Episode 106

We are thrilled to be joined today by author, speaker, and public theologian, Brian McLaren. His new book, "Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned" is an absolute must-read for any Christian struggling to make sense of things in this crazy world we live in. We talk about creating hope, fighting white supremacy, re-wilding Christianity, and the playful joy of reimagining religion. 

Speaking of reimagining religion, have you checked out Zack's new podcast with his wife Nichole, "Reimagining Faith with the Pastors Jackson"? If you enjoy DtW (and of course you do), then you should check it out! 


Support this podcast on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/DowntheWormholepodcast


More information at https://www.downthewormhole.com/


produced by Zack Jackson
music by Zack Jackson and Barton Willis 



This transcript was automatically generated by www.otter.ai, and as such contains errors (especially when multiple people are talking). As the AI learns our voices, the transcripts will improve. We hope it is helpful even with the errors.

Zack Jackson 00:04

You are listening to the down the wormhole podcast exploring the strange and fascinating relationship between science and religion. Our guest today is an author, speaker, activist and public theologian. He is the author of over 15 books including faith after doubt, a generous orthodoxy and a new kind of Christian which got me in a whole lot of trouble at my home church 20 years ago, his new book do I stay Christian, a guide for the doubters, the disappointed and the disillusioned is an absolute must read for any Christian struggling to make sense of things in this crazy world we live in is an absolute joy and honor to welcome to the podcast, Brian McLaren. Oh, joy


Brian McLaren 00:45

and honor for me to be with you guys. So, so glad to be here.


Zack Jackson 00:49

Yes, I was thrilled to death to get that the email confirming that you had time in your very busy schedule to be with us today. We're all big fans, and I'm sure a lot of folks on the of our listenership likewise.


Brian McLaren 01:03

Well, hey, and I gotta say, now that I know about you guys, I'm your fan as well. And, you know, this subject of the inner interaction between faith and science, my goodness, so important these days. So really happy to be in this conference. Yes, thank you.


Zack Jackson 01:21

I love the way that you weave these two things together in your writings, by the way, and I've noticed it really in the past 10 years worth of books are so it seems, it seems almost effortless that every once in a while you're just gonna get some reference in there to evolution, some reference in there to the cosmic origins of the universe, it just seems like it is. It is always somewhere in the back of your mind.


Brian McLaren 01:45

Well, it's Yeah. And maybe I could say it this way. Without science. I don't think I could be a Christian. So. So yeah, I can't imagine how anyone would want to have a faith that were they had to keep their faith in one compartment. And then everything else. Another compartment compartments, right. Yeah.


Zack Jackson 02:10

Well, that's a sound clip that I'll definitely Absolutely. So Ian and I have been talking a lot recently about your new book, which when the time this podcast launches will have been released yesterday, so available to all of your major retailers. So this book, which is just so helpfully entitled, do I stay Christian? answers that question, which I think a lot of folks have had over the past couple of years, especially. But it's it's very helpfully organized into three sections, the answer that question that? No, I will not stay Christian. And here's why. Yes, I will stick it out and stay Christian. And the last section is how, which of those sections is taking up the most real estate in your mind? And in your day to day life?


Brian McLaren 03:03

Well, let's see. I think all of them jostle for the top position. But I think actually, the writing of this book propelled the third question up in importance. Because in the writing of this book, I realized it's just inevitable. Some people cannot stay Christian, the religion is killing them. It's damaging them, they need to get away at least for a time. And, and other people will stay Christian, it's who they are, and how could they deny who they are? And, and then what I realized is, even whatever you decide on staying Christian, you have to wake up the next morning, and ask what kind of a human being am I going to be? And that I hope that the Reading of the book helps lift the importance of that question up for everybody.


Ian Binns 04:02

Well, and I, you know, Brian, I really appreciated that aspect of the book. And as I said, Before recording, I absolutely loved the book, you know, so for me, I don't have the kind of historical experiences that I know, Brian, you talk about in your books, and that Zach has had and talked about before, the feeling I needed to leave, like, deconstruct and then come back or anything like that. But one of the things that I've always struggled with, is and you you do so well, in the first several chapters, when the answer to your question is no, you know, those chapters explaining No, just really stood out for me. And so but sorry, I know, I'm rambling. This is normal for me. But at the end, I loved as you just said, to connect it back to what kind of human do we want to be? You know, I tell people a lot when they question, my faith, because I'm open with my doubts and questions and the idea of a literal resurrection. I think those are all questions and doubts I have. And I don't know if I'll ever be able to resolve them yet. But I think I prefer to think of it as that I want to live my life, fighting for what Jesus fought for,


Brian McLaren 05:12

what a great way to what a great way to sit.


Ian Binns 05:15

Right? And so if it's more of that's the way I live, I don't have to stand on a rooftop and scream, everyone be a Christian. It's more of a this is the life I want to live. And I love that you did that.


