Participating in the Song of Life

Column by Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D. on 16 November 2017 10 Comments

…………….After days of labor,
…………….mute in my consternations,
…………….I hear my song at last,
…………….and I sing it. As we sing,
…………….the day turns, the trees move.

…………….“I go among trees and sit still,” Wendell Berry

The first lines of John’s gospel proclaim that “in the beginning was the Word,” and that “all things came into being through the Word.”

We can hear these words literally as an historical assertion claiming that at some distant point in ancient times – the initiation of time – the Word (whatever that might mean) came into being as a kind of medium through which all else that has come to be was created. My sense is that misses the poetic thrust of this mystical writer. Rather, I understand John to have experienced that not only in the beginning of each and every experience we have, but in the middle and culmination as well, there is this mystery he identifies as “the Word.”

But for most of us, most of the time, the beginning, middle and end of our experience is not experienced as of some mysterious Word (again, whatever that might mean). Rather the vast majority of our experiences are generated by, sustained by, and understood in terms of, fear (that is usually unconscious).

Fear cannot only paralyze us, fear can thrust us into fight or spur us into a hasty retreat. Peter Levine, in his magisterial and at times elegantly written book on trauma, In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, offers a testament in part to the power of fear to compel and compromise us, body and soul.

When some animals are threatened with death by a predator, such as an opossum, we commonly describe their paralyzed reaction as “playing dead.” But there is no play involved here at all. The overwhelmed nervous system is thrown into a last resort for survival, and all but shallow breathing shuts down as the brain stem takes control. Sometimes it works, and the predator loses interest. Sometimes it fails, and the opossum is some other creature’s meal.

More often, the last-ditch survival mechanism of paralysis is not necessary. Rather, as the large and swift savannah cat attacks its prey, the hearts of the antelopes accelerate their beat, sweat pours forth, breathing becomes rapid, pupils dilate, and the animals instinctively run or actively defend.

As humans, when our nervous systems become overwhelmed we can become catatonic. We don’t choose to become immobile. Rather, our system shuts down as a last-ditch effort to survive. As with our evolutionary relatives existing on the Serengeti, more often than not, such extreme reaction isn’t necessary. But all too often we experience our interactions of day-to-day life as if we were still striving to survive in the wild; at least that is how our experiences register in our nervous system. We have an interaction with our boss; we have an argument with our spouse; our daughter fails to arrive at home with the family car by 11 pm and now it is 2 in the morning; our parent is suffering from dementia. More often than not, before we are even aware, our hearts have quickened, our breathing stopped or accelerated, we sweat, our headaches, and we are primed to flee or quarrel.

We feel compelled to at least do something to change what we currently experience as untenable. Fear, whether manifesting as flight or fight, expresses itself in and through the compulsion “to do” something to change what is. Ironically, we would rather die than not do, because we experience our non-doing as a kind of death by being overwhelmed by life.

And so, fear compels us to find something we can do to change the circumstances we find to be too much to handle. We don’t know how to receive what life is presenting us. To take this one step further, fear, which surrounds and imbues our experience, has us convinced that the mystery we call God is not present in our frightening condition. We feel compelled to act in some way in order to get to a place where we hope God will be present. If God were present, fear-controlled reason concludes, then we would able to rest and let be where we are.

To begin to get a sense of how pervasive fear is in Western culture, we need to recognize how thoroughly we have become a society of doers. We are utterly convinced that thru doing will we be saved. As I said, we would rather die than not do. To fail to do – and to not do does register in our beings as failure – is to leave us in the seemingly intolerable position of vulnerability and at the apparent whim of a capricious universe.

Even more, in our fear, which compels us to be beings who try to control life, we reduce the mystery of God, the Beloved, into a divine-doer; just like us, only much bigger and much stronger, and invulnerable.

All of which brings us back to the reforming experience and spiritual insight of the community in which the gospel of John was written. This vulnerable group, feeling besieged in a turn-of-the-century culture whose seams are somewhat frayed, somehow realizes that before fear, and more profound and powerful than fear, is their experience of the Word, holding everything they are undergoing: threat from Imperial Rome, discord with the Jewish Synagogue, tense relations with other fledgling communities of the early Christ movement.

