Essay Archives View as a list
27 November 2014: Do Our Seminaries Prepare Clergy for Today’s World?
Writing about the Theological School at Drew University this past week caused me to think about theological education in general and my own theological education in particular. I loved the experience I had at the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia (VTS), but a year after graduating I realized that the gap between what my seminary …
I have read your book Eternal Life: A New Vision with great interest and have found in it much to which I can relate. Apart from a brief mention of childhood prayers (which frightened you because of their association with death) you do not say whether we should pray to this God of yours whom we should strive to find deep within ourselves. Theologians like John Bowker, however, hold that prayer is essential and holds the key to growing into a knowledge of God – whatever we mean by that term. Your thoughts on this subject please.
From time to time, I have an experience inside organized Christianity that is filled with such excitement that it creates in me the hope that there might be a genuine future for the Christian faith. Most frequently this experience takes the form of hearing that someone with some authority within institutional Christianity actually sees, actually …
On your recommendation, I read Carl Jung’s book, The Answer to Job, and as you said, it is a difficult book – the language is not the easiest nor is the conclusion. What comes across to me is that the God portrayed has some really big issues with his self-image. Since your recommendation was a response to my question if God has both good and evil, then must I conclude that the divine encompasses both? Yet, you often refer to God as the source of love, but isn’t it the hard truth that God is also the source of hate and evil? Perhaps the unique thing about being human is that we can actually choose which of God’s qualities we nurture. I think there is an Indian saying that the side of God (good/evil) that becomes the strongest in you is the one you feed. So my belief is that our quest is maybe to give God the answer God cannot give to Godself – namely which of God’s sides is the better one? I can see that this is perhaps the conclusion that Jung drew. God needs man and woman to become human – not the other way around.
13 November 2014: On Visiting a Nazi Concentration Camp
In early October of this year, Christine and I had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp at a place called Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic. This camp, known as Terezin, was run during World War II by the Prague Gestapo. Terezin was not normally the final destination of the Jews sent …
After reading your moving and poetic answer in Q&A 9-25-14, to the question from Ed Branthaver: "Are you an atheist?” I couldn't help but revisit definitions of pantheism, theism, deism and atheism. In all your writings you show how supernatural theism has been utterly demolished by the rise of Western science, but you state that you continue to believe in God so you are not an atheist. You are very conscious to reflect modern human understanding and cite Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Freud and Einstein in describing your approach so that it resonates with educated people. Belief in a God by nature and reason, however, is deism and here I am reminded of perhaps George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two men of the Enlightenment. Then your beautiful phrase, "I believe I walk in God and with God and that God lives in me and through me," reminds me of Luke 17:21: “The kingdom of God is within you.” Here I note a hint of pantheism there in that God is within us. You conclude that our God language must become less concrete and more mystical." So, as I grapple with everything you say, I still perceive deistic-pantheistic-mystical elements in your thinking. You have, however, characterized it differently, which I respect. All this aside, you believe in God. What I think many readers - and certainly this 46 year old active Episcopalian - would LOVE to hear from you is why you think God exists. I often wonder if you just skip over this in your effort to dissuade us of theism. Growing scientific understanding aside, at your core, what moves you to belief in God? What gives you that primal confidence in the existence of God in the midst of all these reductions or re-crafting of theological understanding?
6 November 2014: Part XXXIV Matthew – The Transfiguration of Jesus, Part III
A Dedication-Hanukkah Story How many of you have ever connected the story of Jesus’ transfiguration with the Jewish celebration of Dedication/Hanukkah? We may well have imagined it as almost anything but that. Some New Testament scholars have suggested that the transfiguration story was a “misplaced” resurrection narrative. They cite as evidence for this conclusion that …
Having read all of your books, I feel at ease now with the discomfort I have felt during many church services over many years. With the Bible stories revealed as myths with underlying truths, how can one be sure that Jesus Christ himself was not a myth? At the moment, I feel a discomfort in even asking that question. On the other hand, apparently Pope Leo (1513-1521) is quoted as saying “It has served us well this myth of Christ.”
Last week we traced the origins of the Jewish festival known as “Dedication,” but in our day popularly called “Hanukkah.”. It celebrated the moment when a guerilla army of Jewish people, led by man named Judas Maccabeus, dealt a series of hammer-like blows to the army of the Syrians led by their king, Antiochus Epiphanes …
23 October 2014: Part XXXII Matthew – Dedication and Transfiguration, Part I
Matthew, having provided Jesus stories for the Sabbaths between Sukkoth and the final major Jewish festival of the liturgical year, is now ready to relate Jesus to this last celebration. So we turn in our analysis of this gospel to the midwinter festival called Dedication. The Jewish word for dedication is “Hanukkah,” so this celebration …
I have read two of your books, Why Christianity must Change or Die and The Sins of Scripture and have started Eternal Life, A New Vision. I have gone to church all my life (Methodist and now Lutheran) and never had any doubts about what the church teaches until about the past ten years (I am 81). I have been afraid I was becoming a heretic until I read your books and found out a bishop also had my concerns. I could not understand how a loving God who has helped me so much all my life would say that people could not be forgiven unless Jesus suffered such a horrible death upon the cross. God never asked for a human sacrifice before. I have come to believe if Paul had not taken the Christian movement to Rome so fast- if it had stayed in Palestine longer - it would have grown much differently and not absorbed so much of Roman paganism. I said that to a rabbi one time and he said, “Well, you said it, not me.” When I read the Bible, it doesn’t sound to me like Jesus considered himself the same as God. He often prayed to God-always trying to show us what God is like and how to love and serve him. He even corrected the one who called him “Good teacher” and said, “Why do you call me good?”
