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We Don’t Need to Know

This Advent season, Father Richard writes of how we grow in faith by letting go of our need for certainty:

The major heresy of the Western churches is that they have largely turned the very meaning of faith into its exact opposite. True faith involves not knowing and even not needing to know, but we made faith demanding to know and insisting that we do know! The original sin, brilliantly described, warned us against this temptation at the very beginning.

We hear our story of humanity’s original sin in Genesis 2. But this sin, as we’ve called it, really doesn’t look like a sin at all. In fact, wanting knowledge feels like virtue. Haven’t you ever wondered about that? “You may indeed eat of all of the trees in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat” (Genesis 2:16–17). Why would that be a sin? It sounds like a good thing!

In seminary, we called it moral theology. We ate bushels from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, trying to decide who was good and who was bad. On other levels, our knowledge unfortunately refined and even created the very judgmental mind that Jesus strictly warned us against (see Matthew 7:1–2).

When we lead off with our judgments, love will seldom happen. Religion is almost always corrupted when the mind, which needs to make moral judgments about everything, is the master instead of the servant.

Some would think that is the whole meaning of Christianity: to be able to decide who’s going to heaven and who isn’t, who is holy and who is unholy. This is much more a search for control than it is a search for truth, love, or God. It has to do with ego, which needs to pigeonhole everything to give itself that sense of “I know” and “I am in control.”

I guess God knew that religion would take this direction. So, God said, “Don’t do it. Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God is trying to keep us from a lust for certitude, an undue need for explanation, resolution, and answers. Frankly, these things make biblical faith impossible.

It seems that God is asking humanity to live inside of a cosmic humility. In that holding pattern, instead of insisting on dividing reality into the good and the bad, we bear the ambiguity, the inconsistencies, and the brokenness of all things. It is our ultimate act of solidarity with humanity and with the world.

When we are allowed to name certain individuals as “bad,” persecution, scapegoating, and violence almost always follow. When we too easily presume that we are one of the “good” people, we largely live in illusion and prejudice. I say this as a religious person, but religion has been the justification of much of the violence in human history. God wanted to undercut that very violence at the beginning.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, rev. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 36–38.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 09 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. Tory Hallenburg, Walking on Water (detail), 2018, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Venturing beyond the monochrome of certainty, we walk into water and on ground we cannot always see. Our ripples spread beyond ourselves into this movement of faith.

Story from Our Community:

I was moved by the Daily Meditations about the Quest for the Holy Grail, specifically the emphasis on having the right questions rather than the right answers. This spoke to me since over the past 5 years, I have nursed lingering questions about why my daughter decided to end her life at just 18 years old. I used to search for answers that explained her mental state but I am coming to accept the simple truth that I will never really have the answer. I pray that in her present state she now understands the mystery of her life. —Brian L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Future of Christianity: Weekly Summary

Sunday
For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation.
—Brian McLaren

Monday
Jesus never told us to put our trust in the larger institutions of culture or even the church. We must recognize that they are also subject to the paschal mystery, the dying and the rising of all things.
—Richard Rohr

Tuesday
There are all these gifted people around but they didn’t have any power within church structures, which made people like me realize that the real power was not in the structure of the church, but in the living church. The gifted prophets in our midst.
—Barbara Holmes

Wednesday
Our faith has been about the communities faithfully modeling a way of being in the world, of being in relationship with each other and with the prisoner and the hungry. It has been about Amos, standing up to the establishment in the name of God and in the name of justice. So, I believe that the future of Christianity is indeed its past and present.
—Nontombi Naomi Tutu

Thursday
The question—“What is the future of Christianity?”—must be held in relation to other questions. Right now, the most significant of those questions is: “What is the future of humankind?”
—Diana Butler Bass

Friday
One of the things that the Second Vatican Council taught us in the religious orders, and this was certainly from the Holy Spirit, is that we were each to go back to our founders and say, “What did Francis form the Franciscans for?” Francis didn’t accuse the system of being inferior. He just went out and did it better.
—Richard Rohr

Allowing Ourselves Not to Know

Before beginning to discuss the future of the church and Christianity, Brian McLaren invited the more than three thousand attendees of The Future of Christianity webcast to a fifteen-minute period of silence and contemplation. We share his invitation at the end of this week’s meditations, hoping it brings a spirit of openness to your faithful reflection this week:    

This is a delicate moment to address deep issues in the Christian faith. If we come in with a set of unchallenged assumptions, we can pretty much predict how the outcomes will be in our thinking. That’s why we’d like to take a few moments now, as we begin this time of reflection together, to invite you to settle into a silence. And in that silence, to be willing to say, “I have a lot of ideas. I have a lot of opinions. But I am not my ideas and opinions, and if I allow myself to be captive to my current ideas and opinions, my horizons will be really limited.”

