Live Yourself Into a New Way of Thinking: Richard Rohr

Episode 05

Father Richard Rohr is one of our best teachers, hands down. Whether it’s through his work at the Center for Action and Contemplation (which he founded) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or the many enlightening books he’s written, Fr. Richard is dedicated to helping people realize their best selves, both inwardly and outwardly. A champion for social justice who’s spent decades fighting for equality, he shows us the way to radical compassion by gently leading us to see the world with new eyes through the concept of “voluntary displacement,” i.e. when we willfully move out of our comfort zones and “live” ourselves into new ways of thinking. For such a wise and contemplative guy, his cool factor is off the charts. He calls Bono a good friend, and he was considered the foremost expert on the Enneagram WAY before it was the hot topic of the day. Jen and Fr. Richard discuss the dangers of “individualistic Christianity,” in the context of his new book “The Universal Christ,” and how so many of us have a stingy view of God who doles out His love out to just a certain few. He sums up our spiritual challenges in one masterful concept that, if we truly embraced, it would change the direction of our lives: “nothing can separate us from God, except the thought that we’re separate from God.”

Episode Transcript

Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.

Jen:  Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show.

You are going to be so glad you pressed “download” today. We are in a series called For the Love of Faith Groundbreakers, and we’re just talking to some of the most interesting, and curious, and courageous thought leaders in faith that are out there right now. They are leading us well and stretching us and pushing on church and the status quo and they are heroes.

Speaking of heroes, if you know my guest today, you are probably freaking out because I am too. When I say he’s one of the greats, I mean, that in the most sincere possible way.

If I sound a little verklempt right now, it’s because I just finished the interview. I am now recording the intro, and I finished this interview by crying my eyes out, trying to tell him how special and important he is to all of us. I’m not over it yet because today we have on Fr. Richard Rohr.

He is a Franciscan priest. He’s the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He’s known around the world, I mean, around the world for the way he teaches about contemplation, and radical compassion, and social equality. He’s been on the front lines of social justice thought for decades, and he is literally one of our best teachers.

He’s written so many brilliant books. Lately, you’ve probably seen his book on the Enneagram, one of the most insightful ones out there.

His newest book is called The Universal Christ, which just came out, and we’re going to talk a bit about it and hear his thoughts on it.

This conversation is so good, and it’s so rich, and he offers us so much wisdom to think about, to discuss, to chew on, to imagine, to envision. It’s not an exaggeration to tell you that Richard Rohr’s work has been so deeply meaningful to me and has shown me truly things like I didn’t even have the imagination for, frankly. I think you’ll see what I mean when you listen to our conversation. He is as warm and wonderful as you would ever hope, as you could ever, ever hope for him to be.

And so it’s just my real joy to share my conversation with the wonderful spiritual father, Richard Rohr.

I am so humbled and I’m honored to have you on the show today. Thank you so much for saying yes to this invitation.

Richard: You’re easily pleased. Thank you. I’m glad to be with you.

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Jen: I along with just thousands and thousands of my listeners have learned from you for so many years. We consider you a spiritual father, and it’s just a real honor to talk to you. I want to just thank you right out of the gate before we get into everything for the ways that you have led us all and taught us and changed us. Your work has been incredibly meaningful to so many of us, and we’re grateful.

Richard: Thank you. Thank you.

Jen: No, thank you.

So I filled in our listeners a little bit about who you are, for those of them who have not yet seen your work. But I would love to hear a little bit about you in your own words, if you don’t mind. I wonder what it is that you hold dear, and why do you believe that God put you on this earth?

Richard: Wow. That’s a big one.

Jen: It is.

Richard: That’s a good one. Whatever my vocation is, it’s only become more real to me the older I’ve become. I am about to turn 76, and so many pieces have come together in my 70s. People ask me if all the love I unwittingly get is flattering to me. I have to say, I’m much more pleased when people love what I love than love me, if that makes any sense.

Jen: It does.

It’s wonderful to have friends and admirers, but my passion is to clarify the gospel. And I am a Franciscan priest. We were first interested not in the church, but in the gospel and seeing it as a liberating message for the earth, for people, for history. Of course, my great sadness is that it hasn’t in its first 2,000-year iteration, it hasn’t come across that way.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Knowing that still, whatever we call ourselves, Judeo Christianity is the foundational spirituality of Western Civilization. It would give me great joy if I could make it more attractive, more meaningful, more true. That’s why I was put on this earth.

Jen: To that end, if I may, you really are one of our very best teachers, and you consistently push us toward lives of deeper meaning and communion with God and sort of shalom on the earth.

