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Must everything change?

Christian thinker brings message to Charlotte

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Christian thinker Brian McLaren is both heralded and vilified as an elder in the Emerging Church movement. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America." On Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, he will be at Area 15 in NoDa. McLaren was in Davos, Switzerland last week, but he answered a few questions from CL via e-mail.

Creative Loafing: In your book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, you use the phrases "suicidal societal machinery" and the "covert curriculum." Could you explain what you mean by them?

McLaren: In my research for the book, I reviewed the books, articles, Web sites and other resources on global crises and, as you can imagine, I felt overwhelmed. There are so many problems, and so many brilliant people have devoted their lives to each one. I quickly realized that if we see each crisis as its own self-contained world, we'll quickly experience the paralysis of analysis -- we'll have "compassion fatigue" before we even begin. So I realized that we need to see how global crises are interrelated.

For example, everyone agrees that HIV/AIDS is a major problem, but many people don't realize that at the center of the epidemic now are girls from the ages of 10 [to] 19. Many are the victims of rape, sex trafficking, and incest -- they are the most vulnerable to the abuse of men. So, you realize that to address HIV, you need to teach girls their right to say "no" and to report abusive behavior. But then you realize that in many parts of the world, girls don't even have birth certificates, so in the eyes of the state, they don't even exist, and the police often don't take seriously crimes done against them. So you begin to realize that to address the AIDS crisis, in addition to talking about condoms and anti-retrovirals and abstinence, you have to talk about educating girls and educating police, and educating boys and men about their need to respect the rights of girls and women.

Then you realize that when you educate girls, they grow into women who are likely to have fewer children, and this is terribly important in many parts of the world where the population is growing, but food and water supplies are limited and sometimes shrinking due to global climate change. So, now HIV, education of girls and boys, improvements in justice systems and police education, population issues, and climate change are all interwoven. These interrelationships spread out like a huge network of complexity. I began looking for some kind of image or model that could show these interrelations and interconnectivity with both accuracy and simplicity.

I seized on the image of a machine to describe our global civilization, a machine with three moving parts, driven at the center by a kind of drive shaft or engine. Through this simple image, I could show how global crises can be traced back to four central crises -- one in each moving part, so to speak. I could then show how our civilization is on a suicidal trajectory unless we address these deep issues, and give readers a sense of what we can do to rebuild the machine to serve us and future generations rather than destroy us.

The first crisis has to do with the planet -- how our economic systems are unsustainable ecologically. The second has to do with poverty -- how the gap between rich and poor is growing wider and wider. The third has to do with peace -- and the growing danger of catastrophic war. The fourth of those crises relates to what I call "framing stories." These are the stories that guide a nation or civilization in its development. Some stories are destructive, and some are constructive. Cultures teach their framing stories through what I call a "covert curriculum" -- the subtle set of values and rules that are taught in a thousand unrecognized ways: through advertising, for example, or popular music, or movie plots, or religious songs, or political slogans.

As I worked on this book, I realized that on this level of framing stories is where our religions fit in. They can teach us stories that make us fearful or hopeful, loving or hateful, peaceful or violent, greedy or generous. They can expose the covert curriculum and try to offer something more healing and constructive, something oriented toward the common good and long-term sustainable living. In that way, we can contribute to the answer to the Lord's prayer that many Christians pray Sunday by Sunday: "May your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

How does the current era differ from previous generations? Certainly, previous generations had to deal with "systemic injustice, poverty and dysfunction."

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