Dianna Anderson On Writing Damaged Goods

Nearly three years ago, when I began working with my agent (Hannah Bowman) to put this book together, I didn’t know if I’d ever make it to this point. I wasn’t sure if the book would make it to the press, make it through the editing process and actually end up on the shelf. Even when I held it in my hands, it still felt deeply surreal. But here we are, and here it is, being shipped out to bookstores and landing on doorsteps across the nation. Depending on who asks, my answer on what this book is about changes. Keep Reading

DISQUIET TIME: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book

Let’s face it—the Bible is full of not-so-precious moments, from murder and mayhem, to sex and slavery. Instead of ignoring the difficult (yet entertaining) passages of Scripture, editors Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani take them head-on in their new book, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. “Most of us are well acquainted with the itchy, out-of-place feelings wrought by the spiritual subcultures in which we have sometimes found ourselves,” Falsani and Grant write. Disquiet Time gives readers “permission and a safe space” to engage the Bible deeply and Keep Reading

Leroy Barber's New Book Calls for Diversity in Christian Missions

Longtime missions worker and ministry leader Leroy Barber challenges the tenet in practice in one of the church’s best-loved children’s songs in his new book Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White—Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight: A Call for Diversity in Christian Missions and Ministry. Exposing a huge racial divide within mission staff and leadership, Barber says this separation prevents church outreach teams from being able to relate, and thus minister effectively, in inner-city and urban communities nationwide. Addressing a taboo topic with grace and tough-love, Barber highlights the historical patterns that created racial discrepancies within ministry and reveals what diversity is Keep Reading

Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

Culture critic Matthew Paul Turner dares to ask: Does God control the future of America-or is it the other way around? In Our Great Big American God, which is available in bookstores everywhere, Turner examines how American history and ideals transformed our perception of God. “To some extent, we are all ‘growing’ God, stuffing his mouth full with ideas, themes, and theologies, fattening him up with a story line we believe to be true. For good or bad, we are all molding God to reflect our own personal, American interpretation of Christian faith,” he said. Fearless and funny, this is the definitive guide Keep Reading

Defining PostChristian with Christian Piatt

postCHRISTIAN by Christian Piatt releases to bookstores everywhere today! To celebrate, we're sharing an excerpt from Chapter One called "Lions and Lambs." Find out more about the book and buy your copy now! "Post-Christianity” is an often-misunderstood term. It means that today we live in a culture where Christianity is no longer the baseline for cultural identity and discourse. We are witnessing the end of Christendom in the West as many have come to understand it: the dissolution of Christian hegemony. Some who value freedom of religion in a broader sense—or even freedom from it—view this favorably because it suggests Keep Reading

Searching for the Masculine Heart with John Sowers

by John Sowers Leave a comment Books, Christianity, Identity, Our Authors Blog, Uncategorized

The Heroic Path was born in the hospital, the night my twin daughters were born. I was thrilled but afraid. Exposed. That night, I wrote my thoughts down in a journal. And in the coming weeks, I searched for models – for man guides – for help and guidance. As I looked, I realized we have rare few elders, no rites of passage for manhood and no framework for masculine initiation. We don’t even have language for it.

So most men gravitate towards or away from the stereotypes: Huge Pickup Truck Guy. Gym Guy. Fantasy Football Guy. Video-Game Guy. MotherBoy. We know what a man is not, and it is easy to laugh at them, but in our culture with few elders, the stereotypes are all we have.

I am intimidated by most “Man Books.” Most of them point us to bravado – the tough guy that beats his chest, grunts and eats red meat. Bravado is enthusiasm on testosterone. Bravado is not all bad – but it’s not the core. It is important for men to be resilient and “buck up” sometimes, but when a book or even a manhood movement is built on bravado – it is only surface-level, lacking depth for sustainable transformation.

It’s interesting, because most of the questions I get are people assuming this is another bravado book. I hope people don’t lump my book into that category just because there is a bear on the cover.

HEROIC COVERThe main content of The Heroic Path is my learning journey and it hinges on a conversation I had with elders of the past – the then-atheist CS Lewis and the catholic Tolkien, as they argued about myth. They helped show me the mythic path towards manhood. This path points us to what Tolkien calls, the One, True Myth – where history and legend have fused.

My hope for the book is to create a framework for masculine initiation, looking at the steps Jesus took from the ages of 30-33, from carpenter to Messiah, from village under water, into wilderness and back to the village to save it. When Jesus returned to the village – he was no longer the carpenter from Nazareth. This was his kairos time – his steps were intentional. These were his mythic steps into Messianic purpose. These steps inform our masculine steps as well.

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Brian McLaren: It’s an Identity Thing

by Brian McLaren Leave a comment Our Authors Blog

By Brian McLaren

An Identity Thing – Liberal, Conservative, Denominational, Non-Denominational, Christian, and Personal

Lutheran theologian David Lose recently (June 19) posted five reasons he believes denominations as we know them are on their way out.

1) Denominations are confusing in a post-Christian world and often an impediment to mission… most people in the various denominations have little sense what they mean and no one outside them really cares.

2) The differences between the major denominations are relatively minor…. Across the board the major Protestant denominations share a biblical canon, confess the major ecumenical creeds, and observe the same two sacraments.

3) Inordinate amounts of funding are spent on maintaining denominational structures and bureaucracies, money that could be spent on mission. Even though every denomination I know has in recent years cut way back on spending, eliminated various divisions or boards, or extended the times between major assemblies or conventions, denominations are still expending vast sums of money to prop up dated denominational bureaucracies.

