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It is difficult to study the gospels accurately unless we step outside the Christian Church as we traditionally experience it today. That may sound like a strange statement, but increasingly I believe it is true. The gospels have been read in liturgical worship for two thousand years. They have provided the texts upon which sermons …
18 March 2010: R.I.P. Michael Douglas Goulder 1927-2010
I recently learned of the death of Michael Douglas Goulder, one of the world’s most provocative biblical scholars. He was, however, even more than that to me. The three great spiritual and intellectual mentors in my life were John E. Hines, John A. T. Robinson and Michael Douglas Goulder. Michael was the last of this …
Andrew Corish from New South Wales, Australia, writes:
I have read everything I have come across from you since the late 80's and am grateful for your insights. I remain a faithful member of the Uniting Church in Sydney. I was speaking with a friend the other day who has left the Uniting Church to join a church that specializes in communicating with dead people. I know his wife lost a son (from a previous marriage) to a drug overdose and it seems to give her comfort. But really so sad. Others seem to base their faith on convincing themselves that they are speaking a special language. I remember a visiting evangelist when I was living in Finland saying that his "tongue" had been translated as being an Ethiopian priestly dialect. Strange that God would choose that rather than, say, French — or, if God really wanted a challenge, Finnish. Am I being too cynical? I have not read anything I can recall by you about such "holy gifts" as communing with the dead and speaking in tongues. Do you have a comment?
11 March 2010: Common Dreams II, Melbourne, Australia, 2010
Australia is a unique and wondrous country to which I have had the privilege of traveling on nine different occasions and in which I have lectured extensively. It is an overwhelmingly secular country in which religious fundamentalism is vigorous and well endowed, but culturally has a minuscule presence. Its three major Christian bodies are the …
Dr. Larry L. Ligo, Professor of Art History at Davidson College, writes:
Thank you so much for your clear, informative, exciting, liberating insights into the meaning of Christ for Christians living in the twenty-first century. I first heard of you and your ministry in a Charlotte Observer article when you were lecturing in Charlotte last fall. I missed your presentation but was intrigued by the article and have since read five or six of your books. Thank you.
I also wish to express my condolences to you concerning the recent death of your friend Michael Goulder. I have gained much from your treatment of his work in Liberating the Gospels. I have been trying to find copies of his out-of-print books but have not, as yet, been successful.
Will you be speaking in the North Carolina area in the near future? Do you have a schedule of your upcoming speaking engagements?
4 March 2010: Theologian in Residence, Coral Gables
It was — for me, at least — a new idea. In the last ten years I have been a wandering teacher, giving over 2000 public lectures in hundreds of venues. The format in which I worked was normally three days at the most and one day at the least. The three-day event would normally …
John Gamlin from Old Hall, East Bergholt, Colchester, UK, writes:
If we are now beyond theism then I suggest we are also beyond the word "God" — beyond it because:
- of the baggage it carries.
- to continue to use it is to be constantly misunderstood.
- we will continue to drift back into the old language and old images.
So what new name?
None will do, but we need to look somewhere for a new way to describe the bearer of eternity.
25 February 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XVI: The Elder Paul — Philemon and Philippians
The process of aging works wonders on the human spirit. Battles once so emotional that they seemed to pit life against death lose their rancor in time, and the differences that once divided people so deeply lose their potency. Age brings both mellowing and perspective. That was surely true of Paul. In this series I …
Hilda Flint from the U.K. writes:
Would not the apparently regular meetings of the followers of the Way have held the major part of the oral tradition? It seems from the first chapters of Acts that they were certainly not in the synagogue (e.g. Acts 5:13), even if the gospel writers were anxious enough to keep the Jewish tradition firmly under girding the Jesus stories.
