Interview with Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling
on “Connecting Like Jesus,” Part 2
THIS WEEK, we’re bringing you fresh ideas about church growth from popular Christian teacher Tony Campolo and communication expert Mary Albert Darling. READ the Whole Series: We’ve got easy-navigation links at the end of today’s interview.
TODAY, we’re touching on several red-hot topics for people who care about building stronger communities. “Authenticity” is a crucial value, for example, if you hope to reach people in life-changing ways.
DAVID: Your book is especially important because of its strong emphasis on what we can call “authenticity” or “authority” or “credibility.” It’s our “trust factor.” Our honesty and transparency. Tony and Mary, you both argue that Jesus’ power to draw a community around him sprang from his authenticity. Anyone who works in new media, especially in new forms of journalism like ReadTheSpirit, understands that this value is absolutely the bedrock on which we draw an audience. Explain this idea as you understand it.
TONY: Everybody has a good idea of what “authority” means when we hear the word. Jesus had authority. He did not hold political office or command an army, but when he spoke, he had great authority. We know people in our own lives who have great authority. My mother had it. She had no great power in other terms, but we listened when she spoke. Why? Because of the loving sacrifices she made over the years for us. Too often, people like us—professional communicators—think that people should listen to us because of some credential or educational status. No! People will be drawn to us and will listen to us if they sense that we’re making loving sacrifices for other people. If we treat people in a loving way, more people will be drawn toward us.
Jesus was a supreme example. His lordship is built on his loving sacrifices. We obey because of what Jesus did for us. If we’re going to follow Jesus’ example for living, then we have to recognize that people will listen to us and will pay attention to what we have to say only if we’re showing that same kind of sacrificial love. Today, the point we’re trying to make is that no one is looking for someone in a pulpit with a whole wall of credentials back in the office. No, they’re looking for someone who lives out the radical lifestyle that Jesus called for in the Sermon on the Mount. Now, that’s real authority!
DAVID: You and Mary both are big advocates of learning from the life of John Wesley. I am, too. Wesley wasn’t perfect, by a long shot, but he remains a remarkably wise spiritual leader.
TONY: Wesley had authenticity, authority. Great example of this. He craved an intimacy with God all his life. And yet as his life wore on, Wesley recognized the connection between caring for God and caring for other people. A lot of people preach that before you can get right with other people, you’ve first got to come to the altar and get right with God. And that sure sounds good in preaching, but Jesus said exactly the opposite. If you want to come to the altar, first go out and get right with other people around you. That’s what Wesley preached. You can’t even find God at the altar unless you’ve first found God in other people.
Next time you’re in England, visit the apartment Wesley occupied when he was a don at Oxford and you’ll find two pictures of him on the wall. One is from the early part of his life and the other is from the last stage of his life. The contrasts are startling! The early Wesley has this haughty intellectual arrogance about him. The later Wesley has this softness and sweetness from a lifetime of connecting with people. That was the secret to his greatness.
AGISM AND OUR “GREATEST WASTED RESOURCE”
DAVID: Your strong affirmation of Wesley as a model, especially later in his life, makes me think about what you have to say about aging in general. Agism is such a huge problem in America that even our older friends and neighbors think of themselves as needing to step aside from active life in the community. That runs completely counter to our faith, you point out. Just recently, we called attention to this in our review of the book, “Creative Aging” and in our interview with theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Tony, you’re a heat-seeking missile in your 70s. You never seem to slow down. Talk about this problem that we all face with bigotry toward aging.
TONY: Read your Bible. Check on Abraham’s age when he had his most important vision of a new community. Fix that image of Abraham and Sarah and their age in your mind. They received their vision from God when they were much older than I am now. The idea that age should put anybody on the shelf is absurd. Jesus specifically condemns retirement. He talks about the man who builds a barn and lays up resources for himself. Then this man builds an even bigger barn and he does that all to be sure he has enough to retire. And we all know the end of that story, right? This man who thought he had it all planned so carefully—his life was required of him. To that kind of planning, God says: You fool!
The truth is that if we retire from life, we begin to die faster. Now, when I say that, I’m not talking about retiring from gainful employment. At some point, we may be able to retire from a specific career. No, I’m talking about pulling back from life and from the community in other ways. Hauerwas goes right to the core of this in what he’s saying. I agree.
If someone tells me, “Now, it’s time to retire and play golf and just enjoy chasing those little white balls,” I say right back to them, “No, life’s about chasing dreams!” And, if there are no dreams, the people perish. Freedom comes with old age. Wisdom. So many gifts come with aging. The elderly in our society today represent the greatest wasted resource in our society.
TURNING THE SCIENCE VS. RELIGION ARGUMENT
INTO A PARTNERSHIP SEARCHING FOR TRUTH
DAVID: I’m impressed that Francis Collins shows up in your book. We just recommended Collins’ own latest book.
TONY: The idea that evangelical Christians are anti-intellectual is contradicted by Collins, one of the greatest scientists of our time. Here’s a guy who goes to a prayer breakfast, picks up a guitar, sings a gospel song—even with top leaders of our country sitting there at the breakfast with him. In so many ways, Francis Collins models the way we can bring faith together with intellectual probing.
