Welcome to my Conservatory

The conservatory is filled with flowers. Through the massive windows on the south and west walls can be seen the yard and garden and beyond these rolling hills, lakes, and the forrest.

Shall we sit here at this table? It's quiet and I don’t think we will be disturbed. I’ll have Paul bring us some coffee and biscuits.

Please understand Mr. Morgan that what we want here is not an account of what Episcopalians are supposed to believe, but rather what you as an individual Episcopalian believe. With that in mind let us begin.

Religion seems to revolve around belief or faith. Do you have faith?

The word faith means to place trust in, and it comes in English from a Middle English verb, to faithe meaning to trust someone or give your heart to someone. I have simply given my heart to God, the mind behind our universe, the ground of our being.

Behind faith is the Latin fides. Faith is more a synonym for trust than for belief. Belief and belief systems are generally the internalization of doctrines or creedes. I am long on faith but short on belief.

Can you start with a short overview of your approach to religion?

In all of his parables, aphorisms, and teachings, Jesus seems to indicate that the road to salvation, being in right relation to God, is basically being in right relation with mankind, our brothers and sisters. His ministry suggests love, honesty, fellowship, justice and reconciliation.

My own experience of truth is the principle by which I test other claims to truth. I do not see religion as a "secret code" where declarations of belief, creedal confessions, overt displays of piety, and strict codes of conduct supercede interpersonal relationships nor do I think that the creator wrote a users manual for mankind.

I suspect that it may take more than one lifetime for the creator to teach us through experience those authentic behaviors that should be innate to our soul.

What first interested you in the Episcopal denomination?

I was reared Roman Catholic and attended parochial schools through high school. I gradually developed into an Agnostic somewhere between my second year of high school and my second year of college. Near the end of my collegiate experience I became a Unitarian. I must admit that it was my life partner, Paul Campbell, who, many years later, introduced me to the Episcopal Church.

I was attracted not only by Paul’s interest but by the wide latitude of belief found in the world wide Anglican communion. The atmosphere is also impressive. I think that when one reaches for and worships God it should be in the most beautiful environment that man can devise - after all it is the God of the Universe we are talking about. The Episcopal liturgy at its best is like unto a grand opera. It is not as if I expected the Episcopalians to have all of the right answers. It seems to me that folks in any religion want to worship the True God beyond all what any group thinks they know.

Surely in a Catholic School you were given many classes in religion. Didn’t you have an opportunity to ask questions?

Catechism class was taught much the same way I imagined at the time that Communism was taught in Russia. They had what I call "truth sessions." After all they had the ‘truth’ and you were there to learn it. Not to ask why. In fact deliberate doubt of their ‘truth’ was considered sinful. But, I am not here to pick on the Catholics. I can truthfully say that while a Catholic, every Priest, Nun, and Brother that I met was a wholesome model of the image of Christ. I suspect that a lot of that attitude goes on in most religion classes, even in Episcopal churches. I think everyone is a little more conformable if you just sit and listen. In those days religion seemed to have more chaff than wheat.

Were both of your parents Roman Catholic?

My mother was a cradle Catholic. My father was a convert to Catholicism from the Evangelical-Lutheran side of our family and in their teens my parents attended separate High Schools. Pop would tell me that on Saturday nights the boys and he would go over to the Catholic High School and beat em' up a catlick. He was quick to add: "That was before I knew your mother of course."

My extended family was a mixture of Roman Catholic and Protestant with some unchurched. My paternal uncle Harold had never converted to Catholicism but like my father married a Catholic and reared his child in that religion. Harold who was quite the joker, told about a friend who had had Extreme Unction (the last rites) two or three times -- and pointed out that it was usually fatal the first time.

My Aunt on those Fridays when our clan would gather for dinner in her apartment served two kinds of salads: Catholic Salad and Protestant Salad. You see, the Catholic salad was the one without the meat since in those days Roman Catholics were not permitted to eat the meat of warm blooded animals on Friday.

They Say Anglicanism is a lot like Catholicism without all the guilt.

The Roman theology did take on a rather severe bent. The old Baltimore Catechism assured us that all sexual sins of desire were mortal - the kind, we were assured, that doomed the soul to an eternity of torture. And what healthy young teenaged male would not have had sex on his mind most of the time - wishing in his imagination to be in bed with the nearest available conquest? But confession could change that fate in a minute redirecting the soul to an eternity of bliss in the twinkling of an eye.

I suppose impure desire could alternate with confession several times a day putting the heavenly book keepers in a tither - sending out stop orders alternately to the gates of paradise and the gates of hell.

Doesn't Episcopal ceremony get a little pompous on occasion?

Drama is an art form that entertains, educates, and informs us and often makes us think. It makes situations very vivid for us. We can get totally absorbed in the art form of drama. Music is an art form. In the secular world when we combine the best of vocal music with drama we get the noble opera. It fuses art forms: drama, music, pageantry, stagecraft. It is perhaps, in it's combination of talents, the best the secular world can offer the mind, the senses, the emotions. It engages the whole being.

The divine liturgy reenacts the story of a God who fell so in love with his intractable, truculent, human creatures that he was willing to go to any extreme to ensure their ultimate welfare. Christians extracted this verity from the life and example of Jesus.

It can't be surprising that these humans in thanksgiving for the gift of life in a world system designed in an inexpressible unity of beauty should want to praise, thank, and stand in awe of their creator and while commemorating the best he has given us, to offer to him the best that we can return - worship with our whole beings - a ceremony in a holy place surrounded by heavenly art forms and smells and sounds and drama and pageantry and singing raised to the highest art form - a grand celestial opera surrounded by the whole company of heaven.

