Today is the 80th Birthday of John Shelby Spong
J. S. Spong is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, USA. Many churches have called him Atheist (when he was a Bishop) and many more have called him much worse things, including saying that they’d like to see him die and rot in hell.
Having talked to some Muslims who felt that Spong is a Sufi (or wants to be one!), I have met many others who think he is nuts and should not be allowed to say such things. I even met one who thought he should be tried for Blasphemy.
John Shelby Spong was regarded a fearless advocate for church reform, a heretic to some and a hero for others. The first to ordain an openly gay priest, he asked Christians to leave behind "premodern" religion in favor of liberal faith.
He has degrees from the University of North Carolina and the Protestant Episcopal Theolgical Seminary. Saint Paul's College conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree on Spong and he has served as a visiting lecturer at many institutions, including Harvard Divinity School. He has published several books that I have loved.
I just thought I’d honor him by writing his ‘Prologue’ from his book, ‘Jesus for the Non-Religious’, in my blog today so that many of you could read what he says.
THE LAMENT OF A BELIEVER IN EXILE
Where have you gone?
When did we lose you?
Was it when we became so certain that we possessed you
That we persecuted Jews,
And used violence and war to achieve conversion?
Was it when our first-century images
Collided with expanding knowledge?
Or when biblical scholars informed us that the Bible does
Not really support what we once believed?
Was it when we watched your followers distorting people
Was it when we noticed that many who called you Lord
And who read their Bibles regularly
Also practiced slavery,
And hated homosexuals?
Was it when we finally realized
That the Jesus who promised abundant life
Could not be the source of self-hatred,
Or one who encourages us to grovel
In life-destroying penitence?
Was it when it dawned on us that serving you would require
The surrender of those security-building prejudices
That masquerade as our sweet sicknesses?
We still yearn for you, Jesus, but we no longer know where
To seek your presence.
Do we look for you in those churches that practice certainty?
Or are you hiding in those churches
That so fear controversy that they make “unity” a god,
And stand for so little that they die of boredom?
Can you ever be found in those churches that have
Rejected the powerless and the marginalized,
The lepers and the Samaritans of our day,
Those you called our brothers and sisters?
Or must we now look for you outside ecclesiastical settings,
Where love and kindness expect no reward,
Where questions are viewed as the deepest
Expressions of trust?
Is it even possible, Jesus, that we Christians are the villains
Who killed you?
Smothering you underneath literal Bibles,
And dying structures?
If these things are the source of your disappearance, Jesus,
Will you then reemerge if these things are removed?
Will that bring resurrection?
Or were you, as some now suggest, never more
Than an illusion?
By burying and distorting you were we
Simply protecting ourselves
From having to face that realization?
I still seek to possess what I believe you are, Jesus:
Access to and embodiment of
The Source of Life,
The Source of Love,
The Ground of Being,
A doorway into the mystery of holiness.
It is through that doorway that I desire to walk.
Will you meet me there?
Will you challenge me,
Reveal your truth to me and in me?
Finally, at the end of this journey, Jesus,
Will you embrace me
Inside the ultimate reality
That I call God
In whom I live
And have my being?
For that, Jesus, is my goal in this book.
Lots of admiration and love!