A Summer Reading Series Recommendation:
Richard Rohr's The Naked Now (Crossroad, 2009)
"Anne Marie, you should know better."
When my mother said those words, I knew I'd been bad. I'd tracked spring mud puddles across the kitchen floor, or left the milk pitcher outside on the picnic table or I'd once again dumped my brother's shoes down the clothes shute to the basement where he couldn't find them.
My mother was reminding me that I knew a better way to behave, a better way to be. She wanted me to know better.
Richard Rohr wants us to know better, too. But not exactly in the way my mother meant that phrase. Rohr is not talking about a better way to behave. He's talking, in The Naked Now, about a better way to see. He wants us to see the world in an alternative way, a way that we know a little something about by seeing it in the alternative way of Jesus.
He wants us to see this way because a lot is at stake. Living as we do on a planet that is marked by global warming and constant warring, he says, we need to practice this alternative way. We need to see better and to know better.
This is not always easy in our world and in our churches, because much of the way that we've been taught to see and to know is, Rohr says, more about "what to know than how to know" and religion has spent centuries telling people more about "what to see than how to see." He says "We ended up seeing Holy Things faintly, trying to understand Great Things with a whittled-down mind, and trying to love God with our own small and divided heart. It has been like trying to view the galaxies with a $5 pair of binoculars." (p. 33)
And so we fail to imagine better ways to live on our planet. Rohr gives the example of a debate between advocates of creationism versus advocates of evolution. He writes: "I hoped for the scientists to open up to the possibility of the central importance of mythic meanings for the soul, for sanity and for culture, but they kept beating one drum of facts and information without reflecting on the context or the meaning of those facts. I hoped for the religious people to take incarnation seriously and recognize the brilliance of a God who creates things that keep creating themselves, but they too kept beating one drum of an extremely unimaginative and uninvolved God . . . Both sides should have known better." (p.32)
"Knowing better" is Rohr's description of contemplative practice. Contemplation, he says, is "an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material." Rohr is pushing for a "larger way" of seeing that refrains from labeling or categorizing too quickly, a way of seeing found at the core of Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. He says that this contemplative practice was also at the core of Christianity for its first 1600, but has since been ignored. He is all about retrieving this "lost tradition" of contemplative awareness:
"Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. Presence is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is much more vulnerable and leaves us without a sense of control. Thomas had his idea of Jesus, but had to trustfully put his finder into his side before he could know the truth. (John 20:27) Such panoramic and deeper seeing requires a lot of practice, but the rewards are superb and, I believe, necessary for both joy and truth in this world."(p.35)
I think he's onto something.
Echoes from the Edge
By Adam Rao, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - August 19th, 2013
Hagberg, Janet O., and Robert A. Guelich. The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. Sheffield Publishing, 2005.
- Outlines the six stages of faith we use as a strategic "map" at SafeHouse. This book helped me understand my own spiritual journey better as well.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. HarperCollins, 2001.
- Quite possibly the most important and influential book on leadership written in the 21st-century so far. Check out Collins' other work as well.
Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass, 2002.
- The most helpful book on leading and managing teams of leaders I've found. Well worth working through as a team. Everything Lencioni writes is worth picking up.
Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallup, 2007.
Rath, Tom, and Barry Conchie. Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Gallup, 2008.
- StrengthsFinder is probably the more important of the two, but the latter is a helpful look at how the natural strengths of leaders actually play out in the real world.
Adam Rao is Lead Pastor at SafeHouse Church in Minneapolis.
Finally, the Poet
By Walt Whitman - August 19th, 2013
From the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass:
"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."