Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This past weekend I had the honor of officiating at my niece's wedding. Ministry is a "calling" for me. I cannot imagine doing anything else. But occasions like these make ministry a true joy as well.

Back to blogging. It is Halloween! I love Halloween. On Halloween we let our id have its night! Wikipedia offers this article on Halloween.

Our discussion of "God" continues. Next time we look at the various "theisms" such as monotheism, polytheism, atheism, pantheism and so forth. Pick your favorite!


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Westar Fellow: Perry Kea

Perry Kea has been a Fellow of Westar since 1987. He wrote an article last year in the Fourth R, that outlines the history of the Jesus Seminar in light of the larger historical scope of the quest for the historical Jesus. His article is entitled The Road to the Jesus Seminar. Here is an excerpt:

The quest for the historical Jesus was a product of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in eighteenth-century Europe and North America that promoted reason as the sole standard for establishing matters of truth. The ramifications were enormous. The political underpinnings of the American and French revolutions were established by Enlightenment figures (for example, Locke and Voltaire). The scientific method was born out of the Enlightenment. The privileging of reason over other modes of knowledge (such as tradition) meant that history was brought "down to earth" so to speak. The reasons why things happened in the past had to be sought within the space-time continuum of human life without appeals to divine agency. Just as the scientist could not appeal to supernatural forces to explain natural events, so the Enlightenment historian could not claim that historical events happened because "God so willed it." The Fourth R
Perry Kea chairs the Philosophy and Religion Deparatment at the University of Indianapolis. Both Perry and Hal Taussig will be our speakers at the Jesus Seminar on the Road at our congregation next weekend.

Westar is not affiliated with any church. Some of the Fellows are involved in faith communites, others are not. Both Perry and Hal are active United Methodists. I featured Hal earlier in his role as a pastor.

They will be talking about faith communities in the first and twenty-first centuries. There will be a lecture Friday evening from 7:30-9 p.m. On Saturday, we will have two workshops from
9:30 to noon and from 1:30-4:00. You can attend one, two or all three workshops. If you have not yet registered you can do so by calling toll free (877) 523-3545 or on-line. You can, of course, register at the door.

We have about 50 or so who have already pre-registered. Some from as far away as Lexington, KY and McLean, Virginia. I look forward to a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


A theology for the 21st century needs to take seriously our context. I am reading Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World by Richard Heinberg.

This is the sequel to his earlier book, The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. Both are sobering works. I recommend reading his latest book first. He summarizes The Party's Over in the first chapter of Powerdown and offers options for responding to this reality.

His thesis is that we have reached or will reach within the next few years, peak oil. I have discussed this in an earlier post. In Powerdown, he writes that we have four options:

1) Last One Standing: the path of competition for remaining resources. (This appears to be our current administration's plan to control the remaining oil reserves militarily).

2) Powerdown: the path of cooperation, conservation, and sharing. (This would require all nations of the world to name the issue, change drastically our way of living, and work for justice so that all people of Earth may have access to basic needs).

3) Waiting for a Magic Elixir: wishful thinking, false hopes, and denial. (This appears to be the option of most of our population. We think that in the nick of time we will find some magic technological advance to replace fossil fuels and be able to continue our way of life).

4) Building Lifeboats: the path of community solidarity and preservation. (This involves working with our neighbors to sustain small communities (gardens, energy sharing, etc.)

Heinberg suggests that a combination of Powerdown and Building Lifeboats are the best options for our survival. This book is an important read. It is a book for those who are not afraid to learn the truth about what we are facing.

What does this mean theologically? Where is God in all of this? My prediction is that when we begin to feel the crunch most theology will revert to option three: Waiting for a Magic Elixir.

That will take the form similar to the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

In this scenario, our crisis will lead to the magic return of Jesus who will save us (at least save the true believers).

Throughout history, this type of theology has emerged during times of crises only to leave the believers disappointed. It is in my opinion, less than adequate theology, to put it mildly.

I believe there are other options. There are other ways to conceive of God's activity in the world and our response to God that are more realistic and more healthy and hopeful for Earth and its inhabitants. Options two and four, powerdown and building lifeboats need to be understood theologically as the way the Holy Spirit can prepare humanity for a sustainable and peaceful future.

This is at the heart of my theological project. I don't pretend to have the answers. I am simply one voice among many calling for us to wake up and respond.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Via Negativa: How Not to Speak of God

In a sermon I preached earlier this year, I said the following:

As a minister I have discovered from people who come to me with anxieties about faith, that in virtually every situation, the problem is not that they need to believe in something. The problem is that they need to cease their belief. They believe in things that are not helpful. They believe in things that are false, at times even harmful.

These are beliefs that have been given to them by religion. Not necessarily bad religion, sometimes toxic religion, but usually not. Usually, just religion in general. This is what the Bible is. This is who God is. This is who Jesus is. Many of us come to a point in our lives when these beliefs that we have been given do not seem to be working, but they seem to be so absolute. Rather than do the obvious and change our beliefs, we think we must keep believing these things even though they seem to make less and less sense and take more and more effort to explain. We think we should believe more or pray more or sin less. We think there is something wrong with us when we struggle with our inherited beliefs.

My role as a minister, oddly enough, has been one in which I find myself helping people let go of their beliefs rather than encouraging them to believe harder or to add more beliefs to their collection. This way of letting go—this way of emptying—is a spiritual path. There comes a time when we need to give up those things that we once thought were absolute.

As we begin speaking of God, we recognize that everything we say is inadequate. Everything that we say God is, God is not. The Via Negativa is the stripping away of our idolatries. No matter how wise our conceptions or how vibrant our experience of revelation, we realize ultimately, that we "see in a glass darkly."

When we recognize that nothing can capture God, then we can appreciate the icons of God in our midst. We can appreciate scripture, tradition, stories, language, experiences, and rituals. They are pointers to God, but cannot be identified exclusively with God.

Via Negativa is a check on idolatry. For instance, we might say the Bible is God's Word. But it is also not God's Word. God cannot be limited to a book. To say as much is to worship the Bible. That is bibliolatry. When we realize that the Bible is not God's Word, then we can say it is God's Word.

The same could be said for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God revealed. But Jesus Christ does not exhaust God.

By analogy, say you live in a bubble and have no connection with other living things. One day you are shown a rose. You ask what it is and you are told that it is a rose. You ask what that is and you are told that it is nature. You smell it. You touch it. You are pricked by its thorns.

