McLaren, Cross the Road

I read this Brian McLaren book with my early morning book club – a couple of books ago. Hence, it’s inclusion in my catch-up blog posts from my spring reading.

McLaren writes about what it means to be a Christian in a pluralistic world in “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World”. He again proposes his “third way” of engaging people of other faiths that avoids focusing on condemnation or conversion. His aim is to create relationships between Christians and people of other faiths that are not marked by “rivalry and hostility.”

It’s pretty straight forward McLaren. He seems to want to create a Christianity that has no desire to see others know Jesus in a saving way – mainly because he doesn’t seem to believe in sin or its effects. If nobody is wrong, then nobody has any need for salvation and then Jesus actually becomes one player in a religious landscape – not the Lord, Creator and Savoir for all creation. McLaren tends (as in other books) to set up a false idea to argue against to make his point stronger. His ideas, in my opinion, are not strong enough to stand on their own if he needs a straw man to argue against.

The book does help Christians to stop viewing unbelievers as the enemy. They are not – they are victims of sin and Satan. If Christians view unbelievers – of even believers that they disagree with – as the enemy, then they will struggle to be compassionate, merciful and full of grace towards them. If we can, instead, come alongside people, we will experience what it is to be Jesus in and for the world we live in.

Here’s some fun McLaren quotes:

  • p.19, “Whether we realize it or not, most of us who suffer from [Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome] are trying to distance ourselves from religious hostility. By hostility I mean opposition, the sense that the other is the enemy.”
  • p.31, “The standard approach to Muslims from my conservative Evangelical upbringing was clear: be nice to them when necessary in order to convert them to Christianity; otherwise, see them as spiritual competitors and potential enemies. In effect, the approach tended to dehumanize the other, turning others into ‘evangelistic targets’… “
  • p.102, “Guided by our new mentors from among the formerly colonized, we discover that the gospel of Jesus Christ can liberate those who have been privileged by imperial systems just as it liberates the oppressed victims of those systems.”
  • p.121, “Abraham’s greatness is for the sake of others: And all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”
  • p.180, “It’s surprising how few Christians realize that John the Baptist didn’t invent baptism. He revolutionized it. He turned it from a sign of submission to the religious status quo into an act of guerrilla theater that protested the religious status quo.”

Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Northwest Christians love Don Miller because he’s one of our own and he writes like one of our own…and he’s just about the most honest Christian author you can find. His books are slices of his life that are easy to identify with and draw you in so that you feel motivated to live more and be a better, a more Christlike, you. I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story on the recommendation of a friend, who told me it was about Miller’s process of turning his hit “Blue Like Jazz” from a book into a movie. Since we just featured that movie at The Grove on Sunday, it was helpful in my preparation.

Miller’s voice is so helpful for young adult Christians who are navigating an increasingly complex western world as they come of age and come to identify themselves with Christ as their Lord for life at the same time. It’s not the same world it was a couple decades ago, so I really appreciate Miller’s honesty and willingness to be a fellow traveler with the readers, as they try to figure out how to live – and how to do so to the fullest – in the current age. So, if you are young, or you are new to putting your faith in Jesus, this book will be so helpful to you and will bring life to you!

Here’s some fun words:

  • p.13, “And it only snows a few days a year in Portland, so people drive slowly and on the sidewalks thinking it might be safer. People who moved here from Boston come out of the woodwork to tell the natives they don’t know how to drive in snow.”
  • p.89, “I told God no again, but he came back to me and asked if I really believed he could write a better story – and if I did why didn’t I trust him?”
  • p.100, “People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”
  • p.177, “The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined.”
  • p.179, “I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people bu office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the tree ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”

Organizational Analysis

Education is quickly shifting as the world is changing it’s view on the price of content and the value of a traditional degree. Information is free, relationship is where the cost is developing. That piece of paper on your wall…it’s quickly depreciating.

The online education gateway, Coursera, is creating an educational portal where you can get real education online, for free! You don’t get any official recognition, but if you learn and you do your work better, you get recognition (and impact) that actually matters.

On Monday, September 24th, I’m starting my first course from Stanford University, (Go Cardinal!? Beats USC?!) on organizational analysis. The syllabus says we’ll cover  decisions by rational and rule-based procedures, by dominant coalitions, and in organized anarchies, developing organizational learning and intelligence, and an organizational culture, managing resource dependencies, Network forms of organization, and institutions and organizational legitimacy. I’ll be watching lectures online (instead of checking out TLC’s newest and weakest attempts at television programming), reading and maybe even writing a paper or two. All while building skills, experience and language that will help me serve organizations I lead.

