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13 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 3: On Meeting a Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest

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 …

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Q & A:

Gary Anderson from Duluth, Minnesota, writes:

I've heard of pastors in our area who tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that "they can change if they turn to Jesus." What can you say to this?

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6 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 2: Exploring the Drive to Survive in Animate Life and in Self-Conscious Life

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 …

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Q & A:

Donna Kaplan asks:

I have a question about the scripture passage from St. John's Gospel that you quoted recently in one of your columns: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me (meaning Jesus)." What about the Jews?

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30 July 2009: The Study of Life, Part 1: A Journey Into the Mystery of Life Begins in the Amazon Rain Forest

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 …

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Q & A:

David George of Sacramento, California, writes:

I was so interested to learn of your growth experience as a youth and your attribution to Robert Crandall. I felt your joy and appreciation. The Rev. Morton T. Kelsey touched my life in a similar fashion at the critical time. I've lost track of him. Can you tell me whether he died or of his whereabouts?

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23 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVIII: The Chronicler — Final Chapter of the Old Testament

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 …

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Q & A:

First, I have purchased all of your books and to use an old cliché have been blessed by them, although the evolution of my theological development was slow. Thank you so very much for your insights.

Recently you wrote an article about your new book out in September on Eternal Life. I can hardly wait to read it. In that article you wrote that the church did not "reflect the impact of such shapers of modern thought as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein." I keep a shelf full of books on Einstein and I recently read the National geographic article on Darwin — it was great. Question: The shapers you referred to are all men. What about the women? I am for egalitarianism and I am a feminist, so the absence of any reference to women as shapers in your article caught my attention. The feminists of the 70s had a profound impact on our society.

I believe that our wholeness depends on the equality of men and women and their interaction with each other, in some fashion, such as the recognition and use of the anima and animus as prescribed by Carl and Emma Jung.

I have written a book (not published), titled Dad's a Minister, Mom's a Cop. Being somewhat liberal in the early days of my ministry, it was difficult to serve in evangelical churches, but I stuck to my beliefs and had at my side a wife (California's first patrol woman to drive a squad car alone) who helped me exemplify our egalitarian ways. Some shapers, although not at the level of the men you mentioned, were helpful to me: Joseph Campbell, Simone de Beauvoir and Elizabeth Gould Davis to mention a few. Recently, I have read books by Karen Armstrong and Louann Brizendine that can be considered contributors to the shaping of modern religious thought. Again, thank you for all you do, you are truly a shaper.

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16 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVII: The Liturgical Books of Lamentations and Esther

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 …

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Q & A:

Tad Evans, a retired Episcopal priest and the grandson of the well known and well remembered Walter Russell Bowie, sent the following verse that he attributes without certainty to English Bible scholar Michael Donald Goulder. One of my columns on "The Shady Ladies" of Matthew's genealogy inspired Tad to pass this along. I thought it too much fun to keep it to myself and so I run it today in place of the "Question and Answer" feature.

I hope you both enjoy it and that it sends you back to your Bibles to read Matthew 1:1-17 on which it is based and to check out his references to the Hebrew Scriptures.

– John Shelby Spong

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8 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVI: The Wisdom Literature

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 …

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Q & A:

When I pray any kind of prayer, there is an energy created within me that I believe in some way adds to a sacred energy in the world. I'm not sure how far it gets, or whether it does any good other than add to the positive energy in the universe. If I'm made of "stardust" then maybe there is an energy connection with others, perhaps through our "ground of being." I know that praying, saying formal prayers, taking the various liturgical prayers, prayerful reading of scripture, meditation and the like, are energizing for me and I hope the energy goes somewhere. I'm happy with the energy.

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2 July 2009: A Vision of the Rebirth of Christianity Occurring in Sweden

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 …

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Q & A:

I have just read your answer to John Baker, who wanted to know where he can go to connect with a "Spong pastor." I, too, wonder if you could point me to someone here in Australia. I have read a number of your books, including Jesus for the Non-Religious and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I have a list of others I still want to read. I am currently reading J. A. T. Robinson's Honest to God as a result of reading your autobiography. I talk about them all the time. I find it sad that I have to censor myself sometimes so as not to offend certain people with my new progressive ideas. Your books have awakened something in me and answered many questions I have long pondered. It amazes me how intelligent and educated people can be so medieval in their thinking when it comes to God, Jesus and the Bible. As a Christian I have believed we must challenge and expand our minds. There is so much to learn. It's funny how Christians claim we are so different because God gave us "free will" but condemn and judge anyone who dares to use it. The first book of yours that I read was Why Christianity Must Change or Die. After I read it I felt a real change in my spiritual growth. For a while I was very confused, hence I had to continue my journey, a journey I have really just begun. By reading your book I forced myself out of a comfortable place where all my questions had answers through the "inspired word of God," being touched by the Holy Spirit and "Faith." God and Jesus are more real and alive to me than ever before. Anyway, back to my original question — who can I contact to connect with as a Progressive Christian in or near Port Macquairie, NSW, Australia?

