Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The moral complexity of war

Posted on: November 9th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By Ben Graves on October 31, 2016


Faith Under Fire
Fredrick G. Scott, Canada’s Extraordinary Chaplain of the Great War
By Alan Hustak
Véhicule Press, 2014
144 pages
ISBN 978-1-55065-375-5


American historian David A. Bell once cautioned that “few subjects are more dangerous than war to discuss in a dry, abstract manner, without a sense of the human costs involved—without hearing the screams, seeing the bodies, and smelling the powder and the blood.” Faith Under Fire, journalist Alan Hustak’s unflinching account of Canadian Canon Frederick G. Scott’s frontline chaplaincy during the First World War, takes this caution to heart; its pages are replete with eyewitness tales of the horror of the war that was to end all wars.

Faith Under Fire is particularly notable because of the unique perspective and circumstances of Scott himself. Throughout Hustak’s narrative, Scott is revealed as a steadfast Anglo-Catholic, possessed of a love of poetry and a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humour. (On more than one occasion over the course of his wartime chaplaincy, Scott suggested misbehaving soldiers be made to sit through the recitation of his poetry as punishment for their misdeeds.) The father of six children—three of whom would serve with him in the war, one of whom would not live to see the end of it—Scott maintained an unswerving loyalty both to Canada, the country of his birth, and the British Empire, of which it was a part. Scott, says Hustak, “was a product of his times…in which military conquest in the Queen’s name was equal to spiritual conquest in Christ’s name.” It was this belief in the right and righteousness of the British Empire, combined with a genuine conviction that it was his Christian duty to offer comfort and encouragement to the troops, that propelled Scott to volunteer as a chaplain in the Canadian Forces at the age of 53 in 1914.

Hustak is especially skilled at presenting Scott’s story free from the critique or judgment often made easily available by hindsight. In this way, the reader is able to form their own opinion of Scott’s actions as a husband, father, patriot and decorated military chaplain. It behooves us all to remember that war is not always simply the product of evil-minded individuals, but of the mistakes and misjudgments of otherwise good men and women. The impression of Scott created by Faith Under Fire is that of an admirable, courageous and thoroughly decent man who served his country and his fellow soldiers with dignity and grace, but a man whose mindset prior to the war nonetheless exemplified exactly the type of thinking that led to that catastrophic conflict in the first place.

Scott’s firsthand experience of the carnage of war left him a changed man. Says Hustak: “It made him sensitive to disability, injustice, poverty, and grief, and it made him angry.” Where once Scott had viewed war as a righteous crucible through which a nation’s true mettle might be revealed, he now “denounced the monstrous futility of war as a test of national greatness.” But on returning home to Canada, Scott did not lose the faith or idealism that had once propelled his bellicose patriotism. Instead, he channelled it into tireless support of veterans, workers—one of his sons, F.R. Scott, would go on to help found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation — and various other causes of social justice.

In this, Faith Under Fire and the life of Frederick G. Scott serves to remind us of the good of which people are capable, even after having experienced such inhumanity. It also offers a poignant warning of just how easy it can be for those same people to contribute to that inhumanity in service of entrenched and unquestioned beliefs—a lesson that we can ill afford to forget.

About the Author

Ben Graves

Ben Graves

Ben Graves worked as an intern for the Anglican Journal until August 2015. 
Anglican Journal News, November 02, 2016

Cardinal Walter Casper: Spiritual Writings, Selected

Posted on: October 11th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



Spiritual Writings, Selected

with an Introduction by

Patricia C. Bellm and Robert A Krieg

Modern Spiritual Masters Series

Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York

$30.00 CAD/22.00 US. 173 pages. 2016

ISBN #978-1-62698-191-1.



“Mercy is the new Christian awareness.

Mercy gives a foretaste and an anticipation

of what we hope for, the coming of the

heavenly Jerusalem. . . One beam of mercy

makes the world warmer and brighter for

all people.”

– Cardinal Walter Kasper


Wikipedia Bio:




Publisher’s Promo:

Walter Kasper, a German bishop and

theologian, has long been regarded as

a vital expositor of the gospel and one

of the leading voices of church renewal

and reform. Named a cardinal in 2001,

Kasper served as president of the

Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian

Unity and represented the Church in

advancing Jewish-Christian relations.


He assumed an especially important

role under Pope Francis, who publicly

endorsed Kasper’s book on Mercy, thus

signaling a principle theme of his papacy.


This volume reflects the major themes of

Kasper’s long career. Given the breadth

of his work, the selections here on God,

Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church,

Ecumenism, and Christian Hope, represent

a veritable introduction to the Christian faith. —



The Editors:

Patricia C. Bellm – is co-director of the

Science and Religion Initiative with

Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life.


Robert A. Krieg – a professor of theology

at Notre Dame, is co-editor of Cardinal

Walter Kasper: Speaking Truth in Love

(Liturgical), and editor of the Orbis book

Romano Guardini: Spiritual Writings.



Introductory Comments:

(I am now completing sixty years of priestly ministry). The desire to become a priest was placed in my heart at an early age…

(After ordination) my priestly ministry soon took me into academic theology. This path led me later to the office of bishop and eventually to Rome in the service of the world church and the unity of all Christians. I dedicated my ordination as a bishop to “truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Thus, ministry for the “Joy of the Gospel” has accompanied me every step of the way.  For this reason, and along with my strictly theological presentations, numerous spiritual texts have come about over the years from my sermons and meditations. In this time of so many significant changes, these writings are meant to contribute “to giving an account of the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:1-5).

Faith is Jesus Christ is a gift to be passed on. Therefore, I owe Patricia C. Bellm and Robert A Kreig for taking the trouble to select some of the texts written since 1972 and for making them accessible in English to a wider public.

I hope that this gift for the jubilee of my priesthood will become a gift for as many readers as possible.

Walter Cardinal Kasper,

Rome, 2016.



Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Bellm and Krieg, the editors of Kasper’s spiritual work, say this about him in their introduction:

“In four ways, this book probes the depth of the treasure in Kasper’s writings.

“First, it includes selections from Kasper’s memoir “Where the Heart Faith Beats” – that probes Anselm of Canterbury’s idea that theology is “faith seeking understanding” – the resulting fruit of Kasper’s faith evidenced here.

