Essay Archives View as a list
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
22 November 2006: Debating a Fundamentalist in Orlando
Marcus Borg did it. John Dominic Crossan did it. The clear implication of the person issuing this invitation was that I should do it too. He wanted me to participate in a debate in Orlando, Florida, under the auspices of something called Sovereign Christian Cruises; an evangelical organization that does indeed do cruises. My debating …
15 November 2006: Miracles IV – Interpreting the Healing Miracles
I voted on Tuesday, November 7, and then, political enthusiast that I am, I listened to the election results that night until it was clear that the Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives. They had also preserved their threatened Senate seats in New Jersey and Maryland, had wrested senate seats from Republicans …
Is there any material proof of any sort whatsoever that the man Jesus ever
lived at all? So many things are attributed to him that sometimes I think
he is a fantasy figure people make up in their minds, endowing him with more
capabilities that the fiction hero Superman had that prompts me to wonder if
that's all he was, a make-believe figure, like the action hero, Zorro, who
was inspired by the life of a real 19th century person.
8 November 2006: Miracles IV – Interpreting the Healing Miracles
When we begin to dissect the miracle stories of the gospels, it is easy to notice some fascinating connections. The nature miracles, for example, are clearly the retelling or reworking of earlier biblical stories about Moses or Elijah. One can see the similarities between Moses asking God to feed the multitude in the wilderness with …
In response to your Q&A, The Difference between Fundamentalists
and Evangelicals, I would like to point out that the ELCA (Evangelical
Lutheran Church of America) would be considered more progressive than
The name is the unfortunate result of a merger between the
Lutheran Church of America and the American Lutheran Church many years back.
Some leaders at the time were aware of the draw that "Evangelical" churches
were having and, being aware that evangelism is not traditionally a strong
trait of Lutherans, thought adding evangelical to the name would be a
reminder to Lutherans to be more vocal about their faith.
I have attended both Episcopal and Lutheran churches, and feel
at home in either setting. Although my views are more liberal than either
denomination is ready to embrace, I feel confident that, with time, the
churches will evolve.
Could you please mention that Evangelical is a word meaning 'to
teach Christianity' that has been hijacked by conservative groups? The term
seems out of place in the name of the ELcA denomination, even to Lutherans,
but I think many progressive thinkers would feel comfortable and welcomed
1 November 2006: Three Cheers for the New Jersey Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of my beloved state of New Jersey, in its historic decision handed down on October 25, 2006, has defined the battle over gay marriage for the entire nation. I am convinced that many will look back on this 4-3 decision as the signal that the end of this debate has now finally …
I've decided to read the Bible this year - taking notes. So far I am nearly
finished with Exodus. I find this revealing - the stories I've known since
childhood but with additional points of which I was unaware. (Pharaoh did
not respond because the Lord "hardened his heart" what is that all about?)
I'm reading the King James Version but I do find it a little
tough going and have been tempted to change to the New International Version
or the Revised Standard Edition. Which of these versions do you think I
would be wise to devote my time to? Thank you.
P. S. I have heard you speak twice. As a "Christian Alumnus" I
didn't feel anything could rekindle my interest in religion. But you give
hope to a world desperate for mature guidance.
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