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10 August 2005: Theology and Baseball

Last month an anonymous member of my class at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, left this unsigned question on my lectern: “How can you be so right about religion and so wrong about baseball?” I did not have the opportunity to address this profound theological concern in the class, so I have decided …

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Q & A:

Dear Friends,

I really do enjoy your responses to our occasional guest

columnists. The response to The Rev. Gretta Vosper's column

"POISED" was by volume the largest we have ever received. I

am happy to run, in place of the Question and Answer feature

of this column today, a small sampling of your mail. I have

identified the writers with the names that they used and the

places they live if they noted that. All I had in some cases

was an e-mail name or a state. If you want your full name

and place of residence used when your letters are printed you

need to enclose that information. I am happy to identify you

whatever way you identify yourself.

New subscribers who may not have seen Gretta's column, which

ran on July 6, 2005, or those subscribers who would like to

read it again in the light of these responses may access her

column by going to www.bishopspong.com.

Your mail each week is gratifying even when you write to

express a contrary point of view or to point out a mistake

that my usually infallible editor (my wife Christine) has

missed. I read them all. I respond to many of them through

the column. I wish I could respond to each one individually

but the volume would require every minute of the day and a

staff that I do not have.

I send you all my best wishes.

— John Shelby Spong

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3 August 2005: Pre-Modern Theology in Public Life

When the hurricane named ‘Dennis’ placed weary Floridians under water in the first major Caribbean disaster of 2005, their Governor Jeb Bush, reflecting on the recent pounding his state has taken, made an interesting, an almost stream of consciousness, observation. “I think there is a legitimate feeling,” he said, “Why me? What did I do …

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Q & A:

How do I communicate with someone who only responds with biblical quotations?

Robert from Denver, Colorado, writes:

How do I keep my head in a place of peace when people try to push their religious views on me?

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27 July 2005: A New Dark Age Begins

Several years ago, in a column about the harassment, removal and silencing of Roman Catholic scholars like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx by that church, I referred to the leader of this “Inquisitional” mentality, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as “the pit bull of the Vatican.” Little did I realize that this church’s …

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Q & A:

To my readers:

This week, in place of the Question and Answer feature of this column, I am pleased to turn this space over to some of you by printing excerpts from the incredible volume of mail I received in response to guest columnist Dr. James Hecht's piece on the struggle in the Middle East to find peace, entitled "Brokering the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". That column ran on May 18th, 2005, and if you missed it or want to read it again, subscribers may do so by visiting http://www.bishopspong.com and clicking the "Log In" tab. Peace in the Middle East is still elusive, but until it is found peace in the world will remain an unfulfilled dream. Your comments were worth sharing broadly.

John Shelby Spong


Daryl Peter writes:

"I think there is one thing lacking in Dr. Hecht's argument. Did the Palestinians aid and abet those who attempted to drive the Jews into the sea? I think the answer is yes. What then should be their reward for such treachery? The Arab world could easily have assimilated the displaced Palestinians and refused. Why? It seems to me there are quite a few nations in the Middle East who come to the table with unclean hands not just Jews and Americans. Until the entire Arab world and especially the U.N. agree this is a real mess and no one is guiltless can the problem begin to be resolved."

Martin Crim writes:

"The only element Dr. Hecht left out of the equation is that evangelical Christians form a strong pro-Israel lobby that is actually more extreme than AIPAC. Because they see the creation of the modern nation of Israel as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, they are opposed to any steps toward peace with the Palestinians if that would require giving up "Judea and Samaria" as they call it."

Sheldon Kronfeld of San Diego writes:

"Without hesitation I agree with Dr. Hecht that the plight of the Palestinians is one of misery, suffering, subjugation and humiliation. I have a concern about his conclusion about where the responsibility for this unfortunate situation lies. Nowhere does Dr. Hecht indicate that he conferred with Israelis at all. Permit me to make mention a few of the hopes that Israel has had with respect to its Arab Palestinian neighbors.

"We appeal

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20 July 2005: Political Fundamentalism

I listen to the rhetoric. It makes rational sense at first glance but the argument is circular and the feelings are hostile. Yet it has a familiar ring. I have heard it somewhere before. “The president wants to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who will “interpret the constitution not amend it.” ” We …

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Q & A:

"Our diocese has a linked relationship with one of the dioceses in southern Sudan. Terrible conditions. Our bishop and his wife visited the area (Kajo Keji) for three weeks several months ago. Our diocese has responded generously to pleas for food and other assistance. As it often happens, once caring people become personally exposed to conditions of millions upon millions in the developing world and have an opportunity to compare and contrast, the result - certainly by most Christians I have known - is a strong motivation to respond. In Swaziland in January, I guided our rector through a nine-day tour of conditions and the AIDS situation in Swaziland - same response. My bias as a Christian has been for many years that many faith groups place a significant emphasis and focus on the importance of belief as compared with the importance of behavior.

