Book Notes – Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Ministry, Theology
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Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words

Brian D. McLaren

Finished April, 2012.

Helpful Chart Summary:

Simplicity Right vs. Wrong Dualism Dependence
Complexity Effective vs. Ineffective Pragmatism Independence
Perplexity Honest vs. Dishonest Relativism Counterdependence
Harmony Understanding of Purpose and Timing Interdependence of Mutuality
Syntopical Learning:
[Resonating with Thinking, Fast and Slow] O seems to be a “system 1” emotional response, while “Thanks” is more a “system 2” logical response to God.
Compare/supplement McLaren’s suggestion of pairing “How” with “O” with Benjamin Zander’s (The Art of Possibility) “How interesting…” response to “failures,” which are actually just learnings and realizations and shouldn’t be seen as failures at all.
It seems that the entire season of Perplexity is a slow process of “reframing.”  We experience negative things for which God is somehow guilty and creatively discover a new lens through which to interpret the experience.
Outline Summary:
Preface and Introduction
People want and we need a stripped down spirituality where we are honest before God.
Chapter 1: Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Experience
McLaren tells the story of an awakening to God in a tree during a youth retreat in the midst of a conservative religious upbringing.  This experience was real and continues to have meaning even through the “trappings” of that event and upbringing are no longer life-giving. [more…]
Chapter 2: “But I’m Spiritual”
Four things people mean when they say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual…”
1. Secular science doesn’t have all the answers
2. Neither does organized religion
3. Inner sensitivity to aliveness, meaning, sacredness in the universe
4. Seeking ways to integrate #3 into their lives
Re-ligion is about helping us to reconnect.  De-ligion promotes conflict, prioritizes personal salvation over well-being of others, judges, etc.
Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:7-26)
Nicodemus (John 3)
Wedding banquet (John 2)
Real emphasized over the phoney
Chapter 3: Twelve Simple Words
Overview of book
Part I: Simplicity
Chapter 4: Here: Starting Right Now
Here = invocation; Invocation is our awakening to God’s presence which is always, already present.  “God’s not out in the backyard, needing to be called in.”
Additional questions:
How does the concept of “naked” fit with “here?”
Titles for God awaken us to our multifaceted relationship with God.  Do you have any unique ways in which you address God?
In Reading Guide, I recommend questions #2, 3.
Chapter 5: Here: Naming the Mystery
Story of Moses at the Burning Bush as example of the present mystery
We can’t ultimately define God, but should revere God.
Additional questions:
What did you think of McLaren’s understanding of “fear of God?”
Chapter 6: Thanks
Gratitude is a subversive act undermining our economic system that runs on ingratitude.
Gratitude isn’t related to how much you have, but rather your appreciation for what you do have.
Chapter 7: Thanks: Dayenu – Enough and More, and More
Gratitude goes well with “traveling light.”
Beatitudes are “advanced classes in the school of gratitude”
Good companions for Thanks include, “Again,” “This,” and “…it would have been enough” (Dayenu)
Chapter 8: O: Practicing Jubilation
The poor seem to experience joy in a much more uninhibited way that those with wealth do.
Additional Questions:
Have you ever experienced a TAZ?
Chapter 9: O: Not Just a Word – A Way of Life
Our language of God seeks to describe God, but falls short.
McLaren’s disciplines helping him to “live the O” –
  1. Give God the first greeting every morning.  (Recall Mike William’s statement, “tell me what you think about last and what you think about first each day and I’ll tell you what you worship.”)
  2. Give God the first thanks at every meal.
  3. Give God the first response to every pleasure.
  4. Give God the first consideration in your weekly schedule.
  5. Make God the first supervisor or customer for all work.
  6. Give God the first part of every paycheck.
  7. Give God the joy of your creativity.
Part II: Complexity
Complexity is an age of skill building.
Chapter 10: Sorry: Holier Than Myself?
We often try to make ourselves look better than we really are.  Our motives are mixed at best.
Chapter 11: Sorry: Unleashing Our Own Becoming
We need to bring light to our specific wrong doings – at least with God.
Ironically, atmospheres of grace enable more faithful living as opposed to active calling out of sin.
Chapter 12: Help: Spiritual Jujitsu
Chapter 13: Help: Tapping into the Current of Power
