Rev. Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who resides in Grand Junction, CO. Roger is author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity". And blogs for Patheos as "The Holy Kiss." Roger serves on the board of directors of ProgressiveChristianity.Org. He’s open-minded, a good listener, full of ideas, has a contagious enthusiasm and a passion for social justice, and takes Christianity seriously. Roger became “a Christian on purpose” during his college years and he experienced the call to ordained ministry two years after college. He values the Wesleyan approach to the faith and seeks to help others grow and mature spiritually. Roger is a yogi, plays trumpet; & enjoys motorcycling; and taking road-trips and camping with his son. Roger served as the Director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Colorado in Boulder for 14 years, and has served as pastor of churches in Minnesota, Iowa, and currently serves as the pastor of Fruita United Methodist Church in Colorado, and also serves as the "CRM" (Congregational Resource Minister) for the Utah/Western Colorado District of the Mountain Sky Conference.

Posts by Rev. Roger Wolsey

The Bible is Political

March 03, 2021 01:00 AM
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The Bible has a political agenda. Even with all the different writers who contributed to different books, there is a clear biblical bias against the powerful using their places of authority to step on those who are already suffering. That’s political.

Saving God From Religion

February 02, 2021 01:00 AM
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Let’s be clear, this is an audacious idea.  Writing a book about God is an audacious project.  In fact, claiming to know anything about God is more than audacious—it is intellectual blasphemy.  So, to begin, let me be clear.  I have no idea what I am talking about.  

We are the Spacemakers

February 02, 2021 01:00 AM
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Because I choose to remain within the church, I have to ask myself regularly “why do I believe what I believe?” and also “why do I stick around?” Why do I choose to stay put when the church has caused so much harm?

What is Patriarchy, anyway?

February 02, 2021 01:00 AM
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There is – and ought to be – plenty of criticism of Patriarchy at this time in history.  But for that very reason there needs to be a critical understanding of what it is – and is not.

America’s Greedy and America’s Gullible: Ezekiel Speaks

February 02, 2021 01:00 AM
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From Ezekiel to Jesus to the voices of the gospels, the proclamation is clear: civilization will not, indeed cannot, survive if wealth and power, and therefore food and shelter, are in the possession of but a few. Equally so, democracy will not and cannot survive if the bullies are allowed free reign.

What Pulls At Your Heart

January 01, 2021 01:00 AM
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My church was my extended family. And in my years of searching, I have yet to find a church like it, although I am sure they are out there.  So, why did I feel like, at 29 years old, that I was done with Christianity?

At Cross Purposes

January 01, 2021 01:00 AM
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As one who’s had to endure a career in a denomination whose global trademark is a burning cross, it once again raised the question in my mind of how the cross, burning or otherwise, had become a symbol of hate and White Supremacy.

Doubt, Faith, and Why Breaking Up (with Authoritarianism) is Hard to Do

January 01, 2021 01:00 AM
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  I grew up in a 6-day creation sector of Christianity. Evolution, we were taught, was a Satanic deception to make us lose our faith. It was a banana peel on the slippery slope to hell; and it led me to my first theological crisis when I was 12 years old. I’d been that kid […]

My Penny

January 01, 2021 01:00 AM
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I feel a small bit like the woman who threw her last penny into the offering pot in the temple. This article is my penny, this column is the offering pot, the readership is the Temple. Because this is the most precious penny I have at the moment.

Where Do We Go from Here, Redux

December 12, 2020 01:00 AM
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The year 2020 has been a stressful one. With George Floyd’s death as an inflection point about race and racism in America, an unprecedented presidential election, and social unrest during an ongoing pandemic with a rising death toll, something is deeply broken in America’s body politic. 

Just Looking at Christmas

December 12, 2020 01:00 AM
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Such is the looking at the figures in the crèche scene at the birth of Jesus. The crèche is a window into the eternal quality of the now, an icon of the divine point of view. It is the slack-jawed, timeless, aimless, free, worshipful Awe that is Love that is God. 

Getting Beyond the Usual: Giving Birth to Jesus in the 2020s

December 12, 2020 01:00 AM
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There are 3 parts of Jesus’s birth story that we want to open here, like gifts.  There are many parts of this story that, once unwrapped, hold great truth and importance including dreams, angels and what was going on for Joseph. 

Except for God… freedom never kneels.

December 12, 2020 12:01 AM
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It has been a burdensome year and it is likely to get worse before it is over.

Grateful & Communal Creatures: ZOOM & The Dynamic Reality Of Being Saved

December 12, 2020 01:00 AM
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When you gaze up into the night sky, perhaps from the sateen darkness of Glacier National Park, or the cozy vestibule of your backyard, what do you see? Pin-wheeling galaxies? Endless expanse of interstellar space? Familiar special neighbors such as Orion or Ursa Major?

Ball of Confusion

November 11, 2020 01:00 AM
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“Man [Humankind] can’t become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free him of all social pressure is to abandon him to himself and demoralize him.”

A White Man Makes the Case for Reparations, Part III

November 11, 2020 01:00 AM
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Too many whites argue that slavery is a thing of the past for which present day whites are not responsible. In the previous two essays, I tried to debunk that myth. It is the cause of so much pain today for black and white Americans.

Surrendering to the Will of Earth

November 11, 2020 01:00 AM
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The origins of the word surrender come from the French roots for “to give back,” and “over.” And that is exactly what surrender is. It is not laying down our arms, it is not choosing peace over justice, it is not breathing deeply and meditating our way out of our pain. True surrender speaks to our relationship with our common mother, the Earth. It means to give back to her, over and over again, above and beyond what we think we are capable of giving. 

Eternal Totality: On a More Rational God

November 11, 2020 01:00 AM
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Religion prefers a definable God. By definition, one of the purposes of religion is to draw us closer to God. The way religion has typically been practiced, this implies some degree of “knowing” God. To know God we must be able to define God. The problem is, in the act of defining God, we are limiting God.

The Astounding Accomplishments of Julian Norwich

October 10, 2020 01:01 AM
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Most people, if they know anything about Julian of Norwich, know two things. First, that she said “all things will be well, every manner of thing will be well,” a testimony to hope or what Mirabai Starr calls “radical optimism” that arises near the end of her book Showings and ought not to be understood as “spiritual bypass” or denial of suffering. Second, people have heard that she talks about the “motherhood of God” quite often.

“Liminal Grief”

October 10, 2020 01:00 AM
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As the leaves turn color and fall into the ground, and the migratory patterns and bird songs slowly shapeshift into a dirge, as the sap sinks into its source, we might listen closely to our bodies and psyche. If we allow ourselves the space to pay attention we can feel the shift towards the liminal time of fall. Fall in-between the erotic vigor and embodiment of summer, and the pale, dormant latency of winter.

Racism – How Did We Get Here

October 10, 2020 01:00 AM
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The documentary Africa’s Great Civilizations is an in-depth study of the world’s first humans, the cradle of civilization, and the birthplace of the Christian religion. Episode one begins a journey through anthropological and scientific discoveries where viewers learn that Africa is the genetic home of all currently living humanity.

Jesus and the Void

October 10, 2020 01:00 AM
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We all are painfully aware that we in the US are living in a time of extreme violence and anxiety. What we may not know is that Jesus lived in such a time as well, and the parallels are quite striking.

Time to be Radical

October 10, 2020 01:00 AM
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Often when we think of radicals today, we think of religious extremists or we associate a negative connotation with it. But the word radical actually means far-reaching fundamental transformation. And fundamental transformation is exactly what we need today, individually and collectively.

“Confronting Politicus Distractus”

September 09, 2020 01:00 AM
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Recently, a half-dozen young people in our small town organized a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration. The march was seen by some as an intrusion of threatening other-worldly politics into our predominantly (99.8%) white town and riled up a lot of emotional responses on social media.

A White Man Makes the Case for Reparations, Part 2

September 09, 2020 01:00 AM
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When I write as a white man about calling for reparations, this is the source and origin of the damages for  which we bear responsibility and for which we seek repair. The question I want to ask in this essay is this: how far removed from that source are we. Is it a distant relic of the past from which we are now utterly disconnected

When Everything Becomes Sacred

September 09, 2020 01:00 AM
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We could describe the pain we’re in right now as the colonial anesthesia wearing off.  In epic fashion, events of the past many months have connected all the threads of the story: white supremacy and racism, detention centers and prisons, militarism and policing, the wealth of a few at the expense of  essential workers, broken healthcare, hurricanes, derechos, and wildfires, and certainly others.

So… if we care, what do we say?

September 09, 2020 01:00 AM
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Recently, I received an email from a reader who asked, “Hi Brian. I would love to know your thoughts on speaking with close family members who are active or retired police officers during this time. I’m seeing so many black activists and white allies calling for the police force to be defunded and dismantled.

Can Imagination Save Us?

August 08, 2020 01:00 AM
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I’m thinking a lot about this moment.  Under 70 days until the most important Presidential Election arguably of all time, close to six months into an unprecedented global pandemic, increasing racial uprisings, increasing inequalities, anxieties, looming questions, delayed and potent grief. 

Humility: The Key To Our Salvation

August 08, 2020 01:00 AM
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One of the most fundamental postures of any mature spirituality is that of humility, and yet on both the left and the right it seems that humility is always in short supply. Throughout human history we have craved to know the answers to the big questions that seem to endlessly loom above us: Why are we here? Who are we? Where are we going? Is there a purpose to any of this?

A White Man Makes the Case for Reparations, Part 1

August 08, 2020 01:00 AM
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Of all the things white allies were willing to activate for, through decades of civil rights movements, reparations were the one thing that even the most committed white leaders have avoided talking about, much less fully committing to.

The “Good Trouble” of John Lewis

August 08, 2020 01:00 AM
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John Lewis, the ‘conscience of Congress’, preached a lived theology and activism of “good trouble.” Good trouble was the work of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and it was an expression of Lewis’s faith. The immediacy of his “good trouble” was heard in his jeremiads, inviting all to action. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Lewis repeatedly said throughout his lifetime.

Apocalypse Strong

July 07, 2020 01:00 AM
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In my own movement through Christianity I was petrified of the idea of the rapture. The ever-imposing threat of the Apocalypse. It seemed like every year produced mountains of evidence that the plagues had been unleashed, and the prophecies of Revelation were being fulfilled. With some distance from the center of that particular flavor of Christianity, I have noticed that the world is always ending.

A Call to Listen, Lament, Learn & Love.

July 07, 2020 01:00 AM
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I write in the context of the twin global realities of Covid-19; and the increasing rejection of toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and white supremacy – including a growing rejection of religions which are perceived as promoting and maintaining those poisons.

Breaking Free From Supremacy Theology, Part Two

July 07, 2020 01:00 AM
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White supremacy, in its many systemic forms, continues to keep us all bound. Pandemic or not, the work of Liberation through anti-racism and decolonization continues. For people of faith, this work includes breaking free from supremacy informed theology.

Common Ground

July 07, 2020 01:00 AM
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A democracy is only able to function and prosper if its diverse citizenry shares a common sense of what is good. A political common good, however, is made possible by the presence of common ground; this ground is the Reality of Being, the Essence of all that is. Without spiritual common ground, which is Being, the fragile political common good is a chimera, evident in the cultural blindness to and destruction of the beauty of George Floyd.

Even in 2020, Gratitude is my Religion

July 07, 2020 01:00 AM
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It seems to me that, now, in the fourth month of the pandemic, we need to reach down deep for spiritual, emotional, and contemplative resources. The best one I know is gratitude.

Biblical Billionaires and the Taming of Jesus

June 06, 2020 01:00 AM
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My initial intent in writing this column was to look at how the early church lost the message of Jesus, but both the pandemic and climate change seemed more urgent, demanding immediate attention. Then I realized that lurking behind all of them was the dark but pervasive shadow of society’s rich and powerful, those who expand and protect their interests at any cost.

Playing for Love in the Time of COVID

June 06, 2020 01:00 AM
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The world has shifted on its axis since my last article appeared in Progressing Spirit. As I write, the number of COVID-19 deaths has passed 400,000, a number that shrinks from the reality experienced around the globe. As countries attempt to reopen their economies, anti-racism protests are sweeping the globe. Immune to neither challenge, we in Canada are little more than a quiet simmer when compared to the legitimate rage being expressed across America and around the world.

The Powerful Medicine of the (Divine) Feminine

June 06, 2020 01:00 AM
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I’m really interested in how we, and by we I mean seekers, teachers, preachers, clergy, laymen, mystics, atheists and everything in between, think and talk about the divine feminine.

Covid-19 and Climate Change: Why Are We Here and Where are we Headed?

June 06, 2020 01:00 AM
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One of the “ultimate questions” humans like to pose is this:  Why are we here?  

This might seem to be a particularly appropriate question to ask in a time of the coronavirus plague when so much is becoming uprooted, when so many are afraid and suffering and dying. 

Let It Fall: Collapse and Ecological Metanoia

May 05, 2020 01:00 AM
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For us faith leaders the problem is much deeper than simply ‘green-washing’ Christianity. Our habits of inattention and self-survival stand trial. The “cultural self” has become really good at shutting off the valve to feeling, that organ of perception connecting our own hearts with the heartbeat of a living World.

The Strangeness of Jesus, Equality, and Voting in the U.S.

May 05, 2020 01:00 AM
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It is difficult to read the teachings of Jesus and come away thinking that some people deserve to have more privileges than others. We are not only suppose to love our neighbors, but we are also suppose to love our enemies – equally.

We Will Never Be The Same – A COVID-19 Reality

May 05, 2020 01:00 AM
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How will people of faith show up?  Will the knee jerk reactions of shock and awe at the news that African Americans are dying at alarming rates elicit advocacy and activism for long-term strategies to correct structural and systemic injustices?  Will people who claim to be Christians consider themselves “woke” because they write a check in support of a food pantry?

Why The Church Must Die – Part 3

May 05, 2020 01:00 AM
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In two previous articles I’ve shared why the church must die, and why I believe it is or has been dying. Some of my fellow readers (People of Color, LGBTQ, differently-abled) have seen what I’ve seen, felt what I’ve felt. Others have been offended or triggered, mostly well-meaning folks of privilege who don’t want things to change. That’s just it – don’t confuse the Church with the church you’re familiar with.

May Our Sins be Washed Away: Why we must continue to remove judgment and dogma from progressive Christian theology.

April 04, 2020 01:00 AM
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To be a progressive, one must have the ability to think for oneself, to examine what they have been told and what they read. To be a progressive Christian means we find the courage to both question and to find our own authentic answer. And that takes bravery.  Let’s celebrate our bravery together! 

Befriending an Intruder

April 04, 2020 01:00 AM
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Since early March, a poem[i] by Kristin Flyntz has been circulating widely wherein she imagines what the Covid-19 virus might be saying.  More than once it says, “Just stop. Be still. Listen. Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well. We will help you, if you listen.”

What Should We Be Learning in the Time of COVID-19?

April 04, 2020 01:00 AM
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In the new normal that we can create together, we can lean into a truth that we are all learning in our bones thanks to this crisis: we are all connected, participants in local, regional, and global societies, living in an ecosystem that requires us to seek the common good with one another and with all our fellow creatures.

Fishing to Friending

April 04, 2020 01:00 AM
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Metaphors are powerful, because they describe and prescribe our relationships with one another with so few words. Their power lies in their awesome capacity to evoke a world. Metaphors can manifest and deepen our sense of the Holy Mystery, or they can mask and distort. Oftentimes it is a mixture. But the difference is real, and it matters.

A Grown-Up God for Times Like These

April 04, 2020 01:00 AM
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I was a Christian; I am a Christian. But it became clear to me that God speaks more than one language. Because God wants to be known, I came to believe, by any means necessary, God speaks to the hearts of humans in the ways they can hear, inviting us to come close to be seen, known and loved.

COVID-19 And The World Community

March 03, 2020 01:00 AM
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In a responsible response to the coronavirus outbreak, also known as COVID-19, church and worship services across the globe are canceled. Traditional Bible study has gone online. Sermons are watched on Zoom, and old videos of singing church choirs have popped up in my inbox. Our global engagement with one another right now is social distancing while staying connected, revealing our acts of spiritual communion. 

Faith and Fate

March 03, 2020 01:00 AM
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The below offering was inspired by a conversation with my favorite Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer and the late, great Peter Tosh. Thanks for inviting the Selah, Rabbi. Rest in Power, Peter.

Breaking Free From Supremacy Theology, Part One

March 03, 2020 01:00 AM
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Even though my context is theologically progressive, I am entangled in supremacy theology. I need to break free. I define supremacy theology as any theological framework that is propped up by systems of oppression.

Parenting the Church

March 03, 2020 01:00 AM
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Parents and caregivers, you are on the frontlines of the revolution. You are raising humans that will perpetuate white supremacy, or be actively anti-racist. You are raising humans that can break down walls rather than build them.  So stop thinking your praying has ended, or your activism decreased.

10 Things Smart Progressive Churches Know About Worship, Part 2

February 02, 2020 01:00 AM
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This article is a continuation of : 10 Things Smart Progressive Churches Know About Worship, Part 1. 

To Be and Not To Be:   Wrestling with the Christian “I Am” and the Buddhist “I Am Not”

February 02, 2020 01:00 AM
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Modern scientists have discovered what the mystics have known to be true for centuries. Reality is an illusion. Atoms are primarily made of vast regions of empty space, objects are fundamentally non-objects but rather waves and shadow, and there is a continuous energetic exchange happening between you and those around you at all times.

Queen’s Dream

February 02, 2020 01:00 AM
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Of course, it is not just a racial issue that hammers at the foundations of our social order. Or a gender identity or sexuality issue. Or political, social, or familial. It is an issue that is experienced by all of us and that undermines our self-confidence, and our willingness to be vulnerable, our ability to see what is really before us

Holding Space for Spiritual Transformation 

February 02, 2020 01:00 AM
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  “New personality types are created during social and spiritual crises of religious, political, or economic origin.” ~Otto Rank  One hundred years ago, as the world was shaking under the pressures of the First World War, a spiritual crisis like no other in our human history, the field of Depth Psychology was born. Along with […]

Progressive Christianity, Earth Survival and the Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

January 01, 2020 12:01 AM
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Many people, if they hear the name Thomas Aquinas at all, may not feel that he has anything to say to today’s “progressive” religious and post-religious movement.  They would be wrong; dead wrong.

Christian Imagination and the Return to Myth

January 01, 2020 01:00 AM
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As an indigenous Messiah, Jesus was one who listened deeply to the song of Creation, to the living dialogue that is in the beginning, the heartbeat of the universe itself. In this sense, Jesus was the mythteller of the community he was forming around his own ministry of power, healing, and renewal.

Just War?

January 01, 2020 01:00 AM
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You simply can’t fully follow Jesus if you aren’t willing to be political and stick out  your own neck, challenging the hypocritical power structures and leaders on behalf of the oppressed.” 

Jesus’ Women Disciples

January 01, 2020 01:00 AM
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Ever since human beings began to relate their experience to one another, it has proven difficult to differentiate the facts of the story from the teller’s interpretation of the facts. Anyone paying attention to US politics today is painfully aware of this situation, but it has always been true, and it was as true in […]

Why The Church Must Die – Part 2

January 01, 2020 01:00 AM
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Churchianity must die and it is dying. I know, that probably hurt a little to read. If it makes you feel better, it hurt to write it too. However, the sooner we accept that death is part of the cycle, we can shift into midwifing a new movement of the Jesus story.

Feeling Compassionate

December 12, 2019 01:00 AM
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Today, as I write this, I am feeling compassion for the white fragility out there. There’s a lot of grief connected to it. Yes, something is dying, friends. Because it must. White supremacy must die so we can all be transformed, so we can all be resurrected.

10 Things Smart Progressive Churches Know About Worship, Part 1

December 12, 2019 01:00 AM
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I have been a worship leader, liturgist, and musician in various church contexts for nearly 20 years, and I have ideas about how we, who are re-imagining faith and church, can proceed.

Imagine That!

December 12, 2019 01:00 AM
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Last Spring, Greta Thunberg’s statement to the European Parliament included the phrase, “Everyone and everything needs to change.”  It’s become a mantra for me: Everyone, Everything, Me, Changing.

The Power of Liminal Spaces In Changing Times

December 12, 2019 01:00 AM
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Many of us who grew up in fundamental spaces were taught to live in dualities: black and white, in and out, saved and unsaved. In those spaces, there isn’t liminality. There aren’t many safe spaces to ask really hard questions, to show anger toward injustice, or even to grieve when we need to grieve. We are taught to brush it off, smile, move on, trust God, and believe.

Why do we use Christ as a synonym for Jesus?

November 11, 2019 01:00 AM
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Janet – thanks so much for this question. I’ve been pondering this question too … for decades!

Let’s start by saying the obvious: Christ isn’t Jesus’s last name. It’s a title, like doctor, reverend, president, or governor.

How Progressive Christianity Can Save the World

November 11, 2019 01:00 AM
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Christianity is inherently political. The faithful path taught and demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth was arguably just as much a political vision for the future of the Jewish people as much as it was a path to spiritual salvation.

The Courage to See

November 11, 2019 01:00 AM
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What an existential conundrum it is for us human beings as we long for someone to see us for the truth of what we are, while at the same time fearing to be seen for the truth of what we think we are and that others might perceive. A very tiring dance.

A New State Religion Called Love

November 11, 2019 01:00 AM
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The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told. It’s why we’re still telling it two millennia later. We’re telling it all around the world. The story of God who loves the world enough to come all the way down to be present in the world, not as a soldier, but as a teeny, tiny, vulnerable infant.

Rethinking Forgiveness

October 10, 2019 01:00 AM
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“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” in Luke 23:34 has always troubled me, because it is the first of the seven utterances by Jesus on the cross. I’ve been taught that the act of forgiveness is a sign of spiritual mettle and grace under fire. And, as an African American, the act of forgiveness appears to be our immediate go-to place in the face of unimaginable racial horror done to us. 

Why The Church Must Die – Part 1

October 10, 2019 01:00 AM
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The church isn’t just dying. In many parts of the United States, it is already dead. At least, its impact is. The pews are still warm, the offering plates clanking with coins, and the bodies are present. However the church itself is wasting away and has become irrelevant.

Love Water

October 10, 2019 01:00 AM
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Everything that God called forth comes from the Water, everything we know in our world today was created except for the Water, it was already here. Even among scientists there is continued debate about where Water came from, how it got here. No matter the angle, Water’s presence in our reality is a precious, life-giving mystery.

How much should we teach our children about the Bible?

October 10, 2019 01:00 AM
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Some of the most egregious acts in civilization find their justification in Scripture, from genocide to slavery to deadly homophobia. History proves that the Bible, read with nefarious hermeneutics, in the hands of powerful figures can cause catastrophe.

No, This Isn’t For You

October 10, 2019 01:00 AM
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It is a sad thing to close the doors of a church. Hard as it is for the congregation’s members, however, the event has a far deeper, though often unseen and uncalculated, impact on the health of the community in which that congregation was practicing its increasingly irrelevant faith. As churches age and weaken, their focus necessarily turns toward survival and away from the world outside their doors.

Jesus: A Mutation of Consciousness – Part 2

September 09, 2019 01:00 AM
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For most Christians, the question is, “Can you strip Jesus of his supernatural powers and still achieve salvation through Christ?” If we take the Godhead out of Jesus, what are we left with? Is there some other element that we enter into or move through by knowing him?

Calling on Warriors for Beauty

September 09, 2019 01:00 AM
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So what does it mean to be a warrior for beauty? In order to understand it, we must first look at what beauty is, and then we must turn toward what it means to be a warrior.

Let the Church die, here’s why

September 09, 2019 01:00 AM
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My assessment is that Christianity and its Church can either join the flow of justice or flail against its changing tides. This flow is happening with or without you. Spirit is moving, creating a path of love, equality, and peacemaking in its wake. If you are of the mind to jump in to this divine current, then I have several points of advice for you.

Wild Courtship-Primal Speech

September 09, 2019 01:00 AM
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All nature was designed for revelation. At least that’s what indigenous peoples, the Israelites, our church Fathers, and the Celts believed. Jesus himself, like Moses and the prophets Elijah and John the Baptizer, strode deep into the heart of the world, fasting for a vision—revelation.

Rugged Individuality and the Hermeneutic of Love

August 08, 2019 01:00 AM
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It seems to me that people who have a well developed and healthy spirituality will resist the concept of  tribalism. While it is true that tribalism was once an evolutionary necessity for survival, I have to believe that in modern times we should recognize that it is actually quite ridiculous as it is so rooted rooted in the illusion that some people are more valuable than others.

Two Bible Stories for our Endangered Times

August 08, 2019 01:00 AM
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“What are a Bible Story or Stories that are especially pressing for today’s world?”  Clearly there are many but I have chosen one from the Hebrew Bible and one from the Christian Bible.

Jesus: A Mutation of Consciousness – Part 1

August 08, 2019 01:00 AM
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We know enough about politics to know when an idea’s time has come. We know enough about the principles that move and motivate people. They are the same today as they were 2,000 years ago. They are those universal principles found in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: fear, safety, community, belonging, status, esteem and actualization (another word for “becoming” or, possibly, “salvation”).

And Like the Sun, Our Generosity Continues

August 08, 2019 01:00 AM
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It has become so easy now to feel anxious, worried or irritable by the state of things, by the frantic commotion modeled all around us, focusing on just about everything except what’s actually important. 

Lions, and Tigers, and Progressives – Oh My!

August 08, 2019 01:00 AM
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I recently experienced something that is the stuff of many people’s nightmares.

White Fragility Is Real My Friends

July 07, 2019 01:00 AM
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This was a very challenging article to write and I am going to be super vulnerable with you all, so bear with me … and I invite you to join me in a brave conversation.

I recently heard this quote on the radio: “There’s only one thing more powerful than white fear and that’s white guilt.” That statement left me questioning for days. “Could that be true,” I wondered? What does my white fear look like? What does my white guilt look like?

Being True To Christ But Rejecting Christianity

July 07, 2019 01:00 AM
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A shift in my geographical location was the catalyst for a life-altering shift in my theological truth system. I was in Kenya, East Africa for 10 weeks in the summer of 2013 on a missions/educational trip when I began to ask myself about the introduction of Christianity to African people, most specifically black people in America as a result of slavery. This was the first time I had ever asked myself why do I believe what I say I believe.

All The World A Thin Place

July 07, 2019 01:00 AM
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The Celtic tradition has a concept called “thin spaces”, geographical locations where the veil between heaven and earth, the world we live in and the realm of the Divine, seems to be remarkably thin.

Growing Up in a White Male God’s World

July 07, 2019 01:00 AM
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But once I turned my attention to the problem of God’s maleness, I realized that I didn’t just hate white Christ, I also hated male Christ. A god who is exclusively white and male, or even predominantly white and male, is never going to be safe for people of color and/or women. Indeed, white male god is intersectional; we must be liberated from both its whiteness and maleness.

Living Christs of Touch

June 06, 2019 01:00 AM
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If your life were ending and you were given the chance to write a few words to encapsulate its essence, what would you say? The story wouldn’t have to be historical, or literally true, but it would need to offer an authentic window into your soul and the heart of your heart.

Looking, Leaning, and Leading Forward

June 06, 2019 01:00 AM
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In two previous columns: How I Got Here and  What Am I Now?, I shared a bit about my own backstory and where I am now as a progressive Christian. In this third column, I’d like to share a bit about what I see and hope for progressive Christianity looking forward.

The Concepts of the Virgin Birth and Physical Resurrection

June 06, 2019 01:00 AM
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Both the virgin birth and physical resurrection are the pillars of the Christian faith, and many Christians struggle with both concepts.

The Future Church: Over to You

June 06, 2019 01:00 AM
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Armed with fifteen years of exposure to critical contemporary Christian scholarship, the congregation’s leaders, rather than fire me, embraced the opportunity to explore what church beyond belief might look like. It has been a bumpy ride at times; there is no doubt about that.  Still, the work was important, and we have proven that a church built on the values of liberal Christianity neither undermines nor requires belief in a supernatural, interventionist, theistic god called God.

Joshua and “The Longest Day”

May 05, 2019 01:00 AM
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If people today know anything about the book of Joshua, it’s likely to be just one story: “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.” But Joshua asking God to “stop the sun in the sky” is probably a close second – and has clearly had a more dramatic influence on world history (and not in a good way).

The Moral Imperative of Climate Activism

May 05, 2019 01:00 AM
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There are countless other examples in the Bible that point to the human – earth relationship as a symbiotic mother and child.

What Am I Now?

May 05, 2019 01:00 AM
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In my previous piece, I shared a bit about my past. This piece turns to the present. I’ve just begun work on two books, the second of which is tentatively entitled, Do I Stay Christian? As I sketch out the shape and trajectory of the book, I’m thinking more deeply about why I still identify as Christian and what I think Christian can and in fact must come to mean in the decades ahead.

The Wild Christ

May 05, 2019 01:00 AM
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The wild calls. That which we associate with the wild are those ‘spontaneities’ found in ever form of existence in the natural world, that which is uncontrolled by human dominance. Wild is that feral autonomy of the more-than-human world with an agency and feathered intelligence of its own. The wild flares forth in the numinous powers of the psyche, mirroring the wild and raw powers of the universe. The wild is pure nature, that which is completely uncontrolled by human consciousness or dominance.

Time for a New American Dream

May 05, 2019 01:00 AM
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Now that we can just barely view the pomp and circumstance of Easter in our rearview mirrors, I’d like to talk a little about Easter. Not that Easter; not the Easter egg hunts, Easter hats, and shouts of “He is risen” kind of Easter; I want to talk about the whole of the Easter story, which reminds me that the American dream is a dream built on the back of a system of domination.

Shadow Work

April 04, 2019 01:00 AM
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  Over the last few weeks I’ve had several ideas for articles. One of them felt so full of energy that I stayed awake until 3am writing. I’m usually fast asleep by 10pm. Period. So, being pulled from sleep and kept awake to write was significant. I’ve also committed to exercising two different forms of […]

Review of: Science and Spiritual Practices by Rupert Sheldrake

April 04, 2019 01:00 AM
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Science and Spirituality need each other. This has always been the case—from Aristotle (who concludes his classic work on Physics with positing an Unmoved Mover) to Aquinas (who fought the fundamentalists of his day about the value of bringing science, namely Aristotle, and the scientific method of his day, namely scholasticism, into the world of faith).

How I Got Here

April 04, 2019 01:00 AM
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Suddenly, I saw in a new light the violence of the modern era, from colonialism to Stalinism to Naziism to nuclear war to the environmental crisis. Smart people, armed with excessive and un-self-critical confidence derived from their absolutized ideologies, could commit unspeakable atrocities without having second thoughts.

Love, America and The Middle Way

April 04, 2019 01:00 AM
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A teenager in a red “Make America Great Again” hat, face-to-face with a drumming Native American elder on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…

For all the coverage and commentary we now have of the Lincoln Memorial encounter, there are many moments we’re not shown. We will never see what was moving in the hearts of those two men as they faced one another, waiting for the other to back down, watching their expressions melt and change while feeling the heat and pressure of the mob at their back.

Super Natural Sacraments of Spring

March 03, 2019 01:00 AM
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The progressive Christian practice, I believe, is founded on my (our) willingness to listen for and co-create the new story. And let me be clear about this word, “new.” I don’t mean the next bright and shiny object that allows me to toss the frayed one into the landfill. I mean “new,” as in emerging, fertile, and arriving with a willingness to acknowledge what has been before now.

10 Ways to Help Church Services to Bring People to the Mystery of God:

March 03, 2019 01:00 AM
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The Church is dying. Specifically, Christianity in most Western countries is rapidly diminishing. Some 7-8,000 churches close their doors every year in the U.S. – about 150-200 every week. In 1966, there were 600 Catholic seminaries in America. 189 remain. 1000 Southern Baptist congregations close every year with half of them predicted to close by 2030.

Re-Wilding Christianity, an Interview with Rev. Matt Syrdal, Church of the Lost Walls

March 03, 2019 01:00 AM
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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Matt Syrdal about his theological journey and his quest to re-wild Christianity. Matt is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian church (USA), founder and lead guide of WilderSoul and Church of Lost Walls, and co-founder of Seminary of the Wild. Matt speaks at conferences and guides immersive nature-based experiences around the country. In his years of studying ancient Christian Rites of Initiation, world religions, anthropology, rites-of-passage and eco- psychology Matt seeks to re-wild what it means to be human. His work weaves in myth and ceremony in nature as a way for people to enter into conversation with the storied world of which they are a part.

Why Separation of Church & State Matters More Than Ever

March 03, 2019 01:00 AM
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We’re in the middle a major identity crisis in our country – and a lot of it has to do with our collective failure to remember (or in some cases outright deny) that most of our founders were highly suspicious of religion. As you read this, theologically conservative Christians are escalating their efforts to revise history and take concerted action in consolidating their political power and reinforcing their prejudices with the force of law.

Lost in Translation

February 02, 2019 01:00 AM
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For many progressive Christians, our ability to remain in the communities we love is dependent upon our willingness to translate what we hear, sing, and say on Sunday morning. Much of the “content” of a weekly service continues to use the language of traditional Christianity and privilege the very rituals and artifacts which progressives no longer accept literally.

Part III: Eucharistic Prayers Celebrating the Embodiment of Presence

February 02, 2019 01:00 AM
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Let me begin by restating my belief that a corporate liturgical text (be it a eucharistic prayer, a collect, or a hymn) needs to be a Wisdom text. This means it is a prayer with the capacity to foster the soul’s growth, helping her to realize that she is an utterly unique expression of Being that is present as Boundless Love.

Turning the Tables and Righteous Anger

February 02, 2019 01:00 AM
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I have chosen Matthew 21: 12-17 text about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers” because I notice America is angry. And, with this anger I’ve noticed we have lost the ability and desire to “ agree to disagree,” to talk across our differences; thus, consequently, civil discourse has devolved. For so many, this story of Jesus turning the tables of the money changers becomes a non-apology for getting angry, for posting biting commentaries, and for online rants on divisive political issues, theological controversies and discussions on some polarizing social and cultural issues.

The Spiritual Practice of Rewilding

February 02, 2019 01:00 AM
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The movement to rewild the environment emerged and evolved out of the conservation movement of the 1960s, and directly challenges conventional conservation methods. While ecological rewilding practices differ from region to region, they share a common goal and means: they seek to increase biodiversity and reduce negative human impacts within an ecosystem by restoring the keystone species of the area – large carnivorous or herbivorous animals that greatly influence how the ecosystem functions as a whole.

Wild Christ, Wild Earth, Wild Self

January 01, 2019 01:00 AM
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What we perceive as this seismic collapse of Christendom, our fractured institutional ways of self-organizing in Western culture — and perhaps even ecological disaster — is in some ways a necessary part of the comprehensive change of consciousness that is upon us. Many mainline church Pastors that I have spoken with or coached have experienced burn-out and disillusionment — an ominous foreboding, that like Lewis and Clark, we don’t have the necessary equipment for this next stage of the journey.

The Church is Dying Because of Graying – But Not Why You Think

January 01, 2019 01:00 AM
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This is simply about the church (remember, the people are the church) breaking out of its safe routines and dogma, and deeply and lovingly engaging the community it is in.

Salvation and Responsibility

January 01, 2019 01:00 AM
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When I first called myself a Christian I was in 7th grade. On my first visit to a small church I accepted Christ as my savior. I’m sure I had no idea what that meant, but it felt like the right thing to do in my 13 year old mind and heart. I spent the rest of middle school and high school so devoted to Jesus that I was at church almost as often as I was at school. I went to learn how to trust my new savior. I went to learn how to surrender successfully. I went to relinquish all sin, back sliding, laziness – parts of the genuine human experience I wanted to lay at the foot of the cross, walk away, and never have to pick them up again.

Liturgy As Corporate Spiritual Practice Of Embodiment: Part II

January 01, 2019 01:00 AM
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A Wisdom text has the capacity to foster the soul’s growth or unfolding, helping her to realize that she is an utterly unique expression of Being that is present as boundless love.

Some Resources for Hope in a Time of Doomsday Messaging

January 01, 2019 01:00 AM
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  As we enter a new year amidst the dire warnings from the United Nations and even Trump’s own administration about the peril humans and the rest of the Earth are in due to climate change, it seems fitting to ask: Where are there some resources for hope?  Without hope people die.  Without hope people […]

The Sound of Silence: Valuing the “Via Negativa”

December 12, 2018 01:00 AM
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It is by first passing through and celebrating our sense of awe, wonder, gratitude and joy that we are able to enter into darkness and the mystery of The Void. This is what carries us through the other side into a new season of creation and reinvention. This is the lantern that we bring with us into the cave, that burning ember — or promise of the birth of the Christ child within — that gives us hope.

Liturgy As Individual Spiritual Practice of Embodiment – Part 1

December 12, 2018 01:00 AM
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In my last column, “Terrifying and Terrible Texts: Knowing the Difference between Study and Liturgy,” I offered a basic and broad and personal vision of liturgy as “essentially a spiritual practice wherein we gather together to experience becoming embodiments of Being in the present moment.” We gather as unique personal jewels of Life. This vision begins my response to Bishop Spong’s query in Unbelievable: can Christian liturgies be made to reflect “reality rather than nostalgia.” Let me now develop this further in three ways: liturgy as personal spiritual practice of the individual; a reformed liturgical church year; and examples of eucharistic prayers (personal practice in a communal context) informed by this new vision of liturgy. This column will focus on liturgy as personal spiritual practice of the individual, which is the foundation for the subsequent essay on church year and eucharistic prayers.

The Medicine of Intimacy: an Advent Challenge

December 12, 2018 01:00 AM
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At the beginning of November, I dizzied myself in a dervish with 7500 participants at the Parliament of World Religions. In a series of keynote presentations spanning Peace & Reconciliation, Climate, Women, Indigenous Voices, and the Next Generation, one unifying message was consistently offered, “Humans have caused this.” Whatever the challenge before us, it is our species who has created the conditions for our current reality.

The Baby and the Bathwater?

December 12, 2018 01:00 AM
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Christmas is upon us. What is Christmas? How are progressive Christians to understand it? Can we even celebrate it at all?