I recall a number of passages in the New Testament that cite Christ's focus on loving God and our neighbors. From my personal perspective, love of a neighbor and all of its critical interpretations receives much less focus and emphasis in the Church than love of God. What usually occurs after a meaningful experience with poverty, loss of hope and inequity, there is a brief flash of sympathy, often action of some sort - some of which is indeed useful. But sooner or later there seems to be a return for our church leaders to fall back on what appears to me to be some fuzzy interpretations that occurred many centuries ago and would never stand active interpretation.

So, as I challenge church leaders, clergy and congregations, my question relates to how I can encourage them to review one of the essential mandates from Christ - his clear and emphatic emphasis on our responsibilities toward our fellow human beings."

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13 July 2005: Phyllis’ Garden — Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

The threat of meaninglessness and the specter of eternal anonymity are two forces that, far more than most of us realize, drive human behavior. The vast majority of the world’s population will live and die unnoticed outside their immediate families. In about three generations almost all of us will be forgotten. Consider, for example, the …

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Q & A:

What is the spiritual understanding of the Virgin Birth narrative as opposed to a purely literal interpretation?

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29 June 2005: Lessons Learned Walking 192 Miles Across England

It had its ups and downs, its heights and its depths. My wife, her daughter (my stepdaughter) and I set out on May 21st to walk the Coast-to-Coast trail across England. We began at St. Bees on the Irish Sea. Eighteen days later, weary, limping but unbowed, we placed our feet in the waters of …

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Q & A:

Have you read Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ? What are your thoughts concerning his belief that Christianity was copied from pagan religions that existed many years before Christ? Mr. Harpur, probably the most well-known and popular religious writer in Canada, even says there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. So many of the events reported in the Bible have a very similar event in the pagan religions (e.g., dying on a cross, rising on the third day, miracles, etc.) Your thoughts?

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22 June 2005: Guest Column from the Reverend Gretta Vosper

Dear Friends, This week I take great pleasure in introducing you to one of the most exciting voices in 21st century Christianity. The Reverend Gretta Vosper is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Canada, a church that came into being through an early 20th century merger primarily between the Presbyterians and the Methodists …

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Q & A:

Do you think that the Church has adequately explored and explained the spiritual aspects of evolution? What does it mean spiritually that we evolved from apes?

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22 June 2005: Debating with Evangelicals

Twice recently, I have had the opportunity to engage in public debate two people who identify themselves as evangelicals, the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Rev. Dr. William Craig, a non-residential “Research Professor of Philosophy” at the Talbot School of Theology, an evangelical …

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Q & A:

Please help me understand . . . What do you mean when you say you are a "Believing Christian." If God is not a being who is this "Christ" that you believe in?

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15 June 2005: Can One Be Christian Without Being a Theist?

As one who lectures extensively across this nation and the world, I have been asked questions by my audiences that have ranged from the naive to the profound, from the obvious to the obtuse. Some have been hostile, designed to embarrass, attack, and minimize. Some have been seeking in the wasteland some hint that the …

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Q & A:

Why do others such as Tim LaHaye and certain church groups, who I presume are well educated on biblical matters, insist that every word in the Bible is inerrant. Have they never been introduced to Biblical criticism? Could they be afraid to question?

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8 June 2005: Robert R. Merhige, Jr., Modern Hero

Earlier this year, The New York Times carried an obituary notice for Robert R. Merhige, Jr., a retired Federal District Judge in Richmond, Virginia. The story opened a flood of memories for me, for I was a citizen of Richmond for eight years and I knew this man both professionally and personally. He stood at …

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Q & A:

I was born and raised Catholic but for many reasons have shed that belief system. I have been attending a Society of Friends Meetinghouse for over a year and it seems to be the best "fit" so far. I am 60 years old and still on this, at times, overwhelming journey. Two questions are uppermost in my mind. I have not received any answers to which I can ascribe, so I thought that it would be interesting to seek your perspective. First, I am the father of a mentally retarded 22 year-old daughter, who functions at about a 2-3 year old level. Of course, there is the familiar lament, "Who will take care of her once I am gone?" But a bigger question is "why?" What purpose does it serve to have her suffer from day one through what life she has? Is her soul retarded? Second, I know that somewhere in the Bible it states that no man will be given more than he can handle. Well, I also had a 30-year old daughter, who suffered from mental illness and wound up putting a bullet through her head. So what happened to the Biblical guarantee in the case of my daughter? Is it any wonder that God, who appears to allow things like this, should have someone ask, "What is going on here?" Is this my punishment for a selfish and sinful past?

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