Terrifying & Terrible Texts: Knowing the Difference between Study and Liturgy

Essay by Rev. Dr. Kevin G. Thew Forrester on 13 September 2018 4 Comments

Quite recently, a dear friend and colleague within a spiritual group in which we both participate raised a question, a heartfelt concern, about a book we were asked to read. This particular text, written in the middle of the last century, is a psychotherapy book that explores an energetic understanding of how the mind and body are interconnected. The book has much to commend it. However, my friend was in pain over the blatant homophobia in this piece and was wondering how I and others were experiencing the text and whether it was even appropriate for our study.

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Some while ago Dr. Spong replied to a message from me in which I stated that possibly there could be some thought devoted to the idea that, “God” is both within a person and everywhere. This makes sense to me and I have been living this understanding successfully.

The concept of a “Deity” or of “Deities" is well-known, documented and practiced as well as awareness of knowing truth within us. There is room for tolerance. Why are we pursuing Christianity when Jesus himself did not?

Does Dr. Spong’s book “Unbelievable” take us this far?


Dear Eleanor,

Yes, I believe Bishop Spong’s, Unbelievable, does explore some of what you are asking. Perhaps you have already seen some of this featured here recently, in the reflections offered by Progressing Spirit’s team of authors.

Some of this response may feel like a game of semantics, but it is very important to create some distinctions around how Christianity is being defined. Jesus did not pursue Christianity, but Christianity happened as a response by those who wanted to practice what Jesus modeled. And most particularly, they wanted to practice with others! Christianity was, first and foremost, a way for practitioners to study together, to pray together, to struggle, and grow and serve together. Jesus insisted upon it! He included everyone and stressed the importance of eating together, working together and being in the great grappling of Life, together.

What happened after this – and we recognize it well having seen it happen many times, in many ways throughout history - is what every worthy spiritual teacher has resisted. We tried to codify it. Teachings were interpreted in different ways and used as attempts to contain and control. In the book, Spong directly questions, “Is behavior control really the purpose of the Christian faith?” And a few sentences later he writes gravely, “Christian history surely reveals that Christians of the world can be and have been prodigiously evil.”

So, why pursue Christianity? It all depends on the Christianity we mean when we act, and breathe and move in the world as embodied practitioners. Spong instructs that Christianity in the time of Jesus and today (if it has any chance of surviving), is a call to universalism. A call for every one of us to go beyond our biological or self-ascribed boundaries, NOT to convert “others” to a battery of lessons and formulaic answers, but rather, in Spong’s words, “to accept them as they are, to call them to live fully, love wastefully and be all that they can be in the infinite variety of our humanity.”

This can be hard work, and it will almost always be challenged. This is why spiritual community is so important. The teachings aren’t easy, but the instructions are very simple. In our togetherness, we return to the simplicity of Life and Love, Awe and Forgiveness. We provide consolation and encouragement in the face of disappointment or defeat. And we hold one another accountable, reminding everyone that we are part of one inter-related family, one interdependent planet, one Love that tries and fails to teach us this again and again and again.

~ Lauren Van Ham




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