Were you lied to when you were told that it is nature? No. It is nature. It is nature perfectly. Yet, does it exhaust nature? No. It is not nature.

The via negativa begins with the no. God is not.

Conversation has emerged about a book by Peter Rollins called How Not to Speak of God. I have not read the book. But I am reading Dwayne's World. He has been reading it and commenting on it. Here are his posts in order:

How not to speak of God, God rid me of God, and the aftermath of theology.

Dwayne includes this quote from Rollins in regards to the problem of idolatry, particularly the idolatry of our doctrines:

Indeed, this can be seen as one of the central problems with the Pharisees as represented in the New Testament, for they held so closely to their interpretation of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different to what they expected, they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation. link

You can read an interview with Rollins here. And this is a description of his community called Ikon. It is part of what he calls the emerging movement. Rollins embraces what he calls "heretical orthodoxy." In his interview he describes what he means:

In many respects the idea of ‘heretical orthodoxy’ strikes at the heart of my intellectual project to date. I have become increasingly concerned that much of the contemporary church has taken a wrong turn by embracing the Enlightenment influenced idea that theology is that which speaks of God i.e. theology is that which makes claims about the nature and essence of God. In light of this, orthodoxy has been interpreted as ‘right belief’ and subsequently been employed as a means of identifying those who supposedly possess a correct understanding of God. In this way the orthodox individual stands in contrast to the heretic i.e. to one who holds wrong beliefs about God. In a nutshell I argue that this idea of orthodoxy is both
fundamentally flawed deeply dangerous. In opposition to this dominant view I put forward the idea that orthodoxy, if it is to remain true to the biblical narrative, must be understood as ‘believing in the right way’. This Hebraic rereading of orthodoxy is no mere reversal of the first reading (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief) but rather places it on a fundamentally different level. When orthodoxy is reinterpreted in this manner it no longer needs to exist in opposition to heresy, but can actually embrace it. In heretical orthodoxy we can thus affirm the long lost mystical insight that God is received but never conceived (i.e. that we will always fall short of understanding the God we are in relationship with) and that the mark of this reception is not the manifestation of some doctrinal system that supposedly defines God, but rather is made manifest in the life of one who helps to transform the world in Christ-like love.

I like that phrase, heretical orthodoxy, and I like what he means by it.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Context for a 21st Century Theology

"God" is the next topic for discussion of Theology for the 21st Century. How do we speak meaningfully about God given our context? I am particularly concerned about our context as it relates to this short video. Just click the image.

Work for Peace,

A New Reformation

Matthew Fox pictured at right posting his 95 theses at Wittenberg. Martin Luther was the original radical who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517 with his 95 theses.

The following is from Yes! Magazine.
Like Luther, I present 95 theses or in my case, 95 faith observations drawn from my 64 years of living and practicing religion and spirituality. I trust I am not alone in recognizing these truths. For me they represent a return to our origins, a return to the spirit and the teaching of Jesus and his prophetic ancestors, and of the Christ which was a spirit that Jesus’ presence and teaching unleashed.

1. God is both Mother and Father.

2. At this time in history, God is more Mother than Father because the feminine is most missing and it is important to bring gender balance back.

3. God is always new, always young and always “in the beginning.”

4. God the Punitive Father is not a God worth honoring but a false god and an idol that serves empire-builders. The notion of a punitive, all-male God, is contrary to the full nature of the Godhead who is as much female and motherly as it is masculine and fatherly.

5. “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves.” (Eckhart) Thus people who worship a punitive father are themselves punitive.

6. Theism (the idea that God is ‘out there’ or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (panentheism).

7. Everyone is born a mystic and a lover who experiences the unity of things and all are called to keep this mystic or lover of life alive.

8. All are called to be prophets which is to interfere with injustice.

9. Wisdom is Love of Life (See the Book of Wisdom: “This is wisdom: to love life” and Christ in John’s Gospel: “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance.”)

10. God loves all of creation and science can help us more deeply penetrate and appreciate the mysteries and wisdom of God in creation. Science is no enemy of true religion.

11. Religion is not necessary but spirituality is.

12. “Jesus does not call us to a new religion but to life.” (Bonhoeffer) Spirituality is living life at a depth of newness and gratitude, courage and creativity, trust and letting go, compassion and justice.

13. Spirituality and religion are not the same thing any more than education and learning, law and justice, or commerce and stewardship are the same thing.

14. Christians must distinguish between God (masculine and history, liberation and salvation) and Godhead (feminine and mystery, being and non-action).

15. Christians must distinguish between Jesus (an historical figure) and Christ (the experience of God-in-all-things).

16. Christians must distinguish between Jesus and Paul.

17. Jesus, not unlike many spiritual teachers, taught us that we are sons and daughters of God and are to act accordingly by becoming instruments of divine compassion.

18. Ecojustice is a necessity for planetary survival and human ethics and without it we are crucifying the Christ all over again in the form of destruction of forests, waters,
species, air and soil.

19. Sustainability is another word for justice, for what is just is sustainable and what is unjust is not.

20. A preferential option for the poor, as found in the base community movement, is far closer to the teaching and spirit of Jesus than is a preferential option for the rich and powerful as found in, for example, Opus Dei.

21. Economic Justice requires the work of creativity to birth a system of economics that is global, respectful of the health and wealth of the earth systems and that works for all.

22. Celebration and worship are key to human community and survival and such reminders of joy deserve new forms that speak in the language of the twenty-first century.

23. Sexuality is a sacred act and a spiritual experience, a theophany (revelation of the Divine), a mystical experience. It is holy and deserves to be honored as such.

24. Creativity is both humanity’s greatest gift and its most powerful weapon for evil and so it ought to be both encouraged and steered to humanity’s most God-like activity which all religions agree is: Compassion.

25. There is a priesthood of all workers (all who are doing good work are midwives of grace and therefore priests) and this priesthood ought to be honored as sacred and workers should be instructed in spirituality in order to carry on their ministry effectively.

26. Empire-building is incompatible with Jesus’ life and teaching and with Paul’s life and teaching and with the teaching of holy religions.

27. Ideology is not theology and ideology endangers the faith because it replaces thinking with obedience, and distracts from the responsibility of theology to adapt the wisdom of the past to today’s needs. Instead of theology it demands loyalty oaths to the past.