Brian McLaren 05:26

And isn't it ironic that major sectors of the Christian religion are really uninterested, whether you want to fight for the things Jesus fought for, they're really interested in whether you will check certain boxes, agreeing with their authority figures about what you're supposed to say about Jesus. So I just can't help but think that Jesus would be happier with someone who's ready to join him in the struggle with his word for that was follow me, then then have certain opinions about me. In fact, you know, there's that password thing in the Gospels where he says, You know, I really don't care if you call Me Lord, Lord, I mean, what difference does that make the words you use about me? If you don't do what I say so?


Ian Binns 06:10

All right. Well, and in this book, and also to in your podcast, learning how to see, you start off talking about something that was very close to me. So I got my PhD from the University of Virginia. And so I was in my wife and I were in Charlottesville was the first place we really lived as a young married couple. Were there for 208. And so when the the situation happened in Charlottesville in August of 2017, that was very challenging for us, because the grounds of UVA are places I spent four years of my life that we love that town. And so that was very challenging for us. And then hearing you on your podcast and Reading this book. I would love to, if you could talk more about that experience. Because I didn't realize you were there. And so I just curious if you can kind of talk about that. Yeah.


Brian McLaren 07:04

Well, the story of how I ended up there was kind of interesting, I had introduced this couple to each other who ended up getting married, and both were seminary graduates. And so they were a ministry couple in Charlottesville, and they contacted me and they said, Look, Brian, we you may not have even heard about this. And I hadn't it it turns out, you know, before, was it August 10. I forgotten the date now. Whatever the date was, in August, they'd had a series of Ku Klux Klan rallies, it was like it. A lot of people don't know this. But there is a group of people who are planning for a civil war. And they want to make Charlottesville the capital of the new Confederacy.


Ian Binns 07:46

I did not know that part.


Brian McLaren 07:48

Yeah, it's scary. And it's crazy stuff. But and, and yet very disturbing. And they said, so a really big one is coming in August. And we're we're trying to get clergy to come support us, and to stand with us. And they said, we're finding a lot of clergy of color. And we're finding a lot of women, clergy who will come we're really finding it hard to get white male clergy to come. And of course, there's a big supply of them, but they just couldn't get them to come. So they said it. They said, Is there any chance you could come you need to know it's going to be dangerous, there going to be a lot of guns there. Several militia have already signed up to be there. And they'll all come heavily armed. And I said, I'm not going to tell that last part to my wife. But yes, I would be honored to be there. Actually, she knew that there would be some danger. And she made me make certain promises to her about what I would do and not to when I was there, but it was just an experience I'll never forget first seeing how organized these folks were. They were super, super highly organized. I was invited into a meeting an Antifa meeting of people who were organizing to try to not let these folks sort of rule the city for a day. And I never thought in my lifetime, I would see people carrying Confederate flags, and Nazi flags and a bunch of other flags along with Bibles and other Christian paraphernalia. I never thought I would see that. And of course, and I happen to be just up the street when Heather hair and other was killed and others were injured by a guy using a car as a terrorist weapon to drive through a crowd. And a group of us clergy went I was wearing you know, black leather shoes and I just remember the feeling of my feet slapping against the ground as I ran down this hill into this crowd where there's chaos and people screaming and crying. And so an experience I'll never forget. But then January 6 2021 happened and I just thought there they are again, you know, and in between, I'd organized an a public An event here in Florida where I live, where we had been, our event was disrupted in the entrances were blocked by the proud boys. So I yeah, this has been a big part of my experience and watching the complicity of major sectors of the Christian faith with these folks has been the AI, it's highly significant in the way I wrote this book, do I stay Christian? Because I feel like that I wish I'd put the sentence in the book. But it only became clear to me actually, in the last few days, that one of the reasons I wrote the book the way I did, and I took those first 10 chapters to really take the No seriously is because I am worried that those 10 chapters give a kind of overview of some of Christianity's crimes. And through the centuries, I'm worried that the worst things Christianity has ever done will be exceeded in the next few years. And that's why I feel anyone who stays Christian, better be aware of the danger that our religion poses to this world and to many of our neighbors. And that then puts a kind of responsibility on us to say, if I'm going to inhabit this religion, I better take responsibility for trying to stand up to some of the harm that it is in danger of doing and not just in danger of doing it is actually doing, you know, as we speak, no, yeah.


Zack Jackson 11:29

I mean, we're not just complicit in the rise and spread of white supremacy. Western Christianity is the author of white supremacy, it is very much our child. And it is completely inseparably intertwined with Western Christianity as we know it. And so this is not an issue for the black church to figure out or to lead us in. This is not an issue for people of color to be taking charge. This is our problem, our sin and our need to, to work on to fix to fight. And you're somebody who's been at the frontlines of that. It seems, what what can the rest of us do us white Christians out here? How can we help fight the scourge? I mean, just look, even as we're recording this, we just, we just witnessed another white supremacist, killed 10 people in a buffalo grocery store. And by the time that this podcast launches, who knows? We'll have there will be another one. It just seems like we're just spinning our wheels. Yes.