The Episcopal Church has a penchant for performing this grand celestial opera very effectively.

Neat, colorful, and distinctive vestments can be an expression of status and vanity. Singled out as a mere part of the whole they can be objects of jocularity and provide fun at the expense of the pompous and the puffed up. But I think I understand why exuberant vesture and pagentry have a role in Episcopal Worship.

Surely God can be pleased by the plain as well as the spectacular but there are the most joyous of occasions when I want to go all out to worship God with every fiber of my being. Sitting in street clothes in an auditorium singing songs does not cut it for me.

You were born a Roman Catholic and chose to be a Unitarian. What made you change your mind?

The Unitarian Church is ideal for those seeking. It has no dogmas - no seemingly firm answers. It is for those who come together in fellowship for the pursuit of truth, the service of mankind and to make themselves the best they can be. It is for those who want to rear their children with a sense of ethics and morality but are uncomfortable with some of the answers found in organized religion. The clergy reflects the laity - theists, atheists, and agnostics. There are Christian Unitarians and there are Buddhist Unitarians.

Sermons can often be intriguing and inspiring because the subject matter can be broad, unlimited, imaginative, and thought provoking. There is much that is good about the Unitarian Universalist Church. Her chief attribute is a rigorous intellectual honesty.

First a Roman Catholic, then a Unitarian, and now an Episcopalian?

At this point in my life, I am willing to concede the existence of God, and when I worship, when I express awe and thanksgiving, I want to feel like I have come into his home. In an Episcopal church. you feel that you are worshiping God in the beauty of holiness. There are candles and carvings and statues. There is noble architecture, stained glass and above all a crucifix. The crucifix is at its minimum, a symbol for a belief in a very caring and loving God who is prepared to do literally anything for the ultimate and eternal benefit of his human creatures.

What resonates with my being is this: Jesus has shown me the general attributes of my God. Episcopalians tend to see attributes in Jesus that make us think he acted as God would have had he walked the planet. When teaching by parable and by example Jesus reminded us of the importance of our neighbor in the scheme of things.

He showed us how legalism can sometimes violate the principle and intent of a regulation - even in religion. He sometimes violated the laws of his tradition to make the point vivid. He did not shun personal danger out of cowardliness as when he cleansed the temple.

Jesus put God first and realized that service to neighbor was the best way to serve God. When the going got rough Jesus showed us that in his opinion, living into God's kingdom is more important than avoiding inconvenience or avoiding pain - more important than life on planet earth. Some principles are worth dying for. John's gospel has Jesus saying: If you have seen me, you have seen the father. One of our churches bears the sign: "Divinity expressed in the humanity of Jesus has opened our way to the heart of God."

It is true, outwardly we bear a formal creed stuck somewhere in the third century - our first church conference reminded us that it was written by men and subject to error; our ecclesiastical organization is subject to all the foibles of man; sometimes truth takes a back seat to institutional priorities and there are among us those who would reduce the ineffable to mere doctrine. All in all we never feel obligated to leave our mind at the front door.

Does God love you?

I believe that God is Love and that he has unbounded concern for all his human creatures.

I conceive of God looking down on Paul and me in much the same way that Dorothy in the Wizzard of Oz looked at her aunt back in Kansas through the globe in the den of the wicked witch of the west.

God looks down on Paul and me, he in heaven, and we on this small fragile planet. The almighty one is interested in us, he loves us, but wants us to have the freedom to make our own decisions and live with the consequences of our decisions and those of our neighbors, and those necessities imposed by the natural order of things.

Click for larger animated view

It is as if he says to us: I have set the stage for the emergence of life; my purposes must seem mysterious but I am in command and you are part of my project. While you are on earth, your hands are my hands. Choose wisely. Listen to Jesus when he expresses how important the welfare of your neighbor is in the scheme of things. I will abide with you on your journey through life but do not expect that I will frequently suspend the natural order and its consequences to attend to your every whim. There are some things that even I cannot do - such as square a triangle. I am here and you are there; work, learn, be brave, care for others, have respect for my creation, partake of my bounty, enjoy!

I am in God's presence night & day,
And he never turns his face away..

by: William Blake

Do you think only Christians Go to Heaven?

Pope John Paul II, the titular head representative of Christianity, received surprisingly little notice when he spoke against the notion, central to much of Protestant thinking and most of Catholic history, of salvation exclusively through Christ, when he stated his opinion in December of 2000:

"The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes--the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life--will enter God's kingdom," regardless of whether they profess Christ.

While there are passages in holy writ that could be construed otherwise, I agree with him on this issue. He seemed to agree with Peter:

Acts 10:34-35 And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Are you saved?

Salvation is a process, Christ is the guide, the Gospel gives us direction,
God's desire brings all who are open home. It has nothing to do with what I
know, think, understand, or believe. It's bigger than that, it transcends my
ego. It defeats entropy and ignores mortality. It is the essence of hope,
mercy and forgiveness--it frees us from our petty basileia. Above all, we
are broken by it, to be remade anew. Each revelation of who we are in its
presence, leaves us indebted to grace for the power to become who we
ultimately might be.

By: Randy William Ash - St. Margaret's ECUSA - Washington, DC

Were there any books formative in your religious development?

