Archive for the 'Publishing' Category

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:


Historical Jesus Book Recommendation – Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton

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Paradoxy: Paradigm Pathways

I met Ken Howard at a party at my house last month – a Big Tent Christianity kegger wherein we raised funds to put a Raleigh homeless couple into a home. There were like 100 people here (at least it felt that way!) but we hit it off despite the din. Ken’s a priest in Maryland; he wrote a book that I’d already begun to hear good things about. He asked me to participate in a blog tour & I said “sure!” I haven’t been disappointed.

Ken Howard’s Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them opens up with a premise strikingly similar to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (see? Even the titles sound similar): The Church is being torn apart by dissonant voices; we need to move forward in a creative ‘third way’ direction that honors our deepest values while laying aside our addiction to our niche. Beyond this starting point, however, the two books diverge pretty significantly. While Belcher (to some people’s acclaim, and others’ disdain) desired to create a ‘mere Christianity’ essentialist orthodoxy that nods toward emergence while drawing out the best of his PCA Presbyterian tradition, Howard attempts to craft three ideologically-neutral terms to re-frame old verities and serve as self-identifiers of where you are as an individual and congregation:

  • The conservative way we will call Doctrinal-Propositional Orthodoxy or Orthoproxy
  • The liberal way we will call Ethical-Practical Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy
  • The emerging middle way we will call Incarnational-Relational Orthodoxy or Paradoxy

In chapter 8, my stop along the tour, we’re looking at where particular faith commuities fall along this spectrum. It’s here that Ken offers a 14-question congregational self-inventory. Here are two samples:

Which statement best describes your church’s view of religion?

a. Ultimate truth is found in one religion (Christianity is the only way).
b. Deepest truth is shared by all religions (Christianity is the only way for me).
c. Religion is irrelevant for following Christ (Christ is the way, the truth, and the life).

Which statement best describes your church’s understanding of the process of including newcomers?

a. First conversion, then fellowship.
b. First full fellowship, then fellowship catalyzes transformation.
c. Community offered with few conditions, then the inner faith experience leads to the person’s change of heart.

Curious how your responses to these questions place you along the Orthoproxy-Orthopraxy-Paradoxy continuum? I was – and the answers surprised me. Paradoxy is a book that conservatives and progressives can read together with mind and heart, grappling with issues of pluralism and inclusion on the one hand and the integrity of our faith and conviction on the other hand. It’s an excellent meditation on our quest for a generous orthodoxy that is, indeed, both generous and orthodox. I recommend it.

Check out the rest of this tour:

Foreword and Introduction: May You Live in Interesting Times
Brian McLaren on brianmclaren.net
Ken Howard on Beyond Us and Them

Chapter 1: The End of the World As We Know It: Collapsing Paradigms
Bosco Peters on Worship Blog

Chapter 2: Constantine’s Ghost: Christendom
Amy Moffit on Without A Map

Chapter 3: Reality Ain’t What it Used to Be: Foundationalism
Jana Reiss on FlunkingSainthood

Chapter 4:  Hanging by a Thread:  Christianity as Religion
Tom Brackett on Church Planting Central
 

Chapter 5:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities That Might Have Been
Sarah Dylan Breuer on SarahLaughed.net


Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come: Promising Principles for a New Way of Church
Joel Borofsky on Christian Watershed

Chapter 7: A New Middle Way? Characteristics of an Incarnational Orthodoxy — a.k.a. Paradoxy
Andy MacBeth on Faithfully Reading

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.

Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

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?

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


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    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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