A New Story

Cory-and-the-Seventh-Story-Cover-LargeBrian McLaren has written a new book. There’s nothing new about that. He’s been churning out around one a year for a few decades now. I personally have been blessed, challenged and changed by reading his writings. By far, the book that has had the greatest impact on my life of faith has been A New Kind of Christian which, for me at the time, echoed so many I-dare-not-speak thoughts and questions about what had become to me a stale, dead, rote-memory, agenda-driven Christianity.

And that story is told in a new, embraceable way in this brightly-illustrated children’s book by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, Cory & the Seventh Story.

If you are familiar with Brian’s work, the seventh story will definitely ring a bell. In this child-friendly version, Cory the raccoon and his friend Owl (who, unfortunately, remains nameless) live through the evolution of human civilisation as symbols of ourselves in their animal village. As the story unfolds, the creatures play out the stories, centring around the possession of a ‘shiny object,’ that we all, at some point, have lived:

Domination: Us ruling over Them
Revolution: Us overthrowing Them
Isolation: Us apart from Them
Purification: Us marginalising or excluding Them
Victimisation: Us defeated by Them
Accumulation: Us with more than Them
Reconciliation: Us for Them

Cleverly weaving in very relatable interactions between Cory and the main players in these stories, McLaren and Higgins reveal the great flaws in history’s six stories which are only overcome in the telling of a seventh story by a poet-horse named Swift.

In this new story, a bigger table is built and all the animals are welcomed to a great feast. They are to come as they are and leave their ‘shiny objects’ at home and simply enjoy what has been prepared for them. Those who up until now had been considered ‘the least’ are given places of honour at the table and there is plenty of food for everyone–nobody is left out.

As they enjoy the celebration, Swifthorse tells the new story:

“There is no big or small, no short or tall,
No best or worst, no blessed or cursed,
No dirty or clean, no cause to be mean,
No rich or poor, no reason for war,
We have more than enough in the story of love.
Each is for all of us, and all are for each of us.
This is the wisdom this new story teaches us.”

Of course, there are a few who snarl and spit at this idea–these are the dominating creatures of the previous stories: Badger, Fox, Weasel and Skunk–who drive out Swift and, possibly (this part is left unanswered) kill her.

Drive the poet away, but this story will stay.
Long after I’m gone, the story lives on.

In the concluding pages, the creatures, who themselves are treated as outcasts by the antagonists, gather around a fire and retell Swift’s story and promise to live in love and service for the betterment of their world.

For those of us who have grown up in Christianity, the parallels are quite obvious. However, seeing ourselves as tellers of the six stories at various times in our journey is something that, even as an adult, is confronting. In our own interaction with ‘shiny objects’ and the desire for power over others, we have failed in many ways to hear the story of love as it is told–and demonstrated to us–by and in the life of Jesus.

This short, readable parable may not only grow our children’s awareness of the stories by which we live our lives, but may also help us to see how much we need to grow as their parents and role models to not only tell but also show them the reconciling love and acceptance of Jesus.

Cory & the Seventh Story was released on 12 December and, at the time of writing, is only available directly from the website https://www.theseventhstory.com/kids/

 

Which Religion is True?

BuddhaFor many, this is a genuine question. It is not something that requires a pat, one word answer. “Christianity, of course!” say some. “Islam,” say others.

People have died because of either their answer to this question or their refusal to accept another’s answer as truth.

Brian McLaren not only gives insight into this (often contentious) question in his most recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? but has just put up a post about it on his blog. Here’s some of what he writes:

I appreciate logic as much as the next person. But I find your statement seems to be missing some pieces:

“either all religions are false or only one is true.”

I can imagine four options:
1. All religions are completely true.
2. All religions are completely false.
3. One religion is completely true and others are true wherever they agree with it.
4. All religions are partially true and partially false.

I find #1 impossible since different religions contain many contradictions. I find #2 unlikely and incredible. That leaves #3 and #4. A big problem with #3 is that you have to ask, “Whose version of which religion?” For example, if you want to claim Christianity is completely true, you have to ask, “Pope Urban II’s version of Catholicism?” or “Benny Hinn’s version of Pentecostalism?” or “C. S. Lewis’ version of Protestantism?” or “Leo Tolstoy’s version of Russian Orthodoxy?” or … you get the point.

I would be happy to say that God knows what is completely true … but I would reject any human’s claim that they or their religion knows God’s mind with perfect accuracy. That’s why, as a committed follower of Christ, I advocate
– humility of heart and mind,
– a childlike desire to learn,
– love for neighbor, stranger, outcast, and enemy,
– and a sincere hunger and thirst for justice,
because, as Paul said, “we know in part.”

Think on these thing.

(You can read the rest of Brian’s post here.)

Politics & Religion

I find at this time in the cycle of American politics, people on either side of the political spectrum seem to truly enjoy slinging mud at each other and speaking ill of each other’s preferred candidate. This is true to some extent in any country. And those who claim to be Christians seem to be the greatest offenders.

I’ve always been perplexed at this seemingly incongruous fact. Bruce Reyes-Chow reflects on this in his blog and offers some insight:

It seems that supporters of both parties are pretty inconsistent when it comes to examining what the campaigns are putting out there about the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, taxes, poverty, etc. Generally speaking, when we like and support a candidate, we believe them and if we don’t support a candidate, we find every way to discount their every claim as an utter lie.

Seeing as many of the people who show up in my various news streams are of the Christian variety, I have noticed the same patterns when we approach Scripture. Now don’t worry, I am not trying to equate our political system and God’s movement in the world. I am only pointing out  how we tend to approach our beliefs in times of disagreement. These are the things that I have noticed:

When we read the Bible, The Word of God…

  • We lean into and take at face value passages that reinforce our already held beliefs.
  • We dig deeper into the history and context of the passages in order to discount any that call our beliefs into question

When we hear words from politicians…

  • We lean into and take at face value the words that our preferred politicians says.
  • We dig deeper into the words from politicians we don’t like in order to discount their version of the truth.

In both of these cases we are basically doing two things: one, finding all the support we can to affirm our already held beliefs and, two, finding anything we can to discount the beliefs that others might hold as true. In the end, we are more concerned with making sure that we are right, rather than being open to the possibility that our beliefs might need to change, shift or … heaven forbid, be scrapped in totality. (Read the full post here.)

I don’t believe anyone could agree 100% with any politician’s policies or values. That is a reality of life. It’s up to responsible citizens to weigh what is being said and what is being done against what is right and good for the nation, and then vote accordingly.

Brian McLaren has put this well in his three recent politically-focused ebooks: The Word of the Lord to . . . Democrats, Republicans and Evangelicals respectively. These are well worth reading and are available via Amazon and other reputable ebook sales sites.

Regardless of how you choose to vote–either in the upcoming U.S. election or in next year’s Australian election–don’t simply tow the party line. Look at the issues and values and vote for the leader who best reflects God’s concern for the world: the poor, the marginalised, the stranger, and the vulnerable.

. . . Oh, and we need to remain open to the reality that many of those beliefs and ‘truths’ we now hold dear may one day turn out to be poorly founded or totally wrong.

Realising this, Reyes-Chow concludes his post:

In the end, there are no easy answers and I find strength in the fact that we will always fall short of perfection. But if we can all acknowledge these realities of shared hypocrisy and extend a little grace towards our enemies in these times of battle, maybe we will all see the other side of this election season a little less bruised and battered from the fight.