Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Practicing Progressive

Poor Richard’s reminder that “A penny saved is a penny earned.” must have millions of mortgage-stretched borrowers nodding their heads in sad agreement these days. And whoever decided “Honesty is the best policy,” somehow never considered political campaigns. Speaking of campaigning, the ancient Chinese curse, “May your every wish come true” seems particularly sinister in this heightened time of political promise-making.

Recent events have put me in mind of another worthy aphorism, this one from that paragon of philosophical wisdom, Groucho Marx, who paradoxically announced, “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.” I suspect that is small comfort to golfer Randy Brown who was just expelled from the Phoenix Country Club for “multiple violations of club etiquette.” The multiples mainly included his commenting to the press that his club’s policy of excluding women from its well-appointed restaurant was a vestige from the dark ages. And with that rather reasonable and woefully obvious declaration, Mr. Brown got the boot.

Like most of you, I can’t imagine who would even want to eat with such dubious duffers as these but when you read that the golfing women are relegated to a tacky little room with nothing but a hot plate to heat up their hot dogs, it turns this act of cheesy chauvinism into an unconscionable, if not unconstitutional, display of despicable discrimination. Even as law suits are filed and investigations pursued, I suppose most of the boys will go on about their post-duffing business at the plushy bar and grill but I can’t help but hope that others will join Mr. Brown in joining Mr. Marx.

As far as I know the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, isn’t on the rolls of the Phoenix Country Club but he certainly is a part of another good old boy club called The Anglican Communion. Last week, Williams collected his Anglican bishop brothers, along with a few consecrated sisters, at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference. This gathering of Anglican leaders is intended to be held in a spirit of unity and mutual admiration. But, as another proverb sadly foretells, the best of intentions got off to a hellacious start when nearly a third of the invited church leaders decided to decline the Archbishop’s request. Their declination was based on the most religious of reasons, of course, with the pious priests deciding that any conference of clerics that included either women or gays could not be willed by God. So in good Christian fashion and with enormous historical precedent, the not to be sullied saints announced the formation of a new faction dedicated to keeping the faith pure. Employing the rather unwieldy acronym GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) the new crusade marched forth. Their first action was to make sure everyone understood that they were only acting with the best of biblical intentions. The fact that these intentions were intended to exclude from leadership 50% of the world’s population who happen to be women and the 10%, women or men, who happen to be homosexual, was, of course, understood as simply following God’s good order. That God’s good order also has included acts of genocide (Joshua 11) and bizarre science (Again with Joshua…this time Chapter 10) seems not to have troubled this devoted assembly of true believers.

Woody Allen’s oft-invoked insight, “If Jesus returned today he wouldn’t stop throwing up” seems particularly appropriate when pondering the sanctimonious pronouncements of religious bigots. Whether its forcing women to shroud themselves from head to foot or secretly erecting a stained-glass ceiling, be it brazen acts of clerical bullying or self-righteous religious schisms, discrimination in the name of any God should be seen for what it is…decidedly un-godly.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Practicing Progressive

It was time for my semi-annual lunch with my friend who is poles apart from me politically but whose wartime service as a Marine in Vietnam gives him far more conservative credence than the chicken-hawks who parlayed their incompetence into the quagmire of Iraq and continue to squander any vestige of our nation’s goodwill.

Every six months or so, we get together with our wives for a catch-up on children and grandchildren, personal ailment inventories and other various and sundry semi-retirement matters. It doesn’t take long, once the ladies start passing their photos back and forth, for the two of us to go back and forth on other matters.

“I’m turning into one of those cranky old curmudgeons,” my long-time friend began,

“I’m becoming the cynic I never wanted to be.” I could tell he had been listening to Rush Limbaugh again so I reminded him that the first item on the anti-curmudgeon inventory was to turn talk-radio off. It’s nothing but a training ground for conspiracy theorists and right-wing-nuts who too often confuse partisanship with patriotism and believe the Bill of Rights was penned only for people like them.