Brian McLaren 12:31

Well, let me say first, I really agree with you that white Christians really have a responsibility right now. And one of our responsibilities is to listen to the cries and the agony and the frustration of our neighbors of color. who are who are just, you know, who can blame them for saying, you know, if they hear thoughts and prayers one more time, you know, I mean, it's just, it's just, yeah. So here's what one thing I think we can do, I think we can all make a commitment that we will never let a racially harmful statement go unchallenged. And, and I think we have to learn how to challenge them in ways that don't create a worst blowback. But silence is its own vote of confidence, and its own voters support for outrageous, immoral, harmful, dangerous statements. So my little recommendation to people is that you've developed your own version of this five word statement, here's my version of it. Wow, I see that differently. It's instead of, you know, you're such a bigot, you're, it's I see that differently. I throw a while in there, because I want to add a little bit of emotional intense intensity without having to yell or scream. Wow, I see that differently. And almost every time I say that, people say, What do you mean? What do you mean? And if it's in public, I say I say to them, I'd rather talk to you about this in private. If you'd like to ask me about it in private some other time, I'll be glad to talk to you. And the reason I say that, and there might be times to have the conversation in public. But what I've noticed is that anytime these conversations happen in public egos are so involved, people are defending themselves, people are performing their loyalty to whatever group it is. And so it seldom becomes an act of communication, and usually becomes the kind of argument that hardens people and their positions. And I would like to be someone who helps little cracks form in their position or, or helps soften their position. And if if I can set up the terms of that discussion, then I'll say to them, if you're ever curious about why I see things differently and how like came to see things differently. I'll be glad to have that conversation with you and private. Just let me know when you'd like to know how I came to see things differently, because I'm not asking them to tell me how they see things. I'll listen respectfully if they want. But I've been listening respectfully, that's what got us into this situation. And so while I see that differently is my, my mantra in these circumstances?


Ian Binns 15:27

Well, that's very disarming, I


Brian McLaren 15:29

think, and I go, and I feel it's honest, and it's not aggressive. But it also is an act of protest. And it's just an act of deferring boldly, hopefully, graciously, non hatefully, you know? Yeah. And frankly, I'll just say, frankly, late in the book there, in that house section of the book, there's a chapter called, announce and renounce, or renounce and announce, and in some ways, it's the same thing. It's, it's, it's having more and more of us just have the courage to say, I am not where you are. And to do it in a way that says, It's not that I hate you. It's not that I am going to insult you. In fact, I'm going to just state in a way that says, I don't, I'm nothing's changing in our relationship, but I'm not where you are. If that creates a problem for you, then we'll deal with it. But I need to let you know I can be at a different place than you are. So I thought


Ian Binns 16:31

that story you told in that chapter about John Ray and Amanda was really powerful. And one of the phrases that stood out, it was after early on in the story. When John Ray comes back to Amanda and says, I was confronted by your father for 20 minutes. And the phrase that you use in the book was he felt that he was in the presence of Christian hate? Yes. And I thought that was just just those four words, or five words. Yeah, forward presence of Christian hate just really kind of caught me of because I feel like that's what we're seeing a lot of right now.


Brian McLaren 17:08

Yes, yes. And of course, Christians will say, that's not hate, that's love. And they, and they're satisfied with that. But there is something really ugly going on. It's just ugly. And I've experienced that. And my gosh, when you're on Twitter, and Facebook, you know, I grew up fundamentalist. And part of being a fundamentalist is you didn't cuss? And you didn't use crude language. And you you felt this obligation to be decent and, and respectful. But my gosh, the profanity and I mean, it's just, it's just shocking to me to see what what people are doing in the name of Jesus, and it's all sort of acceptable. And of course, some of this is because they're imitating their new leader, you know, Donald Trump, who's, in a sense, the new leader of their denomination that has that has newly formed and, and, and part of this is just stuff that's been in the American psyche for a long time, and maybe we're better with a profanity, because it's, you know, somebody said, what I mentioned, I've had a lot of interactions with the proud boys, they said, there, it's just the kk k with that, and the sheets are off. And I think that's, there's some truth to that. So this is a historical reckoning, that needed to happen. So better now than not letting it happen, you know, letting it fester for another 100 years.


