Brian McLaren, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation — Page 2 of 2
×

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Love Is the Movement; Doubt Is the Method

Unknowing

Love Is the Movement; Doubt Is the Method
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Candlemas Day [1]

Today Brian McLaren shares brilliantly how doubt has often been a tool of love, drawing him ever closer to the heart of God. Applying his four-fold spiritual growth process of Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony to himself, Brian writes:

Paul makes clear that nearly everything religious people strive for will eventually be swallowed up in something deeper, and in and of itself, is of no real worth. Even faith and hope don’t have the last word. Only love, he says, is the more excellent way [1 Corinthians 12:31]. . . . In fact, he dares to say, nothing else matters except faith expressing itself in love [Galatians 5:6].

Looking back on my own spiritual pilgrimage, I have come to see “the still more excellent way of love” as the telos [ultimate purpose] whose gravitational pull has been drawing me first through Simplicity, then through Complexity, then downward through Perplexity, and then deeper still, toward an experience that is too profound for words, the experience of Harmony. When I loved correctness in Stage One, yes, correctness mattered, but the love with which I pursued correctness mattered still more. When I loved effectiveness in Stage Two, yes, effectiveness mattered, but the love that moved me to pursue it mattered still more. When I loved honesty and justice in Stage Three, yes, honesty and justice mattered, but the love that burned in my heart for them mattered still more. . . .

Faith was about love all along. We just didn’t realize it, and it took doubt to help us see it. . . .

I wish I could go back to that younger, agonized me [in Stage Three Perplexity] and bring this message:

I know that your perplexity feels like a dead end. But wait, wait, endure, persist, do your work, see it through, hang in there, trust the process, and it will become a passageway, a birth canal. You actually need this purgation and unknowing to prepare you for a new depth of living, knowing, and loving. There is much that deserves to be doubted, and if you really care about the truth, you must pursue it, using doubt as a necessary tool. (It’s not your only tool, but it is one of your tools.)

I know you feel that everything you value is slipping through your fingers. But don’t clench your fists. Open your hands. Your open hands, open eyes, and open heart will prepare the way for new gains, not just new thoughts, but new ways of thinking. You have already added dualistic thinking, pragmatic thinking, and critical/deconstructive thinking to your skill set. You will soon learn a new skill: unitive or nondual seeing, in which knowing and unknowing, faith and doubt, clarity and mystery are not opposites, but complements. [2]

In this final stage, what Brian calls “Harmony,” we are not returned to certainty or knowing in any concrete way, but we are gifted with the “okayness” of not knowing and the coherence of “non-discriminatory love.” [3] Brian, raised Evangelical, really gets it! I do not believe Evangelicalism or street-corner Catholicism can be renewed at any depth without the discovery of the contemplative mind.

References:
[1] Candles were historically blessed on this day to mark the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and the slow return of light. Secular America created Groundhog Day with the same unconscious hope.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (St. Martin’s Essentials: 2021), 87, 88, 91.

[3] McLaren, 94.

Story from Our Community:
In this time of universal powerlessness and complete unknowing, I find true peace in the ability to completely turn my will and my life over to the care of God, understanding that I can never ‘figure this out.’ I pray for a great awakening for all of us and balm for the suffering across the planet. . . I ask each day to be shown what I can do to help. —Shaun P.

Image credit: Ladder and Chair (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: How do we look beyond what we think we already know? At first glance the shadow of chair and ladder may be confusing, but shapes and meaning begin to emerge upon a longer contemplation.

Doubt: A Necessary Tool for Growth

Unknowing

Doubt: A Necessary Tool for Growth
Monday, February 1, 2021

My good friend and colleague Brian McLaren’s recently published book, Faith After Doubt, shows how doubt and periods of unknowing are necessary for spiritual growth. Brian proposes a four-stage growth process of Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony. He writes:

Doubt, it turns out, is the passageway from each stage to the next. Without doubt, there can be growth within a stage, but growth from one stage to another usually requires us to doubt the assumptions that give shape to our current stage. . . .