A lot of us actually know your work with resources around the Enneagram, which we actually talk a lot about on this show, which I’ve personally learned so much. Gosh, the Enneagram has been an amazing spiritual or relational tool for me.

I wonder, because you dip your hand in a lot of areas, has teaching always been something that you were passionate about, something you were always drawn to, something you were always good at? Did you always know that your expression of faith in leadership was going to look like this, was going to look like, being a teacher?

Oh, no.

Jen: What did you expect out of your life?

Richard: I had no idea it would come to this. I mean, as a young Franciscan in the seminary, I was rather shy. I’m a B student. I remember being surprised when, as a deacon, I was first able to preach and that people responded to me.

Jen: Sure.

 I was only 26, and already I recognized, why, when I get in that mode, it just flows. It’s almost like my mind isn’t operating and I hope that doesn’t sound too airy fairy.

Jen: No, no. I’m here for it. I like all that woo woo stuff.

Richard: But it comes too easily. That was true with the Enneagram. Those first cassettes, which is what I was using then, I made in 1973, when no one knew the Enneagram.

Jen: Wow!

Richard: But I had had a wonderful Jesuit spiritual director in Cincinnati, and he taught it to me. So I kept it secret the early years, like we were supposed to do.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: But then once in the mid-80s, the book came out, well then I made a set of CDs and those went everywhere. I’m so glad it helped someone like you.

Jen: It sure did, and it’s interesting now to watch how many Enneagram teachers are kind of rising up right now. And that beautiful understanding of how we like flourish as humans, it feels like it’s got a lot of traction. And it could just be that it’s because it’s newer to me, so I’m thinking, Now it’s everywhere! But what a useful and wonderful tool? It’s been good for my marriage, good for parenting.

Richard: Good.

Jen: I can’t find a place where the Enneagram is not useful. Every single Enneagram teacher that I speak to cites you without exception. You were kind of the grandfather of this next wave.

Richard: Well, listen, I just got onto it early. And I’m flattered by the trust people give me, but thank you. It’s moving into the business world, it’s moving into the education world.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Let me just give a simple explanation. It’s going to sound naive, but I think it’s just because it’s true.

Jen: I love it.

It’s verifiably true. The only people who don’t know that are people who don’t know it.

Jen: Exactly.

Richard: I don’t know why it’s true, but it is.

Jen: It’s so true. We laugh in our friends’ circle because our only friends that seem to resist the Enneagram, we have all just carte blanche categorized them as 5s. We’re like, “You know what? A 5 just can’t believe it.”

Richard: Isn’t that it? I mean, that was one of the examples, but anybody who’s into it, you and I have come to the same conclusion. Their 4 wing makes them wanting to be special.

Jen: Yes, of course.

Richard: Their 6 wing makes them snobbish and suspicious. They just don’t like any explanation that they haven’t followed up first.

Jen: Oh, I love it. I can’t wait to send that exact clip to my favorite 5s.

One of the things of course that you do sort of underneath everything else you teach, I found basically kind of a foundation of your work of course is . . .

Excuse me, I live by a train. It’s just going to happen. We’re going to hear a train several times over the course of this conversation.

Richard: I can hear it and it reminds me of my boyhood in Kansas, so that’s fine.
Jen: That’s it. It’s a very, very like nostalgic sound, isn’t it?

Richard: Yes, exactly.

Jen: You have taught us for decades essentially how to live a contemplative life. And so to a lot of us, myself included, it feels like a wonderful dream that might be a tiny bit inaccessible. I am not contemplative by nature. I am a 3, so that’ll give you all the context you need to know. I’m like, “I’m a go girl. I’m a do girl. I’m an achiever.”

Richard: Make it happen.

Plenty of ideas and words.

I wonder how you might instruct folks like me who aren’t naturally contemplative, not naturally introspective, especially when really, frankly, all of us have 1,000 different voices pulling us in a million directions. What is a contemplative life, and is it sincerely possible for anyone to attain it?

Richard: Well, let’s start by differentiating it from being an introvert, being piously prayerful, which isn’t its meaning. And that’s why I use the word “non dual consciousness” because as an extrovert, which most 3’s are and I am too, I’m a 1. We can understand that, how not to frame everything either or male, female, Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Protestant, black, white, and then choose one side and think you’re smart. That’s dualistic thinking, in a word.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: That applies just as much to extroverts and doers. It takes you out of the righteousness zone, which I as a 1 certainly need. But it makes you more calm, more patient, less rushing to judgment.