But what is meant by “the Word”? We hear that phrase and it sounds like some “thing.” In the beginning was some thing, some object, called “the Word.” This is an instance where way too much is lost in translation. The Hebrew dabar and the Greek logos connote not some thing, but a dynamic and vibrant mystery. We would do much better to say that “in the beginning was wording.” But that is so clumsy in English and still misses the mark. We draw closer by saying, “in the beginning was speaking.” Using the gerund, which is both a noun and a verb, helps us approach what John’s community was touching upon – a dynamic presence in their lives, always there. We can draw even closer to the true nature of this dynamic by expressing the realization poetically: “in the beginning there was singing from out of the Absolute depths.” When the Divine depths express, what arises is song.

Life, John’s gospel is proclaiming, is a singing forth of Being. If you consider a note of music, we can perceive it as an inanimate mark of notation on a page. But as physics reminds us, any thing we observe can be appreciated as a particle or as a wave, so too a note of singing. Each note of life is a divine wave of Being. We, each and every creature, are notes of vibrant music. Creation itself is a symphony Being spontaneously composes moment-to-moment.

The intimate quality of this music, however, invites us to experience this singing, so loving and so tender in its true nature, as divine cooing; like a mother humming softly and sweetly to her infant. Neither is really doing anything. They are not doers. They are fluidly participating in one another’s being as the song that is their common life resonates throughout their bodies.

The opening words of John’s gospel are an invitation to grow into the wisdom of participating in life as song. Each and every creature that exists is a pulsating note; all things come into being as a wave of divine presence manifesting in unique sonorous beauty. We never know what movement will arise on the breath of the next intonation – a tragedy of Wagner, the joy of Beethoven, the mourning and loss of a Fitzgerald, the playful love of Ellington. We have no control over life’s spontaneous unfoldment. But however Being manifests, the breath of each note is a wave of Boundless Love; the presence within each note is always a tenor of Undying Compassion. The invitation we receive, regardless of the movement of the song, is to learn to participate in, is to learn how to sing, the irreplaceably unique song that is us.

~ Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D.



An Alabama politician just compared Judge Roy Moore’s “dating” of teenagers to the relationship of an adult Joseph to a teenaged Mary. What does the Bible actually say about Joseph and Mary’s ages?


Dear Sharon,

The short answer is, “Nothing.”

True, the historical and anthropological evidence suggests that people got married at younger ages back in the day. But outside the brief stories describing how each of them dealt with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy (Luke for Mary and Matthew for Joseph), the Gospels just don’t say much about Joseph and Mary’s everyday lives. But just because there’s nothing in the Bible about their ages hasn’t stopped theologians from speculating on the matter – especially when there are wobbly early church doctrines in need of shoring up.

As early as the 2nd century CE, a developing reverence for the figure of Mary led to the creation of the doctrine of her “perpetual virginity,” the idea that Mary was always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus. This may seem all fine and good, but there’s a fly in that ointment. In Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55–56 (along with Galatians and 1 Corinthians), there are clear references to “Jesus’ brothers and sisters.”

So, if the church was going to defend the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary, they had a problem. Where did Jesus’ brothers and sisters come from? Easy. Make Joseph an older man who had children from a previous marriage! Voila!

These notions were bolstered by various non-canonical gospels written in the early centuries of the Church. The Protoevangelium of James, probably written around the end of the 2nd century, is one source of the stories suggesting that Joseph was older. At first, Joseph refuses to marry the girl, saying, “I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. It also makes mention of Joseph’s sons: “And [Joseph] found a cave there, and led [Mary] into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem."

Add to that the Gospel of Peter and other sources referring to an older, previously married Joseph and whew, Mary’s perpetual virginity is preserved. This narrative not only designates Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” as step-kin, but in a pre-Viagra age, also suggests that a decrepit old Joseph would have been unlikely to even have the capacity to compromise Mary’s virginal state.

And that’s the mindset of many conventional Christians to this day.

Ironically, most Conservative Christians would condemn the Protoevangelium of James and The Gospel of Peter as illegitimate non-canonical writings, not to be trusted. And yet the only mention of Joseph being an older guy with kids from a previous marriage is from these texts, NOT the New Testament. Oops.

But none of this matters for pious blowhards who pronounce pompous claims about the Bible with the expectation that their political power naturally extends to grant them exalted theological credibility, as well.

As you’ve mentioned, the latest example of pious blowhardery is one of Judge Roy Moore’s compatriots, Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler. Yes, it’s true. He defended Moore by comparing the beleaguered candidate to Joseph, who he believes was a noble older man who took unto himself the teenaged Mary. So, says he, there’s no problem with Moore’s actions, claiming that it’s all “much ado about nothing,” even if the accusations are true. (?!?)