At the Center for Action and Contemplation, one of our core teachings is “the path of descent,” the idea that the spiritual life will eventually require us to descend into a dark tunnel, to descend into unknowing and doubt, to descend into a loss of certainty, to descend through a process that feels like dying. As with Jesus in the Gospels, we find ourselves crying, “Let this cup of suffering be taken from me” [Matthew 26:39] and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46]

This deep anguish characterizes what Brian calls Stage Three: Perplexity. Brian continues:

When I studied the mystics . . .  I learned that they spoke often of purgation (or katharsis) as the portal to illumination (or fotosis) and union (or theosis). They saw purgation as the painful and necessary process by which we are stripped of know-it-all arrogance, ego, and self-will. Perplexity, I realized, was working like an X-ray of my soul, exposing much of my so-called spirituality as a vanity project of my ego, an expression of my arrogant desire to always be right, my desperate and fearful need to always be in control, my unexamined drive to tame the wildness of life by naming it and dominating it with words. The doubt of Perplexity, the mystics helped me see, was just the fire I needed to purge me of previously unacknowledged arrogance. In this way, self-knowledge was another gift that came, unwanted, during my Stage Three descent.

[Through the Christian mystics,] I was exposed to “the dark night of the soul,” a period of desolation in which God feels absent, a period in which one can’t see or understand what is going on, a deep valley during which one feels abandoned and lost. To my surprise, the mystics believed this was not something to be avoided, but rather it was a passageway into something deeper and greater. In fact, only the path of descent into spiritual dryness and soul-darkness could lead the soul to a deeper experience of union with God (or theosis).

Richard again: Ironically, one of the few things I can say I truly know is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is—surprise of surprises—a deeper way of knowing and a deeper falling into compassion. This is surely what the mystics mean by “death” and why they talk of it with so many metaphors. It is the essential transitioning.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (St. Martin’s Essentials: 2021), 43, 72, 78.

Story from Our Community:
My calling in my retirement years has not been my choice—I am sole caretaker for my husband who is physically disabled, has dementia and multiple medical diagnoses. Some days are good and some days I have less patience, stamina and hope. Reading Richard Rohr’s words first thing in the morning helps keep me fortified. There is such beauty in this world and small miracles and blessings occur each day if we quiet our minds enough to notice them. —Eileen A.

Image credit: Ladder and Chair (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: How do we look beyond what we think we already know? At first glance the shadow of chair and ladder may be confusing, but shapes and meaning begin to emerge upon a longer contemplation.

A New Story: Weekly Summary

A New Story

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Week Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 10—Friday, January 15, 2021

Sunday
A Great Story connects our little lives to the One Great Life, and even better, it forgives and uses the wounded and seemingly “unworthy” parts.

Monday
A “framing story” gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do. —Brian McLaren

Tuesday
The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?). —Brian McLaren

Wednesday
We are all looking for a larger and more loving story in which to participate. This is what God gives us!

Thursday
The new story sees the universe as primarily consciousness and the human being as body, mind, and spirit, able to locate and carry out their life’s purpose in a meaningful—indeed, fundamentally benevolent—universe. —Michael Nagler

Friday
The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God. That’s the root of our reality. —Beatrice Bruteau

 

Living a New Story

True conversion doesn’t happen just because we change our minds about something. Our choices won’t change until we truly believe a more compelling story. And as much as we want it to, the world won’t change until we ourselves become active participants in the expansion of consciousness and the restoration and healing of all things. This week’s practice from Brian McLaren provides steps we can take toward living a New Story.

If we disbelieve the dominant framing story and instead believe Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God, we will suddenly find ourselves making new personal decisions—not because we have to, as a duty, but because we want to, because we are now liberated from the cramped possibilities of the old framing story. . . . “Saved by our faith,” we will pray differently. Prayer will cease to be a technique for enlisting God to help us “make it” in the dominant system; it will instead become a way of bathing our inner world in the transforming presence of God, a way we seek to be shaped by the new framing story, the new reality, the good news, so that we can be catalysts bringing transformation to the dominant system.

If we disbelieve the old framing story and believe the good news, we will also work differently. When we realize that the most powerful world-changing work we can do is simply to believe, as Jesus told his original disciples (John 6:29), we experience liberation from panicked, frantic, desperate, incoherent, and often fruitless or counterproductive action. We rediscover Sabbath and rest and even play, and we come to our work with a new sense of energy and purpose. We will no longer be “just” anything—just a homemaker, just a laborer, just an accountant, just a kindergarten teacher. No, whatever our work, we will do it as agents of the kingdom of God, builders of a new world.

