An Interview with Alexander Shaia
By David Crumm
This is new. Alexander Shaia is unearthing hidden themes for us from the pages of the Bible in his new book, The Hidden Power of the Gospels.
But this isn't The DaVinci Code. When someone claims to have discovered a pattern in scripture that seems to have been ignored by billions of readers over thousands of years, readers quickly can become skeptics. That's smart. After all, the Dan Browns of this world entertain us with slight-of-hand fictional tricks involving our treasured traditions.
But, trust me on this: I've spent a long time pondering Shaia's work, since I first encountered his Quadratos approach to scriptures and personal transformation a few years ago. It takes most of us from traditional backgrounds a moment or two to realize the powerful wisdom of his insights.
Before you read the interview about his brand-new book, check out the brief excerpt we ran in Part 1 of this 2-part series. It's a story of a hate crime that shaped Shaia's entire life. We heard from readers immediately, responding in an almost visceral way to that story. In short: Starting from the fire, and the grandmother's brave response, we can glimpse the big picture of Shaia's goal. No, he's not taking us into some self-absorbed inner journey that winds up with personal dreams of prosperity, as some preachers are pushing these days. Rather, Shaia's big picture is a world of compassionate and joyful service to one another.
How do we get there?
Well, Shaia had a major revelation about a decade ago in his own Bible study: The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke) form:
"an ancient four-fold journey of spirit and transformation. The journey is universal, sequential, and cyclical. It is recognized by every major religious faith and school of psychology and forms the very heart of Christian belief and practice.
"At its most universal, the pattern of Quadratos is found in our experience of the four seasons and their cycle. Within Christianity, Quadratos provides a deeper understanding of Jesus the Christ and a new foundation for affirming early Christianity's choice of four gospels ... The four progressive paths of Quadratos correspond to the four gospels and the four great questions of the spiritual life."
Those lines are taken word-for-word from Shaia's special Quadratos Website. (He also has a personal Web site.)
The four questions? They are: How do we face change? (Matthew) How do we move through suffering? (Mark) How do we receive joy? (John) And, how do we mature in service? (Luke)
Seeing the big picture in this light, then -- Wow! -- we begin to see that Shaia isn't luring us into some esoteric corner. He's leading us out of the stress and confusion most of us face in daily life -- toward joy and stronger communities.
Here are the highlights of our conversation with Alexander Shaia on The Hidden Power of the Gospels:
Let's start with that dramatic story of the attack on your grandmother's home. This was in the 1950s and you were Arab-Americans and Catholics living in the South -- double minorities facing discrimination. Who was behind the attack?
We assume this was the KKK. This became a core story that shaped our family, formed our upbringing, and continues to shape my life today.
We were Christians, yet Christianity was being used against us. I made a deep decision right then and there to refuse to divide people into groups. I wanted to find a pathway that was universal and all embracing. Throughout my academic life, I've always been cross-disciplinary. My professional life has been both working in the church, in psychology, and in social-service agencies. I work across denominations. I've always tried to live in neighborhoods that are white and black, young and old, and where every ethnic group is welcome.
The night of the fire formed a fundamental core decision in my life that we have to live beyond division and categories.
There aren't many Maronite writers with major publishers like HarperOne. So, tell us a little bit more about your family background.