“Second, the depth of Kasper’s own thought comes to light in relation to the documents of the Second Vatican Council. He sought to elucidate the council’s teachings. His future development as a theologian was grounded in the renewing work of that council for the whole church.

“Third, in his writings, Kasper continually calls attention to the fact that true Christian faith and theology are oriented to mystery – the mystery of being human, of Christ and of the triune God. Also, the mystery of the church and of salvation.

“Lastly, this book conveys the spirit with which Kasper shares the treasure of the Christian faith. It does this simply because its texts radiate Kasper’s genuine approach to life in light of the Gospel. All this is done with a deep sense of joy.” (these lines have been edited by me.)

I am grateful for this book because it offers the refined thought of a strong influence in the Catholic Church today. He has truly influenced others too.

Walter Kasper is known and loved as a person by many ecumenists – both Catholic and non-Catholic – who have worked with him over the years.

The Spirit of God in Christ permeates his life and influence. I would say that – even while he is still among us – his impact is unusually significant.


Buy the book from Orbis:


Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XII, No. 09,  October 02, 2016

Atheists can be spiritual beings, book argues

Posted on: September 18th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By Michael McAteer on September, 16 2016

Theology for Atheists
By Gerald Robinson
168 pages
Nisbet House, 2016
ISBN 978-0-9950218-0-8
Available at U of T Bookstore, 214 College St., Toronto, ON M5T 3A1
Or order online: [email protected]


Award-winning Toronto architect Gerald Robinson is an adjunct professor of theology, in the divinity faculty at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College.

He’s a member of the Anglican congregation that worships in Trinity College Chapel and regularly attends services in the chapel. He calls it his parish church, his “go-to” place to worship. So what is he doing socializing with atheists in Scallywags, a Toronto pub?

Robinson is also an atheist who describes himself as an Anglican/Atheist/Christian—a description that must raise many eyebrows. Some will dismiss it as contradictory, incomprehensible.

No conflict or contradiction here, Robinson says. He explains why in Theology for Atheists, described by a reviewer as “the most fun serious work” she has ever read. He calls it an “outrageous book,” and it’s liable to outrage some people.

In his 168-page book, Robinson addresses such subjects as heavenly warfare, faith or reason, and miracles. He raises such questions as: Can atheists have a theology? Do atheists have souls? Can an atheist be a Christian if he or she denies the divinity of Jesus?

He answers with an emphatic “yes.”

Robinson says Jesus never claimed to be God, that nowhere in the gospels does he make that claim. Free Jesus from the doctrinal cluttering, and he is still the “greatest teacher the world has ever known,” whose message of peace, love and tolerance is sorely  needed by a troubled world.

Much of Robinson’s book is devoted to an examination of the gulf between people of faith and non-believers. Atheism is an attitude, a form of mind that “looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as part of nature.” With no supporting evidence, people of faith assert that their faith is the right faith, and their path is the one true path, providing them with a comfort zone in which they bask.

But surely, in a world of numerous religions and gods, it follows that that all others are wrong, resulting in bloody religious wars for supremacy.

Originally, most of the tenets of permanent truth were seen as a reasonable explanation of the cosmos and the human society within it, but with the advancement of science, “the logic of those continuing to adhere to absolute truth became more strained.”

While some people of faith may find it difficult to accept, Robinson says atheists can be spiritual beings. He promotes a common ground where non-believers can join in the celebrations of a religious community, to share their rituals and devotions without having to adopt their beliefs; a common ground where atheists can offer explanations for sacred mysteries, while revering them as myths.

Noting the significant increase in non-believers and the plummeting decrease in church membership, Robinson says it’s imperative for non-believers and faith communities—many of whom are engaged in social action and have concerns about human rights and environmental issues—to join forces. He says it’s time for a partnership in which we can all worship the beauty and wonder the world has to offer while helping to save the planet.

As an Anglican, he suggests that the Anglican/Episcopal Church makes the lowest demands for conformity of belief and could lead the way.


Michael McAteer is a retired Toronto Star religion editor and one-time interim editor of the Anglican Journal.


Anglican Journal News, September 16, 2016

No Greater Love: Commemorative Edition

Posted on: September 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Commemorative Edition
by Mother Teresa
Foreword by Thomas Moore

New World Library, Aug. 15th, 2016
Commemorative Edition $22.00 US
ISBN #978-1-60868-446-5.

Original Edition 2002 (still available)
Hardcover. 224 pages. $16.50 CAD.



Publisher’s Promo:

“No Greater Love” is the essential wisdom
of Mother Teresa – the most accessible,
intimate, and inspiring book of her

Thematically arranged to present her
revolutionary vision of Christianity in its
graceful simplicity, the book features her
thoughts on love, generosity, forgiveness,
prayer, service, and what it means to be
a Christian. A passionate testament to
deep hope and abiding faith in God, “No
Greater Love” celebrates the life and work
of one of the world’s most revered spiritual


Preface by Thomas Moore:

Mother Teresa has caught the imagination of
the world not because she is a great writer
or theologian, but because she is a person of
immense compassion and openness…

(In) her undefended state, she feels the
suffering of the world, of the old and the
very young and those between. She knows
firsthand the meaning of empathy and
more so the profundity of pathos.

In the intimate reflections published in this
book, we learn some of the secrets of this
person… her particular kind of Christianity,
with its spiritual vision, methods of prayer,
and inspiring figure of Jesus (she tells us)
keeps her personal spirits and unlimited
compassion high.

To a sophisticated modern reader, some of her
ideas and language, especially her piety, may
seem naïve and unnecessarily self-denying…
but modern psychology has yet to discover
what the religions have taught for millennia –
that loss of self leads to the discovery of soul.
As I read her words, I try to hear them, not
as naïve, but as sophisticated in a way that
is largely foreign to modern taste.

Rather than avoiding suffering, she becomes
intimate with it. Rather than heroically trying
to overcome death, in the style of modern
Western medical philosophy, she focuses on
a person’s emotional state and sense of meaning
in the last moments. She is acutely attentive, too,
to the feelings of children, a strong sign, in my
estimation, of a person profoundly initiated in
the ways of the soul…

Beneath Mother Teresa’s straightforward faith
and personal honesty lies a subtle knowledge
of human motivation.