I’m convinced, and our center here in Albuquerque is beginning to really teach this, that up to now our notions of contemplation have been too monastic because that’s how it was maintained in the Western church. And in the last century, no criticism by any means of Buddhism, but too Buddhist, which was also very monastic. If this is truly a gift from God by which we can know God with an open, clear, and compassionate mind, then it can’t just be by sitting on a map and being quiet, or 99.9% of the world is never going to know God.

Jen: That’s good.

Richard: I don’t know if you’ve read the book The Naked Now, but that’s where I first say that I believe the two major paths of transformation are great love and great suffering. That’s what rewires us if we stay inside of it long enough to learn its lessons. And those have been available since the Stone Age.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Every civilization, every era: great love and great suffering. What a contemplative practice is, a disciplined practice, which you’re right—you’re still young and you’re a 3. It’s not going to come to you naturally at all.

Jen: No. That’s right.

Richard: But I don’t want you to feel failure. All that does, which is a lot, it maintains over the long haul what you learned in the short haul in the middle of great love and great suffering. You see?

Jen: Yes.

Richard: But you normally can’t maintain the honeymoon or the grief period, where your heart is naturally very compassionate. So religions at the higher levels discovered these various practices of meditation, repetitive chants.

“Contemplation” is more of the Catholic word, I think, but they’re all pointing to the same thing, I think.

Jen: I like the term “practices” because it literally takes practice. It does.

That’s right.

Jen: Sometimes when people take those early first steps into contemplation, it just feels so incredibly awkward, and long, and fumbly and bumbly. And you just think—

Richard: You’re being very honest.

Jen: I am for some of us and . . . but it is interesting over the course of its practice how your mind really can learn how to be still and your heart really can open. And I appreciate all the instruction you’ve given us on that, which is just kind of stay the course.

Jen: Along with contemplation, another practice that you put out there that you teach a lot is this encouragement to believers to also act. So very much how faith and works go hand in hand. But at least in my estimation, you seem to approach it with a 21st century interpretation that we can all understand; one that isn’t mercifully muddled all up with Christianese and religious jargon. Thank you so much.

If we just went back to those basics as Christians just trying to follow the way of Jesus, I wonder what you would say in terms of what kinds of actions should we be doing? What does this look like in motion in the life of somebody following Jesus?

Richard: Well, let me offer you this. I’m always coming to what I hope are better formulations that make sense to people. But I think almost the first action is what I’m going to call “voluntary displacement.” Get yourself out of your world.

Jen: That’s great.

Richard: Get yourself out of your homogeneous group. Make some black friends, some gay friends, some Mexican friends. Until you move out of your homogeneous world, all it will be is ideology: leftist, progressive “do goodism,” as it’s often called. That’s not the action I’m talking about.

One of the eight principles that we operate on here at the center in Albuquerque is we do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking. And that’s why I speak of voluntary displacements. Walk in a different neighborhood, go to a different restaurant.

I think until you place yourself in different settings, you will have no cellular gut-heart knowledge of what your action must be. It’ll just be a generous visit to a soup kitchen on the first Saturday of the month, which is nice, but you will not be rewired.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Both in contemplation and action, we’re talking about rewiring the psyche, so we look out from a different pair of eyes. So, yeah.

I’ve only said that explicitly in the last few months. I might’ve said it implicitly even. Now it’s become very clear to me that the people who really know how they should act are people who’ve immersed themselves in a world other than their own.

Jen: I could not agree with you more. Even as I look back over my own life, it’s those moments of voluntary displacement that have utterly changed my trajectory.

Richard: That’s right, that’s right.

Jen: I know I’m a learner, I’m a studier. It’s not for lack of knowledge, it’s not for lack of having my nose in the Bible, but those experiences outside of my silo, they can’t be duplicated. There is no replication for them. That’s where have changed us also.

Richard: That’s right.

Jen: That quote that you just said about living our way into a new kind of thinking. I have quoted you on that now.

Richard: Oh, have you?

Jen: Three books, and I am not prepared to stop. I may put it in the next one. I don’t care. I’m not sorry. That so succinctly has described my spiritual development. That’s just how it works.

Richard: Wow.

Jen: It does.

Richard: I’m so glad I mentioned it. Good.

Jen: I’m so happy that you mentioned as you said it. I just started smiling because people are like, “I wonder how many times you’re going to quote that?” I’m like, “As many as I want to.”

I think this discussion leads us nicely into what I would love to talk to you about next, which is your new book. You have this new book, The Universal Christ. Could you tell us what it is about? What did you see in the world that made you say, “That’s something we need to talk about more.” Specifically, you said you wanted this book to be a game changer for people. I wonder if you can talk to us about it a little bit.