While I am leading our church, The Grove, it’s radically important that we do well, because actual people’s souls are on the line – we share life in Jesus with other people. So we want ensure that our organizational structure doesn’t get in the way, but it serves the people who are on mission with Jesus!

So, any leaders out there want to take a course from Stanford on Organizational Analysis with me?


Besides The Bible

Besides The Bible is a book about books! It contains short reviews of 100 books that “have, should, or will create Christian culture.” Compiled by Dan Gibson, Jordan Green and John Pattison, it is a great effort at a list of 100 books that carry great influence on western evangelical Christianity. The authors have connections to the Burnside Writer’s Collective, which also gives this list a bit of a northwest-postmodern-emerging-hipster-christian feel.

It’s not a list of only Christian books. For evangelicals have lately defined themselves as much as for what they are against as what they are for. So books on atheism and evolution make the list, as they have been shapers of western evangelical culture – perhaps unintentionally!

I think one of the roles pastors have for their churches is that of being the designated reader. It is important for a pastor to be well read and to have deep understanding in order to better shepherd God’s people. If a pastor is well read, they are more able to recommend texts that will help people grow in specific areas. In  my copy I put all sorts of notations in the table of contents, for easy reference on subject matters and themes of the books.

Not everyone has an inclination to reading, and this is a great tool in that direction, so this book could help you read, without all that pesky reading. Also, it helps you sound smart at parties when you can carry on a conversation about The Shack, because who on earth is really going to read that anyways?

Here’s some notes of interest:

  • p. 5, on the Apocrypha, “…in 1534 Martin Luther was the first to place the intertestamental books into their own section between the Old and New Testaments, that he omitted two of those books (1 and 2 Esdras), or that he expressed doubt over the authenticity of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation.”
  • p.12, on Augustine’s City of God, “…if someone made a ‘READ AUGUSTINE’S CITY OF GOD & CONFESSIONS” T-shirt, I’d be the first in line to buy one. I’d wear it while standing next to a stack of joel Osteen books if I didn’t have a family to provide for.”
  • p.18, on Datne’s The Divine Comedy, “Everyone loves a 14,000-line epic poem from the 1300s, right? …Dante discovers at the end of a long journey that he’d confused the beauty of earthly Beatrice for the greater love of God.”
  • p.24, on The Little Flowers of St. Francis, “I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that every word will end up as a synonym for either ‘better’ or ‘worse.'”
  • p.27, on Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Or to paraphrase G.K. Chesterson…it’s not that Calvin has been read and found wanting, but that he has been found difficult and not read.”
  • p.43, on Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, “Kierkegaard (and Fear and Trembling specifically) is worth reading as he discussed why the absurdity of faith is actually a good thing.”
  • p.156, on Coupland’s Life After God, “The final two pages of Life After God were hymns to my early-twenties ears, and the passage remains one of the most wonderful pieces of literature on faith I’ve ever read…”
  • p.180, on McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian, “What made the book stand out in a Christian publishing world filled with absolutes, rules for living, and five steps to a better prayer life, was ambiguity.”
  • p.186, on Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, “And I’ve always thought Jesus hung out with widows and tax collectors because he was showing us this is something we’re supposed to do. but Christopher Moore has challenged me on this. He’s made me think maybe Jesus hung out with these people not simply because it was a charitable thing to do, but maybe because he enjoyed their company. Maybe he spent so much time with them because they were a lot more fun.”

Willard, Hearing God

Dallas Willard is a professor at USC and an author. This book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, is considered a classic on prayer and one’s relationship with Jesus. My dad suggested this book to me a couple years ago, and I read it with my book club.

The book is great for understanding the way that God desires to communicate with His people and the conversational nature of God. Willard spends a great deal of pages on the power of God expressed vocally (in words) and the way that the universe works according to words, especially God’s words.

There is one point where he seems to say that ESP is an actual and real phenomenon. Which is striking to me. How come nobody noticed this and told me about this when I read about this book? It left me wondering, does everybody just assume this is real?

If you want to have a more conversational prayer life with Jesus, this book will help. It is pretty wordy though, so it is a slow read. The very end has a 7 point list of everything he says, you could just read that if you wanted to spend only 10 minutes in this book. If that’s the case though, you probably need to slow down and relax if you want to have a conversational relationship with God!

