Do I Stay christian?

Submitted by Peter on Tue, 09/06/2022 - 10:41

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This bookstudy will begin October 2, 2022 only on Zoom.

Do I Stay Christian? addresses in public the powerful question that surprising numbers of people―including pastors, priests, and other religious leaders―are asking in private. Picking up where Faith After Doubt leaves off, Do I Stay Christian? is not McLaren's attempt to persuade Christians to dig in their heels or run for the exit. Instead, he combines his own experience with that of thousands of people who have confided in him over the years to help readers make a responsible, honest, ethical decision about their religious identity.

There is a way to say both yes and no to the question of staying Christian, McLaren says, by shifting the focus from whether we stay Christian to how we stay human. If Do I Stay Christian? is the question you're asking―or if it's a question that someone you love is asking―this is the book you've been waiting for.

In part one, McLaren lays out ten reasons for abandoning Christianity.

In part two, McLaren lays out ten reasons for remaining Christian.

After laying out reasons to leave and stay, Brian shifts to the third and final section of his book. He begins by asking, “Will we stay Christian? and Will Christianity survive? are less important questions than these: How shall we humans survive and thrive? What good future shall we strive for? How can we align our energies with the divine energy at work in our universe?

Comments

1 – Are you satisfied with your “Christian identity”? Comments? 215
2 – What kind of an image of God do you think Jesus had? 215
3 – No one reading this book would answer YES to the questions on pg. 216. Do we think only others would do that? Comments?
4 – What is the new part of Jesus as “a new kind of human being”? 217
5 – Why are we “not very wise”? 218
6 – If you had an actual, working magic wand, what one thing would you change about this world? What do you think is humanities biggest problem? (are they the same?) 219
7 – What is different about the people in our group that we invest hours each week reading, thinking and talking about the ideas in our books? 222
8 – I feel that many more people would be better if they read and talked about new ideas. Why don’t they? Can we do anything to change that?
9 – What’s wrong with social media? 227
10 – How well did we do with the items on pg. 228 and what would you like to change?
11 – Would our resident pastors like to make any closing comments? 237

1. Are you satisfied with your “Christian identity”? Comments? (p.215)

While I am content to be the Christian that I am, it seems that my “Christian identity” remains to be compromised by the institutional Church which for too long has not accepted descriptions like “Liberal” or “Progressive – for I am both. But I’m also “Mystical” and “Poetic” and “Contemplative”...maybe even “Emergent” but certainly “Unfinished.” In truth, we’re all on the Way, because this is more a journey than it is a destination. And Jesus remains to be our guide.

2. What kind of an image of God do you think Jesus had? (p.215)

Given the knowledge and culture of his time, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he were not a deeply committed and orthodox Jew, so the Creator God of the Hebrew Bible would affect, very much, his own image of God. In its fullest sense, this God is revealed in the single word, “love.”

• Jesus certainly didn’t think of himself as divine, indeed, observing that such transcendent goodness belonged only to God – so he actually may have said something like this: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10: 18).
• And Jesus often referred to himself as “the Son of Man” (Mark 14: 21) – which is simply another way of a Jew saying “human being” – but never as “the Son of God.”
• I do think that he may have said something like this, however (from 1 John 4: 11-12): “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I think he believed this, even though the rest of this letter claims that Jesus was the special emissary from God so that we might be saved from our sin.

All of that background aside, Jewish tradition conceived of God as a being that transcends this world – so much of a Mystery that all orthodox Jews would never even use a name for God. I think Jesus must have felt the same way. When referring to this Sacred Being, the nearest that a Jew came to a name was in the so-called Tetragrammaton (literally, “four letters”) – in English, YHWH comes the closest; but even in Hebrew it is virtually unpronounceable. What’s more, in Hebrew, it’s the third person singular imperfect of the verb “to be,” so, simply, “he/she/it is.” It agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3: 14, where YHWH is represented as speaking, and uses the first person, “I am” – i.e., the uncreated Creator who doesn’t depend on anything or anybody, therefore, “I am who I am.” I think that’s how Jesus, himself, would have thought of God. So, in the end, as for any orthodox Jew, God is far too mysterious and sacred for us mortals to fully comprehend or give “him/her/it” a name.

[NOTE: Only later did someone insert the vowels in that symbol, YHWH, to create a word for God that then would be spoken: “YaHWeH.” Another word for God was “Adonai,” but that simply means “Lord” and, once again, is not a name. “Elohim,” oddly enough, is a plural word for God, but most of us are more familiar with “El Shaddai,” which literally means “God Almighty.” During casual conversation, Jews would usually refer to God only as “Hashem” (Leviticus 24: 11) – which literally just means “the Name.”]

3. No one reading this book would answer YES to the questions on pg. 216. Do we think only others would do that? Comments?

As long as our tribal nature – us vs. all others – rules how we live out our lives, lovingkindness and true justice will become impossible to achieve. The need for power – getting it and holding onto it at all costs – will remain to be human culture’s central goal. At the heart of all that troubles us as a species, then, is our own greed and self-centeredness.

4. What is the new part of Jesus as “a new kind of human being”? (p.217)

Jesus, quite literally, is living out the injunction of Micah 6: 8 – acting on behalf of justice and so confronting injustice when and wherever he sees it, all the while acting with lovingkindness as a witness to how “a new kind of human being” ought to behave. That he was able to do it with profound commitment and humility, is a visible testament to the God he believed in and who guided him every step of the way – even into those last cruel moments leading up to his death.

5. Why are we “not very wise”? (p.218)

Our egocentricism just keeps getting in the way. We end up having little or no regard for the interests, beliefs, attitudes or needs of others, caring only for our own, instead. Among the more powerful, such self-serving individualism becomes dangerous narcissism – contemporary examples being Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, while Elon Musk isn’t very far behind.

6. If you had an actual, working magic wand, what one thing would you change about this world? What do you think is humanity’s biggest problem? (are they the same?) (p.219)

Not surprisingly, I think I’ve been focusing on that “one thing” in my responses to question #s 3, 4 and 5, above – and, yes, they’re the same. McLaren, himself, zeroes in on it when he says:

“...use whatever power that comes your way for the common good, so
that all people everywhere can share equal justice and equal dignity.”

Micah 6: 8 sounds like three things, but they’re all connected to that one way of being human.

7. What is different about the people in our group that we invest hours each week reading, thinking and talking about the ideas in our books? (p.222)

All of us are compassionate and concerned people (most of us would still call ourselves Christians) who are profoundly concerned about the state of our community, the Church, our country, and our world – maybe not in that order, but all of it, still. We would like to make a difference in the midst of it all on behalf of justice and lovingkindness – to really follow in the footsteps of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, and not the god-man into which he was morphed by the Bible and the institutional Church. We want reason and experience to overcome scripture and tradition so that we might finally live as one people. We care about each other and simply want others to do so as well – but that isn’t uniquely our own perspective. We are not alone.

8. I feel that many more people would be better if they read and talked about new ideas. Why don’t they? Can we do anything to change that?

You’ve heard of people becoming “set in their ways?” Either they can’t be bothered or the pressures and emergencies involved with just “making a living” get in the way. All too often, frustration and exhaustion take over so that simply their day-to-day existence is all that they can handle. Here’s one place where the Church might help those who are stuck in such ways. Maybe this should be our one-and-only mission field. What do you think?

We might do a better job of reaching out to others like us and simply “go out of our way” a bit and invite them to join us. I’ll bet that they’re out there – if not in another church much like ours, or in a different religion nearby, then actually within the community that surrounds us.

9. What’s wrong with social media? (p.227)

Those who own or control it are more interested in making money than they are improving people’s lives. So, they can’t be bothered to try strengthening a shared commitment toward creating a well-informed community – let alone one in support of justice and lovingkindness.

10. How well did we do with the items on pg. 228 and what would you like to change?

First of all, we don’t need to choose another leader; I think that your commitment and guidance over the years has been exemplary, Peter Lutz – and you’ve always asked for input from the rest of us, should we have other books, questions or concerns that we’d like to have the group consider. So, as someone else once said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

While we do have a “welcome” of sorts as everyone gathers on Zoom, I do miss at least the symbol of a ritual – like that lighting of a candle (which feels like you, Evelyn), or maybe we could give each member of our group a chance to offer their own ritual to mark our beginning as we gather together. What do you think?

It might be interesting for us to actually use (or create one for ourselves) the welcome that McLaren has suggested on p.229:

“We are all friends around this table. All equals. All unique. All
welcome. Who we are is who we are. There is no need to pretend.
Some of us have a lot of beliefs and very few doubts. Some of us
have a lot of doubts and very few beliefs. Some of us love God,
but we’re not sure about Jesus. Some of us love Jesus, but we’re
not so sure about God. Some of us aren’t very sure about anything,
and others feel very sure about almost everything. Some of us gladly
call ourselves Christians. Some of us once were Christians, but not
anymore. Some of us aren’t sure we ever were Christians, or aren’t
sure what that means, or whether it matters. But this we share:
we welcome one another to this circle just as we are, for we all are
part of one web of life on this precious planet in this amazing universe.”

Amen. May it be so.

11. Would our resident pastors like to make any closing comments? (p.237)

If you haven’t the time or inclination to read through all that I’ve already written within these 33-some-odd pages, I think that I already made my “closing comments” in my report to the Napa Methodist Church Charge Conference for November 13, 2022. But, the same document (minus the conference copy’s opening introductory paragraph), “What I Would Like Christianity to Be,” is appended as part of the addenda which follows.

ADDENDA:

To begin with, I responded to McLaren’s invitation in Appendix I of this book (pp.227 ff.) – i.e., suggesting that we “write a sentence that summarizes what in the chapter was most important to you” – by, instead, simply putting a single star next to a statement of his in each chapter that I resonated with the most. I also appreciated his invitation to read this book “mindfully, not in a rush” and I’ve been moved to notice just how deeply it has spoken to me. Before I concluded by offering, in greater detail, what I would like Christianity to be, these are the statements that I have starred from each section and chapter:

Introduction: “‘Do I Stay Christian’ is not a theoretical question for me. It is a matter of the heart, a matter of identity, a matter of ultimate concern” (p.7). Absolutely, yes! ☆

PART I - NO
Chapter 1: “Christian Zionism perpetuates a simple but terribly dangerous theological idea... ‘the greatest heresy in the history of monotheism’ [is] the idea that God chooses some people for exclusive privilege, leaving everyone else in a disfavored (or we might say ‘dis-graced’) status. They are the other. They don’t belong here. They are in the way. Their rights don’t count” (p.18). ☆

Chapter 2: “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...the equality of friendship rather than the supremacy of hierarchy” (pp.22-23). ☆

Chapter 3: “Centuries of crusader colonization have produced deep trauma that still... expresses itself in internalized presumption of superiority and privilege among the descendants of the colonizers, along with an almost desperate obsession to remain in power” (p.33). ☆

Chapter 4: “Misplaced, constrained, or absolutized loyalty, we now see, can be lethal” (p.40).☆

Chapter 5: “...institutions aren’t in themselves the problem; the problem is the institutionalism: the tendency of institutions to abandon the mission for which they were created and instead redefine their mission as absolute loyalty to their own bottom line” (p.45). ☆

Chapter 6: “Two thousand years after Jesus launched a subversive spiritual movement of equality, emancipation, and peace,...the Christian religion still remains subservient to patriarchy and the authoritarian control it engenders” (p.52). ☆

Chapter 7: “Why can’t we Christians admit that we, like everything else in the universe, are in process, and that our religion, like all religions, is actually an event, constantly, unavoidably changing, for better or worse? ...we are stuck in an old model of the universe and...it’s time to rethink everything ... beliefs are important, but they aren’t the point...” (p.58). ☆

Chapter 8: “...the purpose of the Christian faith is clear and simple: it is not an evacuation plan to heaven but a transformation plan for earth...of helping people become loving human beings who build loving societies, following the loving example of Jesus. [So,] it’s about time for the Christian religion to get serious about its prime directive” (p.64). ☆