So, despite what appears to be Moore’s increasingly obvious guilt, Zeigler and his ilk leave me asking a question that frequently comes to mind: just how gullible are self-proclaimed Conservative Christians? At the very least, how gullible do the people who claim to represent Conservative Christians think their constituents are? This is not a prejudiced generalization. According to the Tuscaloosa News, Zeigler was the former Chair of both the Conservative Christians of Alabama AND the conservative League of Christian Voters. He has officially, publicly, and without question, been an official spokesperson for Conservative Christians.

So let me ask one more question. How many of these conservative, Bible-believing Christians in Alabama are going to call out Jim Zeigler for misquoting the Bible for his own political gain? I reckon not many. Why? Because, although they claim to revere the Bible and follow its “inerrant truth,” they clearly don’t read it. Well, maybe Revelation. Daniel and John, too. OK, and parts of Genesis – and the juicy bits they claim are about how bad homosexuals are. But the rest? Not so much.

The bottom line is that they don’t know enough about the Bible or history or theology to correct Jim Zeigler in his blatant, ignorant, child-molestation-supporting pomposity. He’s a white Republican male in a position of power. In Alabama, it’s clear that they can say or do whatever they want without consequences – even if what they say or do is demonstrably contrary to the very faith they claim to embrace (cf additional scandals involving the Governor and Speaker of the House).

And while it now appears that Roy Moore’s wife faked continued support from 50 Alabama pastors, the silence from hapless Conservative Christians and their leaders is deafening.

Suffice it to say that Jim Zeigler has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Is he just another callous politician making a “hail Mary” reference to what he thinks is in the Bible in order to appeal to his low-information Conservative Christian base? After all, this guy’s stock-in-trade has been, in large part, his Christian bona fides. Unfortunately, whatever he thinks Christianity is about seems a far cry from what Jesus demonstrated in his teaching and actions. When it comes to the alleged molestation of teen girls, Zeigler can’t even seem to muster the empathy inherent in the Golden Rule, let alone a grasp of what the Bible actually says about Joseph and Mary.

So here we have yet another cautionary tale supporting my conviction that if you don’t know what’s in your Bible, people like Jim Zeigler can (and will!) take advantage of you. They will make up anything they want about “what’s in the Bible” to support their own narrow political and cultural prejudices. And with no help from their totally compromised and culturally-accommodated pastors, people simply don’t know enough to call #BS or #fakenews.

In situations like these, my dream is that some earnest reporter would know enough to ask a follow-up question like, “Mr Ziegler. Your statement claims to suggest that Joseph was an older man in a relationship with a teenage girl. That’s actually nowhere in the Bible. As a Conservative Christian, would you like to comment on why it’s OK to perpetuate something that’s not in the Bible for your own political gain?”

Ahh, to dream.

Ziegler says of Moore’s situation, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” That’s right, just another example of the unusual dynamics of pious Conservative Christians misrepresenting the Bible and defending the authority of older white men to do whatever they want without consequence.

I can only hope that Judge Roy Moore’s run for Senate is doomed. Even before the latest revelations of alleged molestation and sexual assault, Moore’s record is a debris-field of oppression, exclusion, and prejudice that lays bare his reactionary, theocratic, and hateful agenda. I suspect that someone like Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler, is too far down the rabbit hole to ever be anything but what he is.

But the people of Alabama – especially the Conservative Christians of Alabama – still have a voice. Rejecting such obvious unchristian behavior and hypocrisy seems like a no-brainer. But it will take courage from pastors and others to rise above partisan politics and take a stand for basic human dignity.

Thanks for your question – and don’t forget to vote (early and often!) on December 12th!

~ Rev. David Felten


Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

Were there twelve disciples? – Was Mary Magdalene one of them?