In parochial school, of course, there was the Baltimore Catechism. It had nosegays such as these:

I think it was this kind of naive posturing that opened my mind to the idea that the Roman Catholic church might not possess all truth. The notion that the architect of the universe would create woman by removing one of Adam’s ribs seemed childish and primitive to me. Quite a few theological constructs owe their justification to this false myth.

I was also beginning to wonder why God would consider sexual thoughts evil enough to doom ones soul to hell or why he might consider the use of prophylactics a greater moral evil than risking the procreation of children outside of wedlock.

I was very literal in my approach to religion and the Bible as a child [weren’t we all] but my experiences soon led me elsewhere. Or, to quote Saint Paul in Corinthians: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

I found the book, "Religion Without Revelation" by Julian Huxley the most formative in my latter teens. I read widely in evolutionary theory and Huxley answered the kinds of theological questions for me that classical christianity could not. I was also impressed by the writings of Anglican liberals. For example, books like Bishop Robinson’s "Honest to God" and Bishop Pike’s "If This Be Heresy."

As an adult, I have been impressed with Bishop John Shelby Spong’s innumerable books and his approach to religion. They came rather late in life to be formative.

If I had to pick a book today, I think I would choose: Soul Survivor by Bruce and Andrea Leininger with Ken Gross whose first edition was printrd in June of 2009.

Are your beliefs similar to those of the average Anglican?

The Anglican Communion of 70 million members in 37 equal and autonomous churches worldwide, each looking to the archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual patriarch, is represented in the United States by the Episcopal Denomination. Anglicanism has had a genius for accommodating incredible diversity in thought and belief. Christian Believing, a report published by the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England in 1976, described four attitudes toward the creeds ranging from insisting they must remain "a norm of Christian belief" to regarding "the essence of ...faith…in a life of discipleship rather than in credal affirmation." A wide range of belief is tolerated and celebrated by Anglicans. The Anglicans in the third world, for example, where scholarship lags about fifty years, tend to be more conservative than in the states.

If you find such labels as High Church, Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and Broad-Church helpful, I suppose you would describe me as a Broad-Churchman. Paul is Anglo-Catholic.

Can you cite examples where Anglicans have promoted diversity of belief?

I sure can. The Elizabethan settlement, for example, attempted a Eucharistic formula which would accommodate a broad spectrum of theologies. The latitudinarian bishops of the Restoration fought for a church broad enough that both Puritan and Laudian might find a home. Anglicans accomplished this comprehensiveness by resisting the temptation to define the faith to the exclusion of our faithful brothers and sisters. We have long embraced diversity as an important aspect of orthodoxy.

And just where would you place yourself on that spectrum of diversity stipulated by the Doctrinal Commission?

I am more inclined to a life of discipleship rather than in credal affirmation. I am one who finds in organized religion a structure for moral striving rather than the final repository of revealed truth. It is not a set of ideas that one agrees to subscribe to at baptism but rather a way of life, a way of being the people of God both individually and collectively.

And today you are comfortable as an Anglican?

More or less. I am proud to be an Episcopalian and in communion with ALL my brothers and sisters in Christ as they strive to live for God and their neighbor. My church draws people into Christ's life and nurtures their spiritual development. My church is one of hospitality, refuge and joyful celebration, where all may gather to worship God in the beauty of holiness. My church has lively and visible outreach and service, committed to do Christ's work. There are no outcasts in my church!

God is in us,
not like a raisin
in a bun, but like
the ocean in a wave.

By: anonymous

Do You believe in the incarnation?

I not only believe in the incarnation I believe in incarnation. It is perhaps more the rule than the exception. I believe that God enters individual humans and experiences with them, their joys, sorrows, perspectives on the world. If he created them and loves them it is not surprising that he would want the closest association and understanding of them. I do not believe that He speaks through them. After all my belief that God becomes man does not affirm that man becomes God. How can the finite become total expression of the infinite. The incarnation is remembered at Holy Communion when we pray that He dwell in us and we in Him. I do not know how redemption and transformation by God takes place. I think these things are called "holy mysteries." But I do believe that God has done it, perhaps by becoming part of what we are here.

In his essay What makes theology Anglican? Louie Crew said, "Typically we give high priority to the doctrine of incarnation, believing that God takes on human flesh not just once in Jesus, but chooses to dwell again in each of us if we are open to God's spirit."

Do You believe in the creed?

The first Lambeth Conference was wise enough to stipulate that we should be wary of creeds because they were written by men and subject to err. I might add also quite frequently written as compromise documents in church councils by a squabbling bunch of old men, not unlike general convention in our own time. Our knowledge of Jesus and religion is ever enhanced by modern Scholarship.

Jesus was concerned with love of God and love of neighbor. It was Paul, a lesser personage, who gave Christianity its early doctrinal expression. Interest in creeds springs from the literal mind set - ever attempting to capture ‘Essence of God’ in a small container.

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

Yes. It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere. Prayers of petition for our neighbor should be second only to prayers of worship. Prayer brings clarity and focus.

What do you believe about Holy Communion?

I suspect that Jesus told us to celebrate the eucharist because he knew it was a means of experiencing the oneness of all being and the presence of God, its source. It is the central act of worship in All Anglican Churches - the main event. Quiet, vestments, a beautiful environment, stained glass, incense! All these help prepare us for that mystical experience when God comes to us.

If God is everywhere, surely I can worship him in the vast expanse of a starry summer night, in the quiet of a verdant meadow, or in a cup of wine or a piece of bread.