28. Loyalty is not a sufficient criterion for ecclesial office—intelligence and proven conscience is.

29. No matter how much the television media fawn over the pope and papacy because it makes good theater, the pope is not the church but has a ministry within the church. Papalolotry is a contemporary form of idolatry and must be resisted by all believers.

30. Creating a church of Sycophants is not a holy thing. Sycophants (Webster’s dictionary defines them as “servile self-seeking flatterers”) are not spiritual people for their only virtue is obedience. A Society of Sycophants — sycophant clergy, sycophant seminarians, sycophant bishops, sycophant cardinals, sycophant religious orders of Opus Dei, Legioneers of Christ and Communion and Liberation, and the sycophant press--do not represent in any way the teachings or the person of the historical Jesus who chose to stand up to power rather than amassing it.

31. Vows of pontifical secrecy are a certain way to corruption and cover-up in the church as in any human organization.

32. Original sin is an ultimate expression of a punitive father God and is not a Biblical teaching. But original blessing (goodness and grace) is biblical.

33. The term “original wound” better describes the separation humans experience on leaving the womb and entering the world, a world that is often unjust and unwelcoming than does the term “original sin.”

34. Fascism and the compulsion to control is not the path of peace or compassion and those who practice fascism are not fitting models for sainthood. The seizing of the apparatus of canonization to canonize fascists is a stain on the church.

35. The Spirit of Jesus and other prophets calls people to simple life styles in order that “the people may live.”

36. Dancing, whose root meaning in many indigenous cultures is the same as breath or spirit, is a very ancient and appropriate form in which to pray.

37. To honor the ancestors and celebrate the communion of saints does not mean putting heroes on pedestals but rather honoring them by living out lives of
imagination, courage and compassion in our own time, culture and historical moment as they did in theirs.

The cover of Matthew Fox's lastest book: A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity

38. A diversity of interpretation of the Jesus event and the Christ experience is altogether expected and welcomed as it was in the earliest days of the church.

39. Therefore unity of church does not mean conformity. There is unity in diversity. Coerced unity is not unity.

40. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through participatory democracy in church structures and hierarchical modes of being can indeed interfere with the work of the Spirit.

41. The body is an awe-filled sacred Temple of God and this does not mean it is untouchable but rather that all its dimensions, well named by the seven charkas, are as holy as the others.

42. Thus our connection with the earth (first chakra) is holy; and our sexuality (second chakra) is holy; and our moral outrage (third chakra) is holy; and our love that stands up to fear (fourth chakra) is holy; and our prophetic voice that speaks out is holy (fifth chakra); and our intuition and intelligence (sixth chakra) are holy; and our gifts we extend to the community of light beings and ancestors (seventh chakra) are holy.

43. The prejudice of rationalism and left-brain located in the head must be balanced by attention to the lower charkas as equal places for wisdom and truth and Spirit to act.

44. The central chakra, compassion, is the test of the health of all the others which are meant to serve it for “by their fruits you will know them” (Jesus).

45. “Joy is the human’s noblest act.” (Aquinas) Is our culture and its professions, education and religion, promoting joy?

46. The human psyche is made for the cosmos and will not be satisfied until the two are re-united and awe, the beginning of wisdom, results from this reunion.

47. The four paths named in the creation spiritual tradition more fully name the mystical/prophetic spiritual journey of Jesus and the Jewish tradition than do the three paths of purgation, illumination and union which do not derive from the Jewish and Biblical tradition.

48. Thus it can be said that God is experienced in experiences of ecstasy, joy, wonder and delight (via positiva).

49. God is experienced in darkness, chaos, nothingness, suffering, silence and in learning to let go and let be (via negativa).

50. God is experienced in acts of creativity and co-creation (via creativa).

51. All people are born creative. It is spirituality’s task to encourage holy imagination for all are born in the “image and likeness” of the Creative One and “the fierce power of imagination is a gift from God.” (Kaballah)

52. If you can talk you can sing; if you can walk you can dance; if you can talk you are an artist. (African proverb and Native American saying)

53. God is experienced in our struggle for justice, healing, compassion and celebration (via transformativa).

54. The Holy Spirit works through all cultures and all spiritual traditions and blows “where it wills” and is not the exclusive domain of any one tradition and
never has been.

55. God speaks today as in the past through all religions and all cultures and all faith traditions none of which is perfect and an exclusive avenue to truth but all of which can learn from each other.

56. Therefore Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism are a necessary part of spiritual praxis and awareness in our time.

57. Since the “number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship with one’s own faith,” (the Dalai Lama) it is important that Christians know their own
mystical and prophetic tradition, one that is larger than a religion of empire and its punitive father images of God.

58. The cosmos is God’s holy Temple and our holy home.

59. Fourteen billion years of evolution and unfolding of the universe bespeak the intimate sacredness of all that is.

60. All that is is holy and all that is is related for all being in our universe began as one being just before the fireball erupted.

61. Interconnectivity is not only a law of physics and of nature but also forms the basis of community and of compassion. Compassion is the working out of our shared interconnectivity both as to our shared joy and our shared suffering and struggle for justice.

62. The universe does not suffer from a shortage of grace and no religious institution is to see its task as rationing grace. Grace is abundant in God’s universe.

63. Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection are continuously happening on a cosmic as well as a personal scale. So too are Life, Death and Resurrection (regeneration and reincarnation) happening on a cosmic scale as well as a personal one.
Biophilia or Love of Life is everyone’s daily task.
Necrophilia or love of death is to be opposed in self and society in all its forms.
Evil can happen through every people, every nation, every tribe, and every individual human and so vigilance and self-criticism and institutional criticism are always called for.

67. Not all who call themselves “Christian” deserve that name just as “not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Jesus).

68. Pedophilia is a terrible wrong but its cover-up by hierarchy is even more despicable.

69. Loyalty and obedience are never a greater virtue than conscience and justice.
Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality.

71. A church that is more preoccupied with sexual wrongs than with wrongs of injustice is itself sick.

72. Since homosexuality is found among 464 species and in 8 percent of any given human population, it is altogether natural for those who are born that way and is a gift from God and nature to the greater community.

73. Homophobia in any form is a serious sin against love of neighbor, a sin of ignorance of the richness and diversity of God’s creation as well as a sin of exclusion.

74. Racism, Sexism and militarism are also serious sins.

75. Poverty for the many and luxury for the few is not right or sustainable.

76. Consumerism is today’s version of gluttony and needs to be confronted by creating an economic system that works for all peoples and all earth’s creatures.