Intercessory prayer is a form of reframing.
Chapter  16: When: How Long Can It Last
Additional Discussion Questions:
McLaren mentions the contribution of the Wesley’s in invoking “when” – a sense of living into something we’re not currently.  Do you feel this aspect of Methodism in your experience of being in a Methodist church?
Chapter 17: When: Survival is Underrated
Chapter 18: No: The Void Expands
Behind rage at God is a genuine belief of God.  Apathy is the real state of pity and atheism.  Rage at “god” can unmask the false gods giving way to the true God.
“We obstinately refuse to let life with God degenerate into life without God.  No!”
Chapter 19: No: Mad With God
“No isn’t a rejection of God.  It’s a refusal to accept unsatisfying attempst to let God off the hook.  And it’s a parallel refusal to give up hope altogether.”
Additional Discussion Question:
Was Jesus’ “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” a cry of “No”
If you had to “list, memo-style, your grievances against reality, spirituality, and the Almighty,” what would you say?
Chapter 20: Why: When You Have Come to Zero
Chapter 21: Why: Holding the Question Open
Part IV – Harmony: The Season of  Spiritual Deepening
The joy that comes after a season of pain (Perplexity) has a deeper quality to it, that somehow encompasses all the joy of the previous stages.  Simplicity that emerges after passing through harmony has the stark feel of “black and white,” without the judgment.  Authority is neither God-like or evil-filled, but viewed through the lens of reality.  Orthodoxy changes into “paradoxy.”  Harmony gives way to a second pass through the spiritual seasons at a deeper level.
Chapter 22 – Behold: The Emergence of the Meditative Mind
Behold is a slow “awakening” to see what is already around in a new way, an internal epiphany.  With behold we experience through a “second naiveté,” meaning we can accept the purpose or what is important about things without a negative attitude and without accepting everything about that thing.   Not only do we see others and the world this way, but we also see ourselves and indeed God with this realistic clarity as well.  Even our best understanding of who God is may fall short of God’s reality.  The experience of “behold” – seeing with stillness and wonder with new eyes is the best way to understand something; words and other representations will always fall short – particularly with God.  Somewhere, unexplainably, there was a transition from the period of pain, even anger with God (Perplexity), where this angry turning towards God gave way to the realization that it was a turning to God nonetheless and that when anger and pain had passed, depth remained.
Salient Quotes:
“Our words conceal as they reveal.”
“What you look for determines what you see.  What you focus on determines what you miss.”
Chapter 23 – Behold: Faith Beyond Belief
McLaren compares “Behold” to the calm in the eye of the storm.  He says, “we breath in wonder and we breath out behold.”  We learn to wait without preconceived expectations.  This type of waiting not only suspends judgment, but also allows us to linger in the pleasure of the thing.  McLaren quotes Gregory of Nyssa, who says, “only wonder understands.”  Behold resists forcing things into our thought categories and ways of understanding the world.  When tensions, paradoxes, etc. arrive, behold simply lets them exists and “wonderstands” them simply through a direct experience.  McLaren recounts a mystical like experience as a state of behold as he was resting from sermon preparation and felt “joyfull stillness” surrounding him and “peace breathing” into him. McLaren suggests three scenario that could bring one into a state of behold.  The first would be going to a public park and observing everything “from a distance” without one’s normal judgment, but more of a sense of “isn’t that interesting…” or “there it goes again.”  The second scenario is to go to a place of natural beauty – take it all in and observe how you might tend to label elements of what you see as either good or bad.  Attempt to let go of that judgment and see God’s fingerprints on each of these things.  The third scenario is any uncomfortable situation.  Observe your own reactions, then try to “release them rather than being bound to them.”
Chapter 24 – Yes: A Universal Spiritual Vocation
Yes is the practice of “going down,” of consecration and surrender.  We tend to be “upward” oriented – both in our life of striving, but also in our conception of where God is.  But God has revealed God’s self to be a descending God through the Incarnation.  After we’ve seen God on the mountain, God’s next call to us is “downward” towards the nitty-gritty of life, saying “yes” to what God wants us to do – a life of total commitment.  The first “yes” to God is indeed important, but we must continue saying “yes” to God throughout life as we’re transformed into beings continually open to saying “yes” to God.  “Our yes counts most when we receive mistreatment rather than praise for our effort….This is the yes of ‘not my will be done, but your will be done.'”
