I had the privilege to read an Advance Uncorrected Proof of Brian Mclaren‘s new book: “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Published by Jericho Books – Hachette Book Group – Available September 11, 2012). Here’s my review. I call it, “A Call to Prayer With Your Feet:”
Subversive friendships populate the history of human progress (the good, benevolent, inclusive and enduring kind) Take for example January 1963, when Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met for the first time at the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race. In his opening remarks, Rabbi Heschel declared;
“To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child.”(1)
Two years later, on March 21, 1965, Rabbi Heschel participated in the Selma Civil Rights March arm-in-arm with U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a nun, Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Bunche, (former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. This march was a seminal moment leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in July 1965 – remarkably different people with diversity in their life experiences, ethnicity, socio-economic status and religious affiliations. Returning to his home in New York City after the march, Rabbi Heschel wrote:
“For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”(2) — others have recalled Rabbi Heschel’s verbal remarks as “praying with my feet.”(3)
Enter Brian D. McLaren and his most recent work, “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road – Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.” (Hachette – New York, September 11, 2012). Theologian, husband, father, grandfather, educator, pastor, activist, speaker, facilitator, author, thinker are all the decent descriptive terms that have been used regularly to characterize Brian. Like Rabbi Heschel some four plus decades earlier, some have used terms and characterizations of McLaren designed to discredit and marginalize him, his message and life’s work. Some of these include heretic, liberal, unorthodox – and all their putrid cousins. McLaren, like Heschel and King has been characterized as a subversive. It hasn’t worked.
There are a few things about Brian D. McLaren that a majority of people can agree on. He’s smart – really smart. He cares deeply about his faith, the Church, people, planet, its ecology, personal transformation, love, kindness, tolerance, peace, compassion, Jesus, present, past and future. One thing that (once again) jumped out at me in this book is Brian’s ability to write…he is a phenomenal communicator…an elegance, imagination, style and depth that is soothing to the soul. Yet, the book also contains McLaren’s authenticity – the raw, guttural, sinewy, sincerity from which this work has arisen.
Once again, Brian McLaren explores the topography of the way ahead providing the map, compass, courage and light we must possess to re-imagine Christian identity in a multi-faith world…Penetrating – Timely – Fundamental – Essential – Shape Shifting – PRE-ORDER NOW!!!
If you’re looking for a book on philosophy – this isn’t it. This is a book about identity – a new perspective on how one can view the Christian faith, oneself, others, their faith (or non-faith) and the opportunity to become part of an exciting new pilgrimage to a vastly better destination. It is uniquely a volume that celebrates the crisis of the current, ongoing unrealized reality that, as Rabbi Heschel declared in 1963; the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart.
Brian teaches us new ways to see, taste, smell, hear, envision, imagine, listen, communicate, risk, comprehend, interact, love – and become all we might be – from whatever faith tradition (or not) we might come from. This is a book about behavior – not philosophy. It is a book that teaches us how to pray with our feet…new behavior rooted in new identity. It’s about learning to love with your life…in the way of Jesus.
Why this book at this time for this author? Listen to Brian McLaren:
- “My pursuit, not just in this book but in my life, is a Christian identity that moves me toward people of other faiths in wholehearted love, not in spite of their non-Christian identity and not in spite of my own Christian identity, but because of my identity as a follower of God in the way of Jesus.” P.11.
- “We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence. This is the choice we must make, the road we must cross.” P.12.
- “More and more of us are seeking treatment for Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome (CRIS). You are seeking a way of being Christian that makes you more hospitable, not more hostile…more loving not more judgmental…more like Christ and less (I’m sad to have to say this) like many Christians you have met.” P. 15.
McLaren begins to uncover the issues central to his thesis with questions like the following. P.19 – “What is it about our faith (and even nonfaith) traditions that we are so uneasy about?” What are the hurdles and opportunities? It’s been said that “violence in the world is directly correlative to the violence in each of us.”(4) This is a theme throughout the book that McLaren refers to with the term hostility. Here’s a quote: “Our root problem is the hostility that we often employ to make and keep our identities strong – whether those identities are political, economic, scientific, or religious.” P.63.
The author goes to great lengths describing the many sordid manifestations of hostility in the history, practice and theology of current day Christianity – and the opportunities to alter widespread practices, liturgy, baptism, interpretations of the history of the Christian faith, the creation story, church calendar, confession and doctrine that serve to unwittingly feed the hostility we must eradicate. He champions the adoption of a “strong-benevolent” Christian identity. A Muslim writing to Brian illuminates one primary dimension of this challenge, writing about his own faith, Islam: There is nothing that hurts a religion today more than its own establishment. Established and well-funded religious institutions are becoming their own enemies. There is no better way to say it than: “We find the enemy and it is us. Salaam.” p. 50. Mclaren adds: “But, we must be realistic about the ways in which the “religious-industrial-complex” profits by maintaining the status quo of strong oppositional identity on the one hand and weak-benign identity on the other.” P. 70.
