A Work of Public and Practical Theology

July 7, 2022

As I’m sitting in isolation in the playroom at my older son’s house (in Ammon, Idaho) bemoaning the fact that I tested positive for COVID two days ago, but feeling somewhat better today, I began to read one of Brian McLaren’s books, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation. So far, I’m quite impressed and wondering why I didn’t read this earlier in my own quest for spiritual reorientation. Below are some quotes from the first few pages of the Preface and the Introduction.

These resonated quite strongly with me in various ways and for various reasons. In subsequent posts, I plan to share my reactions/responses to each one of these 12 quotations. My hope that maybe one or more of McLaren’s statements will resonate with you and that you will spend some time meditating on why.

  1. Do the rest of us have to wait until somebody somewhere figures things out and tells the rest of us what to do? I believe that all of us play a role in choosing and creating our futures—as individuals and as communities. We don’t need to wait passively for history to happen to us. We can become protagonists in our own story. We can make the road by walking. (xi)[1]
  2. It [the book] is a work of constructive theology—offering a positive, practical, open, faithful, improvable, and fresh articulation of Christian faith suitable for people in our dynamic times. It is also a work of public and practical theology—theology that is worked out by “normal” people in daily life. (xii)
  3. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. (xii)
  4. The road of faith is not finished. There is beautiful land ahead, terra nova waiting to be explored. It will take a lot of us, journeying together, to make the road. (xiv)
  5. The quest for aliveness is the best thing about religion, I think. It’s what we’re hoping for when we pray. It’s why we gather, celebrate, eat, abstain, attend, practice, sing, and contemplate. When people say, “I’m spiritual,” what they mean, I think, is simple: “I’m seeking aliveness.” (xv)
  6. We have created an economic system that is not only too big to fail, it is too big to control—and perhaps too big to understand as well. This system disproportionately benefits the most powerful and privileged 1 percent of the human species, bestowing upon them unprecedented comfort, security, and luxury. To do so, it destabilizes the climate, plunders the planet, and kills off other forms of life at unprecedented rates. (xvi)
  7. One of their greatest losses is democracy, as those at the top find clever ways to buy votes, turning elected governments into their puppets. Under these circumstances, you would think that at least those at the top would experience aliveness. But they don’t. They bend under constant anxiety and pressure to produce, earn, compete, maintain, protect, hoard, and consume more and more, faster and faster. They lose the connection and well-being that come from seeking the common good. This is not an economy of aliveness for anyone. (xvi)
  8. So our world truly needs a global spiritual movement dedicated to aliveness. … it must be a movement, because by definition, movements stir and focus grassroots human desire to bring change to institutions and the societies those institutions are intended to serve. (xvi)
  9. It [i.e., the movement started by Jesus and his apostles] had no bank accounts, but was rich in relationships and joy. It had no elaborate hierarchy and organization, but spread like wildfire through simple practices of empowerment and self-organization. It had no seminaries or colleges, but it was constantly training new waves of courageous and committed leaders through the “each one teach one” strategy of catechesis. It had lots of problems, too, but it grappled with those problems courageously. (xix)
  10. I hope that We Make the Road by Walking will facilitate the spontaneous formation of grassroots learning circles that can bring together people who don’t feel welcome or wanted in conventional churches. I would discourage these self-organizing groups from using the word church to describe what they’re doing—at least initially. A lot of unintended pressure, baggage, expectation, criticism, and complications can come along with that word. (xxi)
  11. In the spiritual life, as in all of life, it’s better to have the substance without the label than the label without the substance. (xxii)
  12. If you’re a long-term Christian whose current form of Christianity has stopped working and may even be causing you and others harm, here you’ll find a reorientation from a fresh and healthy perspective.8 If your faith seems to be a lot of talk without much practice, I hope this book will help you translate your faith to action. (xxii)

The Kindle version of McLaren’s book is available via Amazon.ca for $3.99 (CDN)! That’s quite the book bargain.

[1] The Roman numerals in parentheses are the page numbers in the Kindle edition of McLaren’s book.

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