Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brian McLaren at Soliton Zoo #2

I said in the first post that the McLaren's talk brought oxygen. For me, this was much-needed breathing space. But in the afternoon session you could feel people's tension, as more oxygen created more light and heat.

Light and heat are not always comforting things, esp. when the talk is of hell and the kingdom of God. What I find deeply reassuring in McLaren's work is precisely what others find challenging: McLaren is breaking through multiple hidden boundaries of understanding. For me, that makes fluidity; for others, chaos.

Thesis, simply put: in the West, for a thousand years or so, some of the theological questions we've asked have not been the best ones. At least, our questions have not been the only possible questions (hence, our answers not the only possible answers). To use a music metaphor, we've created a boxed set of greatest hits -- atonement, salvation, hell -- but there are other genres and musicalities to be found.

So, for example, our connection with God isn't: "Hell: Who's going?" or even "Jesus saved X people by doing Y".

It is instead: the kingdom of God is at hand (meaning, right here right now). How will we live in it? How will we regather, reconnect, restore, reconcile the whole of creation?

I realized, as the tears welled up, that I love McLaren because for the time I'm reading his books or hearing him speak, I don't feel alone in this. He writes and says what I don't have words for, but long to.

One of my brothers asked, heartfully, "what happens to sin? What happens to the atonement?" I think he meant, "I have experienced God's salvation in Christ. If that isn't the point, what does that mean for me?" McLaren was warm, and gentle, and did not defend or critique, but opened up a different conceptual box, and examined its contents with us.

During this talk, a listener noted that at least one major denomination has embraces the crazy concept that the earth needs to fall completely apart and be destroyed for the Second Coming to happen. As if God would have us destroy his property in order to hasten our salvation. Those among us from that denomination and its brethren listened, and reflected. Those of us whose roots are elsewhere listened, and reflected.

All that was said, was said with wonder and awe in a room that allowed difference, and humility, and pain, and joy. There is the graciousness, and the Grace.

I was so glad to be there. Sometimes God drives us 314 miles each way just to breathe the air.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Brian McLaren at Soliton Zoo (Ventura, CA) #1

First, thanks to my wonderful husband Bran for loaning me his laptop.

There are gracious souls active in the world. Some of them are in the bodies of pastors and theologians. One of them is in Brian McLaren.

McLaren speaks from and to an evangelical background and perspective -- his critique and hope rest upon those foundations of faith. He hasn't said this, but I suspect that his great driving desires (and we all have driving desires) are Christlikeness and wholeness. So his work -- his books, his speech, his operative questions -- center on the meaning and being of Christ, and integration (of being, meaning, activity, theology, etc.). That means that he seems uninterested in plotting a position and sweating to fill in the gaps and cracks, as if unassailability and permanence were the goal. (Which may be why his critics are so strident, as they stand spattered with mortar and spackle.)

So you probably want details.
  • The church has always had an emerging edge -- we have never been rendered for all time in stone -- so there has never been a single "biblical" or "christian" world view (for example).
  • A "good" theology must earn its acceptance, not impose it upon the world through conquer or coercion. It will be coherent, contextual, conversational, and comprehensive (meaning -- will speak to and with the other theologies around it, not comprehensive meaning permanent or impenetrable).
  • Our world is not pluralistic, but fragmented. Fragmentation becomes relativistic becomes narcissistic.
  • The best news can only come with vulnerability (and yes there's part of my xmas message!).
  • The gospel is not any particular atonement theory: it's not "Jesus came to die for your sins." or "God sent his son to pay your debt." or "Jesus shows the falseness of empirical human power". The gospel (I love this): the kingdom of God is at hand. Reconcile.
Which of course is what Jesus himself said. (Matthew 4:17)

Selfishly, I am getting what I came for: refreshment, oxygen, spaciousness. That's graciousness, and Grace, at work.

(Plus there's nothing like being in a room of youngish people with light bulbs going off over their heads and sparks in their hearts. Whew.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I try to keep it vaguely apolitical over here. I'm not a political leader, but a spiritual one, and I know that broadcasting my political views will alienate my spiritual charges as quickly as broadcasting my spiritual views will alienate my political allies.

That said:

The appallingly arrogant Republican Congress and White House has received a cold water baptism. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," quoth a dear friend of mine and yours. But that "kingdom of heaven" ain't a Democratic Congress, either. It's a place in which all human beings are treated with dignity; where the rich accept their responsibility to care for the poor, widows, and orphans; and where the planet and all things in it belong to God (and are cared for as if God were standing right there supervising).

I am tired of being called a traitor because I believe the men and women of our armed forces are being used, and are not being provided for while or after they serve.

I am tired of being treated as a heretic because I welcome gays and lesbians into my church, and because I don't believe wealth is a sign of God's favor, but of our ability to climb on the backs of others.

I am tired of "purity" being the mark of faithfulness, as if Jesus were such a standoffish kind of guy (and it seems to be working so well for Ted, Mark, and all those guys).

And I am really, really, tired of our claiming that corporations have just as many rights or more than the 18-year-old orphan girl next door to me, who cannot pay rent with what she gets paid, and dares not ever get sick.

Do I believe that the Democrats are going to do better? No, because we've all sold out to greed and fear. But I pray that this latest baptism is a mark of communal repentence. I pray that we do begin to choose differently. For the kingdom of heaven has truly come near, and God is standing right here, supervising.