Wow. Where do I begin?

I believe we’re still in early Christianity after 2,000 years. If there’s a single underlying heresy in the Western church shared equally by Catholics and Protestants, it’s the individualization of the gospel. Thinking that we’re talking about you separate from me, and me separate from you going to heaven, whatever that phrase means in each per person’s mind. Until we recognize that the eternal Christ is a message about history, about society, it’s a collective message. And if people think I’m a heretic, just note the several covenants in the Hebrew scriptures that are made through an individual like Abraham, Noah, David, but they’re clearly with the people Israel, with society, you see.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: The Eastern church got that more, especially the early Eastern church. Their understanding of the resurrection was history was raised up. It wasn’t just the lone body of Jesus. You see this even in Eastern iconography. But the Western church was, from its earliest years, all about the private individual being moral and being safe.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: I can’t estimate enough the importance of historical theology. That’s what the Franciscans taught me.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: We had to go through each century and see how doctrine developed and idea developed. One of those big historical moments is the year 1054, where the Eastern Church and the Western Church so called the Greek and the Latin Churches is separated. We haven’t been the one holy undivided church since the 11th century.

Now, the reason I mention that is that’s where we lost the universal Christ. Jesus, mostly became an Italian Jesus, the Chaplain Jesus, a Spanish Jesus, an American Jesus.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: But there was no universal message. When I see how we continue to devolve into tribalism, and every group thinking that it possesses Jesus.

Now, just you know, I love the Bible and this is a biblical message. The prologue to John’s gospel, chapter one, the hymn in the first chapter of Colossians, the hymn in the first chapter of Ephesians, the first paragraph of Hebrews, the first paragraph of 1st John always the first because they knew this was foundational. They all say the Christ was from the beginning. We were saved in Christ from the beginning.

Just please, listeners, go read the hymn in Ephesians, for example. We don’t need a later bloodletting or salvation theory to define how God loved humanity. This is very Franciscan. The first incarnation is not Jesus, the first incarnation of God is creation.

Jen: Of God.

Richard: Jesus then comes along 2,000 years ago to make it personal, to make it as 1st John says, “One we can see, and touch, and love.” I’m not denying the incarnation of God and Jesus, but that’s the personal, Christ is the universal. When you and I say we believe in Jesus Christ, we’re making two different faith affirmations. One personal, one universal. Most of Christianity has not made the second leap.

Jen: That’s right. I love hearing you teach about that, and I wonder once you see that, once you understand that, once you embrace that, how is it that you think, how does that knowledge, how does that understanding affect us? Like, hey, what if you parse it out? Either that is a perspective that you embrace and you live out of it, or it’s this very like just 2,000 years ago, individual salvation and you parse that out. What do those two lives look like? What’s the difference in this fundamental theological understanding of God?

Richard: Well, I hope I’m not going to be unfair, and I’m certainly not convicting every person of this. But I’ve been a priest 49 years now, have taught in 45 countries in all denominations and groupings.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: I have to say that the individual understanding of the gospel allows many human beings—I’m not saying all Christians—to live a highly narcissistic life. It’s well disguised narcissism. But you and I know the lowest level of motivation is fear and security.

Jen: Certainly.

Richard: When we’re preaching the gospel whereby we want to place our bet to make sure we’re safe, that doesn’t mean love of God. It means fear of God.

Jen: Yes, gosh, right.

Richard: That’s so much of that in all of our denominations. None of us are free from it. I mean, evangelicals really get mad if I take away their notion of hell, as if the whole message depends upon eternal punishment. So you’re saying you wouldn’t do this unless you had a threat? God does not proceed with threats. God proceeds by allurement and invitation of an infinite love.

So there’s, all right. If you want to call it a caricature, it partially is, but that’s my caricature of individualist Christianity.

Cosmic Christianity, I’ll say it quickly is . . .  well, there’s no distinction between sacred and profane. If the first incarnation started when God said, “Let there be light.”

Jen: Sure.

 Light is the primary metaphor for the Christ throughout the Bible, in my opinion. We’ve got a planet that’s sacred. Can’t be racist anymore because black people, and Hindu people, and gay people are just as much created in the image and likeness of God as us white folks. It’s going to change your economics, it’s going to change your ecology, it’s going to change your politics. And I don’t know what good a religion is if it doesn’t do that.

Jen: I agree with you. If this has very real ramifications for the way we live and the way we spend, and the way we neighbor, and the way we vote, frankly.