Nevertheless, as I soon realized, it was easy to be sympathetic to his concern as there is much fodder for cynicism about these days. This week, for instance, we could read of the Chinese government’s successful scheme to pay off grieving parents in order that they may stop complaining about the catastrophic collapse of hundreds of school buildings in the recent and ruinous earthquake in Sichuan Province. As the Beijing Olympics draws ever closer, the Beijing government is understandably concerned about any negative publicity and is rallying its considerable force to silence criticism from that front or any other. One certainly assumes the Olympic Organizing Committee is equally eager for a tranquil two weeks of athletic competition that avoids political controversy. But at what price? Surely paying off the parents of dead six and seven year olds seems mighty high indeed.

The president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, following his indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes of genocide, made a whirlwind tour of the ravaged Darfur region promising the beleaguered residents all kinds of wonderful rewards for keeping their mouths shut. After allowing government supported militias to rape, pillage and burn with impunity, al-Bashir apparently is ready to let bygones be bygones. Russia and China certainly share the same sentiment and suggest that any criminal action against Sudan’s exalted ruler would only obstruct the fragile and ongoing peace process. The two super powers, both of whom have a vested interest in Sudan’s status quo, don’t seem particularly concerned about obstructing justice, however.

In the same category of ends coldly justifying means, Senator Joe Lieberman, ex-Democrat and current best friend of John McCain, continues to cozy up to TV Evangelist John Hagee whose recent remarks concerning Roman Catholics and Homosexuals had McCain vociferously vetoing Hagee’s endorsement of him. Independent Joe, however, continues to be buddy-buddy with this big time bigot primarily because they both share a common commitment to shoring up security in Israel at any cost. Politics, we all know, makes for strange bedfellows but surely Lieberman is aware that the Evangelical Christian Hagee believes in a strong Israel only because of his bizarre conviction that Jesus needs such a political stronghold in order to come back to earth and either convert the Jews to Christianity or condemn them for all eternity. Such contemptuous cooperation offers ever more evidence for my friend’s cynical slide.

Of course, there is more. Even as the Bush Administration stumbles through its final few months, a number of highly revealing and deeply disturbing accounts of White House operations from White House insiders have hit the bookstores and fed the blogs. Neither of us old friends are particularly na├»ve but we both marveled over the political malfeasance of this administration. The deceptive rationales, the woeful ignorance and the downright lies of Bush and Co. have come perilously close to turning the virtue of public service into a bastion of private corruption…ever more reasons to join my friend on the path to curmudgeonism.

As lunch continued, and as I was drawn dangerously close to cynical cronyism by these acts of evidence and more, the topic, thankfully, turned to lighter matters. Movies we’ve seen, books we are reading. My friend is a history buff whose course to curmudgeon land is occasionally interrupted, he admitted, by the inspired and inspiring folk who’ve gone before. We reminded one another of other times in our collective history when the citizenry were equally disheartened. By dessert, we buoyed each other up with familiar stories of founding fathers and others who rose above the temptation of their times for sliding into cynicism and instead forged a nation and shaped a world that allowed two old friends, curmudgeons or not, the freedom to enjoy a feisty semi-annual lunch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Practicing Progressive

July 10, 2008

Just when you think the religious can’t get more ridiculous you come up against a news report like this week’s on the Church of England’s turmoil over ordaining female priests as female bishops. While the rest of the world has been vigorously engaged in breaking down the walls of sexism and reaping the generous rewards of women rising through the ranks to successfully lead some of the world’s largest institutions, these English Christians get themselves into a paternalistic tizzy. Surely even bishops can find a better use of their time.

So you decide all religions should be tossed out with the bath water but then you listen to a segment on the radio this same week where two homeless men tell of life on the streets. “We would starve,” they say, “if it weren’t for the churches.” And you realize that charity trumps stupidity every time and religion should survive for at least another day.

Just when you think the financial news can’t get any bleaker, the market takes another triple digit dive dragging your net worth along with it. News like this makes it all the harder to understand how a few hundred dollars from the government is going to spur the economy back to life.

So you decide we’re only weeks away from 1929 and its time to find a tall building to jump off of but then you discover that even the news can be fun to watch when it’s broadcast over a brand new big screen TV purchased with an economic stimulus check from a business that needs business to keep its employees working so they can purchase TVs and more from this and other businesses. And you realize that Congress may not be filled with crazies after all.

