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26 November 2015: On the Separation of Church and State

(Publisher’s note: On November 9th 2015, in Washington, D. C. the national organization known as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, held its annual meeting. Our columnist, John Shelby Spong, delivered the keynote address to this conference. During the business session, by vote of their board of directors, Bishop Spong was presented …

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Q & A:

We met most recently in June 2015 in Windsor, UK, when I drove you and Christine from your nephew’s home to Holy Trinity Church. I asked you then if the writing of the book, entitled Walking My Path in the Way of the Mystics was in your mind when you wrote your book on John’s gospel.

Another question/suggestion: You demonstrate cogently the inadequacies of the first-century world view for present day Christians. Have you thought of sketching a more appropriate world view by taking the concepts, processes and key words of the present day scientific world view and suggesting what each might imply and call for, in spirit terms, in the daily living of those wanting to walk in the Way of (and, perhaps, with) Jesus? E.g. Miriam Winter in Paradoxology (Orbis 2009) uses such words as: chaos, consciousness, connectedness, coincidence, creation, celebration, relativity, uncertainty, probability, continuity, relationship, wholeness and transformation.

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19 November 2015: France, November 2015, the Struggle to be Human

The plan appears to have been carried out by a group of eight people, three of whom were brothers. The attack seems to have been developed in Belgium in a community known as Molenbeek. At least one of the perpetrators appears to have entered Europe in the tide of refugees fleeing the ravages of the …

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Q & A:

I’ve heard you say in multiple lectures that the gospels disagree on who the disciples were and that because of this discrepancy, there are technically more than 12. Out of curiosity, I tried to do some basic research on it and it seems like the common explanation is that two of them went by different names, Bartholomew/Nathanael and Thaddeus/Jude. I did also see that “Some biblical scholars reject this theory, however, holding that Jude and Thaddeus did not represent the same person.” I have no intention of trying to argue for one theory or the other but I’m curious if you could briefly explain why you believe that they are not the same person.

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12 November 2015: Re-Creating Easter VIII: Conclusion – Easter Dawns

Something happened! Lives were changed. God was redefined. Liturgies were reshaped. New holy days were born. Whatever Easter was, it constituted a transformative moment. It is easy to understand, given the enormity of these changes, how legends would develop to explain the power of the experience. People have a need to explain what has re-oriented …

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Q & A:

I admire and respect your work and I accept your skepticism about the metaphysical and paranormal. Reared as a Southern Baptist Christian and trained as a scientist (pharmacist), I was a lifelong skeptic of anything that challenged either my Christianity or any reality I could not physically sense until my beloved wife’s illnesses threatened to take her from me forever. My increasing anxiety while caring for her at home spawned new questions about my Christian faith. What now seems like providential synchronicity attracted my attention to what some scientists now call “the unknown.” I fondly remember your answer to a lady in Bloomington, Indiana, years ago who asked your opinion about near-death experiences. It took me fifteen years and the demise of my wife to find what I wanted, a firm yet incredible reassurance about death and souls.

So I read the Part I introduction to your new series on resurrection with great interest. If I may add to your wonder about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the locked upper room and to others, he also “vanished before their eyes after eating with them” in at least one verse. I now believe these claims were possible. In discussion with my Methodist pastor, he said I could assume that Jesus’ resurrection was the return of his soul to heaven. (Could Jesus’ intended message have been that mortal life is not final?)

I recognize that you are flooded with calls for your attention so I offer below a brief anecdote from one of the eminent Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s speeches entitled: There is No Death. It appears in my book Souls are Real! Death is Not! I think you will agree that her integrity is beyond doubt. For anyone willing to consider honestly the increasing multidisciplinary examples of experiential evidence for which scientific materialism has no defensible explanation, perhaps the “transcendent dimension of reality” in your introduction includes the humanly imperceptible “Almighty” and its realm, Heaven, and souls.

“She (Dr. Kubler-Ross) describes an unearthly experience that may illustrate the soul’s unlimited creativity. Kubler-Ross had decided to quit her demanding work with death and dying patients. A woman approached her in the hall and asked to talk with her. Dr. Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist, had a strange feeling about this visitor. This person resembled a Mrs. Schwartz whom Kubler-Ross had known in her work, but that lady had died ten months earlier.

As they entered the office, the doctor touched the woman’s skin, which seemed tangible enough. The visitor pleaded with Kubler–Ross not to forsake her work. Wisely, Kubler-Ross said: “Do you know that the Reverend Mr. Gaines is in Urbana now? He would just love to have a note from you. Would you mind?” She handed the woman a piece of paper and a pencil. After writing the note, the visitor frowned as if to say: “Are you satisfied now?” as she handed it back to Kubler-Ross. When the woman stood up to leave, she repeated, ‘You promise?’ Kubler-Ross’s book reads, “And the moment I said, ‘I promise.’ She disappeared. We still have the note.”

With utmost respect and best wishes for your marvelous work!!

 

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5 November 2015: Re-Creating Easter VII: The Internal Process

Peter had so clearly wanted to be loyal to Jesus following his arrest. The story is told that he tried to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Peter had given Jesus his word that even if all others deserted him, he would be there with him; so he tried. This journey into …

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Q & A:

I am on very good terms with my bishop and attend yearly the annual diocesan council. I find it entertaining and in some way uplifting. I have a problem in that I do not believe in any of the mythology, but I was brainwashed in it from a young age, so I can do it all by rote.

The diocese does great things in the name of some superior being up in the sky somewhere, which does not bother me if they want to believe in some spirit. They could do many good works, such as “Wounded Warriors,” building houses for humanity and drilling water wells in Honduras. If they did these things in the name of Donald Duck, I would be there helping and doing my part.