Zack Jackson 18:35

Yeah, that chapter, which kind of tells the story of a couple whose ideologies had changed, their faith had changed, and they hadn't really let their family know, which I think a lot of folks who have deconstructed can relate to because they're going to, they're afraid of then being renounced by their family. And she gathers up the courage after her husband has been sort of accosted for 20 minutes to go up and just tell her father, this is how it's going to be from here on out. And you talked about that in terms of a coming out story for her. And that framing, I think is really helpful. And something that queer theologians, this gift that they have given us, this idea of coming out, it is a vulnerable experience, in which you can be hurt in all new ways. But it is such an empowering experience. I read one, one theologian referred to John one as God's coming out that Jesus is incarnation is him, showing who he truly is to the world and offering up himself to be either accepted in new ways or hurt in all new ways. And I honestly had never understood the Incarnation until then. But this idea that those of us us who are straight sis hetero folks who have never had the need to come out to people to tell them, This is how you have perceived me. But this is how I truly am. We've just always been known for who we are, that this is something that we we should learn, that we should need to love louder than the hate and that we need to be more vocal. It's not enough to just love on our own, but that we need to love loudly and outwardly. Yeah,


Brian McLaren 20:30

another little saying that has kind of been sitting with me lately is I would rather be rejected for who I am then accepted for who I am not.


Ian Binns 20:39

And I wrote that down. Well, like I, I want to tattoo that on my arm or something, because I think that's such a powerful phrase. It really is.


Brian McLaren 20:47

And I think what one of the things that just saying it that way helps me do is realize that the fear of rejection has so much power over so many of us. And as someone who's experienced a bit of rejection. And now I know Zach has led to other people to being rejected. But, but it's, it's not the end of the world. It's not the worst thing that ever happens to you. In fact, some pretty amazing positive things happen can happen in the experience of rejection. So And isn't it interesting in the gospels, this is really a major theme of Jesus teaching. Hey, guys, if you take seriously what I'm saying, you're gonna be rejected, here's what's gonna happen and it and then we're surprised when it happens.


Zack Jackson 21:39

Right? The high priest is gonna block you on Twitter at this point. And


Ian Binns 21:44

well, and I think you mentioning the rejection, the fear of rejection, I mean, that's something that cripples me at times, you know, with my own work of wanting to write, as an academic for more public audience, it, it, something that holds me back quite a bit. And Reading, you know, your book has helped and then also Rob Bell's work as well as helping me remember that it's not, I cannot control people's reactions to my work in my message.


Brian McLaren 22:14

And so we're writing about things that matter than then there are things that people have strong opinions about, and they have vested interests in. And so of course, there'll be pushback, like, you know, every once in awhile, I have to sit down with myself and just say, of course, people would get upset. What were you expecting to get a Nobel Prize? You know, of course. So, yeah, that's just the territory. And it's, it's, it's part of the privilege of talking about things that really matter and, and working on things then that matter. So I like that doesn't it doesn't make it easy, but it does, I think it is, it's something we have to do that helps us navigate through those first few experiences of rejection, that that can either scar us for life or become our hazing. For for a member membership, and a new, a new community.


Zack Jackson 23:19

And I've experienced a lot of the dirty underbelly of the Christian church growing up in, in the back rooms of the church, and then being a part of church leadership, the first 10 chapters of your book, where you talk about all the reasons why you should leave Christianity. I, at the end of every chapter, I thought to myself, I know where he's going. I know there's a there's a part two, but I'm almost ready to just like, just close the book here and be like, yeah, no, he does have a point, why should I be a part of this and re even Reading part two, a couple chapters in where you're talking about why we should stay Christian. And I thought, these don't quite outweigh yet in my mind, where, where Part one was. And then then I hit chapter 14. And you asked us to consider an anticipatory Christianity that is leaning towards the future. And I love that phrase so much. I highlighted it, I wrote it down. And anticipatory Christianity because it describes the stance towards the future in which that doesn't necessarily claim that everything in the future is better than everything in the past that we're evolving into something better, just something different to newer and maybe better adapted. Would you care to unpack that phrase for us? Yeah. Wow. That is bringing you life and older.


Brian McLaren 24:46

There's a lot of ways to do it. But a kind of fun way is to say that both in religion and science, a lot of us inherited a religion, where the Locus of Power was always in the past. So So the, you know, the big bang happens. And I bet most of us have seen this in a science movie somewhere. And it's like somebody's playing pool and they hit the cue ball and the cue ball hits the rack of, you know, balls, and everything is action reaction being driven from the past. And that describes, that's one way of looking at the universe. It's one way of describing the universe. But there's another way to look at it to say, to think of the Locus of Power, not just being in the past, but actually being the future itself, that opens, that constantly gives everything a chance to move in some new direction. And the way that theologians have talked about this is to say instead of thinking of God, pushing things out of the past into the future, imagine God in the distant future, inviting things to keep moving toward maturity. The one of the early church scholars, who is a very imaginative fellow, his name was Gregory of Nyssa. And Gregory, got in trouble with a lot of his fellow scholars, because they all bought into this idea of Greek philosophy that perfection is static, because perfection can only get worse, if it could change, it wouldn't be perfect. If it could change for the better, it wouldn't be perfect. So perfection is always static. And Gregory said, that's just not good enough. He said, perfection is infinite progression, this idea of an endlessly open future for endlessly new possibilities, you know, and so that way of thinking, instead of God's sort of being in control, either behind us or standing over us, it's God inviting us into greater freedom, and greater wholeness and greater maturity and greater relationship and greater diversity and greater beauty, which is actually what we see kind of unfolding in the universe, you know, there was no Mozart or Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift, you know, 4 billion years ago. And so these things, new things that you never ever would have anticipated, are baked into the possibilities and, and have chances to open up. So that's, and when we let that kind of almost scientific view, also have a theological expression. It helps us think about Christianity, not as something that is already set in concrete, but something that is, in its very early stages.