Chapter 9: [Some have felt that to be a Christian] “...was to practice a tightly constricted intellectualism: intellect in service of what we already believed. [This] constricted curiosity and suppression of inconvenient truths [is called] confirmation bias. [It’s the] tendency to reject anything that doesn’t fit in with our current understanding, paradigm, belief system, or worldview” (p.67). ☆

Chapter 10: “...religious extremists...notice that they’re losing ground. As a result, they may become desperate enough to launch theocratic revolutions. ... Where those revolutions succeed, you can bet that the teaching of history, science, critical thinking, and journalism will be suppressed, along with political and religious dissent” (p.78). ☆

PART II - YES
Chapter 11: [It’s not about]...“saving institutions, theologies, liturgies, and other traditions that are unsalvageable. Instead, it means having faith that the good seed will burst out of the old husk and rise after being buried, that the essence, the pearl, the treasure and spark will resurrect on the third day, no matter how bad things get today and no matter how hopeless they feel tomorrow” (p.90). ☆

Chapter 12: “I can no longer put a naïve trust in the structure 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... but it will not succeed in conforming me to its example either” (p.94). ☆

Chapter 13: “So here is a way for me to stay Christian: I must try to understand and unearth the greatest blessings of my tradition, just as I face up to its many shortcomings. I must engage in a kind of truth and reconciliation process within my heritage. ... Then, simultaneously...I can find my neighbors – both religious and secular – who are engaging in a parallel process in their communities” (p.101). ☆

Chapter 14: “If the Christian faith is to have a creative and constructive future, it will have to undergo its own metamorphosis from a first to a second axial age religion, from a regressive/ conservative religion to a progressive/anticipatory one. ... We must inhabit and tell a new cosmic story” (p.106). ☆

Chapter 15: “The story isn’t intended to convey mere information. It has a higher goal: to convey, through imagination, an experience of transformation so the reader can taste the wonder of encountering Jesus in person. The experience of transformation is the point, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price” (p.119). ☆

Chapter 16: “...there is another way to deal with guilt and shame...it is repentance...healing the wounds, righting the wrongs, changing the systems that protected the wrongdoers, and joining with victims in a struggle for mutual liberation. It’s only by doing this real work...that we redeem the past and actually become better people: not innocent, not perfect, but good (p.126). ☆

Chapter 17: “...try to collaborate for the common good in whatever ways you can. ...not breaking solidarity. When you embrace solidarity, you embrace humanity.... If you choose solidarity...in the way modeled by Jesus, then you don’t have to stop being Christian. In fact, you may have just become a better Christian than you’ve ever been” (p.134). ☆

Chapter 18: “What do you do when your religion is failing? Do you leave it, like a person running from a crime scene, so you won’t be implicated? Or do you stay, bear witness, and help right the wrongs – if you possibly can?” (p.141). ☆

Chapter 19: “...we are free, if we so choose, to stay Christian, because we are free to let our old God concepts die and see what rises from the tomb” (p.149). ☆

Chapter 20: “How shall we humans survive and thrive? What good future shall we strive for? How can we align our energies with the divine energy at work in our universe? That striving, that pursuit, that transformation project is bigger than Christianity and bigger than not-Christianity” (p.155). ☆

PART III - HOW
Chapter 21: “You may find that you don’t have to leave Christianity; you just have to transcend its early stages and find a Stage Four way of being a Christian. ...if you inhabit the space of Harmony or Solidarity...the label simply won’t matter so much. You will know who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re becoming, what direction you’re going, what you’re seeking, and what you value” (p.167). ☆

Chapter 22: “If you can find a community or organization that desires the good of the planet and all its creatures, the good of all people through just and generous societies, and the good of each individual – including you – with a reverence for the sacred love that flows through all these loves, that is a community in which to invest your time intelligence, money, and energy. ... If you can’t find such a community or organization, perhaps you can create one” (p.175). ☆

Chapter 23: “...we are interdependent events that happen here, on and in and with and as part of the earth, which is part of larger solar, galactic, and cosmic systems” (p.181). ☆

Chapter 24: “...we must invest in the new spiritual meta-movement that is already emerging within and among us. ... It must be fully regenerative, restoring old balances that have been disrupted and diminished by our current civilizational project and, where that is impossible, finding new balances that make new vitalities possible” (p.187). ☆

Chapter 25: “Our work is to stop the desecration of life in both its religious and secular dimensions. Our work is to restore both the religious and secular to a creative dynamism that deserves and inspires appropriate reverence” (p.198). ☆

Chapter 26: “...we need to very lovingly, non-defensively, and non-aggressively, be clear about where we are. If others reject us or prefer that we leave, so be it” (p.203). ☆

Chapter 27: “Loyalty to reality does not feel like certainty. It feels more like humility. It feels like awe, wonder, curiosity, patient attentiveness. ... It renders you less a pundit and more a contemplative...tending the fire of desire for truth in our innermost being” (p.213). ☆

Chapter 28: “It all boils down to this, Micah says: 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” (p.217). ☆

Afterword: “...focus more on the how question...the question of how you want to live, what kind of human being you want to be, how you want to sing. ... Do I stay Christian? In the end, the answer that really matters is not the one you or I give with our words, but the one we give with our lives” (p.223). ☆

___________________________________________________________________________

What I Would Like Christianity to Be
by Doug Monroe

In referring to this book, a colleague recently asked me, “What would you say are the keys to staying Christian in this current divided environment?” At a minimum, I think it would mean taking the teachings and parables of Jesus seriously enough to then try – to the best of our ability in a modern context – to live lives of compassion, equity, justice and love every bit as much as he did two millennia ago. Again, throughout the majority of my time as an ordained member of the United Methodist Church, I’ve advocated following these “Eight Points of Progressive Christianity” – i.e., by calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean that we are Christians who...

(1) Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead
to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and Unity of all life;
(2) Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide one of many ways to
experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can
draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
(3) Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not
limited to:
• Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
• Believers and agnostics,
• Women and men,
• Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
• Those of all classes and abilities;
(4) Know that the way we behave toward one another is the fullest
expression of what we believe;
(5) Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is
more value in questioning than in absolutes;
(6) Strive for peace and justice among all people;
(7) Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth; and
(8) Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

[Note: I adapted these from http://progressivechristianity.org/what-is-progressive-christianity/

That, in its essence, is what I wish Christianity would be like. I think many of our churches have already contributed in exactly those ways – and continue to do so even as their membership wanes. Unfortunately, it’s also led to the current foment within our own denomination, leading the more orthodox or fundamentalist churches to move toward disaffiliation. On the surface, that may seem unfortunate (even tragic and sad, to some) because, clearly, we are not a “united” church – but, the truth is, we never have been. It’s just that more and more of us on the left, or progressive side, have quite literally “come out of the closet” and finally confronted historic orthodoxy. It is my fervent hope, however, that this movement continues to lead to a radically new – and long needed – reformation of Christianity itself.

I also was once asked by a colleague of mine, “Given your unorthodox positions, Doug, just what is your relationship to the word ‘Christian’?” While I had to ponder that for a bit, it’s clear that I never, truly, have accepted the United Methodist Church’s definition of Christianity. In The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, here’s part of what our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith say – and will continue to say in the near future:

(a.) On the Virgin Birth and Divinity of Jesus:
[Articles of Religion, Article II]: “The Son, who is the Word of the Father,
the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s
nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin.”

[Confession of Faith, Article II]: “We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and
truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and
inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten
Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

(b.) About the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
[Articles of Religion, Article III]: “Christ did truly rise again from the dead,
and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of
man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until
he return to judge all men at the last day.”

[Confession of Faith, Article II]: [Jesus Christ]... “was buried, rose from the
dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he
shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and
by him all men will be judged."

(c.) About Salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ:
[Articles of Religion, Article IX]: “We are accounted righteous before God
only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith.”

[Confession of Faith, Article IX]: “We believe we are never accounted
righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent
sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith
in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, there they are – and I don’t believe any of these propositions. I never have.

On the other hand, I have been content to use the title “Christ” for Jesus to mean that in some mystical way he was, and still is, “the anointed one” that the Jews always had longed for – but just not in the way that they wanted, or in the ways that he fulfilled it, nor how that title was later redefined, expanded and disseminated by orthodox Christianity. Because of this position, I’ve had one conservative colleague adamantly state to my face that I could not call myself a Christian – let alone an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. By the way, at least he didn’t then take the next step and “write me up” to the bishop with charges that I should be taken to trial and excommunicated.

If I were to imagine a Christian Church beyond our lifetimes, I would imagine a Church without a top-heavy hierarchy (e.g., without a pope or bishops) dynamically serving the communities in which their congregations live, while also sharing outreach with other churches to missions of support across the world. Our mission emphasis, however, will not be focused upon “making disciples of Jesus Christ” – our compassion, care, and love for others would be enough of a witness without any need for some kind of catechism or doctrinal insistence. The emphasis would be upon enhancing the lives of all people everywhere based upon the life and teachings of Jesus – witnessing to his humanity and not connected to any claim that he was, somehow, uniquely divine and therefore should be worshipped as a god.

I wonder, though, how can we even continue to use the language of traditional Christianity? What terms do we need to abandon, redefine, or modify? While I think that we need neither abandon the idea nor concept of God, we should be free to describe that Spiritual reality each in our own way – and not necessarily the ways in which God is portrayed in scripture. That also means, then, that we should finally accept scripture for what it is and what it is not. It is not factual history. Those 66 uniquely different books are stories of one culture’s concept of their interaction with the Sacred nature of the universe. We should pursue our own – allowing scripture and tradition to have its place, but be guided by reason and our own experience.

We should also abandon archaic – even fictional – concepts such as the virgin birth, the anthropomorphic doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional/orthodox concept of salvation. In relation to that, we should let go of the spurious idea of a three-layered universe – i.e., heaven above, earth in the middle, and hell below. What’s more, we should finally admit that we have no proof at all of what happens to one’s soul after death. Whatever we believe does happen, is just wishful thinking – but if some still insist upon believing it, let them.

In the end, our focus should be upon living a good life (e.g., of self-fulfillment/self-actualization) with this one life that we have been given. The emphasis of our mission, at long last, should be on orthopraxy, not orthodoxy – i.e., “right practice,” not simply “right belief.” As McLaren concludes in this book, Do I Stay Christian? – “the answer that really matters is not the one you or I give with our words, but the one we give with our lives” (p.223).

I say again, I am done with magical thinking. I want to revive the real power behind the life and teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who first called out to me when I was a child to come and follow him. He calls to me still.

As T.S. Eliot (in “The Little Gidding” – the last of his “Four Quartets”) so eloquently put it for me:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
...
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well *
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

+++

* These opening two lines introducing the last stanza may be familiar to some of you: Eliot took them from the 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, from her writing Revelations of Divine Love.

(Left over from last week)
9 – Does our group want to “embark on a process like this” at Napa Methodist? Comments? 196
10 – What changed such that with people on the planet, there is no away (but there used to be???) 196
1 – What do you think of our group “coming out” to Napa Methodist? What would such a statement look like? 201
2 – What do you think the Napa church (or yours) should renounce? Is it worth the effort? 205
3 – After reading the examples on pgs. 206-7, perhaps we don’t have anything like these kinds of changes to announce. Comments?
4 – Can you reconcile your idea of sin with “Sin is active flight from a lived realization of available data.”? 209
5 – How do you go about “be[ing] more loyal to reality than to our current beliefs about reality.”? 209
X – Would you be interested in studying “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing”? 210
Another possibility is “Don't Believe Everything You Think” by Thomas Kida. I liked this one.
6 – Do you think the people who produced and implemented the Doctrine of Discovery thought it was a bad thing to do? Comments? The world looks different from different millennia. 210
7 – Which are your top and bottom bias prayers? 212

1. What do you think of our group “coming out” to Napa Methodist? What would such a statement look like? (p.201)

To begin with, I think just one or two of you locals – as representatives of our group – should discuss this, first, with your pastor, Marylee. If she agrees to take it a step further, I’d then take it to the Administrative Council. However, if your agenda only addresses the worship services (themes, liturgies, language & music, etc.), then – but, again, with Marylee’s permission – take it to the Worship Committee, first, before taking it to the Ad. Council.