77. Seminaries as we know them, with their excessive emphasis on left-brain work, often kill and corrupt the mystical soul of the young instead of encouraging the mysticism and prophetic consciousness that is there. They should be replaced by wisdom schools.

78. Inner work is required of us all. Therefore spiritual practices of meditation should be available to all and this helps in calming the reptilian brain. Silence or contemplation and learning to be still can and ought to be taught to all children and adults.

79. Outer work needs to flow from our inner work just as action flows from non-action and true action from being.

80. A wise test of right action is this: What is the effect of this action on people seven generations from today?

81. Another test of right action is this: Is what I am doing, is what we are doing, beautiful or not?

82. Eros, the passion for living, is a virtue that combats acedia or the lack of energy to begin new things and is also expressed as depression, cynicism or sloth (also known as “couchpotatoitis”).

83. The Dark Night of the Soul descends on us all and the proper response is not addiction such as shopping, alcohol, drugs, TV, sex or religion but rather to be with the darkness and learn from it.

84. The Dark Night of the Soul is a learning place of great depth. Stillness is required.

85. Not only is there a Dark Night of the Soul but also a Dark Night of Society and a Dark Night of our Species.

86. Chaos is a friend and a teacher and an integral part or prelude to new birth. Therefore it is not to be feared or compulsively controlled.

87. Authentic science can and must be one of humanity’s sources of wisdom for it is a source of sacred awe, of childlike wonder, and of truth.

88. When science teaches that matter is “frozen light” (physicist David Bohm) it is freeing human thought from scapegoating flesh as something evil and instead reassuring us that all things are light. This same teaching is found in the Christian Gospels (Christ is the light in all things) and in Buddhist teaching (the Buddha nature is in all things). Therefore, flesh does not sin; it is our choices that are sometimes off center.

89. The proper objects of the human heart are truth and justice (Aquinas) and all people have a right to these through healthy education and healthy government.

90. "God” is only one name for the Divine One and there are an infinite number of names for God and Godhead and still God “has no name and will never be given a name.” (Eckhart)

91. Three highways into the heart are silence and love and grief.

92. The grief in the human heart needs to be attended to by rituals and practices that, when practiced, will lessen anger and allow creativity to flow anew.

93. Two highways out of the heart are creativity and acts of justice and compassion.

94. Since angels learn exclusively by intuition, when we develop our powers of intuition we can expect to meet angels along the way.

95. True intelligence includes feeling, sensitivity, beauty, the gift of nourishment and humor which is a gift of the Spirit, paradox, being its sister.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radical Reformation

I have concluded my section on Creation. If you look to the right of my blog you can see that I have added a section entitled, Theology for the 21st Century. Under that is the heading "Preliminaries" then "Our Context" and the first topic, "Creation." "God" is next.

I have more preliminaries to add.

Robert W. Funk, biblical scholar, and founder of the Westar Institute, prepared these twenty-one theses for the reformation of the church. I am curious as to what you think of these?

These 21 theses are found in his 1996 book, Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium. They were also printed in The Fourth R in 1998.

  1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.
  2. The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.
  3. The deliteralization of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis brought an end to the dogma of original sin as something inherited from the first human being. Death is not punishment for sin, but is entirely natural. And sin is not transmitted from generation to generation by means of male sperm, as suggested by Augustine.
  4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible, in spite of the fact that most people still believe it. Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood. Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable; otherwise they contradict the regularity of the order of the physical universe.
  5. Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity. Prayer should be understood principally as meditation—as listening rather than talking—and as attention to the needs of neighbor.


  1. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.
  2. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.
  4. The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
  5. The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense. The meaning of the resurrection is that a few of his followers—probably no more than two or three—finally came to understand what he was all about. When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive.
  6. The expectation that Jesus will return and sit in cosmic judgment is part and parcel of the mythological worldview that is now defunct. Furthermore, it undergirds human lust for the punishment of enemies and evildoers and the corresponding hope for rewards for the pious and righteous. All apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda.

God's Domain according to Jesus

  1. Jesus advocates and practices a trust ethic. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, is characterized by trust in the order of creation and the essential goodness of neighbor.
  2. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet.
  3. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy.
  4. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. The church has insisted on the necessity of mediators in order to protect its brokerage system.
  5. For Jesus, the kingdom does not require cultic rituals to mark the rites of passage from outsider to insider, from sinner to righteous, from child to adult, from client to broker.
  6. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they sponsor it.
  7. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and exodus are the true conditions of authentic existence.

The canon

  1. The New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of orthodox attempts to invent Christianity. The canon of scripture adopted by traditional Christianity should be contracted and expanded simultaneously to reflect respect for the old tradition and openness to the new. Only the works of strong poets—those who startle us, amaze us with a glimpse of what lies beyond the rim of present sight—should be considered for inclusion. The canon should be a collection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits, like the myth of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable or the myth of the American West.
  2. The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior that should govern human behavior for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.

The language of faith

  1. In rearticulating the vision of Jesus, we should take care to express ourselves in the same register as he employed in his parables and aphorisms—paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor. Further, our reconstructions of his vision should be provisional, always subject to modification and correction.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Creation: In the Right Time

(I found the image to the right on Sea Raven's web page)

This is my myth of creation. It has evolved since I wrote its first draft in 1999. I am not a poet, but I try. Mystery is the word I use for the creative force of the Universe. I would love to read your comments, affirmations, and critiques. I do not necessarily respond to comments on my blog, but I read them and appreciate them. You get the last word!

Creation: In the Right Time

In the beginning…
Is there a beginning?
Before beginnings,
Before time,
Outside of space—
In the right time,
When Mystery began to move,
A small speck,
Smaller than an electron,
Smaller than a quark,
A tiny speck existed.
This tiny particle contained all the mass and energy of existence.
All the forces of chaos and of life waited.

Mystery moved and the particle exploded and the Universe burst forth.
Time and space,
All that is…became.
In a flash of energy,
In a flash of light,
In a vibration of sound,
Ten to the billionth power of an atomic explosion is but a drop in the ocean
Compared to the energy created by Mystery.

Cascading light,
And searing heat danced around and around and out.
Spinning and twirling for millions of years—
The fireworks of Mystery,
Dancing to its symphony.
In the right time these dancers gathered
Gathered and gathering,
Neutrons, protons, electrons
Hydrogen and Helium forming in the right time
Balls of light and heat
Pulling and pushing mass and energy into their dance.
Stars and planets and solar systems and galaxies danced to the music of Mystery.
They found their rhythms,
Their paths and their orbits and their place.