Just when you think our president can’t push the needle any higher on the incredulity meter, you read of how on June 25, President Bush met with Philippines President Arroyo in the Oval Office and told her (and the rest of us): First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.” Kitchen work is a noble profession so why did his comment come off as so unsavory? Maybe because it joins a list of equally ill-thought pronouncements like:

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." And, "You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." (to a divorced mother of three!.)

So you decide our nation really is deserving of the ridicule and scorn being heaped upon it over the last 7 ½ years but then you have a conversation with your vacationing son-in-law who is currently serving as a liaison to Darfur from the U. S. Embassy in Khartoum and you are reminded of our president’s continuing commitment to Africa, channeling significant amounts of aid to battle some of the endemic issues that have plagued the continent for so long. The U.S. continues to be the leading international donor to the Darfur region with $750 million this year alone. And you realize that even presidential bumblers don’t blunder all the time.

And just when you think the environment is racing to you know where in the proverbial hand basket filled with everything from killer smog in Beijing to dead trees in the Rockies, you find out the Bureau of Land Management puts a two-year moratorium on solar power construction on public lands.

So you decide the inmates really are in charge of the asylum but then you take a hike around hidden mountain lake, strolling by fields of columbine more vast than you can ever remember and a waterfall that cascades from far above…and you realize that there is still bountiful beauty in creation and new life rising out of the forest floor. And then you get home to find out the moratorium has been lifted. Joy!

And hope…coming from some new perspectives.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Practicing Progressive


July 7, 2008

Readers of this column are well aware of my fascination for rear-ends…on cars, of course. I am endlessly entertained by what folk deign to place upon the back bumpers of their automobiles. Everything from one’s political preferences to a favorite clothing line is un-embarrassingly announced while idling at an intersection or racing by on the interstate.

Although I’ve yet to declare my allegiances so publicly, I certainly honor those who do and have absolutely no quarrel with placing one’s electoral choice or religious predilection out there for all to see. I do get uneasy, however, when the state offers to help pay for it.

In this case, the state is South Carolina whose legislative leadership has proposed an automobile license plate decorated with a cross and a stained-glass window that declares “I Believe” directly above the obviously Christian symbols. It can be had for any South Carolinian who is willing to both fork over the dough and denigrate the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Despite what some may assume, being a resident of a Bible-belt state doesn’t excuse you from the foundational principles of these United States. The Bill of Rights puts careful concern into that famous wall of separation that not only prohibits a state-sanctioned religion but allows Americans a religious freedom many of the world’s citizens are denied.

The argument proffered by those believing South Carolinians seeks to deflect the constitutional concerns by claiming that the state already provides advertising space for a plethora of other prejudices. A quick look at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles web page may surprise you with its variety of possibilities for going public. Like NASCAR or nurses? The SCDMV can provide you with a plate that will announce your allegiance. The same service is offered to Shriners, the Special Olympics and square dancers, as well. And all of it is well and, maybe even, good but not when it comes to advocating a particular religious preference. Such public proselytizing is not only best left to private concerns but constitutionally forbidden by our government for our government…even if that government is filled from top to bottom with Bible-banging believers.

Just past July 4th is a good time to celebrate the wisdom of our founding fathers whose clear intentions were to prevent the religious restrictions perpetrated by past overseers and establish a nation where every citizen would be free to believe or not. The very suggestion that a state provide special benefits to believers should be anathema to all Americans.

Perhaps even more persuasive than our Constitution would be the reminder that proclaiming one’s religious preference from the back of a Buick may offer frequent opportunities for a kind of reverse evangelism. After all, getting cut off by a speedster sporting a Christian cross could cause a potential convert to reconsider the possibility. I often tell of the time a clergy friend of mine lost his cool while driving through town and in a fit of pique pointed his middle finger at an offending driver. It was only when the woman in the next car’s chin dropped down to her dash that my friend remembered he was still wearing his clerical collar.

So if not for our cherished nation’s integrity then for our own slightly tarnished dignities, surely we can all agree that it is best to keep religious sentiment out of our statehouses and onto our sleeves, even when it means the fish floating on your Ford runs the risk of ruining your religious reputation.