I wrote my own statement for the November 13, 2022 Church Conference. While it’s much too long, detailed, and personalized to be a “coming out” statement for our group – moreover, it’s not appropriate at all for me to be the group’s representative – I hope everyone will try to write her or his own statement in response to this question. From there, we might be able to shape a summary that would be acceptable to us all. I think it’s worthwhile to do so. So, go for it!

2. What do you think the Napa church (or yours) should renounce? Is it worth the effort? (p.205)

As I’ve said, it’s not appropriate for me to speak for “the Napa church” (even though my charge conference connection as a retired pastor remains to be there). However, if asked, I would say that we should at least begin by renouncing the following – and in this order:

• the Bible as the literal Word of God (e.g., with its harsh, judgmental and clearly male anthropomorphic images of the divine, its orthodox understanding of Heaven and Hell, the virgin birth of Jesus and literal interpretation of his Resurrection – along with all other so-called “miraculous” events)
• the doctrine of Original Sin and the punishment that it calls for
• the doctrine of Sacrificial Atonement (i.e., “accomplished” by the death of Jesus)
• the divinity of Jesus (i.e., as a super-human being and one who is co-equal with God)

It’s probably not “worth the effort” to expunge such images from our Methodist hymnody, but it would be interesting to introduce some new ones – even familiar tunes with completely new words as the hymn books of the Unitarian Universalist Church has done. That being said, it might also be well worth the time to enter into a shared worship ministry with the U.U.s as well as with the Crosswalk Community Church – which already advertises itself as “a progressive, inclusive community of Jesus followers.” That statement could also fit this group.

3. After reading the examples on pgs. 206-7, perhaps we don’t have anything like these kinds of changes to announce. Comments?

Given the reputation of our group, many within our congregation would not be surprised by such statements. But I still think that – individually as well as collectively – they are well worth making. I’m uncomfortable by how pejorative some of McLaren’s statements seem to be – when they don’t need to be. For me, it’s important to continue to claim that I am a Christian – just not at all an orthodox one. So, a single line concluding the fourth statement, I think, is worth adopting: “I have found a way to stay Christian, but in a new way” (p.206). As you know, I’ve long been a part of this “mustard-seed insurgency,” but I don’t want to completely tear down aspects of the Church and its people that, over a lifetime, I have come to cherish.

4. Can you reconcile your idea of sin with “Sin is active flight from a lived realization of available data.”? (p.209)

On one level, it makes sense to me – i.e., as much as we can, let’s base the tenets of our religion on scientific facts as well as lived experiences. Sin, however, is doing wrong when we know, damn well, what’s right! Not surprisingly, that’s why I give more credence to those aspects of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral than I do the traditional ones [NOTE: Historically, the institutional Church has consistently rejected both Reason and Experience, claiming that Scripture and Tradition – alongside their own interpretation of both – to be far more important.].

5. How do you go about “be[ing] more loyal to reality than to our current beliefs about reality.”? (p.209)

I believe McLaren is correct in saying that “Nobody is exempt from self-delusion, so nobody is exempt from the need for vigilant self-examination.” We are now far more knowledgeable about the nature of our universe than were those who created the Bible and the Church. So, let’s at least begin with what we know, and not remain shackled to what the Church has insisted for the past two millennia that we must believe.

X – Would you be interested in studying “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing”? (p.210). Another possibility is “Don't Believe Everything You Think” by Thomas Kida. I liked this one.

If most of our group would be interested in reading Divine Sparks: Interfaith Wisdom for a Postmodern World, then I’d also entertain considering either of these other two. But it’s probably more to Peter Scaturro’s and my liking than to the rest of the group.

6. Do you think the people who produced and implemented the Doctrine of Discovery thought it was a bad thing to do? Comments? The world looks different from different millennia. (p.210)

I understand the “Doctrine of Discovery” to refer to a principle in public international law that when a nation “discovers” land, it directly acquires rights on that land. However, we now know that it’s been used cruelly and detrimentally against indigenous people for millennia. It was first used in the 17th century, when a papal decree of this name encouraged the European takeover of the Americas so that the Church could further “spread Christianity.” Shockingly enough, it wasn’t until August 2009 that the General Conference of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution officially repudiating this very doctrine.

This does relate, however, to the ways in which the Church has historically determined heresy: on one side there’s sin, while on the other side is the catechism of the Church – so, guess who’s “discovered” to be wrong and who’s right? The effects of such a doctrine have not only been to separate “sinners” from the Church by excommunication, but also to sever them from the world by death – back in the day, burning them at the stake was a favorite one of the Church.

That the claim perpetrated by this document still seems to be in force in areas all around the world (e.g., in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest), tells me that the views on this haven’t changed that much – just in whose hands such power continues to be used to justify their actions (more often than not it’s corporate entities or totalitarians like Vladimir Putin).

7. Which are your top and bottom bias prayers? (p.212)

It should come as no surprise that none of McLaren’s prayers fit comfortably within my own theology – their pleading for “help” seems to be directed toward a deity that I don’t feel exists (i.e., as in our author’s earlier conviction that “there is a You to address in the universe”- p.143). So, yes, I reveal my own bias right there!

That being said, while I don’t feel it helpful for me to rank these in any “top-to-bottom” kind of hierarchy, the following phrases from his prayers could be helpful in pointing us toward a more reality-based community:

• “hunger for truth, even if it upsets, modifies or overturns what I already think is true”
• to “not be seduced by simple lies or repelled by complex truths”
• find the “the humility to learn from my community”
• “do not let me be satisfied to see only what is visible from my limited perspective”
• to not be “misled by those whose words are full of flattery, familiarity, and false promises”
• to remain humble “so that I do not overestimate my competence”
• to “not let my desire for comfort blind me to truths that will inconvenience me”
• that I never “be held captive by rigid ideology...or “addiction to novelty”
• that I not become a victim of “con artists for whom lies and truths are spoken with equal confidence” (I think of the many TV Evangelists here.)

Oddly enough, I resent his conclusion that because I don’t share his image of God, I “do not pray” but could “adapt these aspirations into statements for meditation.” Contemplation and meditation are far closer to the ways in which I do pray than are the overly-worded pleas such as these that he calls prayer. Even so, I do agree with his statement that we ought to “rest in unknowing and engage in self-examination, desire formation, and shared conversations across disciplines, religions, cultures, and professions” (p.213). Just because we have the Bible and Jesus doesn’t mean that we are in possession of all the truth we need to know.

In the end, ironically enough, I resonate the most with these words from his final paragraph in this chapter:

“Loyalty to reality...feels more like humility. It feels like awe, wonder,
curiosity, patient attentiveness. ... It renders you less a pundit and
more a contemplative...tending the fire of desire for truth in our
innermost being” (Ibid.)

Now, that – for me – is prayer.

1 – How do you see this “spiritual movement that encompasses everything” affecting you? 187
2 – Is love an emergent property of consciousness? Comments? 188
3 – How do you know if “something...is too small”? 189
4 – How would you describe that holy flow? 191 (last line)
5 – What do you think most needs to be recycled in Christianity? 193
6 – Elon Musk paid for Twitter an amount greater than the gross national product of 92 countries (and < 80 countries). Comments? 194
7 – How has your understanding of baptism changed over time? 194
8 – Of the list on pg. 195-6, what do you like, dislike, want to add or remove? (Extra Credit: order this or your own list)
9 – Does our group want to “embark on a process like this” at Napa Methodist? Comments? 196
10 – What changed such that with people on the planet, there is no away (but there used to be???) 196

1. How do you see this “spiritual movement that encompasses everything” affecting you? (p.187)

It makes me feel much more hopeful that the human race won’t annihilate itself – that the forces of goodness, justice and love will win in the end. It reminds me of a great statement made by the Mahatma, Mohandas K. Gandhi:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of
truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and
murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end
they always fall. Think of it – always.”

So, I agree with McLaren when he says that this movement “is bigger than any single religion” and we still have time to find “new balances that make new vitalities possible” (Ibid.). It’s bigger and more important than all of us. But if our future will soon be in the hands of people like my grandchildren, I have hope that this spiritually regenerative process will succeed. That’s how this movement affects me – profoundly so.

2. Is love an emergent property of consciousness? Comments? (p.188)

I would say so, and yet it must begin very early – at the moment of birth. As the saying goes, “you have to be carefully taught” – because you also can be taught its opposite. That’s why healthy parenting, good childcare, and early education are so important and must have our full support if this emerging spiritual movement is to succeed and love is to prevail.

3. How do you know if “something...is too small”? (p.189)

At the risk of sounding a bit facetious, you simply measure it against whatever else is out there. Measure it against a parallel concept (e.g., how love is defined and prioritized by others or in a religion different from your own) or its opposite (e.g., recognizing the dominance of hatred or totalitarianism within any culture) – if you’re able to measure that as well. Which is larger?

4. How would you describe that holy flow – in the last line? (p.191)

I would describe it as very much like the concept that I came to discover was my highest value. It’s encapsulated in the single Hebrew word שָׁלוֹם – shalom. Yes, it means “peace” – and that truly is a “holy flow” – but more than that, shalom also means “well-being,” “wholeness,” and “health.” The concept of shalom could also rightly be described as a kind of individual “self-actualization” that allows and supports you to become all that you aspire to be as a full and healthy human being. Connect that with love and it’s a truly “holy flow” – the single English translation for shalom just doesn’t get it all. This conclusion first came to me when I was a child and simply has been confirmed throughout my whole life – over and over again.

5. What do you think most needs to be recycled in Christianity? (p.193)

In McLaren’s definition of that word, “recycled,” it would be “to make holy again what has been desecrated.” In a single word, for me, it would be love – or, in parallel, that concept of shalom as I’ve delineated it above in response to question #4. Both are long overdue a recycling.

6. Elon Musk paid for Twitter an amount greater than the gross national product of 92 countries (and < 80 countries). Comments? (p.194)

While he may be a talented engineer and entrepreneur – even believing himself to be a philanthropist – he remains to be a very selfish and self-centered individual with an over-inflated estimate of his self-worth coupled with an insatiable desire for power over others.

7. How has your understanding of baptism changed over time? (p.194)

My earliest and most vivid experience of baptism was my own – at age 12. I was baptized by my maternal grandfather; and his conservative Christian denomination (the Church of Christ) believed that baptism and membership in the Church should coincide, so you had to be old enough to understand and assent to it. What’s more, that church’s baptism was done only by full immersion. So, when I was dunked under water, desperately holding my breath, and only vaguely hearing my grandfather mumbling the words of my baptism, all that I could think of was, “Bring me up, Papa! Bring me up!” I thought that it should’ve been faster and I did not want to drown. Back then, I only went through it all because my mother thought that it was “the right thing to do” – and, of course, she wanted to please her own father. I really didn’t understand it at all. Getting a merit badge as a Cub Scout made more sense. I earned that.

Later, I would question those in the Church why some dunked and others just sprinkled – was it the amount of water that mattered? I never received an answer that satisfied me. It would’ve been much more enjoyable if Papa had looked me in the eye and used a squirt gun.

Then I was told that having your child baptized meant that he or she was incorporated into the Body of Christ – at that very moment – and so had begun the process of initiation into the Church. But it only would be completed through receiving the sacraments of Confirmation and 1st Communion (I remember that, before my baptism, my older brothers always used to tease me that I couldn’t have any of that bread and grape juice on Sunday, but they could because “they were in” and I was not.). The process also involved my parents promising to support and nurture me into living a Christian life. Naively, when I did finally “take my 1st Communion,” I was disappointed that nothing mystical or out of the ordinary happened – it was just bread and a little cup of grape juice. I thought to myself, “...could use some peanut butter.”

