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Thursday, June 16, 2011

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.

And think!


Ah, Jesus!
 Where have you gone?
   When did we lose you?
Was it when we became so certain that we possessed you
  That we persecuted Jews,
    Excommunicated doubters,
     Burned heretics,
      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
 With guilt,
     And anger?
Was it when we noticed that many who called you Lord
 And who read their Bibles regularly
  Also practiced slavery,
   Defended segregation,
    Approved lynching,
     Abused children,
      Diminished women,
       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,
    Dated creeds,
     Irrelevant doctrines,
     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,
   Guide me,
    Confront 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 move
     And have my being?

For that, Jesus, is my goal in this book.


Lots of admiration and love!

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Anonymous Nuzhat Kidvai said...

Wow!! What an amazing excerpt. Ufff!! I think every believer - through whatever religion /belief - who is trying to find the Truth, needs to read this piece. It transcends divisions.
If only people would understand!! Truly a great man!
Thanks Zaheer for posting it. Have always enjoyed and valued every lecture, talk or article I have read by him.
I only wish there were a Muslim Scholar as great, for Muslims NEED one, as no other religion does! The loss of humaneness among Muslims has been so destructive!
We have lost the essence of our religion because of those who have taken control of it & propagate inhumanity of every kind in its name.

17 June, 2011 15:09

Blogger Mehwish A.Sattar said...

I loved it honestly. Very Thought provoking.. I read it twice and can't stop my self to tell you that you are a great man with great thought. Thanks a ton Sabeen for sharing it.

19 June, 2011 01:46

Blogger DhiRAj SinGh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

19 June, 2011 15:37

Blogger DhiRAj SinGh said...

Wow, he does sound awesome... thanx for sharing!
But I've also come to realise this thing about religion that followers/congregations themselves often prefer some sort of exclusivist doctrinal drama... something that makes them different from the others. This is esp true of monotheistic faiths... because it is through their exclusive beliefs that they seek to redeem themselves. This fact, I think, makes it very difficult for people like Shelby to publicly embrace the Essential Similarity of the Soul Experience. Followers/congregations fear losing their hold over a certain way of life. They fear its pollution, its misrepresentation and even perhaps its hijacking by the other. My understanding of Classical Hinduism on the other hand is its acceptance of the concept of Sanatan Dharma or the Eternal Order which while seemingly polytheistic, diverse, ever-changing, contradictory and even heretical is essentially timeless, deeply unitive and all-encompassing. It's like a fabric on to which different patterns are woven at different times in the world's timeline but the fabric essentially remains the same.

19 June, 2011 15:38


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