In the right time,
Certain solar systems and certain planets
because of their size and the distance from their suns,
were found suitable for something more.
One such planet, an ordinary blue dot in the suburbs of the Milky Way gave birth.
(There may be many other planets who are also life-giving—
Maybe someday those who wonder will be rewarded—
In the right time—
But for now we know of this one.)

Mystery moved,
And this one planet,
The third from its sun,
Was covered with a thick organic soup.
Hydrogen and Oxygen combined in the right parts,
And Carbon swam with them and the basics of Life joined the dance.

As Mystery moved through the soup,
millions and millions of complex organisms were born.
They all knew a different song and they lived and they died.
Some species survived,
Some did not.
All in their time.

In the right time, the land masses formed,
The continents shifted,
Foliage appeared and new creatures were formed and moved from water to land.

Time passed and Mystery kissed the earth—
Slowly, slowly, hundreds of millions of years passed.
Life changed little by little,
Finally, huge beasts joined the dance.
The Triceratops and the Brontosaurus, Pterodactyls and
Tyrannosaurus Rex lumbered to the music of Mystery.
And these great beasts ruled the earth,
Until nature shifted, and the time came when they were no more.

Mystery moved through all the changes of creation,
Sometimes suddenly, usually slowly,
New species evolved from older species
In the right time,
The hominoids evolved from their ancestors.
They struggled and they changed and adapted to their surroundings.
Mystery moved through all these changes and blessed these creatures.
As they were ready in the right time,
They developed skills to master their surroundings.
They discovered tools, fire, and communication.
They developed abstractions like thought, reflection, wonder, puzzlement, love,
And a desire to seek Mystery.

Mystery blessed this desire and sought out those humans who were sensitive to
Mystery to tell stories about who they were,
And how they came to be, and what they might yet do.
The Summerians, the Hebrews, the Persians, the Greeks,
Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims told their stories.

Mystery was called by different names in different languages in different places—
The Great Spirit, Marduk, the Goddess, Brahman, The Holy One of Israel, God, Sophia, Christ, Allah, The No-Thing, the Ground of Being.
But Mystery is elusive, not allowing a name to tame it,
Allowing no human to claim it for a possession.

Mystery allows but a glimpse, a darkened mirror.
Yet Mystery blesses all who seek wisdom, who quest for the truth.
Mystery seeks out those who are sensitive to it.
Sometimes Mystery calls us through stillness—
Silent as a Spruce stretching for the sun—
Sometimes She speaks in the cries of the hungry and destitute—
Sometimes He rolls with easy laughter.
Mystery moves—as Earth changes, as the Universe changes—
As human beings change.

Mystery lures us toward life and creativity,
Inviting us to choose the dance.
Chaos and destruction are choices as well.
Yet Mystery will not be limited by our choices.
Creation continues.
Mystery shows us that there is much more than what we see.
There is much, much more to come.

In the right time.

And it is good.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Creation Mythologies: A Summary

My post on Sophia raised interest. Here are some resources for those interested in exploring this further. Elizabeth Johnson, a systematic theologian at Fordham, wrote She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse

Kathleen O'Connor, is a Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. She wrote The Wisdom Literature which I quoted earlier.

Hal Taussig, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York,

(who is coming to Elizabethton, November 3-4), wrote with Susan Cole, and Marian Ronan Wisdom's Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration.

Finally, Caitlin Matthews, authored Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God

Today, I want to summarize the creation mythologies in the Hebrew Scriptures. I use the word mythology intentionally. Mythology, to use a Jungian phrase, is our collective unconscious projected onto story--onto a movie screen. Mythology is a literary way of giving our inner anxieties and hope meaning. Through mythology we write about ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

The divine names and the personalities and stories associated with them are part of who we are. All of the creation narratives are mythologies. All of the characters associated with these stories (Sophia, Elohim, El Shaddai, Yahweh, Leviathan, Rahab, Marduk, Krishna, Allah, Buddha, Zeus, Christ, and so forth) represent our inner struggles.

Are these mythologies "real?" Yes and no.

They are not real if we think of real as being scientific or historical.
Adam and Eve never existed.
Elohim did not create the universe in six days.

They are real in that they represent our inner realities. They are real in that they provide a way through story and ritual to help us get a handle on our anxieties. They help us navigate our way through life.

They also may be real in another sense. They may represent a reality beyond that which we see with our senses. When we enact rituals toward Yahweh, Jesus, or Sophia, we may be praying to a spiritual reality that does exist even though we (humankind) have created the symbols for this reality.

Some initial observations:

Point 1: This needs to be said because of the literalism that has dominated Christianity (ie. creationism). The creation myths of the Bible are neither scientific nor historical. They tell us nothing about how Earth and the Universe has come to be nor how homo sapiens have evolved. The sooner Chrisitianity understands its story as mythological, the sooner we will be able to move toward a more authentic faith for our time.

Point 2: These mythologies were created in a time when Earth was seen as the center of the cosmos. See Setting the Stage: How the Ancients Viewed the Cosmos. We need a modern mythology reflecting what science has shown us regarding Earth and the Universe.

Point 3: The biblical myths of creation have precursors in Summerian and Babylonian mythology. They also have echoes with mythologies from cultures outside the Ancient Near East. They utilize common symbols. They adapted these symbols and characters to create their myths. See Enuma Elish.

Point 4: The Bible is literature. It was created over centuries with many voices contributing to its narrative. See Father Guido Sarducci and Julius Wellhausen.

Point 5: When we see the biblical myths in their context as a human response to their anxieties we can appreciate them and draw from them for our context.

How can we make use of the biblical creation myths?
Before we ask that question, we need to ask: what anxieties do these myths address?

Here is a summary of the four principle creation mythologies in the Bible:

1: Yahweh conquers and subdues chaos. See Rahab, Leviathan and Behemoth: The Chaotic Trinity. Life is chaotic. Destructive forces are all around us. Floods, wars, sickness, death. Is someone in control? Will we be overtaken by these forces of destruction? Will our enemies destroy us? Who or what is our enemy? The myth of Yahweh subduing Leviathan puts these fears into a larger picture of the power of creation over chaos.

