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14 February 2007: An Audacious Institution
The Episcopal Church has been in the news recently. One diocese on the west coast, led by its bishop, has amended its canons to remove every reference to the Episcopal Church to deny that it is bound by that church’s constitution. Eleven Virginia congregations have voted to depart from the Episcopal Church in order to …
I am a 63-year-old man who was raised in the Pentecostal Church until I
rebelled and forced my way out at about age 14. I subsequently have lived
my life with the existence of God as an open philosophical question to me
and with utter contempt for all religious structures and teachings. I have
always thought they were self-serving as institutions and for the people who
wrap themselves in those teachings.
I once had a conversation with two doctors who were both raised in the
same Muslim faith. One remains devout in the most human way. The other has
drifted from the religion of his birth. He now believes that "democracy"
is the best religion. I have thought about his concept and your teachings
as I have read them in your newsletter and several of your books.
Democracy, in its purest form, and the Christ experience as you ponder and
teach it. What a marvelous concept. In a pure democracy there would be
neither "man nor woman" nor any other of the differences that exist now in
our world and religions. For me, my recent reading of your teaching on Paul
and the scripture quoted above seems to make "democracy" and humanity the
best religion. As for the Christ experience and your teachings not just of
faith but humanity in the Christ experience, it is something I have started
to think about. I must thank you for a lifetime of faith, work and all that
goes into it so that one day I might pick up your writings, read them, and
begin to think about WHY AM I HERE DOING THE GOOD "CHRISTIAN DEEDS" IN MY
LIFE WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF RELIGION OR EVEN A BELIEF IN GOD BECAUSE I
BELIEVE THEY ARE RIGHT?? Maybe there is a new Christianity that would
reveal itself in me, but perhaps not in my lifetime. Thank you for
reaching out to people like me. I look forward to each newsletter.
7 February 2007: There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.
Life, for all its sweetness and wonder, still strikes us with unbearable pain from time to time. Tragedies that are so far out of the normal order of things are never anticipated. Yet that experience engulfed close friends of mine when a phone call at 4:00 a.m the day after Christmas informed them that their …
31 January 2007: There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.
The Gospel of John is dramatically different from the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It begins by identifying Jesus with the “Word of God” spoken in creation. It ascribes to Jesus the holy name of God, “I Am” by placing into Jesus’ mouth a series of “I Am” statements: “I am the bread of …
I have recently read your account of your dialogues in Norway and
Sweden. My cousin is a Lutheran pastor and believes the wine in communion
is transformed literally into the blood of Christ. Apparently this is a
belief in many denominations. If that is such a pillar of their faith, how
can such a tradition be replaced without destroying the liturgical
foundation of their faith? My Congregational Church doctrines were in
keeping with what you express.
10 January 2007: A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany
While on a lecture tour of Europe this winter, we had one stop in Grebenstein, Germany, that was unique in many ways. No lecture, press conference or even a meeting with some ecclesiastical leader was scheduled here. We were simply responding to an invitation from a retired Lutheran pastor, named Gerhard Klein, who had translated …
I subscribe to the teachings of Christ and regularly attend the United
Methodist Church. However, my question is this: Is "God" or "Yahweh" really
a defined word? Here is my reason for suspecting that it is not. "One" is
a pronoun. The pronoun "one" in the dictionary definition of the nouns
"creator" and "ruler" (one that creates/rules) - which is contained in what
the lexicographers allege to be a definition of "God" and publish in their
dictionaries - has never been assigned an antecedent and no antecedent seems
possible. If this is the case, then the alleged definition of "God" is not
a definition at all. You can't define a noun only as a pronoun with no
possible antecedent. That seems to be a language trick used in alleged
definitions of "God." Oftentimes, the word "spirit" is given as the
antecedent of "one." However, a similar question can be asked about the
meaningfulness of the word "spirit." Can you expound on this?
3 January 2007: Watching Christianity Evolve in Scandinavia
During the early winter of this year, my wife and I went to Scandinavia for 16 lectures, 5 press interviews and extensive conversations. I returned with a deeper sense of where Christianity is, at least in Norway and Sweden. It was both revealing and hopeful. The tour began in late November with a 4 session …
I grew up ECLA Lutheran. My mother was raised Mennonite, which
contributed pacifist beliefs. My father was an ordained Methodist minister
but worked in a different profession. I married into a Lutheran family and
my parents now worship at the United Methodist Church.
I tried very hard to "make it work" in mainline Christianity. I
read, "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" and that started me on the
path of questioning everything. I've been working my way through all of
your books and enjoying them quite a bit. Some of your sentences are so
finely crafted and beautiful in their content. My mother and I constantly
discuss your work. It is very difficult, however, to reconcile our newfound
awareness with our Sunday morning experiences. Certain statements, hymn
lyrics or rites have to be outright rejected or translated in my mind. (I
refused to allow the Creed at my daughter's baptism!).
I understand your desire for people to stay and fight for change
within their particular churches, but that is like trying single-handedly to
turn the Titanic around. I have only one life to live. I need to go where
my soul is fed. I have recently found the Unity Church and started
attending services. I am interested to know what your opinion is of the
P.S. I highly respect your opinion, but please do not feel that I am
waiting for your answer in my decision to attend services. I do not mean to
imply anything of that nature.