The Practicing Progressive

A CASE FOR CHRISTIAN ATHEISM

July 6, 2008

Unitarian Fellowship, Frisco, Colorado

I want you to know right off how difficult it was to come up with a sermon subject for this evening. As some of my former parishioners would tell you, much of my homiletic career was centered on sermons that were often provocative, sometimes scandalous and on occasion downright heretical. But it is reasonably easy to shock Lutherans. We are, by nature, a rather shockable people. We like our religion neat and orderly. We believe that any hymn written after the 16th century should be introduced very slowly and with great caution into the worship service. Lutherans, as any listener to Garrison Keillor can tell you, are not inclined to the inflammatory when it comes to theological proclamations. When Martin Luther stood up to the Pope back in 1517 he pretty much shot the Lutheran wad for the rest of us. There really hasn’t been much in the way of Protestant protesting among us ever since. So you can see how easy it was to spend thirty years or so using my sermons to raise some Scandinavian eyebrows and drop more than a few German chins.

With Unitarians, however, the task is far more daunting. I mean, how does a preacher used to causing an uproar among the unchanging believers call forth similar outrage among folk we Lutherans believe are ever-changing unbelievers? What can I possibly say in my sermon that could cause Unitarians to imitate their distant Lutheran cousins by simultaneously clenching their teeth and puckering their butts?

Being a member of a religious tradition that tends to congregate in the chilling confines of the upper Midwest and finds mixing with middle of the road Methodists a significant challenge, I entered into this arrangement with, as I say, more than a little trepidation. It was St. Paul who reminded Christians in general and Lutherans quite specifically that we are all called to be fools for Christ. So foolishly, I set forth on my sermon preparation.

I began by carefully studying the Unitarian Universalist principles which, for a Lutheran used to seeing the 10 Commandments grimly engraved on many a sanctuary wall, turned out to be more on the order of 7 rather pleasant suggestions: We covenant to affirm and promote:

• The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

• Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

• Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth;

• A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

• The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process;

• The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

• Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

Come on. You gotta give me something! There’s nothing about sin here! Nothing about judging the quick and the dead. There’s no hell. No fire. No damnation. And you call yourself a religion?!

So with some reluctance, I came to the conclusion that nothing I could say today would shock you much, nothing I could posit would bring about the kind of apoplectic congregational angst that is so encouraging to a preacher like me, nothing I could do to engender those pleasant days of yesteryear when cries of heresy rang out among the faithful and calls for the removal of my collar if not my head convinced me I was on the right theological track. Gee, I really miss that.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pretend that all these smiling, all accepting, genuinely inclusive, stalwartly liberal, endlessly optimistic Unitarian faces are really only hiding dark Scandinavian souls who struggle daily with great existential battles between good and evil and worry unendingly about whether one can accept each and every tenet of the Nicene Creed. In other words, I’m going to preach a good old fashioned, stomach churning, migraine inducing, why can’t he be more like our last pastor who we really liked, Lutheran sermon. I’m entitling it: A Case For Christian Atheism.

As most of you know, little of traditional Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus. One of the reasons for this, of course, is that we have precious little of Jesus’ authentic teachings and even what we do have has been roundly ignored for much of Christianity’s first 2000 years. Christianity, as most people understand it, is formed not around the teachings of Jesus but rather the teachings about Jesus. These teachings about Jesus began long before Matthew, Mark, Luke or John put quill to papyrus and even before Paul, the earliest and most prolific of New Testament writers began sending out his theologically driven epistles. It began with stories, stories told not via instant messaging or over the internet but one person, one story at a time and as the story went from one person to the next it was changed, altered, embellished perhaps, maybe even mingled with other familiar stories going around the neighborhood. One of the great theological insights regarding this phenomenon comes from those masters of religious inquiry, Monty Python. In their brilliant movie “The Life of Brian” the Jesus figure is lecturing to the crowd what appears to be the sermon on the mount. In any case, someone on the periphery thinks he hears one thing when we all know he should have heard another. “What’s he saying?’ “Shhh. Blessed are the cheesemakers?” “Blessed are the cheesemakers!” and on it is passed in a brilliant example of the imperfections of oral tradition.

