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25 June 2008: Beauty, Wonder and Excitement in New Mexico
I am now convinced that there are no sunsets more beautiful than those that blaze through the evening sky in New Mexico. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the New Mexico desert with its high sky against mountains that rise to 7,000 feet in the Santa Fe-Los Alamos area that makes these sunsets so exquisite. …
You continue to write articles that both excite and
amaze me. My respect for you, as I have often said, started when you
were my bishop in the Diocese of Newark. Every time I heard you speak
you challenged me and widened my spiritual world. I find today that
often in my prayers I fall back into the humanizing of God to assist
me in relating in some way. When I watch our church being torn apart,
however, I realize how limiting my humanizing is. In your columns I
see in the Episcopal Church a way to a new Christianity and that
enables me to enter my parish and celebrate the Eucharist interpreting
what I hear said so that worship becomes much more personal for me.
I feel that the Church must believe what we say every Sunday, "Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and
with all thy soul. This is the first great commandment and the second
is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these
two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
18 June 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part VIII The Priestly Revision of the Jewish Sacred Story (B)
While the first wave of Jews entered the Babylonian Exile around the year 596, a second wave came in 586 after a rebellion was put down by the Babylonians and all of the identifiable descendants of King David were executed. Both groups of captive people carried with them their sacred story, which at that time …
I've been much concerned over what seems to me great damage done
by those religious leaders who believe that they KNOW the mind and
will of God — usually based upon a literalistic and uncritical
bibliolatry. I wonder whether you would agree with, disagree with,
amend, or consign to oblivion the following line of thought.
As Immanuel Kant showed quite well, I think, we humans cannot claim
knowledge of anything that transcends the realm of our ordinary
spatio-temporal condition. I think this is so, and it helps to
explain why, in matters of theology having to do with gods or God,
there are so many different and conflicting views prevailing in
various human traditions — traditions of humans who are
obviously quite rational beings. On the other hand, I find it
interesting that, when it comes to basic moral rules, the major world
religions come up with rules or principles that are astonishingly
similar. They are not identical, but there is much overlap and
agreement, I believe, on the most important things. But our basic
moral principles are learned through ordinary human experience —
becoming aware of the consequences of this or that sort of behavior.
Even St. Thomas Aquinas believed that revelation was not required for
humans to learn what he called the "natural virtues." To conclude, as
I have, that one cannot claim to KNOW the nature, mind and will of
God, does not, however, mean that one may not EXPERIENCE a reality
that calls forth one's reverence and commitment. I have come to the
point of regarding much of what is in the Bible as myth, as legend, as
tribalistic propaganda — and, indeed, some passages that if
taken as God-inspired, would imply a God that is not worthy of our
devotion. There is in the Bible, however, a great deal that inspires
an awareness of that which is, indeed, worthy of our ultimate
commitment and devotion. I think in this connection of the basic
message of the great prophets, and of what Paul Tillich called "the
picture of Jesus Christ." A renunciation of absolute and dogmatic
claims of knowledge and an appeal to our ordinary experiences of what
makes life sublime might, I think, lead to greater tolerance —
and openness to the spiritual riches of other traditions.
12 June 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part VII: The Final Strand of the Torah, The Priestly Document (A)
Time after time we discover that it was the external events of human history that more than anything else shaped the content of those writings that would someday be called the Holy Scriptures. That should not surprise us since all books have human authors who live in a context of both time and place. Only …
What store or value do you put into or get from:
The Gospel of Mary (the mother of Jesus)
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
The Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Thomas
Can we open them to new meaning? Can we attribute to them the status
of Scripture? Can they contribute to or enhance the mission of the
Christian Church, which in your terms is to make us truly human?
Note: This column is based on the research of a student who is just completing the tenth grade at George Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, a relatively influential and affluent suburb in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The student’s name is John Lanier Hylton. He is my grandson. He challenged me to write …
You recently suggested that the split in Christianity today is
between those who assert yesterday's religious explanations and those
who find no meaning in yesterday's religious explanations and give up
on religion altogether. If that is so, is Christopher Hitchens' book,
God Is Not Great, a message from the religiously disillusioned?
If so how do those religious people who defend the past deal with that
Where is it that Christian people today focus their anger? One has only to look at the content of current ecclesiastical debates, listen to the rhetoric of church leaders or examine the issues upon which the church divides into two competing camps to have your answer. The two things that elicit the most fear, that …
I am among those who agree with you in regard to the great need for
transformation within traditional Christianity — indeed, a new
reformation is overdue and necessary for the Christian tradition to
survive the 21st century. I believe that Jesus came not to change any
of the Hebrew scripture or its tradition but rather to reaffirm its
true meaning in revealing the spiritual nature of human life through
his own demonstration within humanity. As such, his example created
something new. Have you ever considered officially joining a New
Thought community such as Unity Church of Practical Christianity? I
believe these communities closely reflect the spirit of the Christian
message and serve humanity well in providing a way in which we may
experience and live Christian principles more fully. Thank you so
much for the wonderful work you are doing.
