Archive for the 'Books' Category

Send in the Clowns!

The Kingdom of God is a party!” So says Tony Campolo (and Robert Farrar Capon, and John Crowder, and Ben Dunn, and Sara Miles, and Bruce Chilton, and Hafiz…need I go on?), but so few people believe this.

I’ve mentioned previously my admiration for what Bruce Sanguin is attempting with a genuinely tradition-honoring yet scientifically-sensitive approach to Christian spirituality. So imagine my delight in a recent reading of If Darwin Prayed when I discover this poem – a feast for those who hunger after Jesus in all his subversive fullness. Enjoy!

Send in the Clowns

john 2:1–11

O Holy One,

what good news it is

that when the wine of abundant life gives out,

you find a way to keep the celebration going.

Just when we are convinced that the worst thing

that can happen is what always happens,

you send bright signs

that the party has just begun.

Just when we are happy to descend into despair,

you send in the clowns

and place party hats atop our frowning faces,

daring us just to try to not smile.

Into this world of wonder,

your beloved Cosmic Celebrant came,

with the last word on the subject—

silencing the political party poopers

and the religious prudes—

pronouncing blessing without end

and no good reason to stop the music.

Hallelujah! Blessed is your name.

Amen.

The Landfall Crowns the Voyage: CS Lewis in Carl McColman’s ‘The Lion, the Mouse & the Dawn Treader’

I first got to know Carl McColman mere months (possibly even weeks) after getting married. In early 2006, both he & I were linked to a mutual Christian mystic’s blog whose name escapes me now. Carl’s Website of Unknowing was instantly familiar to me as a site that had both intrigued and scared me a bit in college, years before. It was then – in the late 1990s or early 2000s – that Carl had laid out his then-path of being a “Christian-friendly Pagan’ who was wholly conversant with my tradition. It scared me because of his easy fluidity between these two worlds, where I saw only hard walls.

Flashing forward to my re-discovery of Carl’s site five years or so later. I was intrigued by his autobiographical Beliefnet piece After the Magic, describing his exit from his neo-Pagan milieu into Roman Catholicism of all things!  Once again rendered palatable to this newly-married, newly-minted (cautiously) post-evangelical, a website became a person: I got to know Carl in realtime as my wife and I started hanging out with him and others at the Atlanta Christian Mystics Meetup during our final months before the Raleigh move. I learned a thing or three about how to hold one’s tradition as truth with integrity while not running roughshod over others, upon witnessing Carl’s lived experience of now being a “Pagan-friendly Christian.”

Last year he released the acclaimed Big Book of Christian Mysticism, which certainly lived up to its name. And while his next offering is not the autobiographical work I’m still hoping for (the Beliefnet piece was such a tease), The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader  is a step in that direction. It takes a serious, sustained look at C.S. Lewis’s life and spirituality vis-a-vis the most allegorical of his Narnia novels.

Lewis, Carl contends, penned his children’s novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader around the classic Christian mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union.

This voyage, the book’s official description reads, is “for Christians of all ages, is full of adventures, temptation, discomforting silence, dealing with “Dufflepuds” (distractions), and a final terrifying journey to the “Island of Darkness” (the dark night of the soul). As the Dawn Treader sails beyond where the stars sing, you will discover a world of wonders characterized by light and clarity, and encounter Alsan – Christ – himself.”

Lewis’s interpreter, McColman, is an enigma himself. As I’ve gotten to know him over the years, I’ve met a gentle soul with a wicked wit. Raised a staunch Lutheran, forged in the fires of both the Jesus Movement and charismatic renewal, McColman became by turns Episcopalian, agnostic, and neo-pagan. In the latter mode he became a trusted spiritual guide and best-selling author, counting books such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism and Embracing Jesus and the Goddess to his credit. Then, after his visionary encounter with Christ led him to a transfigured Christian faith, Carl began retail work with the monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, where he remains today. 

So what does he do with Lewis? Here’s an example:

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis refutes the idea that mystical experiences are an end in themselves. As he saw it, mysticism, by itself, is neither good nor evil; it is the content or the object of mystical experience that determines its ultimate value. “Departures are all alike; it is the landfall that crowns the voyage.” In other words, any kind of mystical experience is simply a “departure” from normal awareness and ordinary reality. It’s like seeing a glorious site in nature—the Grand Canyon, for example—for the first time. The beauty, the vastness, the austerity—these all combine to create an experience of wonder, or of humility, or even of ecstasy. Or, think of how some people’s lives are changed when they encounter suffering, or poverty, or other forms of human need. The experience of compassion and sadness in the face of human misery can change a person’s life forever…But an experience, in itself, does not make someone a mystic.