We will also buy differently. For example, when faced with a choice between an inexpensive pair of pants produced by a corporation that exploits workers (whom we now see to be our neighbors), we will choose a more expensive pair produced by a corporation that treats its workers fairly. Maybe we’ll own fewer pairs of pants, but we’ll feel better wearing them. We will vote differently, drive differently, invest differently, eat differently, volunteer differently, treat our neighbors differently, and so much more. Multiply all these kinds of daily personal decisions by the increasing numbers of people for whom they make sense, and you begin to see the power of personal action inspired by a new kind of faith.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 297‒298.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (New World Library: 2012).

Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.

Love Is the Protagonist

A New Story

Love Is the Protagonist
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Like me, Brian McLaren has spent many decades “on the edge of the inside” of the institutional Church. Although he often critiques the stories told by Christian denominations, he has never tired of the Jesus story or failed to believe in its power to transform the world. Brian and Gareth Higgins write:

Jesus came to subvert all stories of violence and harm, not repeat them.

Instead of patriarchal stories of domination, he taught and embodied service, reconciliation, and self-giving.

Instead of stories of violent revolution or revenge on the one hand or compliant submission on the other, he taught and modeled transformative nonviolent resistance.

Instead of the purification stories of scapegoating or ethnic cleansing, he encountered and engaged the other with respect, welcome, neighborliness, and mutuality.

Instead of inhabiting a competitive story of accumulation, he advocated stewardship, generosity, sharing, and a vision of abundance for all.

Instead of advocating escapist stories of isolation, he sent his followers into the world to be agents of positive change, like salt, light, and yeast.

And instead of leaving the oppressed in stories of victimization, he empowered them with a vision of faith, hope, and love that could change the world. [1]

Richard again: One time after I spoke at a business breakfast about the Kingdom of God being a win-win world, a very successful man I knew came up to me and said, “You know, Richard, that story is not even interesting. How could I get my juices going in the morning without competition?” When we’re trapped in a narrative of winners and losers, especially if we think of ourselves as winners, the Jesus story really isn’t that interesting! Brian and Gareth put it this way:

The earlier six stories all claimed that the path to peace, security and happiness was about “winning” . . . but in the Seventh Story, the story of reconciliation, we still get to win, just not at anybody else’s expense.

In the Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists of the world. Love is. [2]

The hearts of more and more children, young people, adults, and senior citizens are yearning for a new story, a story of love rather than hate, of creativity rather than destruction, of win-win cooperation rather than win-lose competition, of peace-craft rather than war-craft.

They are waiting for a new story to explore, inhabit, and tell. [3]

We are all looking for a larger and more loving story in which to participate. This is what God gives us! Our ordinary lives are given an extraordinary significance when we accept that our lives are about something more meaningful than winning and succeeding inside of a very small plot line.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, & the End of Violence (Porch: 2018), 79.

[2] Ibid., 38, 40–42.

[3] Ibid., 80–81.

Story from Our Community:
My brother connected me to the [Daily] meditations five years ago when my world had fallen apart. By 50 I had experienced great loss, including the deaths of two children. These meditations have helped me make God-sense again in my broken life. Thank you to Fr. Richard and the team for your generous, wise, encouraging and inclusive words. They bring me back again and again to that quiet place in God’s lap, meditating in whatever form. —Liz C.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.

A Hopeful Story

A New Story

A Hopeful Story
Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that . . . life had meaning and value. . . . [Story] is not about opting out of this world, but about enabling us to live more intensely within it. —Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth

Nearly two decades ago, Brian McLaren began urging Christians to embrace a more healing, compassionate story by which to live. His words are just as relevant today:

In these dangerous times, our whole planet now needs more than ever a good story to live in and to live by. There are a number of stories competing for the hearts and imaginations of humanity as we emerge together into this new century and millennium: the regressive stories of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, or the progressive stories of secular “scientism” or American consumerism, for example. Once taken to the heart of human culture, each of these stories will produce its own kind of world. . . . The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?). [1]

I have to admit that twenty years ago most of us probably thought a hundred thousand years of human thriving sounded likely, but I’m afraid that it sounds almost fanciful to many of us today. Great and hopeful thinkers like Brian, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Ilia Delio and others give us the faith, scientific understanding, and courage to continue to do our small part. In one of his more recent books, Brian writes with his friend Gareth Higgins about a “Seventh Story.” It is a cosmic and all-inclusive story which, if believed and lived out, leads to a very different future, one of healing instead of conflict.

