“The Spirit of God is the fine wine of justice, joy, and peace; the uncontained wind of creativity, comfort, and liberation; the living water of holiness, beauty, and love. Whenever people encounter justice, joy, peace, creativity, comfort, liberation, holiness, beauty, love, or any other good thing, they are in some way encountering the Spirit, or at least the signature or aftermath of the Spirit. The Spirit, then, is bigger than any particular religion or religion in general. Nobody has a monopoly on Spirit.
Get that straight, and a thousand other things begin to fall into place.”
– Brian McLaren
This is my fourth Brian McLaren book. (Plus, I have three others on my “to read” shelf.)
This is the most noticeably different of the ones I’ve read.
“This book is about getting naked — not physically, but spiritually.”
In part, this is a book of practical disciplines: Practices of experiencing (or maybe recognizing) the spirituality of life.
Some seem quite similar to the disciplines I once practiced, yet strangely different.
Different in approach.
Different in feel.
Different in spirit.
Different because these are not “rules,” or measurements of why “I’m a better Christian.” They are not things I have to do to please God, or to satisfy the mandates of a religious group. Rather, these are disciplines born out of journey. Born out of growth, into growth, and through growth.
They come from being “naked” before God. Without the clothing of religion, pretense, or self-righteousness.
The reader is often asked to stop, set the book aside, and engage in meditation.
This, which I often do anyway, helps to understand, retain, and benefit from what has been read, rather than just trying to “finish the book.”
This book is also a map, of sorts. An observation of paths taken, and a sort of analysis of those routes.
This book’s full title is “Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In Twelve Simple Words.”
To me, this initially smacked of “twelve easy steps.”
I’m not into “steps religion.” I’m don’t believe in cookie-cutter Christianity. I’m distrustful of those books where the author claims to have it all nailed-down, and all you have to do is buy their book, and suddenly you life is just hunky-dory.
That, of course, is not where Brian was going.
His book is divided into four “seasons” of Christianity, or spiritual growth. Each season contains six sections, two each for a given word.
The seasons are: Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony.
The first 11 words are: Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, and Yes.
The title is right. The words are simple. But the meanings and practice behind them are quite deep.
The sections of “Here” really touched me. They helped me to see, again, that God is always “here”. I sometimes need to still myself so that I am also “here.” But God does not need to be summoned, invoked, or prayed and fasted for in order for Him to be here. I remember a common phrase in “church” was “God is really here this morning.” We needed to realize that we were only better aware of His presence that is always with us.
“Why?” is a section to which I believe everyone can relate. “When” is close on its heels.
“Behold” is aimed at opening our eyes. I found it a wonderful and moving section.
And the final word of the twelve isn’t even a word. It’s simply “…”
I could give a synopsis of each of the 12 words, but I’m not going to. In this case, I think it would trivialize the whole of what the book has to say.
As for the seasons, each has its purpose, but none are meant to be permanent. There are things from each season we will keep, but they will grow and “morph” into newer versions of themselves.
Even when you’ve gone through all of them, they start over on a new level.
Maybe a new “plane” would be a better way to phrase it.
Simplicity is the stage with clear boundaries. Black/White. Right/Wrong. Us vs. Them. Who’s Good/Who’s Bad. Who’s In/Who’s Out. Everything can be understood, categorized, explained and conquered. We’ve got God all figured out.
Complexity shifts our focus “from right versus wrong to effective versus ineffective.” “To our core of dualism we now add a new layer of pragmatism.”
One thing we see is that many Christians never leave the second season. I know I spent most of my life there. It’s a comfortable place. It’s probably the hardest one from which to move on.
Sooner or later, reality kicks in. You can shut down. You can move to the next season. Or, as many do, you can live with this suppressed disconnect, wondering what’s wrong with you, and why this “christianity” doesn’t “work” for you like it’s supposed to. All the while, sitting in the seat of judgement, deciding who God accepts and who He rejects.
In Perplexity, “what matters most to us — more that being right, more than being effective — is being honest, authentic…
At the very least, we will need to add a margin for mystery and unbolt some of the structural elements of our faith that have been until now tightly fitted together.”
I may have actually dipped my toes in the waters of this season around the year 2000, when I was (in season two terminology) “away from the Lord.” I began entering this season a little more, without quite realizing it, around the year 2005 or 2006. It probably became a conscious directional pursuit in late 2006 or early 2007.
Harmony: “A quiet transcendence that brings along the previous stages.” “This is the stage when faith takes off its dualistic, pragmatic, and relativistic clothing and seeks to encounter God nakedly.” A requirement of this stage, we are told, is humility.
Stage four is not the end. “Far from feeling we have arrived…we finally begin to understand that arrival has never been the point.”
I do not agree fully with everything written here. Brian’s view of giving seems dangerously close to what I see as the anti-Christian practice of tithing.
(I can’t give God the “first fruits” when it’s all His anyway. I am to let Him be in charge of it all.)
Yet, with McLaren, I still know it’s more about being Spirit lead that following rules and creeds.
There are other minor things I would approach differently.
Despite my disagreements, I really enjoyed this book, but in a much different way than I enjoy most of my reading. It went into a different part of me, in a way I can’t quite explain.
It’s just another part of the ever-unfolding whole.
Another step in leaving “destination-based religion” and, instead, enjoying “journey Christianity.”
Buy the book. CLICK HERE.
Naked spirituality is different [from religion]. You don’t argue about the fountain — you drink from it and experience its movement and flow within you.
We may falsely assume that our idea of God is identical to god. (C.S. Lewis)
Gratitude may be the greatest secret to happiness there is… A lot of people spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful.
Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain — particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate — where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.” It is a sobering concept: The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not.
”God is here, and if you do not find God here it is useless to go and search elsewhere.” – Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
In many churches in my childhood people could passionately confess certain personal sins, but remain absolutely oblivious to our racism, Antisemitism, Islammophobia, environmental irresponsibility, homophobia, nationalism, and denominational pride.
God gives Moses a mission, but Mose’s response is surprising. Moses argues. The experience of God is not normally so overwhelming that one is reduced to quivering mush; instead, it invites one to stand tall, to push back, to question, even to resist.
“If it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” That word “if” tells us something terrifyingly significant: at this moment, Jesus doesn’t have clarity about a predetermined, set-in-concrete plan. Jesus isn’t trusting a plan; he is trusting God.
In an environment of grace, avoidance of sin stops being the focus, and other things — generosity, creativity, fun, learning, whatever — can occupy our attention, so we sin less by thinking less about sinning. We can now yield to the good temptation of better things.
Buy the book. CLICK HERE.
[God’s] oneness is not a numerical oneness, like a tree is one, but a relational oneness — like a forest is one.
Jesus consistently rebukes his disciples whey they use their affiliation with him as an exclusive barrier; he intends their identity as his disciples and apostles to be a bridge to others, not a barrier that excludes them.
Teaching against revenge is one of the most frequently repeated imperatives in the New Testament.
[In the season of Complexity] we begin to be able to see some good in what we previously categorized as evil, and some evil in what we previously categorized as good.
The Bible looks different once you’ve survived the autumn. It’s no longer a repository for theological abstractions that can be organized into a tidy fortress called a “Christian Worldview.” It’s no longer a weapon by which you vanquish those who don’t have the good fortune of sharing your approved opinions. [Now] the Bible is the living legacy of people who have lived in the real world, a diary of complexities and perplexities survived and reflected upon.
Jesus was right. Paul was right. John was right. The Buddha was right. Even the Beatles were right. It all comes down to love. You know God by loving God. You know God by loving others.