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22 May 2014: On Spending the Day with Amos, i.e. Professor James H. Cone

So much of Christianity is a delusion, built as it is around power images and institutional claims to possess either an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible. The Christian Church also traditionally operates out of a definition of life as something evil, fallen and corrupted by original sin, which it has used to enhance guilt …

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Q & A:

It is a great relief to find you in today's world and to know someone else feels as I do about many things. You have helped me to see that real Christianity need not die to accommodate the reality in which the human race finds itself living today. Since I was born, some 80 years ago, I have been attending the First Baptist Church in my home town, first as a child and now as a mature (hopefully not yet senile) adult. I have seen pastors come and go, sung the hymns and spoken the words of the first century many times and wondered if I were the only person who was grasping to emulate Christ in my life amid a confusing and contradictory belief system. It came to a head when I was asked to dedicate a private cemetery on a Texas ranch for dear friends. How do you speak with integrity of belief when your audience is seemingly traditional and literal? This is what I said:

“We are gathered here to consecrate this ground; this special place; a place for meditation, inspiration and for remembrance. Years ago, I was walking in the place here they called the orchard because that was what it was, an apple orchard tended by my friend’s grandfather. The apples he grew, he peddled far and wide to support his family during hard times. My wife was with me that day and she bent and picked up a piece of flint that her ever watchful eyes had observed. It was proof of the presence of human activity at this place hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before.

“More recently, the name of that mountain south of us, Mitre Peak, marked this as a special place. It suggested the passage of Spanish explorers for whom it was both a symbol of a bishop’s hat and of the church which served as a guide for the journey. Another reason that this is a special place is that behind us is a spring that produces hundreds of gallons of water in this Chihuahuan Desert. Water is life. There is no life without it. So for these thousands of years the spring has been there and, because it was, life was here also and still is.

“Today, however, we are reminded that there is also death here. Death is everywhere. We think of death because it is part of life and those of us gathered here are alive. Mountains, however, also die. Mitre Peak, which looks so strong and eternal, is in the midst of its life cycle just as we are. Millennia from now it will be dissolved by the inexorable forces of erosion, wind, rain, changes of temperature and other processes will carry its bulk to the sea where it will be reconstituted as the sea bed. Perhaps someday it will once again become a mountain. That is the eternal cycle of existence of which we are but a miniscule yet important part.

“It is fitting that we think upon these things as we visit this place where our friends and relatives, have passed this life and have begun another phase in this cycle of existence. They still exist, but in ways our limited intelligence cannot imagine. Even as their bodies are re-constituted into their original minerals and elements and then again into plants and animals they are still with us when we come here.

“We meditate on their lives and on the lives of those we did not know who came before us. It is in hallowed ground like this that history is recorded and endures. We feel the unbroken chain that ties our earliest ancestors to us for all time. We relive the joys of our association with them in life and we honor those lives with our remembrance. We can learn from their successes and be warned by their failures and just as those ancient travelers, who established their location from sighting Mitre Peak, we can recast our own directions by reflecting on the lives of those who are buried here.

“God, we know you as the great architect of this universe. Your energy is transformed in your laboratory of stars into the elements that make visible the world we see and know. Understand that, we know you are with us in every nook and cranny of existence, in the cells of our body, in the dirt beneath our feet, in the birds and animals and in everything that is. In a very real way, we are made from your energy - therefore in your image.

“Let us leave today with that knowledge and with the assurance that we, just as those who are honored here, are eternal. As we visit this place let us be reminded of that and let it give us peace and direction for our lives.”

 

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15 May 2014: An Evening with Barbara Walters

She was born to non-practicing Jewish parents. Because her father owned a series of night clubs from Boston to Miami, she grew up in the company of show business celebrities. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating in 1953 with a degree in English. The “glass ceiling” was very much intact in …

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Q & A:

I enjoy your writings very much. The question I have is: Why are the gospels arranged in the order they are rather than the order in which they were written? After reading a fair amount of your writings and now some of your new book about John, (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic) I began to wonder if the gospels are arranged as they are due to their paralleling, to some degree, the development of Christianity? My point: Matthew is the most Jewish, then Mark not so much, Luke more Hellenistic/mythological and finally John which is not only advanced theology and mystical, but can be read as anti-Semitic, the very opposite of Matthew. It is possible that the council of Nicea, which arranged the canon, recognized John as anti-Semitic and was unaware of the theory you embrace about this book being about different factions within Judaism? Did they want to show two very different points of view at very different locations in the canon?

