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30 March 2011: My Friend: Richard Lester Shimpfky 1940-2011

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, …

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Q & A:

You have spoken frequently about talking to our clergy about their role in equipping us lay people for our ministries. I am a lesbian, feminist Episcopalian in a diocese whose bishop has an unspoken “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays. Given this atmosphere of fear and schism in our church, how can I help my bishop come to Jesus or should I just try harder to be a Unitarian or move to New Jersey?

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24 March 2011: Examining the Meaning of the Cross, Part IV: The Symbols of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Crucifixion

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 …

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Q & A:

A common poem found in the Announcements/Obituary section of most (if not all) newspapers is titled “The Plan of the Master Weaver.” I’m sure you have seen this poem many times, it begins. “Our lives are but fine weavings that God and we prepare. Each life becomes a fabric planned and fashioned in His care. Sometime a strand of sorrow is added to His plan and though it’s difficult for us, we still must understand. That it’s He who fills the shuttle, it’s He who knows what’s best. So we must weave in patience and leave Him to the rest. The dark threads are as needed in the Weaver’s skillful hand as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.” I personally find this brings more discomfort than comfort. It was written, I’m sure, with good intentions but a person has to ask: does it really bring a grieving family any comfort to know (for example) that their child was killed as part of God’s plan? I have to believe that someone (somewhere) has put together some better words of comfort. Something that does not throw us all together into a basket of weaves within the Master Weaver’s plan. What message or words would you suggest to help bring healing and comfort to those who have lost a very dear friend, a colleague, an acquaintance or a family member?

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17 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part III: There Never Were “Seven Last Words” From the Cross

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 …

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Q & A:

When you realize that 10% of the population of the USA owns 87% of the wealth in your country and that this figure has been growing during the past 60 years, you may need to add wealthism (the belief that disparity of income and wealth is OK) to your list of unacceptable prejudices. Do you know how little the bottom of the USA population owns? Perhaps you could find out. That may convince you that capitalism as practiced is not working. How can this be allowed to continue in a country which still regards itself as nominally Christian?

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9 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part II: Did the Crucifixion of Jesus Occur at Passover?

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 …

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Q & A:

I grew up in a small town north of Charlotte, NC. I now live in the Charlotte area. My parents went to the Baptist Church about three times a week. My father was the head deacon….Well, you get the picture. I have read several of your books because I have been “in exile” for years, but I still have strong moments of fear and guilt. I can not find a church in this area where I feel at ease. I feel that I should be raising my children in the church but they really don’t want to go. I was raised to believe that if you accepted Jesus in your heart that you would be saved. I struggle with this daily and I feel extremely alone with my thoughts. What should I do?

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3 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part I: Analyzing the Details of the Crucifixion

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 …

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Q & A:

I am a Reader in the Anglican Church, but have been unable to believe in a God “up there” or indeed a personal God for some years. I have tried to understand Tillich’s idea of God not being a “Being,” but “Being itself” and the concept of the “Ground of all Being” without that much success I should say. More recently I have read Borg’s “The God we never knew” and the concept of “Panentheism” both transcendent and imminent. I have also read all of your own books which have brought me often out of the slough of despond, but sometimes I am still feeling very alone in my particular churchmanship to which I still wish to contribute. The question is: If I do not believe in a theistic God, does that now make me an Atheist or an a-theist, at least in comparison to the modern atheists like Richard Dawkins et al? I hope not, as I still wish to serve God, whoever or whatever that means through ministry to other people and have no wish to leave the church, but I must be true to myself and to other people.

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24 February 2011: Should this Column Deal with Political Issues?

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: …

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Q & A:

I am interested in hearing your reflections on the proposed Anglican Communion covenant. I have read it through once and have not totally digested its meanings. My overall view is that it seems like a lot of rules to keep unruly Anglicans/Christians/ Episcopalians in line. The simple covenant would seem to be yours: Live life fully, love wastefully and be all that you can be. Help me here. I look forward to hearing your comments.

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17 February 2011: Why I Value Valentine’s Day and How I Lost my Hat on Broadway

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. …

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Q & A:

I am retired, 79 years old, and am an active member of my local United Methodist Church in Springfield, Oregon. I regret that I could not attend your seminars held in Eugene, Oregon, because I have read most of your books and thoroughly enjoy hearing your lectures.

Recently I read the book, Godly Play, by Jerome W. Berryman. He has an interesting approach to Christian Education for children, but what struck me was his discussion about the basic questions of existence. Those questions each person must face alone. He lists these four: death, the threat of freedom, unavoidable aloneness and the need for meaning. I think I can make a case for Christianity providing answers to these questions, but I would like to learn about your answers (although I realize that full answers would take a book to cover the topic fully).

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9 February 2011: The Transition from Tribalism: The Tea Party, States’ Rights, Strict Constructionists and the Reading of the Constitution

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 …

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Q & A:

I have read most of your books and have enjoyed all of them. I was once a fundamentalist Christian and your books have really opened my eyes to many things. I have been giving my husband your books to read but he is still not totally convinced and leans towards Biblical literalism. His problem is that prophecies in the Bible have come true; i.e. the Jews returning to their homeland in 1948 as prophesied in the Bible thousands of years before. He also sees great power in the north forming now and expects Armageddon to happen shortly. What are your thoughts on Bible prophecy especially in regard to the Jews and their homeland?

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3 February 2011: Milton Reese LeRoy, 1922-2010

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 …

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Q & A:

Environmentalism, as measured by number of adherents, is the dominant religion in the United States today. Like all religions, it is based on myths masquerading as truth or fact. You are recognized as especially gifted in seeing through the fog of myth underlying Christianity. It is disappointing to note your inability, as demonstrated in the “Either Hogs or Hines” essay, to see through the mythical basis of Global Warming. There is voluminous scientific evidence refuting the claims that human activity, including carbon dioxide emissions, is causing climate variation.

“Wisdom is the ability to distinguish truth from myth”. (Origin unknown)

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26 January 2011: Watching the United Kingdom Wrestle with its Deficit

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 …

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Q & A:

I finished reading your book Liberating the Gospel this past Sunday and was fascinated and excited by the biblical scholarship you outlined in it. I’ve read Why Christianity Must Change or Die and Jesus for the Non-Religious and I look forward to reading the rest of your books as well. You have no idea how wonderful it has been for me to find a religious leader who presents such thoughtful and meaningful perspectives on the Bible; perspectives that allow me to use my brain while remaining spiritual.

Later that night, I turned on the TV only to hear Jack Van Impe and his wife Roxella (people I was not familiar with until that very moment) reminding viewers that he and his wife do not preach about the end of the world, they preach about the second coming of Christ. He quotes passages that say a certain number of people will go with Christ up to heaven and then come back to live 1000 years ON EARTH…and then something else will happen and then God’s chosen ones will live here FOREVER. Each of his assertions was supported with Bible verse after Bible verse like a man with Tourette’s.

The distance between your views in Liberating the Gospels and the views expressed by Van Impe’s struck me that day. In my life there are people around me who believe in the literal interpretation of scripture. Have you ever considered creating a television show of your own to provide an alternative view to the craziness I heard on the airwaves Sunday night? Are there personal approaches you might suggest that I take with people I know that take scripture so literally (e.g. women shouldn’t be ministers for Jesus had no female disciples, homosexuality is an abomination or “love the sinner, hate the sin”, etc., etc., etc.

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