The Lord's Supper blends awe, devotion, meditation, inspiration, trust, hope, memory and emotions unspeakable. It invites speculation. At the same time it is an expression of the unity of worshippers in one place and time, and of all Christians in all places and times. We are fed. We are worthy. We are equal. We are fulfilled. We are brothers and sisters to each other. It is a living lesson of how life should be, and partakes of the Kingdom of God.

And by this food, so awesome and so sweet,
deliver us from every touch of ill:
in thine own service make us glad and free,
and grant us never more to part from thee.
And then for those, our dearest and our best,
by this prevailing presence we appeal;
O fold them closer to thy mercy’s breast!
O do thine utmost for their soul’s true weal!
From tainting mischief keep them pure and clear,
and crown thy gifts with strength to persevere.

By: William Henry Hammond Jervois

Do you believe in the resurrection?

I not only believe in THE resurrection I believe in resurrection. Resurrection is a metaphor for life. Only now in a non-miraculous age can Christians divest themselves of the concomitant resuscitation of Jesus’ physical body. Such possibilities are not really needed to appreciate the exaltation of Jesus into God.

You might have asked: what is the relevance for us today of what is called the resurrection of Jesus? Surely the legacy must transcend a possible resuscitation of Jesus's physical body because, for those of us who believe in life after death, it must follow that Jesus is alive somewhere.

Those who made the claim of Jesus's resurrection were the very people who had deserted him in fear and fled from his dying. The event that they perceived resulted in such a turn around, such a tansformation in their lives, that they found the courage to proclaim the meaning of Jesus's life and to put their own lives in harms way. While we may argue about the nature of the claim itself we can be confident of the effect.

In his book, Doubts and Loves, Richard Holoway, the recently retired Anglican Primate of Scotland, said: "I would say that the resurrection of Jesus is best understood, best used,as a symbol or sign of the human posibility of transformation."

"Resurrection is the refusal to be imprisoned any longer by history and its long hatreds; it is the determination to take the first step out of the tomb. It may be a personal circumstance that immobilises us, or a social evil that confronts us: whatever it is, we simply refuse any longer to accept it, because the logic of resurrection calls us to action. It follows, therefore, that if we say we believe in the resurrection it only has meaning if we are people who believe in the possibility of transformed lives, transformed attitudes, and transformed societies."

Do you believe in the Trinity?

The Trinity represents a historical and traditional way of worshipping God for Christians. This progressive understanding for ascertaining the nature and possible attributes of God can be traced through its evolution in Scripture and the early church councils. I understand this historic and symbolic development and feel comfortable in its usage. On an intellectual plane I would not myself attempt to limit God’s essence to three anymore than I would fashion a graven image of The Almighty.

Having said that, nonetheless, the symbols of God as pointed to in the concept of Trinity are awesome! The father reminds us of the parenthood of God and His creative and sustaining powers. The son, in the symbol of the cross represents love, pointing to the depth of identity the Creator seeks with his creation. The Holy Spirit, symbolized by liturgical red, and in tongues of fire, remind us that God’s Spirit should instill in us courage, insuring us that gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge in some measure can be ours.

I think it was Kathleen Norris who said that for Christians the concept of the Trinity "is the primary symbol of a community that holds itself together by containing diversity within itself."

If God is good, why is there evil in the world?

To the extent that humans have free choice they can be bad. Good and Evil are necessary corollaries of free choice. God cannot work contradictions. If you have choice then you can choose. How else could it be. Misfortune also arises out of necessity.

Do you believe in life after death?

Is consciousness or mind ultimate in the universe or is it matter. I think the universe is like unto a stage in the theater. It was enacted for the emergence and expression of mind. Yes, I believe in the probability of life after death. Jesus offered a visionary answer: "The eye has not seen and the ear has not heard…" We cannot even ask the questions. If there is room for only a finite number of souls in eternal life then I can suggest quite a few candidates who would appear to be more worthy than myself and for whom I would relinquish my reservation.

Then too, books like Soul Survivor - The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot and Children's Past Lives build a good case for survival beyond the grave.

What do you think is the significance of suffering and pain in life?

Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the World we safely go,
Joy and Woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.

William Blake

Why do you think that in today’s world there is so little respect for the supernatural?

Lack of imagination. When our American forefathers crossed the continent in covered wagons few dreamed of automobiles that one day would make that trek in days or the airplane that would make it in hours. That one day we would produce motion pictures or send sound and pictures through space, that we would travel to the moon, record events that take place in thousandths of millionths of seconds. When we see as commonplace that which few dared to dream in the recent past, why cannot we affirm what great and fantastic possibilities there might be in the great unknown. We pride ourselves in our discoveries. But they were there for us to discover. Mathematics deals with nonphysical realities. Yet it is there. We discover these relationships. They are there. We do not invent them. The total of unknown reality must be vast.

Do you believe in Hell – a place of eternal torment?

No! Saint Paul does not mention the word even once. If he thought Jesus believed in such, I am sure he would have mentioned it. Paul’s writings are the earliest of the New Testament writings; Matthew is largely responsible for the concept occurring in the gospels, mentioning it relatively frequently and putting it into the mouth of Jesus. [My guess is that Matthew thought of hell as a place of eternal torment.] Reference to hell is made sporadically in a few books in the New Testament. Again it is not mentioned in John, which is thought to be the last of the Gospels to be written. In any case retributive punishment of any sort is incompatible with the philosophy of Jesus. Punishment can perhaps be corrective or serve as a deterrent, but retributive punishment is a moral evil, no matter who practices it.