As we sink into this silence, we’ll hear the chatter of our own thoughts, the debates and questions of our own thoughts, and in a sense when we see those arising, we can say, “Oh yes, those are my own existing assumptions.” Maybe I can just let them be, and in humility open my heart to wisdom beyond my own. Wisdom that might come to us through the faculty, through our interaction, through the discussion that will happen, but also wisdom that may just come to you. May we dare to hope that our hearts, open to the Spirit of God, could not only receive answers to our questions about the future of Christianity, but that our hearts could be so changed in this time together, our minds and hearts and desires opened, clarified, maybe even purified. So that the future can be different.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:

Adapted from Brian McLaren, introduction to The Future of Christianity: A Virtual Summit, Center for Action and Contemplation, recorded live on August 23, 2022. Note: This segment is not included on the YouTube video cited in other meditations this week.  

Image credit: Christopher Holt, Newgrange Triple Spiral (detail), 2014, Ireland, photograph, Wikimedia. Joanna Kosinska, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Nasa and ESA, M104 Sombrero Galaxy (detail), 2003, United States, photograph, Wikimedia. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: From a past shrouded by time, we hold the known candle of our present moment toward an unknown and expansive future. Past, present, and future— Christ is present in each.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Courage to Ask the Question

In a recent webcast, CAC faculty joined together to discuss the future of Christianity. Brian McLaren opened the conversation:

Our question that brings us together today is the question of the future of Christianity. This is a question that I have lived with really my whole adult life. I sensed it was part of my calling or vocation to live with and wrestle with this question.

And I think we should realize there are some people who would find it dangerous that we are even asking this question, because to raise the question of the future of Christianity suggests that the future might be different than the past or the present. And there are a lot of people who are very, very invested in making sure the future is exactly the same as the past or the present. And I think the question is also dangerous within each of us, depending on how we answer it. If we were to look at some positive trends and say, “Oh, the future of Christianity is bright! The future of Christianity is wonderful,” there’s a certain way that that kind of positive and even wishful thinking could then give us, inside of the privacy of our own minds, permission to say, “Everything’s going to be fine. I can return to my previously scheduled apathy and complacency.”

There’s another way of answering the question that says, “The future of Christianity is [bleak] and terrible and hopeless.” And we could succumb to a kind of despair or a cynicism that would allow us to say, “Nothing I can do about it. It will be what it will be. It’s out of my hands.” And that would allow us to return to our previously scheduled apathy and complacency.

But there’s another way of asking this question and engaging it with an open heart, an open imagination, an open mind. And that’s a way that leads to a sense of empowerment for us to be open to the ways that the future of Christianity could be influenced by what we know our story begins with: one person impacting twelve people who impacted several hundred more [and so on].

McLaren finds hope for Christianity’s future in viewing its past as an ever-evolving movement:

For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution . . . that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time. What might happen if we understand the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? [1]

References:

[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (New York: Convergent, 2016), 3.

Adapted from Brian McLaren, “The Question of the Future of Christianity,” in The Future of Christianity: A Virtual Summit, Center for Action and Contemplation, streamed live on August 23, 2022, YouTube video, 1:56:18.  

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Christopher Holt, Newgrange Triple Spiral (detail), 2014, Ireland, photograph, Wikimedia. Joanna Kosinska, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Nasa and ESA, M104 Sombrero Galaxy (detail), 2003, United States, photograph, Wikimedia. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: From a past shrouded by time, we hold the known candle of our present moment toward an unknown and expansive future. Past, present, and future— Christ is present in each.

