A Post Christmas Look Back at the Stories of Jesus" Birth

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 11 January 2006 0 Comments
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I am a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. I find
the hymns and prayers used in my church to be based on
images that are no longer meaningful to me. I
perceive you are also trying to update them. Are
there any books available that represent these new
liturgical understandings?


The hymns and liturgies of all of our churches are
filled with images that most of us would reject if we
lifted them into the objectivity of rational thought.
Both include sacrificial language, blood language and
psychologically abusive language all of which seeks to
glorify God by denigrating human life. There are
times in worship when I shudder at what I am forced to
say. I recall a Maundy Thursday service in my parish
church, St. Peter's in Morristown, New Jersey where
the hymn said, "God has bled on me" and the prayers
had as their congregational refrain, "We have been
washed in the blood of the Lamb." I almost gagged and
could not wait for that service to be over. It was
not that I haven't used that kind of language many
times before, but in recent years consciousness has
been raised and the ones who planned this liturgy were
abysmally unaware of that.

There is enormous work being done in this area. Hymn
writers like Shirley Murray in New Zealand,
Fred Kaan in England (by way of the Netherlands),
Gordon Light in Canada and Jean Holloway in Scotland
are creating masterful new hymns and transforming old
tunes with new words.

Every church I know is experimenting with liturgy to
a degree that the next revision of our various worship
books will have to be in loose-leaf binders to
accommodate the rapidity of change. Some of the best
liturgy that I have ever attended was in the United
Reformed Church of England, a combination of English
Presbyterian and Congregationalists.

There are also churches in every denomination that
have broken the liturgical boundary and are swimming
in uncharted waters. I think of the Church of the
Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey, St. Gregory of
Nyassa Church and Glide Memorial Church in San
Francisco and the Unity Church in the Chelsea section
of New York City, just to name a few. The level of
experimentation present is a pointer to the fact that
the need for radical change is being felt in wide
circles of the Christian Church today. I suspect
leaders in your church might point you in the right
direction. Just to have you ask would help those
leaders to know that business as usual is not making
it in the Christian Church today.

— John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
"The Sins of Scripture challenges Christians to look beyond the myths of their faith into the heart of the matter."




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