One of my adult Sunday School teachers quoted what Jesus told Nicodemus – that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3: 5). She seemed to imply that if I’d not been baptized I wouldn’t be able to get into heaven. That troubled me even more, because I’d heard that some of my friends had never been baptized – and, worse, had no intention to. Would God not offer them salvation just because they weren’t, well, wet enough by the right people? My childish imagination took off from there. I finally came to view baptism as just a symbol – much like my mom and dad’s wedding bands; and if they took them off to go swimming it didn’t mean that during their swim they weren’t married.

But even the holiest of symbols undergoes change. I finally came to be content with the phrase about all such sacraments as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” In whatever way you “do” baptism, it’s coming to know that you are a loved and valued human being in the eyes of God; that was the most important thing of all. And while I no longer hold such an anthropomorphic image of God – gazing down upon us with love – letting children and families know that they are valued and loved is far more important than any rituals, symbols, or how we’re supposed to go about administering them.

8. Of the list on pg. 195-6, what do you like, dislike, want to add or remove? (Extra Credit: order this or your own list)

This is how I might reorder McLaren’s list – from most important to least important:

1) McLaren’s correct, we won’t get this right the first time, but we should try some steps, review them along the way, then “learn from our mistakes and continue the process.” But let’s do something! I think Napa Methodist (along with other churches) has already begun to do things very similar to these:
2) Replace, clarify, simplify or improve our foundational documents [Good luck on that one!]
3) Review, replace or diversify our prayers and the way we refer to God.
4) Determine which hymn lyrics are problematic and rewrite or replace them.
5) Rewrite our eucharistic liturgy so that it does say what we want it to say.
6) Explore a more creative way of delivering and participating in sermons.
7) Explore a variety of different ways to do worship services.
8) Allow a variety of scriptures, sacred writings – even poetry – to guide our experiences of worship and encourage dialogue of some sort within the liturgy and order of worship.
9) How necessary is our facility and can we meet in other places and other ways for worship?

Whatever we choose to do, the entire congregation absolutely should have input and multiple opportunities to critique and provide feedback about all of it. At some point, though, a vote should be taken and the will of the majority be followed – even at the risk of losing members.

9. Does our group want to “embark on a process like this” at Napa Methodist? Comments? (p.196)

It’s up to you. As a less-then-active member, myself, and from a distance, I would support you in any ways that I can. By the way, you should use the assistance of other churches in this “holy flow” and process of regeneration – even the Unitarian Universalists! We’ve shared facilities, programs and worship services with other Christians and Jews before; we could again.

10. What changed such that with people on the planet, there is no away (but there used to be)? (p.196)

What “changed” with people is that the Church became irrelevant; so they left. The only way that they might come back, or that those who’ve never been Christian before would now consider becoming involved in it, would be for us to radically change the ways that we’ve been doing things for the past two millennia – for the good of all humanity, if not for ourselves.

I do agree with McLaren that Christianity is worth redeeming and rediscovering. “Beneath the obvious flaws there are still treasures, treasures we would be fools to discard” (p.197).

1 – What stages of human growth are you entering, inhabiting, or leaving? (for completeness, you could list the set provided by your reference system) 159
2 – Which of the table’s 84 boxes is most interesting and why? 165
3 – What stage do you find in your current faith community (mostly) ? 165
4 – “Religion is desire formation.” Comments? 169
5 – What are you doing to “intentionally cultivate a more mature and wise set of desires”? 171
6 – What is the most important thing you are doing for the welfare of our world? 171
7 – Imagine a public school course on love. Comments? 175
8 – What foundational terms for Christianity would you use to replace “sin, grace, and salvation” (if you think as I do that there are better words)? 178
9 – Describe an experience in nature or the wilderness that moved you greatly. 179 (or do you NOT enjoy the wilderness?)
10 – How much do you feel your being depends on words? 180

1. What stages of human growth are you entering, inhabiting, or leaving? (for completeness, you could list the set provided by your reference system) (p.159)

Curiously enough, the 55+ community in which my wife and I live is called “Trilogy” because the majority of us are in the midst of the last third of our lives. That’s the stage of life we’re in. But I love the quote that McLaren has chosen to introduce Part III – the denouement of his book – the essence, from Rainer Maria Rilke, which says:

“...be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart...live
everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then
gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day
into the answer” (p.157).

So, content that I’ll not be able to answer all the questions that remain for me, I’m inhabiting them – living into them – and finding ways to continue to grow. I am about trying to “see things whole,” as McLaren says, in the ways that mystics see (p. 160). As he’s put it,...

“...[to] see each thing interrelated, interdependent, and interwoven
with others in a larger reality, a reality that defies easy judgments
and to which and in which God is present” (Ibid.).

But, I’m not quite there yet. I do agree with his very next sentence: “Many of us grow older but stay in the first half of life, faithful to one-stage Christianity” (p.161). I think the majority of Christians are still there, but I’ve left that stage a long time ago. In all of McLaren’s tables that he then lists, I think that I’m more in the “Harmony/Solidarity” stages than not – even while I do have one foot planted in the “Perplexity” stage from time to time – e.g., being true to myself even while facing inconvenient truths, allowing others their opinions while remaining staunchly independent to hang on to my own, at rest with the Mystery while still trying to think critically as I challenge the status quo and cultivate my own doubts (pp.162-165).

2. Which of the table’s 84 boxes is most interesting and why? (p.165)

I seem to resonate most with the harmony of recognizing that “the growth process never ends” (in “ATTITUDE TOWARD PRESENT STATE” – p.164) and the harmony of gently holding a “humble, reverent openness to mystery...” (in “FAITH IS...”– p.165). For me, it’s all about the journey, not about staying put at any single destination. Just as soon as I arrive at an answer that I’m comfortable with – if I’m paying attention – I will always be invited to consider a deeper question, which then invites me to begin yet another journey of discovery.

3. What stage do you find in your current faith community (mostly)? (p.165)

I’d say that the larger United Methodist Church is waffling between “Simplicity” and “Complexity,” leaving many of us here in the Western Jurisdiction stuck in “Perplexity.” There are, certainly, those of us trying to move toward “Harmony/Solidarity,” but I don’t feel it’s really taken hold – certainly not in South Korea or Africa which remain firmly in Stage 1.

I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment about the Napa Methodist Church, in particular, as I’m no longer active in its day-to-day ministries nor often present at worship on Sunday morning. Oddly enough, I still wonder what caused this congregation to drop the word “United” from its name. It happened during Lee Neish’s tenure as pastor, but I don’t know the reasons why. Who knows? It does reflect, however, the satirical comment coming from some about our denomination – i.e., that we’re neither “United” nor “Methodist” but at war with each other.

I do think that McLaren is correct in observing, however, that if we’re inhabiting that final stage of Harmony or Solidarity, it doesn’t matter what label we give ourselves:

“You will know who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re
becoming, what direction you’re going, what you’re seeking,
and what you value” (p.167).

4. “Religion is desire formation.” Comments? (p.169)

We all have the innate “capacity to evolve,” as McLaren says there, but some simply have had that “desire” stomped right out of them. Others desire power, wealth, and personal comforts. So, religion isn’t simply “desire formation” – to let everybody get what he or she wants. Yes, the religious urge does begin with our profound longing for meaning, love, and happiness. How that’s achieved has given rise to organized religion – its scriptures, structure, beliefs, rituals, and liturgies. We’ve discovered, though, that the religion that others have built hasn’t really fulfilled everyone’s needs or desires. So, McLaren is right when he observes that “unless you are intentional about shaping your desires, others will do so for you” (p.170).

Those of us who have embraced Christianity may have had what he calls “the fourth desire” – a kind of transcendent love that is “universal, nondiscriminatory, healing, creative, life-giving” (p.172). But, many have not. That’s the problem that continues to plague almost all religions. Without true equity in matters of justice and love, religion will continue along the road that it’s always taken – “saving” only the elect while “damning” the rest of us.

5. What are you doing to “intentionally cultivate a more mature and wise set of desires”? (p.171)

I am part of a number of groups – both lay and clergy – that I’d call are part of this “mustard seed insurgency” in opposition to an institutional Church that’s firmly stuck in Stage 1 (And, yes, the Lutz Book Group, happily, is one of those insurgent groups.). I’m also trying to educate my own children and grandchildren that they have options open to them to find more progressive Christian churches in the areas in which they live – should they choose to consider them.

6. What is the most important thing you are doing for the welfare of our world? (p.171)

I’d say it’s how I have – and continue to – nurture my children and grandchildren into understanding the importance of lovingkindness, personal integrity, and the pursuit of “liberty and justice for all.” Much of the rest of “the welfare of our world” is beyond my reach. So I reach out to those I can still touch.

7. Imagine a public school course on love. Comments? (p.175)

The question that raises is, how do you continue to keep a clear separation between Church and State that the founders of this country rightly saw was a very important distinction to make, and still talk about love? It’s been the militant right-wing that’s been trying to impose its own religious points of view upon the rest of us with their version of Christian nationalism. But, how does one create “a public school course on love” without mentioning Jesus of Nazareth?

Such a course would probably have to be designed as part of the history curriculum – if it were to be placed anywhere (public schools don’t yet have classes on psychology or philosophy). You might be able to squeeze it into a biology class – on the importance of caring for (if not loving) the natural world. I would imagine presenting the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi (better known as “Mahatma,” which means “revered one”) would be a good idea. But, how can you talk about that man without mentioning The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? So, I might recommend one book, titled What’s Love Got to Do With It, by John Miller, a professor at the University of Toronto, Canada. It’s at least something directed toward teachers in the public school – and it would be especially good for those who don’t like kids (I’ve met a few.)!

8. What foundational terms for Christianity would you use to replace “sin, grace, and salvation” (if you think as I do that there are better words)? (p.178)

You can’t go wrong with the imagery of Micah 6: 8 – “justice, lovingkindness, humility”

9. Describe an experience in nature or the wilderness that moved you greatly. (p.179)

The only thing that makes this difficult for me to pin down is that I have had, literally, thousands or more of such experiences throughout my lifetime:

• free-diving, SCUBA diving, sailing and swimming in the clear-aqua-blue waters of the Caribbean during the first 18 years of my life
• camping and hiking in the mountains, valleys and plains all across the continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska (I’ve literally been in every state in the union, plus Canada.)
• kayaking the rivers, lakes, bays, sloughs and coastal waterways in many of these same states – as well as western Canada
• sailing a 45-ft. sloop with my brother from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, then through the Channel Islands, and on to Maui, Hawaii (It took us 28 days.).

So, you see, it’s hard for me to pick just one single moment – I’ve been deeply moved by so many – communing and interacting with the wildlife as I have throughout them all:

• I’ve felt cradled by this one tree of my childhood as, hour after hour, I would lie in its branches swaying with its rhythm in the constant trade winds of the Caribbean.
• I’ve felt the quiet stare of a barracuda that swam within inches of my right hand.
• I’ve leaned against and felt giant redwood and sequoia trees breathe.
• I’ve been in a tent in the middle of a night lightning storm during a hiking and back packing trip along the Appalachian Trail between North Carolina and Kentucky.
• I’ve spoken with a loon (who spoke back to me) while kayaking Tomales Bay...
• ...and had a sea otter try to climb up on the deck of my kayak in Elkhorn Slough.
• I’ve sat quite still in that same kayak while drifting across Lake Tahoe in the middle of a light snowfall – all the while accompanied by a pair of Canada geese.
• I’ve drifted in another kayak at the foot of a 300 ft. waterfall in Tracy Arm inlet north of Holkham Bay, Alaska, while watching a black bear forage through wild berries nearby.
• I’ve stood at the foot of Niagara Falls and felt baptized by its roiling and roaring water.
• I’ve lain on the front deck gazing at pilot whales swimming nearby and found delight in dolphins that would crisscross the bow of our sailboat as we crossed the Pacific Ocean.
• In a moment of stillness, I’ve had a butterfly come to me and land softly on my nose.