 

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8 May 2014: Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus- Part III

The Lamb Before Its Accusers In addition to the Passover lamb and the lamb of Yom Kippur, there is a third lamb of God in the Jewish tradition. This one is probably the least well known and the least recognized. Yet of the three lambs used in Jewish worship, I believe it has been the …

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Q & A:

How is it that you have come to understand prayer, more as a way of life than an activity we do?

 

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1 May 2014: Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus- Part II

Part II:  The Lamb of Yom Kippur Have you ever heard someone say: “Jesus died for my sin?” Have you ever asked what those words meant or how they operated? Have you ever wondered about the origins of such a strange concept? Does it make sense to say that someone had to die for my …

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Q & A:

I have read your book, Jesus for the Non-Religious, and it brought about fundamental changes in my beliefs. I felt like a complete dunce when I thought about how I had been taught in my lifetime association with the United Methodist Church to understanding the Bible. I also heard you speak recently in Topeka at both Washburn University and Central Christian Church.

One subject I am very curious about that I’m not aware that you have addressed is that of prayer. I know it’s a huge can of worms, but it is one about which my wife and I are at odds. We have heard all the standard responses regarding prayer from books, pastors and tracts. We are wondering, however, what your “take” on the whole prayer subject is. We have pretty much given it up after years of not feeling it made any difference in our lives. Nothing has changed in our lives as a result of our prayers. I used to feel so inadequate because I thought the problem was that I must not be praying “correctly” or wasn’t praying deeply enough. Maybe the issue was that my heart or wasn’t truly in it, I told myself. My failure in prayer was thus my fault. Now that I’ve stopped praying, I feel those burdens have been lifted from me.

As an example, a number of years back, a fundamental Christian friend and I went to visit a golfing buddy who was in the final stages of cancer. My friend prayed fervently for his condition, laid hands on him, etc. Within weeks, our buddy had died. I felt guilty, foolish and embarrassed. This is only one instance of why I feel prayer is overrated.

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24 April 2014: Jewish Symbols of the Lamb Applied to Jesus

Part I: The Lamb of Passover I want to interrupt our study of Matthew for a few weeks in order to turn our attention to the great themes of Good Friday and Easter as we live through these aspects of the Christian story. It is an appropriate time to do this. We have now carried …

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Q & A:

My name is Torky. I am from Saudi Arabia. Please, may I ask you some questions?

1. You said there is NO way that John or any of Jesus’ twelve disciples could have written the Fourth Gospel. Can you please tell me why? I will memorize all of them by heart.

2. Was the unknown writer of the Fourth Gospel an eye witness? What are the reasons?

3. Is it true that John, chapter 21, verses twenty-four and twenty five, were added later, and are thus NOT an original part of the Fourth Gospel?

I really look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. Thank you very much.

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17 April 2014: Part XIX Matthew – Did Jesus Really Do Miracles?

Most people, who are related at least tangentially to the Christian faith, assume that Jesus was a miracle worker. By this they mean that he possessed the ability to operate outside the laws of nature in what we would call supernatural ways. This popular image is enforced by the traditional Christian theology, born in the …

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Q & A:

I am a 74 year old gay man. I came out 10 years after my wife of 44 years passed away. It has been a most wonderful time of enlightening adventure for me. I started attending the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Highlands, North Caroline about three years ago. My problem is letting go of some of the evangelical teachings that I bought into for most of my life. In a recent piece in one of the Highlands publications a Baptist pastor wrote an article entitled “Hell is Real; Prepare Against it.” In this article he stated “rejecters of this doctrine have, through the ages, found some measure of pseudo-comfort by simply denying this truth.” I sometimes find myself feeling anger at people who know the “truth.” I have spent my life fearing death since I had been told that I could never measure up to what God expected of me. I have shed much of this “religion of guilt,” but would appreciate it if you could help me in some way to shed some of my anxiety about hell.

 

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10 April 2014: The Reverend Fred Phelps, 1929 – 2014

“I believe that all homosexuals should be castrated with rusty barbed wire.” Those words came at me from a television screen a number of years ago. The spokesman was identified as an ordained Christian minister, who headed a Baptist Church in the mid-west. I then learned that this church’s website was “godhatesfags.com.” It was in …

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Q & A:

I am a curmudgeon and have become an atheist after 73 years as an Anglican. Of course, the first ten years were a wash. In those days I believed in Jesus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. From ten on, however, I began to doubt the veracity of the Bible and its legends. It started to drive me crazy. I wandered to other churches and none gave me any solace. None of the stories made sense. The ark and Adam and Eve just didn’t make sense. My father was a student of religion and took me to every church he could think of. He introduced me to opera with his transvestite brother who was a good Anglican. As an adult I taught Sunday school, telling lies to children. I lied to myself. I read a lot of books and my faith eroded away to nothing. I still go to church every Sunday for some unknown reason, maybe just habit. My vicar just doesn’t get it. My bishop pretty much doesn’t like me because I am a pain in the neck at council.