Jen: Can you talk a little bit more about what’s your understanding of eternity? What do you think that looks like? I mean, there’s so much mystery wrapped up in it, and it’s anything but clear as sort of outlined in the Bible. It’s not like we can point to a real formulaic understanding of eternity. Can you talk about that for a minute?

I’m told by neuro scientists that the human brain cannot form a notion of infinity or eternity. It closes down. Like, when you’re told there’s 600 billion galaxies, that’s when I’m hearing now.

Jen: You can’t even think of it.

Richard: You’ll hear that statistic, but you’ll forget it an hour from now. It’s unthinkable.

Now, Paul says this, of course: “Eye has not seen nor ear has heard.” Don’t feel too stupid. I think you were being very honest by saying it’s shrouded in mystery. So much so that the human mind cannot formulate it.

Now, let me throw in what I think has held me. I look at Christian history and see how we’ve whittled the great cosmic message down constantly into a frame that we could handle.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: Quid pro quo, tit for tat. This much suffering, this much grace. This much sin, this much punishment. That’s probably pretty Catholic. But I found that evangelicals just did the same thing.


Richard: With a different language. Because we have to put it in a frame. We have to, let me use a big word, anthropomorphize the gospel, put it in a human scale that we . . . and the way we understand almost everything, certainly in America, is a win-lose scenario.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: We love winning as we see in our present government of Washington. It isn’t about truth. It’s just about winning.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: That’s the only philosophy left, is winning. I’m saying that we in the church are partially responsible for that because we frame the gospel itself, which was supposed to take us into an infinite frame of infinite love, where eye has not seen nor ear has heard, and we pulled it into a little tiny game that could be played out in a stadium where we cheer for the winners and punish the losers.

This is no grand scheme. This is no grand divine plan for the universe, but it’s what we’ve largely been saddled with in the first 2,000 years. It’s unraveling very quickly now.

Jen: I think about the way that you’re describing that, and it seems like . . .  I mean, I can really only speak for the generation I’m in, but there is a bit of a false comfort in some of those binary ideas, and that everything is merit based, our merit or lack thereof. There’s a lot of real human emotion that goes into understanding God in human ways like that.

That’s right.

Jen: Yet the effects of it is such a damage to human flourishing and—

Richard: That’s right.

Jen: It’s very hard to overcome too because as you know . . .  I mean, we start learning like that when we’re two, both in the church and out of it. So overriding that set of beliefs and that perspective on God is challenging.

If you were to instruct us, let’s just say we’re somewhere near the beginning of that process, is there another way to imagine the expansiveness of God, the expansiveness of eternity, of creation, of this communal salvation? How do we even start? Where do we start if we have been very systematically programmed in the opposite direction?

Richard: Something has to happen to your life that undoes the quid pro quo equation.

Now in Christian language, that’s called forgiveness, mercy, grace. You have to be cast into a new ocean where the parameters are endless. You have to experience unconditional love when you had trapped yourself inside of a frame of conditional love, which means if you want to argue backwards, I’m going to say it. I think the whole economy of grace and salvation presumes that you’re going to do it wrong, presumes that you’re going to sin, and feel stupid, and unworthy, and long for unconditional love. That alone creates the space inside of you for eternity, and infinity, and divine love. Otherwise, if you only let yourself experience divine love when you’ve been a good girl.

Jen: That’s good.

You read your Bible, you went to church on Sunday, you didn’t have sex, Whatever your measures are, you’ll never experience divine love. It has to be undeserved, unmerited. Paul says this in the second chapter of Ephesians, Grace would not be grace. That breaks down the economy of quid pro quo.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: I don’t know anything else that’ll do it. Otherwise, you’re religious, but you’re not yet really swimming in the world of Christian grace, which is universal grace.

Jen: That’s great.

: It’s available to everybody. That’s why we all need to fall in love. Frankly, I hate to say it, it’s why we also need to suffer a bit. Because in the time of suffering, we know we can’t handle the present situation, and that’s what makes us plug in to a larger source.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: We keep drawing from our own source as long as we think we can. God has to lead us to some event that you can’t fix, you can’t change, you can’t make it right. It has to be that abhorrent. That’s what suffering is. You are not in control. You’ve heard me say it. Yeah.

Another idea I think that sometimes makes modern evangelicals squirm is this idea that you’ve taught us, which is just essentially seeing God everywhere. As you mentioned earlier, seeing Him in all people, but also seeing Him in the earth, seeing Him in creation and all of its creatures and seeing Him in beauty. For some reason, that makes Christians in our culture squishy. Why do you think we are so uncomfortable with this idea that God absolutely inhabits the world?

