Election Day Communion: Uniting Our Divisions, Body & Soul?

Part 1: Chicken Run

Eating. It can unite us, or divide us. How – and with whom – we eat divided many of us as a nation late this summer when news of Chick-Fil-A’s track record of anti-LGBT lobbying hit the mainstream. Progressives were aghast, and conservatives rallied the base. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, attended by millions. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered families, their friends and allies, grieved, as a nation seemed to gleefully say to them: “Let them eat chicken.” 

Mealtimes in Jesus’ day were divisive, too. In the ancient Near East, observant Jews were careful to practice “safe sects,” eating only with their closest co-religionists, the ones that interpreted their purity codes just like they did. The less-than-pure were sure to be kept away from the immaculately prepared meals, socially-stratified tables, and carefully-washed utensils. The ‘pagan’ Romans were no better, with a firm pecking order of who got to eat where based on citizenship, social standing, and rank.

Jesus, by contrast, ate indiscriminately. Scholar Bruce Chilton suggests that Jesus, like many tradesmen of his day, was often paid in meals. At these meals, he could invite whomever he wished and his client had no choice but respect his table arrangements. It is here, Chilton believes, that Jesus honed his conviction that God was near when a table was full – of good food and “whosoever.” So Jesus invited sex workers and religious leaders, government stooges and terrorists alike to share a common meal around a common table. In so doing, he enacted Isaiah and Ezekiel’s eschatological vision of a heavenly banquet come to earth, where God lays a spread of the finest foods and aged wines to all humanity. How inclusively does Jesus mirror this image of God’s all-encompassing shalom? Even at his final meal before execution, Jesus invites his betrayer to dine with him.

Do we eat like this today? I confess that every time I sat at a table with my social group in high school, every time I turn away from others at the mall food court, every time I refuse to meet a homeless street hustler’s gaze on the sidewalk downtown, I do not.

And in a worshiping context? So often, communion or eucharist or Lord’s Supper follows society’s norms rather than reshaping them.

But it doesn’t have to be this way; another meal is possible. The meal that Jesus left us with can cause endless social and doctrinal divisions, or it can unite us against the larger societal forces that fragment us. Radical theologian William Cavanaugh frames our meal choice – between consumption or communion – in his ground-breaking essay The World in a Wafer:

Globalism is a masternarrative, the consumption of which ironically produces fragmented subjects incapable of telling a genuinely catholic story. [T]he Eucharist [by contrast] produces a catholicity which does not simply prescind from the local, but contains the universal Catholica within each local embodiment of the body of Christ. The body of Christ is only performed in a local Eucharistic community, and yet in the body of Christ spatial and temporal divisions are collapsed. In the complex space of the body of Christ, attachment to the local is not a fascist nostalgia for gemeinschaft in the face of globalization. Consumption of the Eucharist consumes one into the narrative of the pilgrim City of God, whose reach extends beyond the global to embrace all times and places.

As Cavanaugh states elsewhere, “To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in which the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.” In sharing Eucharist we enter the suffering of one another – the literal meaning of compassion – and in so doing ” we see the distance between friend and enemy overcome.”

To this end, my Facebook friend Andy and I created People Appreciation Day – an attempt to stem the Chick-Fil-A food fight that was, absurdly enough, gripping much of the nation. Its premise was simple: Invite someone out for a meal, someone you’d normally be uncomfortable dining with. Perhaps someone of another race, class, orientation, or religion…or perhaps, an outright enemy.

For me, many of the above categories weren’t particularly challenging. I’m married to a woman of another race, and have a veritible ‘rainbow coalition’ of friends; while I don’t do it as often as I’d like, I joyfully break bread with people who live outside; I get together with my Turkish Muslim friends monthly and enjoy baklava and other treats as we catch up on matters of family, nation, and faith. No, for me, my boogeyman wasn’t a black or homeless or gay or Muslim person – it was a ‘fundamentalist,’ the people I came from…the people I used to be.

I decided to invite my former Facebook friend Art Mealer. Art and I met a year or two ago, online and in-person. He’s a businessman and house church organizer. He has a ministry called Waging Love. We got together for dinner at Market in Raleigh. We really wanted to like each other…we found that, besides professing Jesus as Lord, we had little in common. It was awkward. Over the months, he’s invited me to house church barbecues (I’ve usually had other things to do, but honestly felt nervous around getting together in this setting); I’ve invited him to my church, Trinity’s Place (which made him nervous, he said to me plainly, on a number of theological and even moral levels.) Thus, Art and I’s primary interaction has been online, where tempers flare, partisanships are on display like proud peacocks, and the decorum that usually accompanies in-person interaction is all-but-absent.

I forget which online post it was from one of my friends that triggered it: Was it the one from Kimberly Knight? Or Matthew Paul Turner? Or Rachel Held Evans? Or Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove? Whichever it was, after reading one post too many, Art de-friended me on Facebook. As online connections, we were “over.” A connection severed over our very real differences – different conceptions of ethics, the public square, governance, and even God. I knew that if I was going to follow my own mandate and break bread with someone who made me uncomfortable, I’d have to ask Art out to lunch. He accepted, and light-heartedly (?) proposed we meet at Chick-Fil-A. After some back-and-forth about politics and nutrition, he suggested Aladdin’s instead. I accepted.

Art and I had a great meal. Hundreds attended People Appreciation Day – not the million or so that defiantly ate chicken a few weeks before, but what is that line about not despising small beginnings? If the planet is a loaf, a little leaven is a good place to begin. The News & Observer did a great little write-up on PAD, in which they quote me saying:

“If I can look in their eyes and share food, I won’t be able to callously dismiss their perspectives the next time I’m surrounded by like-minded people,” said Morrell, who often references the meals Jesus shared with people whom others avoided. “I’ll be able to see their perspectives in a more human and less sound-bitten way.”