SpongDear Friends,

Sometimes I receive a question that requires a whole column to answer. Such was the case with a question received late this summer. I am happy to devote this column to the answer and hope that you find it worthwhile. ~ John Shelby Spong

John Schwally, a journalist film maker in New York City, currently doing research for a film on the future of Christianity writes:

“In my research, I have come across some pretty wild propositions regarding Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife and apostle. Some of them are quite convincing. Your June 9 column entitled “The Ultimate Source of Anti-Semitism,” seems to have solved a mystery of sorts for me. The Church does not recognize Mary Magdalene as part of the “original 12″ apostles. Well, I have been trying to reconcile the claims that Mary Magdalene was in fact an apostle but how does that work when the number 12 has been consistent in all the writings through the centuries. The answer: Judas is a fiction! By writing Judas into the scenario, the early Jewish Christians were able to separate themselves from the Orthodox Jews under attack from the Romans. At the same time, they were able to relieve themselves of the embarrassment of having a woman, Mary Magdalene, as a leader in their community, all the while keeping with the number of 12 Apostles of Jesus! I was wondering if you thought this theory has any validity.”

Dear John,

Your theory makes so many assumptions that I need to separate them out and deal with them one by one.

First, Mary Magdalene is clearly a significant figure in the Jesus movement. Without doubt she was the leader of the women disciples. The women disciples were not visible in the New Testament until the story of the crucifixion and resurrection scenes where they suddenly emerge, perhaps because we are told that all “the (male) disciples have forsaken him and fled.” However, the texts of Mark (15:41), Matthew (27:55) and Luke (23:49) all attest that these women have followed Jesus ‘all the way from Galilee.’ That is, they have always been part of his movement, but, as was the fate of women in that patriarchal society, they were not thought worthy of mention until they became unavoidable.

The second thing needing to be examined is what kind of women are these that they were following an itinerant band of men led by an itinerant teacher. Under the prevailing social norms of that place and time, these women could be only one of two things: the wives of the men or prostitutes.

Third, Mary Magdalene is certainly portrayed in the gospels, written between 70 and 100 C. E., as a major force in the Jesus Movement. She is the only person that all four gospels agree was at the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. The Fourth Gospel, which is the only gospel that claims to be based on a first hand eye witness account, says that she was the only mourner at the tomb. This gospel also portrays her as having immediate access to Peter and the other disciples, who were presumably hiding for their own safety after the crucifixion. She knows where they are, goes immediately to them and is granted entrance.

Fourth, in this Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is said to have referred to Jesus with two rather familiar forms of address. To the angels she was said to have answered their question of why she was weeping with the words, “They have taken away ‘my Lord’ and I do not know where they have laid him.” ‘My Lord’ was the title of respect a rabbinic student might use for a revered rabbi. It is also a common title a Jewish woman might use in reference to her husband. Later, when she believed herself to be confronting the Risen Christ, she is said to have responded to him with the title ‘Rabboni’ which is once again the kind of intimate respectful title a woman might use for her revered husband.

Fifth, also in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as demanding from the person she thinks to be the gardener, not just access but ownership of the body of the deceased Jesus. “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will go and take him away.” Once again, in Jewish society of the first century, for a woman to demand access to the deceased body of a Jewish male would be quite out of bounds unless she was the nearest of kin.

When I put these things together, I think they point to a strong possibility that Mary Magdalene might have been the wife of Jesus, an idea that I published in a book entitled Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Place of Women in a Male Dominated Church. This book came out ten years before the Da Vinci Code! There is also some reason for thinking that such an idea would be increasingly uncomfortable when the Church began to move into the dualistic world of Greek thinking that regarded bodies and flesh as something generally evil, and the body and flesh of a woman particularly evil. From the earliest days there was increasing theological pressure on Christian thinkers to see Jesus as the sinless one who, like the sacrificed lamb in the ritual of the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, would be the perfect sacrifice to God. That is Jesus, like the sacrificial lamb, had to be physically perfect with none of his bones broken and morally perfect or, as it would be written about him in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he was “tempted in all things and yet without sin.” Perhaps this assumption is what helped to create the story from the cross, which states that Jesus’ legs were not broken because he had already died. These same expectations would also lead to the suppression of any knowledge about his marriage to Mary Magdalene should they have been married. I think a strong case can be made for the fact that Mary Magdalene’s authority came from her relationship with Jesus as his wife and that is why she was close to his disciples.

The next assumption that I think needs to be challenged is that there were ever twelve apostles. That number is certainly present in the tradition and is reflected in the gospels, but as we shall see it was always a rather unstable tradition. Was that an historic memory or was it an apologetic attempt to portray Jesus as the founder of a new Israel, a title by which many in the early church began to call the Jesus Movement? The old Israel had twelve tribes who were said to have been formed by the twelve sons of Jacob, whose name had been changed to Israel after he wrestled with an angel by the river Jabbok. So the New Israel must also have twelve patriarchs who were the disciples of their founder, Jesus. There are many other traditions in the ancient world where religious leaders had twelve disciples who may have been likened to the twelve signs of the zodiac. I am therefore suspicious of the historicity of the number twelve.