Here are some actual quotes utilizing the word 'hell' in the Old Testament:

In addition to metaphorical uses, The Old Testament apparently uses the word in the context of an ever burning garbage heap at the city's outskirts. This is what also may be referred to in New Testament usages of the term.

Members of the human race have been continuously baiting God to create a hell for themselves insteading of sending them into blessed oblivion. The architects and implementers of the crucifixion and the death camps of the holocaust spring to mind in this regard.

"...we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound."
C.H. Pinnock

Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life
for his friends.

Jesus - John 15:13

Greater evil has no god than this,
than he torture a human creature eternally.

John S. Morgan

Some affirm that that the resolve and commitment of the Apostles even in the face of martyrdom testifies to the truth of the Christian message. What attracts you to Christianity?

I am not impressed with the actions of the zealous. We have seen enough of the ‘Jonestowns’ and ‘Branch Dividians’ to understand the phenomena of cult. I think that the central truth of Christianity, that their exists a God who so loved His creation that He was willing to do anything for him, is a truth resonant with the music and spirit and being of humankind. It was Jesus who awakened in us this awareness by what He said and what He did. It was for that reason Saint Paul said: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself."

Do you believe in Biblical Inerrancy?

I‘m sorry; I have a great problem accepting that any educated adult could sincerely maintain such a belief. In this country I help pay for, as we all do, the education of every willing child through four years of high school. If, after that, the person remains unable to ascertain the difference between chicken salad and chicken poop it is not my fault.

The theory of Biblical inerrancy breaks down on careful scrutiny. If you put corresponding reports of the gospel evangelists side by side, it is easy to find contradictions of fact. For example, while each of the evangelists record what is described as the last words of Jesus on the cross, three are in total conflict. There are four different renditions of the message placed above Jesus on the cross. Then too the bible contains egregious errors of science.

The greater we associate God with the literal authorship of these books, the greater we associate him with error. To my mind that is blasphemy.

There is hardly anyone in our denomination that holds such an opinion; but Episcopalians, as a whole, tend to be an educated group. Seminary training is required of our clergy. Again, I have little patience with those few who appear to have slept through years of divinity school education in any denomination.

For young people who are just beginning to wrestle with these issues they should be able to find information in their church bookstores. I would also recommend: Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, by Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong , Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain, and Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. One can probably find the full text of the latter two on the Internet utilizing a good search engine. I don’t think any adult ought to be allowed to walk the city streets without a collar and chain who has not read Origin of Species.

Just what do you believe about the bible?

What can I say. There were 29 works in the old testament and 37 in the new, juxtaposed together in an anthology we call the bible by historical event, church council and the feeling that they were of high and sacred regard. The bible is significant not only because of its centrality in the development of the Judo-Christian tradition but because of story, parable and myth contained within. The word myth used in this context does not mean something false. It was one of our Anglican luminaries who said: "A myth is something that never was but always is. ".

As I have said, I agree with our Anglican embrace of scripture that avoids a fundamentalist handling of the Bible as an inerrant record of God’s dictation to human scribes. How can one think of St. Paul, for example, as a "passive stenographer" for the Holy Spirit. The books bear the style of their authors. I view the bible as a record of our culture’s attempt to reach up to God. The Bible is the record of what some people said God said. It is not a record of what God said. The language of religion is poetry.

Richard Holoway, the recently retired Anglican primate of Scotland, said: " If people could really understand that the nature of religion is this wonderful mythic, symbolic, poetic system about deep truth, then they would relax..."

Then you do not consider yourself under the authority of scripture?

I am not under the authority of scripture. I am under the authority of God, the Ground of Being, about whom I have formulated some intimations thanks to the authors of the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures, as well as from other sources -- my own God-given reason and the broad human experience of those, in many times and cultures, semper et ubique, who have earnestly sought the True the Good and the Beautiful.

The Bible contains the story of western mankind’s reach to God. It is also a story of the foibles of mankind. Its luminaries repeatedly call for repentance. It can not literally be called the word of God because of the diverse viewpoints of it’s authors. Nevertheless, it is the work from which our religious pilgrimages should begin.

What are some of these intimations that you have found in scripture?

Christianity teaches us that we should respond to the love of the living God by living a righteous life.

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Acts 10:34-35 And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

But what is the right thing to do? Jesus explained it this way:

Matthew 22:37-39 Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Or as was said in ancient times:

Micah 6:8 And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Do you think there are downsides to religion?

Yes! Science and technology have built-in reality tests. When data emerges to refute a scientific theory the whole theory must be discarded. When the airplane does not fly people do not buy tickets. When the television set does not work, people will not purchase it.

But in religion, there is no built in check, no reality test – no one returns from the grave to describe an afterlife or to tell if God prefers Methodists over Moslems. This in part explains the proliferation of denominations. Mark Twain once said that mankind has the true religion - thousands of them and invents hundreds each day. Fears of the afterlife make people vulnerable to the threat of eternal punishment by ecclesiastical hucksters who insist that their understanding of religion is the only true one.

Fortunately, Eiscopalians are not expected to leave their brains at the front door when entering church. Remember the commandment is to love God with your whole mind...

Do You Believe in Birth Control?

I think people should get their priorities straight. The welfare of any possible child should far overshadow any concern about the degree of illicit pleasure that might be involved in the procreative embrace.

I not only believe in birth control, I wholeheartedly support and recommend it. If love means anything, it must mean that it is sinful to bring unwanted, unloved children, into this world. When it comes to sex we know the powers of passion are awesome but lets face it; some folk are unsuitable to be parents.