Whether an experience is one of great joy, or love, or sorrow, or suffering, or even a more “classic” mystical experience of feeling God’s presence in our hearts, we need to ask: where does this experience take us? Lewis goes on to say, “The saint, by being a saint, proves that his mysticism (if he was a mystic; not all saints are) led him aright; the fact that he has practiced mysticism could never prove his sanctity.” In other words, mysticism does not necessarily make a person a saint, nor does sanctity necessarily make one a mystic. For Lewis, there’s no contest: if we have to choose between being a spiritual master and a holy person, seek holiness. Better to be humble and holy than to be mystical and lost in the illusions of our own egos.

It’s this kind of counter-intuitive wisdom that avoids clichés and presents fresh considerations. I’ve gotten a lot out of this slender volume. Carl’s background makes him uniquely qualified to mine the depths of Narnia, as he is by turns literary, Christian (in the same Anglo-Catholic sense that Lewis was), and knowledgeable of the great reservoir of global pagan mythology that Lewis himself loved and employed. All of this makes reading The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader a contemplative experience in and of itself.

Watch a trailer for the book here:


If Darwin Prayed – Bruce Sanguin

If you listen to the pundits, contemporary people are increasingly divided between godless scientists and superstitious religionists. Those who attempt to bridge the gap between science and faith are portrayed as either wild-eyed fundamentalist creationists or self-hating liberals throwing Jesus under the bus to be more palatable to a modern age. Thankfully, pastor and author Bruce Sanguin defies all of these stereotypes in his prayerbook If Darwin Prayed. As a person who’s serious about both the historic faith of the Church and an open-hearted embrace of contemporary science, Bruce has given us a treasure trove of prayers that can form a liturgical backbone for the 21st century.

As Bruce puts it, “These are new prayers for a new era. They spark the spiritual imagination back to life and reorient us to a mystical unity with the universe, Spirit, and all of creation. Emerging out of the conversation between the science of evolution and spirituality, these prayers continually surprise with their earthy wisdom and a profound celebration of life. They awaken in us a sacred impulse to evolve in and toward the heart of the divine.”

For worship leaders, the prayers follow the season of the Christian year. You’ll find prayers you can use for every season of the year as well as for special occasions like communion and baptism – even Trinity Sunday! As an aid to private devotional practice, they awaken the soul to a cosmic identity – being the presence of the evolving universe in human form. The prayers are also being used as devotions to open small groups, cohorts, and Sunday schools.

 What others are saying:

“The spirit expressed in Bruce’s Sanguin’s inspired prayers is not just intelligent and innovative, it’s juicy! It transcends the split between charismatic evangelical Christianity and better-reasoned but less-inspiring mainstream Christianity. The living presence of God shines through the words of these intelligent prayers. May that power help Bruce serve the birth of a new dynamic Christianity for a new millennium.”

—Dr. Terry Patten — co-author, with Ken Wilber, of Integral Life Practice”

Bruce brings radical thoughts and poetry of evolutionary Judaic-Christian lineage. It goes beyond religious rhetoric and into incarnate imagery and insights. The Cosmic Christ is presented as He should be, more than, greater than, and all in all for all-time. Synchronizing prayers that invoke life to body, soul and spirit in the now and for tomorrow.”

— Robert Ricciardelli, Converging Zone Network 

“There are two ways to truly explore an evolutionary panentheistic Christianity.  One involves a bunch of books with tons of footnotes and the other is prayer.  Bruce’s prayers are composed with the hand of a poet, the heart of minister, and the kind of eye opening sincerity you just can’t help but lean into the integral vision they inspire.”

Tripp Fuller, co-founder, Homebrewed Christianity Podcast

“Earthy, yet cosmic; scriptural, yet poetic; scientific, yet spiritually inspiring – Bruce Sanguin has created a compilation of immense liturgical worth, but also a timely source of nourishment for the spiritual seekers of the 21st. century.”

— Diarmuid O’Murchu, Author of Evolutionary Faith

“Until evolution and the new cosmology become the context of our faith, spirituality and worship, the wonders of nature as recently revealed by science will remain intellectual abstractions. This is why Bruce Sanguin’s adventurous new book is an important contribution to the current dialogue of religion and science. Surely the great geologist and spiritual master Teilhard de Chardin is smiling on Sanguin’s work.”

— John F. Haught, Ph.D, Senior Fellow, Science & Religion, Woodstock Theological Center

“Today, there is no shortage of wonderful books on prayer, but Bruce Sanguin in his book, If Darwin Prayed, blends wonder, contemplation and Holy Mystery in prayers that resonate deeply with co-creators embracing their connectedness with all that is.  These cosmic prayers for the liturgical seasons are uniquely inspiring for pioneers on the sacred path of conscious evolution, evoking a coherence of heart, mind and soul.”

—  Barbara Marx Hubbard, Founder of The Foundation for Conscious Evolution, author of Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential.