Zack Jackson 27:48

It is hard to think about Christianity in its early stages, 2000 years later, but that is, that can be helpful,


Ian Binns 27:56

if we can, you know, I think I said before we started recording that, especially Reading the first part of your book, where you're providing, you know, many reasons why the answer to your question will be no, that's when I was Reading it near my wife, and I would stop and be like, Oh, my God, I have to have to read this for you. So if I can read a quote to you, that just really stood out for me. And I just would love to get your thoughts on it a little bit more, but it's in the chapter. Because Christianity is a failed religion. And at the very end, you talk about, you know, you kind of are speaking to that your reader, obviously, of asking if that was harsh to them, for people to consider many of the things you've already shared. But you say if you persist in minimizing these failures of the past and brushing them aside as trivial matters, then please realize, to growing millions of people, you now represent the contemporary failure of Christianity to transform lives. To put it more bluntly, you are a living example of the failure of Christianity, and you are another reason for them not to stay Christian, which resonated with me. I mean, I probably I'm very emotional person. And I started crying when I read it, but it was just a, I'd love to know, how did that feel. As a leader in Christianity, many people look to you to write that sentence.


Brian McLaren 29:21

Yeah, I remember writing it and I and I have been in so many of those conversations. I won't mention this name just out of politeness, but a leader of people in my generation, and probably your generation would know his name. He died a few years ago, but he was super well known, highly respected on Christian radio and all that sort of thing. And we once had an email exchange and he gave me permission to go public with it, but I just couldn't do it. And in that email exchange, he said the Crusades weren't that serious. The Witch burnings were exaggerated, he just minimized every single thing. And I just thought to myself, you know, you think you're making Christianity look better. And something else I realized about him is that, for him, Christianity and Western civilization were fused together. And his defense of Christianity was a defense of Western civilization. And in that way, it was an act of aggression toward Muslims, and Buddhists and Hindus. And so it all sort of was of a piece, you know, and I think that's part of what so many of us just don't want to be part of anymore, we don't want to be part of that kind of dismissive defensive. Christianity. And, and, of course, you know, I'm not wanting to go around and vilify all these people of the past. I mean, they are what they are, and they did what they did. And, and, and if I'd been alive, I may have done many of the similar, similar things. But to say that the message of Jesus Christ should not have demanded more of people. It just feels to me like a pretty low opinion of the of Jesus and His message.


Ian Binns 31:21

Well, and as I said, early on to, you know, I try to live by his message and what he fought for, and died for, right. But one other thing you said a little bit earlier in the text, you said, you know, teaching others by their example, to live by Jesus's spiritual method of radical non discriminatory love and courageous truth telling, you know, that's gotten me in trouble at times. With some, and I don't do it nearly as much as I used to. And Zach has actually said, and some of my science education friends have said that they're really happy that I don't engage as much on Twitter, as I used to, partly because I was blocked by Ken Ham, who is still welcome to be on the show. But what I also have several friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, and who are people of faith, and I remember telling one of them one time when we were having a conversation about some of their struggles, and I just kind of said that I believe in a God who loves us for us. Yeah. And that if that makes me wrong, when I have to face God, it didn't my time. And I'm told that's not the way it works. My response to my friend was, I don't want to be there anyway. Like if that if that's what can get me into heaven. If Heaven is a place that they say, you messed up, you have to renounce that I'd say I'm going somewhere else.


Brian McLaren 32:49

Yes, that that God is not good enough. Right? That's just not good enough. My friend Tripp fuller says, Look, if if your view of God isn't half as nice as Jesus, there's something wrong. So, right,


Zack Jackson 33:06

how can Christians take Jesus and like, look at him in the Gospels? And then be like, All right, well, but at the end of it all, we're gonna meet scary God. And he's going to do the scary judge thing. While Jesus the guy, you know, the don't cast the first stone guy. He's just going to be in his room because he's a naughty boy or something. I don't know. Why is he not up on the jet like we can affirm that all members of the Trinity are of one substance, according to the ancient Creed's, but yet won't apply Jesus's examples of grace to the judgments that we fear from God, there


Brian McLaren 33:46

was a Quaker theologian who I just think captured what we're discussing right now. So aptly, he said, it was Elton Trueblood. And this isn't a quote, but this is sort of the substance of one of his ideas. He said, The Christian understanding of the deity of Christ did not mean that we had a definition of God. And Jesus came along and we lifted him up to that definition. He said, what this really is supposed to mean is that we had a definition of God. And Jesus came along, and we had to adjust our definition of God. And I think that's very well, I think that's very well said, I think that's what it should have been. I don't know if that is what happened historically. But I think that's how it should have been.