Part 2: Election Indigestion.

What have I learned since then? That I need to share even more such meals. I have been sound-bitten, and I have been the biter. In the run-up to election season, I have posted my fair share of opinionated pieces, news items, and videos – all advocating a particular vision of our nation’s future. Others have advocated their visions similarly. As you could imagine, these visions sometimes clash.

Be specific without being exclusivistic is my frequent refrain for myself. As I allow myself to partake of God as my Tree of Life beyond the knowledge of good and evil, and enter into unitive consciousness as I see life through a renewed, Christ-like, and spacious lens, I recognize a paradox: I don’t un-become who I am. I don’t suddenly become formless. I’m still me, in all my partisan particularity. Though hopefully, as I keep breaking bread with enemies and eating God, I take myself and my particularities less seriously.

I needed this reminder after being de-friended by yet more people – including a relative I will likely see at Christmas, or her daugther’s wedding next Spring – over online political posts.

I needed this reminder after eating at Zaxby’s tonight with four of my MKP brothers, most of us laughing about a particular presidential candidate’s idiotic policies and presence – only to look over and notice that one of our brothers wasn’t laughing, because he voted for the candidate the rest of us were deriding.

And so, after dinner on Election Night, I drove around the corner to Raleigh Moravian Church, where I knew Election Day Communion was taking place. What’s this, you ask? Well, as their homepage reads in part,

On November 6, 2012, Election Day,
we will exercise our right to choose.

Some of us will choose to vote for Barack Obama.
Some of us will choose to vote for Mitt Romney.
Some of us will choose to vote for another candidate.
Some of us will choose not to vote.

During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results.

But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.

Let’s meet at the same table,
with the same host,
to remember the same things.

We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

We’ll remember that, through the Holy Spirit, this power dwells within otherwise ordinary people who as one body continue the mission of Jesus: preaching good news to the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-21).

We’ll remember that freedom — true freedom — is given by God and is indeed not free. It comes with a cost and it looks like a cross.

We’ll remember that the only Christian nation in this world is the Church, a holy nation that crosses all human-made boundaries and borders.

We’ll remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

And we’ll re-member the body of Christ as the body of Christ, confessing the ways in which partisan politics has separated us from one another and from God.

On Tuesday evening, November 6,
make a choice to remember.
Let’s meet at the Lord’s Table.
Let’s remember together.

I wanted to remember, together. I wanted to counter the brokenness of my relationships with the brokenness of Christ’s body. I wanted to partake of a common cup to remind me of the transcendent meaning that we all share in a common humanity.

The only problem was, Raleigh Moravian had their Election Day Communion at 12:30 that afternoon. Looking up an N&O article on my phone, I discovered that my friends at Raleigh Mennonite started their Election Day Communion Gathering…20 minutes before I read the article. I zoomed over, just in time to hear my friend Duane Beck read from John 17…to speak of communion, common union, working its way through bread and wine and bodies – diverse bodies, political bodies, divergent bodies…common bodies. He invited everyone to come up and partake – black and white and hispanic, Republican and Democrat and anarchist, old people and young parents and students…we ate, we drank, we lit candles if we wanted…and we lingered, reminding one another of our shared identity as God’s beloveds.

So I ate ate the bread, drank the cup, and passed the peace in embrace of friends and strangers. Did I overcome division?

It’s a trickier question than I first supposed. It’s not only I’m divided from those who think and act and live differently than me; I’m divided from myself, sometimes. A stranger from myself. When it comes to politics, I am part-idealist, part-pragmatist, part-hypocrite, and part-cynic. Anarchism, third parties, intentional communities, partisan rancor, ambivalence, compromise, resignation, even apocalyptic fantasies. All of these exist within me.

As I type, I hear a still, small voice.

This is My Body, broken for you.

Even me, Lord?

Even you. And every ragamuffin, ne’er-do-well, teamster, prankster, gangster, poseur, pollster, reality-upholsterer and gun-holsterer that walks this planet. Even all of you…saints and scoundrels…broken apart like so much bread, in the fragments of your violence toward one another and Me; forgiven and re-gathered, reconstituted and re-mattered, as My Body is consumed and digested, I am consumed with love for you. You are bodies…broken and re-born. You matter to Me.

It is in this consummation that I am consumed; it is in divine digestion that I rest. The election was called a few hours ago – in the world of manifestation, ideological divisions still exist between us. As a nation, planet, and ecosystem, we have a lot of healing left to do. I pray that we can “taste and see” God’s sustaining goodness together. And with each other imagine a common future. Another world is possible – and in the scandalously-inclusive table of God, is already here.

Please…tell me your story of Election Day Communion, or other boundary-breaking meal-sharing, in the comments below. I’d love to hear.

Update: Welcome, Brian McLaren readers!

See also:


Born Twice: My Adoption Story

October 30th – it’s my birthday today. I turn 33. So it’s only appropriate that I delve into something that I’ve never said here before: I’m adopted. I was adopted from birth. And nearly two years ago, I connected with my biological parents for the first time.

I recently sat down with my friend (and parenting blogger) Jeremy Uriz to discuss what it was like to grow up as an adopted kid, and what impact this has on me now. Jeremy has a vested interest in knowing: as of earlier this year, Jeremy and his wife Jennifer became the proud adoptive parents of a toddler from China, Penelope. Let me tell you, she is a cutie, and ridiculously smart, to boot. Jeremy has been chronicling her life, and their life as parents, at Belonging Together. It’s a treasure trove of information and wisdom on parenting, adoption, cross-cultural parenting/adoption, et al.

In our two-part interview – which you can read as a transcript or listen to as a podcast – we discuss adoption and parenting from all sides. If you want, you can jump right now to part one and part two – otherwise, here are some excerpts…

Jeremy: Recently you had a unique experience among some adoptive people. We’ll discuss that in a little bit. Let me just start out and ask you how sensitive a topic is adoption now versus 10 or 20 years ago?