Our Deepest Roots

November 11, 2018 01:00 AM
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At this time of year, we turn toward traditions that go deep into the backstories of our lives. The Christmas narrative serves as a foundation for our own narratives, those of our families of origin and those of the families we have created for ourselves. They are good. They are bad. They are beautiful. They are ugly. And we feel compelled to participate whether the stories are healthy or horrible. It’s what we do, right?

A Conversation with Bishop John Shelby Spong: Part 3 “On Conservatives, Liberals, and the Way Forward”

November 11, 2018 01:00 AM
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David Felten: You’ve talked about how hard it is for people to grasp what is meant when we’re talking about atheism or non-theism. There’s another word that a lot of people aren’t completely happy with but it’s the one we’ve kind of been shackled with. Is there a word other than “progressive” we can use – another approach?

A Conversation with Bishop John Shelby Spong: Part 2 “On Revolutions and Relationships”

November 11, 2018 01:00 AM
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The following is taken from an interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong on September 18th, 2018. Recorded at his home in Richmond, Virginia

A Conversation with Bishop John Shelby Spong: Part 1 “On Small Minds and Big Ideas”

November 11, 2018 01:00 AM
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The following is taken from an interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong on September 18th, 2018. Recorded at his home in Richmond, Virginia, it has been edited for length and thematic focus.

Wrestling with the Bible

October 10, 2018 01:00 AM
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Interpreting scripture as the “ ord of God” is always subjective and suspect in intent, whether it is being done in the ivy towers of seminaries or within the holy walls of sanctuaries. Interpreting scripture with menacing messages – and with litanies of dos and don’ts – is not about embracing and empowering all people, but about authority and power over certain groups of people. The authority of scripture does not lie in what God said. It lies in the hands of those in power who determine what God ought to say.

These times, They Are A’Changing

October 10, 2018 01:00 AM
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I recently received a couple of emails from Progressing Spirit subscribers who reminded me of a song Bob Dylan wrote in the early sixties. It was the title track song of the album, “These Times, They Are A’Changing”. Most people who have commented on this particular recording believe the title track was designed to support and maybe even influence the social change movement that clearly was happening in the 1960’s. Bob Dylan took a lot of criticism in those days, but fifty years later he was honored with the Noble Prize in literature.  And I would argue, these times are truly “a’changing.”

On a New Gendering of God

October 10, 2018 01:00 AM
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Naming God is difficult at best, divisive even in its mildest form, and can be thought of as sacrilegious at its worst. I was confronted squarely with this reality as I entered divinity school.

Well, my first day of orientation at Wake made me forget about all of that, as this divine calling I had answered, as this desire deep in the core of my soul to talk about the God that I love and what that God wants for this world, was given parameters.

Why Traditional Christianity Must Die

October 10, 2018 01:00 AM
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At the end of his most recent book Unbelievable, Bishop Spong poses a question that should be grappled with by every person of faith in this modern era. Essentially, he asks, “Can Christianity in its theology, liturgy, institutions, and practices evolve to meet the rapidly emerging new textures of reality in the 21st century?” As a Christian pastor and public theologian, I have often grappled with this very question, especially as I have witnessed my own worldview shift dramatically away from a “traditional” Christian perspective towards a new way of seeing and being that could only scarcely be called “Christian” by the standards of the dominant institutions within the religion.

Moral Issues and Ethics

September 09, 2018 01:00 AM
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To love oneself truly is also to love others—not only because we are societal animals and need community to serve, laugh, offer criticism, assist, but also because we literally can’t survive without others. And by others I don’t mean just other two-legged ones but the others who are of different species—the plants and the animals, the sun and the moon, the waters and the winged ones and the insects and the planets and the supernovas that burst and spread the elements that render our existence possible, etc. etc. Who is our neighbor? Well, all these beings are.

Religion and The New Paradigm (A Spiritual Upgrade)

September 09, 2018 01:00 AM
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There is a new paradigm in religious thought — that of the progressive, pluralistic ally of science and lover of truth. It is the path of those committed to a living integration of art, science, philosophy and spirituality.

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

September 09, 2018 01:00 AM
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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.

A Believable Conviction amidst the Trauma of Finitude

September 09, 2018 01:00 AM
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Of the 12 theses Bishop Spong examines in his (maybe) last book, Unbelievable, Thesis 11 is, “Life After Death.” Still believable, he asks?

Atoning for bad theology – both kinds.

August 08, 2018 01:00 AM
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Humans frequently feel a sense of being less than – less than whole, less than healed, less than okay, less than worthy, less than spiritual, less than “connected,” less than Divine. This felt sense of less than, this sense of a gap between an ideal state and present reality, is what humans need to have tended to. We need to have it addressed. We yearn to know that we aren’t defined by our worst days, our worst actions, or our past. We yearn for a sense of “oneness” – and that we are sufficiently in a state of goodness, serenity, or contentment. We yearn to know that we belong in the universe and that the we are welcome to be here. We yearn to love and be loved. We yearn to know we are lovable and to feel that we belong on the planet.

Jack on Prayer

August 08, 2018 01:00 AM
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It was a delight to be at Chautauqua Institution in June to hear Bishop John Shelby Spong (Jack) explore the theses presented in his latest and last, last book Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. Over the course of four days, he shared his perspectives on Christianity in a style that is exquisitely his own. Taking questions from dedicated “Women” and “Men” microphones, the integrity with which he approaches his work and those intent on wrestling with it was, as always, apparent. He would not let his audience off the hook. He would not allow them to be content with the easy, well-trod paths up the mountain. His cajoling impatience is his invitation to us to raise our own rallying cry, even if we don’t quite know what to rally around yet. He is content to shake the bejeezus out of our preconceptions and then get out of the way so that we might find our own path.

Saving Christianity from Easter

August 08, 2018 01:00 AM
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Jesus’ life was not an expression of a judging, vengeful vision, but was about manifesting a way of life that wasn’t driven by mere survival. Jesus’ life was grounded in a commitment to freeing people to love beyond their boundaries and their fears – beyond tribe, race, ethnicity, gender. This is the kind of love that enabled him to give his life away.

Radical Inclusion Requires Moral Leadership- Part 3

August 08, 2018 01:00 AM
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Moral leadership has never been consistent in my lifetime, and I presume for us all. Like most social issues that are shaped by our human actions or inactions, moral leadership has its ebbs and flows.

True Blue Miracle?

July 07, 2018 01:00 AM
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I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that reports of bonafide miracles seem to have gone the way of dinosaurs about the time cameras came along – maybe doubly true since video cameras were invented. (Of course, during the early days of Photoshop we did see a bit of a revival.)

Building a “beloved community” is an act of radical inclusion – Part 2

July 07, 2018 01:00 AM
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If Apostle Paul were alive today I know he would be apoplectic with rage by how Sessions used his sacred text. Apostle Paul was about building a beloved community, evident in his writing in Ephesians 2: 15, 19-22.

Moving Toward Radical Inclusion- Part 1

July 07, 2018 01:00 AM
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Radical inclusion must not be intellectualized but instead connected deeply with our need for personal healing which requires us to heal our “isms.”

Refiguring the Birth of Christ

July 07, 2018 01:00 AM
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Part of the struggle for 21st Christians is that we have inherited a tradition formed many lifetimes ago, a key component being the virgin birth of the Christ. This tradition has been handed to us with little to no permission to rework the interpretations for ourselves. I am eager to follow Bishop Spong’s lead in doing so before more time passes by.

Deep Ecumenism vs. Biblical Terror Texts

Recently I underwent, along with about 225 other people, a very moving and powerful encounter in Deep Ecumenism or Interfaith in a synagogue in Ashland, Oregon.  We gathered Friday night with an opening Native American chant written by Chief Arvod Looking Horse and a simple Shabbath ceremony including the lighting of candles followed by my talk on Deep Ecumenism and Deep Ecology.

East of Eden: Understanding the Creation Story

June 06, 2018 01:00 AM
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Why are we here? How did we come to be? What is our relationship to the force that created us? What is our relationship to the environment and to the other creatures on Earth? Does man exercise free will? Why is life full of suffering? Where is the line between right and wrong, guilt and innocence, damnation and salvation? For Jews and Christians, these questions (and more) are first posed in that short, simple story.

Celebrating the Curious Christ Soul

June 06, 2018 02:16 AM
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The Gospel of Thomas reminds us, When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the Living Father. Sooner or later, if we are to realize our Christhood, we must come to know ourselves. No one else can do the knowing for us. But – what a tremendous grace it is when we don’t have to ceaselessly contend with supposed faith communities about the sacred fruit we are, nor fear that they desire to prune away our life.

Ready, Set…RECEIVE!

June 06, 2018 01:00 AM
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The June sun was shining, but the whipping wind had us under hats and hoods, huddled close to hear the Naturalist’s instructions, “These flowers just poked out of snow last week.  Up here, Summer turns to Fall by mid-August.  Tundra takes hundreds of years to grow and one sloppily-placed hiking boot can destroy it all.” Then, he pointed across the Alpine carpet, to a collection of immense boulders and we began – adults, grandparents, and children (I was one of those) – hopping rock to rock.  A few paused, using their telephoto lenses to capture the blooms mere centimeters wide; the athletic made it into a game of how quickly they could “gazelle” from one rock to the next; and others moved with deference to the altitude, reaching for each inhale of thin air.  Other species – marmots, elk, birds – might have been looking on quizzically, but we did all we could to not touch our feet to the strong, fragile life below.

A Call to Spirituality and Religious participation.

May 05, 2018 01:00 AM
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A growing number of people who identify as progressive Christians also identify as being post-Christian, and/or post-Church, or even post-God. While this is of course perfectly okay and welcome, I experience this as less than ideal or optimal. To my mind following the way, teaching, and example of Jesus cannot truly, or at least not easily, be done without also having, nurturing, and tending to an active personal spiritual life communing with God (being present to Source/Presence) as well as an active communal/collective shared spiritual community. While some people may say that forums such as this newsletter and other online resources “meet that need” in their lives, words on a page pale in comparison to actually engaging in centering prayer, meditation, communion, shared singing, potluck suppers, organized community service, and experiencing big loving hugs from gifted kindred spirits.

So what happens now?

May 05, 2018 01:00 AM
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And so, as you know, I eschew the language of traditional Christianity (and liberal, and progressive) and work, instead, to model and inspire others with how it is we might live, loving and celebrating life in its many guises and wrestling with the innumerable challenges that doing so presents. All the while, I remain confident that while it may be the least popular way, it remains the only way to reduce Christianity to its most essential truth – that we must love one another – and tell that story to a new and very precarious world.

A Conversation with John Shuck: Part 2 “All Shuck. No Jive.”

May 05, 2018 01:00 AM
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What follows is the second part of an interview with the Rev. John Shuck. In this installment, Shuck offers perspectives on the risks of being honest in the “corporate church” and the struggle in dealing with other people’s worldviews when coping with personal tragedy.

A Conversation with John Shuck: Part 1 “On Being an Atheist in the Pulpit”

May 05, 2018 01:00 AM
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The following is taken from an interview with the Rev. John Shuck on April 3, 2018. Recorded in an out-of-the-way corner at Portland’s famed Powell’s Books, it has been edited for length and thematic focus.

What is God?

April 04, 2018 01:00 AM
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A few weeks ago, I recommended to our Progressing Spirit writers that we should all write articles that responded to Bishop Spong’s book, Unbelievable. Then it hit me. I was going to be doing the article this week and as I had suggested to our writers, I would have to start with Spong’s first thesis. “Holy moly,” what was I thinking? For Spong’s first thesis is “God.” Now, I am a student of the Bible. I have been studying it for over forty years. Nearly thirty years ago I came to the dramatic conclusion that the vast majority, if not the entire Bible, was written as metaphor by people who may have been very bright for their time in history but were largely ignorant of the world that inherited this book. We really do not understand the world they lived in, and obviously, they did not understand the world we live in today. Many of their sincere beliefs would be considered, at best, superstitions today. That is one of the reasons it has always amazed me people can argue for an inerrant interpretation of the Bible, using the Bible to “prove” their own interpretation.

More Q’s, Fewer A’s

April 04, 2018 01:00 AM
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Most conservative and mainline churches don’t like to talk about it a lot, but the reality is that churches have done lots of damage to lots of lives for a long time. The list of damages is long. Frankly, that’s probably true for most institutions in general. It’s hard to gain a large footprint and not manage to step on people as you attempt to move forward. It’s hard, but it’s not really excusable and there is always room for improvement.

A Brief Exploration into the Gospel of Luke

April 04, 2018 01:00 AM
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I would like to take a moment to explore the Gospel of Luke. When I read Biblical passages these days, I am looking for the deeper meaning behind the words. Meaning, I am not just looking for the dates, context, and scribes, though these are important pieces to the puzzle. I am looking for what the crisis might have been that caused the author to write it and how does the scripture speak to that crisis. I am seeking the wisdom that the passages hold for me in the moment as I read them. The wisdom found in sacred texts can shift as the reader shifts…that is one of the reasons why they are still valuable to modern seekers.

Christianity as a Nondual Spiritual Path

April 04, 2018 01:00 AM
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As Moses climbs the mountain, he arrives at his soul’s summit out of breath, bone-weary, and hungry; hungry to know the truth of what it is he searches for. He is an embodiment of humanity’s search for the truth of its Being.

Democracy in Chains and a New Religion of the True Believers (Part II)

March 03, 2018 01:00 AM
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Surely this is a new religion isn’t it? Offering a new take on Jesus’ words? How amazing that so-called Evangelical “Christians” seem eager to follow what so blatantly contradicts Jesus’ teachings. It is curious that the new Koch Republican Party continues to court the Evangelical vote successfully since Buchanan and many of the thinkers in this cult were in fact atheists “who looked down on those who believe in God.”

The Case for a New Mythology

March 03, 2018 01:00 AM
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It’s clear that the mind of a child can comprehend the interconnected nature of man’s place in the world in its most simplistic form. When do we lose that awareness? What are we taught or told along the way to make us numb to or forgetful of the image of ourselves as not only part of our environment, but as protectors of it? What role models do we have that ensure we become the kind of person who will “watch out” for others bent on destroying or exploiting the Earth?

A Sobering Tale of the Demise of American Democracy (Part I)

March 03, 2018 01:00 AM
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Historian Nancy MacLean’s book, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is scarier than a Stephen King novel or a movie such as “The Exorcist.”  Yet the former is non-fiction through and through!  The author declares she is offering up “the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.”

Ba(’a)ll in our Court.

March 03, 2018 01:00 AM
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I offer this sharing in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at a high school in Florida – a shooting that took place on Ash Wednesday. Knowing that the vast majority of my fellow Americans are not progressive Christians, nor have the majority even heard of progressive Christianity. So, I sometimes write with that larger audience in mind – seeking to appeal to their basic Christian understandings – even if that means employing or coming across as assuming a certain amount of conventional Christian rhetoric or perspectives -and then working from that place to help people shift to a more progressive understanding. It’s important to meet people where they are. With this caveat in mind, let those who have ears to hear, hear.

When we close our hearts to refugees

March 03, 2018 01:00 AM
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While Trump’s comment will now make it more difficult for immigrants from “shithole” countries to enter the U.S., the challenge, however, will be particularly arduous for its LGBTQ asylum seekers. These people flee their countries to avoid criminalization, torture, violence, public persecution, political scapegoating and moral cleansing.

Bleeding Edge Practitioners

February 02, 2018 01:00 AM
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Rejecting or reinterpreting traditional religious beliefs has always undermined family relationships, communities of faith, and the general coherence of the public. Many who haven’t crossed the threshold of a religious building in decades (if ever) hold rigidly to the privileges they believe religion provides them. Toy with those beliefs and you are unwittingly challenging the rights of the privileged, rights they too frequently enjoy denying those who do not share their beliefs. And those who do participate in religious communities with regularity are often invested in language and ritual they believe is integral to their experience. “Without reciting the Lord’s Prayer when we gather, how will we remember who we are?” they worry.

Meeting the Challenge

February 02, 2018 01:00 AM
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Bishop Spong calls for change. He challenges us to begin to rebuild a new Christianity and frankly, that is what we are trying to do here. These are the issues we have asked our authors to deal with. We do not need to do any more deconstruction. It has been done, and done well.

“God” Isn’t in the Bible

February 02, 2018 01:00 AM
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Language is more important than many of us realize. More precisely, the specific words we choose to use impact our way of thinking, our social behavior, and many other perspectives of our lives. It’s actually a fairly recent development in the human brain in terms of our long history as a species. The frontal lobes of our brains have actually expanded to handle its expanded work requirements.

God is Always Needing to Be Born

February 02, 2018 01:00 AM
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January is over and 2018 is finding its voice. Each year extends possibility. Within the possibility, events take place – births, deaths, celebrations, mishaps – and history is made. Meister Eckhart, the 12th century mystic proclaimed,
We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.

Dawning of Christ-Consciousness: From Separation to Union

January 01, 2018 01:00 AM
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What is happening in the human soul when someone, such as the President of the United Sates, refers to the predominately black countries of Africa and that of Haiti with dehumanizing racist rhetoric? What is happening in the human soul when political leaders seek simplistic solutions to cultural shifts in the erection of walls? What is happening in the human soul when the U.S. President fails to condemn neo-Nazi violent demonstrations?

“Mezuzah the $#!t Out of It”

January 01, 2018 01:00 AM
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I’m often inspired by the spiritual practices and traditions of faiths other than my own. Many of them come in handy as suggestions I can make to members of my congregation. With the exasperation many are feeling over our current political reality, I’ve had my mind on practices that could potentially help people push back the darkness and ground themselves in simple, life-affirming actions.

Unbelievable: Part II

“Unbelievable” began its life years ago when my daughter, Jaquelin, who owns a Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford University said to me: “Dad, the questions the church keeps trying to answer we don’t even ask anymore!” She was not hostile. It was just a matter of fact statement. The church keeps posing issues that the secular world has settled, or at least has decided to ignore. Questions such as: Who or what is God? What does original sin mean? What does it mean to say that Jesus died for my sins? Can one really believe in life after death? What does it mean to be born again? Why do we not try to grow up?

Unbelievable – Part I

The book has elements about it that have bordered on the miraculous. I was not sure I would ever be able to complete it. I had written about ninety per cent of this volume before I had a stroke in September of 2016. The stroke immobilized my right side. It was not clear that I would recover. I could not lift my right hand, nor walk without a walker, dragging my right leg. These symptoms, however, began to fade in about six weeks and all my limbs have returned to functioning, a bit weaker, but functioning nonetheless. My tread mill was a valuable aid. I had used it daily for many years, but now it became important in my rehabilitation. My rule was to use the track for one hour a day. Once I did twelve minute miles or five miles an hour. Today in that hour I do three and one quarter miles, not a jogger’s pace, but steady as strength has flowed back into my body. One symptom, however, has remained resistant to my efforts at recovery. I cannot make my right hand write legibly enough that I can read it. I could use the computer, but that is not natural to me. I never learned to type and hunting and pecking takes so much time. People suggested that I get a program where I talk into my computer and it converts the words to print. I tried that, but perhaps I was undone by my southern accent. Every time I spoke the word “career” the computer would write “Korea!”

Naomi Klein & Scott Russell Sanders: Birds of a Feather, Two North American Prophets In Search of Wisdom and Right Action

December 12, 2017 01:00 AM
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In dark times like ours one takes delight in those who are still committed to a search for truth and are still busy hunting gathering for what matters. We are blessed still with such figures in our midst and I want to celebrate two in this essay. One, a citizen of Toronto and of Canada, Naomi Klein, described herself by phone one day to me as “Jewish, Feminist and Atheist.” She is a profound author, social activist and filmmaker. The other, Scott Russell Sanders, celebrates his small town existence in Methodist rooted rural Ohio and on this planet and in this universe in a number of wonderful books. The former’s two recent books, Capitalism vs. The Climate and No Is Not Enough, are as on target to our troubled times as any I know; and Sanders book Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World, complements Klein’s in a profoundly mystical way.

Wakey Poem Sermon

December 12, 2017 01:00 AM
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for Poetry 

To better help people understand the difference between liberal Christianity and progressive Christianity, I’ve referred to what I call the “The 11 Ps of Progressive Christianity“: 
* Postmodern * Passionate * Poetic * Prophetic/Political * Prayerful * Practical/Practice/Praxis/orthoPraxy * Paradoxical * Pro-LGBTQI * Peaceful/Pacifist * Panentheistic * Pluralistic. It is the third of those three that I intend to convey at this time. Over the years I’ve put forth the following assertions:

Finding Home for the Holidays

December 12, 2017 01:00 AM
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The holiday season is a difficult time of year for many.

Too often we see the glitz and glamour that this holiday brings, and we miss its spiritual message. The underlying message in celebrating the season-Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the winter solstice- is the full embrace of human difference and diversity.

I believe if Americans stayed more focused on the message and teachings of this holiday season, many LGBTQ youth and young adults would not have the annual angst of searching for a home for the holidays.

However, LGBTQ people like the Early Christians struggle for full acceptance in society.

A Shift in the Season: One Congregation’s Story

December 12, 2017 01:00 AM
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So here we are, well into Advent, and well into the annual grating of teeth that takes place whenever we are exposed to saccharine Christmas music purring or prancing from over-decorated storefronts and selling everything from the tiniest stocking stuffer to cars. And here we are, back to those lectionary passages that bond themselves to church doctrine that gives many a church leader hives. Or indigestion. The stress of the “high holy days” seeps in. Cue the reverential organ while we light the candles on the Advent wreath – Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Blocking the commercial clatter from our Sunday morning services, we reverently steer our congregations toward the well-worn path that leads past the overbooked inn to a lowly stable and the nativity of our Lord.

Back to the Forties

November 11, 2017 01:00 AM
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Well here we go again, friends, facing another Christmas. The big stores are posting huge advertisements, notifying us of major sales, playing Christmas music and of course wherever you go there is a Santa Clause. It has been that way for a couple of weeks. It seems to me that this phenomenon starts earlier every year. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus would say if he returned today and observed the way we celebrate his so-called birthday. He was born poor, was always poor, and spoke primarily to the poor.

Rescuing Thanksgiving

November 11, 2017 01:00 AM
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The warmth of the house on Thanksgiving day; the comforting aromas of a home-cooked meal; the thankfulness that felt like it filled the air as family gathered, embraced, and shared stories from the past year; all of it was a reflection of my mother to me. It was a celebration of comfort, abundance, gratitude, and love. It was a celebration of family. And mom was the linchpin of the family for us.

Secretly, Thanksgiving was probably my favorite holiday back then. Yes, even more than Christmas. I loved Thanksgiving!

Participating in the Song of Life

November 11, 2017 01:00 AM
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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.”

A New Template for Religion: A Conversation with Michael Morwood, Part 3 – Worship, Prayer, & the Other Side of the Story

November 11, 2017 01:00 AM
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What follows in interview form is the final installment of three columns inspired by a presentation Michael Morwood offered at the Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane, Queensland, in 2016. In this final segment, Morwood offers a new perspective on worship and prayer – along with some concluding thoughts on religion in general and recommendations on a way forward.

Earth, Air, Fire, Water in Struggle with the Evils of our Times

November 11, 2017 01:00 AM
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Last night I returned from a conference in Jamaica about Men and Masculinity—they are dealing with a veritable epidemic of violence among young men and killings of men by men. Not unlike El Salvador and many other places around the globe.

Here at home we have our own violence, much of it also spawned by reptilian brain action/reaction responses, efforts of striving to be “number one” at all costs, buttressed by sins of greed and denial and of patriarchy gone berserk.

Theological Violence toward the Divine Feminine: Praying for an end to Rape Culture

October 10, 2017 01:00 AM
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If you have a Facebook account you are no doubt abundantly aware by now of the “Me too” campaign that has been taking place. It’s a powerful way for women to convey to the world that they have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault at the hands of men. It is quite clear that nearly all women have experienced either of those – some on a daily basis. They’re trying to show us the great extent of this problem by simply posting “Me too.” My initial response was simply this: “I believe you and it’s not OK.”

The Way Home for the Prodigal Species

October 10, 2017 01:00 AM
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Here is a short story. The theme: how human-centeredness alienated us from primary reality (Gᴏᴅ) and how ecology — the interdisciplinary study of the way, the truth, and the life of the living biosphere — can lead us home.

Reformers, All

October 10, 2017 01:00 AM
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We’ve been anticipating the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for some time. Now that the month is upon us, it seems more like a private birthday party than something worthy of global attention. In truth, I suppose it is. With the global number of Reform Tradition Protestants diminishing, the celebration of the dramatic and cataclysmic leave-taking that was our birth seems of little interest to any but those enchanted by the history of such things and the few others taking advantage of the liturgical and party possibilities offered up by the date.

Have Our Mainline Churches Failed Us?

I have been wondering lately, if we are really missing the conscience of our mainline churches in our country. Most of us are aware of the political, social and personal conflicts that are going on in our country right now. And most of us are aware of the sad numbers of our dying churches. I have been wondering if there is a connection.

Dogma and the Perpetuating of a Dead God

September 09, 2017 01:00 AM
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In 1966 the cover of TIME magazine asked the jarring question, “Is God Dead?” It was the first time TIME used only text on it’s cover and the impact only added to the striking question.

“Is God Dead?”

Three simple words that for a brief time created quite a stir throughout the United States. Many angry sermons were delivered in rebuttal. Even Bob Dylan got in on the action in a Playboy interview saying, “If you were God, how would you like to see that written about yourself.” The National Review even asked the question if perhaps it was TIME that was dead.

A New Template for Religion: A Conversation with Michael Morwood, Part 2

September 09, 2017 01:00 AM
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What follows in interview form is the second of three columns inspired by a presentation Michael Morwood offered at the Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane, Queensland, in 2016. In this installment, Morwood offers a new perspective on revelation, a re-visioning of who Jesus was, and continues with thoughts on whether our conventional ideas of religion have any real value anymore.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

September 09, 2017 01:00 AM
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Progressive Christianity intentionally seeks to evolve and adapt with the times so that the faith can continue to be sensible, relevant, and meaningful in the lives of people. As part of this, we tend to believe that Christianity isn’t the “best,” “only,” “right,” and/or “true,” religion or way that God is at work in the world. We honor that the Divine is fully at work in all of the major world religions – and beyond.

If it weren’t for you …

August 08, 2017 01:00 AM
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Much of the work I have been privileged to do over the past thirteen years has been the result of a conversation I had one day with the late Reverend Jim Adams, founder of The Center for Progressive Christianity (now called ProgressiveChristianity.org). If it weren’t for you, much of this would never have happened at all. Think of it as an “It’s a Wonderful Life” contribution!

Some Thoughts on Priesthood in Our Post-modern Times

August 08, 2017 01:00 AM
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This week my brother and sister-in-law are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was reminded that I was ordained a priest the year they were married and that indeed I performed their wedding (my very first). So maybe it is time to offer a few reflections on the meaning of priesthood in our time.

A New Poem, an Invitation, & Thoughts on Religion and the Arts

August 08, 2017 01:00 AM
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As some of you are already aware, I am in the middle of a project retelling early Christian texts as poems, tentatively titled Apocryphal Monologues. Each poem pairs modern-day ethical questions with words from an ancient text, putting them into dialogue with one another. In some cases I am retelling whole texts, such as On the Origin of the World. In others, as in the poem above, I engage with a single episode or saying. Along with miscarriage, the poems so far address nuclear meltdowns, the arms race, rape, abortion, and the feminine as a legitimate expression of the divine. I don’t want the poems to be preachy; I try not to moralize. I’m more interested in asking difficult questions of the texts and demanding emotionally honest answers.

The End of Progressive Christianity?

August 08, 2017 01:00 AM
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As the President of Progressivechristianity.org, and as an occasional writer for this publication, I receive a lot of email from readers. Most of it is helpful. Some of it I admit is not fun to read. Two weeks ago I received a rather rude note from someone who was clearly not a fan of mine or of progressive Christianity. His email had an attachment. The attachment was an article written for Patheos by a Catholic Priest, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “Twelve Reasons Why Progressive Christians Will Die Out”. If you look this up you will discover that this article was written and published back in January 2016. I presume that this man’s intention was not to necessarily share an “informative” article with me but was rather to make the point that our organization is fighting an “impossible mission.”

Why I’m So Political

July 07, 2017 01:00 AM
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It surprises me just a little bit how frequently I get asked about my very visible participation in politics. The truth is while some might assume that as a minister I probably start my day off with prayer and/or a devotion, I start my day with about an hour of reading through the news and scheduling the stories I find the most important or engaging on various social media outlets. Probably the most notable of those outlets is The Christian Left. As you might imagine the name “The Christian Left” provokes plenty of negative responses, everything from “isn’t that an oxymoron” to “they call the organization that because all the REAL Christians have LEFT it.”

What does it mean to speak of God’s reign?

July 07, 2017 01:00 AM
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One of the most characteristic features of Rabbi Jesus’ teaching is his experience of the reign of God as present here and now. This manifestation of God’s reign is not a reality to be feared, but as we hear in the synoptic gospels, is to be received as “good news.” But why? What are some of the qualities of the reign of God that tell of its goodness in our lives? And what does it even mean to speak of “God’s reign” in the 21st century within a culture in which kingdoms and monarchs do not exist, and resonate within our imagination and lives as antiquated and oppressive?

A New Template for Religion: A Conversation with Michael Morwood: Part 1

July 07, 2017 01:00 AM
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Most 21st century Christians have grown up indoctrinated by a conventional religious experience that offers the assurance of having all the answers tied up in a little bow, just for the believing. Many still find this to be comforting, but a growing number are antsy. On the verge of becoming what Bishop Spong calls “church alumni/ae,” they know too much. Archaeology, astrophysics, and any number of other scientific disciplines continue to make discoveries that compel us to re-evaluate our true place in the universe – and we are right to be feeling increasingly humble.

Time for a New Spiritual (not Religious) Order?

July 07, 2017 01:00 AM
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Speaking of a need for a Reformation makes me question whether the time has arrived for a new religious order that is in fact not tied to a particular religion but is a Spiritual Order, one that might help people of various religious faiths and none to gather around a common value and focus. I think our times call for a focus on the sacredness of the Earth and all her creatures. Therefore I propose a new order called “The Order of the Sacred Earth.” Its members may come from any and all life-styles, married, single, celibate, gay, straight and from any and all occupations so long as their work mirrored the values of honoring and supporting the Earth and her creatures. Blue collar and white collar workers would be welcomed. People of all religious traditions and none would be welcome.

Making Friends with Silence

June 06, 2017 01:00 AM
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Most of my attempts to connect and relate to God – involve silence.

And most frequently, not much more than that.

I sometimes wonder if there’s really much difference between seeking to connect to God – and not seeking to. Similar experience and results.

The Little Denomination that Could Have

June 06, 2017 01:00 AM
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It’s been four years since I decided to publicly identify as an atheist. After the manner of time’s calming influence upon things about which we were once so passionate, my perspective on the wisdom of the decision has altered. And as we so often do, I revisit that decision from time to time and wonder if, given the opportunity to relive those days, I would make it again.

Land, Family, Failure, Prayer: Reflecting on Wendell Berry’s Farmers’ Manifesto

June 06, 2017 01:00 AM
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June is planting season in Idaho. One can drive along rural highways past fields of corn shoots followed by the satisfyingly dark green foliage of mounded potato starts, fresh mint, and sugar beets. Small-scale and industrial farmers alike rush against the short growing season of the high desert to get plants into the ground after the last frost but before the July heat can kill the tender seedlings. This is the time of year I can’t help but recall Wendell Berry’s wonderful poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” Now, I could have long conversations with Berry about some of his less appealing notions, but this poem speaks in a wonderfully anti-imperial, Christian voice that I can embrace. Here is how it begins, in an ironic tone:

Are We Modern Yet?

June 06, 2017 01:00 AM
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About ten years ago, I attended a two day conference that garnered a lot of anticipation and excitement about the topics, which were: a new way of communicating our religious beliefs and the discussion of postmodern theology. Near the end of the conference, I was ready for it to be over. It had been a good conference. The keynote speakers were well respected and leaders in their fields. But I was done.

Trinity Schminity

From “extreme monotheism” to “homoousion” to “partialism” to “modalism,” Christianity has a wide and wild variety of understandings of the theory of the Trinity. Frankly, that reality should not be too surprising. After all, the Trinity is in fact a theory and it is a theory that one must be fairly creative with to fit into all the necessary theological perquisites it comes burdened with. That is not to say it is too convoluted to have meaning, but I certainly don’t bestow upon it the meaning that most mainline theologies would like for it to hold.

Holy Wisdom

Over these past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting anew on what it means to be a wise person. This is due in part because in the congregations I serve, we describe the spiritual journey of Holy Week as “The Wisdom Way of Christ,” exploring the stories and experiencing the reformed liturgies as a holy path for 21st century seekers. As human beings, we long for wisdom and it is extolled in poetry, song, and art. But what is wisdom, particularly in the spiritual tradition and how does it differ from what we might describe as the “wisdom of the world”?

Marking the 100th Anniversary of Fundamentalism in America by Bullying Religious Minorities

May 05, 2017 01:00 AM
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Right after Easter in 2015, I arrived at church as a fellow staff member was going out the door saying, “I’m going to get a picture of one of the banners.” “What banners?!” I’d come in the back way to town and hadn’t seen that down the main street of Fountain Hills, eight churches had posted large identical banners overnight: “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction?”

Earth Day 2017: The Return of Healthy Religion?

May 05, 2017 01:00 AM
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There is such a thing as “fake news”; and “fake science;” and there is also, we must make clear, such a thing as “fake religion” and certainly of “fake Christianity.” I would maintain that all those persons and institutions political and corporate that are in purposeful denial about climate change are in direct contradiction to everything Jesus taught and tried to teach.

Is Jesus the Only Way?

April 04, 2017 01:00 AM
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As a progressive Christian pastor and author I frequently receive critical pushback from conservative and fundamentalist Christians who adamantly declare that the only way to experience salvation is by giving intellectual assent to certain specific truth claims about the life of Jesus. Scratch that, they don’t generally care about his life, their focus is primarily upon Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Their message boils down to “Unless you believe that Jesus died for your sins and that he physically rose from the grave, you are a heretic, and will go to hell when you die.”

The Season of Relief

April 04, 2017 01:00 AM
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The calendars we give and receive as Christmas gifts – Sudoku-a-Day desk tear-offs, or expensive, hang-on-the-wall art photography – don’t pay much heed to the Christian calendar aside from noting its two largest festivals – Christmas and Easter – and helping retailers take advantage of a few minor ones – Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, and Hallowe’en. Denominational church calendars fill in more of the blanks, but we all know that the year we follow starts on the first of January, a bleak and dreary date in the northern hemisphere and a riot of colour and beauty in the southern. I don’t know anyone who hangs up a calendar that starts the first day of Advent and marks their year in the way Christians once did long ago. Of course, I don’t know any monks. Perhaps they do.

Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kinder

April 04, 2017 01:00 AM
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After a hard winter for many of us, of deep snows and lost loves, in this holy week commemorating death and resurrection, the cherries and pears and plums are blossoming and our thoughts are opening with them. What are we also becoming? In Chapter 4 of the Dhammapada, “Flowers,” the Buddha is said to have offered this teaching:

“Hopey-Changey”

March 03, 2017 01:00 AM
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Churches are dying at an alarming rate. Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors for good and more than 2,765,000 people leave the church each year.

Yet we, the Church, insist on doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting different results. When confronted with change we tend to insist that “it has always been done that way,” as if history is an acceptable excuse for continuing down our path to demise.

Bishop Spong’s Newsletter

March 03, 2017 01:00 AM
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Good morning friends. I am the Board President of ProgressiveChristianity.org and have held that position for over 12 years. Our organization has been the publishers of the Bishop Spong’s newsletters and the owners of the John Shelby Spong website for nearly five years now. The website is titled, A New Christianity for a New World. I hope you all avail yourself to this treasure of fascinating and interesting articles by Bishop Spong that go back almost 20 years. As subscribers you have access to these absolutely wonderful writings of one of the best authors of our time. If you have trouble accessing these nearly two thousand articles by Bishop Spong please contact our office and we will help you. This morning, however, I want to share with you some of the things we are doing with your subscriptions newsletter.

Becoming the Fullness of Who We Already Are – A Reforming Vision of Christic At-One-Ment

Throughout his poignant and moving book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”, the Vancouver physician, Gabor Maté, offers heartrending accounts of the existential devastation wrought on the fabric of our personal being by the effects of addiction. One particularly graphic description strikes at the core of the human struggle.

How to Repeal and Replace Christianity’s Addiction to “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts” #tremendous #huge

Bishop Spong’s reputation for expressing unapologetic, sometimes blunt, theological opinions is long-established. While some have accused him of being overbearing or egotistical, others have depended on him for a firm defense of a particular spot on the theological spectrum.

Reflections on my Interactions with Bishop Spong

I first learned of Bishop Spong’s prophetic work and his work with the Jesus seminar over 34 years ago while I was still a Dominican priest working in the Chicago area. To hear of an Episcopal bishop who was approaching the Scriptures with a critical sense of questioning and scholarship and who was supporting gay rights and women’s rights was, needless to say, a breath of fresh air. When Bishop Spong invited me out to Newark to lead a day retreat with his clergy I was pleased to be invited and I recall my opening line to him when I entered his car at the airport: “We heretics need to stick together,” I said. I don’t recall his demurring in any way. Following my day-long presentation (which included circle dancing and I was pleased to see a Bishop participating in such), Bishop Spong said to me: “Usually people leave at lunch time as they are allowed to do but this day was so exciting everyone stayed until the end.”

Putting the Shark Back in the Ocean: Restoring the Sacred. Reclaiming Jesus. Reforming the Church.

Bluntly speaking, American Christianity has jumped the shark.* It has been co-opted, hijacked, and derailed.

There are exceptions, but for the most part, the way of following Jesus in the U.S. has become reduced to an overly personalized, private state of mind that involves individuals giving intellectual assent to certain truth claims – believing X, Y, and Z about Jesus and God – instead of a state of mind and a collective way of being that is about becoming less anxious, more serene, more mindful, and more composed and intentional in our actions and way of being. This American form of Christianity still involves living in fear instead of living in faith.

