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.
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. . .
- Read Richard on becoming “holy and wise fools.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
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.
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.