Story from Our Community:

There was a time when I considered leaving the Church. The Daily Meditations have freed me to continue my spiritual journey honestly. Yesterday at Mass, as often happens these days, I was overcome by an intimate and passionate welling up inside of me. As I observed the rich ritual and the beautiful statues, time seemed to stand still, and I literally felt grace filling me and spilling into the space and people around me. I thought of the hundreds of times I have sat in a Catholic church, surrounded by loved ones and strangers. I felt the comfort of my long-ago deceased parents and their constant gifts of love. Richard Rohr’s words, whether in books, the Daily Meditations, videos or other means, have been a great source of inspiration and comfort, especially when doubt, anxiety, and fear creep in. Thank you! —Jody G.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

School of Gratitude

Brian McLaren writes of gratefulness as a primary theme of the gospels:

Jesus makes it clear that a life lived to fulfill God’s dream for creation will involve suffering. But even here, Jesus implies that there is reason for gratitude. You see it in the Beatitudes, Jesus’s eightfold way of happiness (Matthew 5:3–12). There is a blessing in poverty, he says; to the degree you miss out on the never-enough system, you partake of God’s dream. There is a blessing in the pain of loss, because in your grief you experience God’s comfort. There is blessing in being unsatisfied about the injustice in our world, he says; as God’s justice comes more and more, you will feel more and more fulfilled. . . .   

With these counterintuitive sayings and others like them, Jesus enrolls us in advanced classes in the school of gratitude. He shows us the disadvantages of advantages, and the advantages of disadvantages. He will make this paradox most dramatic through his own death; his suffering and crucifixion will eventually bring hope and freedom to all humanity, hope and freedom that could come no other way. Here is the deepest lesson of gratitude, then. We are to be grateful not just in the good times, but also in the bad times; to be grateful not just in plenty, but also in need; to maintain thankfulness not just in laughter, but also through tears and sorrow. One of Jesus’s followers says that we should even rejoice in trials, because through trials come patience, character, wisdom (James 1:2–3). And another says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11), so he can instruct, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The words “in all circumstances” shouldn’t be confused with “for all circumstances,” of course. But neither should they be thinned to mean “in easy circumstances.” Even in pain, we can find a place of gratitude, a place where alongside the agony of loss we still count and appreciate what remains. . . .

You may lose a loved one, or facet after facet of your physical health, but you can still be grateful for what you have left. And what if you lose more, and more, and more, if bad goes to worse? Perhaps at some point, all of us are reduced to despair, but my hunch is—and I hope I never need to prove this in my own life, but I may, any of us may—having lost everything, one may still be able to hold on to one’s attitude, one’s practiced habit of gratitude, of turning to God in Job-like agony and saying, “For this breath, thanks. For this tear, thanks. For this memory of something I used to enjoy but now have lost, thanks. For this ability not simply to rage over what has been taken, but to celebrate what was once given, thanks.”

Reference:

Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 59, 60.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, Laughing Nuns (detail), 2018, Italy, photograph, Unsplash. Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Thank you, Spirit, for life. Thank you for shared joy. Thank you for beauty. Amen.

Story from Our Community:

In January 2022, my wife of 47 years died from COVID-19. My grief has been unbearable at times. Some days seem like they last 10 years. I began to question my faith as my grief seemed to change into fear. What if I never see my family in eternal bliss? This was another loss for me [because] soon after I converted to Catholicism in 1998, I became an “uber-catholic” in my parish. I knew everything it seemed—but I didn’t know what I thirsted for. In my grief, I was reading the Daily Meditations when the image of a kernel of faith spoke to me. It was so powerful, I felt it put me back on track. It does not feel like I am talking myself into some “story” to feel better; rather, I it feels as though I was handed a map to help navigate the uneasy waters of life. I can hardly express my deep gratitude to Fr. Richard and CAC for what you do for us every day. Thank you, THANK YOU. —Jack C.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Our Shared Values

Interfaith leader Eboo Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which brings together youth of different faiths through cooperation and shared service. When a skeptical questioner asks, “What’s the IFYC approach?” Patel explains:

“We call it shared values—service learning,” I said. “We begin by identifying the values that different religious communities hold in common—hospitality, cooperation, compassion, mercy. We bring a group of religiously diverse young people together and ask them, ‘How does your religion speak to this value?’ One kid will say, ‘Well, I really admire how the pope [John Paul II] embodied mercy when he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him.’ A kid from a different religion will say, ‘There is a story like that in my religion: when the Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca, he extended mercy by forgiving many of the people who had waged war against him.’” . . .

“Are you trying to teach the kids that all religions are the same?” he asked, again growing suspicious.

“Not at all,” I responded. “We are showing young people that religions have powerful things in common, but they come to those shared values through their own paths. . . .”

