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Giving Thanks for the Good, the Bad and the Surprising

Ian Lawton is pastor of C3/ Christ Community Church in Spring Lake,West Michigan and on the TCPC Executive Coucil. What does it mean to live as if I am surrounded by miracles, even though the kids are fighting, the mortgage is overdue, there seems no end to global conflict and my back hurts? Who should I be grateful to, and for what?

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Honest to God

The common belief in God is usually called theism or more precisely supernatural theism. It is the concept that God is a Being in heaven who created the world and from time to time intervenes in the world to assert his will. In her book The History of God, Karen Armstrong states that this concept of God is evident in the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is this concept of God which the atheist authors of the five books deny. It is my contention that Christians should also be atheists about such a concept of God. If I were asked by a pollster if I believed in God I would, as an ordained clergyman, say No!

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God Talk

At the forum last year, Wes Seeliger posed for us the basic issue of our day: the question of God. It is not about how you get saved, or what are the sacraments. The question is what do you mean by the term “God”? Are we ready to talk about God?

People sometimes ask me about what I believe about God. I finally learned to say that the question of believing does not interest me very much.

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God, Darwin, and the Church

In his review of Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin (TPC May/June 2007), Robert Cornwall suggested that his readers pick up the challenge to "reconcile a dynamic supernaturalism with evolutionary science". I think that Cornwall has identified the most important test facing the churches in the developed nations of the world. While evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity is thriving in Africa and parts of Asia, in Europe over 90% of the people have little to do with religious organizations. Are the churches in the United States bound to follow the path taken by the older industrialized nations? Or can we welcome people to whom evolutionary science makes more sense than a divine creator or an intelligent designer? Most progressive churches do welcome people who are convinced that Charles Darwin got it right, but the acceptance they receive is a bit like what gay and lesbian people get from the military. As long as no one addresses the subject directly, everybody can get along. The Christians who are satisfied with this approach are able to accept Darwin when they are in a conversation about science and to accept God as the creator when they are in church. They would rather not think too much about the apparent contradiction. If pressed, they usually take what a trained theologian would call a deist position. God set the whole universe in motion, including the capacity of life forms to evolve into new species. Never mind the implication that God's design allowed for viruses and earthquakes that kill millions of people. When pressed to confront the logical contradictions in accepting both Darwin and God, such people tend to respond vaguely with talk about mystery. Mystery is the last refuge of determined believers when faced with gaps in their logic.

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A Gigantic Global Drum Circle

There is a vitality, an enlivening energy that occurs when your vision manifests in action. Because you are the only one of you that has ever existed and ever will exist, this action is unique and essential to the evolution of Life. If you stay awake to this vital energy, and keep the channels of awareness open, you have realized the greatest success that a person can achieve. Don't get me wrong. It's rarely neat and tidy. It's not always satisfying. In fact there is usually a divine dissatisfaction about following your bliss. It is this blessed unrest that raises your life above the steady hum of the daily grind and makes your life work exceptional.

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Source Code: The Paradoxical Teachings of the Historical Jesus

 This work employs the critical-historical research of Crossan, Funk and other leading historical Jesus scholars in order to demonstrate that a language of paradoxical reversals informs the very texture of Jesus’ experience of the Kingdom of God of God. By showing how the same paradoxical structure can be identified within the deep structure of the most memorable parables and aphorisms of Jesus that have been handed down to us in the synoptic gospels, I argue that a language of paradox can re-activate the earliest memory of the historical Jesus prior to his indoctrination in the Christian tradition proper. And in offering an over-arching criteria for what is historically authentic about the many words that have been attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, I argue that it is possible to uncover a “source code” for the original teachings of Christ, and thereby provide a fruitful way in which to distinguish the Founder of Christianity – Jesus of Nazareth, from what was Founded – the Christian Church.    This work employs the critical-historical research of Crossan, Funk and other leading historical Jesus scholars in order to demonstrate that a language of paradoxical reversals informs the very texture of Jesus’ experience of the Kingdom of God of God. By showing how the same paradoxical structure can be identified within the deep structure of the most memorable parables and aphorisms of Jesus that have been handed down to us in the synoptic gospels, I argue that a language of paradox can re-activate the earliest memory of the historical Jesus prior to his indoctrination in the Christian tradition proper. And in offering an over-arching criteria for what is historically authentic about the many words that have been attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, I argue that it is possible to uncover a “source code” for the original teachings of Christ, and thereby provide a fruitful way in which to distinguish the Founder of Christianity – Jesus of Nazareth, from what was Founded – the Christian Church.       