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24 June 2009: Wales: Where Visions of a Christian Future Are Being Born

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 …

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Q & A:

Riding my faithful donkey around La Mesa, I was struck (tense used for theological purposes only) with the similarity between you and Dorothy Sayers. She said much of what you say. There is a 40 to 60 year difference in time. You both say the same word and in many cases the same interpretation. She always claimed orthodoxy and argued it well. Her "Image of God" and "The Other Six Deadly Sins" are as compelling today as they were then. Thank you for carrying the torch — 'tis a pity that few know how far the fire extends.

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17 June 2009: Among My Souvenirs: A Walk Down Memory Lane

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 …

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Q & A:

I recently attended your three lectures in Austin, Texas. You are an important person in my growth. I was raised as a fundamentalist, and you allowed me to begin and continue my journey. You mentioned prayer, and defined the prayers of most as "adult letters to Santa Claus." I must admit that it is an excellent definition. My question is this: What does prayer look like you to today?  Thank you for continuing to educate.

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11 June 2009: On Losing a Friend of 57 Years

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 …

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Q & A:

I am indebted to you for your brilliant scholarship and the light you have shined on my personal path of faith.

In your recent article, Israel: A Secular State Erected on a Religious Base, you stated that Poland was guilty of "active involvement in the Holocaust." That statement, with no further explanation or comment, is untrue and inflammatory. Unlike France, Norway, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Belgium and many other countries, there was no official collaboration with the Nazis in Poland; the number of Poles who cooperated with the Nazis is estimated at several thousand in a population of 35 million. Poland has been referred to as a "Land without a Quisling." How can you refer to that as "active involvement?" France, on the other hand, was actively involved in the arrests, murders and deportation of Jews — why not highlight the French at the top of your list?

The brutal Nazi occupation of Poland, along with the equally brutal Soviet onslaught, subjected the Poles — both Christians and Jews — to unimaginable horrors, the likes of which were not seen in the occupations of, for example, France, Norway and Denmark. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust; nearly as many Polish Christians were murdered as well. Hans Frank, the German Governor-General of Poland during the war, once observed a sign in Prague commemorating there the murder of seven Czechs. Frank observed that if signs were posted in Poland at every spot where seven Poles had been murdered, there would not be enough trees in Poland to produce the necessary paper.

No one denies the existence of anti-Semitism in pre- or post-war Poland. Jews were betrayed to the Nazis by some Poles; Christian Poles also lost their lives to fellow Christians who betrayed them. But thousands of Polish Christians, some of whom were undoubtedly anti-Semitic, risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis enjoyed hanging Polish children in front of their parents who assisted Jews, yet so many Poles took the risk anyway. At Yad Vashim, more Poles are honored than any other peoples.

During the war in Poland, everyone was victimized. The Nazis were cruel to the Poles and even more cruel to the Jews. But now, in retrospect, why is it that the victimized Poles are blamed? Who will remember the Polish victims of the Holocaust? Why is it that simply taking note that there were other Holocaust victims is interpreted as anti-Semitism? And why, for heaven's sake, is Poland singled out as "actively involved" in collaborating when the exact opposite is true? Even the Israeli War Crimes Commission acknowledged there was virtually no collaboration in Poland.

It's time to stand up for the people of Poland, flawed as they are. It is deeply unjust to continue to pin an "anti-Semitic" crown on a nation that gave refuge to the vast majority of European Jews, a nation that was brutalized time and again, a nation that was betrayed by its European "allies," and a nation that was sold into Soviet slavery. Anti-Semitism is not a Polish invention, nor a Polish peculiarity. It is an evil that was nurtured by Christianity, and as Christians we all need to stand up against it.

If the time ever comes that we Americans have to face brutal occupation, murder and unbridled savagery, who among us will be willing to place a noose around our children's necks to save someone else? And if we do not, who will sit in judgment of our actions and how will we be condemned?

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