27 December 2006: Facing 2007 with Grave Apprehension
The year 2006 began with an unresolved war in Iraq. It ended with that war not just unresolved, but obviously deteriorating into the unmanageable chaos of civil war and tribal violence. More American military lives were lost in November of 2006 than in any month in over a year. On Monday, December 17, the News …
My husband and I really enjoyed "Sins of Scripture." We were
both raised Catholic and now belong to what you so accurately refer to as
the Church Alumni Association. My family consists of Polish immigrants, so
they are what I call "fundamentalist Catholics." Think Irish Catholic...it
is that sort of fervor and dedication to the Church and the belief that the
Catholic Church is the only true Church. The Poles are not different.
We are now facing a dilemma. We did not get married in a
Catholic Church, which you can imagine caused a lot of grief. We have
"lost" some family members as a result, who are no longer speaking to us.
We just had our first baby, and the pressure is on to have him baptized
We have gently told my family that there will be no baptism.
They are beside themselves. It is one thing to deny ourselves the Kingdom
of Heaven they say but to cast our own child into the pit of hell because of
our own sin and stupidity, well, it is unforgivable in their eyes. Friends
of my father have urged him to "take the matter into his own hands," by
which I think they mean to simply baptize our son without our consent. My
father turns a bright red/purple with rage when the topic comes up and I
fear he is going to give himself a heart attack...at which point I feel
intense guilt and think maybe I should just give the man peace of mind that
his grandson will not wind up in hell for all of eternity. I think it is
absolutely absurd that anyone would characterize the perfect loving God I
experience as this scary monster throwing unbaptized children into hell, or
even purgatory, which are concepts I don't believe in anyway...you get the
point, this is why I "dropped out" in the first place.
So, I come to you with a request. Since we do not have the
wealth of theological knowledge to back up our feelings about God, and they
(the fundamentalist Catholics) have the backing of the Pope, the Bishops and
the "Church," my husband and I often stutter out a bunch of "We
believe...statements which just irritate the fundamentalist Catholics even
more because, in their eyes, it does not matter what "we believe," it
matters what "the Church" thinks.
Can you advise us on how we can gently help my fundamentalist
Catholic family members to respect our decision? We really need your help
on this because I'm afraid we are about to lose more family members and,
instead of losing them, we would really like to live in harmony and mutual
respect with them.
20 December 2006: Watching Christmas being Celebrated in Europe
This year I watched Christmas dawn in Europe. It provided me with new insights into this holy day and an understanding of the state of Christianity on the continent as well. In this Christmas essay, I will try to recreate that experience for you. It began in Scandinavia with a majestic Advent portrait that only …
13 December 2006: Fred Kaan: Hymn Writer Par Excellence
If I were to mention the name of Frederik Herman Kaan, I doubt if the faces of more than one or two of my readers would reveal even a glimmer of recognition. Yet Fred Kaan has been, arguably, the finest and most prolific hymn writer in the Christian Church in the 20th century. His texts …
In a recent column you wrote: "If sexual relationships are to
have the potential to be holy and life giving, they must be fully consensual
and they must be grounded in mutual love. Otherwise they are exploitive,
meeting the needs of one, but not the other. That is why rape is always
wrong. It is the imposition of one with power on one without power. That
is why sex with multiple partners is wrong, for it reduces sex to a loveless
thrill, not a sustaining and loving relationship."
It seems to me that the last sentence does not necessarily
follow from the first in that I can imagine having sex with multiple
partners, either at the same or different times as meeting the test of the
first sentence which test I accept as very legitimate.
6 December 2006: Miracles VI: Bartimaeus and the Healing of the Man Born Blind
In this continuing examination of the miracle stories found in the gospels, I turn this week to the second “sight to the blind” narrative in Mark (10: 46-52), the story of blind Bartimaeus. Then I will look briefly at the only Johannine account of a miraculous restoration of sight (John 9: 1-41). We will, I …
As an interested reader of your columns, I feel that you are
just about the only person I can pose this question to and expect an
intelligent response. The question has to do with whether or not God ever
intervenes in human history to heal individuals or stop natural disasters in
response to prayer. I am 71 years old and have lived most of life under the
ministry of Baptist churches that constantly insist that God heals and
answers prayers. In the reflection of my later years, I have come to wonder
if this makes any sense at all, or is even possible. If God is capable of
inserting himself (okay, herself) into human affairs and to change things in
response to prayers of petition, what is the best way to understand that
he/she sometimes does and sometimes doesn't? It can't be just the urgency
or the numbers of prayers, can it?
I have read Sam Harris' two books that question the very existence of God
and challenges the useful purpose of any religion. He does raise questions
that cannot be easily dismissed, such as why in all of human history, there
is no record of God ever healing an amputee by regenerating a limb or
changing a Down syndrome child to one of normal health. If God does or can
intervene, it is only in situations that can be otherwise explained as
natural phenomena? Or, deeper still, should we even think of a God capable
of inserting himself into human experience? Is "God" something else
29 November 2006: Miracles V: Did a Blind Man From Bethsaida Really Receive His Sight?
In the fourth installment of my fall series on the miracles of the New Testament, I suggested that the healing miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospels might have originally been composed not to be tales of supernatural power at all. They served rather to demonstrate signs of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom attached to …
I would very much like to hear your comments on "religious abuse" particularly as it concerns fundamentalism, especially within a family. I am closely connected with a family where the father of two teenage daughters has them "brain-washed" into believing that he speaks for God and that God speaks through him. He has for all practical purposes separated them from the world, using home schooling as a way of keeping them from being involved in the "evil world." To my knowledge, there is no physical abuse in the family setting but there is certainly emotional abuse. The girls are frightened of their father because to displease him is to displease God.
There is a book (older
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