Here’s some quotes:

  • p.32, “Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love him with all our being.”
  • p.33, “Like King Saul many of us have our own versions of a witch of Endor.”
  • p.69, “[Jesus] taught in parables so that those who did not really want to hear the truth could avoid it.”
  • p.70, “When our lives are devoted to the will of God, he has reason to speak to us.”
  • p.111, “It would not be too much to say, however, that where these phenomena [visions, dreams and angels] were the main, as opposed to occasional, means of interaction, it indicates a less developed spiritual life both in the individual and in the church group.”
  • p.111, “That Aaron and Miriam could be jealous of Moses is a sure indication that God could not trust them with the kind of knowledge he shared freely with Moses.”
  • p.118, “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. As ‘the quality of mercy is not strained,’ so also with faith. Most of what we think we see as the struggle of faith is really the struggle to act as if we had faith when in fact we do not.”
  • p.129, “‘…we met ‘a certain centurion.’ He had implicit faith in Jesus- not, it seems, on a religious basis but from his secular knowledge of the power of authoritative words.”
  • p.212, “Jesus came to respond to the universal human need to know how to live well.”

Peterson, The Pastor

As far as pastoring goes, I don’t know of another author who has wrestled with this vocation more (and better), and from within, than Eugen Peterson. He’s a church planter, an author of books and he did translation/paraphrasing work on The Message, a modern day language version of the Bible. He’s been a big influence on so many.

So, this book by Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir was given to me as a gift, and it was an amazing gift. Peterson is gifted similarly but differently than I. He’s well thinking, yet primarily priestly. I love to be theological, yet I’m primarily prophetic. Peterson manages to share his struggle with being a pastor right in the contexts of his life and his relationships. He opens his life to the reader and brings us into the journey of his life.

I’m not sure how people who aren’t pastors would dig it, but pastors would all grow from this book. It’s simple and easy to read, yet profound and asks deep questions of calling, motivation, values and direction.

Here’s some killer quotes:

  • p.4, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent.”
  • p.10, “My father boasted to his friends that we even had running water: ‘Eugene runs down to the lake with a bucket, and runs back up the hill with the water.’ “
  • p. 16, “…the most effective strategy for change, for revolution – at least on the large scale that the kingdom of God involves – comes from a minority working from the margins.”
  • p.29, “No need for hurry if you’re confident in who you are.”
  • p.33, “The way we learn something is more influential than the something that we learn. No content comes into our lives free-floating: it is always embedded in a form of some kind.”
  • p.90, “I realized that for most of my life the people I had been living with and who had taught me had been primarily interested in getting the truth of the gospel and the Bible right, explaining it and defending it…Barth didn’t have much interest in that. He was a witness (a favorite word of his). He was calling attention to the lived quality of the Christian life, the narrative of the Bible, the good news of the gospel. Listening to God as God reveals himself in Christ and the Bible and preaching.”
  • p.254, “But there is a problem here: a program is an abstraction and inherently nonpersonal. A program defines people in terms of what they do, not who they are. The more program, the less person. Church was understood not in terms of personal relationships and a personal God but in terms of ‘getting things done’. This struck me as violation of the inherent personal dignity of souls.”
  • p.258, “A way of worship that was nonmanipulative. A way of community that was nonprogrammatic. One of the things I relished about being a pastor was being immersed in these ambiguities, the not being in control that allowed for the slow emergence of insights and resolve that developed into confessions of faith, and the unplanned, spontaneous attentiveness ‘one another’ that over the years became a culture of hospitality.”
  • p.310, quoting a Canadian, “Welcome to godless Canada, this godforsaken desert.”
  • p.313, “By this time we were used to godless and godforsaken, to death and deserts. Jan and I had been living among the godless in godforsaken deserts all our lives under the patronage of Pastor John of Patmos. Barth again: ‘only where graves are is there resurrection.’ We rather like the company.”

12 for 12: thoughtfully monthly

I think that if you just live life randomly, then what happens to you becomes your life. I only have like 75 years or so on this planet and I’ve already spent almost half of them. So I live to make them count. As Khobi and I always say in the mornings, ‘Let’s attack the day!’ I want to destroy every single day and let it know that I own it. I’m that disturbed.

Most people blog like 5 times. They think they have something to share, they share it and they are done. That’s great for them, but I have some kind of weird obsessive brain that won’t let things leave so I blog to release information. Before I blogged I wrote on note papers and napkins and scrap cardboard and put it into files. I still have these old scraps of amazing ideas in files and boxes. They are like gold to me. To this day most of my most dangerous ideas go on a piece of paper and go in the file. Sometimes they get a test run on Heather, who affirms that the world isn’t ready for my ideas, which she accompanies with her “I love you eyes” (which I have heard people call “rolling your eyes”).

The problem is that I sometimes get a full schedule and fail to carve out time to go back to my ideas and work them out and see what happens with an extra 30 minutes of focus. So, one of my plans for 2012 is going to be to flush out some thoughts and process them to the point of being able to share them with the planet. I’d like to be able to do about one thoughtful blog post a month, keeping this a blog about ideas and not so much a blog about what I am reading.

It’s probably dangerous, but if you just do the “I love you eyes” we’ll all get along fine.