We Make the Road by Walking
The end of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of reflections on and explorations of new possibilities for the expression of the Christian Faith in the world. This has included the re-discovery of the life of the Hermit and the development of a “New Monasticism” in Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. One key writer on the re-discovery of Christian life in the “Postmodern Matrix” is Brian McLaren.
Brian McLaren “We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation” [Jericho Books, 2014]
“The title comes from one of Brian’s heroes, Brazilian educator/activist Paolo Freire.
Paulo Reglus Neves Freire (1921-1997)
He used this title for a published dialogue between Freire and another seminal educator/activist, Myles Horton, who was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Freire may have derived the quote from the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado:
“Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.”
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.” Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla
Antonio Cipriano José María y Francisco de Santa Ana Machado y Ruiz, known as Antonio Machado (1875-1939)
The title suggests that Christian faith is still “in the making” (as Dr. John Cobb has put it). It continues to grow, evolve, learn, change, emerge, and mature … in and through us. What we will be as Christians in the 21st century, for better or worse, will surely change what Christian faith will be in the 22nd century and beyond.”
“You are not ﬁnished yet. You are “in the making.” You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take? What’s true of you is also true for every community of people, including our spiritual communities. Like the individuals who constitute them, they are unﬁnished and “in the making.” They have the capacity to move for-ward if they choose . . . and the freedom to stagnate and regress. Which road will they follow in the years ahead? Does their future depend solely on the action or inaction of ofﬁcials in the headquarters of religious bureaucracies? Do the rest of us have to wait until somebody somewhere ﬁgures things out and tells the rest of us what to do? I believe that all of us play a role in choosing and creating our futures— as individuals and as communities. We don’t need to wait passively for his-tory to happen to us. We can become protagonists in our own story. We can make the road by walking. Growing numbers of us believe that we are in the early stages of a new moment of emergence, pulsing with danger and promise. In this catalytic period, all our spiritual traditions will be challenged and all will change— some negatively and reactively, tightening like angry ﬁsts, and others positively and constructively, opening like extended arms.
More and more of us want to participate in that positive and constructive opening. We want to explore new possibilities, to develop unfulﬁlled potential, to discover new resources to bless, inspire, and enliven. We don’t shrink back from this moment; we feel God is calling us to walk into it with faith, hope, and love. I’ve written “We Make the Road by Walking “ to help individuals and groups seize this moment and walk wisely and joyfully into the future together. It is a work of Christian theology, but people of any faith tradition will ﬁnd seeds of meaning they can let take root in their own spiritual soil. It is a work of constructive
theology— offering a positive, practical, open, faithful, improvable, and fresh articulation of Christian faith suitable for people in our dynamic times. It is also a work of public and
practical theology— theology that is worked out by “normal” people in daily life. The title suggests that faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse.
Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always being extended into the future. If a spiritual com-munity only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unﬁnished— even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of its past.”
The Table of Contents, Introduction and some sample chapters can be read at: https://www.facebook.com/JerichoBooks/app_137541772984354
“Not only is this an evocative and well-written, year-long overview of the Biblical story with a keen sense of the biggest themes and the social implications of those acts in the drama, it has a certain, appealing writing style, a style that pervades most of Brian’s books; it is semi-scholarly, informed by everything from quantum science to ancient near east history to postmodern literary theory to the nonviolent philosophy of Rene Girard, but yet is conversational, entertaining, moving, even… Few authors can bring so much learning to the table, weave together so much interesting and curious stuff, and yet sound upbeat and hopeful. He trusts he readers, and he manages to help us along the way, bit by bit.