21 May 2008: Christian Art: Reinforcer of a Dying Literalism
I did not realize how thoroughly biblical literature has shaped Western civilization until I took a course offered by The Teaching Company entitled “Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance” taught by Professor William Kloss of the Smithsonian Institution. I was certainly aware that almost all Western art up until the Renaissance had religious themes and …
Although I did not read it until adulthood, I have found the words
in the Gospel of Thomas to be true all my life.
V.3 Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look the (Father's)
kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you.
If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede
you. Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside
you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will
understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do
not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the
V. 77 Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am
all: from me all come forth and to me all attained. Split a piece of
wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
What is your take on the Gnostic view, the Gospel of Thomas and
others? I know you try to avoid describing God, for God truly is
indescribable, but what you said sounded similar.
The name of the Torah’s fifth and final book according to the Bible is Deuteronomy. That name comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “deutero,” which means second, and “nomas,” which means law. Deuteronomy thus means the second giving of the law and in that title the story of the book’s origin …
It's a small point, but in your January 30 essay you
refer to a "three-days-dead body." How do you and most others manage
to count three days from Friday afternoon to before sunrise on Sunday?
I know the usual explanation is that according to Jewish reckoning
what is meant are parts of three days (part of Friday, part of
Saturday and part of Sunday), but that is not how the average reader
would understand what you wrote. The obvious tie-in is to Matthew's
three days and three nights referring Jonah and Jesus, but do we need
to perpetuate the confusion just because Matthew could not count?
7 May 2008: Jeremiah Wright
The emergence of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright into the presidential campaign is, I am sure, an unexpected and probably unwelcome diversion for the Obama camp. It gets him, as they say, “off message” and lays bare those elemental places in the human psyche where race and tribe collide. People seeking to exploit this issue for …
Whether I am on the lecture circuit, where I spend most of my time, or in my home a normal day for me starts about 6:00 a.m., when I go either to the hotel’s “fitness room” or to the first floor of our home to spend an hour or more on a treadmill. It would …
I have been learning from and enjoying your newsletter
for four years. While I have not always completely agreed with you, I
have not significantly disagreed with you until recently. Your
comment several weeks ago about the "integrity" of John McCain was
badly misplaced. I have been a resident of Arizona for over 30 years.
I was concerned when McCain moved to Arizona with the intent of going
into politics, but I was very pleased when he became a "Goldwater
Republican." Early in his career he followed that path, but as he
became more and more a national figure he changed. To this day I
proudly claim to be a Goldwater Republican, but McCain no longer can
be identified with the Senator's libertarian views. While I disagreed
with Goldwater's position on civil rights, it was consistent with his
desire for as little government involvement as possible.
Senator McCain has a perfect "Christian Right" voting
record on women's rights, particularly on reproductive rights. His
opinion on stem cell research and a number of other Christian Right
issues is very much what they want, in spite of their current
protestations. McCain has a temper and holds a grudge against those
who cross him. If you know any Republicans from Arizona please ask
them. His record is far from clean on "helping" big business. He
continued to work for Charles Keating even after Keating's practices
Senator McCain is as pro-war as his new best friend George Bush; he
is just smarter about how he expresses it. The only point I will give
him on this issue is that he has a son who is in the military. I have
long felt that a president or congressperson should have a child or
grandchild in the military. I wonder how long the Iraq invasion would
have lasted if the Bush twins had been serving on the front line.
Thanks for listening and for your continued insights in
23 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part V The Elohist Document
Most people do not seem to realize that events in what we call the secular world of history shaped so much of the writing of the biblical story. When I get to the formation of the gospels in this series, it will become obvious that the Jewish war with Rome that began in 66 CE …
Enclosed is an article from a few weeks ago about evangelical Ben
Witherington's visit to Charlotte, North Carolina. He has "taken your
name in vain" — has this ever happened to you before? He was
quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the following:
"Bishop Spong is out of his depth. He is not a biblical scholar; he's
not even a scholar. He's what I call a pundit. When I do debates
with Bishop Spong, he really won't debate. He's kind of like a dog
who barks backing up. He's noisy, but when you challenge him, there's
no substance to his argument."
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