Archive for November, 2010

Bishop Spong on Christian Values I: Love

November 8, 2010 - 6:49 pm 40 Comments

Bishop Spong and The Church

A Question about The Prophetic/Justice Imperative contrasted to the Motives of the Institutional Church; The Love of God vs. Love of the Neighbor

Dr. Wallace from Pennsylvania writes:

“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.”

Dear Dr. Wallace,

You touch the ultimate question that always hampers the Christian Church. I am not sure Christianity would have survived for 2000 years had it not been institutionalized. I am not sure if it will survive the next 100 years because it is institutionalized.

Every institution places its ultimate weight on preserving its own life. That is why the Church emphasizes loving God over loving one’s neighbor. Loving God can be expressed through worship and liturgy, building stone monuments and in filling them with music as well as mystery. These are the emotions that build great cathedrals, vest clergy elaborately, decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, create chorales and oratorios, all of which shroud God in mystery and wonder and draw people, who are always seeking relationship with the holy, into the Church’s orbit engaging them in worship. This serves the Church’s need for power that has always been its highest priority.

The push for justice on the other hand might be at the center of the Gospel but it also attacks the balance of power in the society. Since the rich always exploit the poor, to give the poor power, dignity and humanity makes them less pliable, less cooperative. Prejudices also cover human insecurities and so they always receive religious sanctions. The Bible portrays God justifying the hatred of the Hebrews for their overlords, the Egyptians. Otherwise, the story of the divine plagues aimed at the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus makes no sense.

White people cover their fear and insecurity against people of color by subjugating them as either slaves (later segregation and dehumanizing prejudice) or as vassal states to a colonial empire. Males cover their masculine sense of inadequacy by treating women as second-class citizens. Heterosexuals reveal their sexual insecurity by oppressing homosexual persons. It is interesting to me to see how throughout history we blessed our prejudices with sanctified quotations from Holy Scriptures as if to say God shares our prejudices with us.

The great biblical tradition says that loving God and loving one’s neighbor are not two separate actions but two sides of the same action. It was the prophet Amos who bore witness to the fact that divine worship is nothing but human justice being offered to God and human justice is nothing but divine worship being lived out. It was the First Epistle of John that warned us that one cannot love God without loving one’s neighbor and to suggest otherwise is to be “a liar.” It was Jesus himself to whom the words are attributed that his purpose is to bring life and to bring it abundantly. To be a disciple of Jesus means a dedication to being a life giver, a life enhancer to all people at all times and under all circumstances. Finally, in the parable of the Judgment in Matthew 25, the entire basis of salvation is said to be not the way one believes, that is to creeds, doctrines and dogma but whether or not one serves the Christ who is to be seen in the faces of the poor, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned and the sick.

The task of people like you, Ned, is to call institutional Christianity daily to accept its vocation to follow its Lord by giving its life in the service of others. But lest you be disillusioned, you need always to be aware that the people who will hear the call of Christ and the call that you have so often heard and to which you have given yourself so courageously will always be a minority,

a saving remnant within the body of believers. However, that witness is essential to the life and health of the whole body. It is a fact that the great reformers of Christian history were generally regarded as troublemakers in their own generation. Only history applauds the prophet. The vast majority of those who share your generation, Ned, will be forgotten in a generation or two. But your work will be enshrined in the memory of the people you have served so deeply that it will finally enter the mythology of their culture. That is no insignificant contribution.

An All Soul’s Reflection

November 1, 2010 - 12:23 pm 491 Comments
An Inclusive Reflection On The Meaning Of  All Soul’s Day
As people who seek to find hidden meanings and inclusive understanding, the usual approach toward holidays and holy days of other denominations is one of curiosity and interest- curiosity, maybe even an appreciation of the tradition and the beliefs involved, but rarely is it a full acceptance and a rightful adoption into our own calendar of meaningful events.
Briefly, all through church history, there has been the pattern of adopting indigenous holidays and making them ” Christian.” All Hallows Eve was a time when the dead came alive and their spirits walked the earth for the last time before being sent up to heaven or being condemned to Hell. It was a time for ghostly visitations, and when the energies and impulses toward good and evil became manifested in people and the culture.
The Church, seeing this as a pagan revelry celebrating the harvest and the mischief of merrymaking, transformed it into a night where there was a battle of good and evil and the night before all the Saints- when all the blessed faithful would ascend to heaven to be with God. This more pious approach became a Holy Day of Obligation- a time when everyone was to go to church and pray for the souls of the faithfully departed, that they might rest in peace, and that their entry into heaven would be assured.
However, that practice became modified and exclusive. It became a day for honoring those appointed few and those who received an official recognition by the Church as a saint…. leaving a vast majority of us in the category of sinners who still had to worry about going to Hell!
The pious doctrines of the Church shifted the prayers to focus on the necessity and the appeal to those saints and to God to answer their prayers, thereby releasing people from Purgatory- that in-between place called Limbo was also taught up to the 1970’s- which was was the place of judgment of eternal salvation versus eternal damnation.
Because being holy or heroic is beyond most of us, at any one time, being a saint was culturally considered to be an exclusive club or high achievers… which deteriorated over time into an “Us and Them” dualities that emphasized who was saved and who was not, who had God’s favor and who were headed straight for Hell…
As the old joke goes… you know, some people always seem to get a lift, and catch the elevator going up to heaven, and some people… well.. . Some people seem to always get the shaft!
In a noble and inclusive recognition of this theological either/or, it was corrected to rebalance the scales of judgment in a way that promoted equality before God… What was then instituted was another day to follow, and that day would be for the rest of us; and a day when all the faithfully departed, would gain entry into the everlasting mercy and peace known as heaven. That became All Soul’s Day.
For those of us who have chosen a more inclusive, accepting, and less judgmental view, who have concluded from their careful Bible study and an appraisal of Western theology, that if God were as good as all these orthodox priests and ministers claim, then why would there be such fear and grief over death? Why would there be a question about salvation, and a nagging worry about where one’s soul goes after death?
If God is good, and a God that is love, there is nothing to fear for any or all of us, whether they are strong believers and even the most adamant of unbelievers, all of us will still go to heaven…
Why even the Devil himself will be saved in the end! (Al Pacino included!!!)All Soul’s is a day that affirms the goodness of God, the defeat of the teachings on damnation, and acts as a reminder of our humanness, when we honor and recall those people who still live in our hearts who have departed this earthly life. It can be solemn and it can be joyful; it can be filled with gratitude as they are remembered with respect and compassion. All Soul’s Day is an yearly occasion when we begin to evaluate the past and appraise the future; when friends, families, or a community comes together to remember that we live our lives in between memory and hope.


The Devil and his Friend

One day, the Devil went out for a walk with his friend…. They saw a man ahead of them stop, stoop down and pick up something from the ground…

” What did the man find?”, asked the friend. The Devil said, ” Oh, he found a piece of the Truth.” “Doesn’t that disturb you?”, asked the friend…

“No” said the Devil- “I just will let him make a religious doctrine out of it”

A religious belief is only a signpost pointing towards the truth. When you cling to the signpost you are prevented from moving ahead to the goal. When you believe that you have the whole truth, there is no incentive to find out more or expand your understanding of truth that comes in from all directions.