The Path of Love: A Conversation With Brian McLaren
Hello, my friends. I cannot wait for you to read this conversation with Brian McLaren. Brian has inspired countless people, and he has helped a lot of us evolve in our thinking about what the Christian faith tradition is and what it can be.
If you’re not familiar with Brian’s work, I highly recommend picking up a copy of one of his books right now. His most recent book is The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian, which is referenced in my first question below.
Also, if you have any young children at home, you should consider pre-ordering Cory and the 7th Story, the children’s book he recently co-authored. This is a limited release, and you’ll receive your copy before Christmas Eve.
In The Great Spiritual Migration, you explain how you came to understand the ways in which Christianity, at its core, invites us "to move forward." For those who haven't read the book, could you talk about what this invitation looks and feels like?
One of the early church teachers, Gregory of Nyssa, taught that sin is essentially a refusal to grow. So, we expect a 2 year old to be selfish and throw an occasional temper tantrum. But we expect a ten year old to behave better. Paul said something similar in 1 Cor. 13. Immature people behave in childish ways, but mature people grow into a way of life where they see love as the greatest thing, even greater than faith and hope, he says.
At its best, Christianity has called people to move beyond selfishness to caring for their families, and beyond caring only for their families to caring for their neighbors, and beyond caring only for their neighbors to caring for the outsider, outcast, other, alien, refugee, and stranger . . . and even beyond that: to daring to love our enemies.
In these times, I think, we're seeing some sectors of Christianity display how they may excel in Bible knowledge or doctrinal lore or hierarchical loyalty or conformity to group norms, but they are still surprisingly immature when it comes to the path of love. And we're seeing other sectors of Christianity migrating toward the great commandment of love. That's often humbling, because we realize that we thought we were mature, but again, to quote Paul, we come to see that while knowledge puffs up, love builds up.
In terms of what this looks like - for some people, it looks like planting new churches or leading their churches into new territory. For others, it sometimes looks like getting fired or getting expelled formally or informally . . . and then learning to walk the path of love through that experience.
What are some of the best ways for kids to explore their innate spirituality? How can parents help?
This is a huge interest to me now that I am a grandparent. A lot of parents feel that they don't want to pass on exactly the form of Christian faith they were taught as children. Some feel paralyzed and unsupported in fresh approaches in their churches. But I'm glad to say that around the country and the world, parents and Christian educators are exploring some bold new approaches to spiritual formation of children.
The most important thing for parents to do is, I believe, to be honest. That means not being afraid to say, "I don't know," or "here's what I used to think, but now I'm not sure," and "here's what matters most to me."
By the way, folks may be interested in an illustrated book I just co-wrote for kids. It's called "Cory and the Seventh Story," and it invites kids to imagine what kind of story they want to live by. (Info here: https://brianmclaren.net/books-by-brian-mclaren/)
You've also written about how contemplation is at the heart of the Christian tradition. How would you define contemplative prayer? Do you have any recommendations for how we can teach our kids to pray in this way?
Sometimes when my wife and I are in a restaurant together, we see an older couple who eat their meal in silence. They don't need to talk . . . they know one another's thoughts. They simply enjoy one another's company.
You find a similar imagine in Psalm 131, where the Psalmist says he has stilled and quieted his soul "like a weaned child on his mother's breast." His soul is not fussing, whining, complaining, or asking for anything. His soul is resting against his mother, feeling her heartbeat.
That's the kind of prayer that means the most to me these days. It's simply drawing near, opening my heart, and letting my soul rest receptively in God's presence.
There's a beautiful story about Howard Thurman, one of my very favorite theologians, when he was a boy. He used to sit next to a big oak tree. He felt he could pour out his heart next to that oak tree and simply be safe and be himself. When he was older, he realized that that childhood experience had been his introduction to contemplative prayer, which he called "centering down" in God.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing parents today? What are some ways in which we can turn to the Christian tradition for help?
Some people are saying that there are many Christianities in the world today, that under the label "Christian," we find ideals and priorities and concerns that are so different that the term is hard to define meaningfully any more. A big part of this, I think, is that Christian faith has for many people become uncritically embedded in cultural forms and even economic and political ideologies. That makes it hard to distinguish the container from the contents, or the form from the essence. In these times, I think we need to do three things simultaneously.
First, we need to go back to Jesus and the New Testament and try to get a sense for what Jesus was about, in his context, and what that might mean in ours.
Second, I think we need to learn how Christian faith has embedded in various cultures over the past 2000 years, and I think we need to make choices about which examples we would like to emulate and which examples we would like to avoid. For example, I'm not eager to emulate the example of American Christians who held slaves, saw the Native Peoples as subhuman, or defended segregation, but I am eager to emulate the example of St. Francis, who modeled care for the earth, and Howard Thurman, who I mentioned earlier.
And third, I think we need to remember Jesus' words about 2 or 3 coming together in his name. Whether we're part of a church of 5000 or can't find a traditional church at all, we can find 2 or 3 families with kids of similar ages, and we can form a little cell of the movement Jesus originally intended, a movement of justice, generosity, peace, and joy.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for “a new kind of Christianity” – just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a leader in the Convergence Network, through which he is developing an innovative training/mentoring program for pastors, church planters, and lay leaders called Convergence Leadership Project. He works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program‘s Faith Working Group. His most recent joint project is an illustrated children’s book (for all ages) called Cory and the Seventh Story.