Take Care of Number One

February 02, 2017 01:00 AM
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I know. You think you’ve opened the wrong email or caught a link to the wrong page. This must be from Mind, Body, Green, or A Daily Dose of Motivation. Maybe you’re signed up to Les Brown’s email list and are used to getting motivational encouragement just like this every day.

But this isn’t that. This is what you were looking for. I promise.

Japan’s 18th-Century Pioneer of Historical Consciousness

February 02, 2017 01:00 AM
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Martin Scorsese recently released a film adaptation of the 1966 novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo that traces the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan. As a long-time admirer and friend of the Japanese people, I am understandably nervous about how this new film will affect Western perceptions of a country I hold dear, so I looked into the history of religious persecution in Japan to help put the film in context. Ironically, the best book I found on the subject wasn’t on Christianity at all, but on Buddhism: Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and Its Persecution by James Edward Ketelaar.

More Than Words: A Thank You and Introduction

January 01, 2017 01:00 AM
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It’s interesting, I love reading Spong now for the exact opposite reason I first loved reading Spong.

Let me explain.

I’ve been a devout Christian my entire life. From the somewhat conservative thinking Greystone Baptist Church of my childhood to the progressive thinking Presbyterian Church of the Covenant where I currently serve as Interim minister I have never lost my “soul deep” belief in God.

Jack Spong – A Teacher Whose Words Offer Life

January 01, 2017 01:00 AM
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Even before our children were born, my wife, Rïse, and I, like many a parent, sang and read to our children. Later, nestled between us in bed and then resting upon our laps, they listened intently as we read about rabbits, moons, gardens, fingers, toes and smiles. Bit by bit, these little beings began to imitate us, holding the book precariously in tiny hands; looking first at the pages and next at the words as if reading, and eventually, eagerly, albeit clumsily, turning the book’s leaf. And then one day it happened, as if by magic – they themselves were reading. They had taught themselves to learn how to read. Such pride in their newly discovered competence. And the truly magic sojourn into the land of truth had begun in earnest. They were experiencing the exhilarating freedom of moving beyond the two-dimensional landscape of imitation into the endless world of exploration, made possible by following the Spirit’s invitation to learn how to learn. Imitation is a fine and necessary beginning, but as an ending it is claustrophobic, and stultifying as death.

A Letter from Bishop Spong

January 01, 2017 01:00 AM
by / Topics: Open Letters / 15 Comments »

As you may have heard, while visiting in Marquette, Michigan I suffered a stroke. The date was September 10th. Since that time I have worked hard to regain my strength. I have been quite successful in that and now have no trouble walking or using my arms. It has been a learning experience. Health is a major demand of my life. I still use my running track each day for about three miles, so I feel most fortunate. The book I was writing on “Charting a New Reformation” will meet its deadline and be at Harper by the due date, the first of March, 2017. I entertained returning to my column, but as the time goes by I no longer have the strength to keep up that schedule, so I have informed Fred Plumer of ProgressiveChristianity.org that I will not be able to return to that task. I write to notify you, my readers, and to enable Fred to begin the process to choose a successor.

The Ultimate Source of Anti-Semitism – The Circumstances That Brought Judas Into the Jesus Story

January 01, 2017 01:00 AM
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I return today to a subject that I have covered before. It is essential however, to this series on the sources of anti-Semitism, so I ask my reader’s indulgence while I once again bring Judas into focus. My request to you is a simple one. Suspend for a moment your critical faculties, as well as […]

May our world learn to see the infinite shades between black and white.

December 12, 2016 01:00 AM
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Evolution shaped our brains to take shortcuts. Our senses relay to the brain a ceaseless, torrential downpour of stimulus and information, and so our neurons team up to sort and sift this stream into higher-order abstractions–mainly categorizations in the form of either/or classifications.

The Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the Earth (Originally posted August 2003)

December 12, 2016 01:00 AM
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Christians have never been significantly committed to the preservation of our common environment. Ecological concerns are present in Church life, but they never quite make it to the top tier of the issues that consume ecclesiastical energy. That is usually reserved for theological and sexual concerns. To be fair, each denomination probably includes some environmental […]

I, and many others, stand upon Bishop Spong’s shoulders

December 12, 2016 01:00 AM
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It’s accurately said that “we stand on the shoulders of giants” and John Shelby Spong is one of mine. Bishop Spong has been a tremendous influence on my life as a pastor who is also a theologian and writer. Though we’re not of the same denomination, we are birds of a feather and kindred spirits. We share similar vocational callings. We give a damn about Christianity and its capacity to serve as a source of healing and prophetic transformation in a world that sorely needs those things. And, we care enough about the lineage we’re part of to critique the hell out of it – literally – to help separate the wheat from the chaff in ways that help the faith to be relevant and meaningful in this new millennium.

The Common Roots of Hanukkah and Christmas (Originally Posted December 2003)

December 12, 2016 01:00 AM
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Religious people frequently assert that they have received their truth by divine revelation. It is a strange assertion, leading almost inevitably to the power claim that there is a single “true church” or religious system that alone offers salvation. It also produces such irrational doctrines as papal infallibility and scriptural inerrancy. A study of religious […]

Jesus’ call is for us to be whole and real, not religious; loving, not moral and righteous…

December 12, 2016 01:00 AM
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Dear Jack,

When I learned of your stroke in September, I was en route to the fourth Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane, Queensland. Having no details at that point and being a half-a-planet away, I was anxious about having to endure the uncertainty of this news on my own. I needn’t have worried, though. As it turns out, I couldn’t have found myself in a more supportive and equally concerned crowd anywhere in the world

A New Christianity, a New Prayer Bishop Spong Style

November 11, 2016 01:00 AM
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“My goal in life is to pray without ceasing”.
Bishop John Shelby Spong

In his book A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How A New Faith is Being Born, Bishop Spong addresses multiple issues worthy of further consideration especially because the coming year 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Spong is rightly calling for a Reformation today.(1) I suppose it is worth mentioning that I have been doing the same as in my book A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity which contains the 95 theses that I pounded at Luther’s church in Wittenberg at Pentecost season in 2006 in response to Cardinal Ratzinger making himself pope, a practice I repeated five years later at Cardinal Law’s Basilica of Maria Maggiore in Rome on a Sunday morning in protest of his cover-up for pedophile clergy in his previous assignment as archbishop of Boston.

Does the Religious Faith of a Supreme Court Justice Matter?

November 11, 2016 01:00 AM
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In President Obama’s recent nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the ninth justice on the Supreme Court, a new reality forced its way into our consciousness. With the resignation of Justices David Souter in 2009 and John Paul Stevens in 2010, the last representatives of Protestant Christianity — by far the largest religious […]

Prejudice: An American Reality and an American Tragedy

November 11, 2016 01:00 AM
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It is time that we as a nation stop pretending and face the facts as they are. The evidence is overwhelming. Despite concentrated efforts to perfume intolerance under code words like “states’ rights,” “voter fraud,” “conservative values” and even “religious freedom,” this country is still caught in a web of ancient prejudices. In our public […]

Selling the Story

November 11, 2016 01:00 AM
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Attila the None – The headlines are pretty clear. Both Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute have told us that people, especially young people, aren’t so much avoiding church as not even thinking it is relevant. In this American election year, those who identify as the Nones – people who state on census forms that they have no religious affiliation – have been declared the largest “religious” voting bloc in the country. Those seated in the pews of mainline, Protestant America can no longer assume they have the strong political voice they once did.

Hospitality between I and Thou, A Meditation on Bishop Spong’s Thesis #9: Ethics

October 10, 2016 01:00 AM
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I need to speak candidly with you about hospitality, perhaps the most iconic of Christian values and one of the easiest to go on attributing to the historical Jesus in spite of how much else has been stripped away from his biography. We need to discuss this because of the scary things people have been saying about refugees, about Black men, about what can be done to women. Because of the people who are bleeding in the streets.

Bishop Spong and My Painting

October 10, 2016 01:00 AM
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I am really not comfortable writing this article. There is a sense I am writing an obituary and nothing could be further from the truth. Bishop Spong is a beloved friend and he is apparently doing well in his recovery. I suppose I am a little nervous knowing that he will be reading what I write and we already have a history about this. For those who do not know, I am the President of ProgressiveChristianity.org. and we have been publishing Bishop Spong’s weekly articles for over six years now. About a two years ago I had dropped him a line indicating that his contract was running out and wondered what his plans were. Be assured, I wanted him to extend the contract but we needed to know. I do not remember exactly what I wrote but I may have written something like, “Jack, I know you are approaching your 85th birthday, but thought we should get this cleared up.”

Responding to Bishop Spong’s 12 Principles and the Future of Religion

October 10, 2016 01:00 AM
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Responding to Bishop Spong’s 12 Principles and the Future of Religion
Essay by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 6 October 2016 18 Comments
0

Dear Faithful Readers: Bishop Spong is now home in New Jersey and continues to recuperate from his stroke. Until he is back to his writing we will continue to publish Weekly Essays, some from his treasure trove of past essays and some from guest authors. This week we are pleased to offer you this article from the Rev. Matthew Fox. Responding to Bishop Spong’s 12 Principles and the Future of Religion

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXVII – Thesis #11, Life After Death (continued), Survival is the Essence of Life

It was in the Amazon rain forest that I first discovered just how deeply survival dominates every living thing. Sunlight and water are the prizes which guarantee the survival of plant life. So in that rain forest I saw vines that would snake across the forest floor until they came to the darkest part of […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXVI – Thesis #11, Life After Death

“The traditional understanding of life after death in Western Christianity was created on the premise of human uniqueness. Human beings were understood to be a special creation, made in the image of God, and endowed with an eternal soul. That perspective has not only been challenged, but destroyed by modern scholarship. Charles Darwin showed us […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXV – Thesis #10, Prayer (concluded)

Before prayer can be made real our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. Before prayer can have meaning, it must be built on an honest sharing of life. Cornelia, the woman about whom I wrote last week, did that for me. Before prayer can be […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXIV – Thesis #10, Prayer (continued), Prayer is Being not Doing

Prayer does not bring a theistic God to our aid. It does not protect us from danger, sickness or death. Life confronts us with the truth of that reality time after time. What then is prayer? Is it anything more than pious smoke and mirrors? I think it is, but before I could see that […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXIII – Thesis #10, Prayer

“Prayer, understood as a request made to an external, theistic deity, to act in human history, is little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into the service of the human. Most of our prayer definitions arise out of the past and are thus dependent on an understanding of God that no longer […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXII– The Ninth Thesis, Ethics (concluded)

One of my favorite phrases, “Time makes ancient good uncouth,” comes from the poet, James Russell Lowell. No words capture for me quite so well the plight of ancient codes of law like the Ten Commandments. We still, however, have to make decisions in a complex world. How are we to do that? In this […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXXI– The Ninth Thesis, Ethics (continued)

Let me review the path we have walked thus far. We have exploded the myth found in the idea that the Ten Commandments or any other ancient code of law has been, or was dictated by God. This insight also proclaims that our laws always arise out of the common experience of the people. We […]

The Unlikely Honored Guest at the Democratic National Convention

August 08, 2016 01:00 AM
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He was seated in the VIP box at the Democratic National Convention, held during the last week of July, 2016, in Philadelphia. He was surrounded in that reserved and exclusive seating area by the power-elite of the Democratic Party: A former President, the sitting Vice-President and the “second lady,” the spouses and children of the […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXX – The Ninth Thesis, Ethics (continued)

We have thus far relativized the mythical claims made for the code by which the people of Israel claimed to live, by noting that even the Bible reveals confusion about the source of the Ten Commandments. These laws clearly grew out of the common life of the people over a long period of time. They […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIX – The Ninth Thesis, Ethics (continued)

One of the ways the demise of yesterday’s religious power can be determined is to notice that things, once held to be ultimately sacred, now appear in jokes that cause people not only to laugh, but also to deal with the loss of the security of yesterday’s religious symbols at the same time. When James […]

ELIE WIESEL 1928-2016 R.I.P.

July 07, 2016 01:00 AM
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He changed the conscience of the entire world, yet he never held a public office. Even Nelson Mandela, perhaps the only other 20th century figure to move the world as deeply as Elie Wiesel did, finally achieved political power and served as the president of his nation, newly born out of intense racial strife. Wiesel […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVIII – The Ninth Thesis, Ethics

“The ability to define and separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even to later interpretations of the Ten Commandments like the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the arena in which life-affirming moral principles are forced […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVII – The Eighth Thesis, The Ascension of Jesus (continued)

The gospels of Mark and Matthew were composed while the Christian movement was still part of the synagogue. The gospel of Luke may well have been written after the fracture that caused the Christians to be expelled from the synagogue, but because Luke based his gospel largely on the gospel of Mark, his work still […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVI – The Eighth Thesis, The Ascension of Jesus

“The Biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed in intellectual circles some 500 years ago. If Jesus’ ascension must be regarded as a literal event that occurred in history, it is now beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or believe it.”   The late Carl […]

Addressing the National Conference of the American Humanist Association

They gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Chicago, some 500 delegates strong. They came from all across the United States and abroad with the Netherlands, in particular, being well represented. By and large they were a well-educated group made up largely of professional people: doctors, lawyers, business leaders and academics. Their single most […]

On Celebrating my 40th Anniversary of Being the Bishop of Newark

It had the nature of a tribal gathering, or perhaps of “old-timers day” at Yankee Stadium. People came from across the nation and throughout the Diocese of Newark, which encompasses the Jersey suburbs of New York City, stretching from the Hudson River to the Delaware Water Gap. Clergy and people, who served so many years […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (concluded)

Paul was the first, perhaps he was also the most important, but he was not the only witness to the resurrection of Jesus in the biblical narrative. To complete our story and to validate anew a different concept of resurrection, we turn briefly to the other narratives. Be warned, surprises await us even there. Mark, […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (continued)

Last week, we explored the Pauline corpus of the New Testament in order to learn what Paul meant when he wrote that “God raised Jesus” to the “right hand of God.” This was the concept for which Paul used the word “resurrection.” It is quite a different concept from what this word has come to […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIII – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection

“The Easter event gave birth to the Christian Movement and continues to transform it. That does not mean, however, that Easter was the resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” The reality of the experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXII – The Sixth Thesis, Atonement Theology (continued)

Everywhere one looks in the Christian religion, one discovers the mentality of “Atonement Theology.” In the church a fetish has developed about the “cleansing power of the blood of Jesus” and its inherent ability to wash away our sins. Protestants apparently want to bathe in the blood of Christ so they sing hymns about fountains […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XXI – The Sixth Thesis, Atonement Theology

“Atonement Theology, especially in its most bizarre form, which we call ‘substitutionary atonement,’ presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and fills human beings with little more than life–destroying guilt. The phrase, ‘Jesus died for my sins,’ is thus not just dangerous, it is also theologically absurd.” We […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XX – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (concluded)

The nature miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospel tradition were not supernatural events that marked his life as divine. They were rather Moses stories interpretively wrapped around Jesus to proclaim that the God who was present in Moses was even more powerfully present in Jesus, the messiah. The stories in the synoptic gospels (Mark, […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XIX – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (continued)

“In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order performed by either the eternal God or the “Incarnate Jesus” are simply not a viable explanation of what actually happened.” We have noted earlier that originally miracles did not appear to have been connected with the memory of Jesus. The first book to portray Jesus […]

Charting A New Reformation, Part XVIII – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (continued)

Following the Exodus, Moses’ miraculous power was never again so powerfully displayed in the biblical story, but it did not disappear. In a battle against the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-14) when Moses held his hands up, the Hebrew army won the day, but when fatigue forced him to lower his arms, his enemies prevailed. This problem […]

Charting A New Reformation, Part XVII – The Fifth Thesis

“The Miracles Stories of the Old Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an Incarnate Deity.” I wonder how many of my readers are aware of the fact that miracles do not enter the Jesus tradition until the 8th decade. Paul, who wrote between the years 51 […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part XVI – The Fourth Thesis: The Virgin Birth (continued)

In all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth. That is surely the assumption made in Mark, the first gospel to be written. The names of both of his parents do not appear to be historically known. The name Mary is first mentioned only in the eighth decade in Mark. All of the biographical details of […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XV –The Fourth Thesis: The Virgin Birth, Understood as Literal History, Makes Christ’s Deity, as Traditionally Understood, Impossible!

Almost all of us, at one time or another, have participated in a Christmas pageant. We have been angels or shepherds, wise men or Joseph, the Virgin Mary or even one of the animals located around the stable – a camel, a sheep, a lamb or a cow. At one point early in my ministry, […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part XIV – The Third Thesis: “Original Sin” Pre-Darwinian Mythology – Post Darwinian Nonsense (Continued)

It was Charles Darwin, who was the primary voice sounding the death knell on Atonement theology. Darwin’s work did not just attack the literal details of the Bible’s creation story. That was but his first perceived target. By the clever scheme of suggesting that each of the seven days in the creation story might well […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XIII – The Third Thesis: “Original Sin” Pre-Darwinian Mythology: Post Darwinian Nonsense (Continued)

The perfection of God’s world was described again and again in the text of this Genesis story. We read in Genesis 2 that the world was a fertile garden, but it lay fallow without a person to till it. To overcome this problem, Adam was created. Then we are told that “every tree that was […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XII – The Third Thesis: Original Sin “Pre-Darwinian Mythology – Post-Darwinian Nonsense” (continued)

In the fourth century of this Common Era, when the creeds of the Christian Church were being formed, people reading the Christian Bible assumed that it was “the inerrant word of God.” They were certain that God was the author and that the Bible could not, therefore, be wrong. They also had no sense of […]

The Sources of Political Gridlock and Anger

March 03, 2016 01:00 AM
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It has been a very unconventional political primary season. In the last three weeks two public debates sank to what seem to me to be new lows in presidential politics. In the first of these debates three of the candidates called other candidates for the same office “liars” on fifty-two occasions in that single debate. […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part XI –The Third Thesis: Original Sin – The Myth of the Fall

“The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings have fallen into “original sin” is pre-Darwinian mythology and pre-Darwinian non-sense.” If one were to look at recent Christian history, one would discover that most of the ecclesiastical energy over the past 150 years has been employed against two perceived major enemies. The […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part X – The Second Thesis: Jesus the Christ

“If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms, then conceiving of Jesus as ‘the incarnation of the theistic deity’ has also become a bankrupt concept.” Some years ago in conversation with the Dean of a theological seminary, he made what he surely thought was a safe assertion: “I base my faith on […]

The Anglican Communion R.I.P.

February 02, 2016 01:00 AM
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It was an historical illusion anyway, a cherished and romantic notion practiced in all kinds of theoretical venues. The idea that the lands that once constituted the British Empire would all have a single faith tradition was always little more than a lovely bit of pious propaganda. History has recorded the fact that wherever the […]

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

February 02, 2016 01:00 AM
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The Book has Arrived! It has happened in my life twenty-five times before. It seems that one might get used to it after a while. That is not, however, how the emotional patterns work in the life of an author. The moment of the book’s birth is always accompanied by anxiety; sometimes even reaching the […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part IX – An Evolving God inside an Evolving Christianity

January 01, 2016 01:00 AM
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Today, I conclude the discussion of the first of my twelve theses posted on the internet in my hope to “Chart a New Reformation.” I began with the crucial task of reimagining God, which is foundational in all religious thinking. I have struggled to be careful with the way I use words. I have sought […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part VIII – God –“Not a Being but Being Itself” (Cont.)

It was a 6th century Greek philosopher named Xenophanes who wrote: “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.” Xenophanes was pointing to the reality, which all of us face when we try to speak of or to conceptualize that which we acknowledge as the ultimate reality, or what theologian Paul Tillich referred to […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part VII – Re-Imagining God: Not a being, but Being-A Place to Begin

January 01, 2016 01:51 AM
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In the light of our expanded knowledge, God, understood theistically, turned out to be our own creation in which we human beings tried to fit God into words that met our needs. We were seeking to describe our experience of the ultimate, but we had only human words and human concepts with which to do […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part VI – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: The Impact of Freud

January 01, 2016 01:00 AM
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First there was the revolution in astrophysics led by Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. In that revolution, the comfortable assumption that God lived just above the sky, watching over us, recording our deeds and misdeeds in the book of life and ready to intervene on our behalf when needed, was challenged. The result was not only […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part V – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin

December 12, 2015 01:00 AM
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In the growth in knowledge about the shape and size of the universe, God was dislodged from the realm we called heaven and in that process God was rendered homeless. As the growth of knowledge continued, all of the things that we once attributed to this theistic definition of God began to be explained with […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part IV – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: The Copernican Revolution

December 12, 2015 01:04 AM
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The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history. As a direct result of these changes, the primary way that we human beings have conceptualized God has gradually become discredited. […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part III – The Twelve Theses

December 12, 2015 01:00 AM
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“Time makes ancient good uncouth.” The poet, James Russell Lowell, who wrote these words, understood the difference between an experience and the way that experience is explained. So important is this distinction for our later theological work that I want to press it onto the memories of my readers with two rather commonplace illustrations. First, […]

Charting the New Reformation, Part II – The Burning Necessity

The Bible is not the “word of God!” It never has been. No one who has ever read the Bible in its entirety could possibly defend that suggestion. This bizarre and irrational idea was rather imposed upon this ancient text long after its books had been written, collected and bound together as a single volume. […]

Charting a New Reformation, Part I – The Background

December 12, 2015 01:00 AM
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On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a solitary monk named Martin Luther approached the great doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on which he planned to post a document entitled The Dispute over the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences. History has renamed it “The 95 Theses.” It was designed to call […]

On the Separation of Church and State

November 11, 2015 01:00 AM
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(Publisher’s note: On November 9th 2015, in Washington, D. C. the national organization known as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, held its annual meeting. Our columnist, John Shelby Spong, delivered the keynote address to this conference. During the business session, by vote of their board of directors, Bishop Spong was presented […]

France, November 2015, the Struggle to be Human

November 11, 2015 01:00 AM
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The plan appears to have been carried out by a group of eight people, three of whom were brothers. The attack seems to have been developed in Belgium in a community known as Molenbeek. At least one of the perpetrators appears to have entered Europe in the tide of refugees fleeing the ravages of the […]

Re-Creating Easter VIII: Conclusion – Easter Dawns

November 11, 2015 01:00 AM
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Something happened! Lives were changed. God was redefined. Liturgies were reshaped. New holy days were born. Whatever Easter was, it constituted a transformative moment. It is easy to understand, given the enormity of these changes, how legends would develop to explain the power of the experience. People have a need to explain what has re-oriented […]

Re-Creating Easter VII: The Internal Process

November 11, 2015 01:00 AM
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Peter had so clearly wanted to be loyal to Jesus following his arrest. The story is told that he tried to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Peter had given Jesus his word that even if all others deserted him, he would be there with him; so he tried. This journey into […]

Re-Creating Easter VI: The Dawning of the Resurrection

October 10, 2015 01:00 AM
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We have now explored our sources, looking where we could beneath the literal words of the biblical texts. We have come to four conclusions. First, whatever the Easter moment was Peter appears to be the person who stood at the center of it. He was the first to “see” or to embrace this new reality. […]

Re-Creating Easter V: How did Easter Dawn? What was the Context?

October 10, 2015 01:00 AM
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We are told, but only in Luke’s gospel, that when Cleopas and his traveling companion returned from Emmaus to Jerusalem to share their experience of the risen Christ with the disciples, they used these provocative words: “He was made known to us in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). These interpretive words, written some […]

Re-Creating Easter IV When? The Question of Time

October 10, 2015 01:00 AM
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Life-changing “revelations” may well be timeless, but the one receiving these revelations is always bound in time. These insights invade time at a particular moment. We seek now to discover just when it was that the meaning of Easter first broke into human consciousness. The original Easter story provides us with some time references but, […]

Re-Creating Easter III: Where? The Location in which Easter Dawned

October 10, 2015 01:01 AM
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Revelation and insight do not occur in a vacuum. They always come through a person. They have the effect of expanding the being of the recipient by opening his or her eyes to a dimension of reality always present, but usually unperceived. They are not supernatural happenings, but are, as Paul Tillich says, “depth experiences […]

An Open Letter To the Moderator of the United Church of Canada: The Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell

October 10, 2015 01:00 AM
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Dear Moderator Cantwell, I write with some alarm at what is happening in the United Church of Canada, a church that I have long admired. I recall your history. Your church decided that women were not to be excluded from ordination long before the first woman ever applied. In 1988 your church proclaimed that homosexual […]

Re-Creating Easter II: Who Stood in the Center of the Easter Moment?

September 09, 2015 01:00 AM
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Who was the person who stood in the center of the most dramatic moment in Christian history, the experience we call Easter? Who was it who first saw the meaning of Jesus as the one who transcended all human limits and barriers, including finitude? Who was it who opened the eyes of others to see […]

Re-Creating Easter Part I: The Background

September 09, 2015 01:00 AM
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It was the noted author Jim Bishop, more than a generation ago, who first created a series of books that chronicled the minute-by-minute narratives of what turned out to be crucial events in world history. One thinks of such titles as The Day Lincoln Was Shot or The Day Christ Died. Later, Fox News commentator […]

A Wedding that Changed a Community

September 09, 2015 01:00 AM
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The couple stood holding hands before the altar where they would soon take their vows to “love, honor and cherish” each other forever. The congregation was in place ready to witness these vows and filling almost every seat. The organist was playing the music associated with “Holy Matrimony.” Everything was ready. This much anticipated event […]

Windsor, England – A Confrontation Over the Meaning of Resurrection

September 09, 2015 01:00 AM
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On one stop near the end of my lecture tour of Europe during this summer, I confronted a person whose question drove me back to the series I had been developing in this column about what the Bible actually says about the resurrection of Jesus. It thus helped me to re-orient myself to the discussion […]

Engaging the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland

August 08, 2015 01:00 AM
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“Resurrection-Denying Preacher to Return to Scotland.” That was the headline of a story published in the Glasgow Herald about a week before I was scheduled to lecture in the Cairns Church in Milngavie, a constituent member of the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Senior Pastor of that church, the Rev. Andrew Frater, together with […]

Paris in the Spring – Part II, The Book Launch

August 08, 2015 01:00 AM
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We continue today the chronicle of how my books came to be published in French. In Part I, I described how the translator and the publisher came together. Today I want to look at what happened after that connection was made. With the help of stories in magazines such as Evangele & Liberte and Le […]

Paris in the Late Spring: Part I, A Publication

August 08, 2015 01:00 AM
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Imagine waking up on your birthday in Paris, France. It is mid-June, the air is fresh, and the sun is warm. You can smell the croissants baking. You are in the company of your wife, the person with whom you share your life so completely and with whom you are still deeply in love. That […]

Understanding Ireland’s Vote Approving Same-Sex Marriage

August 08, 2015 01:00 AM
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Her name is Muriel. She is the 86 year-old widow of an Irish farmer living near the city of Kilkenny in the southern part of the Irish Republic. She is the mother of seven children, six sons and one daughter. Her youngest son, Peter, now runs the family’s cattle farm, making this family’s economic life […]

Thoughts on Baptizing Chapman Thomas Brinegar

July 07, 2015 01:00 AM
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This past summer in a lovely chapel quite literally on the coast of Maine, I had the pleasure of baptizing Chapman Thomas Brinegar. A baptism is something I hardly ever do as a bishop, but this baby was the son of very close friends, making my participation in it possible. I used the baptismal liturgy […]

Resurrection: Pious Dream or Reality? Part XI, Conclusion

July 07, 2015 01:00 AM
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In this column, I turn to the Fourth Gospel to complete our journey through the New Testament. Our purpose has been to see what the New Testament really says about the resurrection of Jesus. When we examine the biblical texts in a thorough manner, we discover, sometimes to our astonishment, that what the Bible actually […]

The Charleston Murders: The Final Battle in the Civil War?

July 07, 2015 01:03 AM
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It was a brutal murder of nine people in an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The victims, including their pastor, who was also a member of the South Carolina State Senate, were gunned down by a racist killer who wrapped himself in the symbols and rhetoric of the Confederacy. This was not America’s first […]

Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part X The Story of the Ascension

July 07, 2015 01:00 AM
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“Ideas Have Consequences.” That was the title of a book that I was required to read early in my theological education. It was not a profound book, but its title was memorable. We speak today about how certain decisions often produce what we call “unintended consequences.” The world of politics is filled with illustrations of […]

An Open Letter to My Readers

This week, my column takes the form of a letter to my readers. It is an unusual format, but it speaks to the unusual occurrences in our nation this past week. I hope you will read it. I hope you will respond to it. JSS Dear Friends, I am just back from a lecture tour […]

Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream, Part IX Luke: Physical, Non-Physical or Both?

June 06, 2015 01:00 AM
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Today, I want to focus on the ambiguity found in the conflicting aspects of Luke’s two resurrection stories in more detail and in more depth. It will help us to see why Luke had to develop a brand new dimension to his story of the resurrection. We noted last week that this author, more than […]

Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream, Part VIII: Luke – Mystery Recedes – Literalism Grows

June 06, 2015 01:07 AM
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When we come to Luke, the third gospel writer and, counting Paul, the fourth biblical witness to the meaning of Easter, we discover a dramatic shift in the language of resurrection. That language is now much more literal and much more physical. Jesus has clearly been restored, not just to life, but to the physical […]

Resurrection: A Reality or A Pious Dream, Part VII: Matthew Interprets and Expands Mark

June 06, 2015 01:00 AM
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Matthew is the first gospel writer to narrate an appearance of the risen Christ to anyone. This aspect of the developing Christian story does not begin until the middle years of the ninth decade, which means that appearance stories connected with the risen Christ are written only some 55 years after the crucifixion. Is it […]

Resurrection: A Reality or A Pious Dream? Part VI: Matthew’s Story of the Galilean Appearances

June 06, 2015 01:00 AM
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Mark’s messenger of the resurrection, described in that gospel as “a young man in a white robe,” had promised a future appearance of the raised Christ to the disciples. It would not, however, occur in Judea or in the environs of Jerusalem. The messenger’s words were quite specific: “He is going before you to Galilee; […]

The Graduation Season 2015

May 05, 2015 01:00 AM
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It is the graduation season. On university and college campuses around the world people gather in a highly-ritualized pageant to mark a point of transition in many areas of human endeavor. Professors and administrators, bedecked in the colorful robes that mark their status and wearing academic hoods that reveal their own university’s colors, process in […]

Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part V Matthew’s Story of Easter

May 05, 2015 01:00 AM
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When we come to the Easter story in the gospel of Matthew, which was written according to the best estimates of the scholars about 10 to 15 years after Mark, we discover two things immediately. First, Matthew was very dependent on Mark, which he clearly had before him as he wrote. Second, Matthew regarded Mark […]

Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part IV: The Surprise Found in Mark, the Earliest Biblical Narrative of Easter

What did the Christian movement know about the resurrection of Jesus before the first gospel was written in the eighth decade of the Christian era? The answer to that question is “not very much.” As I have noted in the first columns in this series, the only records we have that emerge in the years […]

Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part III The Witness of Paul, Continued

May 05, 2015 01:00 AM
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After Easter we opened a new unit of columns designed to study exactly what the Bible says about Jesus’ resurrection. We noted that while resurrection is assumed in every verse of the New Testament, the earliest attempts to say what resurrection actually was did not occur until some twenty-four years after the crucifixion. That came […]

Resurrection – Myth or Reality, Part II: The Witness of Paul

The first writer of what later came to be called the New Testament was a well-educated Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor. His name was Paul, although there is a later tradition that suggested that his original name was Saul and that the change from Saul to Paul was symbolic of the change in his life from being a highly-disciplined member of the Jewish religious elite to being a follower of Jesus. The adjective “Jewish” in that sentence is important because at this time in history, there was no such thing as Christianity or the Christian Church. What we now call Christianity was still a minority movement within the synagogue itself called “The Followers of the Way.” These followers were also known by members of the Orthodox Party of Judaism as “revisionists.” That was a deliberately pejorative title. “Revisionists” in ecclesiastical circles means that they were “change agents” destabilizing the “True Faith.”

Resurrection – Myth or Reality, Part II: The Witness of Paul

The first writer of what later came to be called the New Testament was a well-educated Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor. His name was Paul, although there is a later tradition that suggested that his original name was Saul and that the change from Saul to Paul was symbolic of the change in his […]

“Resurrection” A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part I

April 04, 2015 01:00 AM
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On Easter Sunday, a couple of weeks ago now, I was in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey. I was not alone. Into that church, at one of its four Easter services, came about 300 % more people than we normally would have on a regular Sunday morning. I have no reason […]

Part XLVII Matthew: The Meaning of the Passion opens into the Meaning of Resurrection

April 04, 2015 01:00 AM
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The drama of the cross races towards its conclusion. It is a story that runs counter to the cultural expectations. Shaped by the “Servant” figure, drawn from II Isaiah, the image of messiah portrayed in the story of the cross is not that of a powerful winner and a victorious leader, but of one whose […]

Part XLVI Matthew – Other Minor Characters in the Passion Drama

April 04, 2015 01:04 AM
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Once we begin to see the Passion narrative not as history, but as liturgy that was created to interpret the meaning of Jesus, the literal imprisonment that has been imposed on this story begins to break apart. When that happens the account of the cross reads very differently. Those who know no other way to […]

Part XLV Matthew – Judas Iscariot Person or Myth? Part II

March 03, 2015 01:05 AM
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There are at least three traitor stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. They were all well known to Jewish readers of those scriptures. They would not, however, have been familiar to those Gentile Christians, who became the majority in the Christian movement by the year 150 CE. Most Christians, through the centuries, therefore, tended to be […]

Part XLIV Matthew: Judas Iscariot – Myth or Reality? Part I

March 03, 2015 01:15 AM
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Among the best known characters in the New Testament is the one who is sometimes called “The Anti-Christ.” He is always painted in dark colors, as slinking around corners, shielding his face. It is said of him that “he would do anything for money.” In biblical dramas from Hollywood’s “The King of Kings” to Broadway’s […]

Part XLIII Matthew – The Passion Narrative: Discovering the Liturgical Outline

March 03, 2015 01:20 AM
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In Matthew’s story of the Passion of Jesus, based as it is on Mark’s original written passion narrative, we can discover by a close analysis the outline of a twenty-four hour vigil. This vigil, based on the pattern of the synagogue vigil of Shavuot or Pentecost that Matthew was the first to develop, consists of […]

William Maurice, i.e. Willie Mo, I Baptize You

March 03, 2015 01:00 AM
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It was a strangely emotional moment for me. I was in All Saint’s Church in Austin, Texas, holding in my arms a nine months old baby boy, preparing to baptize him. He was the first grandchild in my only brother’s family, a grandchild he would never see or know. My brother, William Conwell Spong, died […]

Part XLII Matthew – Identifying the Sources of the Passion Narrative

February 02, 2015 01:08 AM
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If we can demonstrate that Jesus never spoke the words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” from the cross, but that rather the earliest gospel writers, Mark and Matthew, lifted those words directly and verbatim out of Psalm 22 in order to place them into Jesus’ mouth in the passion narrative, then […]

Part XLI Matthew – Entering the Passion Narratives

February 02, 2015 01:00 AM
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We looked last week at the passion narratives in the New Testament. We noted the additions, the deletions and the contradictions found in these central stories of our faith tradition. We asked the obvious questions. How accurate can narratives be when they do not agree with one another? This week, we press deeper into these […]

Part XL Matthew – The Passion Narrative Begins

February 02, 2015 01:00 AM
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It is a familiar story. It has been burned into the collective consciousness of the Christian world over the centuries. Many of its elements have long since left their place of origin in the gospel narratives to become part of the secular world. Almost every one of us, whether Christian or not, has heard of […]

Part XXXIX Matthew – The Apocalypse and the End of the World

February 02, 2015 01:00 AM
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In Matthew’s narrative, the Jewish year came to an end with the month of Adar. The Passover would be the first celebration of the New Year which began with the month of Nisan. Passover, according to the Torah, however, did not occur until the 14th and 15th days of the month of Nisan. If Matthew […]

Marcus J. Borg 1942-2015

January 01, 2015 01:00 AM
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He was one of the giants in the Christian faith during the last 25 years, widely read, widely known and widely respected. He was a quiet man, humble and unassuming, yet simultaneously he was brilliant, provocative and stretching. He was one of the three major shakers and movers of the Jesus Seminar, the other two […]

Part XXXVIII Matthew – The First Confirmation Class

January 01, 2015 01:00 AM
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Most people are not aware that Judaism, at the time of Jesus, had become a missionary, conversion-oriented religion. People all over the Roman Empire were finding their way into synagogues and many of them were deciding to convert. This movement was large enough that the Jewish authorities had to develop a program for the incorporation […]

Part XXXVII Matthew – The Impact of Deuteronomy on the Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem

When the Transfiguration experience was over, Matthew tells us that Jesus and his disciples came down from that mountain. It had been a transformative experience for the disciples, Matthew suggests, because they had seen a new dimension of Jesus’ life opening before them. He has been portrayed in the Transfiguration story as the “New Temple,” […]

Part XXXVI Matthew: The Execution of John the Baptist: History, Myth or Midrash?

January 01, 2015 01:00 AM
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  Salome was a dancer, she danced before the king. She wiggled and she wobbled and she shook most everything. The king said, “Salome, there’ll be no scandal here!” Salome said, “To heck with that” and kicked the chandelier! That bit of doggerel is from a song sung at church camp in my youth. It […]

Part XXXV Matthew – Getting Back in Touch with our Source

January 01, 2015 01:00 AM
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I return this week to our study of Matthew’s gospel after a rather long hiatus, which allowed me the opportunity to address other pressing topics such as my visit to a Nazi Concentration Camp in what is now The Czech Republic, an analysis of the impact of communism on Eastern Europe and finally, what it […]

A Letter to my Community of Readers

December 12, 2014 01:00 AM
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Dear Friends: As the calendar in the year 2014 dictates this column should arrive at your email address at about 2:00 o’clock A.M. Eastern Standard Time on December 25th. I have a fantasy that all of my east coast readers in the United States set their alarms for 2:00 A.M. each week so that they […]

“Fear Not” – The Message of Christmas in a Frightened World

December 12, 2014 01:00 AM
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Christmas will dawn in 2014 in a world gripped by a growing sense of fear. We have recently experienced that pervasive emotion in almost every phase of our life in the United States. The content of that fear has struck our citizens in successive waves: a possible worldwide epidemic, a renewed war in the Middle […]

Standing on the Boundary Between Death and Life. Charles Robinson 1931-2014 R.I.P.

