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5 February 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XX: I and II Zechariah, Primary Shapers of the Christian Story

If you were to search the Scriptures for a book called II Zechariah, you would not find it. There is only a single fourteen-chapter book called Zechariah, buried in the Bible between Haggai and Malachi. It is, however, not a single book by a single author, although that is the way it appears. Chapters 1–8 …

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Q & A:

Did you know that your book Honest Prayer is currently being listed on some sites as costing as much as $85 for a used copy?

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29 January 2009: Eternal Life: Pious Dream or Realistic Hope?

Do modern men and women, even those who still attend church, really believe in life after death? Or do they, as I suspect, only believe in believing in life after death? Recently I attended a funeral service in an Episcopal Church where the words of the fixed liturgy proclaimed with the confidence of yesterday that …

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Q & A:

The news has been received that a California Episcopal Diocese (San Joaquin) has reached the second stage in voting to leave the national Episcopal Communion over the issue of homosexuality. The media is describing the anti-gay position as biblical, the pro-gay as being against Bible teaching. After reading Living in Sin and The Sins of Scripture, I can not believe that it is that simple. Reporters are not doing their job of careful investigation.

  • Have these biblical stories and texts that are quoted to support the anti-gay position ever been read, analyzed, thoroughly debated and defended in bishop's conferences? These are supposedly intelligent people who respect scholarship. How can they support exclusion on such flimsy evidence?
  • Am I wrong to think this struggle among Episcopalians might be a healthy thing, which resistance from the highest levels might be a way of teaching and illuminating facts and reality, exposing the prejudice for the evil it is?
  • Where is all this going? What could or should be done to bring about a rational and acceptable result?

Your thoughts, your comments, would be very much appreciated.

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22 January 2009: Lessons From the Obama Inauguration

In the days before the inauguration of President Obama, I happened to be reading a biography of the English abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759 and 1833), written by Eric Metaxas. The timing was fortuitous. Both illustrated for me how consciousness always changes, and revealed the role that institutional religion plays in betraying its principles and delaying …

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Q & A:

I have been an avid reader of your works for a few years. I also read other prominent Christian leaders' works as well. As a Christian, settling issues such as the literary forms of the Bible, or the possibilities of different, broader interpretive methods poses a difficulty for me (your use of the Midrash tradition, for example — is this widely accepted in credible academic circles?). An example is in Timothy Keller's book The Reason for God. In his chapter on the reality of the resurrection, he has an approach to the Bible that I noted was different from yours. I noticed that his main scholarly source was a fellow named N. T. Wright. In particular, his interpretation of Paul's I Cor. 15:3-6 relies on this source for some key points that are at variance with the interpretation found in your book Resurrection: Myth or Reality? In that book you relied on some points from a scholar named Reginald Fuller. Since the two of you vary on the possibility of the literalness of this passage, I wonder if the different scholarship is the reason. Is it possible that Keller is right in saying that the most current scholarship is a good deal more friendly to a literal approach? He does do that and uses N. T. Wright on several points to shore this up. I find Keller to be open minded about quite a lot, and so would not group him in the same intellectual category as Pat Robertson. So about this whole scholarship and faith issues: what gives? What is the relationship between scholarship and belief? I ask this because I have found myself able to worship with those who hold to a naï,ve and wooden-headed literal interpretation of the Bible

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15 January 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XIX: Micah, the Prophet Who Turned Liturgy Into Life

In my career as a bishop I have known churches that spent great time and effort on liturgy and worship. It was clearly the focus, the reason for being, of those congregations and their budgets reflected this priority. Altar hangings, clergy vestments and the garb of the supporting cast of liturgical characters were always coordinated. …

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Q & A:

I had the pleasure of shaking your hand during several book tours in New Zealand and Australia. I have always been moved and inspired by your sharing and teaching. I trained as a theologian before having "a road to Damascus" experience with homeopathic medicine while in Divinity School at St. Andrew's University in Scotland. I have devoted the last 25 years of my life to learning, practicing and teaching this marvelous approach to health and disease. My love of theology, however, never waned, though I counted myself as a believer in Exile for many years. In 2001, I returned to shared communal worship in the Anglican tradition in New Zealand (where I am lay representative to the General Synod from the Diocese of Waipu) and in the Balmain Uniting Church in Sydney (where I serve as an elder and occasional preacher). My professional and personal life is enjoyed in equal measure in Australia and New Zealand. I attended the Common Dreams Conference in Sydney in August 2007 and very much enjoyed your contributions. I am aware that you are engaged in a study about life beyond death. I hope you will continue this exploration and share your findings in a book! The biblical scholar in me was inspired to suggest to your particular consideration of the conclusion that the historical Jesus probably said, "Let the dead bury the dead!" I remember first discussing this potentially troubling phrase in an undergraduate religion class at William and Mary led by visiting professor E. (Ed) P. Sanders, who had just finished his great work, Jesus and Judaism. As a class we had just read Albert Schweitzer's Quest for the Historical Jesus and were discussing the historical bombshell that it created and the continuing impact of modern biblical criticisms upon the "red letter" attributions to Jesus in the gospels. The "dead bury the dead" phrase seems to suggest that Jesus was perhaps disrespectful of the honoring of the dead required in the Jewish Law, but also the fact that such a radical pronouncement meant that it was what Jesus had actually said. Maybe the gospel writers preserved one aspect of Jesus' radical insight. Perhaps it was a way of teaching us that death is not where our focus ought to be. Instead our focus is best placed on the "now" and, as you often say, to love wastefully. I support your inspiration to write a book on death and everlastingness! (I recently prepared a sermon that summarized some of the main points of process theology and re-visited Charles Hartshorne's ideas about immortality being not a subjunctive continuing presence of a single being but rather could be conceived of as an objective immortality in the all-encompassing/never lostness of the mind of God. So perhaps some food for thought there!) Yours with respect and gratitude.

