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26 September 2013: Part III Matthew: The Shadow of Moses Continues

Using the gospel of Matthew as our guide we have begun the task of opening the background necessary to grasp, as members of the current generation of Christians, the meaning of all the gospels. This is necessary because all of the gospels are Jewish books written by Jewish authors for Jewish congregations. They employ Jewish …

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Q & A:

Do I get my child baptized into a church with which I profoundly disagree? Should I stand up and commit her to the ridiculous concept of original sin? To the human interpretation of evil and the devil? I have spent a year discussing this with my minister and I really want to proclaim no! I want to commit my child's life to a God of love, of forgiveness that is already waiting to be claimed, a God who is not dependent on repentance. I was nine years old when I understood that if God loves, then there can be no "hell," no final judgment. Just our own inability to comprehend that we are already forgiven for everything is enough. Then there is no scale from a little misdemeanor to irredeemable evil, just a degree of separation from God's perfection that we can only close through love.

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19 September 2013: SYRIA, POISON GAS, MISSILE STRIKES AND PEACE?

It has been both an emotional and a political roller-coaster. The television newscasters and the print media informed us that a political debate was underway as to whether or not the armed might of this country should be used to punish the Syrian government for violating the universal condemnation against chemical warfare that has governed …

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Q & A:

I work for the Dorset police here in Dorset, England. I do not come from a Christian family although I did attend a Methodist Sunday School as a boy. I have been searching to try and make sense of the Christian message and many of the complex questions that the Bible throws up. I have read a number of your books and I have to say that they are the first publications that make any sense to me. The question of the death of Jesus being a method of atonement from original sin has always been a major block to faith for me. I have in the past completed the Church of England’s Alpha courses, but the answers given by well-meaning clergy have never made any sense to me. The literalist view of the Bible in this modern day and age doesn’t aid understanding. I am halfway through your latest publication relating to the Fourth Gospel. I feel for the first time a sense of enlightenment with the view that the life of Jesus was to show us the vision of what we can be and to assist as a gateway into the mystical union with God. This at least gives a real purpose to Jesus’ life and work. My question is where can I, and others like me, go from here. I have yet to find a church organization that isn’t governed by restrictive creeds and regulations? If we do find a new faith and belief, where and what should the next stage be to becoming all that we are meant to be? Is it enough just to believe in a private and individual way? Do we need to find a group of like-minded people with similar views or is it sufficient just to go it alone? I am coming up to London with a good friend of mine in October to hear you lecture in Streatham. I am really looking forward to seeing you. Any advice you can give me on my “where next” question would be gratefully received.

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12 September 2013: Part II: The Gospel of Matthew. Exploring the Shadow of Moses in Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus

I return to Matthew’s gospel today to lay out the case for its basic Jewishness. As I suggested in the opening column in this series last week, we must see all the books of the New Testament as Jewish writings before we can properly begin to understand them. Matthew is by every measure the most …

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Q & A:

I have enjoyed your books and essays and particularly enjoyed meeting you and hearing your recent lectures in Omaha, Nebraska. Many of your ideas resonate with me and make it possible for me to continue to consider myself a Christian. Something I struggle with, though, is how to continue to attend and receive inspiration from local church services. The services seem to have a lot of superficial, meaningless praise songs and seem to be focused on an external, supernatural God; those concepts just don’t work for me. I’m sure that in your travels, you have worshiped in many different settings. Have you found a way to get past things in church services you cannot agree with but still have a positive and inspirational experience?

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5 September 2013: Introducing the Gospel of Matthew. Part I: The Gospels are Jewish Books

The Bible is the Christian Church’s sacred text. We read from it at every worship service in almost every Christian tradition. It is apparently a rather popular volume for every year since the invention of the printing press it has been the world’s best-selling book. It might well be, however, the world’s least understood and …

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Q & A:

Help! I am a Unity Minister of many years. I am married to a born-again Christian. Also, fundamentalists come to my Church where I teach positive Christianity. I need clear, precise, irrefutable answers to the ignorant claims of fundamentalists. It's crazy making to try and discuss faith, intelligent, loving, constructive positive Christianity with fundamentalists. They shut down quickly and don't hear long answers. Have you got any quick answers? Can you think of Bible references as authoritative sources? Here are some of the twisted mis-beliefs:

1. How do you suggest answering the “born-again “claims that other faiths are the anti-Christ?

2. The absurdity of the “spiritual warfare” in which we are here to eliminate Satan from infiltrating this world and establishing other faiths which are all “false prophet” faiths. Hence, we must guard against hearing other churches that call themselves Christian, but don’t believe the “born-again” message.

3. How would you simply address such close-minded, book-burning, ignorant pagan concepts teaching that fundamentalists claim are wholly biblical and are ready to die for and take you with them? Unless you believe exactly like “born-agains,” you are going to hell. What?

4. In short, using the Bible itself, how can we simply show that the “plan of salvation” is just religion gone too far? That the “born-agains” most treasured doctrinal points of fundamentals, their main bragging points, their absolute “words of God” are biblically ignorantly and literally false?

 

 

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29 August 2013: On the Importance of Being Ordinary

Over the past few years, while working on my recent book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, I became fascinated with how the author of John’s gospel develops the characters in his narrative. There are more memorable characters in the Fourth Gospel than anywhere else in the New Testament. The disciple Thomas is …

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Q & A:

I have heard you support the Unity Church for many reasons. One popular belief, held by Unity, is reincarnation. Do you believe it is possible for persons to be reincarnated?