Zack Jackson 34:38

Yeah, if I can, if I can pivot here for a second. We've we've been on some heavy topics. I want to I want to lighten things up a little bit. I your chapter on rewilding ourselves and our faith and humanity itself was far and above my favorite chapter of the book. I highly They did. The basically the whole thing. It reminded me very much of a conversation those longtime listeners might remember, way back in 2020, episode 42 with Dr. Scott, the paleontologist from PBS, his dinosaur, I


Ian Binns 35:15

remembered it too. First thing I thought about called


Zack Jackson 35:19

reinventing the natural world was was his and his theory. And his, the whole devotion he has towards educating children is that in in order in order to save the world, from climate disaster from environmental disaster, we will not do that by better spreadsheets. Because nobody is apathetic because they don't know the facts. They're apathetic because they don't care. And so his entire life Miss mission is to help children fall back in love. I love to read and chant nature, and to get them outside. And even while watching television to then inspire them to go outside afterwards. Because when you fall in love with the world, then you want to save it. It's your mother. Again, it's not it's not just a commodity anymore. And Reading your chapter about being out on a kayak in the middle of the of Florida. And there's gators and birds and fish and the whole deal. I'm I'm there in my mind. And I'm imagining my own slice of wild here in the Pennsylvania mountains. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how the natural world and how this process of rewilding has awoken your spirituality and how we might best share that with people.


Brian McLaren 36:40

Well, maybe I could just tell you two quick stories. One from yesterday, we had a death in the family over the last week. And so I was out of state. I was in New Jersey, for the funeral. And I had to do a whole bunch of interviews for this book. So I was in, in the home office of my deceased brother in law. To conduct these interviews, I brought along my microphone and had my computer set up. And right outside his window. There's a dogwood tree and in the dogwood tree, about two feet from the window was Robin building her nest and so I was doing interviews literally from you know, 10 in the morning till 11 At night, cuz some of them were Pacific Coast time. And so as I sat there through the day, I watched the mother Robin, come and go and come and go mouthful of mud a mouthful of grass and watching her use her the shape of her body to form the perfect cup. If you've ever observed a bird's nest, it's just this perfect semi sphere. Oh my goodness, it's just an I never gotten to watch that. That's such a intimate angle. And if that wasn't good enough, just before dark, she was out, I guess gathering more materials. And a little English Sparrow came in and climbs into her nest and steals a bunch of grass. And it was just great. And I just felt like I just got to see a little bit of mischief and fat, all the rest of it. But just all felt I just it just was it. There's a poet. What a great resume. There's a fellow named Lanham from Clemson University, who's a biologist and a poet. Isn't that a great combination? And he uses that term in one of his poems orgasm, that we have these experiences of oh, that produce this sort of delight you know, that's that goes beyond words. And, and I had said I felt watching that all unfold. And then another experience. Last summer I fall in love with a place I highly recommend it for people who like this sort of thing called ring Lake Ranch. It's a Christian based retreat center, but it's just a place that brings you out into the wilderness of Wyoming and you get to ride horses and fly fish and hike and and just enjoy an incredible a place with deep history for the sheep eat or people that Native American people that area and, and I took a hike with a botanist. And as we walked through a Badlands area along the Wind River Gorge. She would just everything she talked about was the relationship. We came along she said see that flower there says I've never seen that flower in bloom during the daytime. It's a night blooming flower. And she said there is one species of wasp that pollinates that flower and it only comes out at night. And she said isn't it amazing to think one species of Wasp and one flower have evolved to be sort of partners in their in one another survival, you know, and then we'd come upon a sagebrush, and she talked about before she was done, you just felt you were on holy ground, it was like a burning bush. But it was the sagebrush because she explained, this is high desert. And in the in the winter, snow drifts form around sage brushes, and that snow drifts, then when it melts, it concentrates moisture around the base of the sagebrush, which helps the sagebrush live but also becomes like a little oasis of moisture. And then she starts talking about all the creatures that depend on that moisture of the sagebrush. And I mean, you're done. And you're just, you're, it's ecstatic to think of the web of life that is around you. And, and that sense of connectedness, if that's not holy, I don't know what it is, you know. And so any kind of Christianity that wants to ignore all that and just look at the world as something that God plans to destroy, because he wants to suck our souls up into heaven or send them somewhere else. You just think what, what a blasphemy to, to discount and the wonder and glory that's there, you know, in that a Badlands of the Wind River Gorge.


