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4 July 2013: JUNE 26, 2013, A GREAT DAY FOR AMERICA
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 …
I greatly admire your writings and find them very helpful to me in understanding how it is possible to be a Christian in this day and age. I have a question, however, that intrigues me. I have just read a wonderful book about the 16th century heretic, Michael Servetus. It is entitled: Out of the Flames by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Servetus was burned at the stake by John Calvin for being an anti-Trinitarian. I was struck by how modern (and appealing to me) the beliefs of Servetus sounded and how much that seemed to me like what I understand that you believe. I was also surprised to learn that his early followers started what became the Unitarian Church. Do you consider yourself somewhat like the Unitarians?
27 June 2013: My Mentors, Part 5 – Richard Henry Baker
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 …
I have been following your work for many years, especially when we were living in New York Now in retirement in California, I found your book A New Christianity for a New World most helpful, as if tailor made to fit my needs. Before retirement, I had essentiality two roles: one of chaplain and lecturer in religion at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1965-1976) and director of the Chinese Program, National Churches of Christ in the USA (1976-1993). Experiences in these two roles have sealed my definition as a bi-cultural person with dual belongings in value systems of both Chinese traditions and Christianity, despite the fact that I was born in the U.S. (San Francisco Chinatown).
In Hong Kong and Asia, I learned so much about Chinese and East Asian traditions, especially from students, colleagues and other faculty members. I was very much attracted to the best in the Confucian tradition, especially “Neo-Confucianism,” after classical Confucianism had interacted for centuries with native Daoism and Indic Buddhism to become a more inclusive system that embodies nature and the cosmos. While in New York, I attended monthly Neo-Confucian seminars at Columbia University, where professors from colleges and universities of the Atlantic seaboard did rigorous exegesis of ancient texts, the envy of Christian scholars.
In retirement I still worship regularly with my wife in a local Presbyterian congregation for the sake of discipline and community, although all of my work has been in ecumenical contexts. I have found Christian worship, however, to be essentially boring banality. Its confession and absolution are too facile, not to mention that my sins are much more sophisticated than what the superficiality of the confession texts state. Maybe this is all as you mentioned in your book, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I actually resonated well with your quote of Bonhoeffer in the Preface, especially “Before God and with God we live without God.”
Your liberating of Christianity from theism has enabled faith for me to converge more directly with so much in the Chinese and East Asian traditions. My first encounter with ridding the supernatural from Christianity was from David Ray Griffin’s book: Reechantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Cornell University Press, 2001). His rigorous and specific critique really did it for me.
Your intellectual honesty (a la John A. T. Robinson) resonates well with the best in Neo-Confucian fundamentalism, which is the fundamental commitment to the human discourse. Your beginning with the dawn of humanity’s consciousness and the struggle for survival reminded me of Robert N. Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Harvard 2011), an interreligious work which took Bellah 15 years to write after retirement. The 746 pages appear to be his reading notes to himself.
Your stating that the description of religious experience can never encompass the entirety of that experience resonates well with the Daoist claim that all articulations of experience, if absolutized, can be “an idolatry of words.”
Your Christianity of expansion into larger and larger realms of exclusivity resonates with the best of the Confucian paradigm of each person being a center of relationship from family, to community, to society, to nation, to world, to the cosmos (ping tian xia) “all under heaven.”
Your integrating good and evil is likened to the Daoist yin-yang, where everything in life is seen an interconnected. There is no facile isolating of that which is “evil,” since every person is a combination of many facets of personhood. There is little dichotomy in Daosim; life and death are one.
Your idea of giving away self and love resonates well with Buddhist non-attachment to things, to loved ones, to life, even one’s own. It is the art of letting go in both Christian and Buddhist kenosis, though the latter has made it a vocation.
Your emphasis on the imperative of community is also central to Confucianism where to be human requires at least two; no one is an atomistic individual.
In retirement I have been trying to stay intellectually alive by reviewing books for an academic journal, China Review International, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Hawaii. To date they have published close to 70 of my reviews since 1995.
Thank you for answering one of my most fundamental questions by demythologizing the notion of a theist parent/fixer, alleviating us of all responsibility.
20 June 2013: The Birth of Jesus, Conclusions: Part XVI
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, …
My question to you is about a column you wrote about two years ago describing your second visit to China. Did you actually witness everything you talked about or did someone else tell you these things? The reason I’m asking is because I read/saw an article on China last year (I can’t remember the source but I think it might have been Time Magazine to which I subscribe). The article showed this beautiful modern city but there were no folks in it. The writer said the high rises and buildings were only a façade and inside many of them it was an empty shell. Since I have already jumped to conclusions, I’ll be interested in your response.
13 June 2013: The Birth of Jesus, Part XV. The Journey to Bethlehem
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, …
The Episcopal Network for Science, Technology and Faith addresses food, climate change, biodiversity and water as important subjects for discussion, but "where's the beef?" Population explosions at the root of most of the problems humanity faces today. Is that topic too sensitive for thinking religious leaders to discuss publicly or are shrinking markets too horrendous to contemplate?
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 …
I’ve read many of your books. The two books that have helped me most understand Jesus have been Liberating the Gospels and Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. However, I don’t see a clear explanation of Jesus’ parables, for example, The Prodigal Son. To me these parables reveal a teaching method that’s not highlighted in your writings. Did Jesus tell these parables?
30 May 2013: Part I: The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic
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 …
I recall your writing that there is a major disconnect between what is being taught in the religious educational academies and the message delivered to the average pew occupier. The point seeming to be that pastors do not want to pass on the more "sensitive" aspects of their training due to the potential upset sensibilities and possible loss of weekly donations from their parishioners - even though these church leaders may very well agree with their formal instruction in these areas. Can you direct me to additional information as to exactly what is taught and believed by these higher learning institutions that is not being conveyed to the normal churchgoer - either somewhere in your writings or possibly those of someone else?
Thanks upon thanks for all you have done and continue to do.
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 …
Is there a good Bible study book you would recommend for a group of lay people to use that is not agenda riddled? I am looking for one that looks at the Bible within its cultural and historical background in which each individual book was written and leaves room for an open-ended discussion of the universal ideas that are inspired in those texts.
16 May 2013: Birth of Jesus, Part XIV. The Old Testament Antecedents in Luke’s Story of Jesus’ Birth
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 …
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 …
I wish to comment on the situation in Europe (being a resident of Sweden) described in your recent column.
In Russia there is a re-emergence of religious power walking hand in hand with the political power. Heresy laws are being introduced. This is a state where religion was considered "for the masses" not too long ago. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Hungary (have they forgotten WWII?) In Poland the Catholic Church is gaining political power. So you could say that with increasing uncertainty the religions are regaining their position as "reducers of angst" (angest in Swedish). This is not a positive thing to those of us who see the gospels as literary documents.
I am personally lending our local pastors copies of your books and this is triggering some healthy debate. My goal is to have them carry the theological debate to the pew sitters in our area. With an average of perhaps ten persons in church on a Sunday, they have to do something. I have noticed that I can have a very deep theological discussion with a pastor and they openly admit that they too have problems in believing in the literal scriptures. However, the moment they stand before the congregation, they are back in Sunday School theology mode. It is as if they are programmed to state the standard point of view. For me this creates a huge credibility gap. I fully believe that if they dared to take their own doubts to the altar and be honest about them, pew sitters would feel much more at home.
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 …
I have a question. I learned that “survival of the fittest” meant that those who fitted, i.e. adapted, best to the circumstances of life would survive, not those who were the most powerful or the strongest. Am I right as your text is more in the last way? I apologize since English is not my mother tongue.
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