December 12, 2014 01:30 AM
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His name was Charles. His wife of 57 years, and now his widow, was named Cynthia. He was a lawyer who, after ten years and with a wife and three small children, gave up the practice of law to follow his heart. He became an artist of some note and an illustrator of many books. […]

Insights from Behind the Iron Curtain

December 12, 2014 01:00 AM
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I made my second trip in the last two years behind what was once known as the Iron Curtain recently. There I saw the impact of communism that had been imposed by force of arms on these countries. I also saw what has happened since communism’s fall in the latter years of the 20th century. […]

Do Our Seminaries Prepare Clergy for Today’s World?

November 11, 2014 01:00 AM
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Writing about the Theological School at Drew University this past week caused me to think about theological education in general and my own theological education in particular. I loved the experience I had at the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia (VTS), but a year after graduating I realized that the gap between what my seminary […]

The School of Theology at Drew University Installs Javier Viera as its New Dean

November 11, 2014 01:00 AM
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From time to time, I have an experience inside organized Christianity that is filled with such excitement that it creates in me the hope that there might be a genuine future for the Christian faith. Most frequently this experience takes the form of hearing that someone with some authority within institutional Christianity actually sees, actually […]

On Visiting a Nazi Concentration Camp

November 11, 2014 01:00 AM
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In early October of this year, Christine and I had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp at a place called Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic. This camp, known as Terezin, was run during World War II by the Prague Gestapo. Terezin was not normally the final destination of the Jews sent […]

Part XXXIV Matthew – The Transfiguration of Jesus, Part III

November 11, 2014 01:28 AM
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A Dedication-Hanukkah Story How many of you have ever connected the story of Jesus’ transfiguration with the Jewish celebration of Dedication/Hanukkah? We may well have imagined it as almost anything but that. Some New Testament scholars have suggested that the transfiguration story was a “misplaced” resurrection narrative. They cite as evidence for this conclusion that […]

Part XXXIII Matthew – Watching the Traditions of “Dedication/Hanukkah” Develop

October 10, 2014 01:00 AM
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Last week we traced the origins of the Jewish festival known as “Dedication,” but in our day popularly called “Hanukkah.”. It celebrated the moment when a guerilla army of Jewish people, led by man named Judas Maccabeus, dealt a series of hammer-like blows to the army of the Syrians led by their king, Antiochus Epiphanes […]

Part XXXII Matthew – Dedication and Transfiguration, Part I

Matthew, having provided Jesus stories for the Sabbaths between Sukkoth and the final major Jewish festival of the liturgical year, is now ready to relate Jesus to this last celebration. So we turn in our analysis of this gospel to the midwinter festival called Dedication. The Jewish word for dedication is “Hanukkah,” so this celebration […]

The Emerging Church in Northern Michigan

October 10, 2014 01:00 AM
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Marquette, Michigan, sits on Lake Superior about 300 miles south and slightly east of Thunder Bay, Canada. While we were there, Christine and I were made honorary “Yoopers,” a name derived from the initials UP for Upper Peninsula. It is a remote part of Michigan since its land mass stretches over both Michigan and the […]

Part XXXI Matthew – Peter: A Symbol – The Wobbling Rock at Caesarea Philippi

In this episode Jesus asks: “Can one read the signs correctly? Does a clear sunset today anticipate fair weather tomorrow? Do dark clouds announce the presence of a storm? Do you not yet understand about the loaves?” When will his disciples accurately perceive who he is? Those are the questions articulated as Matthew draws his […]

Part XXX Matthew – The Canaanite Woman: Matthew’s Icon of Prejudice

October 10, 2014 01:00 AM
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In Mark’s gospel she was a Syro-Phoenician woman. Matthew has changed her into being a Canaanite woman. That shift is significant because the term “Canaanite” carried so much more emotional baggage than did the term Syro-Phoenician. Canaanites first come into the Jewish story during the time of Joshua, Moses’ immediate successor. He was the military […]

Part XXIX Matthew: Did Jesus Really Walk on Water? Of Course Not!

September 09, 2014 01:00 AM
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Sandwiched between Matthew’s two stories of Jesus feeding the multitude is another popular tale in the gospels. It is the account of Jesus walking on the water. Interestingly enough, in each of the four gospels this walking on the water story is coupled with the feeding of the multitudes. All of the gospel writers will […]

Part XXVIII Matthew: The Parable of the Loaves and the Fish

September 09, 2014 01:00 AM
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Sukkoth is complete. There will be six to eight Sabbaths to engage the synagogue before the next celebration, the festival called Dedication, arrives. In Aramaic the word for “Dedication” is “Hanukkah,” and thus this festival acquired its popular nickname. If Matthew is following the liturgical calendar of the synagogue, as I have maintained, he must […]

Part XXVII Matthew: Sukkoth, Jewish Thanksgiving Day

September 09, 2014 01:00 AM
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Matthew Shifts the Emphasis from Crops to Converts; From Harvest to Judgment Our study last week has helped to make it obvious, I hope, that Matthew borrowed many of the symbols of the Jewish harvest celebration, Sukkoth, and transferred them to the story of Jesus’ passion which came to be associated with and located in […]

Part XXVI Matthew: Sukkoth – The Harvest Festival

Labor Day is over. Little children, carrying new book satchels and wearing new clothes, have found their way back to their schools. University students have returned to their campuses and the football season is well underway. Summer’s vacation time is over. So it is time for this column to return to its theme for the […]

Virginia Politics and the Trial of Governor Robert McDonnell

August 08, 2014 01:00 AM
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On Monday, August 14, 2014, beginning at 9:30 a.m., my wife Christine and I were seated in the Federal District Courtroom in Richmond, Virginia, preparing to listen to the testimony in the trial of Virginia’s former Republican Governor, Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen. They were both charged with fraud, corruption and not reporting significant […]

On Teaching at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley

They came mostly from the West Coast, although one was a Methodist minister from Chesterfield, Virginia. They represented the vast array of the traditions in American Christianity. Two were Roman Catholic, some were Episcopalians, several were Presbyterians and American Baptists, but the majority was from the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. […]

Chautauqua Institution – 2014

August 08, 2014 01:00 AM
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It has many elements of a fantasy land. Once one enters the guarded gates, the world seems to fall away quickly. A person living in this community does not read the New York Times, which confronts us on every page with the complexity of modern human life, its sufferings, its joys, its violence and its […]

A Meditation on Patriotism in a Changing World

August 08, 2014 01:00 AM
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Patriotism is a powerful force that manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is extreme nationalism. We see that in the behavior of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who is so eager to re-assert Russian hegemony over parts of what was once the Soviet Union that he is willing to destabilize peace by undermining […]

Carrying My Understanding of Christianity to France

July 07, 2014 01:00 AM
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In two lectures in Paris, France, this summer and through various other media, I sought to place into the religious conversation of that nation a new way of looking at Jesus of Nazareth. The majority of both audiences that I addressed consisted of people who still have some relationship with institutional Christianity. The first was […]

Introducing Jesus for the Non-Religious to France

(The following is the speech delivered in Paris at the launching of the French Translation of Jesus for the Non-Religious.) How can those of us living in the 21st century understand the Jesus of history? We think very differently from the way the people who wrote the New Testament in the first century thought. Can […]

On Launching a Book in Paris

July 07, 2014 01:00 AM
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There is nothing quite like Paris in the springtime. The flowers of the season are in full bloom. The sidewalk cafes are filled with people drinking wine, sipping café au lait and eating croissants. The “Left Bank” is populated with painters standing before their easels and politicians in full debate. The population in this city, […]

Part XXV Matthew – Atonement Theology, Conclusion: Seeking New Possibilities

Have you ever wondered why the work of Charles Darwin has been so threatening to traditional Christians and to institutional Christianity? In fundamentalist and Bible belt regions of the world, Christians have gone to extraordinary efforts to blunt Darwin’s teaching. One recalls the publication of a series of tracts between 1910 and 1915, which were […]

Part XXIV Matthew – Interpreting Atonement Theology, Part II

July 07, 2014 01:00 AM
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“Atonement Theology” assumes that human life, though created in the image of God, is now both fallen and evil. It assumes that God is a being who can be “offended” by human disobedience, is incapable of forgiving and must, therefore, exact the deserved punishment on the sinful human life. It assumes that Jesus’ death was […]

Part XXIII Matthew – Analyzing the Implications of Atonement Theology: Part I

June 06, 2014 01:00 AM
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In recent columns, we have looked at the origins of what has come to be called “The Doctrine of the Atonement.” We noted that the day, in the calendar of the Jewish liturgical year called “Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement,” was observed in the fall of the year and was marked by emotions […]

Part XXII Matthew – Jesus through the Lens of Yom Kippur

Matthew observes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with a flashback story in which John the Baptist, the quintessential Rosh Hashanah figure, although in prison, sends messengers to Jesus asking him to verify his claim to be messiah: “Are you the one that should come or do we look for another?” If my role, he […]

Part XXI Matthew – Yom Kippur and Sacrificial Blood

June 06, 2014 01:00 AM
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The primary Christian mantra incorporated into our hymns, prayers and sermons is some variation of the phrase: “Jesus died for my sins!” It comes out of a Christian definition of human life as fallen, corrupted by something we call “original sin.” It has given rise over the centuries to a fetish connected with “the blood […]

Part XX Matthew – Introducing Yom Kippur and the Jewish Concept of Atonement

June 06, 2014 01:00 AM
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We return this week to our ongoing study of the gospel of Matthew after a six week hiatus in which we examined, first the use of the concept of a “lamb” in Hebrew worship, after which I wrote on such diverse figures as Barbara Walters, Professor James H. Cone and Pope John XXIII. Since I […]

Two Popes Made Saints in a Dramatic Act

May 05, 2014 01:00 AM
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It was an exciting day in the Vatican on April 27, 2014, probably the most exciting day since the election of Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina to be Pope Francis a little more than a year ago. Prior to that only dark shadows seemed to envelope that church and its leadership. The scandal of sexually abusive […]

On Spending the Day with Amos, i.e. Professor James H. Cone

May 05, 2014 01:00 AM
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So much of Christianity is a delusion, built as it is around power images and institutional claims to possess either an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible. The Christian Church also traditionally operates out of a definition of life as something evil, fallen and corrupted by original sin, which it has used to enhance guilt […]

An Evening with Barbara Walters

She was born to non-practicing Jewish parents. Because her father owned a series of night clubs from Boston to Miami, she grew up in the company of show business celebrities. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating in 1953 with a degree in English. The “glass ceiling” was very much intact in […]

Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus- Part III

May 05, 2014 01:00 AM
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The Lamb Before Its Accusers In addition to the Passover lamb and the lamb of Yom Kippur, there is a third lamb of God in the Jewish tradition. This one is probably the least well known and the least recognized. Yet of the three lambs used in Jewish worship, I believe it has been the […]

Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus- Part II

Part II:  The Lamb of Yom Kippur Have you ever heard someone say: “Jesus died for my sin?” Have you ever asked what those words meant or how they operated? Have you ever wondered about the origins of such a strange concept? Does it make sense to say that someone had to die for my […]

Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus

Part I: The Lamb of Passover I want to interrupt our study of Matthew for a few weeks in order to turn our attention to the great themes of Good Friday and Easter as we live through these aspects of the Christian story. It is an appropriate time to do this. We have now carried […]

Part XIX Matthew – Did Jesus Really Do Miracles?

Most people, who are related at least tangentially to the Christian faith, assume that Jesus was a miracle worker. By this they mean that he possessed the ability to operate outside the laws of nature in what we would call supernatural ways. This popular image is enforced by the traditional Christian theology, born in the […]

The Reverend Fred Phelps, 1929 – 2014

“I believe that all homosexuals should be castrated with rusty barbed wire.” Those words came at me from a television screen a number of years ago. The spokesman was identified as an ordained Christian minister, who headed a Baptist Church in the mid-west. I then learned that this church’s website was “godhatesfags.com.” It was in […]

Part XVIII Matthew – Matthew’s Flashback to John the Baptist

We suggested last week that Mark, the author of the first gospel to be written, introduced his story of Jesus with a narrative appropriate to the Jewish New Year celebration, a festival called Rosh Hashanah. In that narrative, Mark developed one Rosh Hashanah symbol after another. Jewish New Year was the celebration in which these […]

Part XVII Matthew – The Story of Jesus from Shavuot to Rosh Hashanah

After a three-week hiatus to consider some pressing theological questions and political issues we return this week to our story of Matthew’s gospel. It was indeed a good place to break away momentarily from Matthew’s text because in the Sermon on the Mount he had reached his first climax and would begin now to introduce […]

Thoughts While Listening to America’s Health Care Debate

March 03, 2014 01:00 AM
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We had one of our closest personal friends to dinner recently. He is a stock analyst, a very successful and wealthy man with a passion for understanding the economy. In the course of the evening’s conversation, he listed among the threats to America’s economic prosperity the costs that will be associated with the “Patient Protection […]

Is the Jesus Story a Myth? Did a Man Named Jesus Ever Live?

March 03, 2014 08:24 AM
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Recently in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey, I completed a seven week-lecture series on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth. In those lectures I pointed to the elements that demonstrate conclusively to me that Matthew did not intend for this story to be read literally. This was not biology, biography or history. […]

Is the Jesus Story a Myth? Did a Man Named Jesus Ever Live?

Recently in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey, I completed a seven week-lecture series on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth. In those lectures I pointed to the elements that demonstrate conclusively to me that Matthew did not intend for this story to be read literally. This was not biology, biography or history. […]

Part XVI Matthew – Did Jesus Teach Us to Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

March 03, 2014 01:00 AM
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If it is true, as I have suggested, that Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount then we immediately have to face other startling implications. That conclusion would raise questions about the authenticity of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is first introduced into the developing Christian tradition in Matthew as part of the Sermon on […]

Part XV- Matthew: Understanding the Sermon on the Mount: Conclusion

February 02, 2014 01:00 AM
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Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount! That needs to be said again and again until it is embraced as a fact. The Sermon on the Mount was composed by the author of Matthew’s gospel in order to fill out his interpretive portrait of Jesus, not only as the messiah, but also as the […]

Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! […]

Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! […]

A Life Fulfilled – EMB

February 02, 2014 01:00 AM
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It was a very unusual memorial service. It was not held in a church, a synagogue or a temple, but in the Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Center in New York City. That vast and beautiful symphony space will seat 2783 people and except for the boxes in the top tier, it was filled. […]

Part XIII Matthew: “A Prophet like unto Moses” – Introducing the Sermon on the Mount

It should not be surprising that a Jewish scribe in the first century, which is what the author of the gospel we call Matthew was, would make constant references to Moses, the founder of the Jewish faith tradition. Moses dominated official Judaism and was in every way its creator and guide. The Torah by which […]

Part XII Matthew: Matthew Introduces John the Baptist-The New Elijah

January 01, 2014 01:00 AM
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Matthew has thus far mined the Hebrew Scriptures for texts that will advance his thesis that Jesus has fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations. In the opening genealogy, he has made Jesus “the son of Abraham,” the son and heir of King David and portrayed him as one who with his people survived the Babylonian exile. […]

The Wedding of Charles and Robert

January 01, 2014 01:00 AM
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It was January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, sometimes called “Old Christmas” in some parts of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The church was still decorated with its hanging greens and beautiful poinsettias. After all this was the twelfth day of Christmas. About thirty people gathered with me on that day to attend a wedding […]

Part XI Matthew: Proof Texting the Birth Narratives

Matthew never allows us to forget that he is a learned scribe in charge of a synagogue made up of Jewish people who are the followers of Jesus. He is writing at a time in history when a battle is being waged for the soul of Judaism. The issues were clear in his mind. Will […]

A Political Q and A

January 01, 2014 01:00 AM
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From time to time I receive a letter which requires an answer that is too long for the question and answer format of this column, so I have to use it as the column itself. Such is the case this week, so I will interrupt my Matthew series for a week to respond to this […]

The Passing of Greatness

January 01, 2014 01:00 AM
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On December 9, 2013, 65,000 people braved strong rains to gather in the Olympic Soccer Field in South Africa to pay tribute to a man named Nelson Mandela. They were joined by over one hundred heads of state from around the world, the largest number ever to attend a funeral service for a king, a […]

Part X Matthew: The Story of the Magi and Their Gifts

December 12, 2013 01:00 AM
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The wise men from Matthew’s birth story have been deeply attached to our Christmas celebration, stretching all the way back to the time that Matthew introduced them in the middle years of the ninth decade of the Common Era. They are instantly recognized mounted on their camels and appearing in our Christmas cards, our decorated store […]

Part IX Matthew. Matthew Introduces Joseph – The Earthly Father of Jesus

December 12, 2013 01:00 AM
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Matthew’s opening genealogy of Jesus is now complete with the intriguing idea that the line which produced Jesus of Nazareth, traveled not only through the royal family of the house of David, but also through four “tainted’ women: Tamar, who engaged in incest; Rahab, who was called a prostitute; Ruth, who achieved her goals through […]

Three Spanish Citizens who are Changing the Culture of Spain

December 12, 2013 01:00 AM
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Spain is a nation of 47 million people located on the southwestern part of the continent of Europe. It almost touches North Africa at Gibraltar and thus has a much closer contact with the African continent than any other European nation, including in its population a significant number of Muslim persons. It is one of […]

America’s Health Care Debate and What it Reveals

December 12, 2013 01:00 AM
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Every nation I visited on my recent European lecture tour has a National Health System, paid for by tax dollars and run for all the people by the government itself. Contrary to the propaganda of the American political right, these health services are well run and enormously popular in both conservative and liberal circles. The […]

A Thirty-Day Lecture Tour of Europe

It was probably the most exciting and fulfilling book tour of my entire career. Over a period of thirty days, I journeyed through Europe delivering sixteen public lectures in Spain, Italy, England and Scotland. We also touched Switzerland and Wales. In Wales we spent the night and met with Peter Francis, the warden of the […]

Part VIII Matthew: What is the Meaning of the Virgin Birth?

It is difficult for most Christians to imagine that the story of Jesus’ virgin birth was a late developing tradition in the Christian faith, yet it appears to have been totally unknown until it is introduced in the middle years of the ninth decade in the writings of Matthew. Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth is […]

Part VII Matthew: The Shady Ladies of Matthew’s Genealogy

The audience for which Matthew wrote was conversant with the Jewish Scriptures, so when he mentions Tamar in the genealogy, they would know her story. The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) was read in its entirety in the traditional synagogues on the Sabbaths of a single year. The 38th chapter of Genesis, where […]

Part VI Matthew: The Genealogy (1:1-17)

November 11, 2013 01:00 AM
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” — that is how the gospel of Matthew begins. The word “genealogy” means “origins,” beginnings. It could thus also be translated the book of the “genesis” of Jesus, the messiah. For “genesis” is what is being described in this […]

Part V Matthew: Isolating This Gospel from All the Others

October 10, 2013 01:00 AM
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Having now introduced you to a different way of reading the gospel of Matthew, and puncturing for you, I hope forever, the assumption that this book along with all the other gospels was ever intended to be either history or biography, I want in this column to double back and focus on the gospel of […]

Part IV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount

October 10, 2013 01:00 AM
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Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount! Some of the content recorded in that well-known part of Matthew’s gospel may well stretch back to the literal words of the Jesus of history, but there was never a time in the life of Jesus of Nazareth when he went up on a mountain and delivered […]

We Have Had Our Run. It Is Time to Leave.

October 10, 2013 01:00 AM
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“We have had our run. It is time to leave.” Andy Pettitte, Pitcher for the New York Yankees They had four related careers that impacted the baseball world for two decades. In the history of modern sports this was a rare achievement. In their late teens and early twenties, these young athletes began playing baseball […]

My Great Mentors – Number Seven: Clifford L. Stanley

October 10, 2013 01:00 AM
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He was my Professor of Theology, teaching me for two of the three years I was in Seminary. For me he was the major voice on that 1950’s faculty that had broken new theological ground. Most of the others were still locked in the dated Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth, which was rooted in the despair […]

An Adventure in Church Building in Springfield, Missouri

October 10, 2013 01:00 AM
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Springfield is Missouri’s third largest city. Its approximately 160,000 people occupy space in the southwestern part of that state, where this city serves as the county seat of Greene County. Tradition, not fully documented, suggests that it got its name from an early settler, named James Wilson, who offered whiskey to anyone who would vote […]

Part III Matthew: The Shadow of Moses Continues

Using the gospel of Matthew as our guide we have begun the task of opening the background necessary to grasp, as members of the current generation of Christians, the meaning of all the gospels. This is necessary because all of the gospels are Jewish books written by Jewish authors for Jewish congregations. They employ Jewish […]

SYRIA, POISON GAS, MISSILE STRIKES AND PEACE?

September 09, 2013 01:00 AM
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It has been both an emotional and a political roller-coaster. The television newscasters and the print media informed us that a political debate was underway as to whether or not the armed might of this country should be used to punish the Syrian government for violating the universal condemnation against chemical warfare that has governed […]

Part II: The Gospel of Matthew. Exploring the Shadow of Moses in Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus

September 09, 2013 01:00 AM
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I return to Matthew’s gospel today to lay out the case for its basic Jewishness. As I suggested in the opening column in this series last week, we must see all the books of the New Testament as Jewish writings before we can properly begin to understand them. Matthew is by every measure the most […]

Introducing the Gospel of Matthew. Part I: The Gospels are Jewish Books

September 09, 2013 01:00 AM
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The Bible is the Christian Church’s sacred text. We read from it at every worship service in almost every Christian tradition. It is apparently a rather popular volume for every year since the invention of the printing press it has been the world’s best-selling book. It might well be, however, the world’s least understood and […]

On the Importance of Being Ordinary

Over the past few years, while working on my recent book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, I became fascinated with how the author of John’s gospel develops the characters in his narrative. There are more memorable characters in the Fourth Gospel than anywhere else in the New Testament. The disciple Thomas is […]

The Need for the Christian to Journey Beyond Scripture, Creed and Church

August 08, 2013 01:00 AM
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Theology is a rational, deeply human, attempt to explain our experience with God. Theology is, therefore, never primary; it is always secondary to experience. Theological explanations can thus never be eternal. All explanations not only will change, but must change when knowledge grows and by so doing will always invalidate previous conclusions. Theology can never […]

On Building a Christianity without Security or Creeds

August 08, 2013 01:00 AM
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One of my readers, Henry Gael Michaels, has shared with me an anonymous story on the meaning of God with which I open this column. It also reveals, I believe, what is wrong with all theology. I am grateful for this gift. This is his story. The mystic was back from the desert. “Tell us,” […]

On Parting – Never to Meet Again – An Experience of Timelessness

There are some moments in life when the transcendent is expressed inside the mundane; where the eternal seems to enter the passage of time. They are moments, usually unexpected, perhaps not even recognized until later. I had such a moment earlier this year that will not go away and so I have decided to write […]

The Chalice Abbey: A Unique Ministry in Amarillo, Texas

August 08, 2013 01:00 AM
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The largest city in the Texas Panhandle is Amarillo, which has a population somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Amarillo had its beginning as a result of being a midpoint on a railroad line that connected Fort Worth with Denver. With that connection established, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Chicago, Rock […]

On Teaching at Drew University’s Theological School

July 07, 2013 01:00 AM
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Drew University is my neighborhood institution of higher learning. It offers to Morris County, New Jersey, the enrichment that only a university can bring. There is a magnificent library on this campus that has three constituent parts: The University Library, a Theological Library and the Methodist Archives, in which the history of American Methodism is […]

Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church: The Charade Goes On!

July 07, 2013 01:00 AM
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The Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, is the Most Reverend George Pell. He is a tall, impressive-looking man, whose career in his church has followed the traditional path of those who become significant Catholic leaders. He, like most upwardly mobile priests, received at least part of his training in the Pontifical College of […]

A Meditation on the State of America on its 237th Birthday

July 07, 2013 01:00 AM
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The United States celebrated its 237th birthday this past week. It seems, therefore, a fitting time for some moments of national reflection. In today’s column I seek to identify some of the forces that now appear to hold this nation in its grip. America is, I believe, going through an identity transition in which a […]

JUNE 26, 2013, A GREAT DAY FOR AMERICA

July 07, 2013 01:00 AM
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I was surprised at how elated I felt on June 26 when the Supreme Court handed down its two historic decisions affecting gay and lesbian people. The first decision mandated federal recognition of gay and lesbian couples in states that permit same-sex marriage by declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. The […]

My Mentors, Part 5 – Richard Henry Baker

June 06, 2013 01:00 AM
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He may have had fewer obvious gifts than any person I ever watched in a position of significant power and authority. He was not an impressive personality. One would describe him more as homespun than as notable. He was more like a favorite uncle or a comfortable neighbor. He was not particularly tall, perhaps stretching […]

The Birth of Jesus, Conclusions: Part XVI

June 06, 2013 01:00 AM
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Luke concludes his birth story with a series of episodes designed to point to the story of the adult Jesus. First, in Luke’s story, the shepherds depart, while Mary “ponders,” then the “Holy Family” goes through the initiation rites of Judaism to root Jesus deeply inside of the faith of his people. He is circumcised, […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part XV. The Journey to Bethlehem

June 06, 2013 01:00 AM
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The creators of the birth narratives, Matthew and Luke, used two motifs in interpreting the life of Jesus of Nazareth. First, each was historically aware that Jesus hailed from Galilee, indeed from the village of Nazareth. Too often the gospels report that there was debate about his origins for this not to be true. Galilee was the rustic, […]

Part II Introducing The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

June 06, 2013 01:05 AM
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When writing the opening chapter of my soon-to-be released book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, I felt the need to issue a warning to my readers. This warning needed to go in two quite different directions. There will certainly be those who think of themselves as “traditionally religious people,” who may well […]

Part I: The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

May 05, 2013 01:00 AM
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The publication date is June 11, 2013. The books will actually be shipped to bookstores across the nation in the last week of May. The rights to publish this in Italian and Korean have also been sold and these two translations will appear in their two respective countries later in the year. I live now […]

Lectureship that Challenges What is, in the Name of What Can Be

May 05, 2013 01:00 AM
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The Third Annual John Shelby Spong Lecture was held at St. Peter’s Church, Morristown, New Jersey, near the end of April. A crowd of people, numbering around 400, according to the ushers’ count, came from near and far to participate in the event. We had members of the faculty and student body from nearby Drew University. We had […]

Birth of Jesus, Part XIV. The Old Testament Antecedents in Luke’s Story of Jesus’ Birth

May 05, 2013 01:00 AM
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In order to understand the birth narratives found in Matthew and Luke, we need to embrace the fact that there is no way these stories were intended to be regarded as remembered history or as narratives that were literally true. That must be stated clearly. This means that there never was a star in the […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part XIII. Introducing the Lucan Story

May 05, 2013 03:33 PM
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Somewhere six to ten years after the Gospel of Matthew was written, another gospel, the one we call Luke, makes its appearance. Both Matthew and Luke had Mark as a common source although Matthew used it more extensively than Luke. Some scholars also believe that Matthew and Luke had a second common source, a collection […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part XII. Making Sense of the Wise Men

May 05, 2013 01:00 AM
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Having now described the miraculous birth of Jesus in chapter one of his gospel, Matthew turns next to his account of how the birth of Jesus was divinely “rolled out” to bring it to the attention of all the people of the world. His vehicle for this is to tell us a story of magi […]

Making Sense of Violence and Terror in Boston

April 04, 2013 01:00 AM
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On Monday, April 15, Patriot’s Day in Boston, Massachusetts, the bomb blasts that occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon brought death, mutilation and injury to more than 200 innocent people. By Thursday, the perpetrators of this crime had been identified and the manhunt was on. By Friday, one of the two suspects […]

What the Gun Debate Reveals about the Republican Party and Political Leadership

April 04, 2013 01:00 AM
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+A message to my readers: After the deadline for the publication of this column the terrorist bombing at the end of the Boston marathon occurred, leaving many of us enraged, saddened and despairing about the levels of violence that apparently engulf the world. It also put the content of this column into a new perspective. […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part XI. Matthew Weaves Together Proof Texts from Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and from an Unknown Source

April 04, 2013 01:00 AM
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Christianity was born in the synagogue and the original followers of Jesus were primarily observant Jews. They gathered in the synagogue regularly on the Sabbath for worship. A major part of that worship consisted of reading, learning about and becoming conversant with the sacred scriptures as the Jews understood them. Each Sabbath there were three […]

Re-Living Holy Week and Easter as Part of a Community of Faith

April 04, 2013 01:00 AM
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Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were especially meaningful to me this year. So was the celebration of Easter. In this column today I would like to be very personal and tell you just why that was so in 2013. I know it is difficult for someone outside the office of […]

Did the Crucifixion Take Place at the Time of Passover?

March 03, 2013 01:00 AM
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Mark, the earliest gospel to be written (ca. 72 CE) locates the crucifixion of Jesus in the season of Passover, suggesting that the “Last Supper” was a Passover meal. Matthew, the second gospel to be written (ca, 82-85), and Luke, the third (ca. 88-93), follow Mark’s lead and between the three of them the Passover-crucifixion […]

A Pope is Chosen – Hopes Rise for Change

March 03, 2013 01:00 AM
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His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but the world will know him as Pope Francis I. He was a surprise selection by the Conclave of Cardinals voting in the Sistine Chapel and he received the required majority of 77 votes on the third ballot cast, a unifying fact. He is from the “Third World,” that […]

A New Plan for Good Friday

March 03, 2013 01:00 AM
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Reclaiming Good Friday as a major focus of both Lent and the Christian story will be at the center of my life this year, when I spend that day in Richmond, Virginia, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. This is the church I served as Rector from 1969-1976 and it is a church to which I […]

A Look at Benedict XVI’s Book on the Infancy Narratives of Jesus

March 03, 2013 01:00 AM
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A few months before the startling announcement of his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI published a book on the birth narratives of Jesus as found in the New Testament. It was a book promised in the publication of a previous book by this Pope, entitled Jesus of Nazareth, which I reviewed in this column more than […]

The Pope Resigns: A New Opportunity for the Christian World is Born

February 02, 2013 01:00 AM
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The world in general and members of the Roman Catholic Church in particular were shocked at the recent announcement that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning the papal office at the end of February. A moment of transition for this church has arrived. The stated reason for this unusual resignation was age and infirmity, but as is […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part X: Matthew Sources and the Hebrew Scriptures

February 02, 2013 01:00 AM
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Reading the Bible with any real comprehension in the 21st century is not an easy task. The gospels are a product of the 1st century, a dramatically different time, and they reflect a vastly different culture. They do not translate easily. Most Christians do not realize that Christianity itself was born in the womb of […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part IX. Was There Scandal at the Manger?

February 02, 2013 01:00 AM
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The prologue to Mathew’s gospel, which also serves to introduce the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, is now complete. Matthew writing as he does to the members of a traditional Jewish community, who were also the followers of Jesus, has grounded the life of Jesus deeply into Jewish history. Jesus is the son of Abraham, […]

Gun Control, Immigration and Senator Hagel: The Manifestations of Cultural Paranoia in our Current Political Debate

February 02, 2013 08:48 AM
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There are times when listening to the political debate in this country that I am absolutely astonished. Many of the participants in the current struggles regarding the proposed limitation on assault weapons, or making background checks for gun ownership universal, appear to be responding to a world that I do not believe exists. The debate […]

Malcolm Warnock 1905-2012

January 01, 2013 11:52 AM
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He was a remarkable man, a superior lawyer and one who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. He had many, many friends and I was privileged to be one of them. I knew him for 35 of his 107 years. More than that, I knew him in some deeply personal settings. I […]

Inauguration Day 2013

January 01, 2013 01:00 AM
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Inauguration day in America is a time of transition, the proper moment to articulate the hopes and dreams of the future. These things are more vivid if the one to be inaugurated is just beginning his or her presidency, but even when it is the beginning of a second term for a sitting president, it […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part VIII. The Fourth Woman in Matthew’s genealogy: The Wife of Uriah

January 01, 2013 02:26 PM
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The fourth and final woman included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus with which he opens his gospel and simultaneously introduces into the Christian tradition the story of the virgin birth, is the best known of them all. Matthew in this genealogy, however, does not ever call her by her name. He refers to her rather […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part VII. The Role of Ruth: The Seductress

January 01, 2013 03:18 PM
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The third woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is also unique in a number of ways. Her name is Ruth and she, like Rahab, is a foreigner. Rahab was a Canaanite citizen of Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite, and the widow of a Jewish man named Mahlon. Her story is found in the tiny […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part VI. Rahab the Prostitute: The Second Woman in Matthew’s Genealogy

January 01, 2013 03:34 PM
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The second woman mentioned in the genealogy of Matthew comes out of a story told in the book of Joshua. One can read the details in chapters two and six of that book. There are two things that are noteworthy about this woman. First, she is not a Jew, rather she is a citizen of […]

Learning about Europe’s Economy and Christianity’s Place in it

December 12, 2012 02:00 AM
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Throughout the past few years, and certainly as a factor in the recent American presidential race, the state of the economy has been front and center. An important aspect of this debate is our sense of increasing globalization that ties all nations into a single world economy. The Dow Jones Average has been whipsawed by […]

On Speaking at the Athenaeum in Madrid

It was a uniquely Spanish event held in the beautifully ornate Athenaeum in downtown Madrid. It followed the format of a carefully orchestrated, intellectual and cultural pattern. The audience numbered over 300 participants. It began at 7:00 p.m. and lasted until 10:00 p.m. after which we went out to dinner. That was not late night […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part V. Matthew’s Original Story. The Prologue and Tamar, the Incestuous One

December 12, 2012 10:47 AM
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Matthew is the gospel writer (82-85) who first introduced the story of Jesus’ miraculous or virgin birth into the tradition. He did so with the seventeen most boring verses in the entire Bible! (See Matt. 1:1-17) These verses are Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Jesus, but we refer to them the “who begat whom” […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part IV. The Two Versions of the Birth Story

December 12, 2012 08:42 AM
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The familiar stories of Jesus’ miraculous birth entered the Christian tradition in two different forms, separated by perhaps a decade. The original narrative was written by a man we have named Matthew somewhere between 82-85. The later narrative was written by a man we call Luke somewhere between 89-93. The second story is by far […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part IV. The Two Versions of the Birth Story

December 12, 2012 01:00 AM
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The familiar stories of Jesus’ miraculous birth entered the Christian tradition in two different forms, separated by perhaps a decade. The original narrative was written by a man we have named Matthew somewhere between 82-85. The later narrative was written by a man we call Luke somewhere between 89-93. The second story is by far […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part III. The Testimony of Mark, the Earliest Gospel

November 11, 2012 01:00 AM
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The first gospel to be written, the one we call Mark, was composed in the early years of the 8th decade (70-72). It contains no story of and no reference to the birth of Jesus. To explain this omission, there are only two possibilities: Either the author of Mark had never heard about the birth […]

The Boil Has Been Lanced. A New Consciousness Has Arrived

November 11, 2012 01:29 PM
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The votes have been cast, counted and the results have been made known.  Radio and television stations are no longer relentlessly broadcasting anti-Obama and anti-Romney ads.  The emotions of both victory and defeat have been experienced and expressed.  The “blame game” is well underway.  The 2012 election is over.  President Obama has four more years […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part II: Paul and the Virgin Birth

November 11, 2012 12:34 PM
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In the writings of Paul, there is not a single reference to a supernatural birth tradition, regarding Jesus of Nazareth.  That is a fact easily established.  Determining what that fact means is a bit more complicated. Does this omission mean that Paul was unaware of this part of the Christian tradition?  Is it possible that […]

The Birth of Jesus, Part I: Introduction

November 11, 2012 12:01 AM
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Most of the portraits of the mother of Jesus that hang in the great museums of the world are dependent first on the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and second on the presumed appearances of his mother at the foot of the cross.  Take those two traditions away from the New Testament and the mother […]

A Nun Becomes a Methodist Pastor and Lights up the Big Sky of Montana

November 11, 2012 02:01 PM
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Try to imagine, if you can, a woman who was a Roman Catholic nun for 18 years, working during those years on a Native American reservation and later taking the level of academic training required of those who wish to become Roman Catholic priests.  Next try to imagine this same women wondering just why it […]

You Are Profoundly Wrong! A Response to the Archbishop of Newark and Other Catholic Leaders

October 10, 2012 07:20 PM
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The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Newark, the Most Reverend John J. Myers, has recently issued “A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage.”  In this document, which is clearly politically motivated, he urges “faithful Catholics” and other “men and women of goodwill” to vote against any candidate for public office who supports […]

“Think Different–Accept Uncertainty” Part XIX: The Dawning of Resurrection

October 10, 2012 12:01 AM
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Behind the narratives of Easter contained in the gospel tradition was an experience that was undeniable, powerful and true to the followers of Jesus.  That experience exploded upon them in a manner that words could not capture, but it left its mark on them in indelible ways.  Because of whatever that experience was their lives […]

The Presidential Campaign and the Book of Judges

October 10, 2012 05:26 PM
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A major debate in this year’s presidential election eliciting great emotion and spirited rhetoric relates to “the size and role of the federal government.”  A study of American history reveals that this theme has been part of every campaign since our nation’s founding in 1776.  It has become a once every four-year ritual, complete with […]

“Think Different–Accept Uncertainty” Part XVIII: The Resurrection of Jesus

October 10, 2012 12:01 AM
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The literal details are familiar: the third day, the empty tomb, the experience of seeing the risen Christ.  These details stand at the heart of the Christian story, forming its essential climax if you will.  It is celebrated annually in Easter services, normally with packed congregations.  Its secular observances involve Easter parades, Easter egg hunts […]

An Open Letter to Ross Douthat, New York Times Columnist

September 09, 2012 12:01 AM
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Dear Ross, A few weeks ago in an op-ed piece of the Sunday New York Times, you began your regular column with these words, “In 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Bishop of Newark, published a book entitled, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.”  Spong was a uniquely radical figure – during his […]

“Think Different–Accept Uncertainty” Part XVII: The Story of the Crucifixion, Part Two

September 09, 2012 12:01 AM
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It is certainly a fact of history that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans somewhere around the year 30 CE.  This crucifixion came during the procuratorship of a Roman official named Pontius Pilate, who was in his Judean post according to Roman records between the years 26 and 36 CE.  […]

The Race is On: The Theological and Human Issues in the 2012 Election

September 09, 2012 06:43 PM
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The nominating conventions for both parties are visible now only through the rearview window. The banners have been taken down, the balloons have fallen, the local bars are back to their normal patrons and the campaigns are now in full swing.  The nominating conventions are actually a strange ritual, something of a dated hangover from […]

“Think Different–Accept Uncertainty” Part XVI: The Story of the Crucifixion, Part One

September 09, 2012 12:01 AM
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Somewhere between a third and forty percent of each of the four gospels in the New Testament is concerned with the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Clearly that was the focus of the gospel narratives – that was the emphasis of their message. Mark’s gospel has even been described as “the […]

My Fourth Great Mentor: Edwin Anderson Penick, VI Bishop of North Carolina

August 08, 2012 04:56 PM
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All of us are mentored in life by other people.  Sometime this mentoring is done by example, sometimes by words.  An essential aspect of maturity is to recognize those from whom we have learned, so from time to time in this column I pay tribute to my mentors.  The catalyst for this column today came […]

On Climbing Mountains at Age 81

August 08, 2012 08:45 PM
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For the past twelve years, my wife Christine and I have vacationed in the mountains of Western North Carolina, an area that once was a vital part of my childhood.  We rent a house for a week, sometimes two, in the community around the High Hampton Inn and Golf Club.  Neither of us plays golf […]

The Pacific School of Religion and Theological Education for Tomorrow’s Christianity

August 08, 2012 12:01 AM
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I spent a week recently teaching in the summer session of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.  It was a demanding schedule of four hours a day from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on each of the five days of that week.  This opportunity forced me to think about the state of theological […]

“Think Different–Accept Uncertainty” Part XV: Was Lazarus Raised from the Dead?