Sometimes I have a vision of Jesus as the Christ returning to the planet seated upon a cloud. As he approaches he sees humankind standing shoulder to shoulder across the entire land yelling Hosanna! He inquires to the Archangel on his left, "Where are my animals, my fields of grain, my forests?" "Gone." "All gone - there is room for nothing but the food in the oceans, replies the archangel, "They were fruitful and multiplied!" "Don’t these people know when enough is enough!" asks the Christ. Then he adds ironically, "It was the only commandment they ever paid any attention to."

The world’s great religions developed at a time when the problem was not enough people. These attitudes somehow get cast into stone and become part of dogma systems. It is sad when religiously sensitive people see religion as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. The reality is that the size of the planet is finite and it cannot support exponential population growth. Here I don’t need a belief system to see the handwriting on the wall. Even were religion an ally the prognosis is dismal. The destruction of the planet through overpopulation has to be one of the big sins.

Do you believe in Abortion?

Birth Control should be the first line of defense. Unfortunately those individuals who are opposed to birth control tend to be the same individuals who are opposed to abortion.

In a very overpopulated planet considerations of the survival of the human race are an urgent priority.

Words like fertilized cell, fetus and embryo have been historically used to describe the developmental stages of the human organism, because of their obvious differences. It is not helpful to redefine the language by using emotionally charged words like unborn baby. At certain stages the human organism looks more like a lizard than anything anyone would kiss and cuddle. I do not buy the idea that God has problems populating the world.

What would be the reasons that would lead a woman to seek an abortion? After all it is a rather late time to begin planning to avoid offspring. Did birth control fail? Was she careless in her planning? Was the woman raped? Was she strongly intimidated by the male to perform? In many situations and cultures in this world the male is clearly dominant and the female has little choice.

To my way of thinking, parenting is an awesome responsibility and should require a measure of ability and resource. Some individuals are just not prepared to be parents. Just because a woman finds herself pregnant does not mean that she would be a suitable mother. We see on TV every day the results of unsuccessful parenting. So yes, I think sometimes abortion is the appropriate choice.

I have a deep respect for everything associated with the pro-creative process and cringe every time the development of a human organism is arrested by a choice that is neither mine to make nor for reasons that are any of my business. Late term abortions where the organism approaches viability is in no sense moral.

On a vastly overpopulated planet, relentlessly accelerating its overpopulation, I see no moral victory pushing children on individuals who do not want them.

What do you think of the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong?

The church has always had giants at it’s fringe: Bishop Pike, Bishop Robinson, Bishop Spong. These were men who had substantive ideas and kept us all thinking and brought some press to the Episcopal Church. I have always been impressed with Spong’s writings.

The most important point of the Bishop Spong’s 1991 book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism , is the assertion that the Bible is NOT literally true in all respects as it has come down to us in this modern age. To hold otherwise is not a tenable position. It is easy to locate self-contradictory passages, which any logician will tell you is a deadly property. And if the church is to carry out the Great Commission, total honesty would seem important; we can't be asking people to pretend they are living in the fourth century. The Gospel must make sense to them today where they are.

If I understand the thesis in his latest book correctly, what he's saying is that the model of God which is anthropocentric and interventionist in human history is no longer credible. And while that may be frightening for many of us who have posited a rescuing deity as a fallback for our own irresponsibility, we have reached a point in our development as a species where that kind of irresponsibility can be lethal not only to ourselves but to all living things on this planet. But a theology of God's presence rather than God's intervention is a theology of human responsibility, of divine guidance and thus of joint venture. It is what we are referring to when we recite our Baptismal Covenant, making promises to be responsible to ourselves, our neighbors, and our faith, recognizing that we can only do so fully "with God's help."

His search for a replacement word for Theism is not a denial of God but a quest to find a more accurate description for God. I suspect he is on to something, even though he may not have found the most effective way of saying what it might be.

In April 2004 he described his love of God as expressed in Episcopal liturgy, "Liturgy is a love song we sing to the reality that we call God who gives to our lives the dimension of transcendence, wonder and mystery. Love songs always employ excessive language. It is the nature of the language of love to be ecstatic."

How well does the church do in explaining Christianity to the average person?

The typical presentation of Christianity by those Mark Twain referred to as "God’s salaried employees" is somewhat ingenuous. The evidences for the belief package they put forward they often base on the Bible without referring to its known self contradictions, the information modern scholarship brings about these things, and what science has to say. To slap the bible on the table after reading any verse and say "Thus says the Lord" strikes me as somewhat blasphemous.

You brought up Bishop Spong a few moments ago. He suggests in many of his writings that given the intellectual revolution, the whole frame of reference against which Christianity was told to us has been changed so dramatically that the way we were telling the Christian story no longer is communicating to anybody. He says we've got to change the very nature of the way we communicate the Christian story. In all fairness he is a deconstructionist and would discard much of the baggage he thinks Christianity has accumulated over the centuries. Or as he says: "I think what we've got to do is to separate the Christ experience, which I do believe is eternal, timeless and divine, from every explanation of it in history. And then we've got to seek a different way to explain the reality of God and the way that God somehow was in this Christ.''

What about your own bishop, the Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth?

See for yourself. His web page is here.

Does the Bible, in your opinion, present an accurate description of Jesus?

