Thursday, July 19, 2012

What does the cross mean?

Chaplain Timothy Stover of the United Campus Ministry of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, writes:


That “accessory” that hangs around your neck is called a cross.  What meaning does that symbol hold for you at this point in your life?


Dear Tim,
I wear a cross when I am lecturing or functioning liturgically.  I feel quite incomplete without it.  It represents, not a habit, but a conscious decision to claim this ancient symbol for my understanding of Christianity.  It has nothing to do with the all but universal mantra that comes out of Protestant Christianity, which proclaims that “Jesus died for my sins.”  Nor am I enamored of that Catholic mantra that describes the Eucharist as “the sacrifice of the Mass.”  I do not see the crucifixion of Jesus as the moment when salvation came by having Jesus pay the debt for my sinfulness.  I regard that as little more than a guilt-producing expression of a bankrupt theology of atonement.  The sooner we can abandon atonement theology, I believe, the better and healthier Christianity will be.  This atonement theology turns God into an unforgiving monster; it turns Jesus into a chronic, perhaps even a masochistic, victim, and it turns Christians like you and me into being guilt-filled Christ killers.  Besides that it is based on an assessment of human origins that no longer has credibility in scientific or academic circles.
By that I mean that we know now that there was no original perfection from which human life has fallen.  That is an incorrect religious attempt to account for the presence of evil. There is instead an ongoing and unfinished evolutionary process of becoming.  If there was no original perfection, there could not have been a fall from that perfection, so the old concept of “original sin” becomes inoperative and must be jettisoned.
If there was no fall into sin from our original perfection, there is no need to be “saved” from our sinfulness, redeemed from our fall or to be rescued from our lostness.  So the traditional way we tell the Jesus story becomes inoperative.  The cross is not the moment when the price of our sins was paid by Jesus and the idea that “Jesus died for my sins” becomes nonsensical.  To the degree that the cross is a symbol of this theology, it would be a symbol I would not want to use.  That, however, is not my conclusion.  Instead of abandoning the symbol of the cross, I choose to abandon the traditional theology that focused on a particular interpretation of the cross.
I see in Jesus one whose humanity transcended the survival mentality that not only defines our humanity, but also opens this Jesus into being a channel for that quality that we have tended to use the word “divine” to describe.  It is in his ability to love beyond the limits of his definitive boundaries and in his ability to live into a new dimension of what it means to be human that we come to discern that which we call God in him.  It was in his ability to give his life away, to love those who abused him that I see his divinity.  That is what the cross means to me.  Jesus is not a sacrifice that God required to enable God to forgive and restore me to oneness with God.  That idea is repulsive to me.  Jesus is the life so whole, so full and so free that he could give himself away and in that free giving I now see the presence of God.  So the cross is for me a symbol of the fullness of humanity in which the meaning of God can be and is met and experienced.  I want to claim the cross for this understanding and to rescue it from the barbarity to which atonement theology has reduced it.  I cannot do this by allowing the cross to be claimed for that previous understanding.  So I choose to wear the cross because it is for me a symbol of what life can become.  I hope that is helpful for you.
~John Shelby Spong

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

I think the availability of information and differing viewpoints have raised the level of cognitive dissonance so that many are taking actions to reduce the tension by rejecting failed mythology in favor of rational spirituality.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

True Love

Sunday, July 17, 2011

All are in God's Family

Without getting into all the theology and resultant proof texting from "sacred" texts I think God sees all of humanity as His children. God gives us all life, sustains that life force and knows the best and worst about us and yet loves us far more than we earthly parents love our children and grandchildren.

If "God" cannot love us unconditionally while knowing our worst failures then such a "God" only deserves our disdain.

For some reason we cling to the one action that Adam & Eve did in one of the creation stories to cause us to think we are repulsive to God and ignore the life, teachings and supreme examples of love that Jesus (and others) accomplished to demonstrate how much God loves us. We don the filthy diapers of religion, systems, institutions, programs, piety and self-righteousness to hide our nakedness because we think we are too unlovable and unacceptable to live in the affection of God.

We are so wrong.

He created us to love us. He did not create us to demonstrate His superior morality, purity and power. He does not insist we attain a certain level of good behavior or discover and adopt correct thinking in order to gain His favor. In a thousand ways, through people and nature, God reaches out to us showing us His tender affections. Mostly we flee from those ministrations and even go as far as to suggest to other people that they must also behave or think a certain way in order to be worthy of love and acceptence.

