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25 June 2008: Beauty, Wonder and Excitement in New Mexico

I am now convinced that there are no sunsets more beautiful than those that blaze through the evening sky in New Mexico. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the New Mexico desert with its high sky against mountains that rise to 7,000 feet in the Santa Fe-Los Alamos area that makes these sunsets so exquisite. …

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Q & A:

You continue to write articles that both excite and

amaze me. My respect for you, as I have often said, started when you

were my bishop in the Diocese of Newark. Every time I heard you speak

you challenged me and widened my spiritual world. I find today that

often in my prayers I fall back into the humanizing of God to assist

me in relating in some way. When I watch our church being torn apart,

however, I realize how limiting my humanizing is. In your columns I

see in the Episcopal Church a way to a new Christianity and that

enables me to enter my parish and celebrate the Eucharist interpreting

what I hear said so that worship becomes much more personal for me.

I feel that the Church must believe what we say every Sunday, "Thou

shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and

with all thy soul. This is the first great commandment and the second

is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these

two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Read the Answer...

18 June 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part VIII The Priestly Revision of the Jewish Sacred Story (B)

While the first wave of Jews entered the Babylonian Exile around the year 596, a second wave came in 586 after a rebellion was put down by the Babylonians and all of the identifiable descendants of King David were executed. Both groups of captive people carried with them their sacred story, which at that time …

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Q & A:

I've been much concerned over what seems to me great damage done

by those religious leaders who believe that they KNOW the mind and

will of God — usually based upon a literalistic and uncritical

bibliolatry. I wonder whether you would agree with, disagree with,

amend, or consign to oblivion the following line of thought.

As Immanuel Kant showed quite well, I think, we humans cannot claim

knowledge of anything that transcends the realm of our ordinary

spatio-temporal condition. I think this is so, and it helps to

explain why, in matters of theology having to do with gods or God,

there are so many different and conflicting views prevailing in

various human traditions — traditions of humans who are

obviously quite rational beings. On the other hand, I find it

interesting that, when it comes to basic moral rules, the major world

religions come up with rules or principles that are astonishingly

similar. They are not identical, but there is much overlap and

agreement, I believe, on the most important things. But our basic

moral principles are learned through ordinary human experience —

becoming aware of the consequences of this or that sort of behavior.

Even St. Thomas Aquinas believed that revelation was not required for

humans to learn what he called the "natural virtues." To conclude, as

I have, that one cannot claim to KNOW the nature, mind and will of

God, does not, however, mean that one may not EXPERIENCE a reality

that calls forth one's reverence and commitment. I have come to the

point of regarding much of what is in the Bible as myth, as legend, as

tribalistic propaganda — and, indeed, some passages that if

taken as God-inspired, would imply a God that is not worthy of our

devotion. There is in the Bible, however, a great deal that inspires

an awareness of that which is, indeed, worthy of our ultimate

commitment and devotion. I think in this connection of the basic

message of the great prophets, and of what Paul Tillich called "the

picture of Jesus Christ." A renunciation of absolute and dogmatic

claims of knowledge and an appeal to our ordinary experiences of what

makes life sublime might, I think, lead to greater tolerance —

and openness to the spiritual riches of other traditions.

Read the Answer...

12 June 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part VII: The Final Strand of the Torah, The Priestly Document (A)

Time after time we discover that it was the external events of human history that more than anything else shaped the content of those writings that would someday be called the Holy Scriptures. That should not surprise us since all books have human authors who live in a context of both time and place. Only …

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Q & A:

What store or value do you put into or get from:

The Gospel of Mary (the mother of Jesus)

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Thomas

Can we open them to new meaning? Can we attribute to them the status

of Scripture? Can they contribute to or enhance the mission of the

Christian Church, which in your terms is to make us truly human?

Read the Answer...

4 June 2008: What Does the High School Generation Today Think About Politics in 2008?

Note: This column is based on the research of a student who is just completing the tenth grade at George Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, a relatively influential and affluent suburb in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The student’s name is John Lanier Hylton. He is my grandson. He challenged me to write …

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Q & A:

You recently suggested that the split in Christianity today is

between those who assert yesterday's religious explanations and those

who find no meaning in yesterday's religious explanations and give up

on religion altogether. If that is so, is Christopher Hitchens' book,

God Is Not Great, a message from the religiously disillusioned?

If so how do those religious people who defend the past deal with that

book?

Read the Answer...

28 May 2008: Evolution and Homosexuality: The Twin Terrors of the Christian Church

Where is it that Christian people today focus their anger? One has only to look at the content of current ecclesiastical debates, listen to the rhetoric of church leaders or examine the issues upon which the church divides into two competing camps to have your answer. The two things that elicit the most fear, that …

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Q & A:

I am among those who agree with you in regard to the great need for

transformation within traditional Christianity — indeed, a new

reformation is overdue and necessary for the Christian tradition to

survive the 21st century. I believe that Jesus came not to change any

of the Hebrew scripture or its tradition but rather to reaffirm its

true meaning in revealing the spiritual nature of human life through

his own demonstration within humanity. As such, his example created

something new. Have you ever considered officially joining a New

Thought community such as Unity Church of Practical Christianity? I

believe these communities closely reflect the spirit of the Christian

message and serve humanity well in providing a way in which we may

experience and live Christian principles more fully. Thank you so

much for the wonderful work you are doing.