Certainly there are other books that may teach the Bible in a year that are more detailed and more thorough, but at least one big benefit of this is the fun (and important) dots that are connected, the good ideas that are brought into play, the storytelling and wordsmithing that seems to come so naturally to him…
Further, as the title suggests, the faith journey we undertake in “We Make the Road”… is a bit unfinished – we have to do the walking…We are growing, changing, our faith moves along. God is at work in us, and yet, in some profound way, we play our part, do our thing, taking responsibility for our own spiritual formation and how we choose to engage the world around us (including our churches, our neighborhoods, and our global connections.) We don’t know what’s ahead. For what it is worth, I do not think (for those aware of this sub-set of progressive theology) that Brian is a “process theology” guy and he doesn’t sound quite like Teilhard de Chardin, just for instance. But he does insist that we must cultivate our interior lives as we come to understand God’s work better, and that this involves change, growth, openness to new ideas, and being guided by the Spirit into what might be new territories. God’s work is unfolding and we are inviting to participate by being open to change.
As he puts it, “… faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels to where it is now, it is a dead end or parking lot, not a way.”
I appreciate this call to walk the way of a living tradition, “cherishing and learning from the growing treasury of its past” as he put it. Yet, we can and must re-imagine what it means to live joyfully and responsibly, with verve and gusto, in these times, for these times. (There’s that I Chronicles 12:32 again that I sometimes cite, eh?) I wonder if the title (used first, he thinks by the great Mexican educator Paulo Freire) overstates things a bit – we don’t really have to build an entirely new road, after all since we stand on the shoulders of others, always holding to the apostolic gospel message, even if our formulations evolve and change in each new era…
McLaren is not suggesting that anything goes or that we make stuff up as we go along, willy-nilly. He knows that the task of doing constructive theology is rigorous, constrained (although he might choose that word) by the Biblical texts…
Learning the faith anew today should feel like that: being enfolded into and shaped by a liberating movement…
It is no accident that Brian calls this quest a process of “reorientation and activation.” We don’t just need a fresh version of the ideas of faith, reoriented opinions. For him — as for the Bible itself – we are invited/commanded to be “doers of the Word.” Faith without works is dead (to use the language of the Epistle of James and of Jesus, too) so we have some serious building to do, some repair work to offer this broken world. No, we don’t save the world ourselves – God’s grace is abundant enough for that – but we have our stitches to weave. There is work to be done. We have to get active. This is a big theme of the book.
The biggest rhetorical theme, a theme that is sounded out in every section, implied on almost every page, is that this is a resource for those seeking to live their lives in ways that can be called truly alive. We are invited to attentiveness and wonder, to be mindfully aware and child-like eager, vibrant with “abundant life” (John 10:10.) The introduction of “We Make the Road by Walking” is entitled “Seeking Aliveness” and the four sections of the book are called “Alive in the Story of Creation,” “Alive in the Adventure of Jesus,” “Alive in Global Uprising,” and (starting on Pentecost Sunday) “Alive in the Spirit of God.” Yes, this is a handbook to aliveness, abundance, adventure and more. Such an audacious vision could not be told in boring prose and such am organic message wouldn’t ring true in the hands of a dull writer.”
“Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders.
Born in 1956, he graduated from University of Maryland with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, in 1981). His academic interests included Medieval drama, Romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr. Walker Percy…
He is primarily known, however, as a thinker and writer. His first book, “The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix”, (Zondervan, 1998, rev. ed. 2000) has been recognized as a primary portal into the current conversation about postmodern ministry.
His second book, “Finding Faith” (Zondervan, 1999), is a contemporary apologetic, written for thoughtful seekers and skeptics. (It was later re-released as two short books, “A Search for What Makes Sense” and “A Search for What is Real.”) “More Ready Than You Realize” (Zondervan, 2002) presents a refreshing approach to spiritual friendship. “Adventures in Missing the Point” (co-authored with Dr. Anthony Campolo, Zondervan, 2003) explores theological reform in a postmodern context. “A Generous Orthodoxy” (Zondervan, 2004), is a personal confession and has been called a “manifesto of the emerging church conversation.”…
In “A New Kind of Christianity” (HarperOne, 2010), Brian articulated ten questions that are central to the emergence of a postmodern, post-colonial Christian faith.
His 2011 HarperOne release, “Naked Spirituality,” offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God.”
See further: http://brianmclaren.net/archives/about-brian/