Around the margins, another narrative has been taking shape during these most recent moments of . . . history. In this narrative, humans envision learning to live in harmony with one another and with the boundary conditions (or laws) of nature. We imagine seeing all our fellow humans—and all living things—as part of one family of relations, sharing in the same unfolding story or song of creation. We imagine ourselves creating conditions in which peace and well-being are not only possible but normal, and in which inevitable conflicts can be resolved through justice, kindness, wisdom, and love. . . .

As the amazing 13.8 billion-year story of the cosmos continues to unfold, in this little corner of the universe, we hope to tell a story of justice and joy, love and peace, for the benefit of future generations who will be born into the story that there is no [us and] them at all. [2] This is a cosmic and inclusive story that demands healing more than punishment.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass: 2003), xiv.

[2] Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, & the End of Violence (Porch: 2018), 163–164.

Story from Our Community:
My brother connected me to the [Daily] meditations five years ago when my world had fallen apart. By 50 I had experienced great loss, including the deaths of two children. These meditations have helped me make God-sense again in my broken life. Thank you to Fr. Richard and the team for your generous, wise, encouraging and inclusive words. They bring me back again and again to that quiet place in God’s lap, meditating in whatever form. —Liz C.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.

The True Patterns of the Universe

A Time of Unveiling

The True Patterns of the Universe
Thursday, January 7, 2021

Truth is One. If something is spiritually true, then all disciplines and religions will somehow be looking at this “one truth” from different angles, goals, assumptions, and vocabulary. If it is the truth, it is true all the time and everywhere, and sincere lovers of truth will receive it from wherever it comes. CAC teacher Brian McLaren suggests how we might find truth revealed in the patterns of the universe. He writes:

It becomes more obvious the longer you live that all life is full of patterns. Reality is trying to tell us something. Life is speaking to us. There’s lots of mystery out there, to be sure, and no shortage of chaos and unpredictability. But there’s also lots of meaning . . . messages trying to find expression, music inviting us to listen and sing, patterns attracting our attention and interpretation. The chaos becomes a backdrop for the patterns, and the mysteries seem to beckon us to try to understand. . . .

But above and behind and beyond the sometimes confusing randomness of life, something is going on here. From a single molecule to a strand of DNA, from a bird in flight to an ocean current to a dancing galaxy, there’s a logic, a meaning, an unfolding pattern to it all.

Like wood, reality has a grain. Like a river, it has a current. Like a story, it has characters and setting and conflict and resolution. . . . Creation reveals wisdom through its patterns. It reveals wisdom about its source and purpose and about our quest to be alive . . . if we are paying attention.

Of course, we often struggle to know how to interpret those patterns. For example, if a tornado destroys our house, an enemy army drops bombs on our village, a disease takes away someone we love, we lose our job, someone we love breaks our heart, or our best friends betray us, what does that mean? Is the logic of the universe chaos or cruelty? Does might make right? Do violence and chaos rule? Is the Creator capricious, heartless, and evil? If we had only our worst experiences in life to guide us, that might be our conclusion.

We must honestly admit that we don’t always understand the seemingly random forces at play, but if we believe that the Risen Jesus is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live in a safe and love-filled universe. Brian continues:

[Genesis and the Gospel of John] dare us to believe that the universe runs by the logic of creativity, goodness, and love. The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. In this story, pregnancy abounds. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho: 2015), 11, 12, 14.

Story from Our Community:
Six years ago, I walked away from the conservative faith I had always known. I was devastated, but did not know how to reconcile all my thoughts, feelings, and knowing with the God the church seemed to praise. When my dad tragically passed away in April (during COVID-19), I was left reeling. I did not know where to turn. Father Rohr’s book and daily meditations seem to be written just for me; they speak to the deep knowing of my soul and have given me a voice to once again believe, pray, hope, and even wrestle with the eternal. I miss my dad tremendously, yet am finding my second knowing in a much more loving and lovable God. —Kelly H.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.

A Faith Created by Courageous Movements

Spirituality and Social Movements

A Faith Created by Courageous Movements
Monday, November 30, 2020

In his book We Make the Road by Walking, my friend and colleague Brian McLaren describes some of the Spirit-led movements that shaped Judaism from the time of Moses, and sustained Christianity. We must remember that such movements are not simply a past occurrence, but something in which we are called to participate in our own time.