Virtually all of our religions simply cannot comprehend such an amazing love so we reject that love or minimize it or add terms and conditions. We turn God's pure and unconditional love for us into rules, rituals and religion. Then, based on our flawed but attempted adherence to manmade rules, we define ourselves as included in God's family and define all others and excluded and outside of God's family.

Often we hear that God never changes, but proponents of a God who is angry and bent on punishment pick a time somewhere in the Old Testament when it appears that God was smiting and spreading pestilence. That vengeful, jealous "God", they say, is the God who never changes. I say the God who never changes is the one spoken of in Ephesians 1. From The Message,
"Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Monday, April 25, 2011

Advice from the Dogma Whisperer

The Dogma Whisperer

This is a new blog I have started, it will be exclusively for Dogma training, advice and related cartoons. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mary Washes Jesus's Feet

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)
Jesus was human.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Click on cartoon for larger image

click on cartoon for larger image

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ugliest Parable

Warning! Do not read this if you are easily shocked or offended.

Last Saturday morning I ended up babysitting my 3 year old grandson. I normally very much enjoy spending time with him as he is playful, bright and ever so energetic. But that day I was also trying to finish working on a very important project. One that potentially affected the lives and livliehoods of thousands of people.

I lovinginly explained the important project to my grandson and set up a bunch of toys so that he could play quietly in my den. He had all of his favorite toys, some of his favorite snacks, and his favorite movie was playing on the tv. He had everything he needed.

I rarely have to discipline him and even then nothing more then a stern word will usually get him to straighten up and fly right. I did not expect any trouble this morning. He knew how to behave.

After just a short time he threw a ball and it knocked over my coffee, spilling it on the keyboard. I chided him for being careless and cleaned up the mess. Not five minutes later he ran a toy truck into the surge protector and caused my PC to shut down. Again I sternly warned him to be careful. And further stated that any more nonsense would not be tolerated. He was ruining important things.

Fifteen minutes later, after I rewrote a whole section of my document from memory, he had an "accident". He had gotten involved in play and was certainly not going to interupt me again for any reason. So now I had to stop and find new clothes for him to put on, not to mention cleaning up a smelly, horrid mess. By this time I was angry. I reminded him that I didn't want to punish him like I had to do once with his older brother. I told him that all he had to do was play quietly for a half hour or so and not break any of the house rules then we could go outside and play.

Not 3 minutes later he spilled his juice all over my freshly cleaned carpet. That was it! He knew the rules, he knew there was a time limit and he knew the consequences of choosing to be careless and inconsiderate.

I had no choice but to punish him. Since he had been so overtly disobedient and since the time limit had run out my only real option was punishment. It was actually past time for it but I had been lenient in the hopes he would straighten up on his own. So I explained to him how much I loved him and to show it I now had to pour scalding hot water on him and then lock him in a totally dark room. I explained to him that he was no longer my grandson and no one would every respond to his cries.

Thats what truly loving grampas do. Justice and enforcement of the rules is so much more important then correction and mercy. If only he had made the correct decisions in a more timely manner!

Oh wait, thats not what happened, not what happened at all. That is just an ugly parable of what most have been taught as the Good News of the Gospel. That is exactly the message that most have heard all their lives. That is the despiciable lie we have been told about our loving Father.

Is God not more loving then us? Is He not more merciful then us? Is He not more forgiving then us? Is His justice nothing less than perfect and His purpose nothing less than the restoration of everybody and everything?

In Gods eyes are we not all toddlers, barely able to keep our diapers clean? In comparison to eternity just how much do we mature from age 4 to 84? We can only trust Him as much as we think He loves us. Many billions of people have never and will never come to any knowledge and understanding of His love. Certainly God has made provision for this sad circumstance.

To believe that the One who created us, the One who sustains us and the One who indwells us will allow us to be physically tortured for all eternity for being who He designed and created us to be is ridiculous at best and a damnable lie at worst.