I mean, we kind of see the opposite right now. We see sort of a conservative group of Christian folks doubling down frankly on the separation of faith from creation and denying climate change and imagining that we are simply just here to, I guess, subdue the earth but not worship in it and see God in it. This breach, is something that I have really deeply been learning in the last decade about how much holiness really and truly is available to us through the earth. Can you talk a little bit about maybe where we lost that thread and how and why we could pick it back up?

Richard: Well, I want to give my self centered answer first. The Protestant tradition never had St. Francis. You remained highly anthropocentric and individualistic.

Jen: That’s true.

It was all about God saving private human beings. I mean, so you know that I’m biblical. I want my good evangelical friends to open their Bible to the Noah story and notice, I think it says it four times. Let me look for it here in my Bible. Might be five times it says, very clearly that God is going to form His covenant with all of creation. But that was never emphasized in the Protestant reading of the Bible.

Jen: No, never.

Richard: Never. To you, it’s coming out of nowhere. Maybe you don’t know. The single most popular saying in Catholicism is St. Francis. All right? After the 13th century, he gave us a much more holistic reading of the gospel and called everything “brother and sister.” He’s the first recorded Christian to call not just people but animals “Brother Fox, Sister Dove.”


Richard: Not just animals, but trees and flowers and elements. “Sister Fire” and “Brother Air.” That’s a whole cosmology.

Jen: Totally.

Richard: Those of you from the evangelical tradition so associated that with pantheism and New Age.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: That frankly, you’re blocked, you’re just locked. I’m going to say it.

Jen: Do it.

Richard: Forgive me, from seeing the obvious. Once you grant to the ego the right and the freedom to choose where God is and where God isn’t, you’re in trouble.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Because you’re going to choose, well, “God is in white people and God is not in black people.”

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: That make it even more hard hitting. The form of American Christianity that has grown in this country and spread to the whole earth, in many ways, is what we have to fairly call “slave holder Christianity.”

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: That emerged in the southern part of the United States. Now, once you have slave holder Christianity, you have a Christianity that is so bankrupt, so far from honoring the divine image that it’s barely the gospel.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: It’s good news only for white slave holders and not for anybody else. That we couldn’t see that shows how much we lived in these homogeneous communities.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: Forgive me, I don’t mean to offend. I have a staff here of 47, mostly millennials. Wonderful staff. Oh God, they’re delightful. I’ve got to be honest with you, most of them are post-evangelical.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: Because what once made so much sense to them, once they start using their head and looking out from their eyes, they realize that the very shortened version of the gospel that they were given just can’t be true.

Jen: That right.

Richard: It’s too selfish.

Jen: Thank you for saying that.

Richard: That’s a stingy God who doles out His love here and there and it always happens to be to people just like me.

Jen: Right, right.

Why can’t we see through that? That it’s only people just like me that God loves.

Jen: Thank you so much for saying that.

Richard: This will never save the world.

Jen: No, it won’t. Sometimes, I feel crazy. When I look at the expression that we’re just surrounded by, and with such fierceness, with just like fierce, dogmatic protection of it and defense of it. You just sometimes think, I feel like sometimes I’m just taking crazy pills.”

Richard: Oh, yeah. I know.

Jen: I appreciate you just saying that our eyes, and our ears, and our experiences will tell us otherwise if we’ll just pay attention. If we will look and say, “This just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.”

To press into this a little bit, this idea that you just touched on, one of the most beautiful things that you wrote in your book that really struck with me. You said, “God loves things by uniting with them, not excluding them.”

Richard: By becoming them.

Jen: I’m just so moved by that and I find this truth to just literally pierce the darkness right now, and we’re surrounded in our literal life here in Austin by people who have and are still currently and actively being excluded. Can you talk about this God who unites and doesn’t exclude?

Richard: If I can name drop, forgive me.

Jen: Please.

Richard: But Bono from U2 is a friend of mine. And we sent him an early printing of the book, and he said that line alone was worth the whole book.

Jen: Wow.

 God loves things by becoming them. That’s the pattern of incarnation revealed personally in Jesus.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: But universalize in Christ. You know, most of Jesus’ metaphors and images for eternal life—and check me out on this, don’t believe me, go to your Bible now—are a wedding banquets, are a celebration, are a party.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: There’s one in Matthew 25, which I love for other reasons, honoring the Christ and the least of the brothers and sisters.

Jen: Sure.