I just have to fake it when they all pray and say the creed. I take the wafer and drink the wine at communion and wonder if this is some sort of barbaric cannibalism. I cringe at my having to fake it. I believe in good works and have devoted a lot of time to helping fathers and parents. But I can’t believe in the crazy tales of virgin births and Jesus coming again and his rising from the dead. Am I wrong?

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29 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter VI: The Dawning of the Resurrection

We have now explored our sources, looking where we could beneath the literal words of the biblical texts. We have come to four conclusions. First, whatever the Easter moment was Peter appears to be the person who stood at the center of it. He was the first to “see” or to embrace this new reality. …

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Q & A:

I do not know what is meant by the term “Ground of All Being” used by Paul Tillich and you. I do not get a concept of what the term means. I need someone to explain it to me in more understandable terms.

I have read all of Marcus Borg’s books and can understand his terminology of Panentheism, but am lost on what is meant by “Ground of All Being.”

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22 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter V: How did Easter Dawn? What was the Context?

We are told, but only in Luke’s gospel, that when Cleopas and his traveling companion returned from Emmaus to Jerusalem to share their experience of the risen Christ with the disciples, they used these provocative words: “He was made known to us in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). These interpretive words, written some …

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Q & A:

It may have been 1980 when the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero made headlines that I became interested in liberation theology only to see the concept crushed by Papal orders and brutal military suppression. I had a life to live, however, and a family to support so problems so far away did not occupy much of my thinking then and for the next twenty to thirty years. But during those years I was also dismayed at the retrenchment of the Vatican on so many social needs issues and was shocked that the attitude of the church had trumped piety over social action.

So now in 2015 under Pope Francis, we have the beatification of Oscar Romero (hopefully soon to be Saint Romero) and the appointment of Gerhard Ludwig Muller to Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the renewed interest in the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez. This is great news for not only Latin America, but for all of us, religious and secular, concerned with preferential treatment for the poor. Would you give us your blessings on this change (philosophy, attitude, imperative) knowing that we will continue to fight for justice regardless of attitudes around us, but we are interested in your opinions?

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15 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter IV When? The Question of Time

Life-changing “revelations” may well be timeless, but the one receiving these revelations is always bound in time. These insights invade time at a particular moment. We seek now to discover just when it was that the meaning of Easter first broke into human consciousness. The original Easter story provides us with some time references but, …

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Q & A:

I was listening to an audible.com book created through the Great Courses that addressed Books that Changed the World. During one of the discussed books (the Book of Job), the professor stated that the best translation of the Bible books was the King James Version. I was taken aback by this. From my earlier studies, I learned from Dr. Ehrman that the King James translators failed to work off the oldest of the known copies of ancient manuscripts; hence, we must assume that the King James Version might not be as accurate as one might expect. Have you come to a conclusion on which published Bible is the more accurate reflection of ancient Bible books?

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8 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter III: Where? The Location in which Easter Dawned

Revelation and insight do not occur in a vacuum. They always come through a person. They have the effect of expanding the being of the recipient by opening his or her eyes to a dimension of reality always present, but usually unperceived. They are not supernatural happenings, but are, as Paul Tillich says, “depth experiences …

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Q & A:

  1. What does it actually mean to you to be a Christian? Given the choice, why do you choose to “be” Christian versus not?
  2. Are the doctrines/creeds of Christianity important to you? If so, which ones? And why? How much can you “not believe” and still “be” Christian? Is there anything that is essential to believe to maintain the integrity of the religion?
  3. If you could create an entirely new religion right now – a brand new faith with new scripture, new traditions, new practices that reflected the totality of your consciousness, your hopes for the world, your understanding of God, your understanding of humanity, your realization of Love, what is the most essential to you in life, etc. – would this religion look different from Christianity? In what ways would it be the same? In what ways would it differ?

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1 October 2015: An Open Letter To the Moderator of the United Church of Canada: The Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell

Dear Moderator Cantwell, I write with some alarm at what is happening in the United Church of Canada, a church that I have long admired. I recall your history. Your church decided that women were not to be excluded from ordination long before the first woman ever applied. In 1988 your church proclaimed that homosexual …

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Q & A:

Thanks so much for sharing your scholarship with us and expressing it so that we can understand it.

I only wish the main-stream churches thought they could share this kind of scholarship with the congregations. When I was a student at Chapel Hill I had lots of religious questions, since I came out of a pretty strict family. I went over to the Religion Department and talked to Dr. Bernard Boyd and then changed my major to religion. Within three weeks of understanding how the Bible was written, a big load was lifted. Now 50 years later, there is still no talk/discussion of the information I learned that made such a difference for me and I think it would for other people, who can no longer believe the Bible literally. I assume that seminarians learn all of this, but they hesitate to present it because it might offend someone in the congregation and they surely don’t want to lose members. (In my adult Sunday school class at our Methodist Church, I presented Living the Question series, which I thought was excellent).

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24 September 2015: Re-Creating Easter II: Who Stood in the Center of the Easter Moment?

Who was the person who stood in the center of the most dramatic moment in Christian history, the experience we call Easter? Who was it who first saw the meaning of Jesus as the one who transcended all human limits and barriers, including finitude? Who was it who opened the eyes of others to see …

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Q & A:

I have been reading Mircea Eliade's Cosmos and History. What do you make of his premise that religious ritual is analogous to primitive practices meant to evoke a mythical time when God was physically present?

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