August 08, 2012 12:01 AM
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Before leaving my brief analysis of the miracle stories of the New Testament, I want to look at what is probably the best known miraculous act attributed to Jesus in the entire gospel tradition.  That is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  It is a narrative told only in the Fourth Gospel (John 11), […]

“Think Different—Accept Uncertainty” Part XIV: Analyzing the Miracles Attributed to Jesus

August 08, 2012 12:01 AM
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When most people think of the miracles included in the gospels, they usually think of a broad series of apparently supernatural acts. They tend not to be familiar with the intimate details of the biblical narrative.  When those details are revealed, questions are inevitably raised as to the purpose the gospel writer had in mind […]

A Salute to the United Church of Christ

July 07, 2012 09:54 PM
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Sometimes, as one goes about the normal duties of one’s professional life, a pattern of activity slowly becomes visible until one wonders why this had not been seen before.  When that happens, it is good to stop, to notice, to put the pieces together, to seek to understand and then to formulate the new insight […]

The Penn State Tragedy Highlights the Catholic Church’s Failure

July 07, 2012 06:42 AM
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At first the details sounded painfully familiar.  It was, the defendants said, a matter of misplaced loyalties, of valuing the reputation of the institution above all other considerations.  This institution had a long history of service and respect. Many people identified themselves with it.  It raised enormous amounts of money in both gifts and revenues […]

On Baptizing Hadden

July 07, 2012 12:01 AM
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It is a rare treat in the life of a bishop in general and in the life of a retired bishop in particular to participate in a pastoral act like a baptism.  It normally has to come at the invitation of a family member or a very close friend.  Seven years ago I married a […]

“Think Different—Accept Uncertainty” Part XIII: Miracles As Signs to Be Interpreted

July 07, 2012 03:16 PM
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Today, as a part of the overall series entitled “Think Different–Accept Uncertainty,” I want to begin to press this mini-unit on the miracle stories of the gospels toward a conclusion.  My concern has been to show modern readers that these miraculous narratives found in the gospels were always symbolic, interpretive stories rather than supernatural accounts […]

My Way into an Interfaith Future

June 06, 2012 12:01 AM
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Last week I introduced you, my readers, to an interfaith “think tank” in which I shared recently at a conference center known as the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York.  Some fifty leaders from among all the major religious systems of the world gathered there to explore the common ground that might lead to deeper […]

Is an Interfaith Future a Possibility in Our World?

June 06, 2012 01:14 PM
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Recently I was part of an intensive two-day “think tank” experience on “The Future of Interfaith Cooperation,” which asked the question as to whether the religious violence that marks so much of our world can ever be overcome and be replaced with interfaith understanding and cooperation.  This “think tank” was sponsored by the Chautauqua Institution […]

“Think Different—Accept Uncertainty” Part XII: Are the Miracles of Jesus Miracles or Interpretive Signs?

June 06, 2012 12:01 AM
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Last week, we began to look at the miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospels.  Most of them are familiar stories to those of us raised in the Christian faith.  When I was a young child growing up in North Carolina, I was taught that the miracles were both demonstrations of Jesus’ divinity as well […]

“Think Different-Accept Uncertainty” Part XI: Beginning a Probe of the Miracles Attributed to Jesus

June 06, 2012 12:01 AM
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Deconstruction is always easier to do than reconstruction, but it is not nearly so important.  It is never enough to say who or what Christ is not, but we must move on to say who or what Christ is.  The task is complicated, however, by the very fact that the Jesus story, as related in […]

Remembering My Mentors Part III: Janet Robinson, Bible Teacher

May 05, 2012 12:01 AM
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Her name was Janet Robinson and I met her shortly after my 12th birthday.  She was a member of my church and active as a Sunday school teacher.  She was an unmarried lady in her late forties or early fifties.  She was a stocky, heavy-set woman, but no one would have referred to her as […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part X: The Christ – He Is Not the Savior of the Fallen

May 05, 2012 12:01 AM
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In my studies of the origins of life and its evolution, I have become convinced that the traditional and primitive claim that involves the concept of “original sin” has got to go!  This mythological misunderstanding was based on the assumption that human life began perfect, but that we had our perfection destroyed by our disobedience, […]

Conflicting Emotion: Pride in the President, Shame at the Response of Many Church Leaders

May 05, 2012 12:01 AM
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When the President of the United States, announced his support for gay marriage, the political landscape began to roil and I was filled with two quite opposite sets of emotions. First, there were the positive feelings.  There was enormous joy when I thought of what this would mean to close friends of mine who have […]

A Meditation on the Meaning of a Brief Life

May 05, 2012 12:01 AM
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They were a very happy young couple. Both the wife and the husband were successful professionally. They had worked hard to achieve this success, postponing much of what young adults think of as fun in order to pursue their goals. They were in their early thirties when they met, fell in love and decided to […]

The Vatican vs. the Nuns

May 05, 2012 05:24 PM
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Perhaps it takes a political campaign to reveal the fault lines in both our nation and in institutional religion.  At least that is what appears to be happening in current American politics.  The political season has a way of loosening latent fears, exciting the extremists and bringing silliness to the political arena.  We have watched […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part IX: What is the Human Reality Our Ancestors Called Original Sin?

April 04, 2012 12:01 AM
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What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be alive?  Why are we constituted the way we are?  What was there and what is there about our humanity that caused our ancestors to develop a mythological understanding of human life, portraying it as fallen and infected with what they called “original […]

The Retirement of Rowan Williams – The Archbishop of Canterbury

April 04, 2012 12:01 AM
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Dr. Rowan Williams, has recently announced his plans to retire at year’s end. This announcement was greeted with little notice or emotion.  This fact may be attributed to the declining influence in the Western world of religion in general and of Christianity in particular or […]

On Being Honored by the Jesus Seminar

April 04, 2012 06:52 AM
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In the early spring of this year the Jesus Seminar paid me a special tribute at its meeting held in Salem, Oregon.  First, I was invited to give two lectures to the assembled hosts of scholars and guests on “Changing the Christian Paradigm from Salvation to Wholeness.”  Next, I was featured in an hour long, […]

The Health Care Debate: Is It Possible to Reach Conclusions That Are Satisfactory?

April 04, 2012 05:42 PM
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The argument before the Supreme Court as to whether the Federal government can mandate health insurance for all citizens represents a fascinating dance around shifting realities.  It is an argument that totters between the values inherent in an interdependent society and those cherished by an individualistic society.  The reality is, however, that in an ever-shrinking […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part VIII: Deconstructing the Story of the Fall

March 03, 2012 08:26 PM
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The way Christians have told the Christ story, beginning with Augustine in the fourth century and continuing through Anselm in the twelfth century, is to postulate an original and perfect creation from which human life has fallen.  This original perfection was first perverted and then lost by an act of human disobedience. At least that […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part VII: The Corruption of Human Life According to the Bible

March 03, 2012 12:01 AM
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In the beginning all was good, said the oldest biblical story of creation (Gen. 2:4b-3:24).  That goodness was symbolized by the portrait of life in the Garden of Eden, a garden that contained everything for which a human being could yearn.  There was ample water, fruit and vegetation.  The author of the story even asserted […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part VI: Understanding the Source of Evil

March 03, 2012 12:24 AM
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Note: See the Announcements section for a clarification on the order of the entries in this series. Bad theology is inevitable when it is based on bad anthropology!  That is, the way we understand human life always determines the way we understand God. This becomes very clear when religious people begin to grapple with and […]

The Contraception Debate: Is Misogyny on the Rise?

March 03, 2012 10:41 AM
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Here is some of the evidence. In Virginia, the State Legislature was poised to pass and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell to sign a bill requiring a vaginally-invasive medical procedure be performed on any woman seeking an abortion until a massive demonstration of female voting power caused them to “modify” it very slightly. In the United […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part V: The Traditional Religious Definition of Human Life

March 03, 2012 05:00 AM
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In this series we have looked at the changing understanding of God throughout human history. We have tried to separate the God experience of transcendence, wonder and awe from the God explanation that has ranged from animism to fertility cults and mother worship to a God understood after the analogy of a tribal chief and […]

The Roman Catholic Bishops: Are They Killing Their Church?

February 02, 2012 03:33 PM
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I never thought I would live long enough to see birth control become a major political issue.  Nor did I think I would ever hear the desire to provide women with safe and effective contraception be referred to as “a war on religion on the part of the Obama administration.”  Granted that presidential election years […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part IV: Expanding the Bankruptcy of Theism

February 02, 2012 09:47 PM
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Before proceeding with this series, I want to return to my theme of last week and examine the concept of theism more closely.  In so doing, I run the risk of repetition, but so crucial is this idea in the development of this series that I am willing to do that in order to make […]

”Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part III: A Call to Re-Image God and All Religious Symbols

February 02, 2012 12:35 PM
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Defining the human experience that we call God is not just a modern activity, human beings have engaged in this task since the dawn of civilization. The factor driving the change in the human definition of God was never a new revelation from on high; it was always a dramatic shift in human life usually […]

Should a Competent Newspaper Publish Uninformed Prejudice?

February 02, 2012 06:54 PM
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An article on homosexuality, which appeared recently on the Op-Ed page of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, calls into question the decision on the part of that paper’s editors to publish this piece. The article, signed by Don Nye of Edina, revealed no competence to address this subject and revealed little more than uninformed prejudice.  I […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part II

January 01, 2012 11:37 AM
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A recent letter from an Anglican priest in Canada revealed what this priest believes to be the dire straits into which Christianity has fallen in that gentle land to our north.  “So many of the churches are empty,” he wrote, “and the people who are left are old and tired.  Clergy do their best, but […]

“Think Different – Accept Uncertainty”

January 01, 2012 12:01 AM
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I recently read Walter Isaacson’s provocative and fascinating biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple Corporation.  He was innovative, iconoclastic, weird and a genius.  He built his company not only into a successful giant, but made it the highest valued company in the entire world.  One of Steve Job’s secrets was that he […]

My Second Great Mentor: David Watt Yates (1904-1967)

January 01, 2012 12:01 AM
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His name was David Watt Yates.  As an Episcopal priest he fought for the integration of the races in North Carolina in the 1940’s!  He was a conscientious objector during World War II even in the face of such compelling moral issues as theories of the “Master Race” and the reality of the Holocaust.  He […]

The Monolithic Conservatism of the American Heartland Is Not So Monolithic!

January 01, 2012 12:01 AM
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There are times when one’s perceptions are challenged and one’s stereotypical prejudices are shattered.  This happened to me in recent days when I fulfilled invitations to speak in three cities that one thinks of as traditional, heartland cities.  They were Birmingham, Alabama, Tupelo, Mississippi, and Kansas City, Missouri.  I share with my readers these experiences […]

An Open Letter to a Political Leader Newt Gingrich and to a Religious Leader Pat Robertson

December 12, 2011 12:01 AM
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A note to my readers:  This column ran first in the fall of 2010 or about 15 months ago in this exact form.  It was not regarded as controversial.  The political situation in America, however, has shifted dramatically in those 15 months making this column read very differently in the present context.  I suspect it […]

Christpower

December 12, 2011 08:42 PM
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A Note to my Readers: Many years ago, in 1974 to be specific, for the sermon at the Christmas Eve Midnight service at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, I sought to redefine Jesus through the medium of poetry.  I could, even then, no longer see him with credibility as the incarnation of a supernatural […]

Harrisena Community Church in Lake George New York: A Story Worth Telling

December 12, 2011 09:14 PM
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This church was built in 1866 by John J. Harris to be used as an Episcopal summer chapel serving vacationers in the Lake George, New York area.  In 1869 it was deeded to the vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Glen Falls, New York.  It was closed in 1883.  It re-opened in […]

A Walk Down Memory Lane in England with My Wife

December 12, 2011 12:01 AM
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It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for my wife Christine.  It turned out to be a moment of insight into life itself.  For that reason alone I share this experience with my readers. On a recent trip to Switzerland and Italy, we added a couple of days in England, the land of Christine’s […]

What Do Christian Symbols Mean in a Land Where Christianity is No Longer Practiced?

December 12, 2011 09:47 PM
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Italy is a Roman Catholic country!  That was stated time after time as we journeyed through Florence, Tuscany and the Cinque Terre.  The signs of this faith tradition were everywhere.  The major tourist attractions in Italy, ranging from the Vatican to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the storied museums of the land in which […]

The Super Committee Fails – Disgust is Rampant!

November 11, 2011 10:56 PM
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There was a sense of disgust, followed by feelings of despair when the super committee formed to deal with the budget deficit failed to accomplish anything.  This committee had been given enormous legislative power.  Any conclusion to which they agreed would go to the Senate and House of Representatives to be voted up or down […]

Studying Christian Art in Florence Italy

November 11, 2011 08:52 PM
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The Florence Museum, known in Italy as the Musei Firenze, is best known for the massive marble statue of the youthful King David sculpted by Michelangelo.  Housed in the section of the museum known as the Galleria dell’Accademia, this magnificent work of rare genius was accomplished with meticulous detail designed to reveal the beauty and […]

Facing the Political Realities of Institutional Church Life in the Launch of Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World

November 11, 2011 11:19 PM
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On November 8, 2011, my publisher, Harper-Collins, released my newest book under the title Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.  The date of a book’s release is always a significant day in the life of an author, not unlike, I can at least imagine, the way a mother must feel when she gives birth […]

The European Economy and Germany’s Role in Re-Shaping it in the 21st Century

November 11, 2011 05:05 PM
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One of the signs of our radically interdependent world is that the economic problems of Europe have become the primary catalyst in the American stock market fluctuations over the past few months.  We have thus become quite familiar with talk of Greece’s default, with downgrades on Italian banks and with constant rumors of the collapse […]

Why I Wrote “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World”

October 10, 2011 01:43 PM
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Several years ago, while in England, I was invited to participate on a two-hour television program hosted by Melvin Bragg, now Sir Melvin Bragg, on the UK’s ITV channel. The topic was the future of religion in general and of Christianity in particular.  There were three other panelists one of whom was Christopher Hitchens, well […]

My First Mentor: Robert Littlefield Crandall

October 10, 2011 08:56 PM
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One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is an obscure man named Andrew.  While he is supposed to be one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, there is no content attached to his name in the first three gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, other than the fact that he was the brother of […]

Richard Dawkins and His Challenge to Christianity

October 10, 2011 08:31 PM
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Recently, the New York Times ran a major interview with Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University under the banner headline of “A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy.”  This world famous professor is now better known for his attacks on what he believes is the religious expression he calls Christianity than he is for his obviously brilliant […]

Phyllis’ Garden Revisited (10/14/2011 Update)

October 10, 2011 07:13 PM
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A Note from the Publisher: This article (originally published on 10/6/2011) was updated on 10/14/2011 with information on the current whereabouts of Phyllis Weller.  Please read on… We went to see Phyllis when we were in the United Kingdom this past summer.  Some of you will remember Phyllis for I have written about her before.  […]

Troy Davis and the Debate over Capital Punishment

September 09, 2011 03:10 PM
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Wednesday, September 21, was a consciousness-raising day in the United States.  It is always a conscious-raising occasion when a high profile public execution is about to take place.  The people of this country favor the death penalty for murder, the polls tell us, by about a 64 per cent majority, but there is a deep […]

Walter Cameron Righter 1923-2011: A Great Bishop

September 09, 2011 07:45 PM
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He was one of the most courageous men I have ever known.  He lived out the stereotypical strength of character that he inherited from his German ancestors.  Even though people experienced him as kind and gentle, on his broad shoulders the Episcopal Church’s struggle to achieve equality for its gay and lesbian members literally pivoted […]

Signs Appear That the Toxic Political Atmosphere in America is Beginning to Lift

September 09, 2011 08:19 PM
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The president has made his dramatic appeal to a joint session of congress for a jobs bill and the Republican House of Representatives leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor appear to be receptive at least to some of his ideas. The first Republican presidential debate is now history. The candidates were consistently negative about all […]

The Gladstone Library – A Final Visit

September 09, 2011 07:02 PM
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In the United Kingdom about ten miles from the ancient Roman city of Chester, inside the northern edge of a country called Wales, is located an institution that calls itself “The Gladstone Library.”  It also serves as a conference center, run by a board of trustees and loosely related to the Anglican Church.  This library […]

Political Gridlock and Presidential Politics

September 09, 2011 07:20 PM
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As I watch political gridlock creating recession in the United States, I find myself at a loss for words.  It does not help that I have just finished reading William D. Cohan’s book House of Cards, based on the collapse of Bear Stearns in 2008.  In that book, I discovered that the behavior of many […]

Meditation on Turning 80 in London

August 08, 2011 12:21 PM
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I marked the 80th anniversary of my birth in Green’s Restaurant, Duke Street in London this summer.  What I thought was to be a quiet, romantic dinner with my wife Christine was jarred a bit when we arrived at the restaurant and were told “Your table for five is ready.”  Five, I thought, who are […]

Lecturing in the Church of Scotland

August 08, 2011 09:30 PM
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To come to Scotland is to come to that mysterious land of clans with their identifying tartans and clan warfare; to a nation that forced the English to build Hadrian’s Wall, and to a land that still harbors deep independent feelings that cause Scotland’s membership in the United Kingdom still to be publicly debated.  It […]

The Lecture Tour of Germany, Part III: Marburg

August 08, 2011 06:45 PM
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Our task and the agenda for the third day of our lecture tour of Germany was to go to the city of Marburg where the University of Marburg is located.  This was a particularly exciting opportunity for me because Rudolf Bultmann, the man I regard as the greatest New Testament scholar of the 21st century, […]

The Lecture Tour of Germany, Part II: Gottingen

August 08, 2011 05:28 AM
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My lecture tour of Germany was joined from the very beginning by a unique Frenchman named Raymond Rakower, who accepted Gerhard Klein’s invitation to come to Germany and to accompany us.  Gerhard Klein has been the translator into German for four of my books.  Ray Rakower was his French counterpart, who has translated two of […]

The Tragedy in Norway and Its Meaning

July 07, 2011 08:20 PM
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My heart aches for Norway.  I have visited that country where I lectured in a large Lutheran Church in downtown Oslo and admired some of Norway’s most creative clergy.  I have also felt the reaction of Norway’s ecclesiastically conservative Christian leaders who seem to believe that preserving yesterday’s truth, not engaging the world, is their […]

Our Political Debate – A National Embarrassment

July 07, 2011 09:08 PM
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Either those who now run the legislative wing of our government are irresponsible and frivolous with this nation’s health and well being or there is something I do not understand about the current crisis in Washington.  I am both amazed at and disgusted by the behavior of some of our elected representatives.  Let me test […]

The Lecture Tour of Germany, Part I: Background and Content

July 07, 2011 09:39 PM
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Earlier this summer as part of a European lecture tour, Christine and I went to Germany for three public lectures in three cities and two press interviews.  The invitation to include Germany on this trip came from a retired Lutheran pastor named Gerhard Klein, who has translated four of my books into German, which have […]

Examining the Meaning of Resurrection, Part VI: Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

July 07, 2011 08:07 PM
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Something happened at the first Easter.  Some insist that it was an event that occurred on a single day.  Others suggest that an experience was identified with that day making it a symbol of a breakthrough to a new consciousness.  Theologians and biblical scholars alike still debate whether it was an internal or external happening, […]

Examining the Meaning of the Resurrection, Part V: The “How” Question — What Was the Context in Which Easter Dawned?

June 06, 2011 03:43 PM
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We come now to our fourth and final question in search of the meaning of Easter.  Then with clues, hopefully well established, I will seek to draw some conclusions in the final column in this series.  We have thus far identified Simon Peter as the person who stood in the center of the resurrection experience […]

Examining the Meaning of the Resurrection, Part IV: What is the Meaning of Three Days?

June 06, 2011 06:55 PM
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First, we asked who stood at the center of the Easter experience and Peter emerged from our study as the one in whom the meaning of resurrection dawned.  Then we asked “where” Peter and the disciples were when Easter broke into their consciousness and our study led us to the primacy of the Galilean tradition […]

Examining the Meaning of the Resurrection, Part III: Where Were the Disciples When They Saw?

June 06, 2011 06:15 PM
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When people have a life-changing experience, they tend to freeze in their minds forever where they were and even what they were doing when the news broke or the new awareness entered their world.  I can recall to this day where I was when, as a ten-year old child, I heard the news of the […]

Thoughts on the Future of Christianity After a Conversation with the Founder of the Alban Institute

June 06, 2011 09:18 PM
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Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with the Rev. Dr. Loren B. Mead, known to many of you as the creator of the Alban Institute.  A think tank operation, funded largely over the last fifty years with grants from major foundations, the Alban Institute has studied and made recommendations on every […]

Examining the Meaning of the Resurrection, Part II: Who Stood in the Center of the Easter Breakthrough?

June 06, 2011 02:00 AM
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We begin our probe into the meaning of the Easter moment by asking who it was who stood in the center of the Easter experience. People do not always recognize that the claim of revealed truth requires both a revelation and a receiver of that revelation. The revelation may be of a timeless truth, but […]

Examining the Meaning of the Resurrection, Part I: Setting the Stage

May 05, 2011 02:00 AM
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Through this column during the weeks before Good Friday, I did a series on the story of the cross and its meaning, seeking to call you, my readers, into a more interpretive way of reading the passion narrative.  I focused on the developing nature of that narrative and sought to show that when the first […]

New Dean for the Seminary at Drew University: A Rising Star in Theological Education

May 05, 2011 02:00 AM
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One of the most enriching elements of my life today is the relationship I have with Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Located about five miles from my home, Drew began its life as a theological school designed to train clergy for the Methodist Church. Only later did this theological school grow into being both […]

Nebraska: Bright Lights in America’s Heartland

May 05, 2011 02:00 AM
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Mutual of Omaha. Warren Buffet and Nebraska Football! These are the best known icons of the Cornhusker State of Nebraska. In my mind there will always be one more. Roman Lee Hruska, who represented Nebraska in the United States Senate from 1954 to 1976. Senator Hruska had a distinguished career as a vocal fiscal conservative, […]

Rush Limbaugh vs. Lawrence O’Donnell – What Would Jesus Cut?

May 05, 2011 02:00 AM
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The political debate, as it is viewed on the twenty-four hour a day cable news television channels, is frequently more amusing than informative. The necessity of keeping an audience glued to the set means that insignificant things are hyped into being major stories. There is indeed a crisis a day, sometimes elevating political nonsense into […]

Peter J. Gomes, 1942-2011, Preacher Par Excellence

April 04, 2011 05:00 AM
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Both the United States and world Christianity lost one of its more preeminent voices recently with the death of Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church at Harvard. He was a friend, a prophet and a remarkable human being. The public […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part VII: What Judas Iscariot Meant in the Eighth Ninth & Tenth Decades of Christian Development

April 04, 2011 12:22 PM
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Last week we began a biblical analysis of Judas Iscariot.  First, we noted that Paul, who wrote and died before any gospel had been written, was totally unaware of the tradition that one of the “twelve” played the role of the traitor.  Not only is there no mention of this when Paul wrote the account […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part VI: The Enigma Called Judas

April 04, 2011 04:53 AM
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The anti-hero of the Christian story in general and of the crucifixion story in particular is one who is known as Judas Iscariot. Scorn and ridicule have been heaped on this figure over the centuries of Christian history. Much anti-Semitism has flowed from the depiction of this character. No one anywhere names his or her […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part V: Barabbas – Another Interpretive Figure

April 04, 2011 03:47 AM
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In Mark’s original story of the Passion of Jesus, he introduces for the first time in any written Christian record the figure of Barabbas.  In this story we are told two things:  First, it was a Roman custom to release a prisoner at the feast of the Passover, one whose freedom the people desired.  Second, […]

My Friend: Richard Lester Shimpfky 1940-2011

March 03, 2011 09:12 PM
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Recently, I preached at the funeral of one who had been a close friend for more than 40 years.  His name was Richard Shimpfky.  Let me tell you something of his story. I first met Richard when he was a senior at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he was described by Clifford Stanley, […]

Examining the Meaning of the Cross, Part IV: The Symbols of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Crucifixion

March 03, 2011 03:41 AM
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The first narrative account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Bible is found in the gospel of Mark written some 40-43 years, or approximately two generations, after the events it purports to describe.  You may read it in Mark 14:17-15:47.  It does not claim to be an eye witness account.  Indeed it draws most of its […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part III: There Never Were “Seven Last Words” From the Cross

March 03, 2011 04:56 PM
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One of the most dramatic services of Holy Week for me has always been the Good Friday “Three Hour Service.”  It was designed to enable Christian worshipers in some dramatic way to watch by the cross as their Lord died.  The traditional content of that three-hour service traditionally consisted of sermons or meditations on what […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part II: Did the Crucifixion of Jesus Occur at Passover?

March 03, 2011 05:00 PM
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It is a common assumption that the crucifixion of Jesus took place in the context of the Jewish observance of Passover.  That is certainly the point of view developed in each of the four gospels.  Mark portrays the journey of Jesus and his followers to Jerusalem, which eventuated in the crucifixion, to have been for […]

Examining the Story of the Cross, Part I: Analyzing the Details of the Crucifixion

March 03, 2011 05:39 PM
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In a few weeks the Christian world will enter the season of Lent that culminates with Holy Week and the liturgical reading of the Passion narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The story of the cross is clearly the focal point of the New Testament with the last week of Jesus’ life taking up about a third […]

Should this Column Deal with Political Issues?

February 02, 2011 12:50 AM
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I value the letters I receive from my readers.  They often offer me new perspectives, bringing to my attention new facts that contribute significantly to my understanding or challenge my conclusions.  Frequently these letters express appreciation for insights that I have been able to give them.  The most appreciative letters come from two major sources: […]

Why I Value Valentine’s Day and How I Lost my Hat on Broadway

February 02, 2011 01:12 AM
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On February 14, I took my wife to the Valentine concert at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. This concert featured the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the gifted direction of Harvard graduate Alan Gilbert in a presentation of some of the works of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Lehar, Falla, Lara and Leonard Bernstein. […]

The Transition from Tribalism: The Tea Party, States’ Rights, Strict Constructionists and the Reading of the Constitution

February 02, 2011 09:57 PM
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Recently, I read Brian Burroughs’ book, The Big Rich, the story of the rise and fall of the major Texas oil fortunes.  When I had finished this book, I finally understood the source of the irrational anger expressed toward the Federal Government in today’s political climate; the revival of “States’ Rights;” the meaning of the […]

Milton Reese LeRoy, 1922-2010

February 02, 2011 12:58 AM
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He was competent, but gentle; successful, but not aggressive; genuine without being pretentious.  His name was Milton Reese LeRoy.  He graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina in 1943 as an engineer and, after a tour of duty in the armed forces during World War II, from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1950.  He was ordained […]

Watching the United Kingdom Wrestle with its Deficit

January 01, 2011 10:28 PM
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All economic downturns have political ramifications. What the actual effect will be is determined to some degree by the psyche of the nation itself.  In the Great depression of the 1930’s Germany turned to Adolph Hitler to lead them out, while America turned to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  One must admit those were two radically different […]

Biblical Ignorance in Public Life

January 01, 2011 01:47 AM
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One of the things I look for in my elected representatives in government is that they understand the issues on which they speak with some level of competence. When people in authority take stands on public issues, I believe, they do have a responsibility to be informed.  Two events occurring recently in our political landscape […]

Facing Hard Choices in the 21st Century. It’s Either Hogs or Hines!

January 01, 2011 12:10 PM
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In the last half of the 19th century a country doctor named Edgar Hines lived with his family that included two sons, Edgar jr. and John Elbridge in Oconee County, South Carolina, near Clemson University.  Edgar Hines, Jr. went on to become an outstanding doctor.  John Elbridge Hines grew up to become the Presiding Bishop […]

Joseph – An Essential Character in Matthew’s Vision of Jesus

January 01, 2011 11:20 PM
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Christmas has faded from our memory.  The trees are down, the tinsel and the chaos of the day have been cleared away.  The crèche scenes have been stored in the basement or attic for another year.  It is, therefore, a good time to focus on the least understood member of the Holy Family that dominated […]

Thoughts at the End of 2010 – Darkness Ahead

December 12, 2010 07:27 PM
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Momentarily a new year will dawn. 2010 has been difficult economically for this nation and the world. Now is a traditional time both for looking backward and forward. When I watch our politicians discharge their duties at year’s end, I find myself despairing for two reasons. First, few people in public life seem eager to […]

Christpower

December 12, 2010 08:07 PM
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Dear Friends, On December 24th, 1974 I delivered in my Church in Richmond, Virginia, a sermon, which sought to put the Christmas story into a modern context through the medium of poetry. It was based on an earlier poem I had written, entitled Christpower. In 1975 this Christmas piece was incorporated into and published along […]

An Adventure At A Law School

December 12, 2010 08:15 PM
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Recently, I spoke at the Law School of Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My topic was “Homosexuality and the Law.” It was in many ways a fascinating experience. I was introduced by an attractive, bright second year law school student, who, I gathered, had worked very hard to have me invited. She […]

Birth, Maturity, Transition

December 12, 2010 06:55 PM
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The story began in 2001 when Mark Tauber, now my publisher at Harper Collins, but then with BeliefNet.com, came to our home in New Jersey to see if I would be interested in being the author of a subscription column that would be marketed by a new company that he and two other friends were […]

Pandemics and Interdependency

December 12, 2010 06:51 PM
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My grandfather, Augustus Maye Spong, died in the influenza epidemic, which accompanied and followed World War I. He was 57. I never knew him since his death occurred twelve years before I was born. I was told, however, of the cause of his death, as this trauma lived on in our family’s history. Recently, drawn […]

My Journey Out of Homophobia

November 11, 2010 06:42 PM
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“In the struggle to emancipate gay and lesbian people from oppression, you have been what Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the struggle to emancipate people of color from oppression.” These words, spoken by Dr. Lawrence Carter, Dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, marked the unveiling of my […]

The Bible – A Divine Gift or an Immoral Treatise?

November 11, 2010 12:00 AM
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Cecil B. DeMille, one of the great motion picture producers of the ages, called the Bible “The Greatest Story Ever Told” when he produced and directed a motion picture by that name. Christopher Hitchens, a well-known transatlantic journalist and political pundit, has recently referred to the Bible in a New York Times review of a […]

Elijah and Elisha (The Origins of the Bible, Part Xa)

November 11, 2010 12:00 AM
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While going through past columns in my series on the origins of the Bible this fall in preparation for their publication next year by Harper Collins under the title Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, I came to a startling realization. I had, in my unit on the rise of the prophets in Israel, […]

A Gem of a Church in Montana

October 10, 2010 12:00 AM
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A major street near the center of this city was named “Last Chance Gulch.” Another was called “Prospect Street.” One quickly got the sense that Helena, the state capital of Montana, was born in the western gold rush and that its original prospectors were disillusioned and even financially ruined before gold was actually discovered. Now, […]

An Open Letter to Political Leader Newt Gingrich and Religious Leader Pat Robertson

October 10, 2010 12:00 AM
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Dear Newt and Pat, You have both walked on the national stage for some time now. Your names are well known, even household words, across this country. I think it is fair to say that both of you have made contributions. Your recent activities, however, lead me to suggest that the time has come for […]

How St. Luke’s Church in Tarboro, N. C., Challenged My Racism

October 10, 2010 12:00 AM
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As I stood in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapel at Morehouse College recently to witness the unveiling of my portrait to hang in the Hall of Honor, I could not help but look back on my life with wonder. I was raised uncritically in the racist prejudice of the South and yet I had […]

Stephen Hawking and the Death of Theism

October 10, 2010 12:00 AM
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Stephen Hawking, probably the best known and best read scientist of this century, has just published, with his co-author Leonard Mlodinov of Stanford University, a book entitled The Grand Design. This book has achieved headlines in newspapers around the world because Hawking’s conclusion is that one does not need the God hypothesis to explain the […]

Anti-Muslim America! – The Meaning of our Current Political Anger

September 09, 2010 12:00 AM
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Early in my career, I had a colleague, now deceased, named The Rev. Joseph Kellerman, known to his friends as “Jody.” This man served then as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, a suburban middle-class congregation on Park Road in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was also a well-trained specialist in the […]

China Revisited, Part III

September 09, 2010 12:00 AM
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There are no Gideon Bibles in the hotel rooms of modern China. There are not even books expressing the beauty of Buddhism, Taoism or the writings of Confucius. There is not even the last will and testament of Conrad Hilton! The emphasis of this nation is almost totally on material well being. I experienced religion […]

China Revisited, Part II

September 09, 2010 12:00 AM
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Visiting modern China during the summer of 2010 was a transforming, enlightening and even a fearful experience for me. I had not been to China in 22 years. Our journey began in Shanghai, China’s second largest city with 20 million citizens. Embracing the size of China’s cities was the first surprise. Chongqing, known as Chungking […]

China Revisited, Part I

September 09, 2010 12:00 AM
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I first went to China in 1984.  In that year we could only visit Hong Kong and the New Territories.  The Cultural Revolution, led by the “gang of four” and fuelled by those called “The Red Guards”, had thrown the nation into a paroxysm of paranoia from which it was still emerging.  Suspicions ran high. […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXVI: Johannine Epistles and the Book of Revelation

September 09, 2010 12:00 AM
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We come this week to the final chapter in our three-year-long walk through the 66 books of the Bible. We conclude with the final pieces of the Johannine literature: the three epistles that bear his name and the book of Revelation that is also attributed to John. Since I treated the gospel in more detail […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXV: The Epilogue of John

August 08, 2010 12:00 AM
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The last chapter of John’s gospel, known as the Epilogue, is not believed by most scholars to be part of the original text of this gospel. A careful reading of chapter 20 makes it clear that this was how the original evangelist chose to end his story. Listen to his closing words: “Now Jesus did […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXIV: The Raising of Lazarus and the Identity of the Beloved

August 08, 2010 12:00 AM
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We began this study of John with the assertion that the author of this gospel was writing a highly symbolic, interpretive account of Jesus of Nazareth. He created this account some 65-70 years after the events he is describing, which marked the end of Jesus’ earthly life. He tells his readers time and again that […]

The Origins of The New Testament, Part XXXIII: The Gospel of John

August 08, 2010 12:00 AM
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If I had to give my readers one clue and one clue only that would unlock the Fourth Gospel and allow its honesty and wonder to flow forth, it would be that in reading John one must always keep in mind that the author is not writing history or biography. Indeed, this author is constantly […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXII: Introducing the Johannine Material

August 08, 2010 12:00 AM
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The last series of books that I will consider to complete our study of the Bible’s origins is referred to as “The Johannine Literature.” It consists of five books: the Gospel of John, the three epistles, I, II and III John, and the Revelation of John. There was a time when people generally assumed that […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXI: The General Epistles — James, I & II Peter and Jude

July 07, 2010 12:00 AM
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When we come near the end of the New Testament, we run into four small books that bear the names of well-known figures in the gospel tradition. They are James and I Peter, each of which consists of five chapters; then there is II Peter with three chapters and finally Jude with only one. James […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXX: The Epistle to The Hebrews

July 07, 2010 12:00 AM
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We do not know who wrote it. We do not know the date of its composition. We do not know to whom this book in the Bible was actually written. We are clear that it was not authored by Paul. It was certainly not written as a letter or an epistle. Its format is much […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXIX: I and II Timothy and Titus — The Pastoral Epistles. We Have the Truth!

