Apparently, I saved myself a bunch of money yesterday. My parents are in town for a conference at the local mega-church, and as I was shuttling them over there they mentioned that the speaker would be Brian McLaren. Did I know him?
Yeah, I’ve heard of him. I read his first book when it came out, and felt as though he had cracked open my head and put my barely-formulated thoughts on paper. Since then, I’ve seen him in many conference settings, visited his church a few times, and read almost all of his books.
I guess I have a kind of divided affection for Brian. I eagerly look forward to each of his books, buy them right away, and plow through them. And never feel like they are quite what they should be. To me, they are a kind of uneasy marriage of serious scholarship and self-deprecating submission. I finish the books pleased with his intent if a little disappointed with his execution.
But my ambivalence is always eliminated when I see Brian in person. He still uses some sloppy argumentation and biased presentation at times, but his perspectives and critiques are, on the whole, correct. Besides, there is just something about him. A couple of months ago, I started to see this more clearly: he is a good person. Which is not to say that he’s a nice guy, or that he was raised by wonderful parents, or that he lacks a spine. Rather, he has clearly been forming his character over the course of many years, with the result that he is able to do many of the things which Jesus described: returning kindness for insult, going the second mile, valuing justice and mercy over ‘right’ belief. Indeed, when I see someone come at him with a hostile question or unkind attack, his response is so disarming and uncommon that the only parallel I can find is that of Jesus, who himself dealt with so many self-righteous opponents and disingenuous questions.
So yeah, I was interested in seeing my man. I skated past the registration table and snuck into the back of the auditorium, where Brian did his magic again. Afterward, there were only a couple of folks talking to him, so I waited around to say hello, thank him for his work with Worship For Justice and Emergent, and go home. But the guy wouldn’t let me go. He wanted to get a cup of coffee and find out about my life, the church I go to, and the last church I went to. He knew all kinds of stuff about all of these churches and people, and had a genuine pastoral concern about all of it. It was really touching and quite affirming.
So I’ll keep buying his books, if only to support someone who is living like Jesus. We need more of that in this old world.