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The Structure of the Real

 This article is a brief summary of my recently completed doctoral thesis, a work that reveals a radical new insight into the mind of Jesus of Nazareth.  By turning to the parables of Jesus that have been recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), it is clearly demonstrated that the same linguistic structure – a stable pattern of “paradoxical reversals” (X is Y, as Y is X) informs all of Jesus’ most memorable teachings on the Kingdom of God. In other words, the same “stable pattern” of paradoxical reversals underpins all of the parables of Jesus that have been recorded in the synoptic gospels. And by offering a simple formula for what is historically authentic about the many words that have been attributed to the historical Jesus, it is now possible to uncover a “source code” for the original teachings of the one who is called the Christ and re-activate the “dangerous memory” of Jesus of Nazareth prior to his inscription in the Christian tradition proper.    

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Who Was The Historical Mary Magdalene?

This article suggests that the historical Mary Magdalene was a priestess of theGoddess Ishtar related by blood in some way to a wealthy Roman family. The present work looks for clues in Luke 8:2-3 and John 12:1-8 and invites your comments.By John Mitrosky (contact:gm.jm@sympatico.ca)

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A Charisma for the Historical Jesus

This article seeks to claim that the Historical Jesus was indeed a exorcist-magician-physician-healer. What does this mean for faith today?By John Mitroskycomments are welcome at: gm.jm@sympatico.ca

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Nurturing a Progressive Christian Spirituality

You cannot love and serve with a compassionate heart without eventually seeing those whom you are serving as your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, or eventually as yourself, even when it is “the least of these” who you serve. But if we do our serving because we feel that it something we are supposed to do “because the Bible says we should” or “because that is what Jesus did according to scripture,” or because it is our “duty,” we only separate ourselves more from the others. On the other hand, if we see our compassionate service as an opportunity to experience the “Realm of God” or “Sacred Unity” then our compassionate actions or practices become golden opportunities.

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What is Progressive Christianity Anyway?

This article was first published in the January/Febbruary 2007 magazine The Progressive Christian. It is posted here with permission. It covers the topic of the growing momentum of something called progressive Christianity but also points out that it is a movement with many interpretations and definitions. It is still in the rather exciting period of self-discovery.

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Practice, Practice, Practice!

Over the last five decades as I have searched for a meaningful spiritual path that might bring purpose, fulfillment and peace to my life, I have often reflected on that experience with mirth and awe. It must have been a funny scene fit for a Woody Allen movie. But the truth is, I know that my piano teacher was right. He touched upon a truth that goes beyond piano lessons. We will never discover what it means to become something meaningful unless we practice and practice-until it goes from our thinking to our being…

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Build and Sustain Faith Communities by Feeding the Hungry

This presentation was given by Fred Plumer at the Common Dreams Conference in Sydney, Australia last month. It clearly lays out 8 steps and goals for churches and spiritual communities that want to build and sustain their communities by feeding the hunger that people feel for spirituality, purpose, a mission, and clear path.

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A Grand Event

It was a grand event and my only wish is that you could have all been there to share it with me. Since, Australia was a bit far…I will do my best to maintain that level of energy and enthusiasm about Progressive Christianity that those 1500 people infused in me and continue to help this organization grow and evolve with the rising tide of these crucial times. Now really is a moment in history where I believe we are at a tipping point, can you feel it? Will you help us tip the balance toward love, compassion and openness? I believe we can.

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God and Progressive Christianity

Progressive Christians are achieving great clarity about the historical development of the Bible and about viewing biblical passages in a metaphorical rather than a literal way. Using the word "God," however, continues to be an area of unclarity and outright confusion.

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Just Ways to Repair an Unjust War

Full disclosure: I am among those who opposed the invasion of Iraq before it happened. I opposed it for Christian reasons. Moreover, I think those reasons have a pragmatic function: they would have prevented us from embarking on a pre-emptive war that has proved to be disastrous.

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The Wake I Leave Behind

Let's look at this as a comedy of errors…or as a cosmic joke on me. The point of this story is that how we look at the events that cross our paths effects everything about the cosmology we are constantly building (and revising) as we grope along the path through life.