Even in the New Testament there is confusion about that number for two primary reasons. First the gospels do not agree on who the twelve were. Mark (3:13 -19) and Matthew (10: 1-4) have one list while Luke (6:12-16) and Acts (1:12-14) have another. John never says who the twelve were but has names like Nathaniel who was closely identified with the Jesus movement but who was not on anybody else’s list. In John’s last resurrection story (Chapter 21) he lists only seven disciples. Both Luke and John make reference to a disciple named Judas who was ‘not Iscariot.’ Matthew and Mark seem to know of no such person. If the earliest records we have do not agree on who constituted the twelve apostles, one is forced to wonder about the historicity of the number itself. If the number twelve was added to the tradition after the fact then confusion as to who constituted the twelve would be understandable. John may well have been leaning on an earlier tradition when he used the number seven instead of twelve.

My second reason for being suspicious of this number is that even when we have a list of twelve, at least half of them are included by name only. The only apostolic details that we have that would give us any biographical data would be on Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew and Thomas. All of the rest are faceless names, necessary to round out the number twelve but not essential to any gospel story line.

So I would feel no need to count Magdalene as a disciple in order to restore the number to twelve after the defection of Judas, as if that number had some real meaning. It is worth noting that Luke, writing in the Book of Acts, does say that Judas had to be replaced and that was done by the choice of Matthias, but we need to keep in mind that the Book of Acts was not written until the 10th decade at the very earliest.

Given the social norms and the way women were defined in first century Jewish society, it is hard to see how a woman might become part of a male group of disciples. Recall that Mark in chapter six, refers to Jesus’ brothers by name but only says he also had ‘sisters.’ That plural word means more than one but the sisters were deemed not important enough to have their names recorded.

Thank you for your question and your interest. I hope you will find these comments helpful in your pursuit of a new understanding of this woman whom the Church has tended to trash throughout history. There is no biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute unless you assume that all of these camp following women were prostitutes. I don’t think that case can be made historically.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally posted September 22, 2004




10 thoughts on “Participating in the Song of Life

  1. Dear Kevin: You asked about the Word (whatever that might mean) the mystery can be identifies as “the Word.”= 道,or Dao (It used to be Tao) in Chinese, which was determined by one of the Chinese scholars who had been given the Imperial rank by the Emperor of Tsing dynasty.Based on 1611(KJV), many of the Chinese scholars started to translate the first chapter of the Gospel of John.According to(Roberet Marrison, 1782-1834)and (Joshua Marshman, 1768-1837),no one had begun to use 道 or Dao by (1813).But it was first printed in the Chinese Repository paper in 1845. My father could have given me the name of that Imperial scholar,but I have lost his name. In any case, it took him siting down and thinking about it for at least one whole month before coming up with“the Word.”= 道,or Dao because Dao was first described by Lao Zi (or Lao Tau)about 20 years ahead of Confusions time.And Lao Zi wrote: Dao or 道 governs Yin and Yang (The negative and the positive)in all nature.Lao Zi also said,“Dao cannot be named by any ordinary name”(It has no name like YAWY). Today Daoism has been approved along with Christianity and Buddhism by the Bureau of Religious Affairs to have rights with freedom of religion in China. Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  2. Kevin: You talk about“Fear”which had motivated ancient religious beliefs both in Hebrew and in other tribal pagan beginning to give credit to a“God”who became the“Lord of Hosts”for those tribes. That“God” was fearful to humans such that the story of Noah and the flood plus the killing of the Egyptian first born and the drowning of their chariots in the Red Sea were the direct result of Fear by tribal people.So the Hebrew tribe depended on their Tribal God to fight for them in wars as well as to protect them against all fears and tribulations.It is interesting to note that after the use of strong fire power in WWII, President Truman ordered strong fire power from the US to start the Korean War in order to interfere in what he had called,“A Police Action” causing a huge number of people dying in Korea ending in a stalemate. President LBJ, after the assassination of JFK,started another War of strong fire power being used by USA in Vietnam for the incredible Gulf pf Tong-king incident with another huge number of Americans died. But in both of these wars not a single bomb was dropped in US. So the American people from 1952 to 1975 did not experience the fear of being bombed at home.The US did not get bombed on until 1911 in New York, which turned the people into fear! Then came the 8 years of GBW and the most powerful bombs in Iraq plus Afghanistan until Barack Obama brought all the injured soldiers and the dead ones home,while creating another holocaust in Iraq and the middle-east. Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  3. Dear David: Regarding the presumed marriage of the old man Joseph with the younger Mary, a teenager, the solution just had to be some other existing children from his previous marriage. Let me tell you another true story.The Co-owner of a Nobel Prize in Physics named Dr.Yang Zheng Ning was married to a young lady at 28 when he was 82 years old.Then when there was a family gathering,her father(Dr. Yang’s Father-in-law or FIL)met his granddaughter,about 18,they found each other very fond of being together and decided to be married.That made Dr.Yang’s FIL become his grandson-in-law! And that became a laughing stock in China. Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  4. Kevin,