I believe that the Spirit of God works everywhere to bring and restore aliveness—through individuals, communities, institutions, and movements. Movements play a special role. In the biblical story [of Exodus], for example, Moses led a movement of liberation among oppressed slaves. They left an oppressive economy, journeyed through the wilderness, and entered a promised land where they hoped to pursue aliveness in freedom and peace. Centuries after that, the Hebrew prophets launched a series of movements based on a dream of a promised time . . . a time of justice when swords and spears, instruments of death, would be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks, instruments of aliveness [Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3]. Then came John the Baptist, a bold and nonviolent movement leader who dared to challenge the establishment of his day and call people to a movement of radical social and spiritual rethinking. . . .

When a young man named Jesus came to affiliate with John’s movement through baptism, John said, “There he is! He is the one!” Under Jesus’ leadership, the movement grew and expanded in unprecedented ways. . . . It rose again through a new generation of leaders like James, Peter, John, and Paul, who were full of the Spirit of Jesus. They created learning circles in which activists were trained to extend the movement locally, regionally, and globally. Wherever activists in this movement went, the Spirit of Jesus was alive in them, fomenting change and inspiring true aliveness. . . .

[Christianity] began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. . . . It claimed that everyone, not just an elite few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good. It exposed a system based on domination, privilege, and violence and proclaimed in its place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility, and peaceable neighborliness. It put people above profit, and made the audacious claim that the Earth belonged not to rich tycoons or powerful politicians, but to the Creator who loves every sparrow in the trees and every wildflower in the field. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2015), xvii–xix.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”

Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”
Friday, November 20, 2020

My friend and colleague Brian McLaren has thought deeply and practically about what Jesus means when he speaks of the “Kingdom of God.” He views it as synonymous with the Gospel itself.

Jesus proposed a radical alternative—a profoundly new framing story that he called good newsNews, of course, means a story—a story of something that has happened or is happening that you should know about. Good news, then would mean a story that you should know about because it brings hope, healing, joy, and opportunity. . . .

The term kingdom of God, which is at the heart and center of Jesus’ message in word and deed, becomes positively incandescent in this kind of framing. As a member of a little colonized nation with a framing story that refuses to be tamed by the Roman imperial narrative, Jesus bursts on the scene with this scandalous message: The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! . . . Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living. At every point, the essence of his kingdom teaching subverts the “common sense” of the Roman Empire and all its predecessors and successors:

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation.

Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming nonviolent alternatives.

Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.

Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us,” a new “we,” a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.

Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure at the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of God.

Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people, including your enemies.

Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them not as they have done to you—and not before they do to you—but as you wish they would do for you. . . .

The phrase “kingdom of God” on Jesus’ lips, then, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To a citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggests order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on Jesus’ lips, those words describe Caesar’s kingdom: God’s kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing.

Reference:
Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 77, 99–100, 125.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32

Public Virtue: Weekly Summary

Public Virtue

Saturday, November 7, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 1—Friday, November 6, 2020

The mystery of the body of Christ turns the focus outward, to ask: how can I be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my city, my church, my community, and even the world? (Sunday)

Everywhere there are people who never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. —Joan Chittister (Monday)

When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being. —Parker Palmer (Tuesday)

We must make “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) the foundation of national respect, the standard of our national discernment, the bedrock of both our personal relationships and a civilized society. Joan Chittister (Wednesday)

What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson (Thursday)

History is continually graced with people who have been transformed and somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. They are exemplars of public virtue. (Friday)

 

Practice: The Seventh Story

According to CAC faculty member Brian McLaren and our mutual friend Gareth Higgins, six narratives have been driving forces in human history:

  • The first was the story of patriarchal domination
  • Oppression provoked the emergence of a revolution story
  • Others simply withdrew, believing in the righteousness of their own group, called to an isolation story
  • In the purification story, all the troubles of a powerful group were blamed on a minority
  • Some people retreated into trying to possess as much as they could: living by an accumulation story
  • Some people began to define themselves by what they had suffered, developing a victimization story

However, Brian and his friend Gareth Higgins recommend a “Seventh Story.”

But in The Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists. Love is.

We are not [rulers] of “our” domain, but partners in the evolution of goodness. As René Girard wrote, “What Jesus invites us to imitate is his own desire, the spirit that directs him toward the goal on which his intention is fixed: to resemble [Love] as much as possible.” [1]

The Seventh Story invites us to be participants in a great play about the evolution of the story of love. To be friends, not enemies, no matter what anybody else is doing. Not us versus them. . . .

