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Bringing Words to Life

As public speakers, you can reverse this history and bring life back to language. You can breathe vitality into words and send them forth to change the world. With the spoken word you can reach into the souls of other people and stir them to new visions and actions.

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Incarceration or Redemption?

Today, over 2,000,000 Americans are in jail or in prison. We’ve got 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. More black men are under the control of the criminal justice system in America today than were enslaved before the Civil War began. Our prison-industrial complex has become the latest of a long series of forms of systematic oppression against people of color. Lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander rightly calls it “The New Jim Crow” in her recent book.

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What are we Teaching?

I sincerely believe one of the failures of the mainline churches is not taking religious education seriously for over a century. It is true that today more churches are taking advantage of excellent educational products provided by organizations like Living the Questions, publications and lectures by the Jesus Seminar and Westar and our own PC.org website and publications. Unfortunately they are probably too little, too late. Since most of these resources tend to focus on the deconstruction of the old Christian story, they are little more than a confirmation of what aging members of our congregations have suspected for decades. This new information may be interesting for them, but their children—and now grandchildren—who have never been committed to a community do not get it.

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Teaching and Preaching in the Koinonia Family of Friends

“Preaching” is a word much maligned in our culture- and justifiably so. It has the connotation of forcibly communicating the truth to others who are sinful or at least ignorant. How many times have we heard preachers rant and rave about how they have the answer and you don’t?! On the other hand, if we use the word with a tone that is confessional rather than dogmatic, preaching can be as enlightening as teaching. Often in gatherings the word used to describe the monologue is reflection, or meditation. The person delivering the message is not a preacher, but a speaker. Often there is the opportunity at the end of the gathering for others to engage in dialogue with the speaker. It is a time when one person can basically say: This is how I see it. What do you think? It is a laying bare of personal faith as well as a word to others asking them what they believe. It is a confession of trust that can enable the hearer to find comfort and consolation in face of adversity.

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Preaching

Preaching is a unique form of expression, probably more like a spoken op ed column than anything else. You get to speak, uninterrupted, for usually ten to twenty minutes, and it is your job to bring ancient scriptures alive in all their veiled, puzzling and even sometimes obnoxious voices. In the Episcopal and many other Christian denominations, there is a lectionary or schedule of selected Bible readings in a three year cycle. Each Sunday has its suggested texts, and you are to connect these readings with your own life and that of your hearers in a way that matters. A preacher must always face the “So what?” question about her work – why do people need to hear this? And finally, a sermon is supposed to be “good news” or Gospel in Christian terms. Underneath all that, at its best, our preaching should tell the truth about the way life really is, and where we all get caught, and how and why we need saving help. The task is daunting, and I love its fierce demands.

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Preaching with Heart, Mind, and Spirit

Preaching is, first of all, an act of the heart. In the biblical tradition, the heart is center of experience and decision-making. It embraces the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. It is embodied and incarnational as well as intellectual. Good preaching moves the preacher and congregation alike. The pastor dances with the text through his or her bodily movements as well as lively ideas. The goal of the sermon is not to provide a final destination, but as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead says, to invite congregants to be part of an “adventure of the spirit.”

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Theology From Exile Volume III: The Year of Mark

The political, social, spiritual, and economic history of most of the Western world has been defined by the belief articulated in the literal application of John’s gospel to personal and social piety. If Christianity is to survive with any relevance to postmodern, twenty-first century realities, the theology of condemnation and substitutionary atonement associated with the fourth gospel has to be scrapped. Not only is the future of Christianity at stake. This theology threatens the further evolution of human consciousness, and life as humanity has known it thus far on Planet Earth.

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Why Preach?

When I was in the process of getting a master’s degree in sacred music, I had to take several classes offered at the theology school. One class, I don’t remember which one, assigned a paper entitled “Why Preach?” I really struggled with the assignment. As a future minister of music, preaching was not what I intended to do. As far as I was concerned, a preacher preached – that’s what church was – church on Sunday always included a sermon delivered by the minister. There was no alternative; each church service included preaching. The question, therefore, stumped me.

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Why Atheists and Religions are Wrong

For the Oxford Philosophical Society 2014 Review

I shall argue in this essay that without the mind’s faculty of imagination there would be no philosophy, no art, no music, no mathematics, no science, no religions, and no freedom of choice; that the attempts of religions to limit its expression to habits of identity, aided by the atheistic belief, now common in secular societies, that it must be applied only to material discovery, is the cause of their conflict and religious terrorism; that the crisis in modern education is similarly caused and may be similarly resolved; that the natural function of this faculty is to find manifold ways for minds to communicate, as is demonstrated by its manifestations, as described above; finally, that it is not limited to human minds, for the history of philosophy, which is also the history of humankind, would not be as it is if this were true.

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Intimate Silence: the Spirituality of Desert Preservation

We come to the desert at least as much for what is not here as much as for what is. Monastics of every religion are drawn to it. Moses encountered God in a bush on a desert mountain. The first theologians of Christianity were known as the Desert Fathers. In wilderness they prayed, meditated, contemplated – uncluttering their hearts and minds in an uncluttered space. Mohammed went to a desert cave and there he waited until the Angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to him. Around the same time, Buddhist monks retreated to the mountainous deserts of Central Asia to meditate.

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An aging maverick, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has no regrets

At 82, retired and enjoying life, Bishop John Shelby Spong doesn’t have to be the liberal enfant terrible whose pronouncements for gay rights and against traditional dogmas once scandalized Christendom.

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