Friday, May 30, 2008

Bishop Spong's Q&A 5/29/08

Michael Gill from New York City writes:

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.

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your letter. No, I have never considered joining a church other than my own. I am deeply committed to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Of course, both have their faults and I do not spare either in my critical remarks, but I don't believe one can change anything from the outside. Only those who are insiders can do what I do to facilitate transformation.

Having said that, I am not only familiar with but deeply touched by the Unity movement. I would guess that I do three or four events a year in Unity churches in the United States. I love this contact, feel enriched by it and treasure my relationship with this Church.

The Unity movement is grounded in the goodness of creation not in the aberration of that which traditional Christianity has come to call "the fall." They are more in touch with Matthew Fox's Original Blessing than they are with the Church's teaching of original sin. They are therefore more life affirming than life denying.

Unity is deeply committed to education and sponsor classes and lectures constantly. The attention they give to their children is inspiring. The music in the various Unity Churches is normally spectacular. It is always a moving worship service for both my wife and me.

I don't know that Unity will be the Church of the future, but I do believe that the themes of the Unity Movement will be part of the Christian Church of the future. For those looking for a new way to be a Christian and for a church that will allow them to be who they are, I recommend Unity with great enthusiasm, if you can find one where you live. Since you live in New York City, I might add that Unity New York, which meets on Sunday Morning in Symphony Hall (Broadway and 91st), is one to which I am particularly drawn. Paul Tenaglia is their pastor and a spectacularly gifted man and the singing group known as "Spiritus" is worth flying to New York from anywhere just to hear them perform.

- John Shelby Spong

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bishop Spong's Q&A

MaryBrinson from Springfield, Missouri, writes:

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 poverty."

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.

Dear Mary,

I have read the Gospel of Thomas several times and believe it to be the most authentic of the non-canonical gospels. Your letter has captured two of its insights with which I too resonate. The Jesus Seminar actually elevated it into the canon in a seminar-published book called The Five Gospels. The best work done on it is by Elaine Pagels in her book Beyond Belief and by Bart Ehrman in his book Early Christianities.

The Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic gospels offer us a new angle on Jesus and I think we honor that. When orthodox defenders of traditional religious formulas attack alternative understandings, it is because they have assumed that their view has captured truth. That is little more than idolatry.

We walk into the mystery of a God who is beyond words, concepts or human perception. Jesus is for me a doorway into that mystery. Christian language in such concepts as Incarnation and Trinity is designed to put rational shape into that experience. I do not reject that language, but I also do not literalize it.

Thanks for writing.

- John Shelby Spong

Religion vs. The Teachings of Jesus

This past Sunday our study group read and discussed material from Chapter 24 of Bishop Spong’s book ‘Jesus for the Non-Religious’. In that material Spong points out the difference between religion and the teachings of Jesus.

Religions, Spong explains, are not about a search for truth, they are rather the human search for security. The need for security, of course, comes from our human anxiety, which stems from self-consciousnesses and the knowledge of our mortality.

" It is an act of enormous courage to embrace what it means to be a self conscious
human being. It is not easy to live with the awareness of the unrelieved anxiety that is the mark of human life. That is why human beings are almost inevitably religious creatures. Religion meets a desperate and chronic need in the human psyche and has, therefore, a tenacious hold on human life itself. Self-created security is, however, never real. The fact is that religion as it has been traditionally practiced has never provided genuine security, but only its illusion. Most religion has in fact served as an opiate for the people."

The teachings of Jesus, on the other hand, speak nothing of security. They speak of breaking down tribal barriers, overcoming prejudice. He invited his followers to walk in the fullness of life; to love others, to do unto others, as they would have others do unto them. These things were not about security; rather they were about living a fully human life.

But how do we separate the two – religion and the teachings of Jesus – after two thousand years of co-mingling ? It is the religion and its dogma that need to be examined and updated and purged if Christianity is to survive. The teachings of Jesus remain solidly intact.

That’s what I think… but then I could be wrong….barry e

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The trip that never happened

When I was in my early teens I was a member of the Boy Scouts of America – troop #132, First Methodist Church, Princeton, Indiana. At one point our Scoutmaster was a man I’ll call Mr. Edwards (not his real name) One Monday evening at troop meeting, Mr. Edwards announced a contest, “The scout who makes the most advancement between now and next summer will win a trip with me and my family to the Catskill mountains!”

Wow, what an incentive for a bunch of young boys.

I was sure I could win and I began working immediately. In the course of the next ten months I advanced several levels in the Scouting ranks, and seldom was I working on less than three or four merit badges at the same time. It became a friendly but serious competition among fellow scouts.

We maintained a scoreboard in the troop meeting room that allowed us to track our tangible accomplishments but there were intangible elements to the contest as well, things like leadership, participation in troop events and discipline. Mr. Edwards would judge these.

At a meeting in late spring, one of my fellow scouts boldly ask Mr. Edwards when we would know the winner of the contest. Mr. Edwards paused and then without looking up from the papers on the table he said, “I’m afraid there isn’t going to be any trip to the Catskills.” …He then continued on with the troop business with no further explanation.

WHAT??!! NO TRIP TO THE CATSKILLS?? How can there be NO TRIP TO THE CATSKILLS. We had worked our young butts off for almost a year only to hear, THERE WILL BE NO TRIP TO THE CATSKILLS!

As you can imagine we were pretty upset and several parents were upset as well. There were a few phone calls made, a few behind the scenes meetings held and within a couple weeks we had a new Scoutmaster. Mr. Edwards had moved on. A couple disillusioned scouts left the troop as well. As for me, I stayed and enjoyed several more years of Scouting, but this was the Genesis of my total belief in the adage, “Get it in writing.”

It wasn’t until some time later that we (scouts) found out that Mr. Edwards had separated from his wife and was involved in a divorce, and that was the reason there would be no trip to the Catskills. Had Mr. Edwards explained the situation earlier rather than later, perhaps things would have gone much smoother.
Am I wrong in suggesting that the dilemma the church finds itself in today is similar to that of my Scout troop? For two thousand year the church has been promising forgiveness, salvation, and life ever after. Now, common knowledge of the cosmos, life and reality has exposed those promises as mythology and folklore… and the hierarchy of the church is certainly aware of the disparity between academic and popular religion.

What would happen if the church were to announce that “there really isn’t a sky-god and therefore there really is no savior and by the way…heaven is only make believe.” Who among the clergy you know has the ‘guts’ to speak so honestly from the pulpit?

Author Brian Wilson recently wrote, “However uncomfortable, it is time for the clergy to modernize worship and educate their congregations.” …

I agree with him, but I don’t expect to see it happen anytime soon!

But then I could be wrong…………… barry e

Thursday, May 8, 2008

An Alternate to the Lord's Prayer

(I have not been able to determine the author of this prayer)

In the Spirit of love, compassion and tolerance,
We find the source of all that is good,
Hallowed be the presence of this Spirit through all the world.
May it reign among all living beings.
May it bring peace and freedom to all the earth.

With the bread we need for today, may we be fed.
For the hurting we cause one another, may we be forgiven.
In times of temptation and test, may we be strengthened.
From trials to great to endure, may we be spared.
From the grip of all that is evil, may we be freed.

For the Spirit that is love, reigns in the glory and power,
Now and forever.