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“Have you hugged a pastor today!?

Without waiting for an answer or even an introduction, Rick Warren, megachurch minister and bestselling author, crosses his Manhattan hotel suite and swallows me up in a teddy-bearish embrace. A coterie of aides and handlers look on in amusement but not surprise. Warren is all about the agape, and he is a fierce and frequent hugger.

This seems only fitting. Since exploding onto the global stage in 2002 with his phenomenally successful book The Purpose Driven Life, Warren has been the warm and friendly face of ­evangelicalism—a welcoming, avuncular alternative to hellfire-and-brimstone finger waggers such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

With his goatee and dressed-down aesthetic (for our meeting he’s sporting jeans, a bright blue and ­robin’s-egg plaid oxford, and black slip-ons), 58-year-old “Pastor Rick” cultivates the casual, cool-dad aura of the boomer generation to which he belongs.

(He has the Korean rap phenomenon “Gangnam Style” as his ringtone and, in classic ­SoCal fashion, shuns socks unless visiting wintery climes such as New York in late November). Warren’s ministry, similarly, presents Christianity in a relatable, user-friendly package, much in keeping with his book’s uplifting promise that every one of our lives has meaning.

These days, however, the aggressively upbeat Warren is increasingly disheartened by what he sees as a “malaise” afoot in the land. “I feel America is in the emotional doldrums,” he says sadly. The economy is sluggish, the political system is a disaster, and citizens are at each other’s throats. He observes, “I think America is more divided today—and it’s sad—than at any time since the Civil War.”

Warren voices special concern for younger generations. “There’s a lot of people in their 20s and even early 30s still waiting for their lives to start,” he observes. They can’t find jobs. They’re moving back in with their parents. “They’re like, where’s the American Dream for me?”

Bottom line, says Warren: “This nation is in desperate need of some direction and purpose and meaning. Somebody’s got to speak up now. And I thought, OK. If nobody else volunteers, I’ll step up.”

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article courtesy of TheDailyBeast.com

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