Here are some other gems from the book that truly resonated with me, attempting to dignify the content of the book without revealing the truly meaty dimensions of the author’s thesis:
- P. 52 – It’s not the difficulty of re-thinking long held beliefs that will discourage me, but the stubborn refusal to accept that difficulty.”
- P. 53. In religion, as in parenthood, uncritical loyalty to our ancestors may implicate us in an injustice to against our descendants.: imprisoning them in the errors of our ancestors. Yes, there are costs either way.
- “Sometimes, the enemy may not even exist, except in the imaginations of the anxious.” P. 62.
- “We need the religion industry to be converted from its reliance on the toxic energy of oppositional identity and hostility. We need to research, develop and deploy the renewable and renewing fuel source of divine-human kindness and benevolence.
- 132 – “God is not a doctrine to be mastered but a mystery to be mastered by.”
- 122 – So it must never be forgotten that God sees and hears the other.
- P.104 – The doctrine of creation has been broken into sharp and dangerous shards. It must be put back together again into a beautiful and harmonizing whole. In that way it can become a healing teaching of unimaginable power.
Karen Armstrong has written:
“To cling to the old theology is not only a failure of nerve but could involve a damaging loss of integrity.”(5)
Brian McLaren doesn’t shy away from the truth of this necessity – and clearly – desperately – cares oh so deeply about the opportunity to experience a vastly more robust and more meaningful experience of the Christian faith…for all concerned…to recapture and restore integrity lost.
Brian’s new book shall, I pray, catalyze the renewal of a nascent movement; One which contains the necessity for a new identity and a new posture. What might this new posture look like? Read Brian McLaren’s “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
A quote from thinker/faith & culture commentator Ron Cole summarizes the new posture of hope that Brian’s new book represents:
“A religion that does not embrace all humanity, and all faiths is infinitely small…and is of no earthly good. My goal on the anniversary of 9/11 is to continue my search of the infinite in other sacred texts, cultures…in new friendships and conversations. It is infinitely beautiful to find God in all humanity, and in all faith…somehow, I think the more we pursue that journey, the more we will find life.”(6)
It has been said that “truth requires a maximum effort to see through the eyes of strangers, foreigners, and enemies.”(7) “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? – is another tremendous contribution by Brian McLaren to provide the courage and illumination essential for us to find a renewed desire to walk into new dimensions of this truth.
Subversive? Maybe – if you think, as Rabbi Heschel spoke in 1963 that – “To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child.” Hmmm…didn’t they once consider a man named Jesus of Nazareth as subversive?
Perhaps it’s time to march again…together…arm-in-arm — On September 11, 2012 — politicians, Sikhs, Unitarians, activists, Quaker, Ananbaptist, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, New Age, gay and straight, Christians, Buddhists, Anglicans, uanaffiliated, Native Peoples, Mormons, Jews, Confucians, Hindus, Sufi, Shii, & Sunni, Baptist. Methodist, Episcopalians, progressive, right-to-life and right-to-choice, agnostic, Universalists, pacificists, Shinto, creationists, evolutionists, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Taoists, activists, conservative, Bahai’ans, Rastafarians, Lutheran and atheist – whatever and wherever you consider yourself to be – you are – God’s beloved child.
Learn to pray with your feet…a book about behavior…rooted in a new identity…a new posture…kindness or nonexistence…the choice is ours… “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? “This is the road we must cross.”
Read this book!
Thank you Brian!
(1) Branch, Taylor Pillar of Fire – America in the King Years 1963-1965 Copyright © 1998 by Taylor Branch Simon & Schuster New York, New York. pp.21-23. Note: I had the privilege to meet Taylor Branch. His signed editions of his 3 volume work on the Dr. King and the U.S. civil rights movement are treasures in my personal library.
(3) Ibid. Branch, Taylor – page 611.
(4) Mehl-Laituri, Logan Reborn on the Fourth of July – The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience, IVP Press Downers Grove, Illinois Copyright © 2012 Logan Mehl-Laituri, p. 53.
(5) Armstrong, Karen The History of God – The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ballantine Books, New York, NY Copyright © 1994 by Karen Armstrong, p. 172.
(6) Excerpt from Ron Cole: http://thewearypilgrim.typepad.com/the_weary_pilgrim/2010/09/beyond-religious-toleranceinfinite-beauty-of-all-humanity.html
(7) Ibid – Branch, Taylor – p.xiv – describing “the conviction from which the civil rights movement was made.”