18 February 2010: “Let Them Eat Cake!”
These words, probably apocryphal, are attributed to Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI of France. They were said to have been spoken during the early days of the passion and upheaval that would later be called “The French Revolution.” Although most historians today do not think these words are authentic, they do express the …
George James, from George Street United Church in Peterborough, Ontario, writes:
I really feel the Church should stop referring to church services as "worship services." Could we not more meaningfully call them "celebration services?" Marcus Borg, when in Peterborough recently, played the part of God in a very humorous way and mimicked him as only Borg could do with his Swedish wit: "Oh that feels so good to be worshiped that way, as just last week some others attempted worship and it was not very good and I felt terrible — please keep it up as I need you to be on your knees before me, etc., etc., etc." If we agree worship is usually meant for idols, why do we keep using it in the mainline churches? To me the life of Jesus and through him, God, the ground of all Being, should be celebrated every day. It changes the whole focus, in my humble opinion.
11 February 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XV: Who Is Christ for Paul? The Gospel in Romans
It was Paul’s experience-based conviction that somehow and in some way everything that he meant by the word “God” had been met and was present in the life of the one he called Christ Jesus. “God was in Christ” was the way he referred to it rather ecstatically in one of his earlier epistles. Of …
Paul was a person who discovered in his Christ experience new dimension of life unknown to him before. In that sense he was a classic mystic. Every human experience, however, in order to be shared must pass through the medium of words. There is no other means of communicating content to another. In that process …
Twila Compton from Charlotte, North Carolina, writes:
The question I have is about prayer. For so many years I have begun my prayers with "have mercy on me, O gracious God." Having been well taught to be guilty and unworthy, it is hard to come up with a positive prayer. At times I feel like my religious beliefs are like a bowl of scrambled eggs and I keep trying to unscramble them.
28 January 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIII: The Theology of Paul as Revealed in Romans
Paul of Tarsus was a first century man. He thought in categories consistent with the world view of his time. He believed that he lived in a three-tiered universe over which God reigned from a heavenly throne just above the sky. Paul had never heard of a weather front, a germ or a virus. He …
Sara Taylor from London, England, asks:
You say that all societies have or have had a word or concept meaning God. Is this true of Buddhism? I know that Buddhas have been deeply revered, but not that they were equated with God. So my question is, does Buddhism really necessitate a belief in or a word for God?
21 January 2010: Uganda, Homophobia and the Incompetence of Certain Christian Leaders
Does the Ku Klux Klan have the right to parade through a black community, hurling racist insults at the people of the neighborhood and raising racist fervor throughout the land because their right to free speech is guaranteed by the constitution? Does a neo-Nazi group have the right to demonstrate in a Jewish community, shouting …
Mark Dickinson from Ottawa, Ontario, writes:
I have just finished reading Eternal Life: A New Vision. Thank you for writing this wonderful book, and thank you for sharing your vision of life eternal fulfilled. I embrace your vision with enthusiasm and I share in your celebration of our spiritual life.
In the early chapters of the book, you spend some time describing your journey, as a child and as a youth, within the boundaries and constraints and limitations of a conservative Protestant tradition. I can identify with many of your memories, and I can recall (20 years ago or so) sharing many of the "fundamentalist" beliefs and ideologies with young Sunday School students that I taught for 10 years within a Lutheran church outside of Ottawa. The stories of Genesis and Exodus and the narratives of the gospels rolled easily into the empty, hungry minds of the children and, in the spirit of most stories (and especially folklore), left these children excited and intrigued. But now, looking both backwards to where I started and from what I see today, communication or rather education of our young people becomes a little more complex and challenging.
If many (or rather, most) adults have difficulty jettisoning the literal interpretations of the Bible, how do we pursue the important task of presenting allegorical, symbolic stories abut the history of God's journey with humanity in a format and language that our young children can absorb and understand? Consider the following analogy: If we don't learn how to ride a bike before we can balance ourselves on two legs (and hopefully walk a few meters), should we not then continue to educate our very young with the images and stories that capture their imaginations and speak to their intellect (at that age)? Possibly, the problem with our Christian education process is that we never leave "the uncomplicated pictures" that we experience in the early grades of learning and that rather than maturing and growing in our divine-human journey, we remain closed in an understanding that we should have outgrown a long time ago. In other words, is the problem equally as much how we teach, (i.e. training adults not to remain in a child's thinking) as what we teach?
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