Zack Jackson 41:27

You talk about that sort of mutual evolution. And the two things that when we first were developing the ideas of evolution, the common conception was survival of the fittest, the strongest, right the the beefiest and biggest teeth. And we've learned that the in many ways that was just white supremacy, Reading itself into science, when the truth is that it's survival of the most adaptable, the most resourceful, the best collaborators is, is survival of those who can work with others best is is how species evolve and continue that relationality is just,


Brian McLaren 42:10

and if we're going to survive, we have to learn that wisdom from from creation, I was honored to be invited to write a book about the Galapagos Islands. So I've had a chance to visit there a few times. And I in my book, I wrote a couple of chapters about Charles Darwin and I, I got to read his biography while I was there, and and then just did a bunch of research and that term survival of the fittest, you may know this. It wasn't Darwin's term. And Arthur, Arthur Wallace, I think it was Arthur was his first name, I, he, he recommended the term because natural selection sounded like it personified nature too much, you know that nature is making choices. Like a Calvinist, God makes choices, and they wanted to get away from that. When they use the word fittest, it meant fit best, the opposite of the most domineering and aggressive, it's those who fit best.


Zack Jackson 43:06

So yes, yes, you will love my favorite. That my favorite new fact in physics that is just that is filling my soul with all in wonder these days. Is that do you think about the part of the atom that makes that has stuff, right? That has mass that has the stuff that makes you a thing, and not just nothing? Where does your mask come from? Well, only 9% of the mass of an atom comes from the particles of the atom 91% of the mass of every atom comes from the interaction between the atoms, the forces created by the protons and neutrons, generate the the 91% of the mass of you and I and the planet and the stars. Everything is a relationship between things without the relationship, the things that exist don't exist. And I love that. I mean, that is just, that's the illogical.


Brian McLaren 44:05

Literally the weightiest part of the universe is its relationships.


Zack Jackson 44:10

Exactly. It is it is, if you ever wanted to find a fingerprint of a relational Creator, who created a creation that continues to create, it's right there.


Brian McLaren 44:20

And this is when you were talking about anticipatory Christianity. This is if if what will happen if we're given the chance to incorporate all of these magnificent understandings into our theological work, and not just be stuck under this very low ceiling of Neoplatonic philosophy? Which has its own beauties and all the rest, but you know, yeah, so all of this is one of the other reasons it's a little hard to walk away in spite of all the horrible things because somebody is going to get to do this kind of revisioning of what we mean when we say the word God, in light of all of this, and what we mean when we say the word human in light of all of this, and it's sort of would be a shame to miss miss that fun.


Zack Jackson 45:15

It is fun, isn't it?


Ian Binns 45:17

Well, and, you know, Reading throughout your, your book too about, you know, the interconnectedness of all things, and just the importance of, you know, stepping back from that just developing those connections and those relationships, you know, that's something that as a teacher, I do with my students, and, you know, I teach future elementary school teachers how to teach science. And so one of the first things I really focus on is not necessarily, let's get into teaching science immediately, it's, let's develop a connection to each other a relationship. And, you know, I've been told by some of my colleagues that they've always been impressed that typically by week two, I've developed a very strong rapport with my students. And I tell my students, this is my messaging to them all the time, is that if you're able to connect with your students, on a personal level in some way, you can teach them anything there is yes, yes, yes. Because they will learn to trust you and know they're in a safe space.


Brian McLaren 46:21

Yes. And in the presence of that kind of respect and affection, you know, and in the presence of that, our curiosity comes out. And so then we become natural learners because we feel safe and all the rest. Oh, it's so true. And this, again, is one of the things that I think we have to realize that the Christian religion, by working so much on a base of fear and shame, creates an antagonistic environment to learning and curiosity. And it might be one of the factors in the lack of transformation we were talking about before, it makes people sort of hunker down, rather than open up.


Ian Binns 47:07

Well, that's, you know, part of that, too, with developing that relationship and connection is in it kind of touches on something. Zack, you said earlier when talking about Dr. Scott, coming on, as you know, teaching people to love nature, again, is that I approached my class, also teaching them to not fear science. Yes. And to realize why it's such an incredible thing to teach. And that children are natural born scientists. Yes. Just they'll whole notion of being curious and wanting to ask a question is doing science. And so I remind them of that. And then I say, Now let's have some fun, and focus on ways to teach it. But if they can get that down, yeah, pretty quickly, we're gonna have a good time. So


Brian McLaren 47:54

be a nice thing for seminarians to hear.