Chapter 25 – Yes: Do You Love Me
McLaren brings us further into “yes” through the relationship of Peter and Jesus.  In the gospels, while the resurrection seems like it should be the “happy ending,” in reality it is a new beginning.   After Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied his affiliation with Jesus, confirming Jesus’ earlier predictions.  When the resurrected Jesus comes to Peter, he tells him that he will have to suffer similar things and that this time, he’ll meet the challenge.  Yet, Peter’s response isn’t clear.  Jesus’ command to Peter is repeated in the text, “feed my sheep,” just as it was repeated in Peter’s life after his original “no.”  This is the question, we’re all asked for a second, third, fourth, and thousandth time.  Our “yes” must be truly voluntary.  It is the taking on of mission.  It is saying “yes” to Jesus’ request to “follow me.”  The chapter ends with the suggestion that the reader consider pausing and considering his or her own “yes” response to God.
Chapter 26 – […]: Naked, Clothed in Silence
Experienced musicians giving full weight to every note and pause and part of music, because they all contribute.  Even the discrete musical composition occupies a space in history, in its genre, and otherwise plays a role in the larger whole.  The emphasis is on the connection.  White spaces, emptiness, and silence of all types forge these connections and give meaning to the entire thing.  This is true with music, many other artistic endeavors, and especially with the spiritual life.  The person who loves God, loves spiritual practices, but also loves not practicing spiritual practices.  “Living silence,” McLaren says, “is pregnant with infinite possibilities.”  McLaren reserves the word contemplation to describe this type of holy silence.  Contemplation was difficult for McLaren during earlier stages, but now there is delight in its practice and it fuels action that otherwise would fizzle if it were motivated by its own results.  As a further illustration, McLaren describes a musician who was totally captivated by what another musician was doing, only to discover that the same musician was likewise captivated by his own music – they were each lost in and shaped by the other – “mutual othering.”  Quoting literary theorist, Mikhail Epstein, McLaren suggests there is a “feeling of responsibility arising from the belief that God is silent because He is listening to us.”
Salient Quotes: 
“Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter what she said to God when she prayed.  She replied, ‘Mostly, I just listen.’  The reporter then asked what God said to her.  ‘Mostly, he just listens,’ she replied.”
Chapter 27 – […]: Full Circle
McLaren admits to having a default mode of “hurry,” always wanting to finish and get on to the next thing.  Many of us have our first experiences of true contemplation immediately following tragedy…perhaps looking with wonder at our bodies after surgery or relief after a child narrowly averts disaster.  Tragedy, it seems, makes clear to us what is sacred.  Yet, contemplation can bring us to this threshold without tragedy.  Contemplation is better shown than described.  McLaren, does, however, go through steps a trained spiritual director might do – the crux of which seems to be acknowledging distractions and letting things be as they are.  “As they are” is good enough, loved by God.
There are two streams in modern Christianity converging to teach us about contemplation.  The first, Pentecostalism, emphasizes direct experience with God “on the far side of normalcy,” with increasingly charismatic, loud bodily expressions.  The second is the “contemplative stream,” finding direct experience through quietness and solitude.  Also, Pentecostalism, tends towards an invocation of God, whereas the contemplative stream tends towards and acknowledgment of God’s pre-existing presence.  Either way, we’ve come full circle to the experiences of “Here” and “Now” in the season of Simplicity.  Only by contemplative change of our own selves, can we be part of the redemptive work that God is doing in the world.
Afterward: The Sea Towards Which All Rivers Run
The final word is love.  Everything else points towards this.  True knowledge of anything comes through love.  Love is the fuel behind every stage and every word in the journey McLaren writes about.

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