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1 March 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part V: The Traditional Religious Definition of Human Life

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 …

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Q & A:

I am a great fan of yours, having discovered your books about 14 years ago.  I believe I have read all of your books (I have your latest on my Kindle ready to go) and I very much look forward to your weekly column.

I currently belong to a welcoming congregation in Washington, DC, and I wanted to ask what you would advise those of us who want Christianity to move forward to do in the way of guidance, materials and messages for teenagers.  You recently gave your approval to a Sunday school curriculum, but I believe that is for younger children.

Based on my personal experience and observations, it is the teenage years where children, who have been brought up in a traditional or even moderately liberal “mainstream” church, drop out of organized religion and likely never return, becoming Christians in exile if even that.  At the teenage years, if not before, young people often doubt the creeds and tenets they may have found interesting and comforting in their childhood, but which no longer speak to them as they mature.  Also the Christian liturgies, while compelling in their own way, are quite formal and can be off-putting to young people.

We currently have a young woman priest, Cara Spaccarelli, who has brought new life to our parish and who is doing wonders to bring in families with young children (she has a four-year-old and a two-year-old herself and so can really relate to these families), but my concern is what may happen to all of these beautiful, loving children as they grow older in regard to their attachment to that church.  I am also interested in seeing my parish move toward a new Christianity along the lines that you outline in your books and for that to happen, it is critical that young people stay, remain engaged and move the parish forward.  Anything you can suggest about keeping teenagers active and engaged in a Christianity that can carry forward through their adult years would be very welcome.

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23 February 2012: The Roman Catholic Bishops: Are They Killing Their Church?

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 …

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Q & A:

I’m a gay man and family physician who has often quoted you and said, “Jack Spong is exactly where I am as a Christian.”  My husband and I have met you personally and attend every opportunity we have to listen to your scholarly lectures.

I’m having some doubts after reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” At the same time I’m re-reading his 30th anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene” Richard has almost convinced me that there is no God.  I still think I see God and what is holy in many people, especially in you and in my relationship with the love of my life, Brian.  I am a scientist after all, and Dawkins’ arguments make perfect sense to me.  Yet we worship at our progressive UMC on Sundays and I’m constantly noting stupid stuff a scientist should reject out of hand.  We enjoy the fellowship but I wonder why I am still going.  Can you help me find my way?  I look forward to your next several essays on “thinking differently and accepting uncertainty.”

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16 February 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part IV: Expanding the Bankruptcy of Theism

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 …

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Q & A:

I have been reading your weekly newsletters with great interest; thank you for articulating faith for the 21st century so clearly.  I have to admit, though, that I’m somewhat perplexed about your series on “The Meaning of the Resurrection.”  I understand that you seek to place Peter at the center of a “resurrection awareness” that took some 6-12 months after the crucifixion.  You quote several references as well as Paul’s, “appeared to Cephas and the Twelve” as firm support.  What I am wondering is – since the gospels are subversive to predominant culture, why downplay all four gospels’ claims that Mary Magdalene, either alone or together with other women, was the first at an empty grave and became messenger of the news that opened the door to a resurrection awareness for herself and others?  Yes, I understand that in Jewish Culture, women’s testimony couldn’t be trusted unless affirmed by a man, but so many stories in the gospels undermine predominant culture especially as it pertains to gender roles that I always thought was God’s last and best joke to give the message of the empty grave to women.  So where is Mary Magdalene, or any of the other women, in this resurrection awareness?  As an aside, you should know that, 25 years ago when I was in seminary in Austin, your brother was one of my most influential teachers.  I remember him fondly. I’m glad you continue to clarify and articulate faith for this time and age.  Thank you for your ministry.

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9 February 2012: ”Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part III: A Call to Re-Image God and All Religious Symbols

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 …

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Q & A:

Thank you for reclaiming the Bible!  I have also read your reflections on miracles and healing.  I and many others, especially in the Episcopal Church, are very involved in healing ministry.  I think you say that we are not praying over people for a divine intervention.  I am beginning to think that the positive release of cosmic energy—the Cosmic Christ—is what accounts for any healing which does occur.  Often when people pray over me, I feel a release of heat, energy, etc. coming from the person praying over me.  Can you help me understand healing ministry?

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2 February 2012: Should a Competent Newspaper Publish Uninformed Prejudice?

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 …

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Q & A:

Some time ago, I was faced with a friend of mine who is deeply homophobic (strange because we go to an arts college.)  The homophobia I was faced with was then made worse by her use of the Bible, particularly the use of Leviticus 18:22 to support her destructive and backward view.  How do you respond to Christian homophobia?

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26 January 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part II

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 …

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Q & A:

Why has there only been ONE BEING such as Jesus?  If you say, “human life is evolving into higher and higher levels of consciousness,” why do we always reference ONLY back to Jesus ALONE?  If God is Christ and IS in us, I imagine (in us the same way as he was in Christ), why always the reference back SOLELY to Christ?  In a way it seems exclusive to me.  I see the story of Jesus as an attempt to explain divinity found within the human being.  Why not take that experience to other humans as well.  I imagine Jesus is not a perfect human being.  I have met Jesus-type persons in people like you, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Aquinas, De Mello, John O’Donohue, my neighbor down the street, a tennis pro.  Barrier breakers opening understandings to us all.  Have we frozen Jesus in the same way as the creeds have frozen the experience we seek?  Thanks for all you are and all you do.

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19 January 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty”

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 …

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Q & A:

I want to know about the other gospels - the ones that did not make it into the official canon of Holy Scripture.  When were they written?  Can we get any insight into Jesus from them?

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12 January 2012: My Second Great Mentor: David Watt Yates (1904-1967)

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 …

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Q & A:

Are you sure that animals are not self-conscious?  Can an animal that shows “compassion” to another creature (such as a dolphin assisting a drowning human) not have a sense of self?

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5 January 2012: The Monolithic Conservatism of the American Heartland Is Not So Monolithic!

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 …

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Q & A:

I am often disheartened by the mind set of some Christians—the mentality of which I used to be part—that they alone seem to possess the truth.  It becomes impossible then to discuss Christianity or have any sort of theological discussion “beyond theism.”  With all of the variations of Christianity telling them that believing these doctrines – the Virgin Birth, the resurrection, etc, is a prerequisite to being a disciple, how does one go about asking questions about God without offending or frightening the “truth bearers?”

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29 December 2011: An Open Letter to a Political Leader Newt Gingrich and to a Religious Leader Pat Robertson

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 …

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Q & A:

What biblical texts have you chosen for your funeral?

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