Zack Jackson 48:00

I mentioned before we started recording, friend of mine just wrote his first book, called Jesus takes the side embracing the political demands of the gospel, his name is Johnny Rashid. By the time this episode airs, I think it'll be a week out from release. And in it, one of the things he argues is that Western Christianity doesn't have a sense of honor, but it does have a sense of shame. And most societies are honor shame based, and his family comes from Egypt, and they have a deeply ingrained system of honor and shame and honor and shame is how you keep society together, how to keep religion together, but Western Christianity has a lot of shame. But we have no systems of honor. anymore. And so we cling desperately, to our our dogma, our beliefs, our right thinking, because it is so easy to feel shame, and so hard to find honor in the system anymore. Sounds remarkable. It is. And it's it's a great book, and everyone should read it. But I think that when we're talking about reimagining the church and reimagining our faith and our religion and what it means to follow Christ. I mean, I can't think of another historical person who spent more time pouring honor on people that other people poured Seamus. Yes, yes, yes. And if we're going to reimagine this faith, I think we put that near the center. I love it. As as we're, as we're sort of wrapping up our time together. I want to I want to ask you one more question. That for me, is very full circle. Because back in 2006, I preached a sermon as a teenager, at my home church, based on your brand new book, The secret message of Jesus. A part of that book is in which you talked about how the phrase the kingdom of God doesn't work. In this post monarchical world. You know, nobody knows what a kingdom is anymore. Jesus was using a metaphor for his time that no longer works, and probably carries too many too much baggage for it to be useful. And you propose a dozen different solutions. The the, my favorite one at the time was the dream of God, that was the name of the sermon, actually just listen to the sermon today, it was very hard to listen to an 18 year old me preach a sermon. But here we are. I wonder if in the past 16 years, you've found a version of the kingdom of God that resonates deeper with you. And with the current reality, we find ourselves very


Brian McLaren 50:40

much. So that's very relevant to our discussion today. You know, there, there's a chapter in the book called to free God and, and I, I have a beautiful quote from Barbara brown Taylor that plays heavily in the book and and, in fact, maybe the way for me to say the phrase is to say that I think this phrase refers to the kingdom of God. And I think it refers to God. In that chapter I talk about in do I stay Christian, I talk about the you that we refer to God, that seems to me becomes a we, because the the nature of God, it seems to me is a God of participation, who invites us into participation in the divine life. And so anyhow, the phrase is the web of life. And, in fact, I, I wrote a little table grace, that is my table grace for the last several years. And it's I just say, for this breath, for this heartbeat, for this meal with these companions. For the web of life of which were part we give thanks with all our heart. And it's an as I'm saying, the web of life. I realized, I'm not just talking about you that web of life includes God. It's a we that's God and creation in that one web. So that now I think the web is what weighs 91%, or this 91% of the mass.


Zack Jackson 52:20

Yes, absolutely. It is all about how we are connected to one one,


Ian Binns 52:24

if I may ask one more question. Brian is based on something you said to us at the very beginning. After you talked about your experience with Charlottesville, you said you kind of alluded to that you are concerned about things to come. Yeah. Right. So that was hard to hear. Yeah. So what gives you hope? Yeah. Because January 6 was rough. It was rough. For those of us who admit what happened.


Brian McLaren 52:57

So in that's really an important question. And in fact, that's going to be at the heart of the next book I write actually. And I guess one thing I can say is the word hope used to mean for me, where do I see trend lines that make me think things might get better? And I'm not defining hope that way anymore. I'm not defining hope as having anything to do with evidence or not, not depending on evidence. And because what I expect this is what's helping me have hope, to not have to depend on evidence for things getting better. What I expect will happen is that forms of Christianity will get worse than they've ever been. I think that's almost unavoidable. I think, I can't imagine it not happening. i There are people who want it to happen, they want Christianity to become in words I would use uglier, more selfish, more vicious, more violent. And I have no hope that that will not happen, like that will happen. But here's the here's what I think, as that happens, I'm quite certain that we are seeing and we'll see extraordinarily beautiful expressions of Christian faith and other expressions of human life as well. Just because the ugliness that we'll see will will provoke many of us to step out of sort of complacency into a more vigorous and robust expression of beauty and pursuit of beauty. And, and the lies and conspiracy theories on one side will make us more passionate to actually know and face the truth and and, and, of that, of course, I do see evidence I see our conversation being evidence all The three of us are different than we were three years ago. And, and so, you know, it's just all around us. I would I was, you know, I said I was out of town. And when I was on a plane coming home this morning, as I walked down the aisle of the plane, I just had one of those kinds of grace moments, where as I walked down the aisle, I, this guy is asleep. And this woman is tending her child, and this older person is Reading a magazine. And as I'm walking down the aisle toward my seat at the back, cheap seat of the plane, I just felt this tenderness and love and saw the beauty of these people was one of those moments where you just sort of you feel every one of these people is beloved, you know, and, and I just think more and more of us are moving in that direction. But that won't stop the ugly people the ugly things from happening, and taking over more and more people's lives to so that's how I that's how I survived i i have to be able to expect the worst will happen and and the best will happen.


Ian Binns 56:07

So then we'll just also have to have you back on when you finish that next book. Okay. I would like that. I would appreciate that response. Brian. That helps a lot. salutely Thanks. Yeah.


Zack Jackson 56:18

The book is called do I stay Christian, a guide for the doubters, the disappointed and the disillusioned, it is available wherever you get your books as of yesterday. Brian has been such a pleasure to talk with you for the past hour. Thank you so much for carving time out of your ridiculously busy life to be


Brian McLaren 56:38

such a delight. It's just been a pleasure. I'm, I feel energized and I'm so glad you're doing what you're doing. Thanks for having me on. And please keep up the good work. It's important. Thank you




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