Many of us are so immersed in the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating that some decisive action is required. . . . We invite you to the following commitments:

1: Pay attention. Alongside considering the wider world, pay attention to your soul, your neighborhood, your local and regional stories, and find others who do the same. Nurture your personal well-being and that of your community, otherwise you will neither thrive in a challenging world, nor be useful to the service of the common good.

2: Don’t pay attention. Don’t fund the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating: withhold your attention and the money you steward from any media outlet or public figure that uses fear to build an audience. . . .

3: Seek mentors who will help you discern a personal sense of calling to the common good. Your gift is connected to your wound, and the world’s great need. Serving from the place where these three intersect is the best way to heal yourself, and offer healing to others.

4: Tell the truth. In a world of competing information sources, seek wisdom above propaganda. Enlarge your frame: see the whole world as your home. Learn the difference between headlines and trendlines.

5: Learn spiritual practices that heal and offer resilience: clearings, accountability, shadow work.

6: Open yourself to seeing things through “the eyes of the other.”  Seek a friendship with someone with whom you disagree politically. Look for things to praise in others, even when they vote differently. Learn about building equitable community in which everyone has a fair stake. Don’t contribute to polarization.

7: Join or help start a circle of friends committed to the Seventh Story. Don’t journey alone. Encourage others to do the same.

References:
[1] René Girard, I See Satan Fall like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Orbis Books: 2001), 13.

Adapted from Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them & the End of Violence (Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins: 2018), 124, 171‒173.

For Further Study:
Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 audio.

Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent: 2019).

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011).

“Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017). This issue includes essays from Simone Campbell, Joan Chittister, John L. Esposito, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, and angel Kyodo williams.

Richard Rohr with John Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996).

Image credit:  Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson

Our Spiritual Health

Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Our Spiritual Health
Thursday, July 9, 2020

Brian McLaren, a member of the CAC Living School faculty, reminds us why it matters that we pay attention to our health, not only physically but spiritually and ethically as well.

In these challenging, difficult times, we are discovering a wisdom that we needed all along, and that wisdom is that we are all connected. We are not separate. We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals: “I’m sick; you’re not.” But now we realize, no, we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness. . . .

Maybe this is also an opportunity for us to become enlightened about some other viruses that have been spreading and causing even greater damage, without being acknowledged: social and spiritual viruses that spread among us from individual to individual, from generation to generation, and are not named. We don’t organize against them, and so they continue to spread and cause all kinds of sickness [and death]. Social and spiritual viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, any kind of hostility that is spread, based on prejudice and fear.

What would happen if we said, as passionate as we are about being tested for coronavirus, we all wanted to test ourselves for these social and spiritual viruses that could be lurking inside of us? And then, when I come into your presence, I, in some way, inflict this virus on you. I make you suffer. What an awesome opportunity for us to say and begin to pray that we would be healed and cleansed, not just of a physical virus, but of these other invisible viruses that are such a huge and devastating part of human history. . . .

In this pandemic, many of us are nostalgic for the old normal. We want to get back to our favorite coffee shop, our favorite restaurant, our church service. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with so many of those desires for the old normal. But I’d like to make a proposal. If we are wise in this time, we will not go back unthinkingly to the old normal. There were problems with that old normal many of us weren’t aware of.

The old normal, when you look at it from today’s perspective, was not so great, not something to be nostalgic about, without also being deeply critical of it. As we experience discomfort in this time, let’s begin to dream of a new normal, a new normal that addresses the weaknesses and problems that were going unaddressed in the old normal. If we’re wise, we won’t go back; we’ll go forward.

References:
From Brian McLaren, “We Are All Connected,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 20, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FOeCyEzbjM;

“Other Sicknesses of the Soul,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 6, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3SUyoDfG-Q&list=PLiBbqGAOPnXMeKh7QaqCf9HU5ShaAEzeH&index=17; and

“Dreaming of a New Normal,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 6, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weGPpvdZ058&list=PLiBbqGAOPnXMeKh7QaqCf9HU5ShaAEzeH&index=18.

Image credit: Cueva de las Manos (detail), Cañadón del Río, Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photograph copyright 2012 Pablo Gimenez.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As a spiritual practice we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. —Barbara Holmes
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.


HTML spacer