I could go on, but the key to all of these experiences was that I was paying very close attention to every single one of them – gazing in quiet wonder at all that I was seeing and, with each breath, feeling the sacred depth of that moment. I have been profoundly blessed by them all.

10. How much do you feel your being depends on words? (p.180)

You’re asking this of a former teacher of English, Counseling Psychologist, and clergy person? My very life has depended upon my ability to communicate profoundly important concepts through words that people could understand and then incorporate into their own lives. The only greater love than this for me would be music and communing with the natural world.

1 – Do you feel yourself as a victim of something, and if so, what is it? 124
2 – Could you achieve innocence by leaving Christianity, or any other way? How important is the innocence issue for you? 127
3 – How important is winning and losing to you? 131
4 – When (and how) did you first realize you were learning about either solidarity or supremacy? 135
5 – Look up some information to share about one of the second list of names in the first paragraph on pg. 139.
6 – How do you feel about the changes taking place in the church (either UMC or other)? 140
7 – Does God need to be freed, and if so, how? 142
8 – Does your view of the early hunter-gatherers include communing with a loving, creative presence? Comments? 146
9 – This chapter seems to describe our author’s theology. What do you agree with AND disagree with? 149
10 – What do you think about Fermi’s Paradox and the Great Filter? 150

1. Do you feel yourself as a victim of something, and if so, what is it? (p.124)

As that term is defined, I’ve never been a victim or victimized by anything – or anyone. I was drafted into the military when “my number came up” back in 1967, but I didn’t feel like a victim because of it. Oddly enough, however, I often have had the misfortune of being stereotyped when someone discovers that I am an ordained clergy person. You can imagine what those stereotypes of pastors might be – and many are not positive. As McLaren points out, “when any group is objectified, their full humanity is devalued” (p.125). I’ve had to dispel the myths of being clergy with quite a few people over the years.

2. Could you achieve innocence by leaving Christianity, or any other way? How important is the innocence issue for you? (p.127)

I don’t identify with any “cult of innocence.” By virtue of my membership in the institutional Church, however, I do feel that I should “deal with [the] guilt and shame” that it’s caused (p.126). Because of my association with the Church as a clergy person, I feel it my duty to offer some measure of repentance for its wrongdoing. As McLaren outlines such work, it involves...

...healing the wounds, righting the wrongs, changing the systems
that protected the wrongdoers, and joining with victims in a
struggle for mutual liberation. It’s only by doing this real work...
that we redeem the past and actually become better people:
not innocent, not perfect, but good” (Ibid.)

That’s why I’m still here working at it.

3. How important is winning and losing to you? (p.131)

In my life-long involvement with athletics, I’ve always wanted to win; it was important to me. All that aside, if I feel that I am in the right in any situation – so on the right side – then winning is very important to me. Losing would mean giving victory to those I believe are in the wrong. So, I would agree with some such a movement as the one McLaren calls “a movement of human solidarity” and “to identify with humanity without discrimination” by doing justice and acting with lovingkindness (sic, Micah 6: 8). If we lose, then both justice and love are lost.

4. When (and how) did you first realize you were learning about either solidarity or supremacy? (p.135)

It happened when, as a lay person, I took my first confirmation class to meet the, then, Bishop of the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. Hoping to give members of that class some insight into those who had experienced discrimination within the church, I asked such a question of the bishop. He told me, sternly, that since I was not one of these confirmands, he would not address any questions that I had – this time with him was only for them, not for me. I remember feeling very nonplussed by his blunt response as he stared at me as if I’d committed an offense against him, personally. This had been a topic that I, myself, had introduced to the class the week before. When some of those kids looked at me, and I back at them, at that moment, most of them got the message that we should not address such an issue with this bishop. So, we let it go, and the questions and answers from then on were relatively innocuous and mundane. Solidarity gave way to supremacy.

The only other time such a moment happened to me was when I was a candidate for the ordained ministry and questioned the Church’s position on homosexuality. I was advised by a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry to shut up about that or I would not be ordained. So I did and was. I’ve come to regret that decision to keep silent but, at the time, I justified making it because I’d already invested so much in my theological education and felt that I might be a more effective advocate as a member of the clergy than I seemed to have been as a lay person. I later made a vow – that I’ve had to renew year-after-year – that keeping silent in the face of overt supremacy would never happen to me again.

5. Look up some information to share about one of the second list of names in the first paragraph on pg. 139.

The one I know best – and have the highest respect for – is Cornell West. I find him to be a compelling presence and excellent speaker. This is what’s said about him on his official website:

“Dr. Cornel West, affectionately known to many as Brother West, is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary. Dr. West teaches on the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as courses in Philosophy of Religion, African American Critical Thought, and a wide range of subjects – including but by no means limited to, the classics, philosophy, politics, cultural theory, literature, and music. He has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.

“Dr. West is the former Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton.

“He has written 20 books and has edited 13. [But] he is best known for his classics, "Race Matters and Democracy Matters." His most recent book, "Black Prophetic Fire," offers an unflinching look at nineteenth and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies. Dr. West has partnered with MasterClass.com to provide teachings on several influential courses including a class with Pharrell Williams on Empathy. MasterClass’s first-ever multi-instructor, [Dr. West] has led a class on "Black History, Black Freedom & Black Love" as well as [his] standalone class on Philosophy.

“Visit www.cornellwest.com and click the MasterClass banner to learn more.”

When someone asked Dr. West about his faith – and to describe himself a bit – this is how he responded:

“Am I religious? Am I a black man born to my parents, Irene and Clifton West?
I am, indeed, indeed. I am a profoundly Jesus-loving free black man who bears
witness to truth and justice until the day I die.”

I’ve been impressed by the man – by his faith and his intellect, certainly, but even more so by his commitment to social justice and to the lovingkindness shown to us by Jesus. While he does have lifelong connections to the Black Church, he is not ordained. Should you ever have the opportunity to listen to Dr. West speak, it would be well worth your time to do so.

6. How do you feel about the changes taking place in the church (either UMC or other)? (p.140)

There’s a part of me that feels like it’s too little and too late. So, in my more pessimistic moments – such as that – I feel profoundly sad. None of my own children or grandchildren attend church. More than one has simply said that the Church has become irrelevant to them. But, personally, I am deeply grateful for the mentors and friendships that I’ve had in the churches I’ve attended throughout my life – or served as their pastor – and for being part of this “mustard seed insurgency” that’s finally happening. Still, I remain hopeful that we’re in the nascent days of yet another major religious reformation – within and without Christianity.

7. Does God need to be freed, and if so, how? (p.142)

My concept of God transcends such an issue, so the question is moot. God is an ever-present and yet mysterious Force for me – even if God is “a radiant and holy mystery, the Spirit of life and creativity” itself, as McLaren says (p.144). To my mind, whatever we do has no effect on its presence. If we ignore it and are not careful, however, we do so at our own peril, because we now have the power to extinguish our own species. As the Deuteronomist once said:

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life,
so that you and your descendants might live” (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

8. Does your view of the early hunter-gatherers include communing with a loving, creative presence? Comments? (p.146)

Sure, why not? While some may have conjured up truly fearful deities, legend has it (and most Native American tribes confirm it) that most of those tribal societies gave thanks to their concept of God for the availability and presence of their food before they consumed it. I think that’s where we got the tradition, ourselves, of saying a blessing before our own meals.

9. This chapter seems to describe our author’s theology. What do you agree with AND disagree with? (p.149)

AGREE:

“For many of us, staying Christian is only possible if we do something about
the traditional supreme being concept that has dominated most of Christian
theology for most of its first two thousand years” (p.143).

I, too, am an atheist, relative to his long list of the god of Christian nationalists,
biblical literalists, theo-capitalists and other right-wingers (Ibid.).

I do resonate with McLaren’s idea of “a radiant and holy mystery, the Spirit of
life and creativity...” (p.144).

As much as we may want to use anthropomorphic imagery for God, McLaren
admits “that all theological language is metaphorical...”(Ibid.).

I agree that “...we are not only free to adapt and experiment in theology, as we
are in other fields; we also have a moral obligation to do so...”(p.145).

We do need “to find new names, metaphors, frameworks, languages, and
contemplative practices that will help us experience the God who rids us of the
God we need to be rid of” (p.146).

We should find “language appropriate to our context to describe the insistent
holy mystery that is inherent to our experience of life...” (Ibid.).

It’s true, “the Bible and tradition...do not reveal one final, ever-unchanging
understanding of God. They reveal how notions of God have always been
evolving over time, how they constantly grow, relapse, recover, adjust, and
grow some more” (Ibid.).

God may, indeed, be part of “one integrated reality” with creation, itself – the
metaphor that Jesus called “the kingdom of God” (p.147).

“...so we can welcome the Spirit, God blowing like wind, shining like light, flowing
like water and wine, incandescent like fire...not localized in one human body or
group but alive through all the universe and in all our experience, leading us and
guiding us into new understandings, world without end” (Ibid.).

“...all our theological language (including the word God itself) is poetic. We use
words to point to encounters and relationships that those words can never
fully capture” (p.148).

“Every statement about God...is...both highly metaphorical and highly creative”
(Ibid.).

“If our understandings of God do not grow, neither will we. We may not even
survive” (loc. cit.).

“That way, the dust can settle and the familiar god-talk can fade to silence, and
perhaps then we can get a fresh glimpse of what is really there” (p.149). Amen
to that.

DISAGREE:

I don’t have any anthropomorphic image for God as McLaren does when he
seems “to believe there is a You to address in the universe...” (p.143).

He returns to such an image when he turns to that story of Elijah’s encounter
with God in 1 Kings 19: 12 – that God comes to him as “a still, small voice.”
[NOTE: I did a portion of my master’s thesis on this passage because, initially, I too found it compelling. I was very surprised – even disappointed – to discover, however, that the literal Hebrew there isn’t a “voice” at all, but “a low murmuring sound.” Even so, some have then translated it as a “whisper,” but which gives God, again, a distinctly being-like presence. Once again, it demonstrates the truth of the statement that “every translation is an interpretation.”]

10. What do you think about Fermi’s Paradox and the Great Filter? (p.150)

Okay, so the “Fermi Paradox” asks, “If the universe is as old and as vast as it appears to be, why haven’t we been visited by alien life forms?” One answer has been the “Great Filter” – i.e., “If intelligent life has evolved on many planets, perhaps it always self-destructs before it gains the capacity for interstellar travel.”

As McLaren points out, this may be our own problem, too: “Perhaps every intelligent species develops weapons-making skills that outstrip its capacity for peace-making.” – a very sobering conclusion. What’s more, the bitter irony of that reality is this: “If humanity destroys itself, religion will likely be the chaplain...” (p.151).

McLaren then posits what might be the real “salvation” we should all be working toward:

“...to be turned around or turned away from our suicidal path...
and turning from the destructive assumptions and worldviews
that got us into this mess” (Ibid.).

It’s a compelling idea. He may very well be right. I like it. It makes sense. It’s certainly more realistic and attainable than the kind of “salvation” that the institutional Church has been dogmatically teaching for so long. So, I agree with McLaren: “I don’t need an evacuation-plan gospel ... I need a transformational-plan gospel” (loc. cit.).

My concept of God is very much like McLaren’s, in one sense, when he says that “the whole universe is filled with a spirit (or Spirit) that is...a life-giving telos” – i.e., something working toward fulfillment or completion. And we’re a long, long way from it.

“That striving, that pursuit, that transformation project is bigger
than Christianity and bigger than not-Christianity” (p.155).