July 07, 2010 12:00 AM
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Thus far, as we have explored the origins of the various books of the New Testament, we have not yet come across that familiar form of human religion that asserts: “We have the Truth!” “If you disagree with me, the truth is not in you.” It is our “God-given duty to define truth, defend truth […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXVIII: Acts III — The Story of Paul

July 07, 2010 12:00 AM
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When the book of Acts moves beyond the conflict that set Jewish Christians against Greek Christians, it is ready to chronicle the story of how Christianity became a universal human religion. From the capital of Judaism to the capital of the Roman Empire is the story line that the book of Acts follows. The hero […]

Hendersonville, N.C.A Church, an Organization and the Signs of Victory

July 07, 2010 12:00 AM
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Henderson County is located near Ashville in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, near where I grew up in Charlotte and into which I return every summer as if drawn like a magnet. In this county is an incredible church, together with a number of courageous clergy. The church is the First Congregational Church […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXVII: Acts & the Rise of Universalism

June 06, 2010 12:00 AM
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The book of Acts is a travelogue, a journey, designed by Luke to bring fulfillment to the words he puts into Jesus’ mouth at the very beginning of this book: “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus says, and then he tells them where: “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXVI: The Book of Acts

June 06, 2010 12:00 AM
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In the early manuscripts of the Bible, the book of Acts served the purpose of providing transition from the gospels to the epistles. There was a deep historical fallacy in this assumption though it seemed logical, at least historically, to have stories of the life of Jesus precede stories of the spread of Christianity after […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXV: Concluding Luke and the Synoptic Gospels

June 06, 2010 12:00 AM
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In this final segment on the third gospel we call Luke, I want to summarize and to establish firmly in the minds of my readers the major thesis that I have sought to develop in my comments on the synoptic gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke. My thesis is that each of these gospels is organized […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXIV: Introducing Luke

May 05, 2010 12:00 AM
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By the time the third gospel, the one we call Luke, was written, history had moved to the last years of the 9th decade at the earliest and quite possibly to the early years of the 10th decade. The Christian movement had journeyed beyond its earlier traumas and tensions and was now concerned about making […]

Lauren Elizabeth Failla 1985-2010

May 05, 2010 12:00 AM
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When I got the telephone call, it was like absorbing a blow to the chest that left my heart pounding and my body breathless, “Can you come right away. Lauren has been killed.” The voice had an urgency that did not allow for further questions. Christine and I went at once. Lauren was Lauren Elizabeth […]

Origins of the New Testament, Part XXIII: Matthew and the Liturgical Year of the Synagogue

May 05, 2010 12:00 AM
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In one of my earlier columns on the gospel of Mark, I sought to demonstrate that it was the liturgical life of the synagogue that formed the organizing principle in the first gospel to be written. What Mark had done was to provide Jesus stories appropriate to the synagogue celebrations from Rosh Hashanah (the John […]

The Origins of New Testament, Part XXII: The Figure of Moses as the Interpretive Secret in Matthew

May 05, 2010 12:00 AM
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Matthew’s gospel has always fascinated me more than the others. It is not the most profound of the gospels, but it does open interpretive eyes for me more widely than the others. The doorway into this perception is found in the process of being able to ask the right questions. Matthew is the “Jewish Gospel,” […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXI: Introducing the Gospel of Matthew

April 04, 2010 12:00 AM
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The second gospel to be written is called Matthew. It made its debut into the world a decade or so after Mark, which would date it in the 82-85 CE range. Matthew’s gospel was heavily dependent on Mark; indeed he incorporated about 90% of Mark into his text with many of these quotations being verbatim. […]

Rabbi Jack Daniel Spiro

April 04, 2010 12:00 AM
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Earlier this spring I returned to Richmond, Virginia, the place where I had served as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located in the heart of that city, until I was elected bishop in Newark in 1976. There is something deep within me that has, and probably always will, bind me to that church and […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XX: Seeing the Crucifixion as Related Liturgically to the Passover

April 04, 2010 12:00 AM
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The first narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion to be written achieved its shape and form in Mark’s gospel, specifically in 14:17-15:47. Prior to this, all the Christians had in writing was one line from Paul: “Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Not a single narrative detail was given by Paul. Perhaps there […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIX: How the Synagogue Shaped the Gospel of Mark

April 04, 2010 12:00 AM
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Has it ever occurred to you that Mark, the first gospel to be written, was in fact a Jewish book created in the synagogue and organized according to the liturgical pattern of synagogue worship? Such an idea sounds very strange to modern Christian people for it carries our imaginations far beyond the boundaries inside which […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XVIII: Mark, The First Gospel

April 04, 2010 12:00 AM
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The original gospel, the one we know as Mark, was written, I believe, after the fall of Jerusalem and its subsequent destruction by the Roman army under the command of a general named Titus, in 70 CE. It was the climax of a war that began in Galilee in 66 and would finally culminate in […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XVII: The Birth of Mark, the First Gospel

March 03, 2010 12:00 AM
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It is difficult to study the gospels accurately unless we step outside the Christian Church as we traditionally experience it today. That may sound like a strange statement, but increasingly I believe it is true. The gospels have been read in liturgical worship for two thousand years. They have provided the texts upon which sermons […]

R.I.P. Michael Douglas Goulder 1927-2010

March 03, 2010 12:00 AM
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I recently learned of the death of Michael Douglas Goulder, one of the world’s most provocative biblical scholars. He was, however, even more than that to me. The three great spiritual and intellectual mentors in my life were John E. Hines, John A. T. Robinson and Michael Douglas Goulder. Michael was the last of this […]

Common Dreams II, Melbourne, Australia, 2010

March 03, 2010 12:00 AM
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Australia is a unique and wondrous country to which I have had the privilege of traveling on nine different occasions and in which I have lectured extensively. It is an overwhelmingly secular country in which religious fundamentalism is vigorous and well endowed, but culturally has a minuscule presence. Its three major Christian bodies are the […]

Theologian in Residence, Coral Gables

March 03, 2010 12:00 AM
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It was — for me, at least — a new idea. In the last ten years I have been a wandering teacher, giving over 2000 public lectures in hundreds of venues. The format in which I worked was normally three days at the most and one day at the least. The three-day event would normally […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XVI: The Elder Paul — Philemon and Philippians

February 02, 2010 12:00 AM
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The process of aging works wonders on the human spirit. Battles once so emotional that they seemed to pit life against death lose their rancor in time, and the differences that once divided people so deeply lose their potency. Age brings both mellowing and perspective. That was surely true of Paul. In this series I […]

“Let Them Eat Cake!”

February 02, 2010 12:00 AM
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These words, probably apocryphal, are attributed to Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI of France. They were said to have been spoken during the early days of the passion and upheaval that would later be called “The French Revolution.” Although most historians today do not think these words are authentic, they do express the […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XV: Who Is Christ for Paul? The Gospel in Romans

February 02, 2010 12:00 AM
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It was Paul’s experience-based conviction that somehow and in some way everything that he meant by the word “God” had been met and was present in the life of the one he called Christ Jesus. “God was in Christ” was the way he referred to it rather ecstatically in one of his earlier epistles. Of […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIV: What Does Salvation Mean to Paul?

February 02, 2010 12:00 AM
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Paul was a person who discovered in his Christ experience new dimension of life unknown to him before. In that sense he was a classic mystic. Every human experience, however, in order to be shared must pass through the medium of words. There is no other means of communicating content to another. In that process […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIII: The Theology of Paul as Revealed in Romans

January 01, 2010 12:00 AM
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Paul of Tarsus was a first century man. He thought in categories consistent with the world view of his time. He believed that he lived in a three-tiered universe over which God reigned from a heavenly throne just above the sky. Paul had never heard of a weather front, a germ or a virus. He […]

Uganda, Homophobia and the Incompetence of Certain Christian Leaders

January 01, 2010 12:00 AM
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Does the Ku Klux Klan have the right to parade through a black community, hurling racist insults at the people of the neighborhood and raising racist fervor throughout the land because their right to free speech is guaranteed by the constitution? Does a neo-Nazi group have the right to demonstrate in a Jewish community, shouting […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XII: Romans — Paul’s Most Thorough Epistle

January 01, 2010 12:00 AM
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If there is one book in the New Testament that might be called “The Gospel of Paul,” it is the Epistle to the Romans. This letter is different from all of Paul’s other work in several ways. First, Paul had never been to Rome and so he had no relationship whatsoever with the Roman church. […]

Thoughts on the Passing of 2009

January 01, 2010 12:00 AM
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It was an incredible year, that weary old 2009. It dawned with the high expectations surrounding the new president-elect. We reveled in the pomp and circumstance of his inauguration. The world greeted this new president with an enthusiasm that had not been seen since the election of John F. Kennedy. In the Obama election, the […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part XI: Resurrection as Paul Understood It

December 12, 2009 12:00 AM
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It is quite easy to see how one could read Paul, especially those epistles known as I Thessalonians and Galatians, and come away believing that Paul saw the resurrection of Jesus as a literal miracle in which a deceased body, quite physically, was restored and walked out of a tomb alive and once more was […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part X: Resurrection According to Paul — I Corinthians

December 12, 2009 12:00 AM
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The first written account that we have of the Easter event in the Bible — Paul addressing the congregation in Corinth around the year 54-55 — gives us material that is both scanty and provocative. In order to understand his meaning fully, we need to cleanse our minds of the traditional Easter content found in […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part IX: Paul on the Final Events in Jesus’ Life

December 12, 2009 12:00 AM
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“I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” With those words Paul set out in writing to the Corinthians the earliest account we have of the final events in the life of Jesus. Paul was not an eyewitness to these final events, since as far as we know he never met […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part VIII: The Corinthian Letters

December 12, 2009 12:00 AM
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Paul was a complicated mixture of many things. He was a missionary who traveled hundreds of miles by foot and by boat to tell his story. He was, as we noted last week when examining the letter to the Galatians, an intense zealot who would fight vigorously to defend his understanding of the gospel. He […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part VII: Paul’s Early Epistles, I Thessalonians and Galatians

December 12, 2009 12:00 AM
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In our Origins of the New Testament series, I now turn to the epistles of Paul since he was the first author to write any part of the New Testament. My plan is to divide the authentic writings of Paul into three broad categories. There is what I call “the early Paul,” best seen through […]

A Church Tower in a Shopping Center! A Restaurant in a Church! Is This Evolving Christianity?

November 11, 2009 12:00 AM
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I have just completed a whirlwind tour of the United Kingdom — nine lectures in eight days in places as far east as Colchester, as far north as Edinburgh, as far west as Exeter and as far south as London. This tour was under the auspices of a group called the Progressive Christian Network of […]

Canterbury and Rome: Ecclesiastical Kindergarten Games

November 11, 2009 12:00 AM
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Let me see if I have this straight. The Pope has a clergy shortage and the Anglicans have a small group of alienated clergy who cannot adjust to women priests and bishops and who abhor the idea of homosexual people being welcomed into the Christian Church. Why not solve both problems at once? That seems […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part VI: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

November 11, 2009 12:00 AM
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Have you ever wondered what Paul’s deepest secret was? Surely he had one. If you listen to his words, an agony of spirit is easily recognized, perhaps even a deep strain of self-hatred.

The Origins of the New Testament, Part V: Interpreting the Life of Paul

  The first person to crack the silence and write anything that we still possess about Jesus of Nazareth was the man known as Saul of Tarsus, who later changed his name to Paul. His conversion to being a believer in and a disciple of Jesus occurred, according to the work of the 20th Century […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part IV: The Oral Period

October 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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Where did the story of Jesus reside in that dark tunnel of time where no records exist? That tunnel began with the crucifixion in 30 CE and lasted until Paul wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians in about 51 CE. From those silent years we have nothing that has survived in writing. From the […]

Honesty and Dishonesty in the Health Care Debate

October 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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The debate on reforming health care in the United States seems to be winding toward a final decision. This debate has revealed new depths of irrationality, dishonesty and anger in political discourse. I recognize that the reform of our health care system is threatening to many, but there is no rational person who believes it […]

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

October 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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Visitors: Read in full here I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. […]

An Evening of Beer and Theology — A Lutheran Experience

October 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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The pastor and congregation of Holy Cross Church are self-consciously about the task of reinventing worship and recreating what it means to be the church. “Beer and Theology” on Monday nights throughout the program year in a local pub is only one facet of their corporate life. A series of lectures on “Rethinking Christianity” is another part of their offering to the community.

The Origins of the New Testament, Part III: Placing the New Testament Onto the Grid of History

October 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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The books of the New Testament did not drop from heaven, fully written, in the King James Version! Yes, that is a caricature, but it still has a tenacious hold on the minds of many Christians. This conviction guarantees that current, competent biblical scholarship will always be a source of much controversy in traditional religious […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part II: Dating the Jesus of History

September 09, 2009 12:00 AM
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In order to understand the New Testament with any real integrity, it must be placed into its historic setting. The events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth did not happen in a vacuum, nor are these events history as history is now defined. Not only was Jesus born in, shaped by and interpreted through […]

The Origins of the New Testament, Part I: Introduction

September 09, 2009 12:00 AM
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I launch today a series of columns that will appear regularly over the next twelve to eighteen months. As I always do in this column, this series will augment the essays that are time sensitive and that seek to illumine contemporary issues through my theological lens. Last week’s column on the health care debate is […]

Seeking to Understand the Rhetoric of the Health Reform Debate

September 09, 2009 12:00 AM
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I went to my local post office in New Jersey last week only to be confronted by a group of demonstrators who had set up a table filled with pamphlets and information about the communist plot to take over health care in America. Several slogans were quite visible on their posters. One said “Stop Socialist […]

The Study of Life, Part 6: Rethinking Basic Christian Concepts in the Light of Charles Darwin

September 09, 2009 12:00 AM
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As I retraced Charles Darwin’s steps through the Galapagos Islands, I contemplated anew his impact on traditional Christian thinking. I had been working intensively on Darwin for about three years in preparation for my book on eternal life. Darwin, more than anyone else, had shaken the foundations of belief in eternal life by defining human […]

The Study of Life, Part 5: Galapagos II — My Search for the Meaning of Life as I Walked in Darwin’s Footsteps

August 08, 2009 12:00 AM
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In the preparation required to write my new book on eternal life, I soon discovered that this subject raised all of the contemporary theological issues that threaten to destroy Christianity as we have known it. It was clear that I would have to turn the traditional religious approach around. I had to read the modern […]

The Study of Life, Part 4: Tracing the Story of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands

August 08, 2009 12:00 AM
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Still pursuing the meaning of life as the necessary prerequisite for raising the question of what might lie beyond life, we left the Amazon Rainforest and made our way by air from Quito through Ecuador’s major port and biggest city, Guayaquil, to the sole airport in the Galapagos on the island named Baltra. This is […]

The Study of Life, Part 3: On Meeting a Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest

August 08, 2009 12:00 AM
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In studying for my recent book on life after death I spent considerable time examining the religious history of human beings. Our religious journey has been long and complex. Beginning in the hunter-gatherer religion of animism we have traveled as a species through the fertility cult religions of our early agricultural civilizations into the coupled […]

The Study of Life, Part 2: Exploring the Drive to Survive in Animate Life and in Self-Conscious Life

August 08, 2009 12:00 AM
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As I said in last week’s column, in that wonderful lull in the life of an author that occurs between the time the book goes to press and the time it is published, we decided to go on a trip to study life itself. Before one can speak about life after death, as I seek […]

The Study of Life, Part 1: A Journey Into the Mystery of Life Begins in the Amazon Rain Forest

July 07, 2009 12:00 AM
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In that mysterious and wonderful lull that comes in an author’s life between completing the writing and editing of a book and waiting for its publication, my wife and I, with one daughter and two granddaughters accompanying us, set off on a trek in search of the meaning of life and its origins. Following in […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVIII: The Chronicler — Final Chapter of the Old Testament

July 07, 2009 12:00 AM
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The Old Testament, as we Christians organize it, closes in the post-exile period of Jewish history. That would date its final works in the mid to late 300s BCE. The biblical story thus comes to a conclusion in a very difficult period of Jewish history. They were a defeated nation returning from exile and trying […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVII: The Liturgical Books of Lamentations and Esther

July 07, 2009 12:00 AM
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One of the things that seems to escape the notice of those who believe that the Bible was somehow dictated by God is that the Bible is first and foremost a liturgical book. That is, the Bible was written to be used on occasions of public worship. It was never intended to be read as […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVI: The Wisdom Literature

July 07, 2009 12:00 AM
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Four books of the Old Testament are generally regarded as being the constituent parts of what has been called “Wisdom Literature.” They are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. We have treated the book of Job earlier in this series (see Origins of the Bible XXIII) and will not repeat that. Job is […]

A Vision of the Rebirth of Christianity Occurring in Sweden

July 07, 2009 12:00 AM
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It was the kind of initiative that one might hope to see coming out of Rome, Canterbury, Constantinople or even from one of the multiple centers of Evangelical Protestantism. The invitation was to speak to a conference designed to bring together critical thinking Christians who were eager to find a way to “sing the Lord’s […]

Wales: Where Visions of a Christian Future Are Being Born

June 06, 2009 12:00 AM
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The land of Wales is a beautiful, intriguing and mysterious part of the world. Most Americans would be hard put to answer the question as to which four nations form the United Kingdom. Yet Wales, a land of some four million people, is one of them. The Welsh people are proud and fiercely independent, most […]

Among My Souvenirs: A Walk Down Memory Lane

June 06, 2009 12:00 AM
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One of the privileges of growing older is the opportunity to return to places and to revisit relationships that were once vital parts of one’s life. That is why “reunions,” that strange activity in which we pretend that the clock can be turned back and that yesterday can be relived, has continuing appeal. We all […]

On Losing a Friend of 57 Years

June 06, 2009 12:00 AM
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About a year ago a former classmate and friend for many years asked me if I would be willing to speak at his funeral service. This friend, Allan Zacher, was always one who planned well in advance, leaving no details to chance or, as we said, “to the Holy Spirit.” I told him that I […]

Masada, the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73, and the Writing of the Gospels

June 06, 2009 12:00 AM
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The most impressive memory I have from my last trip to Israel is not of a religious site at all but of a military site, one that played an enormous role in Israel’s history. I refer to our visit to the desert fortress of Masada where, according to Josephus Flavius, a first-century Jewish historian, the […]

Galilee: The True Origins of the Jesus Story

May 05, 2009 12:00 AM
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I spent several days recently in the region of Israel called Galilee. Contrary to what most people might expect I found my time in Galilee to be far more authentic than my time in Jerusalem. I actually wondered why, for it seemed counterintuitive. Seeking an answer to this question, I plunged into a brief study […]

Being Interviewed in Bethlehem on the Birth Narratives of Jesus

May 05, 2009 12:00 AM
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On Tuesday of Easter Week, my wife and I made our way to Bethlehem, a journey that carried us across the checkpoint and into the West Bank. That transition did not prove to be a major problem. The Israeli government is not too strict about who goes from Israel to the West Bank, but when […]

Jerusalem: Where Scholarship Ends and the Tourist Trade Begins

May 05, 2009 12:00 AM
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It is not easy to be a biblical scholar when visiting the Holy Land. I spent Easter Monday of this year in the city of Jerusalem walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross. My guide was a religiously oriented, delightful Jewish man who was, as he said, the child of radical Zionists who […]

Israel: A Secular State Erected on a Religious Base

May 05, 2009 12:00 AM
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In 1976 as a young bishop ordained to that office less than six months, I made my first trip to Israel. It was part of a three-stop tour designed to gain perspective on the role of religion in that Cold War world. I went first to Geneva, the headquarters of the Protestant World Council of […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXV: The Book of Psalms

April 04, 2009 12:00 AM
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When I was a child I went with my mother from time to time to Chalmer’s Memorial ARP Church, the church in which she had grown up. Those letters “ARP” identified that church as belonging to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian tradition, an ultra-fundamentalist branch of the most rigid form of Calvinism. What was most unusual […]

Why I Am Not a Unitarian

April 04, 2009 12:00 AM
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Some years ago, while I was delivering a series of Lenten lectures in St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, a lay woman asked me a pointed and provocative question: “How is what you say about Jesus different from what the Unitarians say?” Her question was not leveled as a charge, as it is so […]

Life-Changing Moments in Duluth, Minnesota

April 04, 2009 12:00 AM
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Duluth, Minnesota, is a small city of less than 100,000 people at the southwestern corner of Lake Superior. It is known as one of the colder parts of America, receiving as it does those massive flows of Arctic air that sweep upon this nation out of Canada. Duluth is inhabited by hardy souls who are […]

Watching the Demise of a Great Institution

April 04, 2009 12:00 AM
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We are watching today the tragedy of the demise of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad spectacle, but hopefully not one that cannot be reversed. It is not of recent origin. There was a high-water mark for this church in the middle of the 20th century under the leadership of the great Pope […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXIV: The Book of Ruth

  There are three books in the Hebrew Bible that are designated as “protest literature;” that is, they are all representative of a literary device used by an anonymous author to make a point, human or political, in a particular moment of history. The three books are Jonah, Job and Ruth. None of these books […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXIII: Job, the Icon of New Consciousness

Three books of the Bible, Jonah, Job and Ruth, are known as “protest literature”. We treated Jonah in the section of this study on the prophets. We turn now to Job and Ruth.

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXII: Malachi and the Dawn of Universalism

  Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament as Christians organize the scriptures and it is the last voice to be heard in the Book of the Twelve as the Jews organize the scriptures. It will also be the last of the prophets to whom I will give major attention in this series. […]

New Jersey Will Be the Third State in America to Legalize Gay Marriage

March 03, 2009 12:00 AM
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It surprises me only that it was not first. New Jersey has a long history of supporting civil rights and equal rights of all its citizens, as well as opposing discrimination in any form. This state has, however, been a little slow in confronting its cultural homophobia. That is now about to end. One of […]

Titles, Paradigm Shifts and New Consciousness

March 03, 2009 12:00 AM
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Paul Tillich referred to it as “The Creativity of the Demonic.” It has long been my experience that conflict does not have to be destructive; it sometimes leads to new insights and even deep friendships. That lesson came back vividly to me recently when I found myself locked in an increasingly acrimonious argument with my […]

The Politics of Greed: A Response to a Theological Vacuum

February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
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There is much acrimony abroad today in the economic recession that has embraced our nation. The political landscape is filled with “victims” and “victimizers.” Some are overt, like Bernard Madoff and his newly poor clients, but others are vaguer, with victims wondering what has robbed them of their savings and financial future. The press has […]

The Rhetoric of the Stimulus Package

February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
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It has been fascinating watching our legislators in Washington debating the stimulus bill and seeking to reform the way stimulus monies have been spent thus far. My conclusion is that either memory is short or politics are blind. The Republicans, who controlled the White House for the last eight years and both Houses of Congress […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XXI: Jonah and the Prophetic Lesson Against Prejudice

February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
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It was a profound shock to the people of Judah when the City of Jerusalem fell to the army of the Babylonians in the early years of the 6th century BCE. This city had not been conquered by an invading power since 1000 BCE, when David himself had taken it from the Jebusites to make […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XX: I and II Zechariah, Primary Shapers of the Christian Story

February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
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If you were to search the Scriptures for a book called II Zechariah, you would not find it. There is only a single fourteen-chapter book called Zechariah, buried in the Bible between Haggai and Malachi. It is, however, not a single book by a single author, although that is the way it appears. Chapters 1–8 […]

Eternal Life: Pious Dream or Realistic Hope?

January 01, 2009 12:00 AM
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Do modern men and women, even those who still attend church, really believe in life after death? Or do they, as I suspect, only believe in believing in life after death? Recently I attended a funeral service in an Episcopal Church where the words of the fixed liturgy proclaimed with the confidence of yesterday that […]

Lessons From the Obama Inauguration

January 01, 2009 12:00 AM
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In the days before the inauguration of President Obama, I happened to be reading a biography of the English abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759 and 1833), written by Eric Metaxas. The timing was fortuitous. Both illustrated for me how consciousness always changes, and revealed the role that institutional religion plays in betraying its principles and delaying […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XIX: Micah, the Prophet Who Turned Liturgy Into Life

January 01, 2009 12:00 AM
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In my career as a bishop I have known churches that spent great time and effort on liturgy and worship. It was clearly the focus, the reason for being, of those congregations and their budgets reflected this priority. Altar hangings, clergy vestments and the garb of the supporting cast of liturgical characters were always coordinated. […]

A New Year Dawns for Our Nation and the World

January 01, 2009 12:00 AM
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A high level of anticipation marked both this nation and the world as 2008 went into the history books and 2009 dawned. This anticipation came from three sources that I can identify. First, there was a sense that the national nightmare through which we have walked in recent years is finally coming to an end […]

Looking at Christmas Through a Rear-View Window

January 01, 2009 12:00 AM
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It still has magic power. Across the Western world hearts beat lighter during the Christmas season, generosity expands and romance overflows its normal boundaries. Of course, there is a minority of the population for whom this is never true. For them the Christmas season is a cruel reminder of their plight. The picture of family […]

Christpower

December 12, 2008 12:00 AM
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Many years ago, in 1974 to be specific, for the sermon at the Christmas Eve Midnight service at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, I sought to redefine Jesus through the medium of poetry. I could, even then, no longer see him with credibility as the incarnation of a supernatural being who lived above the […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XVIII: Amos, The Prophet Who Transformed God Into Justice

December 12, 2008 12:00 AM
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Not every character in the Bible starts out to be a hero. Indeed, one of the great themes of biblical literature is that it is the meek and the lowly who become the channels through which God is known in new ways. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is portrayed as expressing this theme in the […]

Splinter Episcopalians: Giving Gravitas to Trivia

December 12, 2008 12:00 AM
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Ari Goldman, the former religion editor of The New York Times (and not coincidentally my favorite secular religion newspaper writer in America during my active career), once told me that the only way he could get a religion story on the front page of the Times was to combine religion with sex. I thought of […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XVII: Hosea – The Prophet Who Changed God’s Name to Love

December 12, 2008 12:00 AM
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Hosea is probably my favorite of all the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His story is so real and so compelling and his expansion of the meaning of God was so closely tied to his personal domestic situation as to make his witness unforgettable. The story line is not always clear in the text, but […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XVI: Daniel

November 11, 2008 12:00 AM
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History is not well served by the way the Bible is organized. For example, the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy), which seems to tell a continuous story, was actually written over a period of about five hundred years and describes events that occurred over as long a time frame as fourteen hundred years. Yet it is always read […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part XV: Ezekiel

Does a crisis in the life of the Jewish people serve to call great people into leadership or do these leaders become great because they had to deal with a crisis?

George Will and the Episcopal Church Ignorance Masquerading as Journalism

November 11, 2008 12:00 AM
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George F. Will, a columnist and regular political pundit on George Stephanopoulos’ Sunday morning ABC talk show, is a doctrinaire, but not an unthinking, political conservative. He did in fact endorse Barack Obama for the presidency this fall, being turned off from the McCain-Palin ticket for many reasons, Sarah Palin being one of them. He […]

Origins of the Bible, Part XIV: Jeremiah, the Prophet of Doom

The book of Jeremiah, the second of the Major Prophets in the Bible after Isaiah, is not only a large and complicated piece of writing, but it exhibits no narrative line that can easily be followed or recalled.

The Origins of the Bible, Part XIII: II Isaiah — The Figure of the “Servant”

October 10, 2008 12:00 AM
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If I were to ask an ordinary group of people, even church people, to tell me about the message of the prophet we call II Isaiah, I suspect I would be greeted by a glassy-eyed stare. Yet if I were to ask the same group if they had ever heard or even sung in a […]

Origins of the Bible, Part XII: Introducing the Prophet Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah may himself have been a member of the royal family, all of whom were descendants of King David. He certainly shared their life style, educational background, values and perspectives.

Origins of the Bible, Part XI: The Meaning of the Prophets

If one takes the Book of Daniel out of the Old Testament, a much clearer view of the prophets of Israel becomes visible. Daniel, written during the time of the Maccabees and not during the Persian period, as it pretends to be, really doesn’t fit. The fact is the Book of Daniel should be in the Apocrypha, not in the Old Testament, but that would upset those people who like to predict the end of the world by quoting from this source.

Origins of the Bible, Part X: The Rise of the Prophetic Movement: Nathan – Prophecy’s Father

The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures are not religious versions of Drew Pearson or Jeane Dixon. They do not predict future events. Prophets are those who are in touch with values, truth, perhaps we could call it God, and who thus see the issues of life more deeply than other people see them. Perhaps they are the ones who, by standing on the shoulders of others, can perceive future trends and speak to them before others see them developing.

The Origins of the Bible, Part IX: The Judges – Transition Between the Law and the Prophets

When one initiates a series of columns on the origins of the Bible and how it came to be written, there are inevitably times when there are transitions. They are not the most exciting part of the story, but they are essential if one is going to hear the story in its entirety. We come to such a transition part of the story in this column. Let me set the stage.

Opportunity Time: The Memoirs of Governor Linwood Holton of Virginia

July 07, 2008 12:00 AM
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An autobiography entitled Opportunity Time, written by A. Linwood Holton, the Republican Governor of Virginia from 1970-74, has just been released by the University of Virginia Press. When I first read the notice of this book’s publication, a flood of memories overwhelmed me. I lived in Virginia during his governorship, serving as rector of the […]

The Lambeth Conference 2008: Expect Heat, Not Light

July 07, 2008 12:00 AM
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The bishops of the world-wide Anglican Communion, together with invited ecumenical and interfaith guests, will convene on the campus of the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, on Wednesday, July 16. This gathering is called “The Lambeth Conference,” because it was originally held in Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, just […]

New Mexico: Learning About a Minority Culture in a Majority World

July 07, 2008 12:00 AM
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It is historically very difficult for a majority culture to understand the emotions felt by a minority culture living in the same land. In the 1850s a group of white citizens asked Frederick Douglass, a freed slave, to speak at a 4th of July celebration in Pennsylvania. He declined, saying “What does your 4th of […]

Beauty, Wonder and Excitement in New Mexico

June 06, 2008 12:00 AM
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I am now convinced that there are no sunsets more beautiful than those that blaze through the evening sky in New Mexico. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the New Mexico desert with its high sky against mountains that rise to 7,000 feet in the Santa Fe-Los Alamos area that makes these sunsets so exquisite. […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part VIII The Priestly Revision of the Jewish Sacred Story (B)

June 06, 2008 12:00 AM
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While the first wave of Jews entered the Babylonian Exile around the year 596, a second wave came in 586 after a rebellion was put down by the Babylonians and all of the identifiable descendants of King David were executed. Both groups of captive people carried with them their sacred story, which at that time […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part VII: The Final Strand of the Torah, The Priestly Document (A)

June 06, 2008 12:00 AM
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Time after time we discover that it was the external events of human history that more than anything else shaped the content of those writings that would someday be called the Holy Scriptures. That should not surprise us since all books have human authors who live in a context of both time and place. Only […]

What Does the High School Generation Today Think About Politics in 2008?

June 06, 2008 12:00 AM
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Note: This column is based on the research of a student who is just completing the tenth grade at George Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, a relatively influential and affluent suburb in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The student’s name is John Lanier Hylton. He is my grandson. He challenged me to write […]

Evolution and Homosexuality: The Twin Terrors of the Christian Church

May 05, 2008 12:00 AM
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Where is it that Christian people today focus their anger? One has only to look at the content of current ecclesiastical debates, listen to the rhetoric of church leaders or examine the issues upon which the church divides into two competing camps to have your answer. The two things that elicit the most fear, that […]

Christian Art: Reinforcer of a Dying Literalism

May 05, 2008 12:00 AM
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I did not realize how thoroughly biblical literature has shaped Western civilization until I took a course offered by The Teaching Company entitled “Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance” taught by Professor William Kloss of the Smithsonian Institution. I was certainly aware that almost all Western art up until the Renaissance had religious themes and […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part VI The Third Document in the Torah

May 05, 2008 12:00 AM
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The name of the Torah’s fifth and final book according to the Bible is Deuteronomy. That name comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “deutero,” which means second, and “nomas,” which means law. Deuteronomy thus means the second giving of the law and in that title the story of the book’s origin […]

Jeremiah Wright

May 05, 2008 12:00 AM
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The emergence of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright into the presidential campaign is, I am sure, an unexpected and probably unwelcome diversion for the Obama camp. It gets him, as they say, “off message” and lays bare those elemental places in the human psyche where race and tribe collide. People seeking to exploit this issue for […]

The Universe, the Star of Bethlehem and Professor Alex Filippenko

April 04, 2008 12:00 AM
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Whether I am on the lecture circuit, where I spend most of my time, or in my home a normal day for me starts about 6:00 a.m., when I go either to the hotel’s “fitness room” or to the first floor of our home to spend an hour or more on a treadmill. It would […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part V The Elohist Document

April 04, 2008 12:00 AM
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Most people do not seem to realize that events in what we call the secular world of history shaped so much of the writing of the biblical story. When I get to the formation of the gospels in this series, it will become obvious that the Jewish war with Rome that began in 66 CE […]

Who Are the People in Pennsylvania Who Will Choose the Democratic Nominee?

April 04, 2008 12:00 AM
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The somewhat blurred eyes of the nation’s political stargazers are focused at least until April 22 on the State of Pennsylvania. That is the date on which its citizens will play a determinative role in choosing the potential President of the United States. If Senator Clinton wins, she is still a viable candidate. On the […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part IV The Story of the Yahwist Document

April 04, 2008 12:00 AM
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Thus far in this series on the origins of the Bible, my efforts have been directed toward how the Torah, which contains the oldest material found in the Bible, came into being. The Torah, also called “The Law” and “The Books of Moses,” is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible: […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part III Breaking Open the Books of Moses The Torah

The Bible began to be written, relatively speaking, only a short time ago. When one considers the fact that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old and the birth of the planet Earth can be reliably dated between four and a half and five billion years ago, the beginning of Bible writing near 1000BC is very recent.

The Jesus Seminar and the Future of Scholarship in ChristianChurches

March 03, 2008 12:00 AM
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Recently a meeting of the Jesus Seminar was convened in Santa Rosa, California. It attracted about 500 people including fellows, associates and visitors, who came from 42 states of this union and from six foreign countries. Major keynote lectures were presented by Karen Armstrong of London; Marcus Borg of Oregon; John Shelby Spong of New […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part II Biblical Contradictions, Discredited Attitudes and Horror Stories

March 03, 2008 12:00 AM
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The aura of holiness, the defense shield that endows the Bible with an unchallengeable authority, can exist only so long as people do not bother to read its content very closely. That is, of course, what has happened during most of Christian history. Few people in medieval history other than the clergy could read and […]

Sexism! Still a Force in American Politics

March 03, 2008 12:00 AM
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The quest for the Democratic nomination continues to ebb and flow as the two rivals struggle to gain an edge. Senator Clinton was presumed to be the front runner prior to the Iowa Caucuses, but Senator Obama won that state impressively. Then Senator Clinton came back to win the New Hampshire primary and looked poised […]

The Origins of the Bible, Part 1: Examining the AuraCreated Around the Bible

March 03, 2008 12:00 AM
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Publisher’s Note: Last summer John Shelby Spong began a series of lectures at the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought in Highlands, North Carolina, on how the Bible came to be written. Originally intended to be completed in four presentations, the material proved to be so complex that the series will be continued […]

Holy Cross Lutheran Church: A Jewel in the Frozen North

February 02, 2008 06:31 PM
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The wind chill factor was minus 25 degrees. Snow showers fell regularly on the already icy white countryside. It was not the time one would normally visit Newmarket, Ontario, a town about fifty minutes due north of Toronto, but I had been invited by the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a congregation of less than forty […]

Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle

February 02, 2008 06:32 PM
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I want to return this week to the book Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI. I do this because I was so shocked at the indefensible conclusions revealed in this book that I began to wonder what happens in the minds of people who, like the Pope, continue to […]

Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle

February 02, 2008 06:32 PM
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On February 26, 2008, my latest book, Jesus for the Non-Religious, will be released by my publisher, Harper Collins, in a paperback version. Since its original publication on February 27, 2007, I have traveled extensively to speak about this book, delivering 168 public addresses in 16 states, eight countries and four continents, including two trips […]

Teaching at Drew Theological Seminary in 2008

February 02, 2008 06:32 PM
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I have just completed teaching a course at the Theological School of Drew University. The creative faculty at this respected institution has developed special opportunities in the month of January that allow students to have an intense and concentrated course taught by an outside lecturer that is designed to supplement and enrich their core curriculum. […]

Heresy on the BBC

January 01, 2008 12:00 AM
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Recently I had the privilege of doing an interview with BBC World Service from its studio in New York City. The program was entitled “Free to Speak” and was hosted by Dan Damon, one of the BBC’s best known radio personalities. The topic for this interview was those religious leaders who seem to be theological […]

Governor Huckabee: A Second Generation Evangelical Politician

January 01, 2008 12:00 AM
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In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson managed to get through the Congress of the United States a national Voting Rights Act. It was not an easy task since Johnson had to maneuver the bill through a Senate controlled by old line Southern Democrats still wedded to segregation. To achieve this victory, he employed his prodigious reputation […]

Reflections on our Final Days in South Africa

January 01, 2008 12:00 AM
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On our last few days in South Africa, we tasted the land in several ways. With Professor Izak Spangenberg as our guide, we went on a four day, three night safari in Kruger Park near the Mozambique border. With Professor Hansie Wolmarans as our guide we ventured into the depths of the historic gold mines, […]

Iowa’s Vote – National and International Scandals

January 01, 2008 12:00 AM
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In the Iowa caucuses last Thursday a mighty tide of frustration was released in both of America’s political parties. Establishment candidates, well financed, were overturned by newcomers. Political pundits were shocked. They should not have been. If these pundits had only looked at three recent events across our world: one in Pakistan, one in Kenya […]

South Africa’s “New Reformation Network”

January 01, 2008 12:00 AM
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It is a relatively new organization. They call it “The New Reformation Network.” Its primary leaders are three Afrikaans professors. Two of them, Dr. Izak Spangenberg, Professor of Old Testament Studies and Dr. Pieter Craffert, Professor of New Testament Studies, are colleagues at the University of South Africa in Pretoria; the third is Dr. Hansie […]

My Return to South Africa

December 12, 2007 12:00 AM
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For years I have yearned to return to South Africa. I have not been there since 1976 when apartheid was still fully enforced. Nelson Mandela was in jail on Robin Island, his wife was under house arrest, Desmond Tutu was the Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and the Soweto riots, in which between […]

Christpower

December 12, 2007 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, On December 24th, 1974 I delivered in my Church in Richmond, Virginia, a sermon, which sought to put the Christmas story into a modern context through the medium of poetry. It was based on an earlier poem I had written, entitled Christpower. In 1975 this Christmas piece was incorporated into and published along […]

Submission to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality

December 12, 2007 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, From time to time a report comes across my desk that is so important that I want to share it with my readers. That is the case with this report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. It is not that their thought is new, it is that they have […]

A Voice Within the Catholic Hierarchy Finally Speaks Out

December 12, 2007 12:00 AM
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“The Pope has too much power. The Pope is finally answerable to the Church.” “The Catholic Church has a problem with credibility.” “The Church’s teaching on sex needs to be reviewed.” “Seminaries are not healthy places.” “A few phrases in the Nicene Creed need to be revisited” “There are homosexual priests in the Catholic Church […]

An Anglican Priest and an Anglican Church in New Zealand: Sources of a New Hope

November 11, 2007 12:00 AM
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It was a very different kind of liturgy. The opening hymn was by New Zealand hymn writer Shirley Murray, exhorting the community of Christ to cry out for justice and peace – to disarm the powers of war and to turn bombs into bread and the tears of anguish into joy. Yet, these strong words […]

A Conversation on Death in New Zealand

November 11, 2007 12:00 AM
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“There were two ways that people seemed to relate to the death of my wife. Those who perceive death as the opposite of life tended to look at her death negatively, as a tragedy; while those who tended to look at death as the opposite of birth saw it as the completion of a process, […]

Lecturing in Central Otago, New Zealand

November 11, 2007 12:00 AM
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Most of my readers will not have heard of Central Otago. Otago is the name of a Southern Province in New Zealand stretching roughly from Dunedin on the southeast coast to Queenstown in the west. South from Dunedin the next land mass confronted would be Antarctica. Central Otago is marked by two magnificent glacial lakes: […]

The Five Fundamentals: A Conclusion

November 11, 2007 12:00 AM
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If the “Five Fundamentals” articulated by traditional Christians in the early years of the 20th century represent the essence of Christianity then the time has come to acknowledge that we have come to the end of this noble faith tradition. Those “Fundamentals” assume a supernatural, theistic deity, who manipulates the laws of the universe to […]

The Fifth Fundamental The Second Coming

October 10, 2007 12:00 AM
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The last of the Five Fundamentals claimed by American Protestant Traditionalists as the irreducible essence of Christianity has to do with the second coming of Jesus. To modern ears it is the most bizarre of the five and is based, I believe, on a misunderstanding of the Christ experience that was later literalized. However, that […]

The Fourth Fundamental:The Historicity and meaning of the Resurrection Experience, Part VI

October 10, 2007 12:00 AM
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Something clearly happened to the band of Jesus’ disciples at some point following his crucifixion that was profound, life changing and deeply real. We have no written records between 30 C.E. and 50 C.E. from any source that purports to describe what that experience was. However, we can chart some dramatic changes that occurred in […]

The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part V

October 10, 2007 12:00 AM
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Something clearly happened to the band of Jesus’ disciples at some point following his crucifixion that was profound, life changing and deeply real. We have no written records between 30 C.E. and 50 C.E. from any source that purports to describe what that experience was. However, we can chart some dramatic changes that occurred in […]

The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part V

October 10, 2007 12:00 AM
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Did Jesus literally and physically walk out of his grave, restored to life, on the third day following his crucifixion? Those who drafted the Five Fundamentals thought so and insisted that anyone who did not say a convincing “yes” to that proposition could no longer claim to be a Christian. The resurrection of Jesus in […]

Unexpected Serendipities from Australia

October 10, 2007 12:00 AM
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My lecture tour of Australia apparently tapped into a spiritual hunger that seems to be omni-present in that land. Book store lecture events in Sydney, Melbourne, Malvern, Frankston and Adelaide drew standing room only crowds that were limited only by the size of the bookstore. Some of them, in Sydney, Frankston and Adelaide, seeing the […]

Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney, Australia The Face of Tomorrow’s Congregation

September 09, 2007 12:00 AM
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Some twenty years or so ago the leaders of Australia’s Uniting Church, a body that came into being in 1979 as a merger of Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, with samplings of some other smaller Protestant bodies, decided that the Pitt Street Uniting Church of Sydney was doomed and probably should be closed. Its empty pews […]

Common Dreams, Sydney, Australia, 2007

September 09, 2007 12:00 AM
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It was the best conference I have attended in my entire career. Entitled “Common Dreams” and attracting 1500 plus people to Sydney, it was the brainchild of a committee of about a dozen people representing various Christian groups in Australia. Chaired by Rex Hunt, a Uniting Church of Australia pastor from Canberra, and Greg Jenks, […]

If Christianity Cannot Change, It Will Die.