“If Charles Darwin had not been in a spiritual muddle because of the inadequacy of his era’s dominant theology, he might well have prayed with the power and passion of Bruce Sanguin. Some people dismiss Christian theology that embraces scientific evolution as arid. But they have not experienced Sanguin’s deep, earthy, joyous prayers. The outpourings in this book shimmer with mystical connection. Their psychological insights elicit shudders of recognition. They offer direction for our sacred paths.” 

Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun spirituality columnist

Historical Jesus Book Recommendation – Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton

Want to read this post? Check it out on my new blog at MikeMorrell.org! Please update your bookmarks & subscriptions – thanks!

Four From McLaren

I enjoyed getting to see & hear from Brian McLaren last week here in Raleigh at Big Tent Christianity (Speaking of BTX, have you downloaded the free BTX eBook yet? If not, here it is).

What I appreciate about Brian is how he’s always wondering, always thinking, always learning and growing – and doing so with transparency, and humility. I was a good deal more immature and argumentative before I encountered his Christ-like example nearly a decade ago.

What follows are four meaty pieces that have come out from the New Kind of Christianity author in the past month or so, two of them interviews. Here they are, with an excerpt from each.

Post-colonial theology.

Call me cynical, but here’s my suspicion: adjectives in front of theology are deceptive. Yes, they’re needed; no, I’m not against them, but still, they’re deceptive. Here’s how.

By distinguishing some theology with a modifier – feminist, black, Latin American, eco-, post-colonial, or indigenous, we are playing into the idea that these theologies are special, different – boutique theologies if you will.

Meanwhile, unmodified theology – theology without adjectives – thus retains its privileged position as normative. Unmodified theology is accepted as Christian theology, or orthodox theology, or important, normal, basic, real, historic theology.

But what if we tried to subvert this deception? What if we started calling standard, unmodified theology chauvinist theology, or white theology, or consumerist or colonial or Greco-Roman theology?

The covert assumption behind the modifier post-colonial thus becomes overt, although it is generally more obliquely and politely stated than this:
Standard, normative, historic, so-called orthodox Christian theology has been a theology of empire, a theology of colonialism, a theology that powerful people used as a tool to achieve and defend land theft, exploitation, domination, superiority, and privilege.

(I’m not 100% sure, but I think Brian will be attending the Postcolonialism and the Missional Future of the Church event hosted by Emergent Village in Decatur (Atlanta) this November. I’ll definitely be there – will I see you around?)

Conversations on Being a Heretic – This is a transcript of Scot McKnight‘s recent (in)famous interview with Brian at the Q conference, with commentary by a blogger.

Here’s what I think. First of all, in the Bible, salvation is by grace, and everybody gets judged by works. So, I think the mercy of God comes to all and the judgment of God comes to all. But, the universalism that I think is far more important in the Bible is not “What happens to everybody when they die?” I think it’s the question, “Does everybody learn to see the image of God in other human beings, or do they continue to divide the world between us and them, and ‘us’ is always the ones that God loves, and ‘them’ is somehow always the other.” And my concern is that by making the big issue who is the inside us and who is the outside them, by doing that, we violate a more important ethical universalism of seeing the image of God in every person.

(For more development of this line of thinking, with the biblical exegesis and theology to support it, see Brian’s novel The Last Word and the Word After That, a compelling narrative to which I was able to make modest editorial contributions back in the day!)

Between Mixed Martial Arts and the “L” Word: An Interview with Brian McLaren in The Other Journal

Let me say something on Christian identity. Right now I think we have two unacceptable options. On one extreme, there’s a strong Christian identity that defines itself as an antagonist toward other faiths. It says, in essence, “We will convert you if we can, and if we can’t, we will resist you and limit your influence. In any case, we will outlast you. Resistance is ultimately futile—you will either be assimilated or punished for failing to convert. For us to thrive, you cannot thrive.” It’s not said that overtly, but I think this is the underlying assumption that motivates a lot of the public behavior we’re seeing today.

On the other extreme, there’s a weak Christian identity that reacts against the first one and says, “Oh, whatever you believe is fine. All beliefs are good. One religion is as good as another.” If the former approach threatens the existence of other people, this one threatens the existence of Christian faith, because it doesn’t offer a good reason to take the faith seriously. Of course, on the line between these extremes, there are any number of variations.

Last but certainly not least is Who’s Chasing the Wild Goose?, Brian’s hopes and reflections in anticipation of the upcoming North American arts, music, justice & spirituality festival, the Wild Goose Festival.

Through the Wild Goose Festival, I hope that several streams of Christian faith and life here in North America can come together in a fresh and new way…I see Wild Goose as uniting these sometimes-disparate spiritual kin into a powerful movement of faith, hope and love. I hope you join me there…

I hope so too! The Wild Goose Festival is reaching critical mass, as volunteers from across the continent are working hard to make next June a special time that outlasts the weekend itself. If you’re interested to learn more, check out Brian’s post and the website in general at WildGooseFestival.org; if you’re on Facebook you can “Like” the Goose, and you can RSVP at the Event Page and become the first to know when tickets go on sale. Finally, if you’re on Twitter you can chase the Goose @WildGooseFest.