So, we’d better get our act together before it’s too late.

1 – What analogy other than “quitting the marathon…” describe what you are doing rather than quitting? 84
2 – Why is it so much harder to present new, good ideas – and make them work – than to criticize the old? 90
3 – How many people actually have the option to “stay defiantly”? 94 It takes a lot of resources to continue speaking from the outside.
4 – What difference do you see between “eternal life” and “a new way of life”? 98
5 – Consider moving to a different church. What are your primary benefits and drawbacks? 98
6 – What is (are) the benefit(s) of a new cosmic story? 108
7 – If Christianity has been around for 4 seconds, how long have you been here? 110
8 – Any ideas about how to change people from looking backward for answers to looking forward? 112
9 – What modern story would (or do) you tell in order to “inspir[e] readers and hearers across the centuries and around the world to better understand themselves…”? 120

1. What analogy other than “quitting the marathon…” describes what you are doing rather than quitting? (p.84)

In the past, I’ve referred to it as “a mustard seed conspiracy” – after that short parable of the same name (cf. Mark 4: 30-32, Matthew 13: 31-32, and Luke 13: 18-19). Many pastors have interpreted that parable as the seed being “the Word of God” sown in us and that only time will show how “a person’s faith will grow and develop.” For me, it’s much more than that – after all, it’s actually referred to as “the kingdom of God,” not to anyone’s faith in it. Tragically, under human hands, the Church has grown to become a truly stunted tree, ingrown, its branches so twisted against and at war with each other that new growth is impossible. I see Progressive Christianity as a totally new and evolved seed springing from that tree, but planted in deeper and more healthy soil in which true diversity can inspire new and more flourishing growth. Some pages later, I think McLaren uses a like-minded phrase: “...having faith that the good seed will burst out of the old husk and rise after being buried” (p.90). One day we may even come to share some of the same root system, but the “conspiracy” is very much like what McLaren alludes to when he says this:

“An unexamined, status-quo Christianity is not worth perpetuating.
I cannot and will not stay Christian if it means perpetuating
Christianity’s past history and current trajectory. The only way I
can stay Christian is to do so as part of a creative movement
forging a new kind of Christianity...” (p.84).

That’s the “conspiracy.” Maybe it’s the wrong word – because of its association with unlawful, harmful, or evil purposes – but I chose it because that’s the way the Church has defined “heresy” and, as you’ve seen, I strongly oppose such a definition. While the Church may see it as an insurrection marked by open sedition and insubordination, I see it more as a necessary insurgency – even if it is in defiance of the Church’s assumption of authority. A reformation just didn’t seem strong enough. Maybe a “mustard seed insurgency” would be a better label.

So, while this conspiracy, insurgency, or reformation – whatever you might want to call it – still remains to be small in comparison to the magisterium of the institutional Church, that’s the way it started at the beginning when it was first planted by Jesus – and before it lost its way. If we keep at it, newer, more healthy, growth can still happen. That’s what I’m committed to.

2. Why is it so much harder to present new, good ideas – and make them work – than to criticize the old? (p.90)

I think McLaren illuminates the reason when he says, “I think that change only happens through failure, repeated failure”... but a few like-minded “dreamers and idealists” can be “attracted to the project” (p.86). He goes on to say,

“If you want evolution, you have to accept struggle and mass
extinction events. If you want birth, you have to go through labor. ..
You have to commit to do the right thing against all odds” (pp.86-87).

I’d use an additional analogy of the major renovation of a huge and ancient cathedral. All too often it must begin with dismantling significant parts of it, brick-by-brick – even tearing down walls – before a new edifice can be built. It might require an entirely new, but more secure and solid, foundation. That’s what makes it “so much harder.”

3. How many people actually have the option to “stay defiantly”? (p.94) It takes a lot of resources to continue speaking from the outside.

So, don’t leave. Speak up from the inside. Use the resources that we already have. Face excommunication if you have to – should it come to that. Stand trial. In fact, demand it! The jury may be more understanding than we think. I found that to be so here, myself, in the California/Nevada Annual Conference of the Western Jurisdiction.

4. What difference do you see between “eternal life” and “a new way of life”? (p.98)

The former is akin to a “pipe dream” – wishful thinking – but I have no confidence at all in what Christian dogma has maintained is “eternal life” for millennia. The latter happens in this life – in the here-and-now of day-to-day living. That’s where we experienced Jesus of Nazareth in the first place, so let’s at least start here with what we’ve been given.

5. Consider moving to a different church. What are your primary benefits and drawbacks? (p.98)

I considered it, but rejected such a need to move in order to thrive. I recall the message delivered in a sermon by a colleague of mine, Don Cunningham. He titled it, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” For the most part, he said that we need to move away from all of the “if-onlys” that have crippled us from fully living the lives we’ve been given: “If only I’d had a happier childhood”... “If only I were smarter”... “If only I had more money”... “If only I’d gone to a different school”... “If only I were in a different community...a different house ...a different church...and on and on. Instead, be where you are. Be who you know yourself to be. Be the best person you can be. Bloom where you’re planted.

So, unless your life and environment is truly toxic and the healthiest thing for you is to leave so that you might heal, stay put. That’s where you need to be. That’s where you should be.

6. What is (are) the benefit(s) of a new cosmic story? (p.108)

I think McLaren says it here:

[We are] “in a universe that was not at its best at the beginning.
Nor is it at its best now. It is en route, becoming in process,
always presented with the possibility of evolving into something
more beautiful, diverse, alive, and conscious...” (p.105).

...and, again, here:

... “first, the earliest form of something is not its pure or original
or best or permanent or ideal form. ... Every form is in process,
adapting, evolving, mutating, changing.
Second, over time, the universe becomes more complex, more
diverse, more alive, more interdependent, more conscious, and,
we might say, more beautiful and good.
And third, extinction happens on the path of evolution. When
conditions change, life forms must either evolve to cope with
them or go extinct. ... That means that no species, including our
own, is absolute, invincible, supreme, or ultimate” (pp.107-108).

So, unless we end up extinguishing ourselves as a species (and there’s no guarantee that we won’t), we have opportunities given to us at every single moment to make things better – to be better people, to create a better and healthier environment in which to live, to grow and thrive. If we don’t take advantage of every opportunity we’re offered, we’ve only ourselves to blame when it all “goes to Hell.”

7. If Christianity has been around for 4 seconds, how long have you been here? (p.110)

I can’t do the math, but it’s certainly less time than “a blink of an eye.”

8. Any ideas about how to change people from looking backward for answers to looking forward? (p.112)

I think the philosopher George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’ve also liked to paraphrase it by saying, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history, are destined to repeat them.” The current tragic failure that we seem to be living through at the moment is the recurrence of totalitarianism, the call for white power, and the rise of religious nationalism. If we continue down that road, we have learned nothing, and will be condemned for it.

9. What modern story would (or do) you tell in order to “inspir[e] readers and hearers across the centuries and around the world to better understand themselves…”? (p.120)

I have turned to poetry. Pick one or all of these poems that were written by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - - -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

1 – If we lived in a smoothly functioning socialist economic system, would money still be the problem it is today? 45
2 – Every church must have an ongoing, required class in moral and spiritual development. What do you think? 47
3 – How do you think our book study group would be different if Evelyn were doing the questions and leading the discussion, instead of me? 49
4 – What is your most interesting example of toxic theology? 56
5 – Is there an aspect of your theology that helps you be good? Comments? 58
6 – How do we protect ourselves from the kind of change that overcame Rose on pg. 61?
7 – Which initiation in your life has teen the most significant? Comments? 62
X – Which states rank highest on measures of well-being? 63
8 – Do you have a personal example of church reinforcing one of our author’s listed biases? 68
9 – “That’s true of this book as well.” What are some biases we don’t see? 74
10 – Does the shrinking church indicate that other organizations are doing a better job of moral and spiritual development? Comments? 77

1. If we lived in a smoothly functioning socialist economic system, would money still be the problem it is today? (p.45)

Name one “smoothly functioning socialist economic system” ever in existence where the acquisition and spending of money hasn’t remained to be a problem. Human greed and self-centeredness will continue to be the root of the problem, not money.

2. Every church must have an ongoing, required class in moral and spiritual development. What do you think? (p.47)

That words “must have” and “required” would cause me to back away from this one. Having an ongoing class or group consider exactly what it means for such “development,” however, might be valuable.

It reminds me of an insightful statement first made by the theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion, Thomas Merton: “If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually.”

3. How do you think our book study group would be different if Evelyn were doing the questions and leading the discussion, instead of me? (p.49)

Peter! Are you feeling a bit insecure here? The questions might be just a bit more theological or spiritually centered, but I’m sure you both would remain to be each other’s best consultants – in all things!

4. What is your most interesting example of toxic theology? (p.56)

The “example of toxic theology” that first comes to my mind, has been when anyone has said to someone, who’s just lost a loved one, that God must have loved them so much “He” wanted to welcome them home in death – or some other image such as that. That toxic position seems to infer to the person left behind, that their love wasn’t strong enough, so their loved one was taken away from them by God. I’ve even heard of pastors saying such awful things as this.

5. Is there an aspect of your theology that helps you be good? Comments? (p.58)

Yes, absolutely. There are two passages of scripture that I’ve returned to now, for decades, but – paradoxically enough – they’re from the Hebrew scriptures, not the New Testament:

Micah 6: 8
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Deuteronomy 30: 19
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today...
I have set before you life and death,
blessings and curses.
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live....

Having taken these two admonitions to heart; they’ve directed my decision making for decades – in more ways than one.

6. How do we protect ourselves from the kind of change that overcame Rose on pg. 61?

We can never “protect ourselves” from the decisions – even wrong-headed decisions – of others. We can only witness to the truth as we see it and try to follow affirmations like the one given in Micah 6:8 – doing justice, acting with lovingkindness, and humbly adhering to our own concept of God.

7. Which initiation in your life has been the most significant? Comments? (p.62)

I would say that it must be my acceptance of the eight points of Progressive Christianity (see the Addenda where I say more about this under “What I Would Like Christianity to Be”).

X - Which states rank highest on measures of well-being? (p.63)

According to a survey of 500,000 adult Americans completed in midsummer of the year 2022 (released by Sharecare, a digital health company in partnership with the Boston University School of Public Health), Massachusetts emerged as the state with the highest “well-being” in the nation for the second consecutive year. The top 10 states for overall well-being were:

(1) Massachusetts
(2) Hawaii
(3) New Jersey
(4) Maryland
(5) New York
(6) California (Phew! At least we were among the top 10!)
(7) Colorado
(8) Connecticut
(9) Washington
(10) Utah

Meanwhile, Mississippi (#50) earned the lowest scores for the third year in a row. Joining it at the bottom five were Arkansas (#49), West Virginia (#48), Kentucky (#47), and Alabama (#46).

It’s worth noting that the survey concentrated on five individual “well-being domains”:

(1) purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
(2) social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
(3) financial: managing your economic life to increase security and reduce stress
(4) community: liking where you live and having pride in your community
(5) physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done every day

One further point: the survey included five social determinants of health:

(1) health care access
(2) food access
(3) resource access
(4) housing and transportation
(5) economic security

There have been surveys made by other companies (e.g., addressing “quality of life”) that have come up with their own comparative lists, but Hawaii, not surprisingly, always seems to show up somewhere near the top of such lists.

8. Do you have a personal example of church reinforcing one of our author’s listed biases? (p.68)

Other than the incidents where I’ve been accused of heresy – that I’ve referred to elsewhere – I continue to bump uncomfortably into both clergy colleagues and laity that display a “tendency to reject any idea that will endanger [their] status in communities we belong to” (“Community bias”) as well as the “tendency to reject information that makes [them feel] uncomfortable” (“Comfort/Complacency bias”). Almost all of these incidents, however, relate, not as much to our practice of ministry together, as they do to questioning the bedrock issues of theological orthodoxy – i.e., the fiction which claims the inerrancy of scripture, which then leads to doubts about the nature of God, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the conclusions of an apocalypse and final judgment, the nature of salvation – et al.