2: Yahweh creates the first humans. See Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. What is the difference between humans and animals? What does it mean to be conscious? Why are we ashamed of our nakedness? What is knowledge and why is it desirable and what are its negative consequences? Why do brothers kill each other? Why do we die? Will Elohim care for us?

3: Elohim creates Earth and Sky in six days and rests on the seventh. See Setting the Stage and Enuma Elish. Life is not good. Nature is a threat. Humankind works endlessly to survive. We have little value. We are slaves. In response, Genesis 1 tells us that Elohim has ordered the cosmos. Humankind is created in the divine image. Sabbath is a gift to us.

4. Sophia (Wisdom) creates and is the foundation for the cosmos. See Getting Wise with the Wisdom Woman: Sophia and Creation. Human beings are stupid. There is no wisdom in this world. Earth is a tragedy, a mean joke, and the most ignorant are in control. Sophia responds that wisdom is really the foundation of Creation. Do not despair, trust in wisdom.

Certainly there is much more to say about these mythologies. The beauty of mythology is that there are many interpretations. Many of the anxieties we face have been faced by our ancestors.

What might we take from these mythologies of creation as we create our own myths and our own rituals?

Again, I think we begin by naming our anxieties. Here are some of my personal anxieties. Perhaps you have many of the same ones:

  • What will happen when I get sick?
  • What will happen when a loved one dies?
  • What will happen when I die?
  • Am I valuable?
  • Have I made any positive contribution?
  • Does it even matter?
  • What does it take to be happy or at peace?
  • Am I good?
  • Am I good enough?
  • Is there meaning in the universe?
  • Am I no different than the mosquito I killed this morning?
  • Does it matter?
  • Will I always owe my soul to the company store?
  • Do I have any power?
  • Is Brewster Walker right?
  • Is there all just b_ _ _ _ r down here on Earth?

And I have other anxieties.

  • Will humanity survive the 21st century?
  • Will humanity survive the first half of the 21st century?
  • What will happen to my great-nieces and nephews and the babies I baptize?
  • Ecology!
  • Energy!
  • Economy!
  • Entitlement!
  • Exceptionalism!
  • Empire!
  • And this...
  • Will we find the creative power to deal with our struggles, or will we be taken in by the destructive powers of Leviathan and Behemoth?

So, we need a myth. A myth that speaks to us. We need myths and rituals that empower us. Myths and rituals that bring out the best of our natures. Make your myth! Discover your ritual!
Share it. Humanity needs it.

My myth of creation next time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sea Raven

The progressive movement in Christianity takes many forms. I am featuring Westar Fellows and Associates who have found scholarship regarding the historical Jesus useful in their lives. Sea Raven (pictured to the right) earned her D. Min. (Doctor of Ministry) from the University of Creation Spirituality. You can find out more about Creation Spirituality and the work of Matthew Fox here.

Sea Raven has used her education to enhance worship and ritual. She is a harpist, singer, writer, and Earth Liturgist and a consultant for worship and the arts in the D.C area.

She posted her D. Min. dissertation on-line. It is entitled The Wheel of the Year: A Worshipbook for Creation Spirituality.

Sea Raven writes:

If the institutional Christian church is to remain relevant, an approach such as the one illustrated in this Worship Book is essential. Like the shamans of neolithic and aboriginal tribes, post-modern spiritual leaders must become priests and priestesses of the cosmos. By entering and living the metaphors presented by the new cosmology of the 3rd Millennium C.E., those called to such a role become entrancers, enchanters, mediators of the sacred realms. (pp. 1-2)
In the first 20 or so pages of her dissertation, Sea Raven provides a nice introduction to Creation Spirituality with its emphasis on

  • original blessing rather than original sin,
  • feminine images of the Divine,
  • accepting evolution and our modern cosmology,
  • the historical Jesus,
  • mysticism,
  • non-Christian religious expression,
  • ritual and worship that engages all of the senses.
The second and third parts of her dissertation describe the elements of ritual and the wheel of the year, respectively.

Here is a ritual for Halloween or All Saints that you can share with a small group. Notice how the ritual includes all of the senses from making wreaths to smelling herbs, to sharing a real meal, to prayers, to moving the body, to rest.

Sea Raven is one of many examples of people who are searching for (and expressing) a faith for the 21st century (or as she writes, the 3rd millenium). She has not given up on the Christian faith, she is participating in its transformation.

Blessed Be,

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Getting Wise with the Wisdom Woman: Sophia and Creation

Sophia and her 3 Daughters, Faith, Hope & Charity/Love
- from a Russian Icon


You of the whirling wings,
circling, encompassing energy of God:
you quicken the world in your clasp.

One wing soars in heaven,
one wing sweeps the earth,
and the third flies all around us.

Praise to Sophia!
Let all the earth praise her!

-Hildegard of Bingen

Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. She is personified in Proverbs and in the deuterocanonical/apochryphal works of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon among others.

Sophia has an important role in creation mythology. This is from Proverbs 8:22-31

22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

This is from Ecclesiasticus 24:1-24:34:

24Wisdom praises herself,
and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
2In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
3‘I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and covered the earth like a mist.
4I dwelt in the highest heavens,
and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
5Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
and traversed the depths of the abyss.
6Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
and over every people and nation I have held sway.
7Among all these I sought a resting-place;
in whose territory should I abide?

8‘Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, “Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.”
9Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
10In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
11Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting-place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
12I took root in an honoured people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

13‘I grew tall like a cedar in Lebanon,
and like a cypress on the heights of Hermon.
14I grew tall like a palm tree in En-gedi,
and like rose-bushes in Jericho;
like a fair olive tree in the field,
and like a plane tree beside water I grew tall.
15Like cassia and camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume,
and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance,
like galbanum, onycha, and stacte,
and like the odour of incense in the tent.
16Like a terebinth I spread out my branches,
and my branches are glorious and graceful.
17Like the vine I bud forth delights,
and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit.

19‘Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
20For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
21Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
22Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin.’

23All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God,
the law that Moses commanded us
as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob.
25It overflows, like the Pishon, with wisdom,
and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruits.
26It runs over, like the Euphrates, with understanding,
and like the Jordan at harvest time.
27It pours forth instruction like the Nile,
like the Gihon at the time of vintage.
28The first man did not know wisdom fully,
nor will the last one fathom her.
29For her thoughts are more abundant than the sea,
and her counsel deeper than the great abyss.