 

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3 April 2014: Part XVIII Matthew – Matthew’s Flashback to John the Baptist

We suggested last week that Mark, the author of the first gospel to be written, introduced his story of Jesus with a narrative appropriate to the Jewish New Year celebration, a festival called Rosh Hashanah. In that narrative, Mark developed one Rosh Hashanah symbol after another. Jewish New Year was the celebration in which these …

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Q & A:

I have been listening to you for some time and enjoy you greatly. I just found a message of yours at a church in Florida that I haven’t heard so I thought I would give it a listen. And, once again, you start by saying how it’s wrong to think “God hated Egyptians.” I don’t have issues with your views, as I said, I listen often. But this one thing you harp on irritates me. If any people (not to mention a people “God loves”) were held against their will and suffering then why is it wrong for God to care? If it were blacks as it was and God smote America for the torture and captivity of Africans, would we say, “Oh, those poor slave owners?” Of course not.

Exodus isn’t about a people God loves versus a random people God hates. It’s about oppression, slavery and God’s justice, which in this case is mercy for an oppressed people. Why do you perpetually misrepresent this passage? Again, I’m not against you. In fact, I enjoy you very much. But if Exodus means anything at all, it’s not that God hates Egyptians and so, we can assume, God hates Egyptians now or any other people. The story isn’t about God hating anyone. But if I were held captive, I would want to know that God has seen the oppression of his people. I get the concept of “a tribal God” believe me, I get it. But this “poor Egyptian” point you make totally misses the point.

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27 March 2014: Part XVII Matthew – The Story of Jesus from Shavuot to Rosh Hashanah

After a three-week hiatus to consider some pressing theological questions and political issues we return this week to our story of Matthew’s gospel. It was indeed a good place to break away momentarily from Matthew’s text because in the Sermon on the Mount he had reached his first climax and would begin now to introduce …

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Q & A:

First of all, I want to thank you for all you do. A few years ago, I was introduced to you through the writings of Phillip Gulley. The first of your books that I read was Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and The Place of Women in a Male Dominated Church. I remember thinking maybe I shouldn't be reading this! I had never read anything before that made me question what I’d been taught my whole life in church and I was very uncomfortable with it. I felt like I was made privy to some secret information that I had no business knowing.

Thankfully I did finish the book and went on to read your autobiography Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality. Shortly after that, I came to hear you speak at Lake Junaluska, the Methodist Center in Western North Carolina, with my daughter, a friend of mine and her daughter. I remember that weekend so well - it was a true turning point of my beliefs and my Christian life. I felt like my eyes had been opened and I had heard the truth. I knew that I would never be the same. I have traveled to hear you speak since then to Bloomington, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee (on my birthday), where we were able to talk to your wife during the lunch break. What a delightful woman.

I’m a very active member of the United Methodist Church and have tried since that time to share my newfound knowledge with my congregation, but without much success. The recently publicized punishment of a long time UMC pastor in Pennsylvania for officiating at the marriage of his gay son has bothered me very much and just today, I resigned from my church as choir director. This was a very hard decision for me because I’ve been a very active member of this church for the past 28 years, but I can no longer be part of an organization that willingly minimizes the value of another human being’s life by refusing them the right to marry.

Having said all that, here are my questions: Where were all of these New Testament books of the Bible kept in the years following Jesus’ life? How was their existence communicated? You talk about different authors knowing about other wirings. How would they have known? I’m imagining a world where communication with other cities was minimal and travel was slow. I don’t remember reading anything that you’ve written about this but, if you have, please refer me to the essay or book.

Thank you again Bishop Spong. You are such an inspiration to me.

 

 

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20 March 2014: Thoughts While Listening to America’s Health Care Debate

We had one of our closest personal friends to dinner recently. He is a stock analyst, a very successful and wealthy man with a passion for understanding the economy. In the course of the evening’s conversation, he listed among the threats to America’s economic prosperity the costs that will be associated with the “Patient Protection …

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Q & A:

I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal Church. When I read one of the lessons from scripture, I am instructed to say at the end of the reading: "This is the Word of the Lord." My preference actually would be to say: "Here ends the Reading" or “Here ends the Lesson." Any thoughts you have on this subject would be most appreciated.

 

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