    I have mixed reactions to your essay.

    First, although I will look into it further, your statement that the vast majority of our experiences are “generated by, sustained by, and understood in terms of, fear (that is usually unconscious)” doesn’t speak to me. Simply this is not how I understand my experience nor is it how I witness the experiences of my closest friends, family and others I have known in life. And this is not mere witness; this is how these people understand their lives. Many of us have known fear (myself included) and it hasn’t been unconscious: some are extremely introspective and their experience can’t be dismissed because others say most fear is unconscious. Note: it is also recognized that the experience of some from the USA (or other like countries) is radically different that the experiences for many in other countries.

    Next, I do understand the idea of moving from Word to speaking or even singing (reminds me of Spong’s idea of God as a verb) but it still seems one can ask, “whatever that means.”

    I agree there is “a dynamic presence in their lives, always there,” but I can imagine a room of students wondering just how we can “draw even closer to the true nature of this dynamic by expressing the realization poetically.” It still seems just as ‘distant’ whether we refer to it as Word, or speaking or singing. But, regardless of what we call John’s Logos, how does it work, how does this dynamic presence work or do anything in the world?

    “Each note of life is a divine wave of Being. We, each and every creature, are notes of vibrant music. Creation itself is a symphony Being spontaneously composes moment-to-moment.” This is beautifully expressed but what are we supposed to do with it? I still hear the students saying, “whatever that means.”

    Further, the idea of ‘neither doing anything’ seems to miss John’s understanding that the Word is doing a great deal ‘in the beginning’ – and continued to do a great deal in Jesus (and us?). I get the attraction of poetry but the reality of evolution, the reality of human life, seems to be something more than dynamic, more demanding than humming or an easy flowing participation.

    However, it is true, “…most of us, most of the time, the beginning, middle and end of our experience…” do experience a ‘Word’ that is so natural, so much a part of everyday life, a part of everyday words, that we take it for granted – we do not, automatically, think deeply about it.

    Words starts early with the mother talking (and singing) to her child and, eventually, over time that child utters her first word. The words continue and a favorite and very useful one is, “No!’ typically yelled at the top of your mother’s lungs as you reach for the hot stove, attempt to go out in the street or approach a snarling dog. Other favorite words are: “Hot,” “eat your peas,” “don’t hit your brother,” “hold your sister’s hand,” “we don’t use that language in this family,” “wait till your father gets home,” and the familiar retort, “if your mother says it’s okay….” and sometimes the word is communicated in your mother’s expression. The words are also spoken by friends, the girl you date, teachers, coaches, a cop on the beat, your doctor, or even a stranger – and they are written in books, sung on the radio, heard in a movie or read online. Words are always echoing in life. Words help us to speak, stir us to consciousness, keep us from danger, guide our actions, call us to knowledge, challenge us to reconsider, judge (and redirect) our actions – they are, in a nutshell, life giving and enhancing (if we hear and respond). Some, sensitized by faith (or simply attuned to Being?), see in, the endless litany of words in life, a Word, that is always ‘there:’ “… as it gave life in the beginning, so too, it continues calling/enabling us to move further into life or to actualize life.

    “Whatever that means” are also words, seeking understanding, seeking to know and when given the chance to reflect on words, on the power that words have throughout life – it is not just the teacher who informs but the Word – ever speaking – calling life/man to come forth – as it did in the beginning.