30As for me, I was like a canal from a river,
like a water channel into a garden.
31I said, ‘I will water my garden
and drench my flower-beds.’
And lo, my canal became a river,
and my river a sea.
32I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
33I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations.
34Observe that I have not laboured for myself alone,
but for all who seek wisdom.

Who is Sophia? This is from Kathleen O'Connor's book, The Wisdom Literature:

Who is this Wisdom Woman, this alluring figure of poetry? Is she merely a literary fiction drawn to contrast a life of wisdom with a life of folly? Is she a personification of the order and harmony in creation? Is she a personification of an attribute of God? Or, is she a divine being, a way of speaking of God in metaphorical language? In the texts about her, there are many indications, connotative rather than denotative, allusive rather than descriptive, that the Wisdom Woman is more than a cipher for the human virtue of wisdom. She is herself God. Much of what is said about her can only be said of God. She existed before the creation of the world and she participated in its formation as a major artisan ([Proverbs] 8:30). She is a tree of life and in her hand she holds life itself (Prov 3:16, 18). Through her, kings reign, princes rule, and rulers decree what is just (Prov 8:15). She pours out her spirit upon her followers and reveals her words to the ones who seek her (1:23). These are activities of God. They are divine prerogatives, activities to benefit humankind which God alone performs. (pp. 82-83)

Sophia certainly has divine characteristics. In I Corinthians 1:24, Paul describes Christ as the wisdom (Sophia) of God. I wonder if Jesus or the early Gospel writers who interpreted Jesus were thinking of Sophia's feast when Jesus offered bread and wine to his followers? Check out Proverbs 9:1-6:

9Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
4‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
5‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.’

We will return to Sophia when we speak further about God and Jesus. For other interesting views about Sophia, go to Esoteric Mystery School, or the Catholic Network for Women's Equality, or the The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, or read an article from Christian Century, or go to Voices of Sophia.

In the meantime, I will close with this prayer to Sophia:

Great Light,
Hidden within this darkness,
Unlimited Fire,
Brilliant Emanation,
Sapientia Dei,
Beauty and wonder
that fills me like water to a sponge,
Holy Spirit,
Rising Dawn,
Lily of the Valleys,
Tree of Life,
You Are Beautiful!

To Wisdom!


Monday, October 16, 2006

The Once and Future Jesus

I am still working on Sophia and Creation. While you browse in patient anticipation, here is something interesting. In 1999, the Jesus Seminar voted on several statements regarding the historical Jesus and the future of the church. I thought you would be interested in how they voted. I would be curious as to your response. How would you vote?

Here are the questions and results taken from the web site:

Voting results are from balloting at the panels of the Once & Future Jesus Conference, October 20–23, 1999

Panel Discussion: The Future of Jesus
Thursday, 21 October 1999
John Dominic Crossan, Sanford Lowe , Robert J. Miller , Daryl D. Schmidt, Bernard Brandon Scott, James A. Veitch


  • What unresolved issues remain in the current quest of the historical Jesus?
  • What is the next stage in the quest?
  • What is at stake in the quest of the historical Jesus?
  • Does the historical Jesus matter? In what ways?
    [E.g., does it matter whether Jesus was a sage or an apocalypticist?]
  • Does the historical Jesus have a future in the next millennium?
  • What impact will his restored memory have on religion in the years ahead? On the churches? On the relationship of Christianity to Judaism and other religions?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. The historical Jesus matters in important ways for understanding the Christian faith.
  2. Fellows : .97 RED Associates: .95 RED
  3. The quest of the historical Jesus attempts to separate the historical figure from the mythic overlay imposed on his memory by his early followers.
  4. Fellows: .87 RED Associates: .93 RED
  5. The quest of the historical Jesus attempts to isolate his message from Christian interpretations of it.
  6. Fellows: .78 RED Associates: .82 RED
  7. The future of Jesus does not depend on exclusive claims made for him, such as his status as God incarnate or as the Jewish messiah.
  8. Fellows: .90 RED Associates: .87 RED
  9. The future of Jesus lies in his wisdom as a sage.
  10. Fellows: .78 RED Associates: .75 RED
  11. The message of the historical Jesus has little relevance for contemporary believers.
  12. Fellows: .51 PINK Associates: .44 GRAY
  13. Jesus will return someday and usher in a new age.
  14. Fellows: .00 BLACK Associates: .07 BLACK
  15. The world will come to a cataclysmic end in the near future as a direct act of God.
  16. Fellows: .00 BLACK Associates: .03 BLACK
  17. The memory of Jesus of Nazareth demands that Christians acknowledge and condemn the persecutions and oppressions carried out in his name.
  18. Fellows: .88 RED Associates: .89 RED

Panel Discussion: The Church of the Future
Friday, 22 October 1999
Marcus Borg, Gerd Ludemann, Lane McGaughy,
John Shelby Spong, Hal Taussig, Walter Wink

Topic A: The relation of the historical Jesus to the church

    How is the quest for the historical Jesus related to the institutional church? Have the churches kept up with, and adapted to, the advances in historical knowledge of Christian origins?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. Jesus intended to establish an ongoing movement that would carry on his ministry.
  2. Fellows: .34 GRAY Associates: .37 GRAY
  3. The future of Jesus' vision and influence in culture is tied to the survival of the church as we know it.
  4. Fellows: .34 GRAY Associates: .35 GRAY
  5. The future of the church depends on its recovery of the historical Jesus.
  6. No vote taken.
  7. The symbol of the cross should be reinterpreted to avoid connotations of the blood atonement.
  8. Fellows: .80 RED Associates: .85 RED
  9. The ancient creeds perpetuate a mythological worldview and should be replaced with a summary of Jesus' vision for the world.
  10. Fellows: .52 PINK Associates: .59 PINK

Topic B: Worship

    Since religious rituals testify to a complex mix of each particular community's social setting and ever-changing symbols, what symbols, social indicators, and worldviews do the rituals of the churches of the future need to incorporate? What changes in traditional symbols are called for? What social styles of leadership and participation need to be evoked? How has the work of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and the arts changed our understanding of what ritual accomplishes? What kinds of new rituals and worship patterns do these contemporary understandings point to?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. The historical Jesus' practice of open commensality directs the churches to welcome all to its communion celebrations without regard to creed, race, sex, sexual orientation, or church membership.
  2. Fellows: .92 RED Associates: .95 RED
  3. New music, art, worship forms, and ways of praying need to be created to free the churches for creative expressions of community like that experienced in many early Christian communities.
  4. Fellows: .83 RED Associates: .81 RED
  5. God intervenes in history in response to petitionary prayer.
  6. Fellows: .06 BLACK Associates: .22 BLACK
  7. The intense social interaction of Jesus' prayer life calls the churches of the future to abandon an otherworldly prayer vocabulary and to relate their prayers to the world which they inhabit.
  8. Fellows: .62 PINK Associates: .69 PINK

