there are no orphans of god

I go to a Bible study in a wine bar on Monday nights.

The way I grew up, "Bible study" and "wine bar" are two things that would never be in the same sentence, much less in the same location.

But, as you know, lots of things have been shifting around for me the past few years, faith-wise.  We're exploring, seeing what's out there, spiritually speaking.  Not everybody thinks the way I was taught to think.  Why is that?  And what can we learn from people who see it differently?

So right now at the wine bar we're talking about the gospel of John.  And I decided to really shake things up for myself and read a book called The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic by John Shelby Spong.

I grew up with the idea that the Bible is the Inerrant Word of God, without mistakes, to be interpreted literally.  I thought that the writers of the gospels were the actual disciples, either following Jesus around, writing things down in a scroll so that there was a perfect Harmony of The Gospels, or else the writers were taken over by the Holy Spirit so that they auto-wrote whatever God wanted the Gospels to say.

Enter textual criticism, modern scholarship, and just lately, John Shelby Spong.  

Book with Wings, Anselm Kiefer, at the Fort Worth Modern (photo by me and my cell phone)

Book with Wings, Anselm Kiefer, at the Fort Worth Modern (photo by me and my cell phone)

He, like most progressive scholars, sees the Bible as written by human beings who wrote for specific purposes to certain audiences.  The writers had a thesis, an idea they were wanting to teach to their audience, and that's why they wrote what they wrote.  

The idea here is that the writers of Scripture had the Holy Spirit like we have the Holy Spirit.  No extra-magic juju.  Just human beings, human experience, and a passion for connecting to God and his work in the world.

When it comes to the Gospel of John, Spong sees the entire book of John NOT as a factual retelling of the life of Jesus, but as an interpretation of the Jesus story within the Jewish Mystical tradition.  

Spong asserts that all of the characters and the stories are metaphorical.  He doesn't think any of the "signs and wonders" recorded in John actually happened in real life.

It's a very modern, rational, scientific approach to an ancient book.

There's a lot that I like about this approach.  

For example, I'm tired of having to ignore science in order to believe that the earth was created in six 24-hour days.  I'm way over Young Earth Creationism.  It just doesn't work and I refuse to pretend that it does.

Over the past couple of years, deconstructing has meant digging into a lot of things like that, but Spong's ideas were really out there compared to anything I've read so far.

The question I had, when I started to read Spong was this: if the Bible is metaphor, if it's not the literal, inerrant Word of God, why does it matter?  Why believe in any of it?

And I do think that's a question that, at some point in deconstruction, you have to address for yourself in a meaningful way.  Fortunately I've had Spong to help me out.

Honestly, this book has been hard going some days.  Spong is a scholar and into details, and I am neither of those things, but I paid $12 for this book and I'm going to read it.  Plus I'm genuinely, seriously curious about why he's a Christian if he's so far outside the walls I've been taught to live within.

So Spong is talking about all the scholarship he read (how his head has not exploded, I do not know).  He's talking about Nicodemus in John chapter 3, and I'm just trudging along, chanting $12, $12, $12, and finally at about the 32% mark on my Kindle edition, I saw the light, right about when Spong comes to the Samaritan woman at the well.

  • She's a Samaritan.  She doesn't belong.  
  • She's a woman.  Property, barely a person.  
  • She's been rejected over and over again.  A total undesirable.

Here's where the miracle happened for me: not with the "signs and wonders" that Spong doesn't believe in anyway.

The real miracle shows up because the writer of this gospel, a regular old Jewish guy, a hater of Samaritans, a person whose culture totally overlooks women, makes the Samaritan woman the character who gets it, the very first person to whom Jesus says I AM, the person who welcomes the good news and then becomes a convincing sharer of said good news to her neighbors.  

THAT is transformation.  Not in the Samaritan woman, you guys.  

In the gospel writer.  

In John himself.  

0r the three writers, whoever they were.  If there were three, let's call it three miracles!  Three people busting down walls and setting captives free!  Even better!

The thing Spong showed me is this: these old Jewish guys stopped defending their racial turf, their religious turf, their gender turf.  They just opened the doors and let everybody in.

That is CRAZY!!!

Human beings don't do that.  We go all tribal and fight wars.  We bunker down and build walls.  We don't let other people in, willy-nilly.

What would it do to the world if that door-opening miracle happened today?  

Not just a magical lunch of fish tacos for 5,000

but a real change in US that allowed us to nurture the soul of every precious person

previously told they're outside the walls and can never come in? 

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague (photo by me and my cell phone)

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague (photo by me and my cell phone)

On Pentecost Sunday this spring, we visited Cathedral of Hope here in Dallas.  It's the biggest gay church in the world.  

And I will tell you this:  there is nothing like being in church with a thousand people who have been rejected everywhere, and most especially by churches.  

There is an absolutely palpable JOY in that place.  You can practically scoop it up by the handful and eat it, it's so delicious.

On Pentecost Sunday this spring, at Cathedral of Hope, a lesbian woman stood in front of that crowd and sang Orphans of God, the exact message of the Gospel of John:  there are no strangers. there are no outcasts.

Who here among us has not been broken
Who here among us is without guilt or pain
So oft' abandoned by our transgressions
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God

Come ye unwanted and find affection
Come all ye weary, come and lay down your head
Come ye unworthy, you are my brother
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

O blessed Father, look down upon us
We are Your children, we need Your love
We run before Your throne of mercy
And seek Your face to rise above

Of the miracles I could pray for today, I think this one would be worth praying for: that people would encounter Love, that the walls would fall, and we could all see the beauty of Oneness in each other.  

No race, no religious background, no gender or sexuality issues in the way.  

Just One.

One Beloved Body.

Here's a bit of that miracle that happened for me, reading this book.  I saw that outside the big wall of inerrancy there are people like John Shelby Spong who think differently, and who love God passionately, and who can teach me things I need to hear and know.

"The spiritual presence we call God permeates the universe, becoming audible from time to time in a particular person in whom 'the word of God' is heard to be speaking, and visible in that life through whom 'the will of God' is revealed... Life calls to life, love calls to love, being rises out of the Ground of Being, and in that understanding the separation of Jew from Gentile quite clearly disappears."  John Shelby Spong


Print Friendly and PDF