My problem now is where can I go to church? I love my God and I want to worship God, but I can’t honestly say the creeds any more and some parts of the liturgy bother me. I recently moved and have been attending a church I like and I like the Pastor. I need to transfer my membership, but I know I will be asked to recite the creed to join and I can’t be a hypocrite and do that. I just say the first article in the service and some of the rest and hope no one notices. I am sure there are many with my problem, but there is nowhere for us to go unless one wants to join a house church group. I was told at a retreat I attended one time that there are several of those forming in the area. The church seems always to be talking about why church attendance is dropping and what methods or new tricks they can use to get people back, but they never seem to discuss how the church itself needs to rethink some of what it teaches. I hope your books and lectures will change that but I am afraid not in my lifetime. I am grateful for the work you are doing.
16 October 2014: The Emerging Church in Northern Michigan
Marquette, Michigan, sits on Lake Superior about 300 miles south and slightly east of Thunder Bay, Canada. While we were there, Christine and I were made honorary “Yoopers,” a name derived from the initials UP for Upper Peninsula. It is a remote part of Michigan since its land mass stretches over both Michigan and the …
In the early 70s my husband and I attended a Unity School of Christianity at the Unity Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. They seemed to be saying that the scriptures were to be interpreted metaphysically. Would you agree with that? If so, just what does that mean? I am a former Catholic nun and my husband a former Catholic priest. I find your writings clearly express what I can believe about the Jesus of history. For seven years now I have been an active member of the ELCA Church.
In this episode Jesus asks: “Can one read the signs correctly? Does a clear sunset today anticipate fair weather tomorrow? Do dark clouds announce the presence of a storm? Do you not yet understand about the loaves?” When will his disciples accurately perceive who he is? Those are the questions articulated as Matthew draws his …
My question to you is: Do you personally think that the universal church will ever get its act together in order and come into the 21st century? You have spent your entire life trying to budge the Episcopal Church. If the Roman Catholic Church is any example, with its recognition of Galileo only in 1991, I am skeptical. Where is the hope?
In Mark’s gospel she was a Syro-Phoenician woman. Matthew has changed her into being a Canaanite woman. That shift is significant because the term “Canaanite” carried so much more emotional baggage than did the term Syro-Phoenician. Canaanites first come into the Jewish story during the time of Joshua, Moses’ immediate successor. He was the military …
Though Mary Magdalene followed him around, I find no mention in the Bible that Jesus was married. Men of his age usually were. Further, he surrounded himself with a group of men; one of them particularly appeared to be his favorite. It is recorded that Jesus said repeatedly, “Do you love me?” Is it possible that Jesus was a homosexual? What do you think?
Also what about the apostle Paul?
25 September 2014: Part XXIX Matthew: Did Jesus Really Walk on Water? Of Course Not!
Sandwiched between Matthew’s two stories of Jesus feeding the multitude is another popular tale in the gospels. It is the account of Jesus walking on the water. Interestingly enough, in each of the four gospels this walking on the water story is coupled with the feeding of the multitudes. All of the gospel writers will …
In November I will be 76 years old. I grew up in one of the historic Peace churches – the Church of the Brethren, which I attended from childhood through my adult years. The congregations I attended were conservative, but not of the “Literalist” bent. Even during my college years and beyond I was unable to understand the gospels. None of my considerable studies proved to be of significant help. Not until I accidentally found your book: Why Christianity Must Change or Die? did I find a ray of light and an individual who wrote in a fashion that I could understand. Since then, I have purchased almost everything you have written and I subscribe to your weekly e-messages. You have helped me immeasurably to make sense of what has been a mystery to me for a long time. Thank you.
In your article “Christ and the Body of Christ” in the 2000 issue of “The Once and Future Jesus,” you write “God is real for me, a mythical, indefinable presence which I can experience but never explain.” Further in THE FUTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION (“Beyond Theism but not Beyond God”) you identify God with the real and present “life force” in the universe (love). My very good friend, a former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist, claims that because you do not define God as a deity or Supreme Being, you are in fact an atheist (according to the dictionary definition) even though you said you could accept the label Christian Humanist. Could you explain to me and to my atheist friend how you can maintain your status as a Christian while at the same time meet the “dictionary definition” of an atheist?
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