Ian Cron: Influences and Aspirations

This is the final installment of my interview with Ian Cron. To recap: A novel he wrote over three years ago, Chasing Francis, has been steadily gathering a devoted and enthusiastic reader base. He’s even received new endorsements, something rather unheard of in the publishing world. This includes Archbishop of Catnerbury Rowan Williams saying “I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book” and Marcus Borg relating “I was powerfully and wonderfully moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a broader vista of God’s passion for the world.” In this post I ask Ian “What’s next after Francis..?”

Mike Morrell: So you’re no longer pastor at Trinity. What’s next for you?

Ian Cron: We’re living in Nashville as of this month. I have two books to write for Thomas Nelson. I also curate this speaking series called Conversations on Courage and Faith through a very big Episcopal parish in Connecticut called Christ Church. Last year we had Brian McLarenPhyllis TicklePete Rollins; the artist Mako Fujimura. We commissioned an orchestral and choral piece that was composed and performed by Rob Mathes and the Irish poetMicheal O’Siadhail. It was an extraordinary night. In June we finished up the series with Desmond TutuNT Wright and Marcus Borg will be here this year.Tony Campolo is also coming. We’re working on getting a couple of other folks as well.

MM: Those lightweights..?

IC: My own speaking ministry is getting busier as well. What I’m working on right now is a night called, “Bread, Song, and Story”, where I’ll do some readings from my new spiritual memoir, interspersed with original songs and then we close the night with the Eucharist. It’ll be a great night.

MM: So you’re a priest? Somehow that was lost on me. I figured you started this non-denominational church, but…….

IC: Yes, I did start a non-denominational church, but I am a priest. Right now I’m not on a church staff. I’m adjunct clergy at Christ Church in Connecticut.

MM: So whose voices are really resonating with you right now? What are you into reading, listening, conversing with, etc.?

IC: As far as writers go Thomas Merton is my anchor and the place I always return to in my life. He is just extraordinary. I’ve been reading New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander again which for me are his masterpieces. I have been getting ready for Borg and Wright to come to my speaker series so I have been reading them as well.

Because I’ve been writing a memoir I’ve also read a lot of memoirs in the last year from Mary Carr to Frederick Buechner’s works. I’ve been reading Dave Tomlinson’s Reenchanting Christianity. And because of my doctorate program I’ve been reading tons of material on the contemplative life–lots of material from the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.

MM: So, any music?

IC: Broken BellsMumford & Sons. The classical composer Eric Whitacre is someone I really like a lot. I’ve been kind of going back in time and listening to old Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. People with that sense of groove should be arrested. I’m a big fan of Duncan SheikFoy Vance, as well. But the majority of the music I listen to is 13th, 14th, and 15th century choral music, just because I love the almost mathematical purity of it.

MM: I’m unfamiliar with about half of that – I’ll have to check it out! The book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. It’s an story of one man’s spiritual journey into both the premodern world and the postmodern world through the lens of an extraordinary person named Francis of Assisi. Check it out!

This concludes our interview with Ian. Here it is in case you missed it:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant

The Chasing Francis interview is now concluded! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Anne Rice: “Some of us don’t want to be thrown down the stairs by the followers of Christ”

Listen to our interview here!

About a week and a half ago, celebrated novelist Anne Rice made waves – first on Facebook and Twitter, then in international media coverage – for quitting the Christianity that she had joined about a decade before. Quoth her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Holy Explosive Declarations, Batman! This all sounded familiar, as she’d denounced atheism half a decade previous with similar passion and articulation. I should know – I was there. Five years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne for Relevant Magazine after her profession of Christian faith and the launch of her Christ the Lord novel series. She was in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, for an incredible night of conversation with a priest, a rabbi, and a Baptist pastor. (The feature article was never online at Relevant, but an unabridged version can be read at the Burnside Writers’ Collective site.)

So naturally, with the impact of her current declaration, I couldn’t resist catching up with Anne and asking her what’s changed since we last spoke – and what’s stayed the same. You can hear the results of this far-reaching conversation right here on Homebrewed Christianity.

Let me know what you think!

(Two details: Our interview starts at the 7:40 minute mark, though the witty introductory repartee between Chad Crawford and Ryan Parker is definitely worth listening to. Also, I committed a significant faux pas in my fast-talking introduction to Anne before our interview; I mistakenly identify her current Angel Time series as her “return to vampires.” This is not the case; its a metaphysical thriller involving angels, but not blood-suckers. Sorry.)

I’m no Anne Rice, but you can follow me on Twitter @zoecarnate and on Facebook here.


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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