(She avoids a focus on the mental aspects of
faith because) when religion is largely mental,
spiritual attitudes may never get translated
into compassionate attention and action in
the world community.

What is absent in these passionate words
of Mother Teresa is any attempt to convert
us to her beliefs. She simply describes her
strong faith and tells us about her work
among the poor and the sick… Her words
simply demonstrate how human beings,
when given the most basic kinds of love and
attention, find significant transformation and
discover their humanity, dignity and at least
momentary happiness…

(With her recent canonization we can formally
declare Mother Teresa a saint)… but the
reflections in this book could show us, as she
says, that we can all be saints.

– from the Foreword

Wikipedia Bio:


Review by Dr. Wayne Holst


My Comments:

The overarching theme of Mother Teresa’s
book is missiological. By that, I mean that
the newly declared saint, like all saints who
preceded her, had a mission in the world.

But Mother Teresa’s purpose as a Christian
is not to try to convert the world to her faith.

Her purpose is to demonstrate what her faith
means to her in the way she serves God and
her fellow human beings.

Any “conversions” to her faith (and there
are many) are not her responsibility. She
leaves that to God’s Holy Spirit. Her task
is to witness to what God enables her to do.

The model for mission, personified by
Mother Teresa, emerged out of the reality
of a multi-faith, impoverished Indian culture.

That same model speaks to a secular world,
especially in the West, that tends to denigrate
all religion as self-serving and violent.

Far from viewing Mother Teresa as a vestige
of traditional Catholic piety, her witness,
to my mind, puts her in a teaching role for
many of us who try to be faithful Christians
in a rapidly changing world.

What is our mission?

Teresa demonstrates a mission to compassion
and caring. Some of us have a special vocation
for justice-seeking, and Teresa only indirectly
appeals to that dimension of Christian mission.

She has been criticized for ignoring justice
and focusing primarily on band aid work.
I believe she knows injustice only too well,
but her primary task is mercy.

I found this re-encounter with the major
treatise of the newly minted saint to be a
healthy counter to one-sided missiological

My life must reflect a dual mission – to act justly
and to be merciful.

Buy New Edition from New World Library:

Buy Original Edition from



Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XII, No. 06,  September 11, 2016

William Hordern, Canadian theologian

Posted on: August 18th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By Wayne Holst on August, 17 2016

Few preceded him. He had only several like-minded contemporaries and today, he has many successors. To my mind, William Hordern was a pioneer theologian who helped many Canadians think and live theologically as contextual Christians. Simultaneously, he was grounded in a deep awareness of church tradition and universality.I believe it is fitting to reconsider this unassuming 20th-century mentor of mine whose legacy continues to emerge.

“Once your teacher, always your friend,” he wrote me during a particularly trying period of my life. I was gratified by the supportive compliment, even as I realized that he would probably have said that to countless people he helped as an academic pastor. During my early theological studies, I had first encountered his popular work A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology—a bestseller written in the 1960s. After moving west to Winnipeg and then Calgary, I got to know him personally, and his story began to unfold for me.

Bill was born in Dundurn, about 42 km south of Saskatoon, and grew up on a farm during the Depression. He attended the University of Saskatchewan and St. Andrew’s College. “The Dirty Thirties” influenced and shaped his theology. When he became a United Church minister, there was always a strong social justice dimension to his preaching and advocacy. He continued this focus throughout his life and in various denominational settings.

In 1945, he began studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. He learned from and became student assistant to several notable theologians, including John Bennett, Paul Tillich (who introduced him to Lutheran theology) and Reinhold Niebuhr. Upon graduation, he sent job applications to many Canadian schools, but was turned down by all. One letter, received from a Toronto college, stated explicitly: “we don’t hire Canadians.” Thankfully, times have changed!

His early teaching ministry was at Swarthmore College (near Philadelphia) and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. During those years, Hordern became a Lutheran. That was primarily because of his love for Luther’s theology of grace (influenced by Augustine and Calvin).

In 1966, after turning down invitations from several well-known American schools, he returned to Saskatchewan to become president of Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon (LSTS). There he invested the best years of his life until his retirement.

During that time, he wrote a second major study, Living by Grace—a modern interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Over the years, many Canadian pastors and theologians across the spectrum have been influenced by his books. He still deserves to be read today.

The William Hordern chair in theology at LSTS is currently held by one of his students, Gordon A. Jensen,* who writes helpfully about how Hordern sought to tear down walls and rebuild bridges between university and seminary, church and society, using a contemporary interpretation of Pauline theology.

Theology and religious studies have evolved considerably in this country these past 50 years. Hordern’s contextual work has greatly influenced many. It has guided my theological formation, which I consider to be both ecumenical in perspective and Canadian in focus.


*The Theology of William Hordern: Living by Grace by Gordon A. Jensen is located at:

Thanks also to Douglas John Hall, professor emeritus, McGill University.


Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.


Anglican Journal News, August 18, 2016

A survivor’s fierce vision and courage

Posted on: August 16th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By Henriette Thompson on August, 16 2016

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir

By Joseph Auguste Merasty, with David Carpenter
University of Regina Press, 2015
105 pages
ISBN 978-0889773684


This memoir is many things—short yet powerful, anecdotal and detailed, courageous and sad, unsettling and important.

Joseph Auguste (Augie) Merasty’s memories of his nine years as a Cree child attending St. Therese residential school in Sturgeon Landing, Sask., are book-ended by a 29-page introduction and an eight-page afterword. This leaves, on balance, 64 pages for the unmistakable voice of Augie Merasty to shine through.

From ages 5 to 14, Augie attended St. Therese residential school, a Roman Catholic Mission school, as did various family members. His experience is intensely personal and universally echoes stories given throughout the six-year period of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2009–2015).

Augie’s gimlet-eyed gaze of his time at St. Therese presents the banal (the same substandard food, every day) with the harrowing (daily beatings, strappings, head injuries and sexual abuse), and the derisive (clear renderings of individual cruelties) with the sympathetic (the humane gestures of other staff).

When Augie was around 11 years old, the loss of a mitten resulted in a forced walk across a lake for 20 miles in -40 F blowing snow. The mitten was not found and he was strapped. The mitten on the book’s cover singularly reflects this awful example of the severe penalties incurred for minor offences.