September 09, 2007 12:00 AM
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Author’s note: While in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald invited me to write an op-ed piece on the future of Christianity. I found that a particularly interesting thing to do since both the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans of Sydney seem to me to live in a time warp and most of the citizens of […]

A Public Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams

September 09, 2007 12:00 AM
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Dear Rowan, I am delighted that you have agreed to meet with the House of Bishops of the American Episcopal Church in September, even if you appear to be unwilling to come alone. It has seemed strange that you, who have had so much to say about the American Church, have not been willing to […]

Why Should People Pay Any Attention to the Christian Church on Sexual Matters?

August 08, 2007 12:00 AM
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In recent decades the primary battles that have been fought in the Christian Church have not been about theology, but about issues of human sexuality. Huge debates polarize the Church on whether priesthood will be limited to males; the morality of birth control and abortion; who has the right to decide on what birth control […]

The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part IV

August 08, 2007 12:00 AM
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The idea that one can raise a deceased person to life entered the biblical story in two narratives from the Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories. It is then picked up and repeated in the gospel tradition. Was this meant to be read literally? Did Jesus really raise the dead? Is it biologically possible to bring back […]

The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part III

August 08, 2007 12:00 AM
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In this series we first sought to identify the places in the Bible where miracles seem to appear in groups. There are only three: The Moses-Joshua cycle of stories, the Elijah-Elisha cycle and the Jesus-Apostles cycle. We then raised the question of whether there might be a connection between these three biblical collections. To destabilize […]

The Fourth Fundamental: The Nature Miracles were not meant to be read as Events of History, Part II

August 08, 2007 12:00 AM
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In fundamentalist religion there are a number of strange claims made that arise primarily out of a lack of biblical knowledge. One of them is the claim that the miracles of Jesus, described in the gospels, are proof of his divinity. Only because he is the divine son of God, they say, are these miracles […]

Miracles and the Resurrection The Fourth Fundamental, Part I

August 08, 2007 12:00 AM
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I return this week to our running series on the Five Fundamentals, that supposedly irreducible set of principles that believers were told had to be accepted as literally true if one wanted to be called a Christian. It was from the publication of these five fundamentals between the years 1910-1915, in a series of widely […]

Flavius Josephus, Judas Iscariot and Anti-Semitism

July 07, 2007 12:00 AM
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During this summer I have read Flavius Josephus’ history of the first century war fought between the Romans and the Jews. That war began in Galilee in 66 C.E. and ended in 73 with the suicide of the last Jewish defenders in a fortress southeast of Jerusalem called Masada. The crucial moment in that war […]

On Spending Three Days with DignityUSA

July 07, 2007 12:00 AM
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“My name is Sam Sinnett and I am a gay Catholic.” These words, reminiscent of the way members introduce themselves at AA meetings, opened a luncheon at a gathering of DignityUSA, a national support and advocacy organization for homosexual members of the Roman Catholic Church. Sinnett, a retired businessman from St. Louis, was completing his […]

In Praise of the United Church of Christ

July 07, 2007 12:00 AM
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Throughout the course of my professional career I have always been impressed by that faith community which calls itself the United Church of Christ or the Congregational Church. It came into being in its present incarnation 1957 with a merger between the Evangelical and Reformed Churches and the Congregational Christian Churches. On the Evangelical and […]

Examining Politics in America on our 231st Birthday

July 07, 2007 12:00 AM
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As our nation pauses to celebrate its birthday many things vie for our people’s attention. There is the drain of human life and treasure in the ill-begotten, mismanaged war in Iraq; the emotional and divisive debate over reforming immigration; the growing gap between the rich and the poor with the top ten per cent of […]

This is Not the Word of the Lord!

June 06, 2007 12:00 AM
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I went to my own parish church on a Sunday in June. The music was excellent. The sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. James Jones, an honorary and part time member of the staff of St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, was one of the best I have heard in years. The summer congregation […]

The Lambeth Conference of 2008 and the Curious Behavior of the Archbishop of Canterbury

June 06, 2007 12:00 AM
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Honorable and Most Reverend Rowan Williams, announced recently that he would not invite the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, to attend the Lambeth Conference scheduled for the year 2008 in England. It was the latest in a series of decisions made by this […]

The Third Fundamental: The Substitution by Death of Jesus on the Cross Brings Salvation, Part III

June 06, 2007 12:00 AM
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Like the first two of the five Fundamentals that we have thus far examined, this third one has also become not just unbelievable but bizarre to modern ears. Yet it remains so powerful that it still shapes the liturgy of Churches across the spectrum from the Roman Catholics to the Pentecostals. The words: “Jesus died […]

The Third Fundamental: The Substitution by Death of Jesus on the Cross Brings Salvation, Part II

June 06, 2007 12:00 AM
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Last week we began our analysis of the third fundamental that traditional Christians stated, in the Tractarian Movement in the early years of the 20th century, was basic to a proper understanding of Christianity. It focused on what Christians came to call “the doctrine of the Atonement.” In many ways it proclaims a barbaric understanding […]

The Substitutionary Death of Jesus on the Cross Alone Brings Salvation: Part One

May 05, 2007 12:00 AM
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It is hard in our generation to put into a single sentence the substance of the Third Fundamental that traditional Christians, at the beginning of the 20th century, said was essential to the Christian faith. Officially, it is referred to as “The doctrine of the substitutionary atonement through God’s grace and human faith.” Those words […]

The Death of Jerry Falwell

May 05, 2007 12:00 AM
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He represented everything that repels me about religion. He was closed-minded, bigoted and abusive as religious people tend to be when they believe that they possess God’s truth. Yet, I never disliked this man. He tapped into something in the American psyche that, had he not done so, I believe, someone else, perhaps worse, would […]

SA Weekend in Minneapolis with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus

May 05, 2007 12:00 AM
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“I’m not afraid of your Yahweh, I’m not afraid of your Allah, I’m not afraid of your Jesus, But I am afraid of what you do in the name of your God” Dear Friends, These were the words of one of the pieces of music featured recently in a concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was […]

Special Question and Answers from Bishop Spong

May 05, 2007 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, This week I will break momentarily my series on the rise of fundamentalism in America to cover a few pressing issues that I experience and that you, my readers, keep bringing to my attention. Today I will take you inside your television screen and show you what goes into even four minute segments. […]

Discussing Biblical Theology on CBS Television

May 05, 2007 12:00 AM
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The medium of television is a fascinating place through which to seek to dispel the ignorance of biblical fundamentalism. The time is always short, the network needs to be “fair and balanced” and neither the producer nor the interviewer is necessarily well versed in the subject matter. To push against these barriers in a brief […]

The Second Fundamental: The Literal Accuracy of the Virgin Birth, Part Two

April 04, 2007 12:00 AM
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For years now the book entitled “The Holy Bible” has topped America’s best selling list by a wide margin. The pity is that this book is seldom read and even less seldom understood. Most Christians encounter the content of the Bible only when they are in church, and that normally consists of only a few […]

Tragedy on a University Campus

April 04, 2007 12:00 AM
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It is arguably among America’s most beautiful universities, nestled as it is in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. Its official name is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, though popularly referred to as VPI or Virginia Tech. It is well recognized in college athletics. I have been on that campus numerous times while serving as […]

The Second Fundamental: The Literal Accuracy of the Virgin Birth

April 04, 2007 12:00 AM
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The story of Jesus’ birth has now been celebrated in pageants, Christmas cards and in hymns for almost two thousand years. The characters in this drama like Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the Shepherds and the Wise Men are familiar icons even in our secular society. The star in the East, Bethlehem, the manger and […]

A Second Look at the First of the Five Fundamentals: The Inerrant Bible

April 04, 2007 12:00 AM
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I return this week for a second look at the first of the “Five Fundamentals,” that series of principles which in the early 1900’s gave birth to the rise of fundamentalism in America. In this second column I want to examine the claim that the Bible is the “inerrant Word of God” from a different […]

The First of the Five “Fundamentals:” The Bible is the Inerrant Word of God!

March 03, 2007 12:00 AM
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“God wrote it! I believe it! That does it!” Those words adorned the bumper of a car I saw in the deep South. “This is the word of the Lord!” That is a liturgical phrase heard after the scriptures are read in many Christian churches. “The Bible says!” “It’s in the Bible!” Those are phrases […]

The Rise of Fundamentalism, Part III: The Five Fundamentals

March 03, 2007 12:00 AM
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I remember well an experience I had as a young lad in the late 1930’s in the South’s Bible Belt when I first heard about evolution. A neighbor was visiting my mother and they were sharing “a dope” (the colloquial name for Coca-Cola in that day, a carry-over from the days when that soft drink […]

The Rise of Fundamentalism, Part II

March 03, 2007 12:00 AM
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One of the things we need to embrace in order to understand the conflicts being waged in most of the main line churches today is that throughout most of human history, the average man or woman could neither read nor write. That is why the Church used art forms, like the Stations of the Cross, […]

The Rise of Fundamentalism: Fundamentalism’s Roots — Part I

March 03, 2007 12:00 AM
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Is the escalating conflict, which is public in mainline Protestant Christianity and private in Roman Catholic Christianity, really about homosexuality? I do not think so. Homosexuality is only the content of the present dispute, even being called by some right wing ideologues “the final straw” that drove them into a stance of militancy. If, however, […]

Why Did You Write JESUS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS? The Perennial Question

February 02, 2007 12:00 AM
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A new book possesses for its author and sometimes even for its potential readers a mysterious quality. Writing a book represents such a large investment of time and energy that something has to compel the author to undertake it. A novelist, for example, must be captured by the plot that he or she plans to […]

The Birth of the Book – Jesus for the Non-Religious

February 02, 2007 12:00 AM
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It does not matter how many times it has happened before, for me it is still a transcendent moment. The doorbell rings, a courier bearing a package so important that it merits the cost of overnight delivery, is at the door. I see the return address to be that of my publisher, HarperCollins, and I […]

An Audacious Institution

February 02, 2007 12:00 AM
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The Episcopal Church has been in the news recently. One diocese on the west coast, led by its bishop, has amended its canons to remove every reference to the Episcopal Church to deny that it is bound by that church’s constitution. Eleven Virginia congregations have voted to depart from the Episcopal Church in order to […]

There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.

February 02, 2007 12:00 AM
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Life, for all its sweetness and wonder, still strikes us with unbearable pain from time to time. Tragedies that are so far out of the normal order of things are never anticipated. Yet that experience engulfed close friends of mine when a phone call at 4:00 a.m the day after Christmas informed them that their […]

There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.

January 01, 2007 12:00 AM
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The Gospel of John is dramatically different from the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It begins by identifying Jesus with the “Word of God” spoken in creation. It ascribes to Jesus the holy name of God, “I Am” by placing into Jesus’ mouth a series of “I Am” statements: “I am the bread of […]

A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany

January 01, 2007 12:00 AM
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While on a lecture tour of Europe this winter, we had one stop in Grebenstein, Germany, that was unique in many ways. No lecture, press conference or even a meeting with some ecclesiastical leader was scheduled here. We were simply responding to an invitation from a retired Lutheran pastor, named Gerhard Klein, who had translated […]

Watching Christianity Evolve in Scandinavia

January 01, 2007 12:00 AM
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During the early winter of this year, my wife and I went to Scandinavia for 16 lectures, 5 press interviews and extensive conversations. I returned with a deeper sense of where Christianity is, at least in Norway and Sweden. It was both revealing and hopeful. The tour began in late November with a 4 session […]

Facing 2007 with Grave Apprehension

December 12, 2006 12:00 AM
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The year 2006 began with an unresolved war in Iraq. It ended with that war not just unresolved, but obviously deteriorating into the unmanageable chaos of civil war and tribal violence. More American military lives were lost in November of 2006 than in any month in over a year. On Monday, December 17, the News […]

Watching Christmas being Celebrated in Europe

December 12, 2006 12:00 AM
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This year I watched Christmas dawn in Europe. It provided me with new insights into this holy day and an understanding of the state of Christianity on the continent as well. In this Christmas essay, I will try to recreate that experience for you. It began in Scandinavia with a majestic Advent portrait that only […]

Fred Kaan: Hymn Writer Par Excellence

December 12, 2006 12:00 AM
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If I were to mention the name of Frederik Herman Kaan, I doubt if the faces of more than one or two of my readers would reveal even a glimmer of recognition. Yet Fred Kaan has been, arguably, the finest and most prolific hymn writer in the Christian Church in the 20th century. His texts […]

Miracles VI: Bartimaeus and the Healing of the Man Born Blind

December 12, 2006 12:00 AM
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In this continuing examination of the miracle stories found in the gospels, I turn this week to the second “sight to the blind” narrative in Mark (10: 46-52), the story of blind Bartimaeus. Then I will look briefly at the only Johannine account of a miraculous restoration of sight (John 9: 1-41). We will, I […]

Miracles V: Did a Blind Man From Bethsaida Really Receive His Sight?

November 11, 2006 12:00 AM
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In the fourth installment of my fall series on the miracles of the New Testament, I suggested that the healing miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospels might have originally been composed not to be tales of supernatural power at all. They served rather to demonstrate signs of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom attached to […]

Debating a Fundamentalist in Orlando

November 11, 2006 12:00 AM
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Marcus Borg did it. John Dominic Crossan did it. The clear implication of the person issuing this invitation was that I should do it too. He wanted me to participate in a debate in Orlando, Florida, under the auspices of something called Sovereign Christian Cruises; an evangelical organization that does indeed do cruises. My debating […]

Miracles IV – Interpreting the Healing Miracles

November 11, 2006 12:00 AM
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I voted on Tuesday, November 7, and then, political enthusiast that I am, I listened to the election results that night until it was clear that the Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives. They had also preserved their threatened Senate seats in New Jersey and Maryland, had wrested senate seats from Republicans […]

Miracles IV – Interpreting the Healing Miracles

November 11, 2006 12:00 AM
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When we begin to dissect the miracle stories of the gospels, it is easy to notice some fascinating connections. The nature miracles, for example, are clearly the retelling or reworking of earlier biblical stories about Moses or Elijah. One can see the similarities between Moses asking God to feed the multitude in the wilderness with […]

Three Cheers for the New Jersey Supreme Court

November 11, 2006 12:00 AM
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The Supreme Court of my beloved state of New Jersey, in its historic decision handed down on October 25, 2006, has defined the battle over gay marriage for the entire nation. I am convinced that many will look back on this 4-3 decision as the signal that the end of this debate has now finally […]

Sexual Hypocrisy in Church and State

October 10, 2006 12:00 AM
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It has long been observed in religious circles that the most outspoken critics of homosexuality frequently turn out to be themselves closeted homosexual people. Now we discover that among those in the political arena who have done most to politicize the homosexual issue in an effort to curry votes among conservative voters in recent elections […]

Dallas, Texas: A New Vision

October 10, 2006 12:00 AM
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Dallas, Texas, has never been one of my favorite cities. Its image was firmly set for me during the course of a single month in 1963, when two events occurred that rocked this country. First, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai E. Stevenson Jr., was booed, abused and spat upon by a Dallas […]

Questions and Answers

October 10, 2006 12:00 AM
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To My Readers: The correspondence that this column engenders is both appreciated and amazing. I feel the need to make sure that my readers know that all of your letters are read, even though the sheer volume makes even acknowledging them impossible without a full-time secretarial staff. The ones that we print represent only the […]

The Study of New Testament Miracles, Part III

October 10, 2006 12:00 AM
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In the opening column in this series on miracles in the Bible, I noted two things. First, the accounts of miracles in the Bible are generally limited to three cycles of stories within the biblical narrative. They are part of the Moses-Joshua cycle of stories, the Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories and the Jesus-Disciples of Jesus […]

Small Leaders in A New Dark Age

September 09, 2006 12:00 AM
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At the end of the first of the two debates that most recently captured the attention of world opinion, a compromise was reached, but many people voiced their belief that the President of the United States would pay no more than lip service to this settlement. At the end of the second debate there was […]

Why Did They Do It? Crosswalk America Revisited

September 09, 2006 12:00 AM
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In early September, I looked out from the pulpit of the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., preparing to address a group of foot-weary people who had just completed a twenty-five hundred mile, five million-step walk across America. I admired their energy and their dedication. I was in awe of their willingness to […]

Crosswalk America Arrives in Washington, DC

September 09, 2006 12:00 AM
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It began on April 16, 2006, following a sunrise service in Phoenix, Arizona. It ended on September 3, 2006, at a celebration in the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. Between those two dates, more than five million steps were taken, at least three pairs of shoes per person were worn out, over 2,500 […]

Miracles in the Bible, Part II

September 09, 2006 12:00 AM
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There is a great desire among religious people for quick answers to complex issues. “What is the meaning of prayer? What do you believe about life after death? Do you believe in Miracles?” These are questions that I am often asked when giving lectures, where I am limited to only a few minutes for each […]

Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles?

August 08, 2006 12:00 AM
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For many people the title of this column represents a silly question. The pages of the gospels are filled with stories of supernatural happenings associated with Jesus. Most people, however, have very little sense of the actual content or meaning of these miracle accounts or how differently they are portrayed in each gospel. Some of […]

Understanding Religious Anger

August 08, 2006 12:00 AM
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One of the things that always surprises me is the level of anger, often expressed in acts of overt rudeness, which seems to mark religious people. It appears so often that I have almost come to expect it, or at the very least not to be surprised by it. A recent episode simply made the […]

Questions and Answers

August 08, 2006 12:00 AM
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A note to my readers: Dear Friends: Your letters come in such numbers that if I responded to each one I would need a full time staff. I can assure you that every one of them is read and I try to pick the most interesting ones for publication. Using only one each week, however, […]

The Ambivalent Church

August 08, 2006 12:00 AM
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There is something fundamentally flawed about institutional Christianity today. I see it in two distinct places. It was clearly present when I listened to ecclesiastical figures talk about the election of a female bishop to be primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA. The other is found both in the tone and content of […]

Cowboy Diplomacy in a Frightening World

August 08, 2006 12:00 AM
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In one of its regular features The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS recently showed the pictures of 16 more American military personnel who had recently lost their lives in Iraq. I watched with wrenching emotions. Each photograph represented the broken dreams of a now shattered family. These photographs were not just of a soldier […]

Emily Jane Failla: A Special Life

July 07, 2006 12:00 AM
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The community of St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, where my wife and I worship, gathered this week to celebrate the life of Emily Jane Failla and to bid her farewell. Most of my readers will not know Emily but she illustrates so many of the realities that plague both our humanity and our […]

Free to Believe: A Voice from the United Reformed Church of England

July 07, 2006 12:00 AM
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Recently, while on a lecture tour of England, I was the keynote speaker at a national conference of the United Reformed Church of England. This body, the result of a merger within Protestantism during the last century between English Presbyterians and English Congregationalists, serves as leaven in the lump of English religious life. It has […]

On Dating the New Testament

July 07, 2006 12:00 AM
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A letter from one of my Internet readers, Max Rippeto, asked how New Testament scholars went about the task of dating the books of the New Testament. It was such a good question and touched so many issues that others among my readers raise, that I decided to base my entire column this week on […]

Katharine Jefferts Schori – New Primate of the Episcopal Church

July 07, 2006 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, The English newspapers made it a front page story. English ecclesiastical figures from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to a bigoted pressure group called Forward in Faith, spoke ominously and critically of the problem this event would create and the insensitivity of the American Church in not taking their concerns and prejudices into […]

A Living Watershed

June 06, 2006 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, This week I want to share with you a rare account of a Protestant church wrestling concretely with whether or not to call an openly gay man to be their minister. The account was written by a friend of mine named Chris Avis, a member of the United Reformed Church of England, who […]

Mr. Bush: A Public Embarrassment

June 06, 2006 12:00 AM
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I find myself deeply embarrassed today by the President of the United States. It is a new feeling. I do not pretend to be a Bush fan. I have many disagreements with him on many issues. I do not share or appreciate his political philosophy. I count myself as part of the loyal opposition, and […]

A Life Well Lived

June 06, 2006 12:00 AM
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Reading obituaries is a remarkably insightful pastime. Each of us does it more and more as we grow older. The obituary writer obviously cannot recall all the twists and turns of a single life. Indeed, for the world to take note of a particular death in the obituary pages of a major newspaper at all, […]

The Columbus, Ohio, Episcopal Battlefield

June 06, 2006 12:00 AM
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I hope my readers will pardon me for spending a second week dealing with issues within my own Episcopal Church. I do not do so out of some presumed hubris that makes me think that this small denomination of less than 2,000,000 members in the United States is deserving of special attention. I do it […]

The California Episcopal Election

May 05, 2006 12:00 AM
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The headline in the Washington Post said: “Episcopalians Reject Gay Hopefuls.” It was the typical hype of the media. The story went on to say that the Diocese of California (the San Francisco area) had elected Mark H. Andrus, the Suffragan bishop of Alabama, to be the Bishop of California. They described him, interestingly enough, […]

On Viewing “The Da Vinci Code”

May 05, 2006 12:00 AM
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Separating fact from fantasy is not always easy. This is especially so when the two are skillfully woven together by a very competent novelist named Dan Brown and then projected onto the screen by one of Hollywood’s premier directors, Ron Howard. When this combination of fact and fantasy is then woven around Christianity’s origins and […]

Easter Imagined and Recreated

May 05, 2006 12:00 AM
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As I mentioned last week my lifetime study of the five Easter narratives in the New Testament (I Corinthians 15:1-58, Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28, Luke 24 and John 20, 21, listed in their historical time order) has led me to establish four clues through which I measure the authenticity of each resurrection account. I repeat […]

Easter Explained

May 05, 2006 12:00 AM
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Last week I shared with my readers the time in my life when I devoted a semester at Cambridge University to making sense, at least for me, out of the meaning of Easter. I could no longer be bound by the literal texts of the Bible for they described the resurrection of Jesus in fanciful […]

Easter Revisited

May 05, 2006 12:00 AM
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The biblical narratives purporting to tell the story of Easter have always held a particular fascination for me. As early as the summer of 1959 I gave a series of lectures on the gospel accounts of the resurrection at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. From that starting point until today my interest […]

The Gospel of Judas – A Hyped Insignificance

April 04, 2006 12:00 AM
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“Calculated sensationalism and scholarly complicity” were the words Peter Steinfels of the New York Times used to describe it. “Consciously misleading” were the words applied to the story by Professor James M. Robinson of Claremont Graduate University. What was the subject of these quotations? It was the “newly-discovered” Gospel of Judas presented during Holy Week […]

R.I.P. – William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

April 04, 2006 12:00 AM
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April 19, 2006 R.I.P. – William Sloane Coffin, Jr. “Let us resolve to be patriots always, nationalists never. Let us love our country but pledge allegiance to the earth and to the flora and fauna and human life that it supports – one planet, indivisible with clean air, soil and water; with liberty, justice and […]

The Final Days: Walking from Palm Sunday to Easter

April 04, 2006 12:00 AM
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We Christians are now in the midst of Holy Week, the most solemn season of the liturgical year. This sacred time still exercises compelling power since church attendance always rises on Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week and reaches its crescendo for the year on Easter, the last day. Whatever the Christian faith […]

Oklahoma! A State in Transition

April 04, 2006 12:00 AM
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When we hear the name of America’s 46th state, many images fill our minds. “Oklahoma” was the first of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ten Broadway musicals, putting the name of this state on the lips of Americans everywhere. We can still sing it: “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain,” followed by the poignant […]

The Lamb of God: Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part III

March 03, 2006 12:00 AM
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In this series, to which I am returning periodically through the year, I seek to draw our attention to the person of Jesus before the creeds were formed and doctrines were created. I even want to get to who Jesus was before the gospels were written. My goal is to understand the original “Jesus experience” […]

CrossWalkAmerica: Are You Ready to March for a New Christianity?

March 03, 2006 12:00 AM
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On Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006, a group of people will begin in Phoenix a 2500 mile, 141 day, 5,000,000-step walk across America. Their destination is Washington, D.C., where a public celebration will be held on September 3, 2006. Their purpose is to arouse public consciousness to the misuse of Christianity in American life today. […]

Dawning Hope: The Supreme Court and the Case of Lewis v. Harris

March 03, 2006 12:00 AM
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The Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey will sometime in the next few months hand down its ruling in the case of Lewis v. Harris. The final arguments from the attorneys for the plaintiff and the state have already been heard. All that remains is for the members of the Court to engage […]

The Rise of New Religious Voices to Counter the Religious Right

March 03, 2006 12:00 AM
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When religious leaders are heard speaking in the public arena in the United States today, the overwhelming probability is that they will be conservative evangelical or conservative Roman Catholic leaders. No other effective or visible religious voices are heard today. That, however, was not the case some forty to fifty years ago. In the 1960’s, […]

Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part II

March 03, 2006 12:00 AM
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In the first column in this series (published on February 15, 2006), I sought to establish the fact that the memory of Jesus, including his words, parables and actions were recalled orally and passed on only in the Synagogues. This means that before the written gospel tradition began, the synagogues were the context in which […]

Truth and the Present Administration

February 02, 2006 12:00 AM
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“Thou shalt not bear false witness” That is the ninth commandment in the famous group of ten that are so frequently invoked by members of that Republican political coalition known as the “Religious Right.” Somehow the Ten Commandments anchor the ethical basis of life that they want to impose on the American nation. However, spokespersons […]

Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part I

February 02, 2006 12:00 AM
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Most Christians seem to assume that the details of their faith system dropped out of heaven in a fully developed form. Nothing could be further from the truth. The creeds began as baptismal formulas in the 3rd century and did not receive the shape we now recognize until the 4th century. Doctrines like the Trinity […]

The Church and the Flu

February 02, 2006 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, This week I introduce you to the first guest columnist of this year 2006. Each year I try to identify four unique voices of those who labor in the same area of life that I find myself working. They are people who either have thought about things in a new way or even […]

Facing the Abortion Issue as Mature Religious People

February 02, 2006 12:00 AM
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There were many issues raised at the confirmation hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to serve on the Supreme Court. Yet only one of them, the issue of abortion, exerted so much power that it seemed like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” It was present from two different perspectives as senators from both […]

To Hell with Limbo / The Newest Act of an Irrelevant Christianity

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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Perhaps the second silliest thing that religious institutions and its leaders can do is to pretend that they know what will happen after one dies and then to be delusional enough to think that they can actually describe it. This ranks as number two on the silliness list only because the one thing sillier than […]

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

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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The Senate of the United States has recently engaged in a protracted process before voting on the President’s nomination of one to sit on the nation’s highest court. It was a highly politicized, televised spectacle designed to influence public opinion for or against Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito. Lobbying groups joined the battle, spending millions […]

Did Jesus Really Raise the Dead? Part II – The Widow’s Son in the Village of Nain

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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Last week we began a series on the gospel narratives that purport to show that Jesus had the power to raise the dead. There are only three accounts in the Bible that appear to make that claim. We opened this series by examining the first of these three episodes, the story of Jesus raising the […]

A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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This week, I begin a series of columns on the claims made in the New Testament that Jesus of Nazareth had the power to raise the dead back to life. For most people that claim is both vague and firm. I will try to clarify its vagueness and in the process destabilize its firmness. First, […]

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

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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The Christian Church has just completed the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It may come as a big surprise for most people to be told that Christmas is a twelve-day celebration for the holiday seems quickly to wear out after its long anticipated welcome. Following the celebration of the day itself, Christmas carols […]

The United Church of Canada Strikes Again

January 01, 2006 12:00 AM
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I have long admired the United Church of Canada. Born in the prairies of our northern neighbor in the 1920s by a merger primarily of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, consistently it has been willing to try new things that defy typical ecclesiastical expectations. The original decision to bring together two ethnically diverse traditions, one […]

A Meditation at the End of 2005

December 12, 2005 12:00 AM
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We human beings live consciously inside a medium called time. We experience everything in life as having a beginning and an ending. We count our age with annual birthdays, and our marriages with annual anniversaries. We evaluate history in units of time: years, decades and centuries. Because that is so it is inevitable that when […]

The Virgin in the New Testament — Part 2

December 12, 2005 12:00 AM
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Last week we looked at the New Testament’s portrait of the mother of Jesus and the Virgin Birth. It is scant, late developing material filled with mythological details. That quick analysis served to make us aware that most of the images we hold of the mother of Jesus are not biblical at all. They are […]

The Virgin in the New Testament

December 12, 2005 12:00 AM
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As the Christmas season arrives, the icon of the Virgin Mary enters the consciousness of the Christian world in a significant way. She is universally recognized with her eyes lowered, the infant Jesus in her arms, and located in a stable. Joseph normally stands guard behind the manger. Sheep and cattle fill in the humble […]

Was Jesus a Feminist in a Patriarchal World?

December 12, 2005 12:00 AM
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If, as I have argued, organized religion is almost universally anti-female and even misogynistic, was Jesus different? Did he stand outside that pattern? Certainly, the religion developed by his disciples has historically made major contributions to the denigration of women. One only has to look at the church debates that have resulted in the exclusion […]

How Religion defined Women as the Source of Evil

November 11, 2005 12:00 AM
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We began this series of columns by searching for the source of the almost universally negative definition of women that is held in religious circles. Somehow it has been imperative for men to portray women as weak, dependent wards, wrapping that portrayal in the garments of patriarchal religion. This definition used what they called God-given […]

The Bias Against Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition

November 11, 2005 12:00 AM
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Last week I began an exploration of the origins of that incessant religious negativity toward women. I located its deepest root in the evolutionary process where survival becomes the ultimate self-conscious value that dominates the human psyche. I suggested that part of this survival process involved the definition of the stronger and faster male as […]

Women: Religion’s Traditional Victims

November 11, 2005 12:00 AM
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Have you ever noticed that organized religion has historically been a major force in the oppression of women? Have you ever wondered why? The battle over abortion being waged in America today, with the support of both the Vatican and the religious right is simply the latest chapter in this perennial war. Since ‘religion’ is […]

Troy D. Perry – One of God’s Original Saints

November 11, 2005 12:00 AM
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It all began on October 6, 1968. On that day, twelve people gathered in a house in Los Angeles in response to an advertisement in a four-page magazine for homosexuals called “The Advocate.” This ad was addressed to gay men and lesbians who might want to be a part of a Christian Church in which […]

2000 Deaths Later, the Time Has Come to Render to Caesar His Due!

November 11, 2005 12:00 AM
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A well-known and oft-quoted verse in Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus, responding to a question designed to trap him between competing loyalties. Where does the line fall between what one owes to God and what one owes to the State? To this question Jesus responded, “You render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to […]

Surveying Fifty Years with the Class of 1955

October 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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Nothing forces an awareness of the passing of time into one’s consciousness quite like a school reunion. Recently my classmates from our seminary days gathered to recognize the 50th anniversary of our graduation. We began our life together as sixty men (no women were then allowed), all seeking ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal […]

Is History Repeating Itself?

October 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These words of philosopher George Santayana are terrifyingly true. Recently, I have looked again at what happened to the Jews in Christian Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and compared that to what I believe is happening today to homosexual people in the United […]

The Christian Church in Sweden

October 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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Recently Christine and I spent fifteen days on a lecture tour across the beautiful, gracious land of Sweden stopping in the cities of Vasteras, Rattvik, Stockholm, Uppsala and Goteborg. Sweden has a long and distinguished history. In the 18th Century when its boundaries included all of what is now Norway and Finland, Sweden’s armies conquered […]

Born Gay!

September 09, 2005 12:00 AM
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A new book co-authored by Dr. Qazi Rahman, a lecturer in psychobiology at the University of East London and Dr. Glenn Wilson, a member of the faculty of the University of London, has just been published in the United Kingdom. It was reviewed in The Guardian, one of the United Kingdom’s four major daily newspapers […]

Jewish Fundamentalism

September 09, 2005 12:00 AM
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Religious fundamentalism is built on the assumption that the truth of God has been captured for all time. It comes in many forms including inerrancy for the words of scripture, ex cathedra utterances of a religious leader and the conviction that the ultimate truth of God has been captured in one’s developed creeds. Fundamentalism is […]

Robert Walter Funk 1926-2005

September 09, 2005 12:00 AM
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By the force of his will and personality, this man brought biblical scholarship out of the ivy covered walls of academia and placed it on the front pages of the newspapers of America. He forced those articulators of yesterday’s biblical ignorance to recognize that the empires they were erecting on foundations of sand would not […]

Hurricane Katrina and American Priorities

September 09, 2005 12:00 AM
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I hesitated at first to write about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that has been visited on the city of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Television stations have been giving 24-hour-a-day coverage to this almost unimaginable disaster. American citizens have been both numbed by the tragedy and overwhelmed by frustration […]

The Dark Side of Evangelical Religion

August 08, 2005 12:00 AM
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I often wonder what Bible it is that people read in America’s Bible Belt. I wonder what the religion is that is practiced by the Religious Right. It certainly does not connect with my understanding of Christianity. Perhaps I am the one who is blind to the things they perceive, but seeing their enthusiasm for […]

On Death With Dignity

August 08, 2005 12:00 AM
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Late last month I joined with other religious leaders, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the State of Oregon in the case of Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General v. the State of Oregon. Specifically, our brief asked the Supreme Court to […]

The Emerging Church

August 08, 2005 12:00 AM
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Time after time I am asked by people to describe what the church of the future will look like. It seems to these questioners that one who has written a book entitled A New Christianity for a New World should be able to address that question. That is especially an expectation since one chapter in […]

Theology and Baseball

August 08, 2005 12:00 AM
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Last month an anonymous member of my class at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, left this unsigned question on my lectern: “How can you be so right about religion and so wrong about baseball?” I did not have the opportunity to address this profound theological concern in the class, so I have decided […]

Pre-Modern Theology in Public Life

August 08, 2005 12:00 AM
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When the hurricane named ‘Dennis’ placed weary Floridians under water in the first major Caribbean disaster of 2005, their Governor Jeb Bush, reflecting on the recent pounding his state has taken, made an interesting, an almost stream of consciousness, observation. “I think there is a legitimate feeling,” he said, “Why me? What did I do […]

A New Dark Age Begins

July 07, 2005 12:00 AM
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Several years ago, in a column about the harassment, removal and silencing of Roman Catholic scholars like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx by that church, I referred to the leader of this “Inquisitional” mentality, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as “the pit bull of the Vatican.” Little did I realize that this church’s […]

Political Fundamentalism

July 07, 2005 12:00 AM
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I listen to the rhetoric. It makes rational sense at first glance but the argument is circular and the feelings are hostile. Yet it has a familiar ring. I have heard it somewhere before. “The president wants to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who will “interpret the constitution not amend it.” ” We […]

Phyllis’ Garden — Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

July 07, 2005 12:00 AM
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The threat of meaninglessness and the specter of eternal anonymity are two forces that, far more than most of us realize, drive human behavior. The vast majority of the world’s population will live and die unnoticed outside their immediate families. In about three generations almost all of us will be forgotten. Consider, for example, the […]

Lessons Learned Walking 192 Miles Across England

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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It had its ups and downs, its heights and its depths. My wife, her daughter (my stepdaughter) and I set out on May 21st to walk the Coast-to-Coast trail across England. We began at St. Bees on the Irish Sea. Eighteen days later, weary, limping but unbowed, we placed our feet in the waters of […]

Guest Column from the Reverend Gretta Vosper

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, This week I take great pleasure in introducing you to one of the most exciting voices in 21st century Christianity. The Reverend Gretta Vosper is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Canada, a church that came into being through an early 20th century merger primarily between the Presbyterians and the Methodists […]

Debating with Evangelicals

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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Twice recently, I have had the opportunity to engage in public debate two people who identify themselves as evangelicals, the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Rev. Dr. William Craig, a non-residential “Research Professor of Philosophy” at the Talbot School of Theology, an evangelical […]

Can One Be Christian Without Being a Theist?