 “The IFYC always gives young people the chance to actually act on the religious value they are talking about through a service project. It’s amazing how many faith stories of compassion kids remember when they are building a house together for a poor family, or what their insights into hospitality are when they are tutoring refugee children.” [1]

CAC teacher Brian McLaren writes about the sense of “with-ness” that arises when people of different faiths join in service, justice, and solidarity:

Another friend . . . went to a Muslim-majority country specifically to convert Muslims to Christianity. After some time there, he got a sick feeling: he felt he was serving neither God nor the best interests of the people around him, but was instead serving the colonizing agenda of the religious clan that sent him. So he changed the direction of his work. He started mobilizing Christians and Muslims to work side by side in helping the poor. “Something happens,” he told me, “when we work together for the poor. We all change. I know that both the Christians and the Muslims feel they are encountering God in one another, and together we are encountering God as we join God in serving the poor.” He discovered that witness led him to with-ness. . . .

Talking together is important—but that interfaith dialogue becomes much deeper in the context of multi-faith collaboration. Words are good, but actions are better—especially actions that bring us together solving problems that affect everybody. . . . [What] so many other people are doing is a lot like what Jesus did: bringing together unlikely people to serve and heal together, to liberate the oppressed and their oppressors together, and to model, in their collaboration, the kind of harmony and human-kindness the world so desperately needs. [2]

References:

[1] Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2007), 166–167.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (New York: Jericho Books, 2012), 245–246, 246–247.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jeremy Yap, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Dann Zepeda, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Austin Kehmeier, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Opening the door to difference—to include, rather than exclude—we see a beautiful beyond and receive the life water of new ways to see.

Story from Our Community:

Over the years, I have enjoyed the friendship of both Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians. Through our friendship, I was introduced an ikon that I have come to see as an ingenious way to describe the nature of God and the Trinity. The ikon shows the Holy Trinity as three simple people seated around a small common table and enjoying each other’s company! Thank you to the Daily Meditations, which have reminded me of the sacredness and importance of this image in my spiritual journey. Alleluia! —John L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Living Our Faith in All Circumstances

Wherever we are on our journey with Christianity, Brian McLaren invites us to return to the instructions given by the Hebrew prophet Micah: “O human being, this is what God desires for you. That you do justice. That you love kindness. That you walk humbly in the presence of your God” (Micah 6:8). Brian writes:

Micah turns a religious question into a human question.

Christians very much like to call Jesus the Son of God. Jesus much preferred to call himself the Son of Man (or son of humanity). There are many layers of meaning to the term. But the simplest and most obvious is this: a son of humanity is a human being. If you want to put a finer point on it, son of means the essence of or perhaps a new generation of. Jesus is saying that he represents the essence of humanity, a new generation of humanity, a new kind of human being. In this light, his constant invitation, follow me, means imitate me and join me on my journey toward a new way of being human. . . .

In that light, whatever you choose to call yourself, Christian or not, I hope you will aspire to be a humble human being . . . religiously. . .

I hope you will desire to be a kind human being, because . . . that person you call your enemy . . . that person is part of your family, part of your species, part of your story, part of your kind. . . .

And in addition to being a humble and kind human being, I hope you will aspire to being a just human being. Don’t seek power over others to control or exploit them or harm them. Instead, use whatever power that comes your way for the common good, so that all people everywhere can share equal justice and equal dignity. Seek justice. Love justice. Do justice. Be a just human being . . . religiously.

When I say religiously, I mean intentionally, seeking out practices that promote justice, kindness, and humility. And I mean collaboratively, joining or building communities or networks that promote those practices. And I mean reverently, knowing how precious this heartbeat and this breath really are, and feeling every moment how much danger and opportunity are held in these human hands. Religiously, as I’m using the term, means with a sense of the sacredness of everything and a commitment to re-consecrate everything.

In the midst of uncertainty for what the future of Christianity holds, Brian invites us to continue what he calls “our spiritual quest”:

To become the most just, kind, and humble version of ourselves that we possibly can, day by day . . . to practice a faith that expresses itself in love . . . to lean with others into a new humanity, a new generation or new kind of humanity, open to every good resource that can help us, explicitly Christian or not.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2022), 217, 218, 219, 220.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 墙 wall (detail), 2020, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Yoichi R. Okamoto, Munich’s Large and Beautiful Fussgangerzone (detail), 1973, photograph, Munich, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 树 tree (detail), 2019, photograph, Qufu, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes the wall cracks or the tree dies. We ponder and question what we profess to believe. It’s a healthy practice that undergirds a maturing faith.