It’s like there’s both an individual as well as an institutional fear that the whole structure of the concept of the Church will come crashing down if orthodoxy is questioned. Maybe it should. Something new needs to be born. And that might be better than the slow death we’re currently experiencing – represented by the waning membership in the local church.

9. “That’s true of this book as well.” What are some biases we don’t see? (p.74)

We’re not only victims of institutional and individual blindness, as McLaren rightly points out:

“Christians have invested a lot of energy in pitting our theology
against biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, physics,
psychology, psychiatry, and sociology.”

It is a staggering list! That enough still refuse to see it, has just compounded the tragedy.

10. Does the shrinking church indicate that other organizations are doing a better job of moral and spiritual development? Comments? (p.77)

No. The reason for the “shrinking church” is solely due to its own institutionalism and absolute inflexibility at adhering to centuries-old dogma and doctrine and refusing to repent of it. And as McLaren reminds us, “the word repent means rethink, which means questioning our biases and challenging untested assumptions” (p.68). It just doesn’t make good sense to continue in this way. That’s why people are searching for answers and guidance somewhere else.

So, I am done with magical thinking. I want to revive the real power behind the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who first called out to me when I was a child to come and follow him.

1 – Select the different parts of Christianity into IMPORTANT and UNIMPORTANT for you. (Extra Credit: put them in order.) 4
2 – Begin a list or diary or notebook or whatever you call it with a comment about what you would like Christianity to be. Add to it each chapter or week as we read and talk. 8
3 – What is the cure for antisemitism? 18
4 – When and ow have you felt disempowered as a heretic? 21
5 – Have you been the victim of church violence? Any comments? 27
6 – Back on pg. 14 we have our author’s “I was taught, BUT…. and here on pg. 28 we have: Jesus never tortured or killed…. but is this only what we were taught? Comments?
7 – As bad as the Doctrine of Discovery seems to us today, can you imagine living at that time? Maybe they just didn’t know any better. Comments? 31
8 – We are judging our ancestors for not having the development we have achieved now. Is this fair? Comments? 35
9 – Do you have anything like arguments with your inner fundamentalist? IF so, what are the main issues involved in your particular case? 37
10 - What has been your experience with Loyal Company Men both in the church and in the wider world? 41
11 – Why has it taken my whole (working) life to realize the problems associated with how money is damaging our society? 44 (And why is Chapter 5 the shortest in the book?)

1. Select the different parts of Christianity into IMPORTANT and UNIMPORTANT for you. [NOTE: I have put them in order by priority to me – i.e., from most to least]. (pp.3-4)

IMPORTANT:
• “Christianity can be defined moralistically....To be a Christian is to live your life by a moral or ethical framework” (p.4).
• “Christianity can be defined spiritually or experientially.... To be a Christian is to have, foster, and share a set of experiences” (p.3).
• “Christianity can be defined missionally, as a program, plan, or movement for intentional action in the world. To be a Christian is to take on that mission as your own” (p.4).
• “Christianity can be defined socially, as a community of people in whose presence you feel safe, welcome, needed, accepted, or supported. To be a Christian is to enjoy an experience of social belonging with others who identify as Christian” (p.4).
• “Christianity can be defined politically.... To be a Christian is to act as part of a coalition with shared theo-political aims” (p.4).
• “Christianity can be understood historically or culturally, as a legacy you are born into or enter by choice. To be a Christian is to inhabit a cultural or historical tradition” (p.3).
• “Christianity can be defined demographically.... To be a Christian is to identify yourself as a member of a recognized group” (p.4)

UNIMPORTANT:
• “Christianity can be defined doctrinally, as something you believe. To be a Christian is to affirm a system of beliefs or teachings” (p.3).
• “Christianity can be defined institutionally, as a power structure or hierarchy in which you participate. To be a Christian is to affiliate with an institution and accept its authority structure” (p.3).
• “Christianity can be defined liturgically or pragmatically, as a set of rituals you practice. To be a Christian is to engage in some version of Christianity’s rituals or practices” (p.3).
• “Christianity can be defined linguistically, as a shared set of words and ways of communicating” (p.4).

2. Begin a list or diary or notebook or whatever you call it with a comment about what you would like Christianity to be. Add to it each chapter or week as we read and talk. (p.8)
[See ADDENDA]

3. What is the cure for antisemitism? (p.18)

The only cure must be the acceptance of all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, language or religion. So, I totally agree with the quote on this page that...

“’...the greatest heresy in the history of monotheism’ [is] the idea
that God chooses some people for exclusive privilege, leaving
everyone else in a disfavored (or we might say ‘dis-graced’) status.
They are the other. They don’t belong here. They are in the way.
Their rights don’t count.”

4. When and how have you felt disempowered as a heretic? (p.21)

Since the real power within our denomination resides at the episcopal and judicial level, the only threat of “disempowerment” for me came when – along with 67 other ordained colleagues – I was brought up on charges for blessing the union of two lesbian members of our church (marriage between them was still illegal), Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton – long-term partners for over 15 years. The event was celebrated on January 16, 1999. Jeanne was our California/Nevada Annual Conference Lay Leader at the time and Ellie was a Conference Trustee and both had been members of the United Methodist Church for many years.

As a result of our actions, we (the 68 presiding clergy) faced disciplinary charges for “violating the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.” In March of that year, our Conference Bishop, Melvin Talbert, forwarded the complaint to a Counsel for the Church, and the Judicial process against us began. The Conference Committee on Investigation of Clergy Members began gathering our statements that July. Each of us was invited to respond to the charge and, alongside my colleagues’ statements, my lengthy and detailed response was published in a book entitled The Sacramento 68: Statements to the Committee on Investigation.

Throughout this entire process I did feel “disempowered as a heretic.” I was criticized by a number of my more conservative colleagues – even accused of not being a Christian and in violation of my “Holy Orders.” In February 2000, the Committee finally held a public hearing to determine whether there should be a church trial. Ultimately, the charges were dropped. Had I been a member of any United Methodist Conference within the southeastern jurisdictions of our church, however, I would probably have been excommunicated.

5. Have you been the victim of church violence? Any comments? (p.27)

I have never “been the victim of church violence.”

I have been sternly told that I was “going to Hell” by a parishioner, however, for what she perceived was my preaching heresy from the pulpit. Her response was made to me in the middle of the greeting line following the worship service one Easter Sunday. As part of my sermon, I’d clearly stated that Jesus had not died for our sins, but because of our sin. Another visiting lay person that day also asked me, later, “Do they let you get away with that?” – meaning, did the church hierarchy really allow me to publicly say such a thing?

Over the years, my responses during such moments as these have been to say that I simply disagree with much of the Church’s dogma and doctrine over such things and want to open up a dialogue about them. If some refused to enter into any kind of dialogue at all – stating, categorically, that I was wrong and they were right – I would let it go, but that “my door was always open” if they wanted to talk more about my challenges of orthodoxy. Rarely, however, did anyone ever respond to my offer.

I am very grateful, however, to have been able to serve a Church and denomination that’s “let me get away with it.”

6. Back on pg. 14 we have our author’s “I was taught, BUT…. and here on pg. 28 we have: “Jesus never tortured or killed…” but is this only what we were taught? Comments?

Obviously, throughout his adult life, Jesus said and did a whole lot more than “what we were taught.” And that’s the point of McLaren exposing this tragedy: from Constantine on, the Church has come closer to mirroring the Roman Empire than it ever has the Empire of God.

If we really knew where the bones of Jesus of Nazareth lay, he’d be “turning over in his grave” at just how much we’ve missed the point of his life and teachings.

7. As bad as the Doctrine of Discovery seems to us today, can you imagine living at that time? Maybe they just didn’t know any better. Comments? (p.31)

We may not be as blatant about it, but the problem continues on into this very day. When other people are thought of as “inferior” or unworthy of compassion, every manner of cruelty and injustice becomes justified. We do know better. We just haven’t cared enough to make it stop.

8. We are judging our ancestors for not having the development we have achieved now. Is this fair? Comments? (p.35)

It isn’t just unfair, it’s blindness. As a culture and a people, we haven’t “developed” or “achieved” as much as we think we have. The rich and powerful have just become more secretive about their willfulness and self-indulgence. And we have let them get away with it – sometimes because we here in the 1st World have benefitted from the ongoing inequality.

9. Do you have anything like arguments with your inner fundamentalist? IF so, what are the main issues involved in your particular case? (p.37)

I would say my most profound “argument” with my “inner fundamentalist” is in letting go of a personal, sentient, anthropomorphic-like being, whom we’ve come to call God – the One we’ve prayed to, looked to for guidance, and been in awe of, the One we have not only believed created all that is, but the One who is in control of the universe while, at the same time, desires an intimate relationship with each of us individually – that God.

The main issue, of course, is whether that God even exists. I do think that some kind of creative power is at the heart of everything that is, and that we’re somehow meant to be in relationship with it. But, is this God a sentient being, so enabling us to be in an intimate relationship with such a One as we might have with our own family? In all honesty, I have to say, in the end, I do not know – and probably never will.

When it comes to the nature and reality of God – the heart of my own theology – a good friend of mine, Dorothy Northey, has said it so well for me:

“Some of the greatest gifts evolution gave us are the abilities
to communicate and to give and receive love. We know that
other animals form bonds and communicate as well as trees
that communicate through their root systems. We are one
with our Universe. That to me is our relationship. We are one
with something much greater than ourselves.”

May we be reminded of this with every breath we take.

10. What has been your experience with Loyal Company Men both in the church and in the wider world? (p.41)

I am struck by one thing McLaren says about that here: “If you are part of a religious system that derives its invisible power through one-directional loyalty to those above you, you had better be careful” (p.40). Because of my label as a heretic, I have.

11. Why has it taken my whole (working) life to realize the problems associated with how money is damaging our society? (p.44) (And why is Chapter 5 the shortest in the book?)

We’ve all got to use money, but just having it and spending it should never be our ultimate goal. So, our constant challenge is to never be governed by it. One way of hearing and understanding the parable of the talents (Luke 12: 42-46) is that we’ve been entrusted to take care of what we’ve been given for the short amount of time that we have it.

The saying in Matthew 6: 21 is also very instructive: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, the ways in which we spend our money can say a lot about those things in which we place our trust – and sometimes that’s in other people.

This supposed conversation between Jesus and some Pharisees might be instructive (Luke 16: 10-15):

10“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much;
and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also
in much. 11“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of
unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?
12“And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is
another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

13“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the
one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and
despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

14Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening
to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15And He said to them,
“You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God
knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is
detestable in the sight of God.”

So, there.