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8 January 2009: A New Year Dawns for Our Nation and the World

A high level of anticipation marked both this nation and the world as 2008 went into the history books and 2009 dawned. This anticipation came from three sources that I can identify. First, there was a sense that the national nightmare through which we have walked in recent years is finally coming to an end …

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Q & A:

Do you believe in heaven and hell, the blissful heaven and the burning hell? And do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior?

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7 January 2009: Looking at Christmas Through a Rear-View Window

It still has magic power. Across the Western world hearts beat lighter during the Christmas season, generosity expands and romance overflows its normal boundaries. Of course, there is a minority of the population for whom this is never true. For them the Christmas season is a cruel reminder of their plight. The picture of family …

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Q & A:

I subscribe to your letters, and I have read most of your books and have found them helpful in my personal search for truth and in the search for my own identity as a Christian. I am 75 years old and retired from a busy practice of family medicine. I consider myself a second-commandment Christian.

On both counts, human suffering has been one of my primary concerns. Early on as a physician and caring human being, it seemed clear to me that, of all the causes of human tragedy and suffering, there was no greater cause than that of people having children they didn't want or couldn't take care of. Therefore, potentially we had no more effective weapon than family planning against it. So I became an advocate of family planning. In the mid 1960s, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, there was and still is a religious bias against birth control, and not just from Catholics. Vasectomies were not done openly in the state of Wisconsin, as they were considered both immoral and illegal, so I was referring my patients to a urologist in Rockford, Illinois. After determining that vasectomies were not illegal in the state of Wisconsin, and having failed to persuade my urologist colleagues to do them, against all advice and in the face of religious criticism I decided to do them myself. Over the next few years I did thousands of them, as many as ten between morning hospital rounds and noon. I carried a surgical kit and did them on the road. Within five years, the practice of vasectomies was accepted and widely practiced in the state of Wisconsin.

I continue to be an advocate of family planning. Based on polls taken by our local health department and my own experience, I believe the majority of people favor making contraception and sex education available to all women of childbearing age, including sexually active teenagers.

So my question is this: Why the deafening silence from our Christian churches — conservative, mainline and liberal — regarding this humanitarian issue? Why the absence of family planning from all organized religious outreach programs? I have interviewed pastors and elected officials and concluded that religious leaders fear being seen as condoning sexual promiscuity, and both elected and religious leaders fear being divisive. They both dodge the issue by touting education and economic development, already long accepted approaches to the problem of poverty. But come on, that's not the issue. It's easy to support popular charities. I've always liked this somewhat obscure quotation of Emerson's that might apply here. "Your goodness must have some edge to it."

You've never been afraid of controversy, so I'm interested in your take on this issue, particularly if you can think of ways to change the thinking of the broad Christian community in a way similar to the way it changed regarding the specific issue of vasectomies a half century ago.

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25 December 2008: Christpower

Many years ago, in 1974 to be specific, for the sermon at the Christmas Eve Midnight service at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, I sought to redefine Jesus through the medium of poetry. I could, even then, no longer see him with credibility as the incarnation of a supernatural being who lived above the …

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Q & A:

I attended your talk at Plymouth Community Church in Minneapolis some weeks ago and found it inspiring, educational and a joy. It was clear from the large crowd (most were members of the church's congregation) that many were followers of yours. Are there any groups or gatherings in this area with the express purpose of discussing your ideas and a new Christianity? I am not a member of any church at this time but would like very much to explore these issues with others who are interested. Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide.

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18 December 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part XVIII: Amos, The Prophet Who Transformed God Into Justice

Not every character in the Bible starts out to be a hero. Indeed, one of the great themes of biblical literature is that it is the meek and the lowly who become the channels through which God is known in new ways. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is portrayed as expressing this theme in the …

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Q & A:

If the roots of the Christ story are indeed in Egyptian mythology (according to Tom Harpur's book The Pagan Christ) or the continuation of Jewish Epic History (according to your Jesus for the Non-Religious) then who were the writers of the gospels? How did they acquire the expertise to make such a complex adaptation and

what drove them, in spite of the risk of persecution, to adapt these myths to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, either as if this person was an historical figure, or if he never existed?

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11 December 2008: Splinter Episcopalians: Giving Gravitas to Trivia

Ari Goldman, the former religion editor of The New York Times (and not coincidentally my favorite secular religion newspaper writer in America during my active career), once told me that the only way he could get a religion story on the front page of the Times was to combine religion with sex. I thought of …

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Q & A:

How do we really know what Jesus said? They get so much wrong. Is it not a house of cards?

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4 December 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part XVII: Hosea – The Prophet Who Changed God’s Name to Love

Hosea is probably my favorite of all the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His story is so real and so compelling and his expansion of the meaning of God was so closely tied to his personal domestic situation as to make his witness unforgettable. The story line is not always clear in the text, but …

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Q & A:

I receive your newsletter and have read several of your books, so I am familiar with your work and so appreciate all that you bring to your readers. I am encouraged and nurtured by your teachings. I am presently reading Honest Prayer, which was not easy to find. The book is giving me new insight and excitement about the Lord's Prayer, and I wonder if you have considered a new edition? If you were to write it today, would you change it in any way? I am part of a group of women who meet on Sunday mornings at our church to discuss a book we have chosen to read individually, chapter by chapter. One of the topics we have studied is prayer. Honest Prayer is just what we need to read and talk about to open our understanding of God and of the practice of prayer. For some time now I have had the feeling that much about my prayer life has involved superstition about who God is and what God will do in regard to prayer. In reading your books I am growing and maturing spiritually and I thank you for sharing your life with your readers.

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