Read the Answer...

21 May 2008: Christian Art: Reinforcer of a Dying Literalism

I did not realize how thoroughly biblical literature has shaped Western civilization until I took a course offered by The Teaching Company entitled “Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance” taught by Professor William Kloss of the Smithsonian Institution. I was certainly aware that almost all Western art up until the Renaissance had religious themes and …

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Q & A:

Although I did not read it until adulthood, I have found the words

in the Gospel of Thomas to be true all my life.

V.3 Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look the (Father's)

kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you.

If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede

you. Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside

you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will

understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do

not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the

poverty."

And:

V. 77 Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am

all: from me all come forth and to me all attained. Split a piece of

wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

What is your take on the Gnostic view, the Gospel of Thomas and

others? I know you try to avoid describing God, for God truly is

indescribable, but what you said sounded similar.

Read the Answer...

14 May 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part VI The Third Document in the Torah

The name of the Torah’s fifth and final book according to the Bible is Deuteronomy. That name comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “deutero,” which means second, and “nomas,” which means law. Deuteronomy thus means the second giving of the law and in that title the story of the book’s origin …

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Q & A:

It's a small point, but in your January 30 essay you

refer to a "three-days-dead body." How do you and most others manage

to count three days from Friday afternoon to before sunrise on Sunday?

I know the usual explanation is that according to Jewish reckoning

what is meant are parts of three days (part of Friday, part of

Saturday and part of Sunday), but that is not how the average reader

would understand what you wrote. The obvious tie-in is to Matthew's

three days and three nights referring Jonah and Jesus, but do we need

to perpetuate the confusion just because Matthew could not count?

Read the Answer...

7 May 2008: Jeremiah Wright

The emergence of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright into the presidential campaign is, I am sure, an unexpected and probably unwelcome diversion for the Obama camp. It gets him, as they say, “off message” and lays bare those elemental places in the human psyche where race and tribe collide. People seeking to exploit this issue for …

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Q & A:

Do you believe in the devil?

Read the Answer...

30 April 2008: The Universe, the Star of Bethlehem and Professor Alex Filippenko

Whether I am on the lecture circuit, where I spend most of my time, or in my home a normal day for me starts about 6:00 a.m., when I go either to the hotel’s “fitness room” or to the first floor of our home to spend an hour or more on a treadmill. It would …

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Q & A:

I have been learning from and enjoying your newsletter

for four years. While I have not always completely agreed with you, I

have not significantly disagreed with you until recently. Your

comment several weeks ago about the "integrity" of John McCain was

badly misplaced. I have been a resident of Arizona for over 30 years.

I was concerned when McCain moved to Arizona with the intent of going

into politics, but I was very pleased when he became a "Goldwater

Republican." Early in his career he followed that path, but as he

became more and more a national figure he changed. To this day I

proudly claim to be a Goldwater Republican, but McCain no longer can

be identified with the Senator's libertarian views. While I disagreed

with Goldwater's position on civil rights, it was consistent with his

desire for as little government involvement as possible.

Senator McCain has a perfect "Christian Right" voting

record on women's rights, particularly on reproductive rights. His

opinion on stem cell research and a number of other Christian Right

issues is very much what they want, in spite of their current

protestations. McCain has a temper and holds a grudge against those

who cross him. If you know any Republicans from Arizona please ask

them. His record is far from clean on "helping" big business. He

continued to work for Charles Keating even after Keating's practices

were suspect.

Senator McCain is as pro-war as his new best friend George Bush; he

is just smarter about how he expresses it. The only point I will give

him on this issue is that he has a son who is in the military. I have

long felt that a president or congressperson should have a child or

grandchild in the military. I wonder how long the Iraq invasion would

have lasted if the Bush twins had been serving on the front line.

Thanks for listening and for your continued insights in

the newsletters.

Read the Answer...

23 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part V The Elohist Document

Most people do not seem to realize that events in what we call the secular world of history shaped so much of the writing of the biblical story. When I get to the formation of the gospels in this series, it will become obvious that the Jewish war with Rome that began in 66 CE …

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Q & A:

Enclosed is an article from a few weeks ago about evangelical Ben

Witherington's visit to Charlotte, North Carolina. He has "taken your

name in vain" — has this ever happened to you before? He was

quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the following:

"Bishop Spong is out of his depth. He is not a biblical scholar; he's

not even a scholar. He's what I call a pundit. When I do debates

with Bishop Spong, he really won't debate. He's kind of like a dog

who barks backing up. He's noisy, but when you challenge him, there's

no substance to his argument."

Read the Answer...

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