Brian D. McLaren is a best-selling author, speaker, activist and networker among innovative faith leaders. A former pastor, he has written 15 books, including The Great Spiritual Migration. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow, living in Florida.
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From the Archives: March 2004
PEOPLE WHO are sensitive to creation know that creation is in constant flux. Continents drift, climates change, magnetic poles flip-flop, and bogs gradually give way to wet meadows and then various kinds of forests. There’s a natural succession out here under the sun, and I think there’s a kind of natural succession going on theologically for many Christians as well. ...
First, increased concern for the poor and oppressed leads to increased concern for all of creation. The same forces that hurt widows and orphans, minorities and women, children and the elderly also hurt the songbirds and trout, the ferns and old growth forests: greed, impatience, selfishness, arrogance, hurry, anger, competition, irreverence—plus a spirituality that cares for souls but neglects bodies, that prepares for eternity in heaven but abandons history on earth. ...
A Theology of Life and Death
SOME YEARS AGO, I convened a trip to the so-called Holy Land. It was not a trip about “walking where Jesus walked,” although we did a lot of that. It was a trip to discover facts on the ground in the Israel-Palestine conflict and to meet Jewish, Muslim, and Christian peacemakers in the region. Our band of 20 or so was led by organizers Jeff and Janet Wright, passionate Christians who love the land and all its people.
Nearly everyone on the trip had a breakdown moment, when the tragedy of Israel-Palestine overwhelmed them. My wife, Grace, described a sudden feeling that she had spent her whole life in a totalitarian regime and that “what I thought of as news had really been propaganda all along.” The reality of Israel-Palestine was so different from what she had heard both in the Christian community and in the mass media that she was deeply shaken. We all felt that our trip had exposed so much of the so-called news we had heard from Israel-Palestine as prejudiced, one-sided, and intended to conceal more than reveal.
A trip highlight was a visit to the offices of Sabeel, the headquarters of Palestinian liberation theology, and a meeting with its founder Naim Ateek, a theological hero I’d admired from afar. What Desmond Tutu is to South African theology and Martin Luther King Jr. and James Cone are to North American black theology, Ateek is to Palestinian and Middle Eastern theology. I have since been honored to be an ally in the important work of Sabeel.
Ateek has written a definitive introduction to his work. A Palestinian Theology of Liberation will be especially helpful to three groups of people in the U.S.
Florida Prosecutor’s Moral Case for Renouncing the Death Penalty
Indeed, a comprehensive analysis of deterrence studies by the National Academy of Sciences found no evidence that the death penalty impacts murder rates in either direction. Ayala emphasized that her office pursues evidence-based practices, not policies such as the death penalty whose deterrent effect rests on faith alone.
Faith in a Glass of Water
Each of us has one hundred times as many water molecules in our bodies than the sum of all other molecules combined. Today is World Water Day, a good day to reflect on how this symbol that blesses, sanctifies, and purifies in our rituals, but too often, does not do the same in daily life.
7 Ways to Live a Faithful Life
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
Too often, perversions of our world’s religious traditions make the daily news for their violence, corruption, greed, and prejudice. Meanwhile, authentic representatives of those traditions are often busy doing good — good that goes largely unnoticed. That’s why I’m glad that a diverse group of religious leaders are sharing about seven ways authentic people of faith can work together to make a better world.
I served as a progressive evangelical pastor for 24 years, and during those years, I saw the evangelical movement struggling with its identity. The best versions of evangelicalism, whether they were labeled conservative or progressive, always took seriously passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Those verses continue to inspire evangelicals of all persuasions to engage in life-giving mission — and in particular, to engage constructively in the world in seven positive, reconciling, and healing ways.
If you invest just a few minutes over the next seven days thinking and speaking up about these seven ways to participate in our world, I believe by week’s end you will be moved to action and in it find a richer, more faithful life:
An Open Letter to Publix
Dear Publix Leadership,
I should begin by saying that I am in almost all ways a big fan of your company. I often shop in a nearby Publix, and shopping there truly is a pleasure. It is clean. The staff are friendly and helpful. The products are good and the prices reasonable.
I'm especially impressed with the way Publix hires people with disabilities.
To provide a needed service and then go above and beyond in seeking to benefit the community — that's a winning combination, and a legacy to be proud of.
That's why I've been so surprised to see Publix (along with Wendy's) refusing (so far) to join the Fair Food Program. And that's why I've been outspoken in my desire to see Publix live up to the ideals of its founder, George Jenkins, who said, “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing."
Brian McLaren responds
Beyond Fire and Brimstone
Jesus' teaching about hell flipped popular imagery of the afterlife upside down—and offered a radical, transformative vision of God.
'12 Years a Slave:' A Film of Moral Gravity
I pre-screened 12 Years a Slave the same weekend I saw Gravity. The two films couldn’t be more different, although they do have some fascinating (if not immediately obvious) commonalities.
As for commonalities, they’re both powerful and both deserve to be seen. Both are about people trying to get home — one, in a harrowing adventure that takes several hours, the other in an agonizing 12-year struggle. The protagonists of both movies demonstrate heroic resilience and courage. One struggles with physical weightlessness, the other with a kind of social or political weightlessness.
Although Gravity impressed and fascinated me, 12 Years a Slave affected me and shook me up. Now, several days later, scenes from the film keep sneaking up on me and replaying in my imagination — three in particular.
Trayvon and George: A Tale of Two Americas
The recent “not guilty” verdict out of Sanford, FL, reflects the principle of the American legal system that if there is reasonable doubt, courts will err on the side of innocence. I dispute neither the principle nor the decision by the jury. But that doesn't leave me satisfied about the outcome.
Jesus said that true justice exceeds that of “the scribes and Pharisees” — and the same could be said of the prosecution and defense. Legal justice seeks only to assign guilt or innocence. Holistic justice works for the life, liberty, and well-being of all. And it especially works for reconciliation between the two Americas that can be identified by their reaction to the case.
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