If Jesus walked the earth today, he'd drink fair-trade coffee and fill his Blackberry with non-church activities.
So says Brian McLaren, author of more than a dozen books on modern Christianity — most recently Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope.
"I think he'd be on the street, I think he'd be engaging with people, and I think he'd be dealing with critical issues of our day just as he did in his own day," said McLaren, whose 11-city book tour stops by First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg this weekend.
In Everything Must Change, McLaren urges readers to examine their beliefs on what he says are the four critical issues facing the world: the environment, poverty, world peace and religious understanding.
Here are excerpts from McLaren's recent phone conversation with tbt*.
The book is titled Everything Must Change. Do you really mean everything must change? Are we doing anything right?
The laws of gravity and the speed of light are just fine. (laughs) But what I'm saying with "everything" is everything meaning the big picture, the big system that we're working in, the big assumptions that underlie so much of what we do.
The idea of changing everything is kind of overwhelming. What's one thing that we could change today that would help a little bit?
If we look at these four crises — the planet, poverty, peace and religion — if every person were to just pick one specific thing they could do in one of those areas, I think that would be a great start. It will help us practice the deeper changes that we need. So relating to the planet, it might be to start recycling or to change your light bulbs. In relation to poverty, it might mean start buying fair trade coffee. Or it might mean when you see a homeless person on the street, actually treat him like a human being and talk to him for a few minutes.
What are your thoughts on giving money to panhandlers? Do you think that helps or hurts?
I've talked to a lot of homeless people, and one of the things they say is, "What really hurts is to be ignored and treated like furniture." ... Giving a smile might be a lot more important than giving a dollar, and giving five minutes of conversation might be a lot more important than giving $5. Often when you do that, you start discovering a lot of the homeless are mentally ill. Then that's going to affect how you vote in the next election when you realize, "Boy, we've got to do something for mentally ill people who don't have anywhere to go."
What are the most common complaints you hear about organized religion today?
One is the association of Christianity with the religious right and with a preoccupation with only two moral issues, missing many others, and with this crazy conclusion that Christianity should be pro-war, anti-poor and anti-environment. People are just saying, "That makes no sense."
Why do you think the environment is not a big deal for so many conservative Christians?
There's this whole tradition of interpreting the Bible to say, "Humans are given dominion over the earth," which means they have a carte blanche to exploit it. There's also this dualistic interpretation that says, "God likes souls but doesn't care about matter." When you have that kind of approach, you minimize concern for physical things like mountains and streams and valleys. There is this, I think, very destructive idea that the world is about to end, so who cares about preserving it?