______________________________________________________________________________
ADDENDA:

To begin with, I responded to McLaren’s invitation in Appendix I of this book (pp.227 ff.) – i.e., to “write a sentence that summarizes what in the chapter was most important to you” – by, instead, simply putting a single star next to a statement of his in each chapter that I resonated with the most. I also appreciated his invitation to read this book “mindfully, not in a rush” and I’ve been moved to notice just how deeply this book seems to be speaking to me. However, before I conclude in greater detail what I would like Christianity to be, what follows are those statements that I have starred from each section and chapter:

Introduction: “‘Do I Stay Christian’ is not a theoretical question for me. It is a matter of the heart, a matter of identity, a matter of ultimate concern” (p.7). ☆

PART I - NO
Chapter 1: “Christian Zionism perpetuates a simple but terribly dangerous theological idea... ‘the greatest heresy in the history of monotheism’ [is] the idea that God chooses some people for exclusive privilege, leaving everyone else in a disfavored (or we might say ‘dis-graced’) status. They are the other. They don’t belong here. They are in the way. Their rights don’t count” (p.18). ☆

Chapter 2: “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...the equality of friendship rather than the supremacy of hierarchy” (pp.22-23). ☆

Chapter 3: “Centuries of crusader colonization have produced deep trauma that still... expresses itself in internalized presumption of superiority and privilege among the descendants of the colonizers, along with an almost desperate obsession to remain in power” (p.33). ☆

Chapter 4: “Misplaced, constrained, or absolutized loyalty, we now see, can be lethal” (p.40).☆

Chapter 5: “...institutions aren’t in themselves the problem; the problem is the institutionalism: the tendency of institutions to abandon the mission for which they were created and instead redefine their mission as absolute loyalty to their own bottom line” (p.45). ☆

Chapter 6: “Two thousand years after Jesus launched a subversive spiritual movement of equality, emancipation, and peace,...the Christian religion still remains subservient to patriarchy and the authoritarian control it engenders” (p.52). ☆

Chapter 7: “Why can’t we Christians admit that we, like everything else in the universe, are in process, and that our religion, like all religions, is actually an event, constantly, unavoidably changing, for better or worse? ...we are stuck in an old model of the universe and...it’s time to rethink everything ... beliefs are important, but they aren’t the point...” (p.58). ☆

Chapter 8: “...the purpose of the Christian faith is clear and simple: it is not an evacuation plan to heaven but a transformation plan for earth...of helping people become loving human beings who build loving societies, following the loving example of Jesus. [So,] it’s about time for the Christian religion to get serious about its prime directive” (p.64). ☆

Chapter 9: [Some have felt that to be a Christian] “...was to practice a tightly constricted intellectualism: intellect in service of what we already believed. [This] constricted curiosity and suppression of inconvenient truths [is called] confirmation bias. [It’s the] tendency to reject anything that doesn’t fit in with our current understanding, paradigm, belief system, or worldview” (p.67). ☆

Chapter 10: “...religious extremists...notice that they’re losing ground. As a result, they may become desperate enough to launch theocratic revolutions. ... Where those revolutions succeed, you can bet that the teaching of history, science, critical thinking, and journalism will be suppressed, along with political and religious dissent” (p.78). ☆

PART II - YES
Chapter 11: [It’s not about]...“saving institutions, theologies, liturgies, and other traditions that are unsalvageable. Instead, it means having faith that the good seed will burst out of the old husk and rise after being buried, that the essence, the pearl, the treasure and spark will resurrect on the third day, no matter how bad things get today and no matter how hopeless they feel tomorrow” (p.90). ☆

Chapter 12: “I can no longer put a naïve trust in the structure 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... but it will not succeed in conforming me to its example either” (p.94). ☆

Chapter 13: “So here is a way for me to stay Christian: I must try to understand and unearth the greatest blessings of my tradition, just as I face up to its many shortcomings. I must engage in a kind of truth and reconciliation process within my heritage. ... Then, simultaneously...I can find my neighbors – both religious and secular – who are engaging in a parallel process in their communities” (p.101). ☆

Chapter 14: “If the Christian faith is to have a creative and constructive future, it will have to undergo its own metamorphosis from a first to a second axial age religion, from a regressive/ conservative religion to a progressive/anticipatory one. ... We must inhabit and tell a new cosmic story” (p.106). ☆

Chapter 15: “The story isn’t intended to convey mere information. It has a higher goal: to convey, through imagination, an experience of transformation so the reader can taste the wonder of encountering Jesus in person. The experience of transformation is the point, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price” (p.119). ☆

Chapter 16: “...there is another way to deal with guilt and shame...it is repentance...healing the wounds, righting the wrongs, changing the systems that protected the wrongdoers, and joining with victims in a struggle for mutual liberation. It’s only by doing this real work...that we redeem the past and actually become better people: not innocent, not perfect, but good (p.126). ☆

Chapter 17: “...try to collaborate for the common good in whatever ways you can. ...not breaking solidarity. When you embrace solidarity, you embrace humanity.... If you choose solidarity...in the way modeled by Jesus, then you don’t have to stop being Christian. In fact, you may have just become a better Christian than you’ve ever been” (p.134). ☆

Chapter 18: “What do you do when your religion is failing? Do you leave it, like a person running from a crime scene, so you won’t be implicated? Or do you stay, bear witness, and help right the wrongs – if you possibly can?” (p.141). ☆

Chapter 19: “...we are free, if we so choose, to stay Christian, because we are free to let our old God concepts die and see what rises from the tomb” (p.149). ☆

Chapter 20: “How shall we humans survive and thrive? What good future shall we strive for? How can we align our energies with the divine energy at work in our universe? That striving, that pursuit, that transformation project is bigger than Christianity and bigger than not-Christianity” (p.155). ☆

PART III - HOW
Chapter 21: “You may find that you don’t have to leave Christianity; you just have to transcend its early stages and find a Stage Four way of being a Christian. ...if you inhabit the space of Harmony or Solidarity...the label simply won’t matter so much. You will know who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re becoming, what direction you’re going, what you’re seeking, and what you value” (p.167). ☆

Chapter 22: “If you can find a community or organization that desires the good of the planet and all its creatures, the good of all people through just and generous societies, and the good of each individual – including you – with a reverence for the sacred love that flows through all these loves, that is a community in which to invest your time intelligence, money, and energy. ... If you can’t find such a community or organization, perhaps you can create one” (p.175). ☆

Chapter 23: “...we are interdependent events that happen here, on and in and with and as part of the earth, which is part of larger solar, galactic, and cosmic systems” (p.181). ☆

Chapter 24: “...we must invest in the new spiritual meta-movement that is already emerging within and among us. ... It must be fully regenerative, restoring old balances that have been disrupted and diminished by our current civilizational project and, where that is impossible, finding new balances that make new vitalities possible” (p.187). ☆

Chapter 25: “Our work is to stop the desecration of life in both its religious and secular dimensions. Our work is to restore both the religious and secular to a creative dynamism that deserves and inspires appropriate reverence” (p.198). ☆

Chapter 26: “...we need to very lovingly, non-defensively, and non-aggressively, be clear about where we are. If others reject us or prefer that we leave, so be it” (p.203). ☆

Chapter 27: “Loyalty to reality does not feel like certainty. It feels more like humility. It feels like awe, wonder, curiosity, patient attentiveness. ... It renders you less a pundit and more a contemplative...tending the fire of desire for truth in our innermost being” (p.213). ☆

Chapter 28: “It all boils down to this, Micah says: 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” (p.217). ☆

Afterword: “...focus more on the how question...the question of how you want to live, what kind of human being you want to be, how you want to sing. ... Do I stay Christian? In the end, the answer that really matters is not the one you or I give with our words, but the one we give with our lives” (p.223). ☆

What I Would Like Christianity to Be
Doug Monroe

In referring to this book, a colleague recently asked me, “What would you say are the keys to staying Christian in this current divided environment?” At a minimum, I think it would mean taking the teachings and parables of Jesus seriously enough to then try – to the best of our ability in a modern context – to live lives of compassion, equity, justice and love every bit as much as he did two millennia ago. Again, throughout the majority of my time as an ordained member of the United Methodist Church, I’ve advocated following these “Eight Points of Progressive Christianity” – i.e., by calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean that we are Christians who...

(1) Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead
to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and Unity of all life;
(2) Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide one of many ways to
experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can
draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
(3) Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not
limited to:
• Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
• Believers and agnostics,
• Women and men,
• Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
• Those of all classes and abilities;
(4) Know that the way we behave toward one another is the fullest
expression of what we believe;
(5) Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is
more value in questioning than in absolutes;
(6) Strive for peace and justice among all people;
(7) Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth; and
(8) Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

[Note: I adapted these from http://progressivechristianity.org/what-is-progressive-christianity/

That, in its essence, is what I wish Christianity would be like. I think many of our churches have already contributed in exactly those ways – and continue to do so even as their membership wanes. Unfortunately, it’s also led to the current foment within our own denomination, leading the more orthodox or fundamentalist churches to move toward disaffiliation. On the surface, that may seem unfortunate (even tragic and sad, to some) because, clearly, we are not a “united” church – but, the truth is, we never have been. It’s just that more and more of us on the left, or progressive side, have quite literally “come out of the closet” and finally confronted historic orthodoxy. It is my fervent hope, however, that this movement continues to lead to a radically new – and long needed – reformation of Christianity itself.

I also was once asked by a colleague of mine, “Given your unorthodox positions, Doug, just what is your relationship to the word ‘Christian’?” While I had to ponder that for a bit, it’s clear that I never, truly, have accepted the United Methodist Church’s definition of Christianity. In The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, here’s part of what our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith say – and will continue to say in the near future:

(a.) On the Virgin Birth and Divinity of Jesus:
[Articles of Religion, Article II]: “The Son, who is the Word of the Father,
the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s
nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin.”

[Confession of Faith, Article II]: “We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and
truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and
inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten
Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

(b.) About the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
[Articles of Religion, Article III]: “Christ did truly rise again from the dead,
and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of
man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until
he return to judge all men at the last day.”

[Confession of Faith, Article II]: [Jesus Christ]... “was buried, rose from the
dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he
shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and
by him all men will be judged."

(c.) About Salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ:
[Articles of Religion, Article IX]: “We are accounted righteous before God
only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith.”

[Confession of Faith, Article IX]: “We believe we are never accounted
righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent
sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith
in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, there they are – and I don’t believe any of these propositions. I never have.

On the other hand, I have been content to use the title “Christ” for Jesus to mean that in some mystical way he was, and still is, “the anointed one” that the Jews had longed for – but just not in the way that they wanted or in the ways that he fulfilled it, nor how that title was later redefined, expanded and disseminated by orthodox Christianity. Because of this position, I’ve had one conservative colleague adamantly state to my face that I could not call myself a Christian – let alone an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. By the way, at least he didn’t then take the next step and “write me up” to the bishop with charges that I should be taken to trial and excommunicated.

If I were to imagine a Christian Church beyond our lifetimes, I would imagine a Church without a top-heavy hierarchy (e.g., without a pope or bishops) dynamically serving the communities in which their congregations live, while also sharing outreach with other churches to missions of support across the world. Our mission emphasis, however, will not be focused upon “making disciples of Jesus Christ” – our compassion, care, and love for others would be enough of a witness without any need for some kind of catechism or doctrinal insistence. The emphasis would be upon enhancing the lives of all people everywhere based upon the life and teachings of Jesus – witnessing to his humanity and not connected to any claim that he was, somehow, uniquely divine.

I wonder, though, how can we even continue to use the language of traditional Christianity? What terms do we need to abandon, redefine, or modify? While I think that we need neither abandon the idea nor concept of God, we should be free to describe that Spiritual reality each in our own way – and not necessarily the ways in which God is portrayed in scripture. That also means, then, that we should finally accept scripture for what it is and what it is not. It is not factual history. Those 66 uniquely different books are stories of one culture’s concept of their interaction with the Sacred nature of the universe.

We should also abandon archaic – even fictional – concepts such as the virgin birth, the anthropomorphic doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional/orthodox concept of salvation. In relation to that, we should let go of the spurious idea of a three-layered universe – i.e., heaven above, earth in the middle, and hell below. What’s more, we should finally admit that we have no proof at all of what happens to one’s soul after death. Whatever we believe does happen, is just wishful thinking – but if some still insist upon believing it, let them.

In the end, our focus should be upon living a good life (e.g., of self-fulfillment/self-actualization) with this one life that we have been given. The emphasis of our mission, at long last, should be on orthopraxy, not orthodoxy – i.e., “right practice,” not simply “right belief.” As McLaren concludes in this book, Do I Stay Christian? – “the answer that really matters is not the one you or I give with our words, but the one we give with our lives” (p.223).

I say again, I am done with magical thinking. I want to revive the real power behind the life and teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who first called out to me when I was a child to come and follow him. He calls to me still.

As T.S. Eliot (in “The Little Gidding” the last of his “Four Quartets”) so eloquently put it for me:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
...
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.