Saturday, May 03, 2008

Everything Must Change, Part 1

Last night I attended Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change tour in the Bronx. Thinking I'd be the only one there I knew, I was pleasantly surprised to find two friends walk in the door, Elise Brown and Michael Caine, my former Conference Minister. Naturally, we all three sat together. They too, thought they'd be the only ones they knew at this thing.

The evening started with lots of free trade coffee and all the cookies and brownies you could eat. People were mulling about. There is a nice and yet not 'over the top' bookstore available. Arriving early, I got the chance to talk with Brian McLaren again (I met him last year at the Fosdick Convocation held at The Riverside Church, in NYC).

The conference started with some singing and liturgy. Following that, opening remarks and instructions set the rules for the weekend. Then, Brian McLaren took the stage. He spoke for about 2 hours and discussed an overview of his book, Everything Must Change. He talked about the four pivotal crises affecting America gleaned from a host of others who broke down the crises from much longer lists. Each of these lists detailed global crises of hunger, poverty, and differing degrees of environmental challenges.

McLaren created his new list from the lists of others to what he felt were the foundations of the crises: prosperity, equity, security, and a suicide machine. He explained that these differing areas meant that everyone wanted the basic resources of a sustainable life (prosperity) but that it wasn't evenly divided creating tension (equity), and therefore needed security to either keep one's resources or fight to achieve one's equal and fair share (security). The idea that we're consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is causing such tension that the world may ultimately destroy itself (suicide machine). He concluded his talk by explaining that the only solution to these crises is Jesus--and McLaren explained that historically, the church has spent most of its energy and resources addressing issues of church life rather than societal issues that are destroying it. For McLaren, the real issues aren't morality and church strife; rather, the real issues that matter have a larger concern and Jesus' call for renewal was addressing these larger ones.

The service ended with an opportunity to pray and make a spiritual assent to continue the conversation about how we can be the agents of change in our world.

After the conference, Michael Caine and I went out for dinner at this great Dominican restaurant in Washington Heights. Together we talked about McLaren's points and felt that while is perspective has merit, he was talking from a position of white power and privilege. To that end, he may not be underscoring the base problems as clean as he thinks he is. When he used terms like 'prosperity' to describe a sustainable wholeness (two words that were gleaned from a time of small groups during his presentation), he betrayed his own faith's influence by attaching a terminology that also means wealth and entitlement. His commentary was a like a white man telling us why the black man is oppressed--rather than having a black man tell us his story. His words would have been more powerful with personal testimony from the four categories rather than having his own interpretation.

On the whole though, it wasn't a bad introduction. I've actually read his book Everything Must Change and used it as the catalyst for preaching during last year's Advent season. I love the book but am careful not to interpret for the oppressed from a viewpoint of privilege. Instead, I like to go and hear from the voices of the oppressed themselves.

I am looking forward to today's conference and see how we'll use McLaren's vision of Jesus' Kingdom conversation to address and deconstruct societal ills. It should be a good experience. I'll write more about today's conference when I return.

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