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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As one who lectures extensively across this nation and the world, I have been asked questions by my audiences that have ranged from the naive to the profound, from the obvious to the obtuse. Some have been hostile, designed to embarrass, attack, and minimize. Some have been seeking in the wasteland some hint that the […]

Robert R. Merhige, Jr., Modern Hero

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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Earlier this year, The New York Times carried an obituary notice for Robert R. Merhige, Jr., a retired Federal District Judge in Richmond, Virginia. The story opened a flood of memories for me, for I was a citizen of Richmond for eight years and I knew this man both professionally and personally. He stood at […]

Walking Coast to Coast in England

June 06, 2005 12:00 AM
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When my wife first proposed it, I was sure she was kidding. She wasn’t, so now some three years later, and I might add three years older, I find myself training, packing and preparing to embark on a 190-mile walk across northern England. We will begin at St. Bee’s on the Irish Sea and, if […]

NBC’s Dateline, Miracles and the Virgin

May 05, 2005 12:00 AM
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The setting was surreal. We were in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Helsinki, Finland. It was 2 p.m. Finnish time, (7 a.m. EST) on a Friday afternoon in May. St. John’s, a huge, neo-Gothic structure seating some 2400 people, was built in 1891. Its focal point was not the altar where the catholic sacraments were […]

Guest Column: Brokering the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

May 05, 2005 12:00 AM
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This week, I continue a feature that I trust my readers will enjoy. I will seek out and present four guest columnists during the course of each year, chosen because of their particular expertise on a given subject and their skill at communication. I hope to make these voices better known in the process and […]

Seven Minutes With Bill O’Reilly

May 05, 2005 12:00 AM
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I began my Harper-Collins book tour to introduce The Sins of Scripture on Fox News’ with Bill O’Reilly. It was my seventh appearance on the program and, I find that though we share little in common, I like the man. Behind his bluster and constant interruptions, I believe there is a person who cares more […]

Morality and the Social Security Debate

May 05, 2005 12:00 AM
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The Church is not the only place where Orwellian doubletalk occurs. The political scene is also rife with it. We name destructive missiles “peacekeepers.” We ‘preserve peace’ by going to war. We save Vietnam villages by destroying them. We give huge tax cuts to our wealthiest citizens and then declare that we cannot afford to […]

Assessing the Pontificate of John Paul II

April 04, 2005 12:00 AM
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We have just witnessed a moving transition in the best-known, most powerful office in the Christian world. In many ways the final days before this transition were painful to watch as the increasingly infirm John Paul II walked quite publicly through the dying process, fulfilling his papal duties. This man had been a towering figure […]

Whose Money Is It? A Meditation on April 15th

April 04, 2005 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, The College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church has made its decision in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the See of Rome. That action occurred after the deadline for this column, so I simply take note of it today and will comment next week on both the pontificate of John […]

An Author’s Postpartum

April 04, 2005 12:00 AM
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I have obviously never had a baby. However, as a pastor for almost fifty years I have walked with young mothers from the joy of conception to the experience of postpartum depression. So at least as an observer, I am quite familiar with that particular cycle within life. I have often wondered how a man […]

The Anglican Communion’s Orwellian Odyssey

April 04, 2005 12:00 AM
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To my readers: I want to express my condolences through this column, especially to my Roman Catholic friends, at the passing of their leader John Paul II. He was a major force in the world of religion for over a quarter of a century. I have chosen not to write about his career today, for […]

The Debate Rages: Do We Have a Right to Determine How We Die?

March 03, 2005 12:00 AM
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{To my readers: As the national debate continues over Terri Schiavo, I use this column to answer a question I received from a reader on this subject. Next week in place of the question and answer feature I will share a sampling of the incredible outpouring of responses that I have received to the guest […]

A Time to Die?

March 03, 2005 12:00 AM
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(To my readers: Dear Friends, I have for some time been on the lookout for other progressive Christian voices that I can present to you through this column. It is my hope to introduce four of these guest columnists a year. Each is a voice that this country and this world need to hear. Today’s […]

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part VII

March 03, 2005 12:00 AM
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The plaintive cry of traditional believers when they actually begin to delve into the scriptures from a critical, academic perspective is, “What then is left?” This cry comes when they become aware that God can not be identified with either a 1st century Bible or a 4th century Creed, or that abandoning a childlike understanding […]

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part VI

March 03, 2005 12:00 AM
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Today, as a way to round out this series on the biblical accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, events which most scholars date around 30 CE, I want to take what might seem to some to be a detour. I will line up these biblical sources in their chronological order, which stretches from […]

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part V

March 03, 2005 12:00 AM
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Once the literal prison in which we have confined the Bible has been shattered then, far from being destroyed as traditional Christians seem to fear, our faith is rather opened to new meanings. These columns leading up to Easter are designed to introduce my readers to the kind of biblical debates that are commonplace in […]

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part IV

February 02, 2005 12:00 AM
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In this series of essays, I have tried to push our analysis of the Passover story that anchors the gospel accounts of Jesus, beyond that primitive literalism that so often captures religious systems, so that its real truth can be perceived. This attempt is focused on the goal of discerning what it was that constituted […]

The Influence of The Jewish Festival of Sukkoth on the Passion Narrative: Part III

February 02, 2005 12:00 AM
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Western Christians find it hard to understand that the gospel writers were not writing objective history. Yet nothing we know about the formation of the New Testament supports that conclusion. Jesus lived between 4 BCE and 30 CE. He spoke and taught in Aramaic. The gospels came 40 to 70 years after his death and […]

The Connection Between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part II

February 02, 2005 12:00 AM
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Last week I began the analysis of the crucifixion of Jesus as it appears in all four gospels, examining in particular the claim that this founding moment in the Christian story occurred in the context of the Passover, which celebrates the founding moment in the sacred story of the Jewish people. I raised the question […]

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part I

February 02, 2005 12:00 AM
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The symbols of Christmas have been stored away. In Christian churches we are in the poorly defined season of Epiphany, waiting for Lent to appear on the horizon. Supermarket advertisements of seafood dishes for the Lenten diet announce Lent’s arrival, but little attention is paid to it until its last week when the climax of […]

Leading a Conference for Black, Pentecostal, Gay Clergy

January 01, 2005 12:00 AM
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Sometimes, my wife Christine and I have the privilege of entering into an experience that is unexpected, but so moving and profound that it opens doors to new understandings. Normally we do not schedule lectures or interviews during December. That month is dedicated to our family and to the sheer joy of being disengaged. Despite […]

Re-Imaging God in a Post-Tsunami World

January 01, 2005 12:00 AM
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The final part of a three-part series about the Tsunami “If God is God, he is not good! If God is good, he is not God!” These words, from a 20th century adaptation of the Book of Job entitled “J.B.”, were written by Archibald McLeish. “God no longer has any work to do.” A quotation […]

Weeping Over The Grave of God

January 01, 2005 12:00 AM
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Part II of a series about the Tsunami In a 20th century drama entitled, “Conversation at Midnight,” playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay had her character Ricardo speak these words: “Man has never been the same since God died. He has taken it very hard…He gets along pretty well, as long as it’s daylight…but it’s no […]

The Theological Message in the Destructive Tsunami

January 01, 2005 12:00 AM
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The earthquake near Sumatra and the resulting tidal wave that have wreaked devastation in many nations on two separate continents was the final major event in the tumultuous year of 2004. The people of the world watched in stunned disbelief as television footage showed us mountains of bodies, some 30 percent of them children, and […]

The Shadows over Iraq Darken the New Year

December 12, 2004 12:00 AM
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When a new year arrives, there is normally a sense of hope that the future will be better. That, however, is not my feeling as New Year’s Day, 2005, dawns. We live rather in a world of increasing tension. We are engaged in a war that is not being won and out of which we […]

The Meaning of the Christmas Myths

December 12, 2004 12:00 AM
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It is a beautiful time of the year. The celebration is in full swing. The symbols, some sacred, some quite secular, mingle in the market place: Bethlehem and the North Pole, the Angel Gabriel and Rudolf, the Heavenly Host and Santa’s reindeer, crèche scenes and Christmas trees. It is also a season in which light […]

Homophobia – No Compromise Possible

December 12, 2004 12:00 AM
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I recently listened to a series of insightful lectures on the American Civil War given by Dr. Gary Gallagher, a professor of History at the University of Virginia. Early on, Dr. Gallagher analyzed the failure of America’s political leadership to find a compromise on slavery in the days and years leading up to secession and […]

International Anglicanism’s Flirtation with Ignorance!

December 12, 2004 12:00 AM
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The commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to determine how the Anglican Communion can maintain its unity while recognizing wide diversity of opinion about homosexuality has, with great fanfare, released its report. It is long, convoluted and about what one would expect from a frightened leadership that thinks that the problem […]

Election 2004 Part 4 – An Analysis of the Rise of Evangelical Religion

December 12, 2004 12:00 AM
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If religious fervor is a response to human insecurity as I have argued, and if it covers prejudices with God talk and piety, then what are the specific internal issues that have led to its increased power in recent American history? This is my topic in the final essay in this series. A quick survey […]

Election 2004 Part 3 – An Analysis of the Evangelical Vote in the 2004 Election

November 11, 2004 12:00 AM
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The rise of the evangelical, religious vote in the United States can be viewed externally and historically, my task this week; or internally and emotionally, my task next week. I begin this week’s analysis before the civil war for I believe I can demonstrate that evangelical religion in America still manifests an ever-present and deeply […]

Election 2004 Part 2 – An Analysis of the Evangelical Vote in the Campaign of 2004

November 11, 2004 12:00 AM
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Last week I began an analysis of the rise in religious and evangelical fervor that was so powerfully displayed in the presidential election in November. For many it was a frightening and incomprehensible spectacle. I suggested in that column that historically, the primary function of religion was to bring security to a radically insecure human […]

Election 2004 Part 1 – Understanding the Divided Electorate

November 11, 2004 12:00 AM
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The votes are in. The presidency of George W. Bush will extend for four more years. His victory was significant in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Republicans increased their control in the Senate and the House of Representatives, to a workable majority. That Party now is in charge of the executive and […]

The Gospels and Punctuation

November 11, 2004 12:00 AM
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Elizabeth Robinson, a friend of mine who teaches English as a second language to the children of immigrants in New Zealand, recently sent me an exercise on the importance of punctuation that she has used in her class. Please note that the words in these two examples are identical, only the punctuation has been changed. […]

It is Time to Vote!

October 10, 2004 12:00 AM
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The political campaign is almost over. Soon the constant barrage of character-assassinating rage so omnipresent on our television screens will end. If the pollsters are accurate half of this nation will celebrate on November 2nd. The other half will either be angry or in mourning. A divided nation will, I fear, still be divided on […]

Making Much of What Cannot Matter Much to God

October 10, 2004 12:00 AM
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I ask my readers’ indulgence this week as I roam over some of the terrain of my own ministry. My reminiscence revolves around a simple phrase: “when we would make much of that which cannot matter much to God.” These words have echoed in my mind for at least 50 years. I associated them primarily […]

Bishop Spong Answers Your Questions

October 10, 2004 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, I now have more than 5000 questions on file from my readers. If I limit myself to one each week, my present supply will not be exhausted until the year 2101 C.E.! So I have decided to revive the practice of periodically devoting an entire column to the question and answer format. That […]

Do we have the moral right to choose to die?

October 10, 2004 12:00 AM
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Is death a natural and normal part of human life or is it an enemy that we must always seek to defeat? That is an issue being debated today in religious circles, pitting traditional religious groups, most notably the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and leading Protestant Fundamentalists, against the rapidly growing movement of […]

The Place of the Bible in the Right to Die Debate

September 09, 2004 12:00 AM
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Alan Meisel is the Dickey, McCarey and Chicote Professor of Bioethics and Law at the University of Pittsburgh. I met him recently when we were both addressing a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Death with Dignity organization. Professor Meisel had previously served on the Ethics Workings Group of the White House Task Force […]

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

September 09, 2004 12:00 AM
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Dear 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 […]

Bishop V. Gene Robinson – One Year Later

September 09, 2004 12:00 AM
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It has been more than a year since Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire by the clergy and lay deputies of the Episcopal Church in that state. The election and its confirmation, which took place at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in September of 2003, created debate and elicited strong reactions […]

Understanding The Christian Roots of My Political Depression

September 09, 2004 12:00 AM
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The Republican Convention in New York City forced me to face the fact that my feelings about the Bush Administration have reached a visceral negativity, the intensity of which surprises even me. So I decided to search introspectively to identify its source. Is it simply runaway partisanship? That is certainly how it sounds to many […]

Republicans at Prayer in Madison Square Garden

September 09, 2004 12:00 AM
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The Republican Party in New York City this week looks very much like the Democratic Party looked in Boston last month. Strip away the posters; mute the rhetoric and they are hard to distinguish one from another. Possibly the Republicans are a little older, a little whiter and little more established and bejeweled, but people […]

A View from Europe

August 08, 2004 12:00 AM
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“What is it about George W. Bush that causes you to be so negative?” That was the question I posed this summer at a dinner party in Windsor, England. It was a topic that seemed to occur everywhere I went on this month-long lecture tour that took me to Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and England. The […]

Christianity in Sweden – A Sign of Hope

August 08, 2004 12:00 AM
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In recent years it has been my privilege to observe first hand the state of Christianity in the various nations of Europe. It is not an encouraging picture. It has not seemed to matter whether I was looking at Christianity in Roman Catholic countries like France and Belgium or Protestant countries like England, Denmark or […]

The Crisis in the Church of Denmark

August 08, 2004 12:00 AM
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Denmark is a charming and beautiful country in Europe bounded by Germany, Sweden and the North Sea. Its image was imprinted in my memory positively during the dark days of World War II. Overrun by the armies of Adolph Hitler, the people of Denmark endured their captivity with an indomitable spirit. Yes, they bowed to […]

Impressions from the Democratic National Convention

August 08, 2004 12:00 AM
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It was half family reunion and half religious revival. The ‘Vestments” worn for “worship” included hats decorated with everything from American flags to donkeys. Some were so bizarre that one suspected they had no purpose other than to gain the attention of the television cameras, which seemed actually to search them out during every rendition […]

Senator Kerry on the Place of Religion in America

July 07, 2004 12:00 AM
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For my column this week I have written a speech on the place of religion in American life that I would like to see Senator John Kerry make as part of his campaign for the presidency of the United States. I also delivered this speech in this format to a gathering of the delegates to […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 6

July 07, 2004 12:00 AM
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If God is not a punishing and rescuing deity, then who or what is God? If the biblical explanation of the source of evil is no longer operative, then from where does evil come? What is its origin? Can the way evil is viewed be changed or transformed? Can we human beings escape our need […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 5

July 07, 2004 12:00 AM
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“Those whom I love, I will reprove and chasten so be zealous and repent (Rev.3: 19).” Can you imagine that something as life denying as sado-masochism is overtly a part of the Christian story? Impossible, you say! Christianity is about life and love, not about pain and punishment. Well, let’s examine that thesis. Listen first […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 4

July 07, 2004 12:00 AM
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Is it accident, coincidence or strange fate that Christianity has managed to preside over centuries of history in which physical punishment has been the primary means of discipline in so many parts of our society? Or is there something within the Christian story itself that pushes us toward abusive behavior? These are the questions to […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 3

June 06, 2004 12:00 AM
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In the most deeply patriarchal part of our male-dominant Western history, women were also considered to be fit subjects for corporal punishment at the hands of their husbands. This exercise of power was carried out with the full approval of both State and Church. In that day a husband could beat his wife whenever the […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 2

June 06, 2004 12:00 AM
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The physical abuse of children under the guise of “proper discipline” has been practiced in western history so frequently as to be thought of as normative. It has had the approval of those recognized sources of cultural value – tradition, Bible, Church, School and family. It found expression in popular novels written by such noteworthy […]

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt – Part 1

June 06, 2004 12:00 AM
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“He who spares the rod, hates his son; but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov. 13:24).” “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with a rod, you will save his life from Sheol (Prov. 23:13,14).” “Folly […]

The Ultimate Source of Anti-Semitism – The Circumstances That Brought Judas Into the Jesus Story

June 06, 2004 12:00 AM
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I return today to a subject that I have covered before. It is essential however, to this series on the sources of anti-Semitism, so I ask my reader’s indulgence while I once again bring Judas into focus. My request to you is a simple one. Suspend for a moment your critical faculties, as well as […]

Questions from the Readers: The War in Iraq

June 06, 2004 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, Recent columns on the Iraq war have elicited great volumes of mail. I have picked representative samples of that mail and my response to them for my column this week. I welcome your responses, including those that are in opposition. I do not speak with any divine imprimatur. I am only one proud […]

Unmasking the Source of Christian Anti-Semitism – Part III

May 05, 2004 12:00 AM
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When I was a child attending an Evangelical Episcopal (Anglican) Sunday school in North Carolina, I was taught that it was OK to hate Jews. If I questioned this teaching the Bible was quickly quoted to validate that negativity. I was never introduced to a good Jew in any of my prepared Sunday school material. […]

The Yankees, Iraq and Patriotism

May 05, 2004 12:00 AM
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Bob Shepherd is the resonant Voice of the New York Yankees, heard over the public address system welcoming fans to Yankee Stations and to the YES Network. He exhorts the faithful at Yankee games to a moment of 7th Inning silence while we remember those who have died in Iraq “to protect our freedom and […]

Unmasking the Sources of Christian Anti-Semitism – Part 2

May 05, 2004 12:00 AM
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Intolerance and bigotry seem to be written into the very fabric of religious life, causing people to act in ways that are diametrically opposed to what they say they believe. A tremendous need for certainty that overwhelms our rationality appears to be part of our very humanity. It is visible in the excessive claims that […]

The Disaster of Iraq – Enough is Enough!

May 05, 2004 12:00 AM
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I have reached the point when I can no longer tolerate the Iraqi War. The final straw was the abuse of Iraqis in the prison camp at Abu Ghraib and the deceptive way it was handled by both the Bush Administration and the military leadership. I had questions as the build-up to this war developed […]

Unmasking the Sources of Christian Anti-Semitism – Part 1

April 04, 2004 12:00 AM
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“His blood be upon us and upon our children (Mt.27: 25).” The darkest, most disillusioning side of Christianity is revealed in the way that Christians have treated Jews throughout history. Anti-Semitism has been a terrifying prejudice for the Jews to endure. It has also distorted the very essence of the Christian message. Christianity was born […]

Questions from the Readers: Passion of the Christ, Christian Reformation

April 04, 2004 12:00 AM
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Dear Readers, This week I want to get to your questions for a change. I had so many questions on the series on The Passion of the Christ that I could fill up weeks trying to deal with them. However many of them were similar, so I have tried to weave them all into a […]

The Bible and Homosexuality – The Church’s Dance in the 21st Century – Part 3

April 04, 2004 12:00 AM
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“They glorified God not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Romans 1:21 KJV).” “For this cause God gave them up into vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving […]

The Bible and Homosexuality – The Church’s Dance in the 21st Century – Part 2

April 04, 2004 12:00 AM
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“The men of the city — of Sodom, compassed the town round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter; And they called unto Lot and said to him, “Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out to us that we may know them (Gen.19: 4,5, KJV).” […]

The Bible and Homosexuality – The Church’s Dance in the 21st Century – Part 1

March 03, 2004 12:00 AM
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“Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: It is an abomination (Lev.18: 22 KJV).” “If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death, their blood be upon them (Lev. 20:13.)” This is the Word of […]

What Mel Gibson Does Not Understand About Biblical History

March 03, 2004 12:00 AM
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In the year 66 C.E. guerilla activities that had been festering in Galilee for more than 40 years broke out in a full-scale war. While that war was engaged in the mountains of Galilee, the Jewish ‘freedom fighters,’ familiar with those hills, acquitted themselves quite well. In response Rome decided to abandon the fight on […]

“The Passion of the Christ” — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 4

March 03, 2004 12:00 AM
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Last week I examined the connection between Psalm 22 and the earlier gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. This week I turn to Isaiah 40-55, which was the other primary source from the Hebrew Scriptures that was so obviously woven into the story of the final events in Jesus’ life. The author of these chapters is […]

“The Passion of the Christ” — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 3

March 03, 2004 12:00 AM
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There are some aspects of the gospels’ passion narratives that Mel Gibson seems not to know. That is surprising since they are commonplace in the world of New Testament scholarship. First, in the earliest narrative of the Passion of Jesus (Mark 14:17- 15:47), a poignant but little noticed fact is registered. Mark informs his readers […]

“The Passion of the Christ” — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 2

March 03, 2004 12:00 AM
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Mel Gibson claims that in his film, “The Passion of the Christ,” he has “followed faithfully the texts of the Gospels.” That is demonstrably not so, as I sought to show in this column last week. Yet, what interests me about this even more is that many religious people think that biblical accuracy is the […]

“The Passion of the Christ” — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship

February 02, 2004 12:00 AM
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Mel Gibson’s motion picture, “The Passion of the Christ,” goes public on Ash Wednesday, February 25, the day this column comes out. Then people can see for themselves a film that has been hyped by advance showings to evangelical clergy and conservative Catholics, including Pope John Paul II. It has been praised by Protestant fundamentalists, […]

WILLIAM CONWELL SPONG: November 2, 1933 – February 4, 2004

February 02, 2004 12:00 AM
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Brotherly love is a strange concept. It is so often marked by intense rivalry and little affection. One thinks of biblical brothers – Cain who killed Abel, Jacob who cheated Esau out of his birthright or Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. But when one admires and loves one’s brother it is […]

John Titaly – An Indonesian Hero

February 02, 2004 12:00 AM
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From time to time, one has the privilege of meeting a person who seems larger than life. That moment came for me recently when I journeyed into Indonesia to the eastern part of the Island of Java to deliver a series of lectures at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga. This university, identified historically with […]

The Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women Part VI

February 02, 2004 12:00 AM
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“In Christ Jesus…there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:26,28).” The apostle Paul was a man of great ability, passion, and energy and yet his writings reveal enormous turmoil. He comes out of a rigid, patriarchal background which he reflects again and again when giving instructions to his churches: Women are to keep quiet in […]

Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women — Part V

January 01, 2004 12:00 AM
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The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate as even the Law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (I Cor. 14:34-36) The head […]

Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women — Part IV

January 01, 2004 12:00 AM
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Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God […]

Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women — Part III

January 01, 2004 12:00 AM
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“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of […]

An Open Letter to Political Columnist George F. Will of the Washington Post

January 01, 2004 12:00 AM
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Dear George: You have a huge platform through television, Newsweek and the Washington Post to be a major influence in shaping public opinion. I find myself impressed by your insights into the world of baseball and a bit less impressed by your right-of-center political musings. I am, however, absolutely amazed at the profoundly uninformed positions […]

The Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women – Part II

December 12, 2003 12:00 AM
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“If a woman conceives and bears a male child then she shall be unclean seven days; as of the time of her menstruation she shall be unclean. ——- But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks as in her menstruation; and she shall continue in the blood of her […]

A Christmas Meditation

December 12, 2003 12:00 AM
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Katharine from Richmond, Virginia asks: What is it about this Jesus that you find so compelling? When I hear the Christmas story from the Bible I believe that I am listening to fairy tales. Stars do not announce the birth of a human being. Angels do not sing to hillside shepherds. Virgins do not conceive […]

Luke’s Christmas Story: It is Not How He Was Born, But Who He Was that Matters

December 12, 2003 12:00 AM
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The Gospel we call Luke came into the life of the Christian community in the late 9th or early 10th decade of the Common Era, or some sixty years after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. It opens with a magical birth story that was never intended to be viewed as history. It is filled with […]

The Common Roots of Hanukkah and Christmas- Dec 2003

December 12, 2003 12:00 AM
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Religious people frequently assert that they have received their truth by divine revelation. It is a strange assertion, leading almost inevitably to the power claim that there is a single “true church” or religious system that alone offers salvation. It also produces such irrational doctrines as papal infallibility and scriptural inerrancy. A study of religious […]

The Terrible Texts: The Attitude of the Bible Toward Women – Part I

December 12, 2003 12:00 AM
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“For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman for the man.” I Cor. 11:8, 9. “I permit no woman to have authority over men. She is to be silent.” 1 Timothy 2:12. “Wives, be subject to your husbands […]

America viewed from a New Zealand Perspective

November 11, 2003 12:00 AM
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My wife and I have just completed a 33.5-mile hike over three days in this beautiful part of the world. We dressed appropriately with proper boots and wind-breaking jackets to withstand the temperature and snow at 6000 feet. Each of us, however, carried only one 12 oz bottle of drinking water. Foolhardy and dangerous our […]

Christianity in Australia 2003

November 11, 2003 12:00 AM
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Last week in my tribute to the city of Adelaide, I suggested that there was something sick and bizarre about the state of Christianity in Australia. That sickness is centered in Sydney, but it has ramifications and effects throughout the land. This state of mind is identified with two individuals. One is a Roman Catholic […]

Adelaide

November 11, 2003 12:00 AM
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The city of Adelaide is not well known outside the country of Australia. It is the provincial capital of the state of South Australia, in which is located the world famous Australian wine industry. Despite its population of more than one million citizens, it lives in the shadows of Australia’s two dominant ports and commercial […]

The Miracle in Abingdon, U. K.

November 11, 2003 12:00 AM
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One of my favorite biblical characters is the disciple Andrew. I regard him as the patron saint of ordinary people, little people. It is his brother, Simon Peter, not Andrew, who catches the Gospel headlines. According to the 4th Gospel Andrew is the one who brought Peter to Jesus and the one who recognized that […]

The Church and the Homosexuality Debate

October 10, 2003 12:00 AM
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It was Professor Sarah Coakley, an Anglican theologian at Harvard University, who described the church as being something like a swimming pool. “Most of the noise,” she said, “comes from the shallow end.” That is exactly my sense when I listen to the current debate over the issue of homosexuality taking place today in the […]

The Church’s Irrational Debate over Homosexuality

October 10, 2003 12:00 AM
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As the issue of homosexuality takes center stage, some strangely irrational statements are emerging from the mouths of various religious leaders of the world. Sifting through the pious rhetoric one confronts a serious anomaly and a strange disconnect between what is said, what is heard and what is meant. Consider the data. In a recent […]

Alabama’s Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments – Part III

October 10, 2003 12:00 AM
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The battle between Judge Roy Moore and the Federal judiciary over the statue of the Ten Commandments in his Alabama Court House was not the first time Judge Moore has commanded national attention. Those who think of him primarily as a pious man, seeking to restore a sense of God and morality in what he […]

Alabama’s Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments – Part II

October 10, 2003 12:00 AM
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As a concept the Ten Commandments seem to appeal to Judge Roy Moore of Alabama as they do to many people. How impressive it would be if the great moral wisdom of the ages could be reduced to ten easy to remember precepts. Every child could count them off on his or her fingers and […]

Alabama’s Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments – Part I

October 10, 2003 12:00 AM
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Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama’s latest embarrassing public official, has recently lifted the Ten Commandments into a new prominence. As insensitive as Bull Connors’ fire hoses trained on peaceful demonstrators, or George Wallace’s stand at the schoolhouse door shouting, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” this latest demagogue wants to bend the law of Alabama […]

The Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the Earth

September 09, 2003 12:00 AM
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When I was a young theological student, I was assigned the task of reading a book entitled “Ideas have Consequences.” I do not recall the author but the title has always impressed me. History is full of episodes that demonstrate its truth. The ideas in Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” or Karl Marx’s “Das Capital’surely had […]

Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the World – Part IV

September 09, 2003 12:00 AM
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Is there something about Western religion itself that predisposes its adherents to environmental disaster? Do such texts as “Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth” arise out of something far deeper and more basic in our faith tradition? Why is it that among non-Western religious traditions, the concept of having a religious duty to […]

The Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the Earth – Part IV

September 09, 2003 12:00 AM
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Subdue the earth! It is an enemy to be conquered not a home to be treasured! Life is an eternal battle for survival between the human creature and the hostile environment. These are the assumptions that shape the primary religious tradition in the Western world. Today we are paying the price of those assumptions. It […]

The Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the Earth – Part II

September 09, 2003 12:00 AM
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For most of Western history, our attention has been given primarily to the task of maintaining the growing human population. Only in relatively modern times, has our focus begun to turn to giving some attention to the process of slowing down the birth rate. That would prove to be a new and very different battleground. […]

The Terrible Texts: Be Fruitful and Multiply and Subdue the Earth

August 08, 2003 12:00 AM
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Christians have never been significantly committed to the preservation of our common environment. Ecological concerns are present in Church life, but they never quite make it to the top tier of the issues that consume ecclesiastical energy. That is usually reserved for theological and sexual concerns. To be fair, each denomination probably includes some environmental […]

The Crisis Facing the United Methodist Church

August 08, 2003 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends: Once a quarter while Bishop Spong is on vacation we have invited guest writers to bring their perspectives to this column. Today we welcome in this capacity a leading layman in the United Methodist church who has written a piece on the crisis facing his church. Rhett Jackson is well known in Columbia, […]

New Hampshire’s Bishop Confirmed: Pride in my Church Reborn!

August 08, 2003 12:00 AM
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I am proud of my Church! That is a new feeling. There were days during the Lambeth Conference in 1998 when I thought I would never utter these words again. That Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of the world’s Anglican Bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the low point in my entire professional life. At […]

Rethinking the Meaning of Prayer

August 08, 2003 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends, Instead of a question and answer feature this week I want to start this column with a preface. As I read your letters and your questions, I note that the subject you ask about most is neither politics nor human sexuality. It is prayer. In the ‘Q and A’ feature of this column, […]

The Unity of the Church – A Pious Clich

July 07, 2003 12:00 AM
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In my column last week, I chronicled the sad and shameful saga of Canon Jeffrey John who was forced to withdraw from his appointment as the Bishop of Reading in the Church of England because he was an openly homosexual person. I return to that episode once more this week to examine, not the issue […]

The Unity of the Church – A Pious Clich

July 07, 2003 12:00 AM
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The cast of characters in the news story, playing across the front pages of the British press last month, was made up of only three persons. One was the Canon Theologian of Southwark Cathedral in South London, the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, bishop-elect of Reading. The second was the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt. Rev. […]

The Word of God?

July 07, 2003 12:00 AM
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“This is the word of the Lord” That is the liturgical phrase used in Christian churches to mark the end of a reading from the Bible. It is a strange, even a misleading, phrase. Yet Sunday after Sunday it is repeated, reinforcing in the psyches of worshipers a rather outdated attitude toward Holy Scripture. In […]

The Supreme Court, Gay Rights and the Scalia Dissent

July 07, 2003 12:00 AM
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It had the quality of inevitability about it. The world is changing rapidly and not even conservative justices can fail to take notice of that fact. The recent 6 – 3 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay sexual conduct is a sign that the battle for gay rights, at least […]

A Progressive Christianity Network Formed in the United Kingdom

July 07, 2003 12:00 AM
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First at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, in the heart of London, then at the United Reformed Church in Kendal, in the center of England’s beautiful Lake District, I keynoted in June the launch of something called “The Progressive Christianity Network U.K.” Altogether, between 350 and 400 people joined in these two launches. Who are these […]

The Episcopal Church chooses a Gay Bishop

June 06, 2003 12:00 AM
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It was fascinating to see how this breaking news leaped off the wire services around the world to command front-page space, oft-times accompanied by a three-column picture. It was translated into many languages. This story combined those two emotional parts of our lives – sex and religion – which make for a potent mix. The […]

If Christianity Relates to Life It Must Relate To Politics

June 06, 2003 12:00 AM
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“You are sounding more and more like a left wing politician. When will you get back to the premise that attracted me in the first place – that is, a new Christianity? I see Christianity NOT as a political tool but as a spiritual tool that will change people who will then change conditions. Why […]

Insights from Finland

June 06, 2003 12:00 AM
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Finland is a beautiful country, bounded on the west by Scandinavia, the east by Russia, the north by the Arctic Circle and the south by the Baltic Sea. Its five million ethnically diverse people include Laplanders, central Europeans and Russians. The Finnish language is closely related to the language of Hungary. Historically Finland has been […]

YOUR QUESTIONS: Visions, Resurrection, Church Growth, Adoption and Artificial Insemination

June 06, 2003 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends: The volume of questions that this column elicits from its readers continues to amaze me. There is no doubt that this column connects with people all over the world who are seeking a new kind of spirituality that combines truth with empowerment. Sadly enough, these letters suggest that this searching, growing process is […]

When Will We Ever Learn?

May 05, 2003 12:00 AM
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“These despicable acts were committed by killers, whose only faith is hate and the United States will find the killers and they will learn the meaning of American Justice.” These words were spoken by President George W. Bush, following the suicide bomb explosions at American compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bush’s outrage made good sense […]

Bill Bennett Et Al

May 05, 2003 12:00 AM
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It happens with unconscionable regularity. It is a reality in both church and state. Yet despite this regularity, it always comes as a surprise. Perhaps human beings are ever hopeful and thus ever gullible. One wonders why our emotions have not been inoculated against this element of surprise by now. People and institutions that advocate […]

Paul Moore – Bishop of New York – 1919-2003

May 05, 2003 12:00 AM
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He was a giant in my church, both spiritually and physically. He stood astride the 20th Century like few church people ever imagined being possible. His name was Paul Moore. He retired as the Episcopal Bishop of New York in 1989 after having been a bishop for 25 years. His funeral service was conducted in […]

The Sexual Code Word: Silence! – By John Shelby Spong

May 05, 2003 12:00 AM
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Recently it has become apparent to me that the words “silence” or “silent” are being used in a unique way in the public arena. These words seem to carry with them a conspiratorial connotation, especially when they are related to issues of human sexuality. The cover up of the molesting of children by priests in […]

A GATHERING OF FRIENDS PROCLAIMS THE VITALITY OF AGE – By John Shelby Spong

April 04, 2003 12:00 AM
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     Sometimes my lecturing career brings me in touch with some absolutely remarkable people. In Salem, Oregon I lectured recently at Willamette University, a school best known for producing former Senator Mark Hatfield. The organizing impetus behind this event came from a study group living in a retirement community, known as Capital Manor. These retirees, who […]

Easter: In Need of Reinterpretation!

April 04, 2003 12:00 AM
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The Christian Faith was born in the experience that we have come to call Easter. It was this Easter experience that invested Jesus with a sense of ultimacy. It caused his followers to regard his teaching as worthy of being preserved. It was the reason that Saint Paul could write, “if Christ has not been […]

My Suspicions about the Historicity of Judas Iscariot, Part II

April 04, 2003 12:00 AM
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As the season of Easter dawns in the Christian world, two figures take center stage in the liturgical drama. One is Jesus of Nazareth, who came to be called by believers, “the light of the world.” The other is Judas, called Iscariot, portrayed as the incarnation of darkness and villainy. When the story of the […]

My Suspicions about the Historicity of Judas Iscariot, Part I

April 04, 2003 12:00 AM
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One of the primary personalities of the Easter story is Judas Iscariot, the anti-hero of the Christian Gospel. Judas has traditionally been painted in dark and sinister colors. His act of betrayal has been described as the worst villainy in human history. The name Judas, once popular as a name for boys in the Jewish […]

Beyond the War: The Questions of My Readers – By John Shelby Spong

March 03, 2003 12:00 AM
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Dear Friends,      Another question and answer column! The response to doing this periodically was very strong. There is, however, another reason for following this format for this week’s column. Before the Iraqi War began, I spoke frequently and with great passion against it. Some of you actually wrote letters complaining that this column had turned […]

The Future of Christianity as glimpsed through a Western University

March 03, 2003 12:00 AM
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     This much loved and impressive university has orange and black for its school colors. Its athletic teams are called “the Tigers.” Princeton, you say immediately! That would be a good, but an inaccurate guess. I am referring rather to a west coast school, not generally known outside of California, which was founded by a Princeton […]

Bill O’Reilly, Congressman Charles Rangel and War

March 03, 2003 12:00 AM
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    It became clear when I listened to Bill O’Reilly interview Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel