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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 …

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Q & A:

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

Unity Church.

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.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

Please comment on the very recent book by John Danforth, "Faith and

Politics: How the Moral Values Debates Divides America" I realize it will

take a while to get to this, but I eagerly await your views on his views.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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


Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

Thank you for inspiring me to think! Your message is very

relevant to the teens I teach.

You mention that Jesus did not die for our sins (I agree). My

teens believe that Jesus died for the resurrection to happen. What are your


Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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


Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

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.

Read the Answer...

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