Story from Our Community:

I was raised evangelical. I married a very legalistic evangelical. I became more and more self-righteous, convinced my politics and church were the only true way. Then I had a moral failure and I was the one being judged, being cut off. I spiraled into addiction. I cut God out completely. I hit bottom and started attending a 12-step group. I couldn’t go back to that church culture, but I wanted someone to make sense of what I was struggling with, enter Richard. I want my belief in Christ to make me a vessel of what he represented, not the ego-centric person I was. Thank you CAC, you are making a way in the desert.
—Kait S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Staying Out Loud

Over the decades Brian McLaren has had many conversations with faithful Christians who are also disillusioned by church and religion. After one evening spent in the company of two Roman Catholic sisters who have stayed in service to the church for over fifty years, McLaren reflects:

“There are more than two options,” I thought. “I don’t have to choose between staying Christian compliantly or leaving Christianity defiantly. I can stay defiantly, like Sr. Ann and Sr. Jean [not their real names]. I can intentionally, consciously, resolutely refuse to leave . . . and with equal intention and resolution, I can refuse to comply with the status quo. I can occupy Christianity with a different way of being Christian.”

When I say stay defiantly, I don’t mean ungraciously. Srs. Ann and Jean radiate such gentleness and inner calm that accusations of being ungracious simply don’t stick. No, with firm yet gracious defiance, they will keep speaking their truths and will continue doing so from the inside as long as they can.

McLaren finds encouragement to remain a committed Christian in Jesus’ own decision to stay and wrestle with his Jewish faith even as he was rejected:

I can no longer put a naïve trust in the structures of the Christian religion, seeing and knowing what I see and know now. But instead of rejecting my religious community, I remain paradoxically present to it, neither minimizing its faults nor hating it for its faults. . . .

Jesus, of course, counted this cost. He stayed out loud. And it’s worth noting where his staying led him. Not to winning. Not to success. It led him to the utter defeat and humiliation of the cross.

Was he a fool to keep faith through his dying breath, to translate his feeling of forsakenness into a prayer? Was he a fool to think that the legacy of the prophets, the legacy of his cousin John, and the legacy of his mother, Mary, were worth staying for, to save that legacy from corruption by the religious gatekeepers of his day?

Was he a fool to stay in the fray with the religious company men of his day, naming their corruption and toxicity with carefully chosen words like “whitewashed sepulchers” and “brood of vipers” [Matthew 23:27, 33]? Would he have been wiser to leave quietly for India and become Hindu, or to go quietly to China and become Buddhist instead of challenging the status quo of his own religion?

Was he a fool to think that the tiny handful of people who got only a tiny sliver of his message and saw some faint glimmer of what he saw could outlive him and do greater things than he had done?

Are you willing to be that kind of fool? Am I?

Today, at least, inspired by the example of Sr. Jean and Sr. Ann, I am.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2022), 94, 96.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 墙 wall (detail), 2020, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Yoichi R. Okamoto, Munich’s Large and Beautiful Fussgangerzone (detail), 1973, photograph, Munich, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 树 tree (detail), 2019, photograph, Qufu, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes the wall cracks or the tree dies. We ponder and question what we profess to believe. It’s a healthy practice that undergirds a maturing faith.

Story from Our Community:

For a long time I’ve been aware of a larger God than my upbringing allowed. My early faith was restricted to those who professed Jesus Christ as their personal savior; if not you went to hell. But for years I’ve loved the bigger God and even told a friend that I looked forward to going to hell where the people I most liked were. Along with an expanded sense of God, and the recent pandemic, I’ve given up the idea of boundaries between countries and ownership of land, of our Mother Earth.
—Karen M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Christianity’s Violence Problem

CAC teacher Brian McLaren has long asked questions out loud that many have often asked only to themselves. In his new book Do I Stay Christian?, Brian outlines compelling reasons both to leave and stay within Christianity. Today we share his critique of Christianity’s complicity with violence. Such truth-telling can be difficult to read. We invite you to practice the contemplative stance of “holding the tension of opposites”:

Echoing its founder’s nonviolence, the Christian faith initially grew as a nonviolent spiritual movement of counter-imperial values. It promoted love, not war. Its primal creed elevated solidarity, not oppression and exclusion [see Galatians 3:26–28]. . . . The early Christians elevated the equality of friendship rather than the supremacy of hierarchy (John 15:15; 3 John 14, 15).