DAVID: One of the most popular pages within our website is a resource page we’ve set up to bridge the chasm across the so-called “science vs. religion argument.”
TONY: I recommend Francis Collins to people, too. He really understands that there is something spiritual about the universe. He recognizes that nature points beyond itself to something sublime. This is where faith and science meet. They don’t contradict each other.
You know, one summer many years ago, I was among a special group of high school students who were taken to study with Albert Einstein and a couple of other scholars of great renown. At that point, Einstein was near the end of his life, but I’ll never forget what he told us. He talked about “metaphysics.” He never became a believer in God, but he did believe that there was some kind of transcendent force in the universe. That’s what Francis Collins is saying, too. All people who honestly explore knowledge are in service to God in the end, because all truth coheres into one unified system.
SPIRITUAL LESSONS FROM “THE OFFICE,”
LEARNING TIMELESS PRACTICES TO HEAL OUR SOULS
DAVID: One of the terrific phrases readers will carry away from your book is “Soul Healing.” Mary, you wrote the bulk of this section of the book. Explain a bit about this phrase, will you?
MARY: The word “soul” is a buzzword these days, because we understand that it describes the deepest part of who we are—the essence of who we are as people. I’m describing the process of finding those areas of real hurt that need to be healed so we can experience life and other people fully. Read the Bible story of Jesus and Zacheus. What Jesus did for Zacheus—recognizing him in the crowd and then spending time with him—was soul healing. One of the big problems we face in trying to love one another is that we aren’t able to receive love. We’re hurt inside and we take that out on other people.
DAVID: We’ve talked already about the terrible cost of unresolved hurts and unrestrained conflicts.
MARY: I’ve suggested to people that they think about a test in which we look into two windows at two different groups. Through one window, we see a typical church gathering today. But through the second window, we look in on an AA meeting. Then ask yourself: Which one feels most like what a church should be? If we did such a test, a lot of people would pick the AA meeting. That’s not a criticism of AA. It’s a serious critique of the spirit we’ve lost in many of our churches today.
DAVID: You’re a fan of “The Office” and you use that as an example as you teach.
MARY: I love Steve Carrell as Michael Scott in “The Office.” He fascinates me, but sometimes it’s almost too hard to watch him, you know? When I teach about communication, this is one of the most important areas to think about: How self aware are you?
DAVID: Carrell says about his character, “If you don’t know a Michael Scott, you are a Michael Scott.”
MARY: Right. We’re not saying that you should get stuck in an obsession with ourselves as individuals. But, in order to love one another, we need to have a good understanding of ourselves. Now, I realize that it’s impossible to completely know ourselves, this side of heaven. But Michael Scott is a great example of someone who thinks he’s very aware of himself—who thinks he’s a master of good communication. Yet, he’s lousy! He can’t see how he actually comes across to others. I could teach a whole semester on communication just analyzing Michael Scott. In any communication textbook you’ll learn that, the more aware you become of yourself, the better you are at communication. The problem is that so many of us are Michael Scotts. We think we’re completely aware. We think we’re masterful. And we’re completely wrong!
DAVID: But there’s help, right?
MARY: That’s why we need a community around us. We need empathy. Michael Scott doesn’t really engage with a community. There’s no empathy. He just assumes that everybody is on board with him. He’s dangerous because he thinks he’s so good at this.
DAVID: Well, this brings us back to the starting point of your book: People are made for relationships. We are meant for real, honest, empathetic connection. Sounds simple, yet it’s a radical affirmation.
MARY: Yeah! That’s it! That’s our starting point. It’s so easy to focus on defending our faith or defending ourselves, getting into all kinds of arguments and engaging in all kinds of competition. It’s a lot harder to build relationships. Fortunately, as Christians we believe that we’re not meant to do this alone. The power of the Holy Spirit is there to help us. We all need to develop some skills. But, ultimately, we’re not alone.
Care to read more about Tony Campolo, Church Growth
and “Connecting Like Jesus” with Mary Albert Darling?
- QUOTES from their new book: We review “Connecting Like Jesus” and share memorable quotes.
- What is a Red Letter Christian? Tony and Mary talk about this important new movement among evangelical Christians committed to social justice.
- INTERVIEW with Tony and Mary: Part 1 of our interview with Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling on “Connecting Like Jesus.”
- INTERVIEW Concludes: Part 2 of our interview with Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling touches on timely topics: the power of “authenticity,” spiritual healing, aging and science vs. religion.
- VISIT Tony’s Website: To get a feeling for his high level of energy, here is Tony Campolo’s online schedule of appearances.
- Visit Mary’s Website: Mary Albert Darling’s website also lists her speaking itinerary, plus tells more about her life, work and books.
- BUY the New Book: You can order “Connecting Like Jesus: Practices for Healing, Teaching, and Preaching” from Amazon now.
ENJOY OUR ENTIRE GREAT SUMMER READING AND VIEWING SERIES: (Our series so far: “Crown of Aleppo,” “Science Vs. Religion,” “Belief,” “Apparition,” “Burma VJ,” “Facets World Cup,” “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth” “The Lonely Polygamist,” “Rise and Shine,” “Saints,” “Beaches of Agnes,” “Mystically Wired,” “Creative Aging,” “Twelve by Twelve” and “Eyewitness 4.”)
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