, available here: https://theeternalcurrentpodcast.libsyn.com/ and https://www.anewliturgy.com/.

As for youth pastors, there's a saying I learned in youth ministry: "More is caught than taught." I think youth ministers have a profound influence simply by being an example, at close range -- elbow to elbow -- of a deeper and wider approach to life and faith. Several youth pastors have taught the four stages to their youth groups, to give them an idea of the work that needs to be done in each stage.

Sometimes, senior pastors or boards want to run a tight, stage one ship. Where that's the case, eventually you'll run into trouble, which should be expected and handled graciously when it comes. But in the meantime, you can a lot of good. In many churches, senior pastors and boards are eager to move forward ... and having forward-leaning worship leaders and youth leaders can be key into making lasting change.

The key, as in everything, is to always act in love. God bless you in your good work!

For folks interested in Faith After Doubt - you'll find it here.

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A Reader Writes … quite a journey!

A Reader Writes:
My name is xxx and I want to share your impact on my journey.
My wife and I were in an independent fundamental Baptist church in our early twenties when a friend at work gave me a set of CDs from a presentation you gave at a 7th Day Adventist Church meeting.
I think my wife and wore those CDs out on several road trips. I still remember many of the details – foot washing and the church of the last detail, how creative people will leave those churches, the bridge metaphor, the story of the Cambodian neighbors, etc…
We knew something was unhealthy about our church, but we weren’t sure what to do about it and we were afraid to leave – afraid to lose our friends, afraid that our marriage would fall apart, afraid that our future children would not love Jesus. Unhealthy churches generate a lot of fear in their members.

That teaching series (and later reading your books) gave us 1) confirmation that our church was unhealthy, 2) confidence that there were different, healthy churches out there 3) awareness of a different way to view Jesus and the Scriptures. You helped us move past fear.

I lent those CDs to a series of friends over the years.... You are woven in as one of the many threads in our creative journey.
So, thank you. It’s worth saying again. Thank You. I should have thanked you years ago, but you came to my mind this morning and I wanted you to know that I have gratitude for you and how the Spirit used you in my life and the life of others.
Thanks for these encouraging words. I had no idea that evening was recorded, or that CD's snuck out of SDA world headquarters to help some independent fundamental Baptists! It's really encouraging to hear how, little by little, friend to friend, year and decade by year and decade, change accumulates. Thanks be to God.
For folks interested in my most recent book, Faith After Doubt, you'll find information here.

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