Topic C: Church leadership and training

    Are traditional job descriptions and seminary training adequately preparing ministers and priests for the challenges of the new millenium?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. Ministers and priests are not special brokers of God's grace.
  2. Fellows: .82 RED Associates: .92 RED
  3. A primary function of ministers and priests should be that of teaching.
  4. Fellows: .78 RED Associates: .86 RED
  5. Churches and their leaders ought to show more respect for the intelligence of their members by speaking more knowledgeably and candidly about Christian origins and the history of the church.
  6. Fellows: .92 RED Associates: .94 RED

Topic D: The church and ethical issues

    What is the impact of the quest for the historical Jesus on ethical issues and the nature of religious community? Do certain understandings of gender and sexuality inherited from the ancient and medieval worlds need to be rejected?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each one is.
  2. Fellows: .86 RED Associates: .88 RED
  3. The Bible contains a consistent, external, timeless standard of ethical behavior.
  4. Fellows: .11 BLACK Associates: .19 BLACK
  5. The content of Jesus' example and teaching is something to be discovered and reinterpreted for each generation.
  6. Fellows: .89 RED Associates: .80 RED
  7. The offices of the church should be open to all regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
  8. Fellows: .93 RED Associates: .96 RED
  9. The churches should review and revise the canon of scriptures.
  10. Fellows: .48 GRAY Associates: .50 GRAY

Topic E: The church and other religious traditions

    Does the church have a responsibility to confront those who perpetuate violence against other ethnic and religious groups, often in the name of Jesus? Can the church still make exclusivistic claims in the face of the global community in which religious traditions are interacting with each other on a daily basis?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. The task of recovering the historical Jesus includes the need for the church to confess and disown the history of oppression and acts of violence perpetrated in his name.
  2. Fellows: .83 RED Associates: .87 RED
  3. The church should acknowledge that it does not possess the only access to the sacred by regularly dialoguing and cooperating with other religious traditions.
  4. Fellows: .94 RED Associates: .95 RED

Panel Discussion: The Future of the Faith
Saturday, 23 October 1999
Robert W. Funk, Lloyd Geering, Roy W. Hoover,
Karen L. King, Thomas Sheehan, John Shelby Spong

Group I. The message of Jesus

  • Topic A:
  • Can Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God be a gospel in the 21st century?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God can be the Christian gospel for the twenty-first century.
  2. Fellows: .75 PINK Associates: .78 RED
  3. The gospel of Jesus intends to divert us from evil and aimlessness, and summons us to commit ourselves to truth and integrity, compassion and justice.
  4. Fellows: .77 RED Associates: .85 RED
  5. The gospel of Jesus is an ideal vision of the good life. It cannot be fully realized in actual human experience. [God's will cannot be done on earth as it is done in a mythical heaven.]
  6. Fellows: .63 PINK Associates: .46 GRAY

Group II. The role and status of Jesus

  • Topic B:
  • What is the importance of the historical Jesus for Christian faith in the 21st century?
  • Topic C: If the death of Jesus was not a divine sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, what is the significance of the cross in a modern understanding of Christian faith?
  • Topic D: If the resurrection of Jesus was an affirmation of faith by his followers, not a supernatural act of God that restored Jesus to life, what is the meaning and significance of the resurrection for contemporary Christian faith?
  • Topic E: Is the affirmation of Jesus' resurrection a promise of life after death, or does it actually serve to validate Jesus' faith in God and the hope of personal and societal transformation in this life?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. Christian faith in the twenty-first century can function very well with Jesus as prophet and sage. It does not require a God incarnate or a Jewish messiah.
  2. Fellows: .57 PINK Associates: .74 PINK
  3. The cross symbolizes Jesus' willingness to die for his gospel, not a sacrifice for sins.
  4. Fellows: .62 PINK Associates: .80 RED
  5. The resurrection means that what Jesus stood for—the kingdom of God—outlives him, not that his corpse was resuscitated.
  6. Fellows: .67 PINK Associates: .80 RED
  7. The affirmation of Jesus' resurrection does not entail the promise of life after death.
  8. Fellows: .60 PINK Associates: .73 PINK

Group III. Theology and tradition

  • Topic F:
  • How should we think and speak about our relation to tradition?
  • Topic G: If supernaturalism is no longer tenable, what remains of the Christian faith?
  • Topic H: Does the future of the faith require a revised canon of scripture?
  • Topic I: If the old concept of God is no longer tenable, what are the contours of a new and viable concept?
  • Topic J: How should we regard the Bible, if it furnishes us with neither fixed standards of behavior nor with the unchanging forms of an orthodox faith?

Ballot items (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. God intervenes in history in response to petitionary prayer.
  2. Fellows: .19 BLACK Associates: .24 BLACK
  3. Since supernaturalism is embedded in a pre-scientific world, it lacks credibility both as a view of the world and as an understanding of Christian faith.
  4. Fellows: .80 RED Associates: .70 PINK
  5. Learning to think historically about Jesus and Christian origins is an essential element of a modern Christian faith.
  6. Fellows: .83 RED Associates: .80 RED
  7. We need a new concept of God, one that correlates with our modern experience and understanding of the world.
  8. Fellows: .78 RED Associates: .83 RED
  9. The Bible is neither the inerrant word of God nor the only word of God.
  10. Fellows: .93 RED Associates: .97 RED
  11. The Bible is a record of the origins and mythology of the faiths of Israel and the orthodox Christian movement. It should be supplemented with documents representing a wider range of early Christian options.
  12. Fellows: .81 RED Associates: .81 RED

Group IV. The Christian faith and world religions

  • Topic K:
  • How should we understand the relation of Christian faith to the other world religions?

Ballot item (for an explanation of the voting color scheme, click here):

  1. People of Christian faith should affirm the aspect of the holy that appears in every great religion.
  2. Fellows: .82 RED Associates: .89 RED

Voting color scheme


Strongly Agree

.7501 and up



.5001 to .7500



.2501 to .5000


Strongly Disagree

.0000 to .2500