  5. To Bishop John Shelby Spong:
    Dear Jack, Although this Essay was dated back to 2004,I am reading it for the first time. I think your detailed analysis and reasoning are very good and allowed mt to learn one more lesson from you. I have always liked Mary Magdalene as a good person among those other disciples. But I believe that the Hebrew tradition in the male-dominated tribal law putting women down and making their names to disappear from the important history until absolutely necessary is terrible.But the same things have been given to women in China in the old days as well.I had traveled to the town where my mother was born and copied the tombstone of my great grandfather which did have the names of girl children listed on the tombstones.However, there were no tombstones for the women themselves in that area. My mother had been sent to a boarding school from a young age, and had not seen her own mother for the rest of her life. Her mother (My grandmother) was killed by a familiar robber from a younger cousin while my grandpa was ordered out of town on a military mission. But her tomb or tombstone was never found.(My Mum went back looking for it in three attempts later.)You must all be familiar with the national custom of bound feet for the ladies.My paternal grandmother had bound feet as well.
    I have photographed the genealogy charts of father’s family memorial temple which he himself had never seen.(My father was six years old when my grandpa took him to Beijing for schooling.)The women listed in those charts were only given their family names as“wife of the So-and-So”in those charts.In the old days only men could study and go for the tests to be promoted into higher level in ranks. My Great-great-great-grangpa walked the 1000 miles up north for the Imperial examination 7 or 8 times before getting his high rank as an Imperial scholar. And that family memorial temple was built because of his achievement with the glory as a national ranked scholar plus his later work as a national historian and a Provincial history editor.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  6. Kevin: The full translation of the first part in the first chapter of the Gospel by John in the Chinese Bible would read:“In the beginning there was Dao,Dao was with God; and Dao was God. Dao was always with God in the beginning.”(verses 1 to 2)…“Everything in the world was made by Dao,everything.”(verse 3)…“Life was within Dao;this life was the Light within all humans.”(Verse 4)…“He,John the Baptist,was not that Light,but had come to be his witness.That Light, however,was the True Light which brings light to all humans made by Dao.”(Verses 8-9)。。。。“Dao became flesh,and lives among us,and is full of Grace,and full of the real truth.We have seen his glory,which is the glory of the son of God.”(Verse14). As I said earlier, Dao cannot be named, but Dao governs Yin and Yang (Negatives and Positives)in nature (the universe).
    Eugene,from Suzhou, China

  7. Eugene,

    It seems by using Word or Dao or Logos, we are trying to name it and say something about it. And, I think we must try to say something, understand something about the Word/Dao – otherwise it is too much like some old time religion that we should just believe, just accept God and not question or try to understand.

  8. Kevin: Concerning the word YHWH, Bishop John Spong had an unexpected encounter at the Tel Aviv airport with a Muslim girl.Apparently that girl saw his collar for a Christian Priest and the cross hanging on his chain, which was inscribed with YHWH on it.She asked him:“Sir,How come you have that Hebrew sign on your cross?”The Bishop answered:“I keep it on my cross to remind people that Jesus was a gift from the Hebrews”.So she exclaimed,“I’d thought Jesus was Roman Catholic!” John’s Gospel appropriated many Hebrew scriptures (John Spong《Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism》pp.195-198)in order to describe what the community scholars at Ephesus had agreed to give a colorful description for Jesus coming back from Heaven, in including Proverbs, Wisdom,etc. which made this Gospel to appear at a much higher intelligence level than the other thee gospels. But along with Matthew(27:25) and Romans(11:8),this gospel contains quite a few derogatory scriptures on the Jewish people (John 5:10; 10:19,24,31,33,; 19:7,12,14,15;and 18:20;8:33-34)which became the cause of anti-Jewish hatred throughout those centuries of calamity. (John Spong《Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism》pp.21-22)
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  9. Thomas: You said: “It seems by using Word or Dao or Logos, we are trying to name it and say something about it”As I said earlier, Dao cannot be named。You said:“ … otherwise it is too much like some old time religion that we should just believe,”In my earlier post,“The full translation of the first part in the first chapter of the Gospel by John in the Chinese Bible”,it was exactly the same as was translated from KJV into the Chinese version which is still used every where in all the current churches of China.(This part was the same as in 1845 version.)It was not from me. Eugene, from China

  10. Eugene, my point is that Dao/Word/Logos is a name in and of itself. It is an attempt to name, to say something about it – and this whether from you or the Chinese Bible.

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