Funny as it is, this is a reasonably accurate description of the problem that has faced Christians for two thousand years. What exactly did Jesus say? Some of you, I am sure, have heard of The Jesus Seminar, an often ridiculed but extremely dedicated group of scholars who have sought to determine the authentic words of Jesus found in the Bible. What they came up with was precious little that could be assuredly ascribed to Jesus but it was, to my mind, a brilliant critique and enormously helpful guide to those of us fascinated with the idea that we might actually peel away two millennia of often convoluted doctrine and catch a glimpse, perhaps only a very small glimpse, of the actual teachings of Jesus.

Such an enterprise, precarious as it may be, has been enormously inspirational to me and thousands of others who have found in the life and teachings of Jesus a model and guide for living what many of us call the abundant life.

This life of abundance has as its foundation the unconventional wisdom of Jesus who proclaimed a philosophy that is antithetical to most of the world’s. I mean, after all, “Blessed are the poor”? Blessed are the meek”? “Blessed are the peacemakers”? And yet what many have discovered is if you take this unconventional way of thinking and apply it to your life and the lives of those around you, something wonderful emerges. Jesus called it The Kingdom of Heaven. Some may call it enlightenment or self-awareness. Many of us call it The Abundant Life.

Now what is so curious about this metaphysical phenomenon is that it is fully accessible without an attending theology. That is, one can employ these assumedly authentic teachings of Jesus into one’s life, experience The Abundant Life or The Kingdom of Heaven, without actually believing in God. Indeed, given the often bizarre beliefs that have been formulated in the name of Christianity, it just may be easier to be a devoted disciple of Jesus if you don’t believe in God.

Isn’t that curious? Now I don’t for one moment think that Jesus didn’t believe in God. In his time and situation, it made all the sense in the world to accept the existence of a theistic being who ruled the universe with both a compassionate heart and an iron fist and who, not so incidentally, had a special place in the cosmic scheme of things for Jesus’ own people, the Jews. Everyone back then had a god or, more often, a plethora of gods to turn to when things got a little rough down below. But, of course, then came Copernicus and then came Galileo and then came Newton, and Darwin and Freud and Einstein and quantum physics and string theory and Sputnik and on and on and on. The world underwent enormous changes, some advantageous some not, but evolve we did, all, it seems but our religions. To this very day, many religions cling desperately to language, metaphors and symbols that speak to a different age, a different time, a different way of understanding reality. Yes, of course, Jesus believed in God but whether he did or not does not undermine the enormous wisdom found in his teachings. Again, I say, it just may be easier, given the current state of conventional religious teachings, to be a devoted disciple of Jesus without believing in God.

This case for a kind of Christian atheism gains strength when we consider the manner in which we develop our images of God. When my friend and mentor Bishop Jack Spong was at Lord of the Mountains a few years back he offered this little bit of theological insight from the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes who said, “If horses had gods, all gods would look like horses.” So the Lutheran God looks a little like a combination between Ingmar Bergman and Garrison Keillor…dark and gloomy most of the time but once a week you can count on a few good laughs. The Jewish God is pretty concerned with geography and the Muslim God likewise but with a decidedly different destination. The Presbyterian god likes most things in good order and the Catholic god speaks in a deep and very male voice. The Unitarian god seems to love everyone without exception while the American god spends a good deal of time blessing, well, America. All kinds of horses with all kinds of horse-like gods.

Christian Atheism recognizes this reality of a self-designed and self-designated divinity and suggests that it might be best to leave that often confusing component completely out of our spiritual lives. Christian atheism finds in the life and teachings of Jesus more than enough provision for a rich and meaningful life, an abundant life centered in a pre-Easter Jesus, the Jesus of history, a Jesus without the doctrine, without the distortion of creeds and archaic confessions of faith. Creeds and confessions that were created out of the best intentions but nevertheless no longer needed in a post-modern world that has long since left literalistic interpretations and archaic myth-making far behind. Christian atheism announces, haltingly, hesitatingly to be sure, but sincerely and honestly that the time has come to simply leave God in all her manifestations behind and center our faith in the figure of Jesus, admittedly little known but known enough to pin our hopes and dedicate our lives to following in his footsteps.