Mike: Do you mean how sensitive do I think it is in the culture at large?

J: Yes.

M: I would say in most corners it’s way more open now than it used to be. My impression is, and what I’ve gathered, is there used to be a culture of almost shame and secrecy around adoption and now people are far more commonly talking about adoption, either if it’s their children that they have adopted or if they are kids or adult children who were adopted it seems more common now. It’s more out in the open.

J: When did you find out you were adopted?

M: I found out I was adopted when I was, I want to say, 4 or 5 years old. I kept pestering my mom about “birds and the bees” type questions and think I point blank asked her at one point if I grew in her belly. My mom is of the “I will not tell a direct lie” school of ethics, and though it was an uncomfortable topic for her, she decided to give it to me straight. She told me then that I was adopted and that they chose me, my mom and dad chose me, and that they loved me very much because they especially chose me.

J: What were your feelings at the time?

M: …to hear my feelings, go here for the continuation of Part One.

Jeremy: That brings me to another question. Did you feel there was a piece of you that was in a sense “filled in” by this connection or did you know it was there, did you not know it was there and you only discovered it when you began speaking to [your birth mother]?

Mike: That’s such interesting question. Connecting with both her, and shortly thereafter my birth father, I did see some aspects in common in terms of they were both very opinionated people, they are both entrepreneurial, and creative. And so there were some cool resonances there but it actually wasn’t as intensely ”Oh I found this missing piece of myself” as I think I may have built it up in my mind. I think there’s a bit of allure that develops around adoption that makes you feel like there’s this sort of ache or primal wound or something that once you find these people you’re going to have a missing piece of yourself.

I was very fortunate to have a wonderful reunion experience with both of my birth parents. I know in some cases the birth parents don’t want to be in touch, or they turn out to be co-dependent, or addicts, or there’s all kind of horror stories out there. I’m really grateful that none of that was the case with me.

At the same time I think that what it confirmed that there are some ways in which I am simply unique. So in the ways in which I felt like maybe I didn’t fit in when I was growing up among my parents, my adoptive parents, that maybe if I ever imagined “well I don’t fit in with them but it’s because I’m more like my birth parents” in some ways I’ve discovered that I’m just a unique person on my own two feet. It’s great as an adult to be in a relationship with the parents I’ve always had as well as my birth parents.But I’m relating to all of them really as an adult.

Yeah, its an interesting process. It’s not over yet by any means so I’m still along for the journey in this regard.

J: So in some respects it offers you a larger palate to work from than other people.

M: Sure.

J: Not necessarily the way people would choose but it’s the hand you were dealt.

M: Yeah, it is the hand I was dealt. [I would add that this is not as grim as it sounds! By and large, I like the upbringing I had, though it’s not without its challenges. I am grateful for how things unfolded, and continue to be grateful for how they unfold today with my big, diverse, interesting family…] And I think increasingly in this day and age there are a lot of adopted children, and lots of blended families, people who have step parents of one sort or another,  I think a lot of us are getting to play with larger palates these days as we’re discovering why we’ve developed in the way we have and what’s formed our identity.

J: Now this particular question is going to be important for me and anyone reading, or for a lot of people reading this. What do you feel adoptive parents should know about their adopted children? Is there something about the experience? For Jennifer and I we can’t relate in some respects to the experience Penelope has. What is it that parents should know in this circumstance?

M: …to hear my life-changing advice for adoptive parents, continue on over to Part Two.


 How about you? Have you adopted children? ARE you adopted? What’s your story? I’d like to hear, here

Jesus: A Theography – the Sweet/Viola Interview + Recommendation

In the third century, Origen of Alexandria taught that there are four senses of Scripture. In Chanting the Psalms, Cynthia Bourgeault summarizes these as follows:

  1. Historical (or “literal”), where Scripture is “all about facts and linear causality” (50).
  2. Christological (or “allegorical”), in which “all the stories and images in the Bible [are]…pointing toward the Christ mystery” (51).
  3. Tropological (or “growth”), in which the stories of Scripture are seen as “holograms of the soul’s journey” (51).
  4. Unitive in full blossom, (others say “anagogical”), in which “we begin to realize that there is only one story, the great biblical drama of salvation, and our own life is perfectly mirrored and contained within it” (52).

For many contemporary readers of Scripture and followers of Jesus, we’re stuck at the literal or historical sense of Holy Writ. Now granted, for alot of us, this is actually a step up; I know that when I was a kid and even a high school and college student, so much of the Bible was reduced to a one-dimensional morality tale, a story about how to “be like David” (the giant-slaying David, mind you, not the Bathsheba-bedding David!) or the Proverbs 31 woman (well, not me, specifically) or whatever. So when I began to discover the historical context of Scripture through scholars like NT Wright or Amy-Jill Levine or James Dunn or Bruce Chilton, my world opened up, as did my Bible and my faith. Still, as Cynthia‘s outline suggests, the ancients had a far more multi-dimensional approach to our sacred text, and it wasn’t just for reading – it was to to experientially know the God of the Bible (as revealed in Jesus Christ) and move through our own soul’s journey into a sense of union with God and the fullness of our destiny.

To put it mildly, contemporary Bible studies don’t do that. Most of them stick to morals that are often shallow, dubious, and/or partisan. A few of the best dip into the historical context of Scripture and paint the narrative in a compelling way. (For fine examples of this, I’d recommend my friend Sean Gladding‘s The Story of God, the Story of Us from Likewise, with its accompanying DVD set for group reading – as well as the Network of Biblical Storytelling and the International Orality Network) But what if there was a resource the bridged the Historical sense of Scripture with the Christological – the latter being a style of interpretation that has been out of favor with the academy and churches alike for centuries – paving the way for the reader to be catapulted into the Tropological and the Unitive fellowship of the Godhead?

