Progressive Christian Channel
Spiritual Practices in an Election Year: A Q&A with Brian McLaren
Brian McLaren is choosing humor this election year. In April, he released—in a new series of low-priced ebooks—short fictions on faith and politics, including The Word of the Lord to Democrats and The Word of the Lord to Evangelicals. Each brief story imagines a different prototypical religious or political character being visited by God and urged to deliver an important message to their constituencies.
The laughs come in how God appears to each person, and how each character reacts to—and tries to ignore—the divine disturbance.
Patheos' Deborah Arca spoke with McLaren about The Word of the Lord series and how we might stay spiritually grounded through the combative campaign season ahead.
These ebooks are quite a departure from your more "serious" writing. What are your hopes for the books?
I think that shallow or brittle spirituality and a lazy or combative theology will produce politics in their own image. And a deep, vibrant spirituality and a robust, vigorous, inclusive theology will produce a dynamic and creative and hospitable political life.As I observe our political discourse, I don't think we're in danger of overdosing on the latter. How was that for an understatement?
These ebooks definitely are humorous, but sometimes humor helps us grapple with serious matters more than a straight, direct, matter-of-fact approach. Soren Kierkegaard talked about this—how a person in the grip of an illusion can't be approached directly. It takes studied indirection to get through, so the only way to engage seriously is by appearing un-serious.
That's especially important when one of our maladies is excessive seriousness! Sometimes, when we take ourselves too seriously, the best antidote is a good laugh, and I'm really happy to hear that these little ebooks, whatever their other side effects, are adding some laughter to the universe.
Do you see a connection between spiritual practices and how we live in the public square? What advice would you offer for how to stay spiritually grounded and faithful during this election year?
Throughout history, political regimes do battle in a smoke and fog of lies, caricatures, mockery, half-truths, scapegoating, evasion, self-deception, false advertising, fraud, slander, brazen hypocrisy, and extortion. Our times are no exception. Even if you are spiritually grounded, you can be sure you'll be knocked around and disoriented at times in that atmosphere. I lived most of my life in the Washington, D.C., area, so I had decades to observe all this up close, as local news, so to speak, and now, living on the edge of nowhere in Florida, I have a little more distance to reflect.
From this vantage point, I'd offer three suggestions for starters.
First would be Jesus' words about taking the beam out of our own eyes before focusing on the splinter in the eyes of others. That means that if you're a Democrat, you need to focus on Democratic beams more than Republican or Libertarian splinters, and vice versa. That's the spiritual practice of self-examination, and it's revolutionary.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.