5 Questions for Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, heralded as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals by Time magazine, is an author, speaker, social justice activist, and pastor. His work has been covered in the New York Times, and Christianity Today. In his newest book, Naked Spirituality, McLaren shares practical wisdom for living a truly spiritual life as he presents 12 exercises for beginning and sustaining a meaningful relationship with God. Brian was kind enough to answer 5 Questions posed by ConversantLife.com.

In Naked Spirituality, you list four typical answers to the question, “What do you mean by spiritual?” Since these are all generic answers to some degree, how do you nudge people from a general desire to be spiritual to Christianity, or more specifically, to Christ?

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Shadow and Light: Thoughts on Route to Easter

Five long weeks of Lent, and yet one more, as we move through Holy Week toward the events of Easter. Why observe Lent? And why so long, when it seems so very long, these five weeks and more of a bare, unadorned church, of the disciplines of self-denial and self-examination?

Lent is indeed too long – too long for me to go on my own strength and resources. It is long enough for me to feel the initial enthusiasm of self-discipline, and past it, the weakness of failure. Lent is long enough for me to see my own weakness. Long enough to say, What’s the point? Why keep struggling on?

Lent cuts through our too-quick assurances of peace and joy; forces us to recognize that the pain of the world, and our own pain, cannot be salved by a cheery Bible verse or a hearty exhortation to rejoice.

The Spiritual Discipline of Liturgical Prayer

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul gives us a bracing challenge: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Pray without ceasing! How is that even possible? 

There are many ways to approach the idea of constant prayer, but one way that Anglicans all over the world have used fruitfully is to pray what is known as the "Daily Office" for Morning and/or Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is a liturgical style of prayer, meaning that there is a set structure for the prayer service.The Daily Office is structured around Scripture readings, in a framework of traditional written prayers (most of which draw specifically on Bible verses for their language), with “space” built in for extemporaneous, personal prayer. The Anglican / Episcopalian liturgy for Morning Prayer or for Evening Prayer has a number of different options, so by making choices about what to include and what to skip, each individual can personalize the Daily Office to fit different preferences and amounts of time, from 15 minutes to... however long you want to pray!

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Ministry and the Neglect of the Sabbath

I've been reading Eugene Peterson's book Working the Angles (which is a must read for anyone in ministry), and came across this passage on Sabbath. I wanted to quote it for a couple of reasons, not least of which because of the hilarious comment about Augustine and his mother: 

"We are, most of us, Augustinians in our pulpits. We preach the sovereignty of our Lord, the primacy of grace, the glory of God...But the minute we leave our pulpits we are Pelagians. In our committee meetings and our planning sessions, in our obsessive attempts to meet the expectations of people, in our anxiety to please, in our hurry to cover all the bases, we practice a theology that puts our good will at the foundation of life and urges moral effort as the primary element in pleasing God...Pelagius was an unlikely heretic; Augustine an unlikely saint. By all accounts Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing. Everyone seems to have liked him immensely. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had some kind of Freudian thing with his mother [!], and made a lot of enemies. But all our theological and pastoral masters agree that Augustine started from God's grace and therefore had it right, and Pelagius started from human effort and therefore got it wrong. If we were as Augustinian out of the pulpit as we are in it, we would have no difficulty keeping sabbath. How did it happen that Pelagius became our master?"

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Spiritual Tipping Points: Mindfulness and Contemplative Prayer

As I continue this brief series on spiritual tipping points, in this blog I want to address two related spiritual practices that can pave the way for tipping points: mindfulness and contemplative prayer.  The practice of mindful awareness has to do with focusing your attention on your direct experience in the present moment, and fostering a certain orientation to your experience characterized by curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love.  It is a core component of centering, or contemplative prayer within the Christian tradition. Mindful awareness isn’t just being aware in a general sense. It has to do with being aware of aspects of your mind, and this can be done in the context of prayer.  So it is being aware of your mind and soul, and bringing your true self into relationship with God.  These kinds of practices have been difficult for me, but they have also been tremendously helpful.  When I think of mindfulness and contemplative prayer, I think of some of the teachings of ancient spiritual directors. 

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Discipline

“Discipline, spiritual or otherwise, is a good servant, but a bad master. It is not the summum bonum—the supreme good. When it is valued in and of itself, the disciplined life easily leads to rigidity and pride…Jesus showed nothing of this rigidity. Although the strength of his resolve and consistency of his spiritual disciplines are striking, he lived a life characterized by flexibility, not predictability. He was constantly surprising people—always capable of spontaneously embracing the opportunities of the moment, never compulsively grasping the safety of the habitual. His discipline served to align his will and his spirit with God’s will and God’s Spirit. But this discipline was not dependent on external rigidity. It sprang from a heart that was aflame with the love of God, not a will that was striving for self-control. Pride and rigidity are the chain-mail armor we use to protect ourselves from vulnerability.” -David Benner
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Fruitful Flossing

By now, most Americans probably know that they should floss at least once a day My guess is that despite this knowledge few actually do (a quick Google research failed to pinpoint a number, but the infrequency of the practice is well-documented.) The reasons for this may be many but I think the overarching one is that its hard to see immediate, tangible benefits from running the waxed thread in between your teeth. Sure, there's the occasional stuck piece of food that you are grateful to have removed, but other than that, its easy to dismiss as a regular ritual. Convincing yourself that its o.k. to skip it, "just this once" isn't very hard to do.

The same mindset is also what often prods us to neglect those regular practices that our good for our Christian health. In fact we use some of the same excuses! "I don't have time today"; "Missing just once isn't going to hurt", "Do I really have to do it EVERT day?" And the "logic" is the same too. Because we don't always see immediate benefits for engaging in daily Bible reading, regular concentrated prayer, or church attendance we convince ourselves that it is alright to neglect the routine (or maybe not even establish the routine to begin with!) We take a haphazard approach and hope for the best.
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What Verse Rocked Your World Today?

Am I the only one?

This morning, my alarm went off, as it usually does. After pushing snooze once or twice, I got up, as I usually do. Got the coffee started and unloaded the dishwasher while it was brewing, and by a little after 7, I was in my  favorite chair with my stack of morning reading. 

This year I am going through the Discipleship Journal Bible-in-a-Year Reading Plan.  Because of my wonky travel schedule of late, I'm a bit behind in the reading, so I'm presently somewhere in early April right now. I opened my Bible to the next reading - Psalm 76 - and began to read.

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the hassle of fruit...

Tonight I'll sit down with a glass of red wine from Europe and when I do, I'll think of an experience I had this past December in Bavaria. I had an afternoon off from teaching and so made my way to a glorious castle (the oldest in Germany), the route taking me through some wonderful vineyards. It wasn't harvest time, but clearly there was work to be done, as a man was walking through the rows examining and clipping the vines.

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Proximity is Personal

When the bottom was dropping out for David, there's this little phrase that shows up where we discover that he 'strengthened himself in the Lord'. What does that mean? How does that happen?

I suppose there are many ways, but what's most important is that we find a way to do it because God knows that the bottom drops out for all of us from time to time.

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