Brian McLaren—best-selling Christian theologian and activist for social justice—is jumping genres. Borrowing the kind of acerbic style we normally associate with New York Times commentator Maureen Dowd, McLaren is firing off a series of short, political e-books cast as fiction, starting with The Word of the Lord to Democrats. McLaren says he hopes this dramatic switch in styles will cause Americans both to laugh and to think in fresh ways about the sorry state of politics in 2012. That’s the bottom line: If you’ve cheered Brian’s stances in the past, then you’ll have fun with these e-books.
As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’ve now read the first of these e-books, a short tale about a middle-aged lawyer named Ruth Schwartz who suddenly discovers that God has chosen her to become a new kind of prophet. There are, indeed, a few amusing twists to this tale. For example, Ruth fails to recognize God’s voice until God switches His vocal stylings to mimic the voice of U2’s Bono. Then, and only then, she begins to accept the divine message. That’s funny and so true these days, right? Bono often sounds more like God, than God.
But this book is a far cry from Saturday Night Live comedy and mainly McLaren focuses on his provocative central question: What if God did come back in the voice of a female prophet, sent to shake up the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign? That’s really not a laughing matter and, in the end, this book isn’t intended as a joke.
Remember Joseph Girzone’s very popular Joshua series about a mysterious carpenter who turns out to be a fresh embodiment of Jesus living among us? If you did enjoy those novels, then you remember that Girzone’s first mission was to spin an engaging yarn. In contrast, McLaren is more interested in penning a lampoon of American politics gone awry. At one point in the story, for example, Ruth encounters a politically conservative TV network called … ahem, Fax News. The crescendo of the plot is the lawyer’s tumultuous encounter with a rabid Right Wing talk-show host named … ahem, Ash Lembruck. This is broad-brush humor more than deft farce.
Summarizing too much of the plot easily could steal the thunder of a book so short that most people will finish it in an hour or two. The Atlantic publishes cover stories longer than this entire e-book. The brevity is intentional. McLaren hopes these new e-books will form a string of parables borrowing widely from other contemporary prophets. At one point, Ruth starts talking like a latter-day Bob Dylan. She says: “How many times can we in the American public turn our heads and pretend that we just don’t see? How many ears do we have to have before we can hear our neighbors crying? You know what the big trouble with normal is? It only gets worse.”
McLaren issued a statement with the release of this first e-book. He felt compelled to do something startling this year, he said. “When you’re silent on issues of injustice, your silence tacitly supports the status quo. So even silence ends up being political.”
In coming months, he plans to release another short e-book with Republican in the title. He’ll also publish The Girl with the Dove Tattoo as an e-book. McLaren describes that one as “a tale about four men claiming to be Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad showing up in a bar in Hollywood.”
All of these little e-books, he says, are “warm ups” for his next full-sized book. That’s called “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.” It will go on sale on this year’s anniversary of 9/11 and, thus, two months before the general election.
EXCERPT OF THE WORD OF THE LORD TO DEMOCRATS
BY BRIAN MCLAREN
Want to buy a copy of this e-book, The Word of the Lord to Democrats?
Here’s a brief excerpt: The main character is Ruth Schwartz, a lawyer who is stunned to hear God speaking to her in the voice of Bono during a business trip and finds herself suddenly acting as God’s prophet to U.S. politicians in 2012, starting with Democratic leaders.
Her divine message basically is that Democrats have become wishy-washy political players who no longer have much passion for truly helping the American people. She appears on one network TV talk show in which the host, named Chris, interviews her about this startling message.
The following exchange with Chris is from the middle of the book:
“The word of the Lord to the Democrats,” she began, “is a word about exceptionalism. If you continue to trumpet the American exceptionalism of the past, you’re setting up an idol. God’s word for that kind of exceptionalism is arrogance, pride, hubris—and that kind of pride goes before only one thing,” she said.
“A fall?” Chris offered.
“Far worse than a fall, Chris. A crash. Imagine a complete financial crash—not only Wall Street crashing, but the whole economy, the whole currency, the whole global economic system. You can be looking fondly in the rearview mirror, admiring your past achievements, and you’ll crash straight into disaster. And that’s not all—“
“So, you’re saying—“
“I’m not finished, Chris, with all due respect. Imagine an ecological crisis as well—a crash that comes from failing to read the writing on the wall. For decades, the Lord has been speaking to Planet Earth through the scientists and the people like Al Gore …”
“So you’re saying that the election in 2000, the contested election, should have …”
“I’m saying that God has been warning us. But we haven’t listened. We have true prophets speaking the word of the Lord from science, and false prophets of religion and politics who are really prophesizing for the status quo, for the financial interests that find it inconvenient to change.”
Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?
Jimmy Carter is among the dozens of global peacemakers profiled in ReadTheSpirit’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” by Daniel Butty. The book is a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities. Like Carter, Buttry is a Baptist who works on peacemaking projects around the world.
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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)