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22 August 2013: The Need for the Christian to Journey Beyond Scripture, Creed and Church

Theology is a rational, deeply human, attempt to explain our experience with God. Theology is, therefore, never primary; it is always secondary to experience. Theological explanations can thus never be eternal. All explanations not only will change, but must change when knowledge grows and by so doing will always invalidate previous conclusions. Theology can never …

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Q & A:

I heard Bishop Spong speaking recently on Radio Australia about his book on the Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. The Bishop said he was a Christian, but he also said that he did not believe in the historical interpretation of scripture. He pointed out how “Christians” in history were not acting as God would have it. He said he would like to meet with people of other religions who had “experienced God” in their own faiths and to explain to them his experience of God from the Christian perspective and then to listen to their explanations of their religious experience with a view to getting a dialogue going and not saying “my version of God is right and yours is not.” He said that this is in the interest of having a peaceful world. But how can “religions” or “faiths,” if you like, agree on the nature of God when their doctrines are so opposite (actually Christianity is not a religion, it is about having a relationship with God, through the Savior Jesus, the Christ). Jews, Muslims and Buddhists don’t have this aspect going on at all. But he did not say in this interview that Jesus has said that the only way to the Father (God) is through him, I am the gate, etc. The Bishop also didn’t mention that Jesus came to take away the penalty for sin (which all humans have as part of their natures) and that the thing that separates humankind from God is sin. (God cannot be related to sin in any way and Jesus removes that barrier – other religions don’t do this at all.) Bishop Spong is clearly an intellectual type, who apparently ignores some of the most important parts of scripture in order to promote his own version of God. For what reason or purpose he does this is not clear to me. I hope I can have these questions put to him for an answer. I don’t see how Jesus’ words agree with his, especially about having a holy relationship, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, with the true and living God.

 

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15 August 2013: On Building a Christianity without Security or Creeds

One of my readers, Henry Gael Michaels, has shared with me an anonymous story on the meaning of God with which I open this column. It also reveals, I believe, what is wrong with all theology. I am grateful for this gift. This is his story. The mystic was back from the desert. “Tell us,” …

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Q & A:

The Trinity: How did this doctrine evolve? Is it polytheistic? Father, Son and Spirit are in scripture but is "Trinity?"

 

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12 August 2013: On Parting – Never to Meet Again – An Experience of Timelessness

There are some moments in life when the transcendent is expressed inside the mundane; where the eternal seems to enter the passage of time. They are moments, usually unexpected, perhaps not even recognized until later. I had such a moment earlier this year that will not go away and so I have decided to write …

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Q & A:

I need some help regarding the Bible, especially the injunction to “Honor thy Mother and Father." I have read almost every book that Alice Miller, a famed Swiss psychotherapist, has written. She died just last year, but she bravely went against the grain of our culture and her colleagues to expose the damage caused by child abuse. She uses a great variety of historical figures such as Hitler and other dictators, writers and artists in her books to demonstrate her theories of how the repressed child maltreatment manifested itself in their lives. She also does a great analysis of Mel Gibson's refusal to question his father (who did not believe the Holocaust occurred). She is one of many who found that most people repressed the feelings that accompanied abusive treatment at the most vulnerable times of their lives at the hands of their caretakers in the name of socially sanctioned “parenting” and “discipline.” She finds that this abuse leads to crime, violence, addiction, illness and the perpetuation of abuse onto one’s own children (or an entire nation if you are a dictator) if not therapeutically worked through. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta also found huge correlations to illness and addictions with child maltreatment in their “Adverse Childhood Experiences” studies. The new findings by Bruce Perry and Alan Schore (among others) in the neuroscience of trauma are in alignment with this theory also. To think this all starts in “the family!” Even as I write this, I can feel my own deeply-embedded resistance to acknowledging these truths and how honoring and not questioning certain systems is as ingrained in me as my next breath. Miller found the Bible’s “spare the rod, spoil the child,” the scripture story of Abraham’s blind obedience to God and the “honor thy parent” command to encourage the perpetuation of these abuses of children throughout the generations of our culture. The idea of forgiving impedes healing for many adults, damaged in their youth as once again, the injured party must care for the adult instead of self. Why not “Honor thy son and daughter,” Miller asks? I have seen lives hideously damaged and so can readily see this in extreme forms I daily witness. Yet most of us have degrees of damage, less extreme on a continuum-than that which makes it so visible-though it is repressed and we are not aware of it. I ask you to help educate where these biblical references come from as most people cling to them (literally) like barnacles to a sea worn ship. Can you do some scraping? This will help me to do the prevention and intervention work I must do as a school counselor in the “Bible Belt” where children are whipped with belts as a norm as if God desired it. Only decades later will the results become visible in more child abuse, depression, physical and mental illness and sometimes even suicide.

With great appreciation for your work and your God-given intelligence.

 

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1 August 2013: The Chalice Abbey: A Unique Ministry in Amarillo, Texas

The largest city in the Texas Panhandle is Amarillo, which has a population somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Amarillo had its beginning as a result of being a midpoint on a railroad line that connected Fort Worth with Denver. With that connection established, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Chicago, Rock …

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Q & A:

Have there been any people since Jesus who seemed similarly to be “God infused?” If so, who? If not, do you believe it is possible for me to evolve into the kind of selflessness that we see in Jesus?

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25 July 2013: On Teaching at Drew University’s Theological School

Drew University is my neighborhood institution of higher learning. It offers to Morris County, New Jersey, the enrichment that only a university can bring. There is a magnificent library on this campus that has three constituent parts: The University Library, a Theological Library and the Methodist Archives, in which the history of American Methodism is …

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Q & A:

My question has the background of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" sermon. I believe the power of King's words lies not in poetry, emotion, nor logic, but from the moral core of all existence, the ground of our being that is love, what I call "God." I believe "I have a dream" is a modern example of prophetic speech, "Thus says the LORD." Is such a word to our culture possible today? With what authority could anyone speak such words?

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