Early on, the discourses of Jesus were not recorded in writen form. Separating the Jesus of history from the emerging Christ of faith presents a formidable problem. There are two portraits of Jesus just in the gospels of the New Testament.

The synoptic gospels quote Jesus speaking in short sentences asking his followers to keep many things secret for a while. He has little to say there about Himself. He speaks in parables and aphorisms. He espouses the causes of the poor and oppressed. He is pictured as a sage and exorcist.

The author known as John, shows a boastful Jesus who speaks in the passive voice in long sentences of rich theological development. This Jesus favors expressions beginning with "I am…" The bread of life, the paschal lamb, the way, etc." He reflects extensively on his own mission and person. This Jesus has little or nothing to say about the poor or oppressed. He does not perform exorcisms but takes on the character of a philosopher and mystic.

While the gospel of John may be the furthest removed tradition from the historical Jesus, it is for me an authentic allegory of the sonhood of God.

When I characterize John’s gospel as allegorical, I hearken back to the idea of incarnation. For God to have incarnated Jesus would have been an easy achievement for a deity. But for a human Jesus to have incarnated God is an awesome consideration. Yet the essence of God seen in Jesus is what his followers apprehended. He behaved so much like they thought God would have behaved that they thought he must be God. It may be what Paul reflected in his simple Christology, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

Perhaps the relation of Jesus to God is best described by a statement I saw on the preamble to the web page of an Episcopal Church: "Divinity expressed in the humanity of Jesus has opened our way to the heart of God."

I think John’s gospel is the fleshing out of this theme – a God who walked the planet would demonstrate ultimate concern for his creations – would embody the fullness of love – certain ideas and behaviors would be so important in his consideration that the threat of death should be insufficient to curtail them. The evangelist, building on the works and character of Jesus, added his lore as he continued the theme of what a God-man must be like. The church has traditionally ascribed attributes of humanity and divinity to Jesus.

What was true for Jesus in great measure can ring true for us in small measure. The theme of all mankind being, if so willing, and in part, the incarnate hands of God, can be read in the lines of president Jack Kennedy when he said, "..and truly the work of God on this planet must surely be our own." Such a statement is neither one of boast nor blasphemy but one of reality and faith. It is at communion that we, Episcopalians, say: "May he dwell in us and we in him."

Kathy Glenn, an Episcopal Priest in Colorado near Christmas eve of 1999 said: "But as our eyes turn toward the star in the East once again, I hope we don't forget that the Incarnation is an ongoing thing, thanks be to God, and as we spend time with Christ in the scriptures and in prayer, we can also live St. Teresa's prayer: 'Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.'"

"You are God's viceroy, God's representative.
You are God's stand-in, a God carrier.
You are precious; God depends on you.

God believes in you and has no one but you
to do the things that only you can do for God.
Become what you are."

+Desmond Tutu, Archbishop emeritus of South Africa

In the book, Teaching Your Children About God, David J. Wolpe has this "...marvelous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice of the world. 'Dear God,' he cried out, 'look at all the suffering, the anguish and the distress in your world. Why don't you send help?' God responded, 'I did send help. I sent you.'"

When you use the expression, "authentic allegory of the sonhood of God" are you saying that there is something false about the portrait of Jesus in John's gospel?

I am saying that since the idea of God is so abstract we cannot communicate about him without symbol. Surely we are more interested in what God is like than what he may or may not have done in a particular place or time. One can not convincingly say that God is like so-and-so without narrating a story exemplifying these attributes. In John's gospel, Jesus says: "If you have seen me you have seen the father."

I am saying that the author John is primarily telling us what he thinks God is like. I am saying that by and large I agree with his characterization. It resonates with the totality of my emotional, experiental, philosophical, and theological experiences. On the other hand, there are some verses in John which do not envoke these kinds of resonances in me.

God is the center of all creation --
therefore the force behind redemption;
which is not our inclination,
but which drives us to seek and respond
to a higher calling. a stance which
includes forgiveness, tolerance, grace
and self-sacrifice; because all of these
lead to a nobler reality and a more
perfect existence.

By: Randy William Ash - St. Margaret's ECUSA - Washington, DC

In your opinion, will the work of the Jesus Seminar lead the church to a better understanding of Jesus?

I think scholarship is important. I think truth is very important. I see no reason why the methods in general use by the scientific community for ascertaining truth should not be applied to the study of scripture. I think that there is a general feeling among Episcopalians that eventually "the Spirit of God will lead us to all truth."

I am of the opinion that what Jesus did and had to say is far more important than who one thinks he might be. Now that independent scholars have been applying the tools of scientific methodology to ascertain his actual words and deeds we can comfortably affirm that what he taught us was the substance of ultimate concern. Perhaps one day everyone will affirm, in the words of Paul, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

Could you more formally explain your theological position?

Perhaps it would not be far from the truth by describing myself as an Anglican Deist. I am a blend of both. It is difficult to draw a clear, sharp line between Deism and latitudinarian Anglicanism -- a movement among Anglican Divines who didn’t attach much importance to matters of dogma or ecclesiastical organization. And in their cases, liturgical practices as well. John Locke has been described by historians both as a Deist and as a latitudinarian Anglican.

Deists are usually dismissed by their critics as holding the view that while God created the universe he then abandoned it. I suspect that while God withholds obvious intervention in the affairs of mankind for very valid reasons of his [her?] own, nothing is farther from the truth than the idea that he is disinterested in his creatures. In many ways the gospel of John serves as an allegory for the sonhood of God. God loves his creation. I believe in both the immanence and transcendence of God. As Jesus said: "The kingdom of God is at hand." When I say 'God withholds obvious intervention' I do not mean to rule out the occasional possibility of miracles as the creator might deem appropriate.

