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One Woman's Opinion

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Florida Update, Part 3

Urbanna, Va.— If your religious beliefs and general outlook on life are in need of some refreshment, I recommend Bishop John Selby Spong. He was a guest speaker in Naples one Sunday at the Unity Church. I made a point of being in the audience.

Spong, brilliant, controversial and thought-provoking, is an author and theologian who served as an Episcopalian bishop in Newark, New Jersey, for many years. He is famous for offering new lens on Christianity.

At 78, Bishop “Jack” has the tall, craggy, good looks of Gary Cooper. Born and raised in North Carolina, he served in Virginia churches and is well known by Virginia Episcopalians. He is not beloved by all Christians, just those that admire honest intellectual courage and consider continued mental challenge an integral part of  spiritual journey.

The Unity Church is a spacious, mostly glass, circular building overlooking a lake. Over 600 turned out to hear the bishop. I had never attended a Unity service, but the church is friendly and all are welcomed. The man who sat next to me hugged me so hard during the official greeting that my sunglasses were crushed into my skin.

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
We sat in comfortable chairs rather than pews, sang songs where words were flashed on a large overhead screen and I didn’t need my glasses to read them. A violinist from the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra played classical music. We sang the Lord’s Prayer while holding hands, and the prayer was a meditation where Reverend Richard Rogers took the congregation on a journey to total relaxation before addressing God.  

The bishop spoke high praise of the Unity Church calling it the “avant guard movement in Christianity.” His message to us was “resonate deeply, live fully, and love wastefully” as we become all that we can be in life. I really loved the part about loving wastefully, at which I am exceedingly adept.

Many religions in the world teach evil, Spong explained. “Our work as Christians is not to make the world “religious,” but to transform the world so that each person can live fully,” he said.

The wrong message of Christianity, according to Spong, is teaching guilt and making man feel like a miserable, hopeless sinner who is unable to save himself. Teaching guilt is a powerful message . . . but it is never positive, he added.

Hell, in the bishop’s mind, is similar to the Apostle Paul’s definition: the inability to see the face of God within ourselves and our fellow man. Eternal life comes from living one’s life according to the values of Jesus: loving and forgiving others.

The bishop’s ideas have evolved from years of research and study of the scriptures and a thorough knowledge of the most advanced scientific discoveries in the universe. “We live in a post Darwin world,” he said. “Before Darwin, man was considered a little less than angels and, after Darwin, he was considered a little more than apes.”

Spong is very good at such one-liners that deliver his message and also trigger immediate applause and laughter. “It is time to turn the Hubble telescope within the human brain rather than on outer space,” he said, suggesting that God is everywhere on earth including within each person. “We need new language and focus to understand the meaning of scriptures today.”

Spong believes that life after death is real but he cannot describe what it will be like. “We can’t find the divine unless we as humans live life to its fullest extent.” That means taking risks and going to the nth degree in pursuing dreams. “If you want to understand life after death, do everything you can to understand life on earth.”

Jesus and his disciples are not just religious figures but actual historical people, Spong explained. “There is no doubt that the life and death of Jesus transformed the world. Even though the gospel was written many years after the crucifixion of Jesus from hearsay reports, there is no doubt that something spectacular happened after the crucifixion.”

According to Spong, the proof of this is that in just one generation a new holy day was added to the week. There had already been Saturday for the Jews but, after Jesus, Sunday also became a recognized Sabbath in honor of the resurrection which, according to Spong, was an intellectual event rather than a physical event.

Whereas many Christians won’t agree with Bishop Spong’s message, it is important that the world hear his ideas. Religions evolve and Christianity is no exception. With Spong’s new definitions, many previously unable to understand traditional scripture may come to a clearer picture of the Christian message. ©2010

posted 02.18.2010

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