But that’s the only one that presents eternity as a courtroom scene, and isn’t it interesting that the human ego preferred the courtroom scene to the wedding banquet.

Jen: Definitely.

Richard: Which is 10 times as much because that’s quid pro quo.

Jen: Sure.

Richard: Do you understand? Now, Matthew 25, he’s using it to talk about social justice.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: And empathy for the outsider. I think he had to make it rather strong, knowing we would avoid it and we did anyway. But we just didn’t have the freedom to see God as infinitely loving us. Remember, we couldn’t form a concept of infinite, which means we couldn’t form a concept of God. You can’t. So you pull it into finite categories of judgment, analysis, critique.

If you want to do a neat study . . .  Oh, John Dominic Crossan has an art history book out on this now where he charts the history of the Western churches painting of the resurrection. We always have a lone Jesus coming out of the tomb, I call it “touchdown Jesus. He raises his hands, there’s angels, there’s stunned guards.

But then he takes us to the eastern icons from the sixth century constantly. And it’s always Jesus pulling souls out of Hades. Hades is the place of the death. It’s not the same as hell, but it’s a collective notion. There’s all these people joining Jesus on the other side. When we said, “He came to destroy death,” I have to say it, and I’m still a Western Christian.


Richard: But I’m trying to learn from the other half of the Christian brain and recognize that the Eastern tradition was much more collective and much more mystical reading.

Jen: That’s right.

Richard: So you good Protestants, and I mean that not in a patronizing way, but when you came along and reformed the Catholic church—and we surely needed reform as we still do—but you were only reforming half of the piece of the pie. You understand? You weren’t playing with the full deck.

Jen: Right.

Richard: And so you emphasize things that the people in the first six centuries, I mean, they would have heard this slave holder religion coming out of the southern part of the United States, and they wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.

Jen: Absolutely.

Richard: I mean that. Completely different categories. Now, we’re the first sixth centuries right? Or was the Deep South of the United States, right?

Jen: Right.

Richard: I think you know the answer.

Sure. Appreciate you drawing that through line. It seems so perfectly clear when you describe it like that from its roots.

Jen: I have one more question for you. First of all, if Bono would have read my book and sent me a personal email about his favorite sentence, I would find a way to work that into every single conversation until I die. Just know that. I would absolutely have done the same.

We’ve become good friends, and he is just such a delight.

Jen: Yes, he is.

Richard: He’s just as loving in real life as he is in his music and on the stage.

Jen: That delights me to hear.

Richard: I’ve got to know all four of them. They’re all four on a sincere spiritual search, and they’re all four sincere Christians.

Jen: What a nice, wonderful personal assessment of what we all suspect.

I do want people to know about this before we let you go. You have launched your own podcast, so can you talk a little bit about your own podcast and what you’re talking about on it. And then in addition to your book coming out next week, how exciting, what else can we look forward to from you?

Richard: Wow. Well, when they first presented me the idea, my wonderful staff of 47 people.

Jen: All in their 20s.

Richard: I said, “No, I’m not making more films.” So they promised me that two of the staff, who really have absorbed what I’m teaching and what I’m trying to say, that they would just ask me questions like you’re beautifully doing right now. I said, “Okay, I can do that.”

Jen: Sure.

Richard: So I have a little hermitage, just half a block from here. 12 different times over the last six weeks, we sat in that middle of hermitage and they asked me questions. And so those have become our first podcast. I have to admit, I listened to the first one and I said to Brie and Paul, who were doing the interview, “You make me sound so much better than I really am.”

To answer your last question. The only thing I have left in me, my health is not that good. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around, but whatever it is, is fine. I never expected to live to 76.

If there is one small book left in me, I would love to . . .  Paul is my hero, St. Paul. I would love to write a monograph, a study that would be readable in one day to illustrate what I’m convinced of, that Paul had a collective notion of salvation, of grace, of eternity, of suffering and punishment. It was all happening to humanity, and that’s why he was so convinced it was the good news. And why, as you’ve certainly discovered, Paul never talks that much about Jesus. He never quotes him directly, which is shocking when you first hear it. But 135 times he uses the phrase en Christo, in Christ.

En Christo, Greek for “in Christ,” is his shortcut phrase for this collective notion of everything, that we are being saved as a group. No one individual can carry what he calls “the weight of glory” or “the burden of sin.” We carry the burden of sin and suffer it. And we carry the weight of glory.

If you can understand just that it’ll take 500 pounds off your back.

Jen: Oh, you’re right.

Richard: And make you want to join hands with humanity.

Jen: So good.

Richard: Not prove that you’re going to heaven and other people aren’t.