I daresay that Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet‘s Jesus: A Theography does precisely this.

I’ll say more in a minute. But first, I wanted to share with you some about the book from the authors’ own words. I sat down with Sweet and Viola (virtually speaking) over the weekend to glean the following (note – the words are the interviewees, but the links are mostly mine. I like you to be able to engage the conversation with as much depth as you desire; Andrew Jones doesn’t call me “Dr Linkage” for nothing!):

Mike: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to my readers and curious potential readers everywhere. My first question about your new release concerns your sub-title. “Theography?” What’s a theography?   

Len: “Theography” literally means “the story of a god.” Even though I’m not averse to coining words (some would call that an understatement), we did not make up the word “theography.” It’s an actual genre of literature which has a long history. Rather than write a “biography of God” (Jack Miles) or a “history of God” (Karen Armstrong), we decided to lay our cards on the table and write the story of someone we believe is, as the Nicene Creed puts it, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.”

Frank: A theography is a theological biography. The book, therefore, tells the story of Jesus, beginning from eternity (John 1:1), all the way through the Old Testament (where Christ is foreshadowed, prefigured, and prophesied about), all the way through the New Testament and ending in Revelation. It seeks to marry theology with biography, bringing together Christology with historical Jesus studies.

Mike: You resurrect an ancient way of reading Scripture that’s nearly lost today – what some would call allegorical, or typological. Can you each say something about this way of finding Christ on every page of Holy Writ?

Frank: It’s not allegorical. We make a clear distinction in the book between subjective allegory (which we don’t subscribe to) and classic typology – which is basically a semiotic reading of Scripture. The latter is how the NT authors interpreted the OT. It’s also how Jesus taught His disciples to read the Scriptures. We unpack those two statements in the book.

Let me add something else. There are three things being emphasized today by some Christians and our book speaks directly to each one:

First – there is an emphasis on being “Red Letter Christians.” For better or for worse, one result of this emphasis is that many people have the idea that in order to really understand Jesus, we have to focus solely on the Gospels, particularly the places where Jesus tells us what to do. The “red letter” emphasis is no doubt a reaction to those who have pushed the gospel strictly in Pauline terms. But the net is often that we end up pitting Justice against Justification and people take sides.

By contrast, we believe that we will never fully understand Jesus simply by reading the red letters in the Gospels. Nor do we believe that we can fully understand Him by reading the writings of Paul only.

It is our conviction that we can only fully understand Jesus by learning to discover Him from Genesis to Revelation and interpret the Scriptures the same way that Jesus taught His disciples to interpret them.

Luke says that the risen Christ opened the understanding of His disciples, revealing Himself to them through Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Those are the three parts of the Hebrew Bible – the Tenack.

In addition, if we understand that Jesus is speaking in and through the Old Testament as YHWH, then all of the Bible should be in red letters.

Consequently, we’re all for being “Red Letter Christians,” if by that we mean Genesis to Revelation should be written in red.

If all Christians learned to discover Christ in all the Scriptures, it would constitute no small revolution in the Body of Christ . . . and in turn, the world. I believe the earth begs for such a revolution.

Second – there’s a re-emphasis on discipleship today in many quarters (“discipleship” was also big in the late 60s early 70s, then it went off the rails. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, many who are on the discipleship band-wagon today don’t know their history. And ignorance of history usually ends up in a repetition of it.)

Most of the people who promote this emphasis talk about the importance of reading the Bible. But reading the Bible on its own doth not a disciple make. The Bible must be interpreted.

In Jesus: A Theography, Len and I demonstrate how the first Christians (the NT authors) interpreted the Old Testament. And then we use that same hermeneutic (method of interpretation) to unveil Christ from Genesis to Revelation.

Consequently, beyond being a book that converges NT scholarship with theology and canonical criticism, our volume is a handbook for discipleship, showing God’s people how to read the Bible in the light of Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible this way brings it to life on so many levels.

Third – we live in a time where there is perhaps more diversity among Christians than ever before. Last year, Christian Smith wrote a little book about this and asserted that the cure for the interpretive pluralism that plagues biblical interpretation among Christians today is the rediscovery of the Christocentric hermeneutic.

We believe that there is a lot of truth in Smith’s proposal. While it’s no panacea, reading the Scriptures Christologically can help us profoundly on this score. Thus our book seeks to show what a Christocentric hermeneutic is, what it looks like, and how it can be applied to the entire Bible – both Old and New Testaments.

Len: Nowadays christology is the weak slat under the bed of theology; Frank and I believe it should be the whole bed. That is what we tried to show in this book—the seamless garment story of Jesus.

There has been a renewed interest in both ancient approaches to the Bible known as allegorical and typological. Although Frank and I contrast the two, shunning the allegorical and embracing the typological, there are some scholars who argue that we are mistaken in this and that any crisp contrast between the two is misguided (e.g. David Dawson, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria [University of California Press, 1992).

But we maintain the distinction in our book, and believe that the “storied world of the Bible” (Hans Frei) needs a unitive telling that requires a typological hermeneutic. If we are to move the biblical narrative from its historical context into any present and future setting, “translation” must transition into typology.

Charles L. Campbell’s excellent book on typological preaching defines typology as “fundamentally a Christological and ecclesial form of interpretation. That is, the movement is from events in the story of Israel through Jesus as the center and ‘archetype’ of the story to the church as the ongoing bearer of the story” (p. 253 of Preaching Jesus [1997]).  I personally prefer the lens and language of “semiotics” to “typology,” but the consensus of the publishers was that this would be too confusing to the reader.

You say some intriguing things about gardens and temples in your book, and how they reveal Christ. Could you summarize and preview this a bit here?               

