It All Started With Rob . . .

Sometime during the winter of 2002 I clicked on an ad on the Sojourners website that took me to a place where I clicked on another link, which took me to a website and blog called Antithesis. Antithesis was the brainchild of Rob Schafer (actually rob schafer–he didn’t like using caps in his name). From this site I read excerpts from a variety of books about following Jesus, being missional and incarnational, and forsaking a religion of exclusivism and prejudice.

I bought my first ‘radical’ book because of a review on Antithesis: Greg Boyd‘s Repenting of Religion. From that followed Jim Wallis, Brennan Manning & Brian McLaren. These discoveries led me to Richard Rohr, Shane Claiborne, N.T. Wright, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, and Phyllis Tickle, among many others. I read a lot and mulled over what I read for many (most?) of my waking hours. I eagerly looked forward to the next month’s ‘issue’ of Antithesis where another theme would be explored, debated, deconstructed and reconstructed.

Then one day I clicked on Antithesis in my browser’s Favourites list . . . and a simple message screen appeared which said (in effect): “I can’t put up with the hateful messages, the name-calling, and spreading lies about me any more and I’m shutting down this website.” The next time I clicked on the site, the domain was for sale for $1500.

I felt really sad for rob. I can only imagine the struggles he had with people he once counted amongst his friends who had turned on him. Maybe they accused him of heresy. Maybe he was a little too far ahead of his time. Maybe he took the attacks too personally. I don’t know.

But I do know I am indebted to him and people like him who have had the courage to say what they think, if only for a short time.

I think there are two errors in the way we are brought up today:

  • We are taught to believe we have to refrain from saying what we really believe or think, or else other people may not like us, think well of us, or may choose not to be our friends, and
  • We are taught to turn our back on people–or at least to be seen to not be on their side of the fence– simply because of what they believe or say (or what they don’t believe or don’t say).

I have encountered this type of behaviour on numerous occasions.

One pastor* told me, “If my people knew I practised contemplative prayer and read the Christian mystics, I would lose my church.” An anonymous commenter on this blog wrote: “The last time I voiced my opinion it was met with name calling, outrage, disbelief and a number of other things. . . . For the sake of my mental health, I can’t go there at the moment.” A friend emailed me to say he agreed with what I wrote, but couldn’t say so publicly because of the scandal it may cause.

I’m not advocating a ‘damn the¬†torpedoes’ approach. We don’t want to be the cause of division and anger. On the other hand, people really should get a thicker skin and not be so sensitive when a friend of theirs says something they don’t agree with. We are all imperfect and should be treating each other with the same gracious spirit which we would like them to extend to us.

I’m nothing like rob schafer. Dancing in Fields of Grace is a blip compared to the well-written, thoroughly researched, and professional design of Antithesis. This blog’s readership is much smaller. My influence is far less.

But I am convinced that anyone can make a difference and be part of a Divine chain reaction that may bring great change–if nothing more than to one person who is open enough to be willing to look at things from a different point of view.

After all, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for a man named rob.

___________

* names and situations have been changed

Nick & Josh

I just found this podcast via Emergent Village. It’s quite challenging and sometimes confronting, even though it seems like it’s recorded on a phone line. The current episode features a three-way interview with Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and Bishop John Shelby Spong. The major discussion topic is where Christianity has seen change in the lifetime of these three and where they see hope for the future. The discussion takes a side track speaking about atonement and the reason for Jesus’ death which, of course, Bishop Spong enjoys speaking his (rather controversial to Evangelicals) views rather than listening to the other two. I think Bishop Spong talks too much but has some fascinating perspectives– and some things I just can’t agree with. Have a listen via iTunes or on the Nick & Josh website.