Jen: That’s great.

Richard: What a waste of time.

Jen: So great.

Richard: If I can write, say, and I’m supposed to and that’s not heresy. Pray that I still have time to write that.

Jen: Oh, I sure do hope you do. What a beautiful offering.

Very, very quickly.

Richard: Sure.

Jen: We’re asking all of our guests in this faith series these very quick questions. Just top of your head, these three kind of rapid fires. Here’s the first one.

Richard: All right.

Jen: If you had the chance to have dinner with just one of your personal faith heroes who would you choose?

Richard: Well, I just told you: Paul.

Jen: Paul, great. Perfect.

Richard: Without any doubt, Paul.

Jen: I would love to peek in that window.

Richard: I would love to know what I just said to you is possibly true. And I think it is, but I’d like to check it out with him.

Jen: I love it.

Richard: How about this, do you have either a verse perhaps, or a quote, or even just like a mantra that if you were to pull it out you would say, “This kind of captures the core essence of my faith.”

Jen: Nothing can separate us from God. Romans 8 says this, if you need a scripture. Nothing can separate us from God except the thought that we’re separate from God.

Richard: Oh, that’s so powerful.

Jen: It’s just you can meditate on it the rest of your life, and make sure you never give in to that thought because then you’ll act that way.

Richard: That’s right.

Jen: That thought is strong. It carries a lot of weight.

Last one, this is a question actually that I learned from Barbara Brown Taylor.

Richard: Wow.

Jen: And she asked this and we ask every single guest this. This can be a really poignant and and serious answer, or it can be just absolutely silly, small, and absurd. It’s up to you. But her question is, what is saving your life right now?

Richard: Right now?

Jen: Right now.

Richard: Well, becaue of the health issues I’m facing, I had a heart attack a little over a year, and my prostate cancer has returned.

Jen: I’m sorry.

Richard: I pretty much need a helper on hand. There’s a beautiful, humble Mexican man who lives close by me, and he’s just got a servant’s heart. This beautiful Mexican man, his name is Elías. His is on question service and love and caring for me, it makes me want to cry. Why should anybody care about me late at night or early in the morning, whatever it might be?

Jen: So Elías.

Richard: That’s saving my life right now.

Jen: How wonderful. I thank you so much for being on the show—sorry, I feel like I want to cry—but also for just being such a good teacher whose work has helped set so many of us free and free to love ourselves, free to love this world, free to love people, and free to love God. And I just can’t think of a better legacy. I can’t think of any better way to spend your days and hours on this earth. We are grateful for you so, so grateful.

Sorry. Goodness.

Richard: Jen, you’re filled with love energy. It comes through your enthusiasm, your caring, your generosity of spirit. I’m honored to talk with you.

Jen: Thank you.

Richard: Thank you. God bless you.

Jen: God bless you too.

Richard: He does, He does.

Jen: Yes, me too.

Richard: Bye, bye.

Jen: Thank you, Richard.

Well, I handled that well. Oh, it’s a lot to get to go voice-to-voice with a hero in the faith. It’s just a lot.

I’ll not ever forget that conversation. Worth noting, you guys, is that the whole time we were talking, I’m just on audio, but Richard Rohr was on video. So I got to watch him that entire time, talking and leaning to the computer and talking with his hands, and it felt like an hour of mentorship. Good mentorship, at that.

If Richard Rohr is new to you, I’m so excited for you. Over at on the Transcript page, we’ll link up his work, his books, his new podcast, all of his stuff. He’s a treasure. I mean, he’s just a treasure. And so hope you enjoy that conversation.

It is so okay if some of the ideas that you hear during the space series push, push on ya. It is okay if they pull on you a little bit. It is okay if you go, “Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think about that.” That’s great. We have the capacity for this. We absolutely have the capacity to have big spiritual conversations and discuss the ins and outs of it all and listen and consider. That’s one of the greatest gifts we have, is that we are not forced into these little tiny corners where everything has to make sense, or we have to completely agree, or we have to say this is right or wrong. We can just dialogue with one another and learn from one another and consider the expansiveness of God. I love it because this approach to God has set me free in 1,000 ways. I hope it does you too.

More to come in the series, you guys. When I tell you we have like faith leaders of every stripe, I mean it. I mean, we have evangelical pastors, and we have professors, and we have priests. It’s just all in here. Keep coming, we’ll keep asking big questions, we’ll keep having big conversations. I hope that this series is as meaningful to you as it is to me.

Thanks for joining us today, and you’re not going to want to miss next week, so see you then.

Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

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