4) Political differences outstripped theological ones decades ago. Let’s face it: progressive Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian congregations have a lot more in common than do progressive and conservative congregations in the same tradition.

5) Denominational affiliation often represents the triumph of ethnic and cultural loyalties over theological convictions…. This has always made it difficult to reach beyond one’s ethnic enclave because interested seekers, even if they were attracted to, for instance, Lutheran theology, had to accept it in the form of German chorales or Swedish traditions. (source)

About a month later, Ross Douthat asked in a New York Times column (July 15), “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?” He said that liberal Protestant denominations are on a trajectory to “change, and change, and die,” implying that conservative Christians are more or less on the right track. Diana Butler Bass corrected Douthat in a blog the next day, explaining that

“conservative denominations are now experiencing the same [decline]. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, one of America’s most conservative churches, has for a dozen years struggled with membership loss and overall erosion in programming, staffing, and budgets. Many smaller conservative denominations, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans, are under pressure by loss. The Roman Catholic Church, a body that has moved in markedly conservative directions and of which Mr. Douthat is a member, is straining as members leave in droves. By 2008, one in ten Americans considered him- or herself a former Roman Catholic. On the surface, Catholic membership numbers seem steady. But this is a function of Catholic immigration from Latin America. If one factors out immigrants, American Catholicism matches the membership decline of any liberal Protestant denomination.” (source)

She then adds these sobering words:

Decline is not exclusive … to liberal denominations–it is a reality facing the whole of American Christianity.The real question is not “Can liberal Christianity be saved?” The real question is: Can Christianity be saved?

Conversations like these might discourage committed church leaders who are struggling with any number of divisive issues and downward trend-lines. But they also might challenge us all to find a new and better way for our named congregational networks to do some fresh thinking about who we are, because our denominational struggles, make no mistake, are not merely about structures or policies or image or politics: they are about identity.

Our denominations help us to identify ourselves primarily in terms of imperial affiliation (Roman Catholic), structure of governance (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational), a defining practice (Baptist, Quaker), an ethnic or regional origin (Anglican, Southern Baptist, Dutch Reformed), a founder (Mennonite, Lutheran), or – perhaps most ironic, a “none of the above” (non-denominational). But they don’t tell us why we’re here, what we stand for, what we value, what we love. They may tell us where we came from, but they don’t tell us where we’re going or why it matters.

What hopes and values hold us together? What is our ethos evolving into? What are we against, and what are we for? What difference do we hope to make? Who are we?

If we were a corporation or non-profit organization struggling with these questions, we would say we have a branding problem. On a more personal level, we might say we have an identity crisis. Growing numbers of us don’t want to be identified with the ecclesial squabbles, inter-religious hostility, institutional rigidity and bureaucracy, exclusive or defensive anxiety, or financial obsessions of our denominations. We don’t want to be branded by crimes and coverups, divisions and polarizations, nativism and xenophobia, or partisan politics disguised in clerical vestments.

But even if we check “spiritual but not religious” on a survey, many of us do want to be identified as followers of God in the way of Jesus. We do want to be identified as people learning to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We do want to stand up and be counted as disciples, as agents of God’s kingdom or commonwealth, as lovers of God, neighbor, stranger, outcast, and enemy. We are willing to give, sacrifice, serve, and suffer for the right identity.

I’ve been thinking about religious identity a lot lately. My current writing project explores the connection between intra-religious identity and inter-religious hostility. (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the Road?) I’ve become convinced that in this regard, David Lose, Ross Douthat, and Diana Butler Bass are all right: change is brewing and our denominational status quo is unsustainable.

For Catholics and Protestants, liberals and conservatives, for those who know they’re declining and those who think they aren’t, change is in the air. Whether that change will be for the better or worse depends in large part on all of us, the faithful. Are we humble enough to admit that even if “our” status quo might be better than “theirs,” it still may be woefully deficient? Do we believe what we proclaim about death and resurrection, or do we desperately need to “save our lives” at all costs?

Many people are familiar with the work of Otto Scharmer and “Theory U,” a way of describing organizational death and rebirth that is often pictured like this:

Theory U, Otto Scharmer

A group at the upper left of the U, fiercely loyal to “patterns of the past,” almost certainly feels superior to a group nearing the bottom: “Look how far and how fast they have declined!” they’ll say. But in fact the group nearing the bottom is ahead of them in the process.

Conversely, folks at the bottom feel like failures, having let go of almost everything in their descent. But it’s only at the bottom, according to the theory (not to mention Alcoholics Anonymous), that a group rediscovers its identity and reconnects to its Source. It’s only in death that resurrection can begin.

I came across from a quote from Otto Scharmer recently that captured what’s needed in the descent – a descent we’re experiencing in the church, yes, but also in government, politics, economics, education, the environment, and almost every other area you name. “What’s missing today,” he said, “is a high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch.”

Our future may indeed include the dissolution and extinction of our historic denominations. But it may hold their rebirth into a new identity, something larger, higher, deeper, and richer than we can see now. If we dare to engage in some “high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch,” I dare to believe and hope that something new is trying to be born among us, and our current struggles need not be the pangs of death but could become the pains of birth.

I imagine that my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist friends have their own version of death and resurrection they must go through, and their own language to describe it. But for me as a Christian, I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Those who want to save their identity will lose it. But those who are willing to lose it for my sake will find it.”

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