This commitment to nonviolence rapidly eroded in the early fourth century when the emperor Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the empire. This led to an acceptance of violence and domination against the empire’s enemies, but also perceived “enemies” from within:

What the empire wanted to do, the church generally blessed. . . . This cozy relationship with empire continued long after the Roman Empire had fully collapsed. The church supported the empire’s many reincarnations in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Russian, German, and American imperial ventures. Each empire could count on the mainstream Christian church to bless its successes, pardon its failures, and pacify and unify its masses.

A community with a history of violence to Jews . . . does not sound like a safe place for non-Christians. But as a chaplain to empire, Christianity was not a particularly safe place for Christians either—at least not those who chose to differ from the authorities of the church or state. Choosing to differ, in fact, was the root meaning of the word heresy. . . .

Historians generally agree: while the records are unreliable and incomplete, at least tens of thousands of suspected nonconformists were prosecuted by church courts between 1180 and 1450; many thousands were tortured; over a thousand were executed by church authorities. . . . In a seventy-year period starting in 1560, 80,000 women were tried as witches and 40,000 were killed. . . .

Today, abuse of Christians by Christians tends to be more emotional and spiritual than physical. But shunning and disowning (forms of relational banishment), public shaming and character assassination, private humiliations, church trials of nonconformists, blacklisting, and other forms of Christian-on-Christian cruelty continue, and more and more traumatized people are coming forward with their stories. . . .

To state the obvious: Jesus never tortured or killed or ruined the life of anyone, but the same cannot be said for the religion that claims to follow him.

Knowing what I now know, if I were not already a Christian, I would hesitate in becoming one, at least until the religion in all its major forms offers a fearless, searching, public moral accounting for its past crimes . . . first, against Jews, and also against its own nonconformist members. 

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2022), 22–23, 24, 25, 28.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 墙 wall (detail), 2020, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Yoichi R. Okamoto, Munich’s Large and Beautiful Fussgangerzone (detail), 1973, photograph, Munich, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 树 tree (detail), 2019, photograph, Qufu, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes the wall cracks or the tree dies. We ponder and question what we profess to believe. It’s a healthy practice that undergirds a maturing faith.

Story from Our Community:

As a young adult, I’ve shifted away from ideology and moved into free thought and expansiveness, while grounded in perennial truth. As contemplatives, we’re told to live on uncertainty, but I know that my transformation affects the lives of those around me positively. Here, I can hold my traditional Catholic upbringing and be a person of the modern-day, living amidst its many contradictions.
—Patrick S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

An Uprising for Justice

Theologian and Episcopal priest Kelly Brown Douglas compares the Risen Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to meet him in Galilee (Mark 16:6–8) and our own encounter with the risen Christ when we stand against injustice. 

In asking his disciples to meet him in Galilee, Jesus was indeed calling them to imagine something different for the world. Jesus was asking them to imagine a world where life, not death, is centered. . . . The Resurrected Jesus resurrected his disciples by inviting them away from the despair of death that was the cross into the hope of new life that was the resurrection. A community that had given up on the possibilities for life, that had lost faith in the gospel that Jesus preached, was called back into life-giving ministry. This is what the invitation to Galilee was all about.

When I remembered this Galilean invitation, as I stood in my own existential despair of crucifying Black deaths, it was as if I was being invited to Galilee to meet the resurrected Jesus. . . .

Douglas participated in a protest in support of Black lives and was filled with unexpected joy and what she calls “resurrecting hope”:

As I stood there in what seemed like a sea of people, my [spontaneous] laughter was nothing less than a signal of transcendence pointing me to the resurrecting hope that had disrupted the seeming futility of crucifying Black death. . . .

Standing in that small space of Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House was the most motley and diverse crew of God’s sacred creation that I had seen come together in protest. They reflected an “otherwise way of being in the world.” They were Black, white, brown, Asian and non-Asian, Latinx and non-Latinx, queer and non-queer, trans and non-trans, bi-gendered and non-bi-gendered. They were also young and old and everything in between. . . . People were there advocating, each in their own way, for a world that looked more like God’s just future: a future where all people were living in the peace that was justice. They were embodying that very future. [1]

CAC teacher Brian McLaren envisions much the same in a world saturated by the Risen Christ’s presence:

Resurrection has begun. We are part of something rare, something precious, something utterly revolutionary.