Frank: The garden-temple theme stretches from Genesis to Revelation. We trace it in great detail throughout the book. It’s everywhere in Genesis 1 and 2 (we dedicate two chapters to Genesis 1 and 2, in fact). The garden-temple theme reappears in Revelation 21 and 22.

Jesus uses these motifs often in pointing to Himself. In John 1 and 2, which is “the new Genesis,” Jesus describes Himself as the new temple. In John 7 and John 14, images of living water and a vine tree hearken back to the garden. Christ embodies both the temple and the garden. The details, which we explore in the book, are no less than fascinating.

Len: The world’s oldest profession is not what you think it is. The First Adam was a gardener. The Last Adam, whose mission it was to return us to that garden relationship with God, had the imagination, not of a tool-guy, but of a gardener. In his first post-resurrection appearance, Jesus was mistaken for a gardener. As a writer, I think of myself as a gardener with words, and my computer as a garden bed. The Bible begins in a garden, and ends in a garden city . . . .  Have we teased you enough with the metaphor?

Mike: Yes Len, you’ve given me plenty to plow through. :) (Ba-dum-bum!)

I’ve read both of you since the 1990s, and feel like I have a good handle on your respective themes and styles; I feel like this volume is much more ‘blended,’ style-and-content-wise, than your first collaboration together, Jesus Manifesto. Has your collaboration process evolved since then? How did you go about writing Jesus: A Theography?

Len: The more you spend time with someone, and think their thoughts with them and after them, the more you start to vibrate on the same wavelength. We wrote this book showing how Jesus is our tuning fork to the Eternal, God’s Perfect Pitch. As we disciplined our “tunings” to Him, our voices began to harmonize in a rich and rare way. I think you can still hear our distinctive frequencies, but it’s an ensemble of harmonious difference, not clashing differences.

Frank: Jesus Manifesto was a much shorter work and it reads more like an anthology of collected essays on the same topic. Jesus: A Theography is over 400 pages and it seeks to tell one story – a story that’s based in the discoveries of two lifetimes (Len’s and mine). We tried our best to write it with one voice. Some of our readers have observed that it reads similar to a novel. Each reader will have to decide if we succeeded in our intent.

Mike: Len, Frank – you’ve both served in ministry for decades, and yet I feel you both have as hallmarks of your ministries how everything old becomes new again – especially the ever-newness of God’s mercies in Christ. So I’m curious: In the process of putting words to paper (or pixel, as the case may be), did you each, personally, discover something fresh about the Christ you were unearthing in the pages of Scripture?           

Len: Our ancestors used to sing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” That’s the ultimate in discipleship. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. But he also wants to be fresh every morning.

The Living Bread requires we bake fresh bread, which is what this book is: the freshest bread the two of us could serve up. Painter Robert Motherwell confessed one day that “most good painters don’t know what they think until they paint it.” I don’t think we really know what we believe and who Jesus is until we live our faith, put fingers to feelings and legs to thoughts. In writing this book, I discovered so much about Jesus I never knew or imagined.

Frank: When asked how long it took me to write my part of the book, my answer is that it took 30 years. I’ve spent my entire Christian life exploring Jesus in all the Scriptures, in the community of the church (present and ancient), and in day-to-day life. Yet there’s no way to exhaust Him.

So putting the story down in one place with Len took my breath away. And I hope it does the same for those who read our book cover to cover. There’s always more light to break forth from God’s Word whenever we look at it in the face of Jesus Christ. All Scripture really does point to Him (John 5:39).

People can take a look at the Introduction of the book (which includes endnotes), a full description, a Publishers Weekly review, the Table of Contents and a free audio where I share the untold story behind the book (including why we chose not to have any endorsements) and another audio where Len shares why he and I wrote the book. Just click http://frankviola.org/jesuschrist

Frank & Len: Thanks Mike!

Mike Morrell: You’re welcome. Thank you.

* * *

A couple of closing thoughts: I’ve been listening to Jesus: A Theography in audio book form in the kitchen this weekend, while the fam has milled about. My five-year-0ld daughter has been listening in, and started drawing pictures “of God.” There’s a lot of storytelling in the book, and the stories have kept her attention – and ours.

I personally believe that every evangelical, charismatic, missional-minded disciple and Reformed Jesus-follower should read this book. Youth groups and campus ministries especially (can you hear me, Cru, Inter-Varsity, and Campus Outreach?). It can form a True North that everything else you do is oriented toward.

Further, I hope that emergent, progressive, Integral, poststructural, Radical Orthodox, New Monastic, and liberation/anarchist-minded Christians and Questians don’t ignore this book. The authors throw some hermeneutical curve-balls that you may not agree with, but if you stay with the source material (take it, if it helps, as coming from the best of the devotional-Pietist tradition as informed by the Canoncial Critical school of Biblical interpretation), there will be rich material for reflection and community-formation, even if there are points you’d debate with as you hold this vision of Christ in creative tension with a Christology from below.

For readers of every stripe – including those who would not identify as Christian – I believe that Viola and Sweet have done a magisterial job of bridging the Historical and Christological senses of Scripture in a way that can connect and resonate with contemporary readers, which puts Jesus: A Theography at a distinct advantage over similar Patristic and Medieval texts that (at first encounter at least) cannot bridge this divide in the contemporary mind.

Check it out!

Praying Is A Heartache

I always hear the most interesting new music on 88.1 in Raleigh – last week was no exception. It turns out it’s not a ‘new’ song, but one from Scotland Yard Gospel Choir‘s 2009 album …And the Horse You Rode On.

What first grabbed me was the melody, and then the words. This isn’t exactly where I’m coming from these days, but still it resonates, in a this-is-so-often-the-human-condition kinda way.

‘Enjoy’ would be the wrong word…experience? Savor? Perchance resonate? Yeah. That sounds about right.


