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16 October 2014: The Emerging Church in Northern Michigan

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 …

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Q & A:

In the early 70s my husband and I attended a Unity School of Christianity at the Unity Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. They seemed to be saying that the scriptures were to be interpreted metaphysically. Would you agree with that? If so, just what does that mean? I am a former Catholic nun and my husband a former Catholic priest. I find your writings clearly express what I can believe about the Jesus of history. For seven years now I have been an active member of the ELCA Church.

 

 

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9 October 2014: 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 …

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Q & A:

My question to you is: Do you personally think that the universal church will ever get its act together in order and come into the 21st century? You have spent your entire life trying to budge the Episcopal Church. If the Roman Catholic Church is any example, with its recognition of Galileo only in 1991, I am skeptical. Where is the hope?

 

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2 October 2014: Part XXX Matthew – The Canaanite Woman: Matthew’s Icon of Prejudice

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 …

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Q & A:

Though Mary Magdalene followed him around, I find no mention in the Bible that Jesus was married. Men of his age usually were. Further, he surrounded himself with a group of men; one of them particularly appeared to be his favorite. It is recorded that Jesus said repeatedly, “Do you love me?” Is it possible that Jesus was a homosexual? What do you think?

Also what about the apostle Paul?

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25 September 2014: Part XXIX Matthew: Did Jesus Really Walk on Water? Of Course Not!

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 …

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Q & A:

In November I will be 76 years old. I grew up in one of the historic Peace churches – the Church of the Brethren, which I attended from childhood through my adult years. The congregations I attended were conservative, but not of the “Literalist” bent. Even during my college years and beyond I was unable to understand the gospels. None of my considerable studies proved to be of significant help. Not until I accidentally found your book: Why Christianity Must Change or Die? did I find a ray of light and an individual who wrote in a fashion that I could understand. Since then, I have purchased almost everything you have written and I subscribe to your weekly e-messages. You have helped me immeasurably to make sense of what has been a mystery to me for a long time. Thank you.

In your article “Christ and the Body of Christ” in the 2000 issue of “The Once and Future Jesus,” you write “God is real for me, a mythical, indefinable presence which I can experience but never explain.” Further in THE FUTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION (“Beyond Theism but not Beyond God”) you identify God with the real and present “life force” in the universe (love). My very good friend, a former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist, claims that because you do not define God as a deity or Supreme Being, you are in fact an atheist (according to the dictionary definition) even though you said you could accept the label Christian Humanist. Could you explain to me and to my atheist friend how you can maintain your status as a Christian while at the same time meet the “dictionary definition” of an atheist?

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18 September 2014: Part XXVIII Matthew: The Parable of the Loaves and the Fish

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 …

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Q & A:

I was raised as a very religious child in a Russian Orthodox household, beginning to serve in the altar at age three. At the age of fifteen I realized that many things did not sit that well with me and I felt I no longer needed the Church. I was compelled to conceal this as a great secret and kept up appearances for several years. When I finally came out, I was met with anger and hysteria. Almost twenty years later, my mother still denies the whole truth, that I do not share her beliefs. While I am in many ways still “allergic” to Christianity, your books have been a great help on a very long road to religious recovery that I began a couple of years ago and for that I deeply thank you.

I have to say honestly that sometimes it seems to me that you draw from the positive aspects of the gospel to create a version of Jesus that is incomplete and dismisses other key aspects of his ministry. In particular, there is one thing that all scholars seem to agree on that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. However, I can’t remember ever encountering much about this in your books. What to you is the significance of Jesus as someone who preached an end to the world and a general resurrection? Do you believe this to simply be a philosophy wrapped up in his time and place?

Also, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the devil and hell, aspects most Christians grew up very aware of. Can you recommend anything that specifically addresses the development of these ideas and the cultural and historical significance?

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11 September 2014: Part XXVII Matthew: Sukkoth, Jewish Thanksgiving Day

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 …

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Q & A:

Would you please state the "case" for the Jews not murdering Jesus? I am now, by my son's marriage, part of a large Jewish family and have become aware of the simmering prejudice against the Jews. I hear comments ranging from off the cuff comments at a dinner party, "Of course, the Jews did it," to the local Catholic priest reading St. John's gospel on Good Friday, where the claim is made that the Jews crucified Jesus. My experience in attending the Anglican Church leads me to expect the priest would then speak to the claim and explain some well understood theological arguments to the contrary, but no. I have read your book, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Gospels with Jewish Eyes, but I find it hard to counter all the arguments that are raised when I try to bring some theological and historical common sense into this. I am preparing a letter, as strongly worded and to the point as I can make it, to send the priest which I would like him to receive before the next Good Friday. My very best wishes to you and your endeavors to save us from that pretzel mind.

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4 September 2014: 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 …

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Q & A:

From time to time, my wife and I update our papers and documentation that will be needed when we die. The standard liturgies, readings, etc. as found in the Anglican Book of Alternate Services (or the Book of Common Prayer) do not fit very well with where we are in our spiritual journey. Do you have in your library a liturgy or liturgies that would fit more closely with many of the ideas and thoughts that we have come to know and love in your books and speeches?

We want to have a funeral service that is based on contemporary biblical and theological scholarship. We do not want to listen to pious talk about everlasting life or to be told that in heaven there is a mansion with many rooms. We do not want to listen to nostalgic visions of a place where we will once again be reunited with our loved ones and friends who have gone before us. It would be of far greater meaning to us to be related in that service of the thought of Paul Tillich and to the understanding of God as the Ground of Being in whom all life is rooted.

 

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28 August 2014: Virginia Politics and the Trial of Governor Robert McDonnell

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 …

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Q & A:

An eight-year-old girl in my congregation has a father who has cancer and will likely die soon. She told a family member that she knew her father would not die because she was praying “really hard” to God. How would you respond to this child?

 

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21 August 2014: 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. …

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Q & A:

I read your answer your answer to a question from Ken Austin from Maroubra, Australia, and I was deeply moved. I understand and agree with all you said in your answer to Mr. Austin, but please go a little further (and forgive me if you’ve answered this before), but what did John mean to imply when he put the words in Jesus’ mouth, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me.” Exactly what is meant by that declaration?

Thanks for taking the time to answer the question.

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14 August 2014: Chautauqua Institution – 2014

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 …

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Q & A:

More than 70 years ago, the great scholar Rudolf Bultmann reportedly summed up his "demythologizing" approach in the pithy observation that "Jesus rose into the Kerygma." Being "the greatest story ever told" doesn't make it a true story. Please comment/explain. Thanks.

 

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