Daily activities—baking, sewing, nursing, animal husbandry, hauling wood—largely depended on the labour of students and added to the dismal quality of education received from Augie’s teachers, including a Nazi sympathizer and those with firm convictions of European superiority.

Augie’s questions haunt us: “Why wasn’t the Bishop’s house ever told about these things?” He responds to his own question: “…they [priests, nuns] were respected with unshakeable reverence, especially by my parents, who were in my view, then and now, religious fanatics. They naturally believed that whatever was done to us, if we were properly disciplined, was for our own spiritual good.”

Unwaveringly, he calls out the church on its hypocrisy. “I know they never practiced what they preached, not one iota.” Augie was released from the daily torment of residential school in 1945 with his family’s move to Deep Bay, a place abundant with lake and brown trout, and reindeer, too. Reconnecting with and living on the land became part of his healing journey.

Fast forward 60 years, and Augie is a retired trapper in northern Saskatchewan, determined to produce his memoirs. He approached the University of Saskatchewan for assistance and soon was in contact with English professor and author, David Carpenter. Over eight years, they danced and dodged their way toward the publication of Augie’s memoirs. Throughout this time, the impact of colonialism and the effects of childhood abuse prevented Augie from recovering his life “even to this day,” he writes. He struggled with alcohol, moved to Prince Albert and became homeless.

Augie Merasty’s memoirs witness to his fierce vision and courage. Out of respect for all survivors and a desire for reconciliation, we read and learn.


Anglican Journal, August 16, 2016

Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons

Posted on: August 9th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Essays and Sermons
by Frederick Buechner

Published by the
Frederick Buechner Centre
With an Introduction by
Anne Lamott, 2016. 165 pp.

With tributes from Brian McLaren,
Barbara Brown Taylor and others.
Paperback $20.70 CAD 
$10.00 CAD Kindle edition.
ISBN #978-0-9908719-0-3

Publisher’s Promo:

Buechner 101 – introduces critically-acclaimed 
and widely-admired author Frederick Buechner 
to a new generation of readers, many of whom 
already know of him from widely shared quotes 
on social media. Published by The Frederick 
Buechner Center, and curated by Anne Lamott, 
the volume samples his essays, sermons, and 
excerpts from memoirs and novels. 

The book also features tributes by admirers
such as Lamott, Barbara Brown Taylor, and 
Brian McLaren. One of the most important 
writer-theologians of the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries, Buechner is a Presbyterian 
minister and a Pulitzer-nominated writers’

A prolific writer for six decades, Buechner has 
published more than thirty books in a variety 
of genres: fiction, autobiography, theology, 
essays, and sermons. Among his most beloved 
works are The Book of Bebb, a tetralogy based 
on the character Leo Bebb; Godric, a first person 
narrative of the life of the medieval saint, and a 
finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981; Secrets in 
the Dark, a collection of sermons; four volumes 
of memoir, The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, 
Telling Secrets, and The Eyes of the Heart; and 
his best selling book, Listening to Your Life: 
Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner. 

Buechner’s work has often been praised for its 
ability to inspire readers to see the grace in 
their daily lives. 

As stated in the London Free Press, “He is one 
of our great novelists because he is one of our 
finest religious writers.” He has been a finalist 
for the National Book Award, Presented by the 
National Book Foundation and the Pulitzer Prize, 
and has been awarded eight honorary degrees 
from such institutions as Yale University and 
the Virginia Theological Seminary. 

In addition, Buechner has been the recipient 
of the O. Henry Award, the Rosenthal Award, 
the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres 
Prize, and has been recognized by the American 
Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He 
is continually listed among the most read 
authors by Christian audiences.

Frederick Buechner Website –
Subscribe to regular mailings of his writings:

Welcome by Anne Lamott:

(I insist) that anyone interested in God, grace,
meaning and truth needs to immerse his or
herself in (Buechner’s) memoirs, essays, novels,
and sermons… I thrust him into people’s
unsuspecting hands… and tell them “You have
got to read this…”

Buechner is the person I consider America’s
most important living theologian, that most
amazing mixed grill of gentle intelligence,
a brilliant, lovely religious thinker, with a
great sense of humor, a first class writer…
No one has brought me closer to God than
C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner…

Buechner writes of the truth, both of the Gospel
and of his own damaged family, and of our truth,
sight unseen – we’ve never met – in a way that 
is so precise, revelatory and profound, that it
makes me experience an awakening to spiritual
reality all over again, each time. He writes about
the joy and grief and mystery and confusion of
each human life, his faith journeys, his family,
the existence of God in most unlikely places…
he writes about listening, to your own heart,
to the rythms and narrative of your own life…

He has the most beautiful humility… he throws
on the lights for you, and accompanies you on
your own journey…

Buechner writes about forgiveness like no one
else can. He makes me feel that he would love
and understand me, exactly as I am, right now,
which believe me, is sort of a quirky mess…

Frederick and I have never met, but he is my
dear older brother, and I know I am his dear
baby sister…

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

I have come to a time in my own life when
many of my formative mentors as a younger
person have either passed away, or are now
in their 80’s and 90’s.

A scary thought, really. But maybe not so.
Wisdom is not necessarily the most current
or catchy thinking. It is good to know that
much can still be learned from wise people,
both living or deceased.

Frederick Buechner is one of those mentors
who, happily, is very much alive at 90! His
current writing continues to connect me
to the wisdom of past and present.

This book attempts to capture the essence
of a long, productive, writing, pastoral life,
and I – having read most of his books over
the years – am grateful for the richness this
‘anthology’ has to offer. I think back to where
I was in my life when I first read this thought
or that one from him.

For those who have not read Buechner, or
have been more sporadic, or too recent, I
believe that this book would be a worthy
addition to your library.
Because I believe I received an excellent
biblical formation as part of my Lutheran
theological training, I was probably first
drawn to Buechner’s word studies. These
were always closely connected to real life
experience – something that my theological
training did not always provide.

I was also drawn to discoveries he offered
me by such insights as “listen to your life” –
which helped me realize that there was so
much to learn by paying attention to the
most mundane and incidental. I realize
today that Buechner helped me to be a
good spiritual journal-writer, and perhaps
even a columnist as well.

He certainly did a lot to challenge me to
grow and refine my writing gifts.

One of the benefits of this book, in addition
to being a helpful anthology, are the
tributes that a number of writers – besides
Anne Lamott – have contributed. Reading
them helped me to realize that Buechner
speaks to different people in different
ways, but he always takes them deeper
in their spiritual quest.

I don’t preach sermons in church as often
as I once did (gratefully!) but when I do,
and when people tell me they appreciate
that I help them think more deeply about
this spiritual matter or that, I know that
Frederick Buechner has helped me.

You do not have to be a writer or a preacher
to appreciate Buechner. You can be a good
reader. This book will help you in that,
and you will be rewarded.

Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XII, No. 03,  August 07, 2016

How to Wreck Your Faith: A Theologian Teaches “Outlaw Christianity”

Posted on: August 4th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


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Back in the mid-1990s, I excitedly announced to my mother—who had spent a good part of her adult life as the wife of a Southern Baptist minister—that I was going to enroll in seminary.

She looked up from her tomato plants long enough to say, in her sweet Southern drawl, “You’ll shipwreck your faith.”

I stood in stunned silence. I am the last of five children, the first of my siblings to earn an undergraduate degree, and now the first to pursue a master’s level degree. This is the reaction I get? In her next breath, she clarified why she could not express joy in my decision.

“You shouldn’t ask questions. Questions are the devil’s playground.”

I entered the devil’s playground anyway. And yes, my faith was shipwrecked. But the faith that rose out of the ruins is what author and Concordia College religion professor Jacqueline Bussie would call that of an “outlaw Christian.”

In her new book, Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the Rules, she applauds those of us who are willing to ask the hard questions of our faith and to challenge mainstream religion’s acceptance of “God under the usual laws of dishonesty, silence, intimidation and fear.”


Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the Rules

Jacqueline Bussie
Thomas Nelson
April 19, 2016

“An outlaw Christian doesn’t condemn questions or discourage doubt,” she writes. “Instead, an outlaw Christian seeks to live an authentic life of faith and integrity, and chooses to defy the unwritten laws governing suffering, grief, and hope that our culture and our religious traditions have asked us to ingest.”

I got the chance to talk with Bussie recently about her new book.

RD: What prompted you to write Outlaw Christian?

I had the experience of teaching students for 14 years as a full-time professor and leading our college’s interfaith resource center (The Forum on Faith and Life), and I started noticing some trends. There were things my students kept saying—whether they were progressive or conservative—that I found fascinating.

They kept saying, “I feel like I’m a really bad Christian because I’m so upset with God over this terrible thing that happened.” Then they would tell me these terrible stories and I thought, “Wow! They really don’t see that the Bible is actually filled with a tradition of lamenting and basically having it out with God?” Somehow, if that was a message, it’s not one they got from whatever tradition they were part of.

Also, as I share briefly in the book, my mom came down with early-onset Alzheimer’s when I was 20. For the next 16 years she was dying by millimeters and before I knew it, my adult life was this kind of wrestling with her death and my own struggle with faith. I thought, “Well, this is the book I wish I could have read.”

Anne Lamott always says you should write what you want to come upon, and this is what I would have wanted to come upon and couldn’t find. I had all this great wisdom from all these amazing theologians and I thought, “I can share that. I can be the translator. As an academic theologian, I can take what I’ve learned and translate it for lay people.” That’s what I wanted to do because I found a lot of personal comfort in it.

My mother told me that I would shipwreck my faith going to seminary. Should we all be shipwrecking our faith?

As a young person, my faith shipwrecked on my mother’s illness, and I’m really glad it did—because I never paid any attention to people suffering around me and that wasn’t fair. There’s obviously things I don’t want to have happen to people like injustices that I describe in the book, but I do think our faith could be the better for it. Our eyes could be opened.

In the book you say, “We traffic in certainty porn,” and tend to avoid questions or things that might make us doubt, or rethink our faith.

I classify that as our American obsession with certainty—the idea that people who are very certain and speak with great conviction are not only right but an authority. There’s no theological or epistemological humility in that, and I’m not really sure how it’s happened that we equate certainty with truth. Sometimes the truth is, you don’t know the truth, and I think there’s a virtue in being able to admit that. Yet, if you look at any politician, which one would be respected if we ask them a question and they say, “I don’t know the answer to that?” Yet, we respect people when they admit that they don’t know. As a teacher, it’s important for me to model that.

In the book, you lay out some of what you call “unspoken laws” that do spiritual damage. It was “Law Four: Always speak in cliches about suffering and evil,” that especially resonated with me. At my mom’s funeral last year, people kept saying things to me like, “She’s in a better place,” or “This is God’s plan.” You define these as “theodicies.” What does that mean?

Theodicy is a word that means a defense of God’s justification or goodness and power or justice in the face of the radical evil and suffering that happens in the world. It’s whatever kind of defense we’re going to offer for that. A lot of philosophers say it’s how we reconcile the sentences that “God is good” and “God is all-powerful and just,” but that evil exists. That’s all theodicy is. But we encounter it every day in the simple phrases people say like, “Oh, God needed another angel,” or “It’s all part of God’s plan.” All these Hallmark greeting card kinds of things we hear that I don’t even think are biblical.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. A friend of mine’s young son died in a car accident, under the influence of drugs and alcohol. People at my friend’s church told him that his son was in hell for all the sins he had committed. With tears in his eyes one day he asked me, “Where is my son?” I told him simply, “I don’t know. I believe he’s in the arms of God, but I can’t tell you that for certain.” As the tears fell he shook his head and said, “That’s the best answer anyone has given me.”

Your response shows how much people are longing for that honesty. I’ve become someone who doesn’t leave people alone in their grief unless they want to be left alone. I call it the “sit with.” We’ve adopted it from Judaism, to sit shiva. You’re only allowed to make certain comments, and they have to be from Psalms, Lamentations or Ecclesiastes. Nothing else is allowed.

Christians have a lot to learn from Judaism and that tradition. For me, personally, to be able to sit with people and hug them and tell them that I love them is all I have to offer. I don’t really have anything to offer beyond myself. I don’t have the perfect words, and I won’t strive for that, but what I can offer people is me and my time. I won’t make people feel ashamed for their tears.

In debunking “Law Number Two” about never doubting your faith, you give a wonderful reinterpretation of the “Doubting Thomas” story. Tell me more.

I started rereading the story of Thomas while I was writing the book and thought about how all you ever hear is, “Don’t doubt! But believe.” It’s true Jesus says that to Thomas, but this is not really the whole story. There’s also the only other time when Thomas is talking in the Bible, when Jesus decides to go back to Jerusalem, and all the other disciples say, “You can’t do this. You’re going to get killed. They hate you,” but Thomas is like, “I’ll go!”

So, it’s weird that we take this one aspect of Thomas and call him “Doubting Thomas” rather than “Willing to Die With Jesus Thomas,” which he really is. He’s the only person close to Jesus willing to do that. I became fascinated by the fact that Jesus shows his scars to all of his disciples to prove who he is. But, Thomas was the only one not there for that. It’s fascinating to me that Thomas is thinking in his mind, “Okay, if this guy in front of me does not have scars, he can’t be my friend Jesus, because I know my friend Jesus has suffered and that suffering leaves scars.”

What’s wrong with that? That’s actually pretty beautiful. Jesus responds to that telling him to touch his scars and tells him, “You’re right, I do have these scars.” It seems to me that Thomas is much more insightful. I read him as breaking a cultural taboo of our modern time, which is asking: “Tell me about your scars.”

We don’t want to know the bad things that have happened to people and what they might have survived because it makes us uncomfortable. We want to slap a cliché on it, so it’s something we can see as ordered. If you look at Jesus and Thomas together, they are outlaws in this. Jesus is willing to say, “I don’t think scars are something to be hidden. I’m willing to show them to you.”

So, what would a church of outlaws look like? What would worship services be like?

I’ve given lots of talks about this topic and engaged in conversations during speaking engagements over the past several years. One of the churches I spoke at told me that they had a lot of members who had lost loved ones—which is true of any congregation—and they decided to have an alternative Christmas service. They, of course, had their normal Christmas pageant with all the happy hymns and the Christmas trees, but they also had what they called a “Blue Christmas.” They held it on Christmas Eve, and it was a service of lament.

They gave me the liturgy for this, and I’ve shared this with other congregations who want to start this as well. We’re not saying everyone has to feel grief on Christmas, but with the usual “Merry Christmas” we’re forcing people into one emotion—that you should feel merry—and that is not what everyone feels on holidays when they’ve lost a loved one. You just can’t make it to that merry space. Where is the service for those folks to share those memories of what it’s like to no longer have their loved one there?

I also went to a Unitarian Universalist service on Mother’s Day where they plumbed the history of the holiday and discovered it’s not just about feeling happy, but it was born as a day of grief and resistance to the war. It was designed by mothers who were tired of losing their sons and husbands to war. It was a protest and a resistance to war.

I never felt so at home in a Mother’s Day service.

People also came up and did joys and concerns and laments for lost mothers. It was as perfect as it could be, and it allowed room for everyone wherever they were at to speak to that during the service.

Where does the term “outlaw Christian” come from?

The term comes from Reynolds Price, who is one of my favorite authors. He had once, in an interview, used the term but never said what he meant by it. He was social justice-oriented, and I always loved his writing and his style of Christianity. I thought I’d like to take that term and put my own spin on it. For me, outlaw Christians are people who are no longer willing to hide all their grief, doubt, anger, questions and scars—from each other or from God.

It raises the question of where did these laws come from—and for some of them it’s impossible for me to answer. Who decided that every time I cry I should say “I’m sorry?” I don’t know. I just know that everyone is doing it, and I want to resist that. I want to say, “Is this truly in our best interest to apologize for our humanity?”

All these laws, it’s really hard for me to say they come from any one source. I think they come from a combination of capitalist superpower kind of values as well as just some of our cultural norms. My family is largely German, and Germans value stoicism and find it to be really strengthening. But I think stoicism stifles.

As a theologian who teaches about the problem of evil I’m always surprised that students come to me and tell me about something difficult that has happened to them. No one ever warned me about that in graduate school—that if you do your job well, vulnerability breeds vulnerability. If you share certain things that you’re comfortable sharing, people will come to you and do the same. That’s really a gift. I appreciate that they do that.

So, what’s the difference between an outlaw Christian and one who is not?

Outlaw Christians love Jesus just like other Christians, and outlaw Christians want to be social revolutionaries for love in the same way that Jesus was. In our lives of uncertainty, outlaw Christians are going to err on the side of agape, no matter what.

Also outlaw Christians might be perceived in a more scandalous light because they are willing to acknowledge the moments of agnosticism in their own faith. I always think of the philosopher Derrida who said “There is a moment of atheism in every prayer.” What a fascinating statement!

Outlaw Christians aren’t going to give pious platitudes or easy answers. They are willing to learn from other faiths and say, “There’s so much wisdom in this world, and Christians don’t own all of it. Christians don’t even own Jesus. Christians have a lot of things to learn from everyone around them.”

Outlaw Christians aren’t going to sanitize their own story. They’re going to tell it like it is, scars and all, warts and all, ugly and all, and they’re not going to keep those same kinds of secrets that we’re asked to keep.

In your day job you teach members of the younger generation who are rejecting the kind of Christianity you’re writing about. Are your students moving away from traditional religion?

I just had a class, and it was fascinating. The class was diverse, but they were unanimous in their anger at theodicies because theodicies had been spoken to them in a time when they just did not satisfy. A real concern my students have is the hypocrisy of Christianity. A lot of my students are gay, and they don’t feel like they can be themselves. They resonate with parts of my book because I’m talking about not living inside the jail of other people’s judgments.

One of my gay students came to me and she said “That’s my life.” I asked my students to do these six word memoirs, and they were really moving. I was trying to encourage them that their story matters, and they should tell it. One of my students wrote, “Gay religion major, scared of church.”

I put these up on the wall of our religion department and thought that’s really all we need to know. We need to think about these. One of them I really loved—who is a survivor of sexual assault—she said, “Life’s a bitch. I bloomed anyway.” I got up and hugged her. I thought it was the most beautiful thing.

Young people are sick as hell of inauthenticity. They compelled me to write this book. It would be impossible without them because so many times I would be comforting them in a certain situation, not making them feel ashamed, saying to them, “Don’t apologize for your tears about this.” And they would tell me: “You need to write that down.”

Finally, one day I decided to take their advice. I teach all these amazing theologians, and I learn from them. We’ve got to start living a more authentic life, or young people will turn and walk in the other direction.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, July 11, 2016

Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

Posted on: July 26th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Unlikely heroes

By Michael Lapointe


Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

By Eyal Press

Picador, 2013

ISBN 978-1250024084

208 pages


Recent history is full of moments when an individual’s moral convictions have been at odds with the expectations of that individual’s community.

It is less full, however, of examples where ordinary people exercise incredible acts of moral courage in the face of overwhelming odds, particularly in situations where the vast majority of others remain silent.

Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times by Eyal Press is a profile of four people separated by time and place, but united in their resolve to resist evil, challenge injustice and stand apart from the crowd.

It’s a book about individual courage in times of unimaginable violence, like the story of Paul Grüninger, the Swiss state police commander who defies orders by providing “special permission” for hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Austria to remain in Switzerland in 1938, or Aleksandar Jevtić, the Serb who made the instinctual, split-second decision to save scores of Croatian detainees from brutal mistreatment in 1991.

“For both Grüninger and Jevtić,” Press writes, “what changed was the state of the world around them, not their ideas about it.”

But Beautiful Souls is also a book about cultural and political defiance in situations “where circumstances don’t change much, but an individual’s ideas and assumptions do.”

Avner Wishnitzer, the once loyal Israel Defense Forces soldier-turned-peace-activist makes the agonizing decision to (very publicly) refuse to serve in the occupation of Palestinian territories in 2003, seeing it as a systemic violation of the group’s basic humanity.

“Saying no to the [Israeli] army—exercising moral courage—was ‘ten times harder’ ” than the physical courage required to serve in a special forces unit, Wishnitzer tells Press, “because virtually no one approved.” Resistance to the status quo required breaking his loyalty to an institution lying at the very core of his identity and history.

Press’s final account is the story of Leyla Wydler, a Houston-based financial adviser whose anonymous letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2003 becomes the first in a long series of steps involved in revealing a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme and bringing down a financial empire.

It’s an example of “another kind of resistance that is arguably no easier and no less important” than those forms exercised by Press’s first three subjects, and Wydler’s story is illustrative of the personal costs involved in raising your voice at a time when it’s just so much easier to keep your mouth shut.

Well aware of the consequences of their defiance within their communities, whether those be military, cultural or financial, these individuals did so with a level of humility few of us can understand—and would do so again without hesitation.

Press combines narrative journalism with a wide range of psychological and philosophical literature to explore “the mystery of what impels people to do something risky and transgressive when thrust in a morally compromising situation: stop, say no, resist.” Beautiful Souls is required reading for anyone curious to better understand the limits and potential of their own convictions.


Michael Lapointe is a freelance writer based in Toronto.


Anglican Journal News, July 25, 2016

Breck England: Finding the “third alternative”

Posted on: July 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The co-author of Stephen Covey’s new book, “The 3rd Alternative,” says leaders who are able to cultivate a mindset that can entertain wildly divergent ideas not only encounter less conflict but also come up with more inspired answers.

Updated: Stephen R. Covey died on July 16, 2012.


When people with opposing opinions collide, one side typically wins out, while the other leaves frustrated and angry.

But there’s a way to resolve differences that results in less conflict and leaves both parties enthusiastic about the outcome, said Breck England, co-author of Stephen Covey’s new book, “The 3rd Alternative.” (link is external)

The Third Alternative

In the book, the authors encourage individuals in leadership positions to listen to both sides of a problem and look for answers that transcend polarizing positions.

“It’s a question of mindset,” said England, who holds a doctoral degree in English and works as a consultant for the FranklinCovey Co., focused on Covey’s principle-centered theories of organization and leadership.

“If you approach a problem with the point of view that ‘I’m interested in an exciting third alternative; I don’t care where it comes from,’ then the burden comes off of you. It’s so liberating for a leader to be able to say, ‘I don’t have to be the source of this,’” he said.

Covey, a worldwide expert in business and personal time management, teaches at Brigham Young University but is best known for his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” along with other books about organizational leadership.

England spoke to Faith & Leadership about the latest book and the steps to finding better solutions to organizational dilemmas. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Could you describe the concept behind “The 3rd Alternative”?  

In just about any field of human endeavor, you’ll have two conventional alternatives — left versus right, management versus labor. The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is to arrive at a position that is better — that is higher — than either of those two conventional alternatives.

Dr. Covey was taken with this idea years ago when he studied some of the literature on leadership and learned that many of the great leaders get beyond the conventional two sides of a story to a third side, which is new, innovative and better than anyone thought of before.

So the idea behind the book was that many of our conflicts, and also dilemmas that we face in life, are often the products of poor thinking. A better way to think is to look for a third alternative.

Q: How is it different from compromise?  

It’s the opposite of compromise. In a compromise, everyone loses something. When you get into a compromise situation, people tend to go away generally unsatisfied. They didn’t get what they wanted. They had to cede ground to the other party.

The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is actually the opposite of that. It’s that no one gives anything up, because we arrive at something that everybody agrees is a win for everyone. It’s something better than any of us thought of before. It’s something that delights everyone.

Q: How does this book build on Stephen Covey’s classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”?  

The “7 Habits” book is based on the idea that if you start by realizing that you are responsible for your own choices, you begin to rise in maturity through a series of seven habits. The final and culminating of what he calls “interpersonal” habits is Habit 6, which is “Synergize.”

Synergy, he believes, is the highest human activity. In any interactive situation, it’s possible to arrive at a synergistic solution that is better than anyone has thought of before. So he would say that the “7 Habits” book leads up to this book.

Q: Could you talk about the mindsets that make it difficult to find that third alternative?  

I can take a concrete example and walk you through it. Malaria is endemic in equatorial Africa. For years there has been a knock-down, drag-out argument between the left and the right about what to do about it.

Years ago, there was a solution in the form of DDT, which was very effective at wiping out the mosquito that causes malaria, but it was very damaging to wildlife. So for many years the use of DDT was banned, because it was damaging to wildlife. But then malaria came roaring back, of course.