It feels like an uprising. An uprising of hope, not hate. An uprising armed with love, not weapons. An uprising that shouts a joyful promise of life and peace, not angry threats of hostility and death. It’s an uprising of outstretched hands, not clenched fists. It’s the “someday” we have always dreamed of, emerging in the present, rising up among us and within us. It’s so different from what we expected—so much better. This is what it means to be alive, truly alive. This is what it means to be en route, walking the road to a new and better day. Let’s tell the others: the Lord is risen! [2]

References:
[1] Kelly Brown Douglas, Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021), 188, 190, 192, 195.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), 170.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Suzanne Szasz, Window Box at 69th Street (detail), 1973, photograph, New York, public domain, National Archives. Jenna Keiper, Icon at the Center for Action and Contemplation (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Suzanne Szasz, At High Rock Park on Staten Island (detail), 1973, photograph, New York, public domain, National Archives. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We are invited to fully experience resurrection wherever we are. Can you sense it? See it? Smell it? Touch it? It’s all around.

Story from Our Community:

Grief transformed my life when my 57-year-old husband died of cancer. Every loss of my life was revived and amplified, from the death of a little sister the day she was born to my divorce. In the depth of loss and sadness, I become very quiet and still. There! What is that spark, that light, a lifeline of love that lets me know I am alive, and life is good? Others see it too, and others find the words that don’t stop the flow. Grace. God. Resurrection. Christ. Love.
—Karen B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

An Opportunity for Transformation

Author and CAC teacher Brian McLaren has spent decades thinking about change in the church and why so many resist it. Here he summarizes what often happens to our religious institutions once they lose their original purpose:

The pattern is predictable. Founders are typically generous, visionary, bold, and creative, but the religions that ostensibly carry on their work often become the opposite: constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and money. Instead of greeting the world with open arms as their founders did, their successors stand guard with clenched fists. Instead of empowering others as their founders did, they hoard power. Instead of defying tradition and unleashing moral imagination as their founders did, they impose tradition and refuse to think outside the lines. A religion that cuts itself off from the example of its founder while still bearing the founder’s name often becomes little more than a chaplaincy for other ideologies, offering its services to the highest bidder. No wonder so many religious folks today wear down, burn out, and opt out.

And no wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, “What happened to Christianity? What happened to Jesus and his beautiful message?” [1]

Minister, entrepreneur, and author Cameron Trimble sees the decline of church structures as an opportunity to ask questions that matter, to rediscover and renew our faith:

What is church really about? I’ve always understood the church as being a community with a shared story in our scriptures, which binds us together. Church is about weaving relationships together so that life for all of us is more deeply rooted in Love. Today, I would offer that the church also offers a platform to work together to build a world that acts and advocates for the common good of all of us. We are warriors, lovers, peacemakers, protectors, prophets, thinkers, and dreamers who gather together to celebrate our heritage as children of God. At the same time, we are fearlessly willing to stand up and stand in for those our culture might oppress. When we live consciously aware of our power to shape our world for good, we live lives of meaning. We are our own most fully human and fully sacred expressions. We are whole. . . .

We have an opportunity in this moment of our great transformation. We can approach this time as survivors, desperately clinging to our structures and ways of being. Or, we can see ourselves as pioneers, setting out in the face of the unknown to discover new ways to live faith-filled lives. The inevitable decline of our structures gives us the chance to let go of what might hold us back from that adventure. Nothing today will be the same ten years from now. Why not architect the kind of faith movement we want to see twenty-to-fifty years from now? What do we have to lose? [2]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (New York: Convergent, 2016), 5–6.

[2] Cameron Trimble, Piloting Church: Helping Your Congregation Take Flight (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2019), 132.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Church I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Toni Frissell, Minnie Burden, barefoot, riding a horse (detail), 1964, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The left and right photos are of stone monuments: solid and unmoving. Between them the fresh energy and movement of a horse and rider breathe life into this trio of images. How can we stay connected to the energetic, movement origins of our religions?

Story from Our Community:

A relative was recently diagnosed with aggressive cancer. It is inoperable and terminal. This person’s faith and love allow him to be vulnerable enough to share this with family and friends. A pattern of communication is set up in a way we can support him, learn from him, and practice vulnerability in all our lives. What a sacred gift.
—Barb F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.