Some of the presidents and founding fathers of our country shared this ambiguity - they were both Anglican and Deist. These would include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Reared Episcopalian, Jefferson’s propensities were Unitarian. Other notable Deists of that era would include Tom Paine, John Adams and Ethan Allen.

While the classical Deists have drawn their inspiration from natural religion -- the acceptance of a certain body of religious knowledge that is inborn in every person or that can be acquired by the use of reason, as opposed to knowledge or belief acquired through special revelation or the teaching of any church or sect -- one might well consider contemporary radical Anglican theologians such as Bishop John Shelby Spong to be spiritual descendants of the Deists. Most Unitarian-Universalists and Reform Jews may be said to be spiritual descendants of the Deists. In fact, many contemporary liberal Anglicans of our time, if transported in time back to 17th or 18th century England, might well have been taken for Deists.

Deist attitudes and positions have become commonplaces of liberal Christian and Jewish thought and practice in the 19th and 20th centuries. They include the denial or downplaying of miracles and dogmas, supernatural interventions, and special revelations. They tend to believe, like I do, that God is best served, respected, and worshipped by a humanitarian rather than an ascetic approach to ethics and morality. They tend to see God as offended by sweat-shops, destruction of the environment, racial prejudice, and ethical cleansing far more than by abortion, unconventional sexuality, erotic magazines, or massage parlors.

A Prayer of Thomas Merton

God, we have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.

But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.

Therefore, we will trust you always though we may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.

Thoughts in Solitude, p. 83, adapted

In what sense did Jesus bring salvation?

I believe Jesus brought salvation but not in a metaphysical atonement providing the remedy for human sinfulness, but rather in providing an inspiration and model for the People of God to operate out of the two Great Commandments, to achieve life in its fullest in the here and hereafter.

I'm not a believer that Jesus died for our sins. But I readily confess that he died because of them. Upon his body was acted out the anger, the hatred, the fear of humanity.

The cross is one of the greatest symbols of Christianity. What does it signify for you?

Don C. Skinner, in his A Passage Through Sacred History tells us that "The theological power of the [cross] derives not from how Christ's crucifixion differs from all other crucifixions but from its essential similarity . . . Christ died in precisely the same way that so many thousands of God's children had already died and would die in the future -- many because of their loyalty to him . . . .As he was given to us by means of the most common of births, he was taken from us by the most common of deaths."

Richard John Neuhaus, in his work, First Things, remarks: "Golgotha, the place of the skull, where nails smashed through the wrists and feet of Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth in Galilee, can stand for the skulls of every genocide. Betrayal by friends, self-preserving denial, making sport with prisoners, the mockery of crowds, spectators drawn to the spectacle, the soldiers doing their duty and dicing for his clothes, a mother in agony, and a knot of women helplessly looking on -- it happens time, and time, and time again."

Jesus taught us what is ultimately important through the teachings, parables, and example of his life and by his death. Jesus knew full well that his teachings and actions, necessitated by his mission, were causing serious problems with the authorities. He was prepared to put his own life in harms way; the way of the cross was a real possibility.

From Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers we find the following: "Christ has not only spoken to us by his life, but has also spoken for us by his death."

Divinity expressed in the humanity of Jesus has opened our way to the heart of God It is in Jesus-as-human that we see God incarnate.

I also would not rule out the possibility of reincarnation. Perhaps all our moments in time are out there somewhere. Perhaps we and others can, one day, revisit them. Perhaps our spirits will form the part of a greater whole. Perhaps we will migrate from realities to deeper ones. I think a lot of what God intends for mankind is learning. Mostly the kind of lessons contained in the parables of Jesus. In some ways, experience is the only teacher. I think we are here also to serve and to appreciate.

Would not it be an ironic cosmic justice for each of us to have to relive the lives of all who have lived and have yet to be born.

As the man said: "It takes all kinds!"

Can you summarize what you think to be most important about Christianity?

The central message, in my opinion, attributed to Jesus, resonates loud and clear: The first commandment is to love God entirely, and the second is love of neighbor. These represent to me what is important in life. Spend some time reading the parable of the good Samaritan.

What Organizations do you recommend for sharing one’s abundance with the less fortunate?

Can you recommend any good sites on the internet on Episcopalianism?

Do you think everyone should pursue religion?

I can only speak for myself. Notwithstanding the evil mankind has introduced, the harmony and beauty of the universe is totally awesome. My life has been wonderful and granted the existence of a supreme being [which the totality of my life experiences suggest is highly likely] I feel it is my first duty to worship[to express my awe and gratitude] and then to ascertain, in so far as possible, what might be expected of me. Organized religion offers the opportunity to explore both these endeavors.

Could you be wrong about any aspects of your belief?

I can be wrong about a lot of things and often am.

Respectfully answered by:

John S Morgan

"We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind --
by notions of our day and sect --
crude, partial and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
within our hearts be stirred,
for God hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from the Word."

-- Pastor John Robinson's sendoff sermon tto the Pilgrims 1620 --
paraphrased in a hymn by George Rawson (1807-1889)

I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or suprise;
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.

And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed He will not break,
But Strengthen and sustain.

No offerings of my own I have,
No works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts He gave,
And plead His love for love.

And so, beside the silent sea,
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.

I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.

- John Greenleaf Whittier -