So the right wing would like to see DDT brought back, for a number of reasons. They feel that the threat is overblown. And the left wing comes back and says, “This is far more damaging than you think it is.”

There’s this tremendous tug of war between them.

Our contention is that they’re both equally caught in conventional thinking and they’re unable to get past it.

While the left and the right wings are fighting over DDT, along comes Nathan Myhrvold and his fabulous Intellectual Ventures company in Seattle. And they come up with a thousand “third alternatives” for curing malaria.

Some of them are really off-the-wall, like a machine that will shoot down mosquitoes.

With less than $200 worth of equipment — a little blue laser, the kind that they use in the grocery store checkout, a computer and a radar system — they put this system in place in the perimeter fence around a village and program the computer so that it can distinguish the female Anopheles mosquito.

As the female mosquito enters the perimeter, a laser beam shoots it down. And the laser that shoots the little mosquito out of the sky will not hurt any other form of life.

Q: Is it the emotional investment that makes these disputes difficult to resolve?  

Yes, there’s a deep emotional investment in one’s own side and one’s own position and one’s own philosophy.

Why do people find it so difficult to get past these conventional ways of thinking? We believe the reason is because they emotionally identify with their positions to the point where they can’t get beyond them.

Q: So what are the personal skills and habits that people can learn in order to practice this kind of thinking?  

What you need to do is recognize that there is an abundance of solutions.

In logic, there’s never only one alternative to anything. There may be infinite alternatives.

For example, the struggle over energy philosophies in this country is a deeply political, and therefore deeply psychological and emotional, conflict. The fact is, the universe is absolutely roaring with energy. There is no energy shortage. There is simply a shortage of solutions.

In India there are millions of houses without electricity. The leftist politicians want a national electricity grid paid for by the government. And there are private interests who say a national electricity grid should be privately owned. The result is you get a 40-year battle between these two sides and no solution.

Then what happened was that a little company owned by a man named Harish Hande slips in between the two and says, “We don’t need a national electricity grid.” So he’s producing kits that will enable these homes to be electrified by solar power for less than $200, and millions of homes in India are rapidly being electrified by these little kits. Soon the argument over whether there should be a national electricity grid becomes irrelevant.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen saw all these television sets running off of solar energy kits and said, “People don’t want a national electricity grid. What they want is a TV they can watch.” The national electricity grid is just one way to get there.

A second key to this kind of thinking is to have enough personal confidence to go up to people you disagree with and say — and in sincerity — “You disagree with me; I need to listen to you,” instead of saying, “You disagree with me; I need not to listen to you.”

If you really do sit and listen to the other side with the intent to understand them and understand their point of view and see if there’s anything of value there, that immediately diffuses the conflict.

A third thing you can do is say, “Would you be willing to look for an alternative that neither one of us has thought of before?”

Generally, they will say they are willing to do that. And as you push towards a better alternative and keep that goal in mind, you soon find yourselves transcending your positions. There’s no guarantee that you’ll arrive at it, but when you do, you’ll know you’ve got it. Everybody gets excited. They say things like, “I never thought of that before,” or, “Why didn’t we think of that before?” They recognize it when they get there.

Q: How can institutional leaders cultivate those skills and habits in their organizations?  

My research and experience have shown me that to a very great extent, an institution is the reflection of the leader. Whether you’re the university president or the CEO, the leader sets the tone for the entire institution.

The key is to begin to model third-alternative thinking. Have third-alternative sessions if you’re facing a dilemma: “Do I need to raise money or not?” or, “Should we take money from this source or not?”

Whatever dilemma you’re facing, you start holding sessions where the goal is not to fight or argue points but to generate third alternatives. You can always argue later if you want.

A good place to start is by saying — just say, “You differ from me; I need to listen to you.” And then just do it, without debating the point with them. The idea is to truly understand their position rather than to debate it.

Q: You wouldn’t allow people to start arguing over those points — just present them to the group?  

Yes. The idea behind letting people vent is that it gets it off their chest, and it kind of empties their conflict bank. It empties out their psychologically pent-up, repressed feelings. And then they’re often ready to sit back and think with you.

Here’s another story: One little pizza store in a chain was producing so much more revenue than the others that the company was interested in how the manager was doing it.

The only thing he does differently is bring together his crew once a week and hold what he calls a huddle. He lets them come up with the ideas, and it’s amazing how creative these teenagers can be.

They’ve come up with some outstanding ideas, like load a pickup truck with hot pizzas and drive them to the football game and sell them out of the truck.

They come up with these unconventional ways of selling. As a result, this man has a huge revenue stream compared to his competing stores, because he values the ideas of his people.

Think about that mindset in relation to running a huge organization like a university. You can see how energizing it could be if a university president were to get his vice presidents or his reports together and say to them, “What can we do this week we’ve never done before?”

Q: How do you apply this in situations where maybe there isn’t conflict, but you just think it’s a good way of thinking?  

It applies to any dilemma that you face. So the idea is, if I’m a leader, I really value diverse points of view.

We all have slices of truth, I like to say. So it’s valuable to get as many slices of truth out on the table as you can, and take that terrible burden off the leader of trying to be the fount of all wisdom.

The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is the principle of synergy — that you and I together can come up with things that one of us alone could never do. And those things will be far more fruitful than just the two of us together. One plus one equals three, or 10, or 1,000, instead of just two.

Q: You use words such as “excitement,” “promise” and “delight” to describe this concept — not your typical business leadership language. What’s the significance of this?  

Human beings are delighted by the exciting, new idea. It’s just part of our makeup. I think it’s the highest human endeavor, to discover new truths, to discover new ideas, to arrive at new realizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. (I grew up with “Star Trek,” OK?)

I believe that’s rooted in us. And it’s our highest delight in life to discover something new that really works well and works better than we ever thought anything could work. Of course, we live in a world where we’re saturated with that.

The highest form of human work is coming up with the exciting new alternative that nobody thought of before.

We wrote the book because we were fascinated with all of the evidence of human ingenuity that can come once we get past our conventional, two-sided ways of thinking. The “me-against-you” thinking is the enemy of the future.

It’s a very hard thing to do, to get past your traditional mindsets.


Alban at Duke Divinity School, Alban Weekly, June 27, 2016