It is both curious and illuminating to note, by the way, that in three of the four gospels, Jesus puts very little emphasis on belief systems. He spends a rather insignificant amount of time urging his listeners to accept particular theological concepts or doctrinal descriptions. What he does spend the majority of his time doing is living out a life of compassion, of justice, of radical hospitality…and what he says, time after time, is NOT believe in me but, rather, follow me. Follow me! Don’t worry about whether you believe in this or don’t believe in that. Don’t worry whether you were born a cursed Samaritan or a denigrated woman. Don’t worry if you are despised by your neighbors or decorated by the state. Just follow me. And in so doing you will discover what I have discovered. You will enter into the kingdom of heaven that is all around you. You will experience the abundant life.

Amazingly, this emphasis on doing rather than believing has been dismissed by Christian hierarchy as nothing less than heresy. For most of the past two thousand years, Christians have been told that the only thing that really mattered was that you believe particular doctrines, accepted certain theological descriptions, that you be born-again or dipped three times in water. But the emerging evidence of Biblical scholarship suggests that is precisely not what Jesus was teaching. Follow me, Jesus says over and over again in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Believe in me…is left, almost solely, to the Jesus found in the gospel of John, the latest and most doctrinal of the four gospels and, not so incidentally, the gospel most favored by conservative Christians.

Speaking of conservative Christians…in recent years, an emerging movement seems to be taking root in evangelical Christianity. A growing number of the faithful, particularly among the young and educated, are beginning to put an emphasis on some decidedly non-traditional conservative concerns…like the environment, like a fair and equitable health care system, like a government that seeks for peace rather than war. Now this is a very exciting development because, I believe, whether these non-traditional evangelicals realize it or not, such thinking will move them ever closer to Christian Atheism. By that I mean the more closely you follow Jesus the less you will need doctrines about God and the less you need doctrines about God the less you need God. Rick Warren, the enormously successful evangelical pastor who built up a church of tens of thousands and has sold millions upon millions of books centered on purpose driven lives is beginning to understand this principal whether he knows it or not. In the past few years, Warren has turned his incredible talents to serving those in need. He has rallied thousands, maybe millions, of evangelical Christians to turn away from their navels and look out to a world suffering from hunger, poverty, war, AIDS and so much more. In a matter of days, he raised millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers for Rwandan relief. When asked about this change, he confessed that he now realized that he had spent far too much time building up his church and far too little caring for the world. At a Baptist convention three years ago, Warren announced the need for a second reformation that would be about “deeds not creeds.” Talk about a slippery slope. Welcome Pastor Warren to the New Reformation. Welcome Pastor Warren to a conversation that some of us have been having for a very long time. Welcome Pastor Warren to the possibility of Christian Atheism.

On one of my sabbaticals, I spent the summer serving an Anglican parish in London and studying the history and theology of the Anglican tradition. Now The Church of England is a very curious institution indeed. It can be the most rigidly traditionalist force in all of English society and, at the same time, produce some of the most radical theological thinkers of this or any other day. One such radical is an Anglican priest and Cambridge don by the name of Donald Cupitt. Cupitt is a kind of living archetype of the paradox that lives within the Church of England for The Reverend Mr. Cupitt, an Anglican priest may I remind you, is also a practicing atheist. He is a priest, I dare say, of the New Reformation, of a movement that is drawn deeply and profoundly into the teachings of Jesus but has little interest in or commitment to the traditional teachings about Jesus. Cupitt has written extensively on his unique spiritual journey. In the preface of, what I believe to be, his most helpful book: “Taking Leave of God”, Cupitt explains his choice of title by quoting the great medieval Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, writing on spiritual maturity: Man’s last and highest parting occurs when, for God’s sake, man takes leave of God.” It is that parting movement that seems, at least to me, the logical and inevitable destination of all those who choose, like Dr. Cupitt and a growing number of others, to be committed to following the teachings of Jesus rather than believing the teachings about Jesus. This is both the start and the very heart of Christian Atheism.

Now I certainly understand there is nothing new in this proposal. It has been proffered for more than two thousand years and condemned as heretical for the same amount of time. But every so often, it seems to me, it is good to bring this little heresy back out into the open where others can see it, maybe try it on for awhile and see how it feels and, perhaps, to discover as I have, that within the teachings of Jesus there is a depth and richness to life that supersedes detailed doctrinal descriptions about Jesus. It is a life of meaning and purpose, of hope and value, of compassion and justice. It is a life, built on a heresy to be sure but a heresy that seems to me, at least, a pretty good fit.