Praying is a Heartache

These days I don’t trust nobody
I’ve been hurt too many times before
It’s your best friend sleeping with your woman
It’s your woman closing your front door
Right in your face…

These days I wake up in the morning
Lord knows I don’t want to face the day
I wish that sun that rose a-shining
Would up and go away
Some other place

These days praying is a heartache
I wonder where my Lord has been
Preacher says the path that man walks
Is the wicked path of sin
How can that be?

You know I try to tell the truth, Lord
You know that I don’t drink or fight
Preacher says man walks in darkness
Well I’ve been staring for your light
But Lord I still can’t see

These days I wake up in the morning
Lord knows I don’t want to face the day
I wish that sun that rose a-shining
Would up and go away
Some other place
Some other place…


Want some like-hearted music? Check out Raincorn’s Alternative Seasonally Depressing Playlist of Sadness.

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 3

As I mentioned in my last post about my AMP Intensive experience, there is a solid theory base that undergirds all of the exercises we go through and games we play. It’s known as the “AMP Holarchy.” What’s a ‘holarchy’? It’s a way of visioning reality as nested, like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls, layer within layer within layer. (See this for a more precise definition, and then if you’re curious peruse one of my favorite essays on holarchy, Ken Wilber’s From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in Three Easy Steps.)

Here are my notes on the “AMP Holarchy,” from the center radiating outward:


  • In my body, owning my space.
  • Expanding my awareness beyond my own skin – enveloping my woman, the room…really, there’s no limit to what present awareness can take in.
  • In the now


  • Loving what is – allowing – holding less tension
  • Access the regard that we have for one another – acknowledging the shared humanity between us and our woman.
  • Realizing that she has good days and bad; that she was a little girl once, that she played and has a favorite color.
  • Relaxing away from idolization and objectification…
  • Welcoming and celebrating another’s subjective experience.
  • Appreciation doesn’t mean you “like” how things are, but you embrace this moment – even this.


  • Words = Actions, alignment with values.
  • Fully owning my desire in the world; unapologetically forthright in what I want.
  • Doing what I say, living in alignment with my values, keeping my boundaries, respecting myself, owning my desire

When we put integrity before appreciation, judgementalism results. “I don’t like it.”


  • Contains and runs through all of this; it’s what’s generated when Presence, Appreciation, and Integrity are present.
  • Not needing anything outside myself to be happy – wholeness is the opposite of shame.
  • “I want you, but I don’t need you.”

The Pickup community (which AMP was started in response to) attempts to mimic wholeness, but ends up coming from a hollow core. Feign indifference toward women; tease; pretend you don’t care…

Photo courtesy of David Bollt: http://www.davidbollt.com (c) 2012

As I said last post, I learned important truths from both the women and men who facilitated, as well as my fellow participants. I was shown how to look at difficult areas in my life, where I feel “trapped,” with artistry – even where I don’t see an immediate “way out,” I see new ways to re-frame the impasse with appreciation rather than beating my chest in despair. (Actually beating my chest would be more alive than I typically am – I should say “rather than thinking my way in pretzels, in despair.”)

Speaking of – and once again, I don’t want to give anything away – there were some fun, physical (but not physically dangerous) exercises we were given that brought me deep into a primal masculine state.

During one of the games, I saw how I can on the one hand “be with” a person exquisitely, yet not seem like I’m having very much fun.

During another game, I learned something I can totally try on an upcoming date with my wife – something that will almost-undoubtedly lead to major fun!

During one exercise, I saw visions. No joke. If your expensive conferences and boot camps fill you with conceptual knowledge but don’t give you the opportunity to experience altered states of consciousness (and make actual contact with other human beings), you might appreciate  the difference in AMP. (There’s still space for AMP: Evolution, starting this Friday.)

Sometimes it was intimidating, watching the most senior facilitators (women and men) interact with us and each other. Could I ever be that present to myself and others? I wondered. Will I ever be that comfortable in my own skin?

After the second night, I wrote this in my journal before drifting off to sleep:

Are there really two classes of people [with regard to personal mastery]?


Can this mastery really be learned?

That’s what I aim to find out.

* * * *

Photo courtesy of Mark Bollt: facebook.com/markbollt (c) 2012

My masculine journey isn’t over yet, and it’s taken some fascinating twists and turns. It’s not the “John Wayne” M.O. that turned me off as a young twenty-something, but nor is it (in the words of Tripp Lanier) the “New Age Wimp” either. There’s a bold path that’s filled with both appreciation of the present moment as well as the energetic desire to make a difference in the world.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing with you an inspiring reflection from MKP’s Boysen Hodgson, but for now I want to wrap up with my gratitude for the men and women who make up Authentic World, and the Authentic Man Program that started it all for them. The Authentic Holarchy of Presence > Appreciation > Integrity > Wholeness has teeth; put into practice, it’s a way into the world that makes relationships all the more risky and rewarding. And that’s what authentic humanity, in my judgement, is all about.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

Sunday Devotional: Everlasting Gospel

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see

Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy.

Thine has a great hook nose like thine;

Mine has a snub nose like to mine.

Thine is the friend of All Mankind;

Mine speaks in parables to the Blind.

Thine loves the same world that mine hates;

Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates.

Socrates taught what Melitus

Loathd as a Nation’s bitterest Curse;

And Caiphas was in his own Mind

A benefactor to Mankind.

Both read the Bible day & night,

But thou readst black where I read white.

– William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel – much more here.

(This, incidentally, reminds me of People Appreciation Day, covered here in the News & Observer.)

