Sunday, February 26, 2017

"...gems of brilliance left and right."

This is the foreword Brian McLaren wrote for my forthcoming book, "Life at the End of Us Versus Them: cross/culture/stories." It is more recognition than I ever expected. To support my publishing adventure and pre-order copies, you can check out my Kickstarter campaign, or simply send me an email at

I read recently that the world’s largest “Christian” university is spending over a million dollars on a gun range. This same university is led by a man who proudly and loudly endorsed Donald Trump, the arrogant and unscrupulous billionaire for whom a sizable majority of (white) church-going American Christians voted, in spite of his cavalier attitude toward violence, Islamophobia, sexual assault, and torture, not to mention intelligibility, coherence, science, or the truth.

Against this backdrop, Mennonite sage Marcus Peter Rempel claims that the time has come for us to “figure out what in the world Christianity is, and isn’t.”

Can there be any doubt Marcus is correct?

I am drawn to Marcus not only because I agree with his audacious claim, and not only because he is a penetrating thinker and a graceful, vigorous, engaging writer, but also because he has been shaped by two of the same “madmen” who have shaped me: RenĂ© Girard and Ivan Illich. (Other shared influences show up in these pages as well, including Wendell Berry, Walter Wink, Simone Weil, James Alison, and Cornel West.)

In each of the chapters you are about to read, you’ll witness Marcus generously dropping gems of brilliance left and right, on a range of subjects as wide as the Manitoba sky under which he lives.

For example, he defines faith as a kind of “hopeful craziness.” He compares the medieval Church’s attempt to “motivate” heretics to accept orthodox belief by means of torture to the U.S. government’s attempt to motivate non-Westerners to accept Western-style democracy by bombs and bullets. He notes the fascinating relationship between “ethnic” and “ethics.” He observes how easily freedom of expression can descend into freedom of exploitation. He sees the Zombie Apocalypse as a code for the xenophobia and the environmental crisis that we are too scared to talk about, and the Zombie survival tactics of stashing bottled water and practicing head shots as veiled instructions for a future where social hope has been abandoned. He talks about sex with a candor and decency that is nearly unprecedented. He even dares to reflect upon pooping in a bucket in a Joni-Mitchellian way, “from both sides now.”

I’ve read a lot of books, but very, very few have been as rich in generative insight as this one.

The only “bad” thing I can say about “Life at the End of Us Versus Them” is that it is impossible to read quickly. Which is, of course, a good thing in the presence of writing that is so beautiful, meaning that is so important, and a subject that matters supremely.

Earlier, I said that Marcus has been shaped by two madmen, Girard and Illich. I really should have said three, because 20 centuries behind Rempel’s mentors lies another mentor whose message and example seem like madness to so many people today, including, we have to say, millions who identify themselves with the religion named after him.

We have come to a moment, I believe, when we must rediscover the wisdom and ways of that original madman - if we are to “figure out what in the world Christianity is, and isn’t,” and if we are to find life at the end of us versus them.

Because if we don’t, “us versus them” will surely be the death of both.

It is not often that a book about such life-and-death matters is so beautifully written or so enjoyable to read. But that is the case here, because the vision Marcus presents is one of conviviality, of aliveness, of beloved community, of harmony, of joy.

This is a book about “the end” and a book about “us versus them,” but most importantly, this is a book of life.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Joint Fast

This is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book, Life at the End of Us Versus Them. To reserve a copy, please send an email to

To anyone who would say that Islam diminishes women, Shahina Siddiqi, the director of Islamic Social Services (ISS), is a living counterargument. One of her many responsibilities is to keep abreast of what is being said about Islam and Muslims in media across the continent. Whenever Islam is in the news, she is called upon by media as a spokeswoman, which is pretty much all the time now.

I first got to know Shahina in 2001, during the aftermath of 9/11 and the indiscriminate bombing of Afghan villages. Christians and Muslims in Winnipeg were grieving and angry about having our faiths invoked by perpetrators of terror, and so a delegation of Christians and Muslims (headed by Shahina) hatched a plan for a joint Muslim/Christian fast, beginning with Ramadan and continuing through into Advent.i

We celebrated the end of our joint fast together at Eid, the feast marking the end of the Ramadan fast, on the campus of a Christian college. We prayed together for peace and released a joint statement “on war and violence that are not holy.”. . .

Recently, I bumped into Shahina at an open house luncheon at ISS, and she was curious about my work, whereabouts, and faith. “Are you still involved in the church?” she asked. I was caught off guard for a half second. Was Shahina fishing for an opening to proselytize? When I told her that we were quite involved in a small church in our new area, a big smile spread across her face. “Oh, I am so glad!”

Shahina’s profound “yes” to her religion was not a “no” to mine, for her religion has led her to open outwards, beyond either/or dualisms into the expansiveness of a both/and universe.

Monotheism, says James Alison, is a wonderful discovery, but a terrible idea. The idea of the One True God, revealed in the one true message, guaranteed by the one true messenger, easily begets an understanding of faithfulness to this message that seeks to “recreate the uniqueness of God by developing a strong sense of what is other than us—gentiles in the case of Jews, the unbaptised ‘world’ in the case of Christians, and infidels who aren’t members of the Ummah in the case of Muslims.”i Alison goes on to show that in this approach, “we don’t believe in God, but only in conflict.” For Alison, the real gem of monotheism is the exact opposite. Interpreting Isaiah’s account of divine encounter, he says, “the fundamental experience of God is one of being at peace and unafraid since God is so much stronger than everything else.”ii. . .

iIslam’s holy calendar follows a lunar cycle, so there are slightly fewer than 365 days in each liturgical year. I was lucky to participate in the sun-up to sun-down fast of Ramadan during winter in Winnipeg, where the days were about as short as they can be anywhere in the Muslim world.  
iJames Alison, Undergoing God, 19–20.
iiIbid., 26.