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The Winter of my Awakening

During my winter sojourn in Sarasota, while attending these 2 ½ hour weekly sessions led by Meredith Jordan, I (and 65 others) embarked on an inward-turned journey to discover our true inner being, to let our outer life of busyness in the world drain away, to learn from today's living spiritual elders so that we too could assume the role of "elder" in our own sphere of influence. "Becoming an elder is quite different from becoming elderly," Jordan says. "It is a time when we focus internally on qualities of character, leadership and integrity, growing and sharing those traits. Being an elder means using every opportunity to give others something of what life has led you to understand and embody."

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Churches Have More than Just Good Music

Ten years ago George Carlin the comedian, wrote in his book, Brain Droppings, "The only thing good that came out of religion was the music."  When I ponder the
violent history of the Christian church, the religious wars that still
continue to plague our world, the divisiveness, the prejudice and the
bigotry that the church has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate in
the world today, I wonder if George Carlin is right. When I ponder the violent history of the Christian church, the religious wars that still continue to plague our world, the divisiveness, the prejudice and the bigotry that the church has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate in the world today, I wonder if George Carlin is right.

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A Subversive Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is a universal Christian prayer. It is said in every corporate worship service worldwide and is used in the personal devotions of millions of people. Recently, I began to be aware that the prayer is so familiar I was saying it without thinking what it meant, and I wondered if other people have the same experience. The result of my thinking and wondering is this article.

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A Startling Vision for the 21st Century Church

Tom Thresher makes a powerful argument for a new kind of Christianity that transcends Christianity as we know it today. A fascinating discussion that may and open your eyes to a new vision of Christianity, even startling! 

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Jesus Through the Eyes of Rumi, a Sufi Mystic

Occasionally throughout history, someone comes along and moves a religion
from being a pond religion to an ocean religion.  Someone comes onto the
scene and blows the lid off the top of religion, reforming it, transforming
it.  Jesus was one such figure.

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Limits of Biblical Authority

A story about Jesus gleaning grain on the Sabbath provides us some important insights into whether the Bible’s authority is absolute or limited.

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What is Missing in Islam is Modern Theological Insights

All the ancient scriptures, including the Koran, need to be understood as historically-conditioned and culturally-conditioned. Without such an understanding the human rights abuses that their scriptures condone will still be seen as having divine approval. Modern believers need to recognise that religions are transient and that tomorrow’s landscape almost certainly will be very different.

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What I Like About You

This is a wonderful thoughtful article about religious pluralism and respect for others’ faith experiences

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Free, New Progressive Hymns

William Flanders makes his progressive hymns available for free on his website.

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Progressive Baptismal Liturgy

At the request of parents from different faith traditions who express a progressive religious faith, Evangelical United Church of Christ (Webster Grove, MO) revisited the questions and promises of their infant baptism ceremony.

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Josh’s Confessions

The dangers for Jews and Christians of believing in being divinely chosen.

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What Does a Progressive Christian Church Do With Its Children?

That question is at the heart of a project begun by several members of New Covenant Community (NCC), a TCPC congregation in Normal, Illinois. NCC is a union congregation affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), …

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What Can Progressive Christians Say About Resurrection?

[An excerpt from James Adams’ new book, From Literal to Literary.] Each year, when Easter roles around, many people outside the church experience a kind of wistfulness. They love the festival, but they don’t think that they …

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Reflections on The Da Vinci Code

An Anglican priest reflects on some fascinating and important questions raised in Dan Brown’s book  The Da Vinci Code.

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Honest to Jesus: Giving the Historical Jesus a Say in Our Future

Introduction: Historical Jesus Studies as a "School of Honesty" In 1906 Albert Schweitzer commented:"The critical study of the life of Jesus has been for theology a school of honesty."(The Quest for the Historical Jesus) That is a …

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Who We Are and How We Got Here

TCPC Founder, James Adams, talks about the origins of TCPC.

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Uncovering Your Church’s Hidden Spirit

More people are coming to church saying they want to know God. They are on a spiritual search. And church leaders are wondering, "How can we respond
to these searchers?"

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Ministry with Teenagers Who are Allergic to Organized Religion

I want to tell you about a ministry of spiritual exploration I am beginning here in midcoast Maine with unchurched youth. I know a lot of teenagers who have a kind of allergic reaction to anything smacking …

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It’s All In the Name

News & Events President’s ReportBy James R. Adams Faith Identity on Campuses: The Lutheran and Episcopal Campus Ministries in Northern California invited me to help facilitate the fi rst of a planned series of conferences designed to …

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