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 2

(Continued from Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, Part 1)

The house where our AMP: Intensive was held, in Chapel HIll. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: http://www.jeffreyplatts.com (c) 2012

AMP, or the Authentic Man Program, is (as I understand it) what happens when dating-scene pickup artists collide with the human potential movement in San Francisco: A community developing practical ways to delve deep into your core masculinity in all your relations, particularly those with the opposite sex.*

(*Yes, AMP does tend to be hetero-normative, though there’s plenty of space to bring who you are regardless of orientation.)

My friend Adrial, whom I met when I initiated with him in MKP, was my entrée into the world of AMP, years after listening to the New Man podcasts. It all started with the Authentic Games Nights he hosts around the Triangle: these awesome evenings of rather psychologically intimate mutual exploration with mostly complete strangers – think of ice-breakers on Ayahuasca.

(And if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, well…it isn’t for everyone, and yet it’s gentler than it sounds. It pushes my edge around introversion and extroversion in a way that I appreciate).

From my experiences with Authentic Games – including when we brought Adrial into Wild Goose East this year – I knew I wanted more. Imagine my delight when he introduce me to John Church, who told me that there were two upcoming AMP weekends happening right in my region: the AMP: Intensive in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and AMP: Evolution in DC (which is happening in two weeks; I’ll be there as support staff. Check it out!). I decided to take the plunge, and go.

I’m so glad I did.

True to its name, it was an intense weekend. Ten men were present, all of us seeking to work on very personal dimensions of our own lives. We were all bound by a common desire to grow beyond our comfort zones.

We were supported in this by two main male facilitators, as well as four other co-facilitators, seven amazing female coaches, and a number of support staff who took care of everything from breakfast to chair arrangements throughout the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Mark Bollt: facebook.com/markbollt (c) 2012

The whole weekend was a series of exercises, which I’m reluctant to say too much about because I don’t want to spoil the magic should you decide to take the AMP plunge for yourself. (And, ladies: there are plenty of Authentic World opportunities as well – like AWE in DC at the end of September – see the Resources at the end of this post). The entire weekend has been designed and carefully-honed over the past decade to draw out your full thinking, feeling, embodied self. There’s a solid theory core (see tomorrow’s post) supported by present-moment-awareness “circling” in small groups, combined with the exercises and games that identify and trouble-shoot areas where we each might be stuck. I feel like I was accurately ‘read,’ held, and challenged throughout the weekend.

It wasn’t all riding one epiphany after another, though. There were times that I was brought uncomfortably close to the things I try to hold at bay so often: feelings of loneliness, not fitting in a crowd, inferiority, shame, and more. What’s beautiful, though, is that these times served me as much as the times of overt breakthrough. These times allowed me to bring these familiar banes of my existence fully to the next exercise or circling round, deepening the breakthroughs I was having, and expanding their effects to more areas of my life.

Overall, wow. It was like a body-mind-spirit tuneup that actually works.

AMP’s marketing is heavily-slanted toward men who are single and looking to have more meaningful, powerful connections with women. But as a married man, I got a ton out of it too – both personally and vocationally. You might be wondering: What would a married man get out of learning to show up more powerfully toward the opposite sex?

It turns out, lots.

Final feedback from AMP coaches to participants. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: http://www.jeffreyplatts.com (c) 2012

Let me put it this way: Whether I’m in conversation with a new friend (of either gender), negotiating a contract with a client, or giving a talk via Skype or in-person, the lack of mastery I often feel between what’s going on inside and what’s expressed in my body feels like a drunken toddler operating a sky-crane in the middle of the city. Can anyone else relate?

If not, imagine you’ve felt this way your whole life – as I have – and imagine that the most substantial feedback you’ve ever received, even from those good friends who care enough to be observant and tell you hard truths about yourself, is “you seem uncomfortable a lot of the time.” Painfully honest but often not terribly useful. Ohh – I just need to be more comfortable and confident – now I get it!

For me as a man (who is, among other facets in life, married), I want more quality connection in several arenas:

  • More of a sense of play and intimacy with my wife
  • A greater sense of trust, ease, connection, and direction with my friends
  • A fuller sense of healthy power when giving my vocational gifts to the world – in writing, speaking, and consulting
  • An increased feeling of well-being in personal mastery in how I’m present to myself
  • A more luminous sense of integrity, honesty, and vulnerability before the Divine

…you know, things like that. :)

I have to say, more than much I’ve experienced in my life, AMP delivered on these points of connection. Not that I’ve “arrived” by any means, but I have tasted peak experiences in these arenas, feeling what it feels like to know wholeness as I relate to God, myself, others, and my environment – and being given practical tools (as well as community) to turn the taste of these peak states of being into ordinary, practicable stages of my day-to-day life.

Question: What’s helped you delve deeper into a substantial sense of who you are & why you’re here? 

On Monday, I’ll continue my Initiate This series, looking at the theory basis of AMP.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 1

A Promise Keepers Rally

It was the early 2000s, I was in college, and I rolled my eyes.

One of my friends – one among many, it seemed – was enthusiastically recommending John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. “Men have been captive to excessive feminizing and we need to break free,” he said, earnestly waving the book while he gestured. I sighed. I remembered the Promise Keepers men’s rallies filling up sports stadiums less than a decade earlier; it seemed like evangelical Christian men were pissed off and afraid of feminism, having a mid-life crisis (at whatever age they happened to be), or both. This John Wayne-styled, muscular brand of faith wasn’t for me – I was happy living my life as a quirky intellectual, leaving questions of “real manhood” to jocks questioning their place in a changing world.

Or so I thought.


Fast-forward about five years; I’m out of college, newly-married, and I encounter Richard Rohr, a sixty-something Franciscan friar, through my work with TheOOZE’s Soularize: Learning Party. He shares something fascinating, that I suppose I knew but never really thought about: Every traditional culture the world over has clear, powerful rites of passage that bring their boys to manhood – and we in the West do not. His Wild Man’s Journey (now From Wild Man to Wise Man) introduced me to the male archetypes of King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician, and the personality types and life-stages that are attracted to each. I wanted to undergo one of Richard’s carefully designed Men As Learners and Elders (MALES) rites of passage to learn to access these archetypes more deeply, but I never did.

