A Little Farther Down the Path: Convictions

Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.

Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading

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A Little Farther Down the Path: Healing Spiritual Wounds

I am not a medical professional, but I assume that, if an individual shows up at the emergency room in excruciating pain from some sort of injury, the first order of business is to ease the pain so that the injured party can assist the attending physician in determining the cause and extent of the injury, thereby abetting treatment and eventual healing. The same procedure applies to pain inflicted through psychological and spiritual injury as well. Continue reading

Harry Stanhope’s Dream

September 2030.

Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.

He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Be a Prophet, I Just Want to Go Home

A friend once described my perception of Christian discipleship as eclectic, and he wasn’t paying me a compliment. He believed that I had drunk from too many different wells, had Rube Goldberg inventiondabbled in too many different traditions, and the result was a sort of “Rube Goldberg” contraption that made Christian life far more complicated than it needed to be.

In response, I suggested that his perception of Christian faith, arising as it did from the tradition into which he had been born, was far simpler than it ought to be. By that I meant that his restricted exposure to traditions outside his own and his limited experience with approaches to Christian faith and practice other than in the community of his birth left him with a myopic perspective. His view of Christianity, I believe, is not merely more simple than mine, it is simplistic. Continue reading

“I Feel Your Pain”—A Post for Holy Saturday

Dear Kathryn:

With this post I conclude the series of email exchanges into which you and I entered more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of Lent, the Holy Saturday of Passion Week as it is known in the liturgical tradition. Lent has been a good experience for me this year, owing in large part to the disciplined reflection your thoughtful questions have fostered. I hope you have found the experience equally beneficial.

It seems only right to conclude the series on the same theme with which it began: the need for change in the life of a growing, thinking Christian. Continue reading

Beyond Right and Wrong: A Maundy Thursday Appeal

Owing largely to my upbringing in Christian fundamentalism, until just a few years ago, I was completely convinced I had everything figured out when it came to matters of faith and doctrine. Oh, I had made some changes to my thinking in a few areas—as when I embraced the Anabaptist view of biblical nonresistance—but, for the most part, my beliefs and convictions were firmly established on conservative evangelical presuppositions. Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun

Dear Kathryn:

It has been five days since my last letter to you. In that time, you have sent three notes to me, and I wanted to let you know that I received them. Each one posed thoughtful questions with regard to my current views on important issues, and I thank you for sending them.

In response to my two letters in which I tried to answer the question “What exactly is the Gospel?” you asked me to say more about how I understand the term “salvation.” You wondered what I believe was accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross, and you asked what I now believe about hell as a place of conscious torment and punishment for those who die in their unbelief. Those questions were all in the first of your three recent notes. Continue reading