From Richard Rohr -
Most people I know can eventually forgive and forget. But not our god! God does not forgive until he or she gets some appropriate penance, reparations, and repayment. (Actually reaffirmed in common sacramental practice). This is supposedly needed by one who has nothing better to do than keep accounts and do a self centered cost analysis on everything. Sort of like Santa Claus, “making a list and checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice.” The Lord of this beautiful and self renewing cosmos ends up looking instead like an anal retentive banker or a brooding maiden aunt. It just doesn’t match the cosmic evidence. And it particularly does not match the evidence for those who have prayed—or experienced divine forgiveness.

Most of my Jewish and Christian friends are very tolerant and accepting of different races, cultures, and religions. They are willing to see good wherever good is to be seen. But not our god. Our god only likes “born again” Americans, and preferably morally successful and “normal” people, who hopefully attend my denominational service on the proper day. (This is easily the quickest growing form of religion in most countries today!). Even stingy little Richard Rohr ends up being much more caring, patient, generous, and merciful than Yahweh Sabaoth! How did we get to such absurdity? Especially, after Jesus spends most of his ministry affirming those who are wounded, unworthy, not successful, normal, or properly affiliated?

I really understand that, but it is quite clear to me in the later years of my life, that God does not love me if I change, but God loves me so that I can change. That is an entirely different agenda. What makes the Good News good news is precisely that God loves and defends unworthy and non-innocent life! Otherwise, you and I have little hope.

What makes the Good News good news is precisely that God loves and defends unworthy and non-innocent life! Otherwise, you and I have little hope.

Jesus is the universalist par excellance, always making the outsider the heroes of his stories: the non-Jews appear as those with more faith and more compassion, the sinners become those who are saved, the women better than the men, and as he continually puts it, “the last will be first”— while the so-called elect and chosen are his constant opponents.

He does not begin with any preoccupation with human sinfulness or the weighing of worthiness or unworthiness (that is the preoccupation of the ego). In fact, he just assumes that we are all “sick and in need of a physician.” As he puts it, “I did not come to call the virtuous” (Mark 2:17). Jesus’ starting place is human suffering instead of human sinfulness. How else can you explain his fulltime ministry of healing, exorcism, affirmation of the excluded ones, and the alleviation of human distress and humiliation? He is not naïve about sin, but just recognizes that human sinfulness, “hardness of heart,” is much more a symptom than a cause. Sin largely reveals the problem and he uses it for diagnostic purposes not for condemnation or exclusion. Sin, for Jesus, is not a set of purity codes or debt codes—which he goes out of his way to flaunt— but inner attitudes which blind and bind us inside of ourselves, and away from communion and mercy.

It is not moral unworthiness that keeps people from God, but moral righteousness and self-sufficiency. It is that simple recognition, which is almost his constant message, that makes Jesus the ultimate, perennial, and radical reformer of religion. And why religious people oppose him.

If people do not go beyond first level metaphors, rituals, and comprehension, most religions seem to end up with a God who is often angry, petulant, needy, jealous, and who will love us only if we are “worthy” and belonging to the correct group. We end up with the impossible scenario of a God who is “small,” and often less loving than the best people we know! This supposedly divine love is quite measured and conditional, and yet ironically demands from us a perfect and unconditional love.

Such a salvation system will never work, unless we allow an utterly new dimension of love “to astonish us and stand us on our ears,” as Isaiah says above. Unless God is able and allowed to love us unconditionally, we will never know how to do the same.

Most people I know would never torture another human being under any conditions. Yet people
believe in a god who not only tortures, but tortures for all eternity. That is bitter vengeance by anyone’s definition. Why would anyone want to be alone with such a testy and temperamental god? Why would anyone go on the great mystical journey into divine intimacy with such an unsafe lover? Why would anyone trust such a god to know how to love those who really need it? I personally know many people who are much more generous and imaginative than this god is. We have ended up being ourselves more loving, or at least trying to be, than the god we profess to believe!

Such a religion is in deep trouble—at its core.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The objective reality that we were all forgiven, atoned, reconciled, justified and made righteous at the cross is not dependent upon our subjective awareness of those results.

Every man, woman and child who has ever existed shares this same status before God. The problem is that very few know this and can live in the security and power of it.

Some think religious practice is the way to gain God's favor. The problem is that we already have His favor. Ultimately any effort at rule keeping and ritual observances are just efforts at self-righteousness. God does not require religious practice.

We are righteous, forgiven, justified and atoned because of what Jesus did in His life and death. We can't add one ounce of our own righteousness. All we can do is live in the awareness of what He has already done, for us and everyone.