Advance the clock a couple more years; by the late 2000s my young family moves from my native Atlanta to Raleigh to help start an intentional community; it is in the process of disintegrating around us. I discover Tripp Lanier’s New Man Podcast (not to be confused with the Other Tripp’s awesome podcasts), a veritable potpourri of voices (both men and women) about what it means to live into a deep, powerful masculinity in the 21st-century. Through Tripp I’m introduced to David Deida, whose Way of the Superior Man is a powerful, controversial tome on masculine and feminine energies, and why a felt polarity between them is necessary for a fulfilled life between partners.

I also hear stories from the men of two organizations that will come to have a potent impact on my life: the ManKind Project (MKP) and the Authentic Man Program (AMP).

Christmas 2010: At my local Borders, mere months before its closing, I see a little pull-away ad for a “New Warrior Training Adventure” hosted by MKP at King’s Mountain State Park in North Carolina the following May. Language about warrior-training would have scared me away in my Wild at Heart-loathing days. (And to be fair: I have never, to this day, read Eldredge’s seminal work. I’ve read a couple of his other books, though, and have enjoyed them.) But understanding better the language of archetypes, and learning about the ManKind Project’s quarter-century reputation of helping men emerge into their freest, most integrated selves, I was intrigued. I ended up doing the NWTA in May of 2011 with a couple of trusted friends, and it was one of the scariest, most worthwhile weekends of my life.

I won’t say much about my NWTA here, since much of its impact is derived from the container of confidentiality that surrounds it. Suffice to say that it is every bit the initiation rite that Richard Rohr (and others, like Roberts Bly and Moore) propose. It was also infused with an edge of Jungian shadow work – using ritual and roleplay to help us face our scariest inner demons, the things we hide, deny, and repress. During my NWTA initiation, I came face to face with how much raw fear I’ve stored up in my life – and what depths of power I have to call upon. From my weekend, I joined an Igroup – short for integration group, a circle of men with whom I can share life, and practice the newfound communication skills I learned on the NWTA. This was a healing experience, after so many experiences with other men where I was either in competition or bracing for some kind of put-down. I gather with my Igroup circle of men to this day. Deeply knowing a group of trustworthy men who have my back as I have theirs has been slowly and consistently life-altering. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if church was like that??)


Real community, with real men, helping me become a better man – all the while respecting and loving the women in our lives. Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to MKP.

And even so, I’ve sensed there is yet more for me to learn in my quest to become a whole, integrated man living out of my depths. This is where AMP came in, earlier this month.

To be continued..!

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

The Way of the Heart Part 10: Awakening to Direct Knowledge – the Divine Cardio Workout

This continues my series on Cynthia Bourgeault‘s recent day-session at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. You can start reading right here, or scroll below to see the previous sessions. BTW, Cynthia was just named Master Teacher at the Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation!  

In the ancient anatomies, the overwhelming emotions we now ascribe to the heart they ascribed to the liver. “Won’t you be my liver lover?” – not found on a Hallmark card.

Robert Sardello (of Benson, NC) – the heart is the seat of spiritual knowing, connects to direct knowing; not leaping into the dark, but seeing in the dark. Direct knowing is invisible to the five senses of linear causality – things become not only crystal clear to the heart, but morally binding. (Sardello: Emotion is stuck feeling. Feeling: great sweeps and flows… a deep feeling stuck to a small story of self is an emotion. When it gets really stuck it’s a passion. “The problem with the passions is that they divide the heart.” “I see/I want/I have to have/I hate/I can’t live without ___.”

A profound anthropology of the heart that arises from the inner tradition of the Abrahamic faiths – coming to fruition in Sufism.

Kabir Helminski “We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities, intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection with the cosmic mind. This total mind we call “heart.” (See http://amzn.to/n3PAOa)

What if your heart is a hologram of the divine heart?

What if it’s an instantiation, faithfully reproducing the whole?

Are we talking about a metaphor? Liberal theology treats the heart as a metaphor for ‘the whole person.’ But there’s groundbreaking scientific work done in neurocardiology reinforcing that we cannot just dismiss the physical heart. It’s the locus where all of this touches down. (http://bit.ly/pHBAWo)

Sardello: The heart is physiological, psychological, and spiritual. The heart’s resonances are important in showing us what’s going on. We know conclusively that the heart is not just a pump. It’s more than anything else an electromagnetic resonator; it not only harmonizes the body, but it harmonizes with the greater bodies of communities and planetary bodies.

Neuro-hormonal connections exist between heart and brain; heart cells and brain cells are interspersed throughout the entire body.

“The cosmos is huge, but the whole cosmos cannot contain the human heart.” – Sufi saying

Mutual resonance can be felt between ‘the heart of God’ and our heart.

Resonance & vibration are tied up in sickness and health. Electromagnetic signals define and sustain our homeostasis.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” – Jesus is not talking about not having sex. :)

A pure heart is a non-cooptive heart. Not stuck on a passion, a want, an insistence. “Virginity” is noncooptation; a heart that sees God.

It’s only after we’ve rescued our heart from involuntary contractive emotions (the passions) can the heart truly feel. (Equanimity does not equal indifference)

Practicing spaciousness – kenosis – frees us from the subject/object divide so that we are awakened to the immense intelligence of felt-body resonance.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I recommend checking out her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and MindCentering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.


And check out this video of Cynthia sharing a similar talk in Massachusetts!

In This Series:

The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Speaking of Life Divine
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery
The Way of the Heart Part 9: Christ is Living in Our Midst

And check out Carl McColman’s Nonduality in the Bible…and us.